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Teaching series from 1 John

Walking in Love

1 John 2:3-11

Teaching t10382


Briefly review the setting: false teachers who claim to “know God” because they possess secret knowledge and have dramatic spiritual experiences (GNOSTICS).  This confused and unsettled the audience: “How can we evaluate such claims by others?  How can we truly know God for ourselves?”

John rejects the Gnostics claim to know God and their way of knowing God (secret knowledge or dramatic spiritual experience).  Instead, he says knowing God is both manifested and deepened by walking in the light (DIAGRAM).

We saw last week in 1:5-10 that walking in the light means acknowledging that God is morally righteous, agreeing that God’s moral leadership is authoritative in your life, being honest with God and others when you sin, and humbly receiving God’s forgiveness through Jesus’ atoning death.

But John doesn’t stop here.  He claims that knowing God is also manifested and deepened by walking in love (DIAGRAM).  Let’s see how he develops this.

Read 2:3-6.  Knowing God involves keeping God’s commandments, which means walking in the same manner (living the same kind of lifestyle) that Jesus walked.

Read 2:7,8 NLT.  This preeminently involves keeping one particular commandment (note switch from plural to singular).  More on these two deep verses (how this commandment was both old and new; new light shining) in a minute—for now, we need to know that this commandment is to love one another/others (see also Jn. 13:34,35; 15:10,12).

So knowing God centers around humble honesty about our own sins and our need for Jesus’ forgiveness—and around pursuing a lifestyle of loving other people.  We need to drill deeper into what this love looks like and why it is so central to knowing God.

What this love looks like

Re-read 2:7,8.  The command to love one another is old in the sense that God revealed it in the Old Testament.  But it is new in the sense that Jesus invested it with fuller and deeper meaning in several ways:

It is new first because Jesus placed a new emphasis on love by teaching that love is the most important commandment because it is the fulfillment of all the rest of God’s commandments (read Matt.22:36-40).  In other words, the reason why God prohibits certain attitudes and behaviors is that they are unloving (cf. Rom.13:8-10).  But beyond this, the heart of the law is not merely negative and passive (e.g., “don’t steal”)—it is positive and active (e.g., “help those in need”).  Those who merely keep the negative prohibitions without loving people aren’t really fulfilling God’s law.

It is new secondly because Jesus practiced and called for a new degree of love expression by saying “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (Jn.15:13).  He demonstrated this love by laying down his life to pay for our sins, and he calls on us to lay down our lives in practical ways to meet others’ needs (1Jn.3:16,17).  Real love is not sentimental niceness—real love gives sacrificially to meet others’ real needs (e.g., material resources; correction; time; other-centered interest).

It is new thirdly because Jesus practiced and called for a new scope of love by teaching that we are to love all kinds of people.  Not just those who are like us (in race, ethnic background, cultural tastes, social rank, etc.)—but those who are very different from us (cf. the Good Samaritan).  Not just those who like us and treat us well—but also those who treat us badly and are even our enemies (cf. Matt. 5:44-47).

So Jesus took love to new heights.  And while we sense he is right, we also know we can’t do this.  But there is good news.  Jesus not only practiced this love and called us to practice it; he has also provided a new dynamic for loving.  This is what 2:8b means.  Jesus not only showed the world this true love; he can also live in you and enable you to show it to others.  He wants to live in your heart through his Spirit.  And his Spirit enables you to both personally experience God’s love for you and to give God’s love to others.  He imparts supernatural motivation to love others the way he loves you.  He can enable you to love others sacrificially even when you feel needy; he can enable you to love others who are different from you and/or who don’t love you.  He can personally guide you on how to express his love to specific people in specific situations.

The question is: Is Jesus’ Spirit in you?  It isn’t difficult to receive his Spirit.  You don’t have to learn some secret knowledge.  You don’t have to undergo some elaborate ritual.  You don’t even have to become reformed in your lifestyle.  All you have to do is admit your spiritual thirst and come to Jesus and drink (Jn.7:37-39).  Then his Spirit will indwell you, quench your thirst for God’s love—and fill your heart to give his love to others.  Are you ready to come to Jesus and drink?

Why loving others is so central to intimacy with God

So loving others the way Jesus loved you, allowing Jesus to love others through you, is an evidence that you know God (DIAGRAM) because only God’s Spirit can enable us to love in this way.  But it is also a key means of knowing God better (DIAGRAM).  In 2:9-11 and 3:18-23, John speaks of three specific ways that loving others leads to greater intimacy with God.

John draws a connection between loving others is a key to experiencing God’s guidance in your life.  Read 2:9-11.

The Gnostics evidently claimed that they received enlightenment from God even though they practiced hating others and (maybe) taught others to hate.  But John denies this.  If you want direction from God, you must be committed to loving others—because this is what God is doing and wants to lead you to do.  He delights in giving us guidance on how to love others existentially (PROMPTINGS), and on directing us into places and roles where we can manifest his love (MY LIFE DIRECTION).  Those who walk in love experience God’s direction. 

Conversely, those who reserve the right to hate others (or to live selfishly in a passive way) cut themselves off from God’s guidance.  You wind up “in the dark”—wandering away from God’s guidance and injuring yourself and others.  The first step back into getting God’s guidance is to confess your hatred/selfishness as sin and reaffirm your commitment to follow him into loving others.  It’s amazing how quickly the lights come back on when I do this!  Do you need to do this?

John also draws a connection between loving others and experiencing assurance and peace in our relationship with God.  Read 3:18-20.

NOTE: He is not saying that we earn God’s acceptance by loving others.  We are unable to earn God’s acceptance by anything we do for him—Jesus earned God’s acceptance for us through his death on the cross (2:2).

The issue is experiencing God’s acceptance, experiencing the assurance and peace that comes from being close to God.  And John says that this assurance comes as a result of loving others.  This is because as we follow him into loving others, he pours his love through us and we feel his love for us as we give it to others.  Our hearts are aligned with God’s heart, so we feel closer to God.  Even when doubts arise, or others tell us we don’t know God, or our failures to perfectly serve God condemns us—God’s love will assure our hearts as we allow him to love others through us.

Conversely, nothing will rob you of assurance and peace in your relationship with God more than living selfishly.  When you live for self (whether outrageously though rank sensuality and cruelty, or in socially acceptable ways like materialism and focusing on how others treat you), you have moved away from God’s heart—and you will feel more and more like a stranger to him.  But it’s amazing how quickly your closeness and peace with God is restored when you simply turn from selfishness to loving others.  Do you lack assurance and peace in your relationship with God?  Do you need to embrace his call to love others?

Finally, John draws a connection between loving others and having a confident prayer life.  Read 3:21-23.

When you are following God’s guidance to love others, your prayers are primarily for the resources to love the people God is putting into your life (opportunities to share Christ; guidance; insight; utterance; stamina; mercy; patience; courage; etc.).  And God answers these prayers because this is his will for your life.  And as you experience answered prayer, your confidence in praying to God grows.

Conversely, nothing will wither your prayer life more than living for self.  You may not stop praying to God—but your prayers are more like wishes to the Genie (“Make this person start liking me;” “Take away this bad circumstance;” “Make me feel better now”).  You’re trying to get God to help the universe revolve around you instead of aligning your heart to follow God to love people.  And God won’t reinforce your selfishness by answering your prayer—he loves you too much to do that.  If you persist in this self-centered focus, you begin to think it does no good to pray, and so you pray less and less—and then altogether.  But it’s amazing how quickly your prayer life comes alive when you start loving other people and asking God to give you what you need to do this!  Do you lack confidence in prayer?

Even when you walk in the light and walk in love, spiritual growth is a process.  John describes different stages of spiritual growthin the next passage (NEXT WEEK)