Remember the rich young man who seeks to justify himself to Christ by asking, “Who is my brother?” Recall the story of the good Samaritan who stops to help the injured man along the road? Despite that the injured man and the Samaritan are enemies in everyday life, this day one is a brother to the other.
I get the sense we ask God this same question all the time. Hey God, who is my brother anyway? Am I supposed to really love people I strongly disagree with, love people who hate my ideas and oppose what I consider to be good and just? Am I expected to love the person who cheats, steals, lies, murders, drinks and drives, cuts me off in traffic, runs red lights, never bathes… You get the picture. I am certain God’s response is “As a matter of fact, yes.”
“And this commandment have we from Him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.”
The author of 1 John is speaking primarily, I think, of the love we should show to our brothers and sisters in Christ, but God clearly calls us also to love our enemies, to bless those who curse us, to forgive those who abuse and misuse us. Jesus says it’s easy to love those who love us, treat those well who treat us well, bless those who bless us. The love that is hard is the love that shows we are who we claim to be: His children.
These words — “whoever claims to live in [God] must walk as Jesus does” — are extraordinarily convicting. I hear people speak of walking as Jesus does, claiming to be without sin and I just sit and wonder. What sort of person believes they are without sin? Who can look in a mirror and genuinely say to the reflection: “Yes, I always walk as Jesus walks.”?
I hear non-Christians speak of the need for Christians to stop worrying about others’ sins and focus on living like Jesus intends us to live. Inside, I hear a soft ‘amen’ to the non-Christian comment, and to the Christian who claims to be sinless, I hear in my head a big ‘you’ve got to be kidding.’
So, what is the author of 1 John saying?
He writes that our aim is perfection. We seek to be perfect because our Heavenly Father is perfect. We strive after holiness the way a runner strives to reach the finish line. Paul speaks of winning the race, but I think finishing the race is the win he means. The author of 1 John is delineating the goal in greater detail. Our goal is to love one another perfectly because Jesus loves us perfectly. If we claim to love Jesus, how can we then hate our brother, for whom Jesus died? The author is not saying that we never fail, or that we reach that total perfection here on this earth. Rather he says:
“My dear children, I write this so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have One who speaks to the Father in our defense — Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 2:1-2)
“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:18)
“If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31)
“The Lord is my light and my salvation — whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life — of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1)
Ultimately, fear is obsolete for the Christian. We are under the shadow of the wings of the Almighty God. We are sheltered in Him; He is our tower, our stronghold, our sure fortress. Since God is on our side, who can be against us? Since He is the stronghold of our lives, of whom shall we be afraid? Since there is no punishment in our future, what have we to fear? Nothing should frighten us.
Fear is destroyed because the Lord Himself is our salvation. He is our light; and as we walk in His light, we know the truth and this truth sets us free — free from guilt, free from condemnation, free from sin’s power and from the sting of death.
“Though an army besiege me, my heart does not fear; though war break out against me, even then am I confident.” (Psalm 27:3)
“Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” (Psalm 27:14)
God makes it crystal clear that He is holy and just. In Him there is no darkness. He makes it even clearer that He is merciful. Throughout His Word, He speaks of and shows off His great hatred of disobedience, sin, and waywardness. Simultaneously, He speaks of and shows off His willingness and great desire to forgive, restore, and love those He calls His own.
Our part is believing these two truths regarding the nature of God. Believing in God’s wrath necessarily leads to fear, but “perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” (1 John 4:18) Our fear is rather awe of God, a marveling of God’s ability to “forgive the iniquity of Your people; You cover all their sin. You withdraw all Your wrath; You turn from Your hot anger.” (Psalm 85:2-3) “Steadfast love and faithfulness meet; righteousness and peace kiss each other. Faithfulness springs up from the ground, and righteousness looks down from the sky.” (Psalm 85:11)
Jesus proclaims, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:31-32) “But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins; I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home.” (Luke 5:24)
“If we confess our sins, [You] are faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” “For You, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon You.”
The second great commandment and the one Jesus gives us is “that we should love one another.” (1 John 3:11) “Whoever does not love abides in death” rather than in life. (1 John 3:14) And if we hate one another, then we are become as murderers, “and you know no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” (1 John 3:15) Simply, the author is telling us that hatred leads to eternal death while love leads to eternal life.
The first murderer, Cain, murders his own brother in a fit of jealous rage. “And why did he murder [Abel]? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous.” (1 John 3:12) And this is the judgment: the Light has come into the world, and people love the darkness rather than the Light because their works are evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the Light and does not come to the Light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the Light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works are carried out in God.” (John 3:19-21)
The author of 1 John actually warns us that “we should not be like Cain.” (1 John 3:12) If we become like Cain, then we are “not of God” for the “one who does not love his brother” can not be “born of God” (1 John 3:10,9)
Yet, “whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and He knows everything.” (1 John 3:20) “Little children, let us not love in word or talk, but in deed and in truth.” (1 John 3:18) Let us come to the Light so that our “works are carried out in God.” (John 3:21)
What is the trial Christians are to endure? What is the test through which we are to stand? The trial and the test are one in the same — life. Life is the trial we are to endure. The test we must pass is living. No one who is born into this earthly existence does not suffer. The sufferings Christians endure are those which all human beings share. We may experience a special “thorn in the flesh” to keep us humble as did Paul. We may be attacked for our faith, but many other peoples are attacked for what they believe.
Life is the common trial, the universal test. Christians are “those who love God.” Because we love God, we are promised “the crown of life” by God Himself who gave His Son for us. “And this is [God’s] command: to believe in the Name of His Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as He commands us.” (1 John 3:23) We are to know that “the One who is in [us] is greater than the one who is in the world.” (1 John 4:4)
Because of this truth — that God has overcome the world — we are able to withstand the natural sufferings which are part and parcel of life on this planet.
“And now, dear friends, continue in Him, so that when He appears we may be confident and unashamed before Him at His coming.” (1 John 2:28) We will be able to show we stood the test; we endured life. Then we will receive the crown prepared for us in advance.
“There is no fear in love; instead, perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. So the one who fears has not reached perfection in love.”
Most importantly, “the one who has the Son has life.” (1 John 5:12) Secondly, “this is the confidence we have before Him: Whenever we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears whatever we ask, we know that we have what we have asked Him for.” (1 John 5:14-15)
Fear is incompatible with love — if we are loved by God, what have we to fear?
“We know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding so that we may know the true One. We are in the true One — that is, in His Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.” (1 John 5:20)
Fear is incompatible with eternal life — if we are “in the true One”, what have we to fear?
“What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He did not even spare His own Son but offered Him up for us all; how will He not also with Him grant us everything? Who can bring an accusation against God’s elect? God is the One who justifies.” (Romans 8:31-33)
Fear is incompatible with the justification of God — if God has given us His Son, what have we to fear?