1 John 3:1–11
Good evening. On behalf of the International Fellowship I want to thank you this evening for your prayers for us. We are humbled by your encouragement and support. We want to say thank you. Thanks to all of you and thank you to our Lord Jesus for his outrageous love.
Are you a person with a heart of righteousness who wants justice for all?
Many of us have a strong sense of justice. We are very happy when we see a bad driver caught by the police, and we say he got what he deserved. Recently one of our members suffered a broken back when a taxi driver crashed on the highway. Did she get what she deserved?
Who does get their just deserts? Do the Christians in North Korea get their just deserts? Do the corrupt politicians and businessmen get their just deserts? Do the women of the world get their just deserts? Do you get what you deserve?
No! You don’t get what you deserve. How much does God love you? He loves you far more than you deserve.
Verse one starts ‘See how very much our Father loves us.’ We are not being asked how much we love God. We are being told how much God loves us. We are being told to think about his love for us so that knowledge of this truth soaks into us.
John invites us to look with wonder and awe into the truth that unworthy though we are, God loves us. It is an invitation to be amazed that God loves even those people we find most unlovely. It is one thing to say we love God, and Jesus places this as one of the two great commandments alongside loving your neighbour. It is quite another to say that God loves us. When we understand this truth we have to also accept the truth that he loves the people we dislike, the people we ignore, the people we kill, the people we sit next to on the bus, and the people who hate and despise us.
If God loves these people and we love God, then how can we treat them with anything but tender mercy and compassionate love?
Please can we do what this verse advises and take a moment right now to think about God’s love for us.
We can look at creation to see God’s love for us, or we can look at ourselves. What struck me as I was thinking about this is how much potential God has given us all.
You all have great potential to do amazing things, but whether or not you ever will is up to you. God loves you too much to do it for you. I am a parent and I burst with joy each time my children did something for themselves for the first time. I knew they could do it, and now they know it as well. But the potential world champion athlete will never become the actual world champion without a vast amount of training and practise and dedication. Their potential, their God-given talent, will forever remain unrealised.
God wants all of us to grow. He has given us amazing potential. He cares what we do with it. The best teachers get their pupils to learn by setting questions and then helping the child to find the answers. They don’t give them the answers, only the questions.
God is like this with us, and of course our Scripture today says that we are God’s children. People of the world don’t know this. As we read on we see why. John says, “the people who belong to this world don’t recognize that we are God’s children because they don’t know him.”
Not only does the world not understand us, it actively dislikes us. We may be labelled fanatics, and in some countries we are put in prison camps.
Moving on to verse 2 we find something really important for us. Let’s read verse 2: “We are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is.”
We do not know what we will be like! Whatever we are like today, we will be different.
That means change. And this verse says the change that comes in us is a result of seeing Jesus ‘as he really is’.
The implications of that are two-fold. One, we don’t really know Jesus yet. Two, we aren’t going to be transformed into the likeness of God by performing good deeds or being good people. We don’t experience spiritual growth as a result of rituals, but as a result of getting to know Jesus better. It is Jesus who changes us. We don’t change ourselves. However good people say we are, the Bible says we still have a lot of changing left to do.
This verse is not aimed at unbelievers coming to repentance, it is aimed at all of us here tonight who are followers of Jesus. It says we are already children of God, but we have far to go in our development. And our development is always going to be stunted unless we come to see Jesus ‘as he really is’. At that time, in the future, we shall be like him. We shall be changed when we see him as he is.
Do you think you know Jesus? This verse suggests that you don’t.
If we cannot grow except by seeing Jesus clearly, then one of our primary goals in life must surely be to understand our Lord and master. One of the most important things that you can do is to take time to get to know Jesus better.
One of the ways we get to know someone is to talk to them. You watch what they do. You listen to them. You study their actions.
I once knew a woman who married a man she didn’t know. It was a traditional arranged marriage. He was a pleasant and caring man. She was a dedicated and loyal wife. Time passed but they never grew close. They weren’t unhappy, but neither were they happy.
They were two people living in the same house, but they weren’t a couple. The woman couldn’t understand her man, and she didn’t know what to do. When he was with his friends he would laugh and joke. She could never get him to even smile. They were distant, like acquaintances. The woman tried to love her kind and faithful husband, and she devoted herself to their marriage. But the gulf between them remained full of cool waters, undisturbed by passions of any kind. The woman became ever more desperate for love and devised a scheme. She talked to his friends and found out from them the names of the women he had really liked in his bachelor days. She found that there was one girl in particular with whom he had been especially close in his youth. He would probably have married her if their parents had not arranged things another way.
This women went to her husband’s childhood sweetheart. She begged to be taught how to love him and capture his heart. From this woman she learned all the things that made him happy and pleased him. Through this woman she came to understand her husband. So she applied her knowledge. She changed the clothes she wore, she changed the food she cooked, she changed the way she spoke, she changed the things she did. And as a result of her sacrifice her husband found love at last.
Instead of us trying to change God to fit our views of him, we should be like this lady and change ourselves to match the reality of who he is.
This is not a story of how women should adapt to men and serve them. This is a story of how we all need to develop our relationship with Jesus.
A good way to get to know Jesus better is to talk about him with people who know him better than you do. One person who knows Jesus very well is Holy Spirit. There may be some not too far away from where you are sitting.
People are changed when they come to know the Lord Jesus.
We may not know Jesus very well, but we know him better than many of our neighbours. They can come to know Jesus through us, as we are Jesus to them. We don’t rescue our neighbours through persuasion, but through presenting them with Jesus. We therefore need to strive every day to know him better, and introduce his transforming love into the lives of all the people we meet. By our lives they will know him.
Workers in the factories that first made lead additives for petrol died from lead poisoning in their hundreds. Ignorance was no protection, and it doesn’t protect us from the consequences of pollution. It doesn’t protect us from sin. When we grow in our knowledge of him, we cease to sin. We start to obey the law and we start to become like him.
Verse six says that people who don’t know Jesus keep on sinning. If someone keeps on sinning, it means they don’t know Jesus. We all fall short and make mistakes because we don’t know him well enough, but we don’t wilfully keep on sinning.
The next two verses remind us that through all the ages of man there has been someone trying to obstruct God’s work. There really is an evil being. He is not an excuse for our sorry state, but he is the reason it is so hard to know Jesus. He knows the law and he chooses to violate it.
So the person who chooses to sin is siding with the devil. The person who chooses Jesus is born of God, it says in verse nine, and that person cannot go on sinning. Why not? Because they have God’s seed within them. This seed grows into a healthy plant and eventually bears fruit as it is daily tended and nursed with earnest prayer and study of the Scriptures. As we grow in our knowledge of him, his seed grows within us and we become ever more like him.
As you can see, this is a process. It takes time.
This is how we can tell who is a child of God and who is a child of the devil. Those who still live in darkness and follow the ways of evil are children of the devil. They are no less loved by God, but still unclaimed by him, their sins not forgiven, his seed not planted in them. We must show them Jesus in and through our lives.
Those who seek to know Jesus, who strive to be like him, and do right, are those whom he calls sons and daughters because his seed lives in them.
The most telling test is this. Do we love? Do we love our brothers and sisters? Not the brothers and sisters of our earthly parents, but all who are also children of God.
Out of a knowledge of God’s love must naturally flow a deep river of love for all those others whom God loves immensely and unreasonably. As we grow to understand God’s heart and mind, we unavoidably want to do all we can to bring him joy and spare him pain. We adjust our behaviour for his love’s sake. And so we are impelled to love our brothers and sisters.
As John says: ‘This is the message you have heard from the beginning: We should love one another.’
My prayer tonight is that all of us renew our promise to God to really love everyone he loves. My prayer tonight is also that we embrace Jesus, because only in him can we keep this promise.
That brings us full circle. God loves us though we don’t deserve to be loved. And we are called to love others who don’t deserve to be loved. We are called to love people who are nasty to us and people who gossip about us. We are called to love people who reject us, push us away, and call us names behind our back. We are called to love people who take advantage of us and people who hate us. We are called to love people who insult us and people who steal from us. We are called to love people who are jealous and arrogant. We are called to love people like ourselves. We are called to be like Jesus.
This is what we are called to and John gives us this message with a warning.
He says in verse 10: ‘Anyone who does not live righteously and does not love other believers does not belong to God.’
So I say to you again. My prayer tonight is that all of us renew our promise to God to really, truly, concretely, practically, actually love everyone he loves. My prayer tonight is also that we embrace Jesus, because only in him can we keep this promise.