1 John 2:7-11

            “If we claim to be in the light and hate someone, we are still in the dark.  But if we love others, we are in the light, and we don’t cause problems for them.  If we hate others, we are living and walking in the dark.” 
 
            Simply based on this Scripture alone, it ought to be abundantly clear that hate really has no place in the Christian’s life.  Hate is never justified for any one person or group of people.  Love, however, is the consummate Christian virtue.  The highest of all truth in Christianity is the grace that is bestowed on us through the love of God.  We, in turn, reflect our Lord’s grace by loving others, no matter their gender, race, creed, or ethnicity.
 
            We all have individuals, maybe even a particular group of persons whom we do not like.  Perhaps we even despise them.  The Apostle John throws the burden of change to fall on those who claim the name of Christ and choose to hate, and not on those for whom we dislike.
 
            So, what will you do today to deal with this Scripture?  Will you begin or continue the difficult process of forgiveness?  How will you come to be ever more characterized by love?  Will you ask God to shine his light on the shadows of your heart?  For those who are in the dark do not see their flaws, but those in the light of the Son see clearly their need for God’s help.
 

 

            Glorious God, you are right and just in all you do.  Let your love shine through me today and every day so that the Name of Jesus is known as gracious and good.  Amen.

Love, Not Hate

 
 
            Jesus will build his church (Matthew 16:18).  The church has been designed from its inception to be the hope of the world.  God the Father sent God the Son to this earth to live a holy life, to teach us how to live, to die on a cruel cross as an atoning sacrifice for our sins, to rise from death, to ascend to heaven, to send God the Holy Spirit for us as we engage in the mission of proclaiming in words and actions that there is new life in Jesus. 
 
            So, the church is being the church when:  lives are changed; hatreds are overcome; failures are forgiven; grace overwhelms and melts hard hearts; selfishness is diminished; compassion grows into an immense hope that Christ is doing just as he said he would do – build his church.  When the church is working right it is the hope of the world because it is:  experiencing the power of the Holy Spirit to rejoice with those who rejoice and cry with those who cry; lifting holy hands in prayer and praise to the God who loves us; and, reaching-out with heartfelt mercy to those who desperately need this good news that Jesus has graciously forgiven all our sin through his once for all death on a cross.
 
The church is meant to love, not hate (1 John 3:14).
 
            “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers and sisters.  Anyone who does not love remains in death.”  I need to ask this question because the Word of God demands it:  Do you hate anyone?  The Scripture tells us that hate means we are still dead, not alive.  Love is the distinguishing mark of the believer in Jesus Christ.  The person with hate has so many barnacles built up on their underside that they cannot move at all through the water of life with any joy or fulfillment.  What is more, they are dragging down the rest of the fleet that seeks to move in concert together in the love of Jesus.
 
            Jesus Christ did not die on the cross so that we could hate someone, or a group of people.  Christ died so that you could love.  If love does not characterize your life, you are dead.  That means you are separated from God.  That sounds serious, and it is.  Hate has absolutely no place in the church whatsoever.  “Anyone who hates his brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him” (1 John 3:15).
 
            As followers of Jesus, we not only should love, but we should not put up with hate in the fellowship of believers.  You are under no obligation whatsoever to listen to hateful speech and allow hateful actions because the church is meant to be a reflection of God’s loving and healing acceptance of people.  It is not the loving thing to do to let others spew hate in front of you, no matter who they are.  Maybe you could respond to hateful words by saying, “Sounds to me like you need to let God pressure-wash some barnacles off your heart.”
 
            If you keep having the same conversation with someone over and over again; if every time you raise a new idea, the same person lists three reasons why it will never work; if fondness for the past exceeds passion for the future; if small things always become big things; if someone chronically complains to you; and, if there is never any love behind what someone says to you; then, there is hate behind it all and it just might be that such a person needs to hear the gospel of grace and be delivered from their life of sin.
 

 

            Every church on God’s good earth must have a zero-tolerance policy toward hate, and a 100% commitment to love.  God has not called us to hate anyone, but to love.  The church is only the hope of the world when it loves others.  The world will know that there is a God in heaven, and a Christ in the church, when people within local congregations love one another, when particular Christian denominations go out of their way to bless others, and when the love of Jesus compels us to drip grace on the most unlovely of people. Indeed, they will know we are Christians by our love.

On Loving Others

 
 
Here are a couple of things to know when reading the New Testament:  whenever you see the phrase “one another” in the New Testament, it is talking about fellow Christians; but whenever there is the phrase “the other” (NIV “fellowman” i.e. Romans 13:8), the Bible is talking about outsiders, that is, non-believers. 
 
So, the Apostle Paul’s vision for the church is that it should love all people, without exception. 
 
We need to do away with any kind of notion of the church being like a country club that caters to members who pay their dues, as if there is no responsibility toward outsiders.  Yet, neither are we to see the church as heading out to the deer stand and spending all our time outside trying to bag non-Christians with no regard for what is happening internally with the believers.
 
            Loving others is a message that is really not anything new for us.  My guess is that none of you will read this post and say, “Well, that was new!  I’ll be!  The Bible actually says I am supposed to love other people!”  It is not as if we are ignorant about the need to love others.  Yet, at the same time, we all know there is a lack of love in this old fallen world, and sometimes even in Christ’s church.  When author John Shore did research for his book titled, I’m OK – You’re Not:  The Message We’re Sending Non-Believers Toward Christianity, to his surprise the over-and-above answer he got from those outside of the faith was this:
 
“Why do Christians hate us so much?”
 
            I don’t know about you, but over the past few years I have actually “de-friended” some of my brothers in the faith from Facebook because their postings were so often filled with hate toward “the other” that it was just bringing me down. 
 
Feeling justified to hate another person does not come from the New Testament Scriptures. 
 
We, as Christians, owe the world our love, not our hate (Romans 13:8-14).  Just as I was writing this sermon, a man came into my office I have interacted with many times.  He is usually down-and-out, and looks the part.  Sometimes I help him with tangible assistance, sometimes I don’t.  But there is something that he needs as much or more than help; he needs love.  He needs a friend.  He needs relationship.  All people, no matter who they are, have been created in the image of God and, therefore, deserve the dignity of conversation and relationship rather than being looked at as a project or overlooked just because they are different. 
 
            We cannot really love one another in the church or love the other if we are continually putting ourselves in the position to indulge our sinful nature.  Like wearing a set of dirty clothes, we are to take off our selfish sinful desires, and put on the new clean clothes of God’s love in Christ.  If we are busy demonstrating love, then there is no room in our lives to behave indecently in any kind of immorality, dissension, or jealousy.  If we are committed to exercising our spiritual gifts given by God, there is not enough time in the day to think about how to gratify our sinful impulses.
 
            Another potential hindrance to a life of love has to do with the law.  The law is a good gift from God.  Yet, law has its limits.  What the law cannot accomplish, love can.  The law must serve love of God and neighbor, and not the other way around.  That is, the law must bow to the demands of love.  In Charles Dickens’ classic, A Christmas Carol, Ebeneezer Scrooge was a law-abiding citizen, and when faced with the needs of those less fortunate, old Scrooge appealed to the law.  He saw no need for loving actions or words when there were already poor houses, relief organizations, and prisons in operation.  It is the appeal in our day of saying that I am a tax-paying, law-abiding citizen and have no obligation to “the other.”  This brings us back to relationship.  It is easy to say people need to just work harder and not be lazy when we are not in a relationship with anyone who is in need.  Furthermore, it can be easy to indulge our sinful nature when we believe that we have earned the right through our law-abiding selves, without seeing God’s hand behind our success, to speak ill of the other, and even to a brother or sister in Christ.
 
            As followers of Jesus, we need to take a kind of Christian Hippocratic Oath:  to do no harm to our neighbor, but to do everything within our power to love them.  Since Jesus will return soon, the prompting of the Holy Spirit that we neglect today may not have opportunity tomorrow.  When Jesus does return, he will hold us accountable for our conduct, our speech, and our spiritual condition.
 

 

            Our guiding principle as Christians is:  Love your neighbor as yourself.  The hour has now come to wake up and have eyes to see the people all around us in need of Jesus Christ and his grace so that we can be long on love of God, deep in our love for each other, and cast a wide net of love for others in the world.