The Test of Love

April 29, 2012 / No. 3617

Dear Radio Friends,
One of the great dangers that every church and every believer should watch out for is the danger of spiritual apathy. This can happen especially where the church is strongly established or where someone is a longtime or a lifetime believer and church member. A congregation of believers loses their first love for the gospel. People become comfortable, lethargic, indifferent to spiritual things. A person thinks he is saved because he is in a good church. but there is no real love for Christ and no real faith in Jesus. People come to church but not to Christ. They know the Word of God but not the God of the Word.
It is that kind of comfortable apathy that John addresses very directly in his first epistle. He calls it “self-deception.” People say, “I am in Christ,” and “I know Him,” but there is no evidence of it, no real life in Christ.
Over against this, John gives us what we can call the tests or evidences of genuine Christianity. How do we know that we know Him? There are vital signs, evidences of genuine faith. Just as a doctor looks into a patient’s eyes and checks a person’s pulse for life, so we can do spiritually. There are signs of life.
Today, from chapter 2:7-11, we are going to look at the vital sign of love. This is one of the most important, and should be one of the clearest and most evident, signs of true faith in the church and in the life of a Christian. In John 13:35 Jesus says, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”
What is love? We live in a period of history that talks about love more than any other, but is more ignorant of what love is than any other. If you ask today, “What is love,” the answer you will receive is this: “Love is an emotion. I love someone because I’m attracted to him. I love you because you stir something in my appetite.” Love has come to mean romantic love.
And we use the word “love” that way, too, not just in reference to romance and relationships, but quite easily for other things. Someone will say, “I love that dress,” “I love your hair,” or “I love a good juicy steak,” or “I love that car.” But that is not love. That is a wrong view of love. Why? Because if I apply that idea of love to my relationship to other people, then when the romance is gone, or when I am no longer attracted to that person, then I am going to stop loving him. Then I am going to run off and find love somewhere else.
So, we should see that love is not simply an emotion, not something determined by my tastes or preferences. As I said, that is the view of love in the world today. It is very selfish. Just look at the family unit and what has become of marriage and children and the view of children in our society. This wrong view of love explains divorce. A man will say of his wife, “I don’t love her anymore.” What does he mean? He means, “She doesn’t please me anymore, so I’m no longer willing to be committed to her and to make the sacrifices necessary to preserve our marriage. I’m going to find love elsewhere.” That is not love, that is selfishness.
You see the same in what drives abortion in our culture. It is called “choice.” And it is a choice, a choice not to love. “This child is going to get in the way of my pleasure, so I’m not willing to keep it alive.” And babies are murdered. Generations of children are growing up in this world and they do not know what love is.
Why does the world think of love in this way? Because it is natural for man, apart from the grace of God, to view love that way. But when God, by His Spirit, regenerates a person, then the love of God is shed abroad in his heart. Then a flood of God’s love overwhelms that person and turns him from selfishness and hatred to true love. Think of Saul of Tarsus, who breathed out hatred and murder against the people of God. God worked in him, and he became a man of love who sacrificed his life to minister to God’s people. Every believer, every true believer, possesses that heart of love. This will set the Christian apart from the world of unbelievers.
What does this true love look like? The word that is used here for “love” in I John, is the Greek word agape. Maybe you have heard that word before. This word has to do with the will and not the emotions. It tells us that love is a choice that we make; love is not just a desire or an emotion or a feeling. That is why the Bible, and why John here, calls love a commandment. Love is our duty. Disobedience to that commandment is a choice that we make. When a person says, “I don’t feel like loving,” that is a choice to disobey God’s commandment of love.
So, true love is not based on emotion. It is not based on how I feel about the other person, or what I like or do not like in him. Now, some people can be very difficult for us to love. They can be like a prickly porcupine. They have a few good points, but if you put your arms around them, it is going to hurt you. Well, Christian love does not look at the worthiness of the object. Christian love is unconditional. It transcends all differences. It takes me out of my comfort zone, so that I love the unlovely.
That points us to another characteristic of love. Love is expensive. It will cost you something. A person who truly loves another will do whatever must be done, will pay whatever price must be paid for the other. It will go into a burning house; it will jump into a shark infested waters; it will completely give up itself. Real love sets aside all my personal preferences, all my comforts, all my time, all my happiness for the other. I am willing to die for the other.
This true love has a heart of service. John here is talking about love between believers. If you love the other members of the body of Christ, you will give up all your comforts, you will make yourself uncomfortable, you will serve for their sakes.
Again, how different that is from the view of love in our world. The world says, “If it’s going to cost you, don’t do it. Bringing forth that child, loving your wife, is going to mean giving up things. So don’t do it,” the world says.
Now, as John puts this test of love before us, he speaks of an old commandment and a new commandment. There seems to be a contradiction in what he says. What does he mean when he says, “Brethren, I write no new commandment unto you, but an old commandment which ye had from the beginning,” and then, “a new commandment I write unto you, which thing is true in him and in you”? Very simply, John is saying, “I’m not bringing you something new that you don’t already know, that you haven’t heard of before.” When he says, “old commandment,” he means an ancient commandment, a commandment from the beginning. That refers not to the beginning of a person’s life or the beginning of salvation, but to the beginning of the world—to the beginning of God’s revelation. John calls this commandment the “word,” or “revelation from God”—“which ye had from the beginning.”
And John is saying that love has always been the requirement of God’s law. This is the essence of every one of the commandments. If a man loves his wife, he will not commit adultery. If a man loves his neighbor, he will not steal from him. If a child loves his parents, he will honor them. If a person loves God, he will worship Him alone and worship Him as He has commanded in His Word. So, this is an old requirement, an old commandment.
But why, then, does John call it a “new commandment”? Well, there are two words that the Bible uses for “new.” One has the idea of something that is brand new, and the emphasis is on time and the beginning of existence of something. The other has the idea of something that is renewed, and the emphasis is not so much on when it began to exist, but on its quality. I can have a brand new car, or I can have an old car that is rebuilt from the ground up and is as good as new. That old car will have some new parts and some new paint, but it is the same “old car.” That is the idea here. This commandment of love is not brand new, but there are some new elements to it. So it is called a “new commandment.”
What is it that makes this old commandment new? First, the commandment to love had fallen on bad times and needed to be restated in its original form. In Jesus’ day, and in John’s day, the commandments of the law were viewed merely as a rule or guide for external conduct. The Pharisees said that if you followed the rules, you could attain righteousness through the law. And they left out the heart of the law, which is love—love for God and love for the neighbor. So, this commandment is new in the sense that it is restored to its original meaning.
But the commandment to love is also new in this sense, that in the coming of Jesus it is given a new face. Jesus gives us a concrete example of what love is. So John says that this commandment is true in Him, that is, in Jesus. When He comes into this world, Jesus demonstrates what true love is. Then the commandment to love is restated and becomes more clear. The requirement of love is not to be stated simply this way, that we love others as we would love ourselves; but, as Jesus says, “As I have loved you, ye ought to love one another.” There is the standard for love: Jesus’ love.
How does Jesus love? That is a beautiful question, is it not? Because it takes us to the gospel and to the cross. It causes us to look at the saving work of Jesus Christ from the point of view of who we are by nature, and from the point of view of what we deserve. It takes us back to the Garden of Eden and to the death and the curse that came over all of us because of sin. It brings us into the depths of hell and the everlasting death and torment that our sin deserves. What did Jesus do in love? His love is not just a feeling. It is certainly not an attraction to us because He sees something that He likes in us that would reward Him. No, Jesus’ love is this: that He loved the unlovely, that He made an unconditional choice in eternity to love them. In His love, He paid the ultimate price for His people—He died to redeem them. In the cross of Jesus Christ you see the perfect fulfillment, the demonstration, the power of true love. As John says, “This commandment of love is true in Him.”


Then, talking to believers, John adds: “This is true also in you. This love finds shape, it finds form, it comes to expression in every true believer.” John could see that in the believers to whom he wrote in the early New Testament church. And he is saying, “Because this is true in you, you can know that you know Him. This is the work of God’s Spirit in love in you.” In chapter 4:7 he will say, “Everyone that loves is born of God and knows God.” This is one of those vital signs of genuine Christianity. It is an evidence of God abiding in us by His Spirit.
So, we must ask ourselves, you must ask yourself and I must ask myself: “Is this true in me?” We have to apply the test of love to ourselves. And in these verses, John makes that application in two ways, or to two groups of people. In verse 9 and again in verse 11, he applies the test of love to hypocritical members of the church—people who said they were believers but this vital sign of love was missing. In verse 9, “He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now.” And verse 11, “He that hateth his brother is in darkness, and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because that darkness hath blinded his eyes.” Obviously, there were people in the churches to which John was writing who said, “We are in the light. We are the enlightened ones. We are believers.” But, at the same time, they did not love the church and the people of God. They said of some in the church, “We just don’t feel like loving them.” They were unwilling to pay the price of love. And John says, “Even though they say that they are in the light, they are not, because their hearts are filled with the darkness of hatred.”
What is hatred? It is to despise others, to have a lower view of them and their needs than of yourself and your needs. It is to envy others, to have evil thoughts and say evil words about them, to be unwilling to give up your comforts for their sake.
What does John say about such people who are in the church? He says, “They are in darkness even until now,” which means, they have never known the light and the love of Christ. If they did, they would not hate their brother. He says that they “walk in darkness.” Hatred belongs to Satan’s kingdom of darkness. A person who hates and goes on hating is serving the devil. John says, “They know not whither they go. They may think they are going heavenward, but in reality, they are headed to hell and they don’t know it.” This is self-deceit. John says, “The darkness has blinded them.” They are like a person who lives in solitude and darkness for years and loses his sight. That shows how dangerous it is for us to have hatred in our hearts toward our brother.
Then, in verse 10, John applies this test of love to the true believer. “He that loveth his brother,” he says, “abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him.” This person loves his brother. God’s love, which is in him, comes out in a fountain of selfless love towards others. This person does not have to tell others that he is a Christian, because, when you cross his path, you see it, it is evident in his life of love. He does not keep score with people, but he forgives them. He does not live for others to serve himself but to serve others. He is not jealous. He is not boastful. He is not arrogant. He is not rude. He is not self-seeking. He is not easily provoked to anger. He does not find pleasure in the sins and faults of others. But he is patient, he is kind, he is forgiving, he is gracious. That is the behavior of love, according to I Corinthians 13. This person is so overwhelmed with the love of God in Christ for him that this supernatural love of God shed abroad in his heart by the Holy Spirit comes out of him to others.
John says two more things about this person. “He abideth in the light.” That means not only that he has been saved, but that he abides, he continues to walk in the light of the Word of God. He does not cause others to stumble, he does not lead others to sin, he does not set traps for them to see how they will react. John is saying, “When that fruit comes out in your life, the fruit of love, you know that God’s love is in you.”
No, we will never love perfectly. But we do love practically. It is not just words or feelings, but a sacrificial choice.
So, how is your love life? I mean, your life of love to other believers. We should apply this test to ourselves—you to yourself, and I to myself. Do you love your brother? Not your blood-brother, but the other members of God’s spiritual family. God makes them your brothers and sisters. Do you love them?
Now, think of the person who is the most difficult believer for you to love. Who is it that has hurt you the most lately? Who is it that is the most difficult person for you to forgive? Do you have a picture in your mind of that person? The greatest act of love from you is that you reach out to the person with patience, with sacrifice, with forgiveness. That is the outstanding mark of true Christianity.
Let us pray.
Father, we thank Thee for the great love of our Savior, who laid down His very life for His friends—for us, and by that, made us brothers and sisters in the household of faith. Lord, give us to love one another as He has loved us. We pray it, for Jesus’ sake, Amen.