I John 3 and 4
This month, we have started a journey through the New Testament letters written by John, who had been an apostle of Jesus.
Having been with the Lord, John had heard, seen, and touched Him, which gave John credentials to write about Jesus, challenging the people who would read his letters, including us, to stay true to what for us is in the Bible about Jesus, thereby ignoring and avoiding any false teachers - antichrists, John called them - who had or have teachings contrary to what Jesus said about Himself and what His apostles wrote about Him.
So far, we have talked about the first two chapters of I John. In this message, parts of chapter 3 and the first half of chapter 4 will be considered. Three topics will be covered. One is love - the love God has for us and the love we to are have for each other. Another topic is the opportunity to be spiritually confident. The third is the teaching that whatever we hear, we are to test to make sure that what is heard - or what is read - is true to what we have in the Bible about God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.
The first topic is love, the first part of which is the love God has for us, which is in verse 1 of I John 3. Here is what is recorded. “See what love the Father has given us,” us being those who have accepted God’s Son Jesus as Savior. See, behold, observe what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us.
We have in the Gospel of John another statement of God’s love. It is John 3:16. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son Jesus.” What a statement of love that is, and it was not only the love of God, but also an act of love on the part of Jesus, who willingly allowed Himself to be given, leaving the beauty of Heaven to come to earth, where He had a very active, often difficult ministry. A ministry that ended with His death as the perfect sacrifice for sins.
Of course, there was much more. On the third day following His death and burial, Jesus rose from the dead, leaving the tomb in which He had been buried. Forty days after that, Jesus returned to Heaven.
But God’s love for us was and is so great, He gave His Son Jesus to die for us. The reward stated in John 3:16 is this. “Whosoever believes in Jesus…” Whosoever. Either gender, any age, any nationality, any education level, any and all backgrounds. Whosoever believes in Him - whosoever accepts Jesus as Savior and, with the Holy Spirit’s help, lives in obedience to all that is in the Bible - “will not perish” spiritually “but have everlasting life” - blessings now and eternal, wonderful life in Heaven after that.
We know from other passages in the Bible that God has love for us. It is for all people, but it is those of us who are Christians who benefit from His love. Now the statement in verse 1 of I John 3. The Father has given us love.
What is the evidence of that? Let’s read together. It is the next few words that complete the sentence. See what love the Father has given us “that we should be called children of God.”
And not just called that. Read it. “And so we are.”
Listen to what that means, which brings to mind two words. Paternity and fatherhood.
Paternity refers to being responsible for the physical existence of a child. Speaking spiritually, God can claim paternity over every person because it was God who created the first two people. It is God who created the process for all other people to come into existence.
Paternity is of course important, but listen to the definition of fatherhood. It represents an intimate, loving relationship. That is the kind of love God has for those of us who are Christians.
But wait. God is willing to have that kind of love for all people. In fact, that is how much He does love anyone and everyone. However, there is something that is required for anyone and everyone to benefit from His love. It is to accept His love and love Him in return.
It was God who first loved us. John wrote that toward the end of chapter 4. We love, including loving God, because He first loved us. But again, to benefit from God’s love, we need to love Him.
What does that mean? What does that look like? How are we to show our love?
First, foremost, and most basic is to accept Jesus as Savior. In addition, how about having a willingness to read and study His word in the Bible? How about obeying what we know and what we learn from His word? How about having a willingness, and acting on it, to talk with Him in prayer? How about being excited to worship Him? How about being happy to be with other Christians for fellowship and mutual encouragement?
God loves us. He loves us so much we are not just called, we are His children. What a privilege and what a responsibility that is. A responsibility to love Him in return. A responsibility that also includes the need to love one another. For that, verse 11 of I John 3. Let’s read that verse together. “For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.”
That makes sense. If God loves us, which He does, despite the problems we have, we ought to love one another despite the problems we have. That is of course not easy, but we should love one another.
According to verse 12, we have an Old Testament example to avoid. An example of love not being shown. It is the case of Cain and Abel, the first two children of Adam and Eve.
Very briefly in review - this is recorded in the Book of Genesis - when they were grown up, Abel, the second son born, herded sheep. His older brother Cain was a farmer.
One day they each brought an offering to God. Cain brought some of his crop. Abel brought part of his flock, which was a blood sacrifice.
I will admit to being confused about why God accepted Abel’s offering, but disapproved of what Cain brought. I have read it might have something to do with God already having established His desire for blood offerings. But whatever the reason, Cain became very angry with his brother. His anger displayed a lack of love. In his anger, Cain killed his brother Abel, which caused Cain to be banished from his family.
Cain is not an example of love. We are, therefore, to do all we can to avoid being like him. Including to the extent that is described in verses 16 through 18. Let’s again read together. “By this we know love, that Jesus laid down His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” For our fellow Christians.
If it comes to that, we should lay down our lives physically for each other. That is a scary thought for me, as in, if faced with it, would I have the courage to do so? I can only pray I would have such courage.
But might I suggest there are other ways to lay down our lives, referring to the things of our physical lives. I get that from verse 17. “If any of us has the world’s goods and sees a brother [or sister - a fellow Christian] in need, yet closes his heart against the one in need, how does God’s love abide in that person?”
In other words, we are to show our love for one another by being willing to help one another with the things of the world.
In other words, let’s read verse 18 together. “Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in deed and in truth.” Of course, saying, “I love you” is nice. John’s point is that beyond our words, we are to show our love by our actions.
Much of chapter 3 of I John addresses the topic of love. There is another mention of the topic in chapter 4, verse 7. “Beloved…” We have discussed that word earlier on our journey through the letters of John. The word indicates a love for the people to whom John wrote. The word suggests not scolding, but encouraging. “Beloved, let us love one another.” May that be our goal, the modern-day readers of I John.
Love is a prominent topic in chapters 3 and 4 of I John. So is a reward for obeying the call to accept God’s love and to love other Christians, which is the second topic for this message. It is the opportunity to be spiritually confident. That topic is covered in verses 19 through 23 of I John 3.
“By this [by laying down our lives for other Christians, such as by using what we have, including the goods of the world, to help other Christians in need, and by loving not only in what we say, but more importantly by what we do] we shall know that we are of the truth.” The truth of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. By our love we shall know for sure we are followers of them. We can be confident that we are Christians. We can have that confidence all the time.
Even, according to verse 20, “whenever doubts sneak into our hearts.” I am interested in the word “whenever.” John did not write if our hearts condemn us. He wrote whenever that happens. I would guess from that word that we might always face the temptation to question our faith. To wonder if we truly are saved.
Fortunately, that rarely happens to me, but if it does - whenever it does, not only to me, but to you - we can be sure of our faith. That confidence comes from obeying the Lord, including the call to love one another, including in our actions.
One of the troubling comments I have heard from time to time is an answer some people give to the question, “Will you be in Heaven?” The troubling answer is, “I hope so.”
That is not a good answer. If you have accepted Jesus as your Savior, you are a Christian and, after receiving divine blessings now, you will be in Heaven!
And John very clearly describes how to prove to yourself that you have accepted Jesus. It is done by loving Jesus and by loving other Christians.
Let’s read verses 23 and 24 together. “And this is God’s commandment, that we should believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as He has commanded us. All who keep His commandments abide in Him, and He in them. And by this we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit which He has given us.”
Are you going to Heaven. If you have accepted Jesus and prove it by loving Him and others, then with confidence - confidence based on God’s grace - with confidence say, “Yes, I am!” That spiritual confidence, based on God, is a gift from Him.
One more quick thought. The third topic for this message. It is in the first part of chapter 4. It is the teaching that whatever we hear, we are to test to make sure that what is heard - or what is read - is true to what we have in the Bible about God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.
This was critical for those who first read I John. Remember from earlier in our letters of John journey, there were many false teachers circulating around the Christian churches at the time of John. Teachers who said things about Jesus and following Him that were not and are not true to what we know from the Bible.
Even today there are false teachings about Jesus. Because of that, in the first part of verse 1 of chapter 4, “Beloved…” That word is yet again an indication of loving encouragement. Let’s read it together. “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are of God.”
As the paragraph continues, every spirit, including every teacher, which does not confess Jesus is of God - that does not proclaim Jesus was real and loving to all and died as the sacrifice for the sins of all - is the spirit of the antichrist. It is to be ignored and avoided at all costs!
On the other hand, every spirit - every teacher - which confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is the spirit or the teacher of God. He or she should be listened to and followed.
Test. It will result in rejoicing that all who are Christians are children of God and that by accepting Jesus and loving other believers, we can be confident of ending up in Heaven.
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Our journey through the New Testament letters of John is at about the halfway point. Being at that point, and to promote us remembering what has been discussed and hopefully applying what we have covered, we are going to spend a few minutes in prayer, based on the first part of I John. Specifically, one thing we talked about in the first message in this series. That God is light. And the second week. That Jesus is the advocate for any Christian who sins. And last week. That we are to love God more than anything of this world.
I will handle chapter 3 in the benediction, but for a moment or two, let’s pray. I will make a few comments, then pause, giving each of us a moment to pray that we will remember and apply what has been discussed so far on our letters of John tour.
God, thank You for being light. The spiritual light we need to know the proper path of life and to be able to grow. Thank You for being the light that dispels the darkness of our world. And thank You that by accepting Your Son Jesus, we have Your light in us. For a moment, we pray quietly in thankfulness for Your gift of light and in asking that You help us keep desiring and living in Your light. PRAY.
Lord, our desire is that we not sin. Help us with that. At the same time, You promise, if we happen to fail spiritually in some ways, to be our advocate. Our defender. How good to know that You, Lord, never fail in Your defense of Your people. For a moment, we pray quietly in thankfulness and for the willingness to keep taking advantage of Your love. PRAY.
Holy Spirit, we know the teaching that we are to love God more than anyone and anything. Thank You for reminders of that teaching. Thanks, too, for the strength You offer to obey the teaching. For a moment, as we pray quietly, we thank You for reminding us and empowering us to know and obey. PRAY.
The closing song for today is the same one we closed with last Sunday. A Charge to Keep I Have. For this week, the charge is this. Accept God’s light, helping others to accept it as well. Accept Jesus as the advocate we need withGod, helping others to accept Him as well. Love God most of all, showing that love by loving fellow Christians. And test everything to make sure we stay away from anything opposed to the teachings of Jesus and His apostles.
A charge to keep I have,
A God to glorify,
A never-dying soul to save,
And fit it for the sky.
To serve the present age,
My calling to fulfill,
O may it all my powers engage
To do my Master’s will!
Arm me with jealous care,
As in Thy sight to live;
And O thy servant, Lord, prepare,
A strict account to give!
Help me to watch and pray,
And on Thyself rely,
Assured if I my trust betray
I shall forever die.
God, thank You for the privilege of being Your children. A wonderful position for all of us who accept Your Son Jesus as Savior. Give us confidence in our relationship with You. Help us to be good children, including showing love to other believers. And yes, we need to test everything to keep from being drawn away from You. Give us the discernment needed in our testing. Thank You, God, for Your love for us and for Your guidance. Amen.