2 John 1:1-6 – Love Must Have It’s Way, or It Isn’t Love

Heart painting by Ivan Guaderrama

My dear congregation, I, your pastor, love you in very truth. And I’m not alone—everyone who knows the Truth that has taken up permanent residence in us loves you.

Let grace, mercy, and peace be with us in truth and love from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, Son of the Father!

I can’t tell you how happy I am to learn that many members of your congregation are diligent in living out the Truth, exactly as commanded by the Father. But permit me a reminder, friends, and this is not a new commandment but simply a repetition of our original and basic charter: that we love each other. Love means following his commandments, and his unifying commandment is that you conduct your lives in love. This is the first thing you heard, and nothing has changed. (MSG)

An Absence of Love

It seems no matter where we look there are groups of people with entrenched ways of looking at things. And so, their solutions to the great problems of community, nation, and world narrowly focus on one way of thinking. Those answers rarely consider John’s message. The fix usually involves the belief that one group of folks know better for every other group. It is pride, condescension, and selfishness all rolled up into a tidy package of hate to be distributed to all who oppose the sanctified plan.

Good grief. We need a bit of humility to consult voices on the margins of society – to be open in finding understanding in remote places. Sometimes, the answers to significant issues are tucked away somewhere nobody looks. The brief letter of the Apostle John to the Church is nestled in a place within the New Testament where few believers ever peek. 

Perhaps love itself has become a forgotten virtue among the very people entrusted to uphold its beauty and grace.

It is my unshakable conviction, based upon the consistent witness of Saint John the Evangelist, that everything in the Christian life rises and falls with love. Even to say this with such brash boldness is a gross understatement. That’s because love is more than an idea, a feeling, and a practice.

God is Love

God extends loving words and actions because love is the stuff that God is made up of. The very character of God is love, through and through. There is never a time when God is not loving. God’s anger and wrath are expressions of love – for God is opposed to all that which is unloving. Therefore, God extends justice and confronts sin so that love will freely flow once again amongst humanity and all creation.

John is known as the Apostle of love. He consistently espoused the primacy and permanence of love whenever he had the chance. Truth and love go together, always. John says to the church, “We love you because the truth is now in our hearts, and it will be there forever.”

The true muster of the Church and of individual believers is their love. It doesn’t matter how right or important the cause is. If the strategy to implement that cause leaves love out of the equation, it is a fool’s errand.

A profound lack of love is the litmus test that belies a faulty and heretical doctrine of Jesus. The absence of love is always the clue there is going to be some impure teaching behind it. The real enemy of Christ is the one who claims Christianity but does not love in either word or deed. If we really want to love God, we will love one another, and vice-versa.

Love and Truth Always Go Together

To embrace truth is to love a group of people wherever they are. It is to see them, listen to them, then act on their behalf. Far too often Christians are known for their hubris in superimposing on others what those others need – believing they already know the truth of both Bible and them.

Love abides with the truth of a people. Genuine love seeks the truth and responds accordingly. Love is willing to find out what the issues are of a people. Assuming others need our money, our plans, our service, or our solutions assumes we already understand their situation apart from hearing from them.

Love is longsuffering. It is willing to sit with folks for as long as it takes. Love orients itself around the patient and careful application of biblical truth to the truth of a people. And that takes a great deal of time and effort. There are no shortcuts to love. Love must have its way, or it isn’t love. Since God is love, God must have his way in us first.

Maybe we need to come back again and again to the great ode to love expressed by the Apostle Paul. After all, the consistent witness of truth throughout the Bible is love.

Love, the Motivation of Our Lives

If I were to speak with eloquence in earth’s many languages, and in the heavenly tongues of angels, yet I didn’t express myself with love, my words would be reduced to the hollow sound of nothing more than a clanging cymbal.

And if I were to have the gift of prophecy with a profound understanding of God’s hidden secrets, and if I possessed unending supernatural knowledge, and if I had the greatest gift of faith that could move mountains, but have never learned to love, then I am nothing.

And if I were to be so generous as to give away what I own to feed the poor, and to offer my body to be burned as a martyr, without the pure motive of love, I would gain nothing of value.

Love is large and incredibly patient. Love is gentle and consistently kind to all. It refuses to be jealous when blessing comes to someone else. Love does not brag about one’s achievements nor inflate its own importance. Love does not traffic in shame and disrespect, nor selfishly seek its own honor. Love is not easily irritated or quick to take offense. Love joyfully celebrates honesty and finds no delight in what is wrong. Love is a safe place of shelter, for it never stops believing the best for others. Love never takes failure as defeat, for it never gives up.

Perfect Love

Love never stops loving. It extends beyond the gift of prophecy, which eventually fades away. It is more enduring than tongues, which will one day fall silent. Love remains long after words of knowledge are forgotten. Our present knowledge and our prophecies are but partial, but when love’s perfection arrives, the partial will fade away. When I was a child, I spoke about childish matters, for I saw things like a child and reasoned like a child. But the day came when I matured, and I set aside my childish ways.

For now, we see but a faint reflection of riddles and mysteries as though reflected in a mirror, but one day we will see face-to-face. My understanding is incomplete now, but one day I will understand everything, just as everything about me has been fully understood. Until then, there are three things that remain: faith, hope, and love—yet love surpasses them all. So, above all else, let love be the beautiful prize for which you run. (1 Corinthians 13, TPT)

Amen.

Children of God, Loved by God

By Unknown artist

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.

Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin. No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.

Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. The one who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. (1 John 3:1-7, NIV)

True children of God, Christians, are loved by God – that is their status and identity. This cannot be changed any more than a tiger can change his stripes.

True children of God live, remain, abide, and continue in their identity as Christians. They know who they are and how they are to live.

Who We Are

When Jesus was on this earth, he was misunderstood by a lot of people. Christians must learn to expect the same. True children loved by God will neither fit in with the world nor seek the world’s affirmation and accolades. The practical difference between Christianity and the world is that Christians locate their primary identity, allegiance, and purpose in Christ, whereas the world finds their identity elsewhere.

Being loved by God brings assurance, peace, security, and hope. These qualities cannot be manufactured by us because they are results of being loved. The world cannot give us these characteristics. This does not mean that Christians always have it all together. We are continually in a process of discovering our identity and growing more and more into that uniqueness. The reason Jesus lived his life without needing the world’s recognition is that he was firmly and securely assured of the Father’s love and care for him. 

Christians continue to learn what it means to be loved by God in Christ. This love helps fortify our faith so that we will not find our identities in worldly roles, however intrinsically good those roles might be. For example, a parent with the primary identity as mother or father will view salvation as coming through the family. Or a person with the primary identity as teacher will see deliverance coming through education. 

When Christians have their primary identity as children of God, loved by God, then they see deliverance from guilt, shame, darkness, and oppression as coming through Jesus. When the church, living and serving together, secure in their identity as children of God, loved by God, then she can withstand any adulterous flirtations from the world to woo them away from Jesus.

We are children of God. We are not children of the world’s institutions, systems, organizations, ethos, mores, and values. Everyone who has hope in Christ is pure and holy. When we locate our primary identity in being loved by God, we avoid defiling ourselves with the world’s grime. We take regular spiritual baths which cleanse us from the world’s crud. We keep reminding ourselves and each other of our true status as God’s children. We do not allow any other identity to topple or replace our wonderful reality of being loved by God.

How we view ourselves will determine how we live our lives.

How We Are to Live

True children of God abide by the law because they abide in Christ. Jesus said all the law could be summed up in two commands: Love God. Love neighbor. Breaking the law means:

  • Hating instead of loving.
  • Working to undermine someone instead of seeking their best interests.
  • Excluding others instead of including others.
  • Dividing and opposing instead of unifying and cooperating. 

No one abiding in Christ continues the same trajectory they had before knowing Christ. Jesus came to take care of the sin issue once for all through the cross. Therefore, Christians, loved by God, cannot be lawbreakers if they are abiding; the two cannot co-exist with each other.

So, our primary task as Christians is to abide in Jesus and remain firmly in our identity as children of God, loved by God. We are to love by remaining in God’s love and allowing love to shape all our thoughts, words, and actions. We will continue to be steadfast in that love. We will not be led astray. We will abide in Christ.

Identity and life work together. For example, I am currently a citizen of the state of Wisconsin. I not only geographically live in Wisconsin, but I am to abide in the state as a responsible person. Being a Wisconsinite is different from the rest of the world. Wisconsinites are readily identifiable by their sports and their food.

Lambeau Field, home of the Green Bay Packers

Diehard Green Bay Packer fans forsake any identification as Lions, Bears, or the god-forsaken pagan Vikings. They like their prep and collegiate sports, flock to curling clubs, get married in bowling alleys, and observe time through the various hunting seasons. Citizens of Wisconsin like their food and drink. Nothing compares to the Friday night fish fry, cheese curds, venison, mustard – all washed down with either a Spotted Cow, Leinenkugel’s, or a trip to the bubbler.

We are to become more and more like Christ. Our identity as loved by God means we will seek to live in Christ by living a life of love. The people of Wisconsin have a general reputation of being polite and helpful, not rude and unhelpful. All their citizens should live into this identity and behavior. And as Christians whose primary identity is in being children of God, loved by God, we should abide in Christ through love and obedience. 

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit, he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.” (John 15:1-17, NIV)

Conclusion

A true Christian is a child of God, not the world. Our behavior flows from who we are. If our primary identity is securely in being a loved child of God, then what comes out of us will be loving words and actions, even to those in the world who might not believe or understand.

When we think about our world, it can be a sad place, devoid of love. People from different cultures and backgrounds often do not get along with each other. Political parties have difficulty finding common ground. Some Christians cannot seem to get along with other Christians. In the world, differences often divide us. Can people different from each other get along? 

The early church did. And they did it without all the stuff we have – sanctuaries, church buildings, programs. Those early believers did it through the message of the cross using the basic tool of love. Not every Christian will serve on the foreign mission field or serve in a professional ministry position. However, every Christian can be loving.

True children of God are loved by God. They are characterized by the Christian practices of hospitably loving the immigrant and stranger, loving their enemies, forgiving those who have sinned against them, and obeying God’s commands. These practices stem the tide of evil and hate in the world and usher in the love of God in Christ.

1 John 2:18-25 – Who Is Really the Enemy?

Ethiopian Orthodox Church depiction of St. John the Apostle and Evangelist, c.1540 C.E.

My dear children, the end is near! You have heard that the enemy of Christ is coming. And now many enemies of Christ are already here. So, we know that the end is near. These enemies were in our group, but they left us. They did not really belong with us. If they were really part of our group, they would have stayed with us. But they left. This shows that none of them really belonged with us.

You have the gift that the Holy One gave you. So, you all know the truth. Do you think I am writing this letter because you don’t know the truth? No, I am writing because you do know the truth. And you know that no lie comes from the truth.

So, who is the liar? It is the one who says Jesus is not the Messiah. Whoever says that is the enemy of Christ—the one who does not believe in the Father or in his Son. Whoever does not believe in the Son does not have the Father, but whoever accepts the Son has the Father too.

Be sure that you continue to follow the teaching you heard from the beginning. If you do that, you will always be in the Son and in the Father. And this is what the Son promised us—eternal life. (ERV)

Throughout Christian history there have been churches, ministers, and individuals who have advanced certain persons as being the “antichrist,” enemies of Christ and his followers.

Attempting to identify a particular enemy comes from a theological disposition that believes an antichrist is the first link in a chain of end-times events. Typically, a ruthless or dictatorial ruler, like Mussolini, Hitler, or Stalin received the label of “antichrist.”  For some Protestants, the papacy continually gets set apart as being the antichrist. Even recently, Pope Francis received the dubious title from a group of end-times watchers because they claimed he allowed people to treat him as if he were Jesus, accepting worship and praise.

Yet, the term “antichrist” has not typically been used as a title for one enemy setting-off a bomb of world-ending trauma. The earliest church, following the teaching of the Apostle John, understood antichrist not as an individual, but as a class of people who deny Jesus is the Christ. Indeed, John plainly said the antichrist is anyone who forsakes the Father and the Son. What is so disturbing about John’s talk of antichrist is that these persons arise from within the church, not outside of it.

It has become much too vogue in some circles of Christian evangelicalism to identify and label enemies outside their small groups, leading to a xenophobic attitude of distrust and finger-pointing toward all kinds of people. 

The fingers, however, must first be directed within our own house. It behooves us all to take up the instruction of John to let what we have heard from the beginning abide in us. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father. 

We are to embrace basic core cardinal truth given us. Then we will not be deceived by some supposed enlightened teacher who detracts from Trinitarian theology.

It is the last hour – but not because of some politician, tyrant, or even religious figure. It is the end-times because Jesus has accomplished redemption for us, and the only event left is the return of Jesus to judge the living and the dead. 

Therefore, we must all live with the possibility and tension that it could be today. We are to be prepared. That preparation comes through proclaiming Jesus in all we say and do – not by obnoxiously ginning up fearmongering through pointing fingers at those we don’t like. Rather, we emulate our Lord in the way of loving God and neighbor.

When a person or group gets labeled by us as “enemy” or “antichrist” then our hate for them seems divinely justified and sanctioned. God, however, is the judge; not us. We are to follow the ethical instruction of Jesus to love our enemies, not curse them through slapping a moniker of “monster,” “devil,” “animal,” or some other non-human label on them.

Weaponizing words in a verbal war which supposedly defends Christianity only shifts the focus off Jesus and onto how horrible another is. One of the great problems of our world, including many corners of Christianity, is that we assume we already know what another believes. So, we fail to listen. We cannot care as we ought because we’ve already formed our judgment.

“The moment someone attaches you to a philosophy or a movement, then they assign all the baggage and all the rest of the philosophy that goes with it to you. And when you want to have a conversation, they will assert that they already know everything important there is to know about you because of that association. And that’s not the way to have a conversation.”

Neil deGrasse Tyson

Within Christianity, there is much more we have in common with one another across the various traditions than that which is different. Yes, spiritual charlatans exist. Let’s just make sure we have done our due diligence in listening to another and being curious before we form our opinions.

Despite our differences, the exchange of ideas and debate among various Christian groups in the early centuries of the church helped to clarify and form a sound Christology. While it may be difficult to avoid labeling individuals in an increasingly complex society, we must act in good faith.

Mighty God, you sent the Son to this earth to fulfill all your good promises. Let me embrace Jesus so fully and completely that the truth of his reality comes pouring out of me in every area of my life.  In his name I pray. Amen.

John 13:1-17, 31-35 – Maundy Thursday

Jesus Washes Peter’s Feet

It was before Passover, and Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and to return to the Father. He had always loved his followers in this world, and he loved them to the very end.

Even before the evening meal started, the devil had made Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, decide to betray Jesus.

Jesus knew that he had come from God and would go back to God. He also knew that the Father had given him complete power. So, during the meal Jesus got up, removed his outer garment, and wrapped a towel around his waist. He put some water into a large bowl. Then he began washing his disciples’ feet and drying them with the towel he was wearing.

But when he came to Simon Peter, that disciple asked, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

Jesus answered, “You don’t really know what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

“You will never wash my feet!” Peter replied.

“If I don’t wash you,” Jesus told him, “you don’t really belong to me.”

Peter said, “Lord, don’t wash just my feet. Wash my hands and my head.”

Jesus answered, “People who have bathed and are clean all over need to wash just their feet. And you, my disciples, are clean, except for one of you.” Jesus knew who would betray him. That is why he said, “except for one of you.”

After Jesus had washed his disciples’ feet and had put his outer garment back on, he sat down again. Then he said:

Do you understand what I have done? You call me your teacher and Lord, and you should, because that is who I am. And if your Lord and teacher has washed your feet, you should do the same for each other. I have set the example, and you should do for each other exactly what I have done for you. I tell you for certain that servants are not greater than their master, and messengers are not greater than the one who sent them. You know these things, and God will bless you, if you do them….

Now the Son of Man will be given glory, and he will bring glory to God. Then, after God is given glory because of him, God will bring glory to him, and God will do it very soon.

My children, I will be with you for a little while longer. Then you will look for me, but you won’t find me. I tell you just as I told the people, “You cannot go where I am going.” But I am giving you a new command. You must love each other, just as I have loved you. If you love each other, everyone will know that you are my disciples. (CEV)

Jesus Washing the Feet of His Disciple by Japanese artist Sadao Watanabe (1913-1996)

We all need to receive love and to give love. Without love, there is little to live for. Apart from love, relationships devolve into silent standoffs and destructive triangles. Indeed, with an absence of love the world ceases to spin on its axis.

Yet, where love is present all things are beautiful. Personal relations have meaning and joy. All seems right and just in the world.

Love, however, comes at a cost. Because we live in a broken world full of pride and hubris, greed, and avarice, hate and envy, we are victims of loveless systems and unjust actions. We need love to rescue us, to redeem us from the sheer muck of existence. It’s as if we are constantly walking knee deep through sludge so thick, we can barely get anywhere. We need saving. We need Jesus.

Christians everywhere around the world are journeying through Holy Week, the most sacred time of the year for followers of Christ. When we think about Holy Week, we are familiar with Good Friday and certainly Easter, but Maundy Thursday? 

On this day, the Church remembers the final evening Jesus shared with his disciples in the upper room before his arrest and crucifixion. The experiences in the upper room were highly significant because this was the last teaching, modeling, and instruction Jesus gave before facing the cross. Jesus was careful and deliberate to communicate exactly what was important to him: to love one another.

Maundy Thursday marks three important events in Christ’s Last Supper with his disciples: 

  • The washing of the disciples’ feet (the action of loving service)
  • The instituting of the Lord’s Supper (the remembrance of loving sacrifice)
  • The giving of a “new” commandment to love one another (the mandate of a loving lifestyle). 

For Jesus, his last night with the disciples was all about love, God’s love. On that fateful night, having loved his disciples for the past three years, Jesus showed them the full extent of his love by taking the posture of a servant and washing each one of the disciples’ feet, including Judas. After demonstrating for them humble service, Jesus said,

“I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you” (John 13:15, NIV). 

This was an incredible act of love. Jesus Christ loves me just as I am, and not as I should be. He loves me even with my dirty stinky feet, my herky-jerky commitment to him, and my pre-meditated sin. 

The Last Supper by Indian artist Francis Newton Souza (1924-2002)

Not only did Jesus wash the disciples’ feet, but he lifted the cup of wine and boldly asserted: 

“Take this and divide it among you.  For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”  And he took the bread, gave thanks, and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you, do this in remembrance of me.”  In the same way, after the supper he took the cup saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you” (Luke 22:17-20, NIV). 

Because of these words, the church throughout the world, for two millennia, have practiced this communion so that we might have the redemptive events of Jesus pressed firmly into our minds and our hearts by means of the visceral and common elements of bread and wine. We are to not just know about Jesus; we are to experience being united with him.

Having washed the disciples’ feet, and proclaiming to them the meaning of his impending death, Jesus gave them a clear commandment: 

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35, NIV)

Love one another, insisted Jesus, by imitating his humble service. We represent Christ on this earth when we carefully, diligently, and persistently practice love. Although love was not a new concept for the disciples, in the form and teaching of Jesus love was shown with four distinctions: 

  1. Jesus is the new model of love.
  2. A new motive of love, that Christ first loved me.
  3. A new motivator to help us love, the Holy Spirit.
  4. A new mission, the evangelization of the world, utilizing the power of Christ’s love to accomplish it.

Maundy Thursday is a highly significant day on the Church Calendar – one which deserves to be observed, and an opportunity to remember the important words and actions of Jesus on our behalf.  Through Jesus Christ we are to live always in love, modeling our life and church ministry after him. 

In Christ, love is to characterize our life together as we proclaim God’s love in both word and deed. A watching world will only take notice and desire to be a part of our fellowship if we are deeply and profoundly centered in the love of God in Christ. This is the reality Maundy Thursday brings to us.