The Fifth Sunday of Easter April 24, 2016
1 John 5:1-5
14, 16, 464, 54
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
May you recognize and experience the love that God the Father has for each of you—a love shown nowhere more clearly than in the sacrifice of His Son for your sins. Amen.
Dear fellow Christians:
All that I can say is that the guy was creepy—deeply unsettling and I can’t quite put my finger on just why. It made me uncomfortable just being around him. Oh, he was very pleasant and I can’t say that he was in any way threatening. I didn’t worry that he was going to hurt me, I just found myself wanting to get away from him as fast as I could. I know I didn’t want to hear anything that he had to say, mostly because I had a pretty good idea exactly what he would say. I’ve met guys like him before and they are pretty much all the same. They have strong opinions and are absolutely convinced that they are right. I could tell that he wanted to talk to me and that he was just looking for an opening to begin the conversation. I didn’t give him the chance. I tried to radiate a good “leave me alone” vibe. Not sure if he got the message, but as soon as the elevator stopped on my floor and the door opened, I was out of there.
Now, here’s the interesting part. Read the paragraph above again, but this time knowing that this is not me talking about an encounter with someone else. It is someone else talking about an encounter with me, or you. What you’ve just heard is the retelling of an unbeliever’s encounter with a Christian. It is therefore a clear, unguarded view into the thoughts and attitude of many of the godless that you yourself encounter every day. It serves as a look through an unbeliever’s eyes and a revelation of just how most non-Christians view you.
Are you comfortable with the role you play in that scenario? Are you okay playing the role of what many in the world regard as the “kind of creepy guy”? Are you good with the idea that those who are of the world are most often—maybe always— uncomfortable around you, a Christian?
Here’s an even more unsettling question: Do you, perhaps, find yourself equally uncomfortable around other Christians who are not members of our denomination?
These are the sorts of questions we will be examining on the basis of our text found in the first epistle of John, the fifth chapter:
Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves Him who begot also loves him who is begotten of Him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome. For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?
So far the very Word of God. God Himself has given these words to you, and herein offers you wisdom, strength, comfort, and love. Since these are all things we need and desire, to that end we pray, “Sanctify us by Your truth, O Lord. Your word is truth.” Amen.
One of the particular challenges of being a member of a conservative Christian congregation and synod such as ours is learning how to uphold the “Fellowship Principle” while still maintaining a love for all Christians and developing a healthy, Scriptural “us vs. them” worldview. This is indeed a tall order, especially for those who are well-trained continually to watch for error and to cut themselves off from it wherever it is found. There is always the temptation to lump Christians who teach and believe falsely on a certain doctrine or doctrines with the godless—to lump Christians with unbelievers in our “us vs. them” worldview.
Know that this is neither fair nor right, and the Apostle John makes short work of the problem in the opening words of our text: “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of Him” (v.1 ESV).
Stop and think about that verse for just a moment. When you honestly evaluate what John wrote by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the rather obvious conclusion that most of us would have to draw is that Christians of other denominations often tend to do a better job at this than we do.
The challenge, of course, is to do the one without leaving the other undone. In other words, the hard part is remaining very jealous for the purity of all of God’s Word while still possessing and demonstrating a love for Christians who teach and believe wrongly on one or several topics.
On some level we seem to get this—we seem to sense that we ought to have and exhibit love for all Christians even those with whom we cannot rightly join in acts of fellowship because of their false teaching. But there is a center here, a Biblically-identified sweet spot that we find difficult to occupy.
This problem is not new. Remember how young Joshua wanted Moses to silence the two men in the Jewish camp who did not go out to meet the Lord as ordered but who nonetheless prophesied in the camp. We read the account in Numbers 11:26-29: “But two men had remained in the camp: the name of one was Eldad, and the name of the other Medad. And the Spirit rested upon them. Now they were among those listed, but who had not gone out to the tabernacle; yet they prophesied in the camp. And a young man ran and told Moses, and said, ‘Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.’ So Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ assistant, one of his choice men, answered and said, ‘Moses my lord, forbid them!’Then Moses said to him, ‘Are you zealous for my sake? Oh, that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put His Spirit upon them!”
The same sort of thing happened centuries later when Jesus Himself walked the earth. In Mark 9:38-40 we: “John said to him, ‘Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.’” In fact, this was the same John who, decades later, wrote the words of our text. He needed to learn a lesson, and Jesus was more than willing to teach it: “But Jesus said, ‘Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. For the one who is not against us is for us” (ESV).
Given the words of our text, John obviously learned the lesson. But he just as obviously learned the balance that was necessary if he was to do the one without abandoning the other. Not only does the Apostle tell us that we are supposed to love all who “have been born of God,” he balances that in 1 John 4:1 with these words: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”
Again in his Gospel account, John spoke of the importance of clinging to every single word of God when he quoted the Savior: “I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in Me should not abide in darkness. And if anyone hears My words and does not believe, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him—the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day. For I have not spoken on My own authority; but the Father who sent Me gave Me a command, what I should say and what I should speak. And I know that His command is everlasting life. Therefore, whatever I speak, just as the Father has told Me, so I speak” (John 12:46-50).
John clearly promotes a balanced “both/and” approach. We are to separate from error for light can have nothing to do with darkness, but we are also to love all Christians and recognize them as part of the “body of Christ.” In our “us-them” mentality, all Christians are part of the “us.” We struggle for the right balance by demonstrating, not only an aversion to the darkness of false teaching and unbelief, but also a love for all who are, in fact, fellow-Christians in God’s eyes —those who are “in fellowship” with us and those who are not.
Love, you will recall, isn’t really about emotion so much as it is about selfless, outward-directed actions. A big part of the way we are to show love to fellow Christians who are erring is to help them identify the darkness of sin and false teaching. It is certainly not to make them comfortable with error.
Again, it is a difficult balancing act and not at all an easy task. We seem to have a hard time loving that which is not one with us in all that we teach and believe. It’s a challenge to remain true to God’s Word and still adopt the right sort of “us-them” mentality. In our text, John identified the “them.” He wrote, “For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world” (v. 4 ESV). The “world” is the “them”—that is, the world of unbelievers around us. It is, and should be, disturbing when we find ourselves more drawn to and comfortable with the godless of this world than we are with other Christians.
John then moves next in our text from loving fellow Christians to loving God: “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments” (vv. 2-3 ESV).
In a couple weeks it will be Mother’s Day. Is anyone here going to show their love to mom by tracking mud through the house? How about by being an ungrateful slob or treating her badly? Obviously not. We show our love by doing something that will give mom joy, right? Compare that to what John tells us in our text about loving God. How do we demonstrate our love to God? Obviously, not by doing what displeases him. We show our love by doing what we know pleases Him, which John in our text identifies as “keeping his commandments.”
The good news, as John also points out, is that God’s commandments are not burdensome. It’s always nice to be able to show your appreciation or affection for a loved one by doing something that you both enjoy. The good news is that the same situation exists between us and our God. Ever since we were changed by the Holy Spirit’s conversion of our hearts, we too can honestly agree that keeping God’s commandments is the absolute joy of the new man that he has created within us. It is anything now but burdensome or oppressive.
Our text finally gets to that which forms the theme for our study today: the victory that Is saving faith. You heard it in the words of our text: “And this is the victory that has overcome the world--our faith.” (v.4). John then goes on to ask the obvious question: Who is it that overcomes the world? His answer: “the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God” (v.5).
Faith in Jesus Christ is then the dividing line between “us” and “them.” It always has been and always will be. The reason ought to be obvious: everyone who believes in Jesus Christ will spend eternity in the same place. That’s “us.” Everyone who does not believe in Jesus Christ will also spend eternity together, but in a much different place. That’s “them.” The fact that we are among those on the winning side is that which fills us with joy, relief, and comfort. Through the faith created in each of us by God Himself, we have forgiveness for all our sins and will spend an eternity with our God in heaven. We are, in other words, now and forever elect heirs of Heaven.
That same good news also serves as our marching orders, our life’s work, because our calling is not to hate the “them.” Our calling is to show love to “them” by doing everything in our power to make them part of the “us.” Simple Law and Gospel are our tools in this life’s work. Nothing else works, nothing else has the power to change someone’s heart. Nothing else has the power to turn a living soul from “them” to “us.”
God grant us joy in who and what we are and the courage and love for the battle ahead where we will struggle for a lifetime to make the “us” side ever bigger. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.