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I John 4 and 5

I John 4 and 5

We continue on a journey through the New Testament letters of John. For today, we will finish the first of John’s three letters, covering the last half of chapter 4 and chapter 5.

First, let me very briefly summarize some of the points made earlier on our journey

  • God is light. Those who accept God’s Son Jesus as Savior have spiritual light.
  • We are not to sin, but if we do sin, we have an advocate to defend us. Our advocate is Jesus.
  • With the Lord’s help, that help coming through the Holy Spirit, we are to avoid loving the world or the things of the world. It is OK  to appreciate God’s creation and all He has instituted in the world, but our love for God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit is to be greater.
  • We must ignore and avoid what John calls antichrists. The word refers to any who teach things contrary to what is in the Bible.
  • We are to love God and fellow Christians. 
  • That will be proof of our acceptance of Jesus and His teachings. Proof that is to be used so we can be spiritually confident of our faith and salvation.

That last point - spiritual confidence - is important. By the way, such confidence is not arrogance. It is instead accepting a promise recorded in the Bible. The promise that when we act out our faith, we prove, including to ourselves, that our faith is true and real.

But the point about spiritual confidence, which was made when we considered part of chapter 3 of I John, is repeated as the first point of today’s message. The repeat is in chapter 4, beginning with verse 13.

“By this…” “This” refers to the paragraph before verse 13, in which John wrote, as he did earlier in I John, that we who are Christians are to love God and love fellow Christians. For all of us who do that, here is a repeat of the spiritual confidence we can have and should have. “By this [by our love] we know that we abide in God and He in us.” We can know our relationship with God is what God wants it to be, thereby giving us confidence of His blessings now and Heaven later.

In verse 15 there is a reminder that spiritual confidence is reserved for those who accept Jesus as Savior. “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in Him, and that person abides in God.” Again, such confession is to be proved by loving God and others.

But the point is having spiritual confidence. It is available to all who are Christians and prove their faith by how and who they love. Verse 17. “We can have confidence for the day of judgment.” The day of judgment is the day we will appear before God for determination where we will spend all eternity, whether in Heaven or in Hell.

Put another way, the day of judgment should not be a scary thought. Awe-inspiring of course, but not scary because of the spiritual confidence available. As the Bible promises, those who accept Jesus as Savior and who prove it by their love for God and for fellow Christians will be rewarded with Heaven. That is not a suggestion or a vague hope. It is a promise.

Guess what. John repeats the point about spiritual confidence yet again in chapter 5, beginning with verse 13 of that chapter. Let’s read that verse together. I will start. “I write this to you who believe in the name of the Son of God [in the name of Jesus].” John wrote this to Christians - read it - “that you may know that you have eternal life.” 

There is that word again. “Know.” Not idly hope for, but know. Be confident of the fact that if you are a Christian - that is still the key, but if you are a Christian - you can and should know you have eternal life. Eternal life in Heaven, after receiving blessings now, will be yours.

Speaking of blessings now, look at verse 14. Let’s read that verse. I will again start. “And this is the confidence which we have in Him [in Jesus], that if we ask anything according to His will…” That is a major qualifier. When we pray, it must always be according to the Lord’s will. We must never ask for anything contrary to His will and way. But the promise is that whenever we ask for anything worthy of Jesus - read the last three words of verse 14 - “He hears us.”

Continuing in that paragraph a bit more, look at verse 16. That verse expands how we can show love to fellow Christians. Earlier in I John, the point was made that we show our love for other believers by helping them when they are in need, extending as far as laying down our lives for a Christian brother or sister. In verse 16 that thought is expanded to praying for fellow Christians when we see them sinning.

Remember that when a Christian sins, he or she has an advocate before God, that being Jesus. It is our advocate who is determined to have the Christian acquitted before God.

The advocate, who is Jesus, is the only defender we need! So that is not what John referred to in verse 16. It is instead praying that the sinner will see the danger and allow God to turn him or her away from sin and back to God.

I should mention the phrase “mortal sin.” There is a lot of commentary on those two words. Here is a quick explanation of what it means. Mortal sin is the state of the person who has listened to sin and refused to listen to God so often that he or she loves his or her sin.

John suggests there is not much hope for such a person. Another wording is that such a person’s heart has, by his or her own doing, been hardened toward God.

But for those who accidentally sin, and for those not yet at the attitude described by the words mortal sin, we can - we are taught to - pray. That, in addition to helping them with their needs, is a wonderful way to prove our love for other believers.

Continuing on the topic of love for other believers, let’s go back to chapter 4, this time verses 20 and 21, where there is a warning. We will read together again. Again I will start. “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother [or sister]” - read it - “he is a liar.”

The explanation follows. “For he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.

We of course are aware - I will use myself as an example - that those who see me can see lots of things that could dissuade love for me. Maybe a characteristic I have or a habit that is irritating or an attitude that is not as positive as it should be. My point is that it can be easier to at least think we love someone we do not know personally.

But the point of John is that proof of our love for God must include love for fellow Christians we know, no matter how irritating I may be. Verse 21. Read it. “And this commandment we have from Him, that he who loves God should love his brother also.”

*       *       *       *       *

There are two more points from John’s first letter I want to mention. Before that, a devotional I found on the topic of loving other believers.

The story behind the devotional is sad. It deals with suicide. I share it because it provides a very good example of how to show love even in a very difficult situation.

Here is the devotional. A few months after the author’s friend’s wife committed suicide, the friend spoke about the support system that was holding him up.

  • The man’s Christian friends listened without judging him as he told his story over and over again. 
  • His Christian friends faithfully prayed for him. 
  • They understood grief is not a sign of weakness or lack of faith, but the price of love.
    They encouraged him to eat, exercise, and sleep well. 
  • They remained aware of his vulnerability and the uniqueness of each person’s trials.

The devotional continues with the thought that loving someone whose life and experiences are very different from our own takes energy, time, and effort. Our spiritual enthusiasm can wane when it takes more of our time, money, or energy than we expect. But in God’s strength, real love listens, encourages, and seeks to understand.

Do we do that when a fellow Christian needs love, including in very critical times? I think so. I hope so. But you know what? John apparently saw the need to repeat the call to love each other because he did so over and over again in his first letter. That is how important he knew the topic to be.

So let’s take that to heart. Let’s continue to be reminded - and keep reminding ourselves, over and over again - of the need to love one another. To use such love as proof we love God. Which is to give us spiritual confidence that our faith is true, real, and strong, including that we will one day see Heaven.

Which brings us to another devotional before we get to the other points for this message. 

At a Bible study there was a discussion about Heaven. What will it be like?

The answers to that question were as varied as the people in the Bible study room. Just one example is that some who were musi­cians said we will sing praises to God all the time, while another person, who was very active, said she could not imagine standing still all day long just to sing.

The devotional makes the point that none of us knows exactly what Heaven is like. What it looks like or what we will do there. However, we do know it is and will be a wonderful place. A place without bad things like, according to the Book of Revelation, tears, death, mourning, crying, and pain. A place with God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit. 

Do you want to be in such a place? Do you want to help others be in Heaven? Accept Jesus as your Savior if you have not already done so. Rejoice about your acceptance if you have accepted Him, and pray for the Lord’s help to stay loyal to Him. And help others to accept Jesus and grow in their faith. Show your love for God in both those ways.

Two more points.

I John 4:18. There is no need to fear God.” Why? It is because “there is no fear in love.”

Yes, God is awesome. He is all-powerful, all-knowing, all-present. Those can be scary things. They should be scary for any who are not Christians. But for those of us who have accepted Jesus, we know we have God’s love. God loves everyone, but those of us who are Christians benefit from His love. So we do not need to fear Him.

One more devotional. Fear motivates much of what we do - fear of the future, fear of consequences, fear of being ridiculed. The list goes on and on, including fear of punishment, which is a powerful motivator to get people to do what they need to do, all the way from the threat of jail if we do not pay our taxes to a teacher’s anger or detention if we do not do our homework.

It is easy to think fear is what God desires of us. That if we fear Him enough we will be forced to do as He says. But fear is not what God wants from us. He instead wants us to love Him enough that we will want to obey Him simply because we know it will please Him.

The devotional includes these interesting thoughts. 

The tension between love and fear is resolved like a snowplow. God’s love pushes up against  the cold snow drifts of our fear.

And if you are fearful of life and its consequences, do not merely ask for courage. Ask that the power of God’s love may be unleashed on your fears.

There is no need to fear God. Instead, let’s bask in His love.

And this final point for this message. It is verse 21 of chapter 5, which is the last verse in the letter. 

“Little children…” One more time, John reminded his readers that he was their - and is our - spiritual father. One more time, as the many other times in this letter he used those words, I read them with a gentle, encouraging tone. Little children - read it - “keep yourselves from idols.”

In general terms, idols are anything, including occupation, possession, or person, that wants to be worshiped. Keep away. Stay away. Do not worship anything or anyone other than God, who is light, Jesus, who is the advocate for all who accept Him, and the Holy Spirit, who reminds us, including through the letters of John, that God is love, that we are to love God, and that one way to display our love for God is to love our fellow Christians.

Today’s closing song is the chorus O, How I Love Jesus. In it we proclaim our love for God, which we can do because He first loved us. As we sing, let’s also have a spirit of prayer that we will show our love for God by loving our fellow believers.

There is a name I love to hear,

I love to sing its worth;

It sounds like music to my ear,

The sweetest name on earth.

O, how I love Jesus,

O, how I love Jesus,

O, how I love Jesus -

Because He first love me!

It tells me of a Savior’s love,

Who died to set me free;

It tells me of His precious blood,

The sinner’s perfect plea.

O, how I love Jesus,

O, how I love Jesus,

O, how I love Jesus -

Because He first love me!

It tells of One who loving heart

Can feel my deepest woe,

Who in each sorrow bears a part

That none can bear below.

O, how I love Jesus,

O, how I love Jesus,

O, how I love Jesus -

Because He first love me!

Lord, You are all we need. All we ever have needed. All we ever will need. Help us to remember that. Help us to not fear You, but love You. Help us to love other believers as well. Keep us true to You and Your teachings. Thank You for who You are and all You do. Amen.

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