The Message We Have Heard from the Beginning
April 29, 2007 / No. 3356
Dear radio friends,
The apostle John has been called “the apostle of love.” The Spirit of Jesus Christ through him calls us as little children of God to love one another, even as God, for Christ’s sake, has loved us. John writes in his epistles of only a few major doctrines or points, but he keeps returning to these truths again and again, each time with a greater and greater intensity. One focal point or truth that John refers to, time after time in his epistle, is the truth that those who have been born again in Jesus Christ will love one another.
In I John 1:7 he tells us that if we walk with God, we will have fellowship one with the other. In chapter 2:10 he says that a new commandment has been brought to us that, as those who have been brought out of darkness, we must love one another. He goes on in chapter 4 to say that we must love one another, for love is of God. And everyone that loveth is born of God. If we do not love one another, then we are not born of God. For the evidence of the grace of God within our hearts is love for each other.
In other words, John is telling us that the call of brotherly love is not an appendix to the Christian faith, it is not an after-thought, it is not on the periphery of the Christian perspective, but it belongs to the very heart of biblical Christianity.
Now we notice that in the third chapter of I John, at verse 10, the apostle makes a transition from the general to the specific. He has told us before that, as children of God begotten again, we must do righteousness. Then he says, “To do righteousness, specifically, is to love the brother.” The first part of verse 10 is a summary: “In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God.” That is a summary of what he has been talking about in verses 4-9. There John taught that a lifestyle of righteousness is the evidence of being a child of God, of possessing the new life or the seed of the life of Jesus Christ. Everyone who is born again lives and is called to live a life of habitual, persistent, repenting before God as an evidence that he is indeed not a child of the devil but a child of God.
But then, you note, in verse 10, John makes a transition from that general call to righteousness to a specific evidence of a righteous life. We read, “Neither he that loveth not his brother.” Whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God; specifically, neither he that loveth not his brother.
The apostle shifts gears and brings in our obligation to love one another. From a call in general that we must live a righteous life, a holy life consistent with our faith, to a specific call to love our brother. For what is it to live a righteous life? Well, the heart of a righteous life is to love one another in the love of God. Without love, all of our deeds of righteousness are cold and hollow. It is love for God and for one another that gives the life of righteousness its warmth and beauty.
So John says in verse 11, “For this is the message that ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.” The message to love one another is clear because, John says, you have heard this from the beginning, that is, from the initial stage of the Christian life. John could say to those Christians to whom he was writing his epistle, that the very first time they had ever heard the gospel they heard the command of God, in Christ, to love one another. He is telling us that the command to love one another belongs to the heart of the gospel. The very first things that you heard, from the very beginning, this is what you heard: Jesus Christ was sent of the Father’s grace, sent out of sovereign, particular love, to die upon a cross to save God’s children from their sins. And, therefore, you are to love God. You are to love one another. Love one for another belongs to the ABC’s of the gospel, to the initial teaching of the gospel—from the very get-go. This is what we learn in the kindergarten of the Christian faith. We are to cut our teeth on this truth. We are to love one another.
It is the message that we heard of Him from the beginning, of Him who died for us. Jesus taught this (John 15:12, 17): “This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you…. These things I command you, that ye love one another.” Love for one another was not something brought in at an advanced class, after many years of the Christian faith. It is not finally something that comes to you after many other things are taught you. No, the Holy Spirit of Christ, through the Word, at the very beginning of the Christian faith teaches us that we are to love one another. “You have heard this from the beginning.”
There is something very convicting about that. There is something very humbling, and maybe even shameful, about that. How we children of God often forget the basics! How we often do not remember what we heard from the beginning! We forget what we learned in kindergarten. When our passions are stirred, when our rights are offended, when our feelings are aroused, when pride causes in us a deep hurt, we can remember a lot of what we learned from Jesus Christ and what He said. We can so easily say, “Didn’t He say, ‘Wives, submit to your husbands’? Didn’t He say, ‘husbands, love your wives’? Didn’t He say in this verse here that this and this is so? Why,” we say, “look at what they did. That’s so unchristian, that’s so wrong.” We can pile up a host of passages. Oh, we remember every little jot and every little tittle! But we forget the message we heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.
You understand, we cannot plead ignorance here. We cannot say, “But this relationship is just too complicated for that. Yes, we heard from the beginning, as little children of God, that we are supposed to love each other. I understand, pastor, that this comes from the very basics of the cross of Jesus Christ and the Christian faith. Yes, yes. Love one another. I can’t contest that. But, nevertheless, our emotions, our feelings, have become now so twisted, so complex, so intertwined—that’s too simple. That doesn’t solve what we are facing.”
I remember trying to solve an algebra problem when I was in ninth grade, with all the x’s and y’s and the variables and the equals and the parentheses and it all was very complex to me, insolvable. And then there was an equal sign, so this all meant something too yet. This was way too complicated for me ever to solve. I had a very good teacher who would come and say, “Well, what do you know?” And I would say, “I don’t know anything right now.” But, “No, what did you learn? What principles did you learn from the beginning? Go back to the basics.” So, I would say, “Well, I know this….” “OK,” he’d say, “Apply that now. Go back to the basics and you will be able to see your way through this complex equation. Go back to the very first things you learned and you will be able to work your way through the complex problem.”
You say that this is just too complex, the way this relationship is now, there is no hope for this. What was the message that you heard from Jesus Christ from the beginning? It was very clear. Now, go back and do it. And you will see your way through.
John means not only that the message to love one another is clear because it was taught from the very initial stages of our Christian life, but he means also to say that this is what the Holy Spirit brings to us in the very beginning of His work. He means to say that this is what your soul heard when the Holy Spirit came to implant the seed of Jesus Christ in you.
In verse 14 of the chapter he writes, “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death.” That we have passed from death unto life is John’s graphic way of describing spiritual rebirth and regeneration. We were dead. We were in the realm of spiritual death! We were, by nature, enemies of God and hateful of one another. We were in the realm of death. But when we were born again, we passed to life, we were resurrected by the Spirit of our Savior Jesus Christ. He stands before the tomb of our spiritual death wrapped in His glories and He says, “Lazarus, come forth.” He raises us from the dead.
And the evidence of this grace of the Holy Spirit, says John, was that He gave you to understand at that moment that you are to love God and to love one another. I John 4:7, “Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.” The Holy Spirit witnesses to us that He has been at work in our hearts. How? Well, He plants within us a desire to love our brethren. So the message is very clear. And it is also very clear then, John says (and this is what John will not let us get away with), that the only alternative is hate.
We say, “Well, I don’t love them, but I certainly don’t hate them.” But John will not let us get away with that. “Whosoever loveth not his brother hates his brother.” We must repent and love our brother.
The message that we have heard is that we should love one another. When John uses the word “should” or “ought,” he means that there is, in the Christian, a holy compulsion, an inward desire, to love one another. He does not mean, “Well, we should do this, I suppose. This is the way it ought to be. I don’t feel like it, but I suppose I should do this.” Just like you say, “Well, I should do my homework, but I sure don’t want to. I should shave this morning, but I don’t feel like it. I should, perhaps, clean the house, but I’m looking up against it.” No, that is not what John meant when he said that we should love one another. He means that there is a holy “want to,” a constraining desire, to do so.
Let the apostle Paul explain it to us in II Corinthians 5:14 and 15, where there were those who were saying of Paul that he was beside himself, that he was, perhaps, mentally unbalanced. He responds, “No, that’s not true. Here is the explanation for my life: ‘For the love of Christ constrains us.’ God’s love has a hold on me. God’s love took over. God’s love put me under a holy constraint. I must do this.”
The love of God is not like a human resolve. You see a documentary on television, or you visit the poor, and your feelings are moved. But slowly, as you get distance from that, the experience loses its grip upon you and you return to the way things were. That is not the love of God. The love of God is alive. The love of God constrains. The love of God is a surging power. We should, we must!
Why must we? Why is love for the brethren a holy compulsion? Because it is rooted in the cross, because He died for us, because He suffered and bled and died on that accursed tree. He bore our sins—the horrible darkness of our sins. He bore the dreadful curse, the awful fury of God, that our sins deserved.
Therefore we ought, we must, love one another.
A salmon is created by God to know that at the time of spawning it must go upstream to spawn. It will choose death rather than not go. It will place itself against the force of tons of water and rapids. It will leap and bruise its body. You cannot go to the salmon and say, “Don’t go.” God made it that way. It will go upstream.
A mother will cross four lanes of Chicago expressway traffic during the rush hour if her baby for some reason is lost or caught in the median. You cannot stop her. She is going to go. She has to go to her child.
So also our love for one another is a holy impulse. It is not, “Well, I guess I should. I’ll think about it.” It is a holy compulsion. Look at the cross. Look at the love of God there. Now, can you, as a recipient of that grace, do anything less than love your brother? Did the almighty God say, “Well, I suppose I have to give up My Son for these sinners”? Did Jesus say, “Well, the heavenly Father is expecting Me to do this, so I’d better do it”? Oh, no! In pure, burning, and consuming desire He came and He suffered and died for our sins. This is the message, then, that we have heard from Him. This is the message that we have heard: We should love one another.
How should we love one another? That message is again very clear: Even as Christ has loved us. That is how we should love one another.
John uses that formula when calling us to a righteous life. He said in verse 7 of I John 3, “He that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous.” That is, the pattern of a righteous life is Jesus Christ. So also the pattern of loving one another is Jesus Christ. Love one another as Christ loved us. John puts it this way in verse 16 of I John 3: “Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” How are we to love one another? As Christ loved us. Specifically how? Look to the cross. Consider well what He did for you. He laid down His life for you. Well then, in love for the brethren, you will lay down your life for each other.
It will, that is, be a sacrificial love. Love for one another is the willing and the joyful setting aside of our own well-being, our own desires, our own pleasures, for the good of our brother or sister in Jesus Christ. The love of Christ is not, “What can she do for me? What can they do? Why doesn’t he do something?” But, “What can I do?” Self-sacrifice out of love because we want the brother, the sister, the husband, the wife, the boy or the girl to be blessed.
It will go on to be a forgiving love, for we have received of the Lord Jesus the pardon for the worst and most heinous offences of our own sins, by grace. And so, from the heart, we must also graciously forgive one another our trespasses in the love of Christ.
Still more. Love for one another will mean that you will take the initiative. The love of Christ did not wait for you or me. If it had, we would burn in hell. But He gave Himself. He loved us. It is not that we loved God, but that He loved us, says John in I John 4:19. So also, as we love one another, let us not say, “Well, I’ll begin a loving attitude toward him when he…” or, “Well, I’ll begin to show some concern and interest in her when she….” If we talk that way, then we are free-will Ar-minians. We say that we will love on a condition.
That is not the love of God. The love of God is not on a condition. God loved us not because we loved Him, not because we chose Him, not because He waited for us to have faith in Him. He did not say, “I’ve done everything I can do. I love you so much. Now, I can’t do anything more. It’s up to you. You have to choose to love Me.” That is not the love of God! The love of God is that He loved us first. He took the initiative. He worked it in our hearts that we might love Him. So also, loving one another will mean that we take the initiative. Then we will love faithfully. For the love of God is faithful. We will endure. We will be determined to love one another.
This, then, is the message that we have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. It is the message that we have heard very clearly as we stood before the cross of Jesus Christ. We cannot get away from this message even if we plug our ears. The message is clear.
Do you hear that message? Let us love one another.
Let us pray.
Father, we thank Thee for Thy Word, and we pray that it may now be received in our hearts, that the truth of Thy Word may find a readiness and a power of Thy grace to be embraced within our hearts. Forgive us of our sins, sins against each other, and the dishonoring of Thy name when we fail to love one another. And cause us to love Thee and our brother in order that the world may see that Thou hast sent Jesus Christ into this world. In His name do we pray, Amen.