In Light of the Life-giving LoveOctober 19, 2009, More from this speaker 更多关于此讲员: Rev. Wong Siow Hwee (1 John 3:11-24) For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: 1,2,3 John
Preached at a Bilingual (Mandarin-English, Sunday) service
Sermon on 1 John 3:11-24
I learned a new word in my research for today’s sermon: curlicue. A curlicue is a fanciful twirl, such as a flourish made with a pen. It is a pattern that can involve a series of concentric circles or spiraling twists. And a curlicue is how a scholar describes the presentation style of John. This comparison is uncannily accurate. As I read 1 John, the words of the letter flow freely and artistically like the ribbon of a rhythmic gymnast. There are many intertwining concepts each given their own spin. I have to confess that I am often caught befuddled chasing after John’s line of thought. However, after painstakingly following John’s layout of his arguments from chapter 1, I was given a rare moment of enlightenment at this juncture in chapter 3. Gradually, I feel I am now able to grasp the entire overview of John’s theological curlicue. It’s like I was finally given the irrational number that generated the entire curlicue fractal. And this insight is what I wish to share today. I am excited because I think it will transform anyone willing to listen and to obey. It is a message you know from the beginning. I think it is salvation itself. Let me see if I can explain this clearly.
There are 3 themes in 1 John: Light, Life and Love. And these 3 very powerful words flow interchangeably when John talks to his church. Very often, my difficulty in understanding John comes from the tension when these words are put together. For example, Light and Love. Light speaks about who is right and who is wrong. The one in the light is righteous, but the one in darkness is in sin. But when John talks about the Light, he is also talking about Love. So while he is giving out his fierce judgments and condemning his opponents into darkness, he is also encouraging his church to practise love. Is John being intentionally hypocritical? This is the tension between Love and Light. Adding on a third concept of Life into the troubled waters certainly makes things worse. John says earlier “Whoever loves his brother lives in the light”. So loving is living. But in today’s passage “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.” So is Love about living or dying? John also says “Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him.” So the murderer has no life, and the one who is murdered has life. Just imagine the CSI episode where the murderer is found dead and the murder victim is alive. You don’t have to study forensics to know how this is all very confusing.
I now believe the tensions arise because of misconceptions about the proper meanings of Light, Life and Love. And understanding each concept properly will unravel John’s curlicue for us. When we think about Love, we often associate it with the affectionate feeling. We imagine the hippie worldview where everybody makes love, not war. While this is not totally wrong, it does not bring out the full nuance of John’s idea of love. John understands love as fully actualized by Jesus laying down his life for us. In John 10 where Jesus describes himself as the good shepherd laying down his life for his sheep, he says “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the fullest.” So love as described in John, must be interpreted in light of Jesus’ demonstration of love. And it is a life-giving love. It is a love where life is given, and a love that gives life. It is a love that entails sacrifice for the lover and restoration for the beloved. This is why John says, “let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” A life-giving love cannot be expressed verbally alone. The life-giving process must be done through the act of sacrifice.
But before we can fully understand what life-giving love is, we also have to understand the concept of life properly. When we think about Life, we think about staying alive. We imagine a machine that has a power source that will keep it working and lasting forever. This is why eternal life might actually sound quite horrifying. “Hi God, it’s yet another day in heaven. To be honest, I’ve finished all the hymns 27 times, and it is getting a little boring.” “Well, you asked for everlasting life, this is it. It goes on and on and on.” Well, the life that John is talking about has little to do with making sure that you continue to breathe and your heart continues to beat. He says “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death.” For John, this transition of life and death happens even while you are still alive. Why? Because life is not just to survive, it is to live with purpose and meaning. It is not quantity but quality. For Christians, life is living in a healthy relationship with God and with others in a community.
This is why John draws the parallel between Cain and Jesus. When you hate someone, that person is dead to you and you are dead to the person. You do not share your life with the person and you refuse to partake in the life of the person. When God favored the sacrifices of Abel’s over Cain’s, Cain ended his relationship with his brother with murder. He became a restless wanderer, a loner never finding peace with others. On the other hand, Jesus in his act of love continues to live in those who love him. His Spirit lives in us and we are in union with him. Cain shows us what it means to be dead even though he is the murderer and not the murdered. And Jesus shows us what true life is even though he gave up his life. Allow me to give some examples to illustrate this life-giving love as John has done.
To a person in need, death does not just come in the form of starvation from lack of food or sickness from the lack of shelter. Death is already there when a person feels injustice and alienation, thinking that nobody senses or bothers about his existence. This is why John says that the person with material possessions must exercise compassion. You are not just giving things for the person to live on. You are also giving care that makes life worth living. That is life-giving love.
Needs go beyond material possessions. For John’s church, they felt lost and heartbroken because of the separation of some members of the church. They might be angry at their betrayal. They might be vengeful against them. If these things consume them and they redefine their identities, that is a road to death. John with his pastoral care gives them reassurance for their faith. He tells them to use love to overcome hate. He is giving them a true purpose to live on. That is life-giving love.
For the opponents of John, they do not believe in such love. They believe in special secret knowledge that can give them enlightenment. It is an elitist religious system more concerned about personal salvation than community good. At the same time they break up the church so that they can exercise more influence over their followers. Such evil motivations are the devil’s work and can only lead to death. To these people, John continues to preach the truth about Jesus Christ. It is an invitation to God’s love that is meant for all. John disciplines and corrects these people so that they might be saved. That is life-giving love.
As I write this, I recall a touching scene in Spiderman 3. After the final battle, the Sandman recovers and tells Spiderman that he had no intention of killing his uncle, and that it was an accident born out of a desperate attempt to save his daughter's life. Spiderman forgives the Sandman, who dissipates and floats away to his daughter. Because of the forgiveness, both the Spiderman and the Sandman could move on from their feud and carry on their lives. That is life-giving love.
In our community, some are struggling in their ministry. Spending time to support and encourage them breathes life into their efforts. That is life-giving love. Some come into the church from dysfunctional families, from broken marriages. Our acceptance and willingness to listen gives them a rope so that they can pull themselves out. That is life-giving love. The truth is that you have to share your life in order to love, and that often means being vulnerable and subjected to criticisms. But no man is an island. At least, not a man who is truly alive. You need to love and be loved to live out a life. The world can be a harsh and dangerous environment making the act of love really difficult. The inability to love is the sign of death creeping in. The church in providing a safe and moral place to love and be loved allows a person to live to the fullest. The church is the people that Jesus gave his life for. That is life-giving love.
Brothers and sisters, when you were in the world and you thought that life was about self-satisfaction, you were in darkness. When you were more concerned about carving out your own territory against others, you were in darkness. When you were jealous of others, hated others who were different, criticized people, you were in darkness. But now, in light of Jesus, in light of what is life-giving love, you are now in the light. You now hear the message once again, the command from Jesus from the beginning: You should love one another. John says, the truth of this life-giving love is seen in Jesus. The truth is seen in you. It is seen when the church lives out the life-giving love. John says, the truth is seen “because the darkness in passing and the true light is already shining.” (2:8)
And this is what John means when he talks about being in the light. It is more than just being right or wrong. Being in the light is to experience the reality of life-giving love. You are enlightened when you see what life is about when you accept the love of Christ and when you exercise this love. If you choose to reject this love and to hate others, it is going back into darkness. There you experience wrath, bitterness and self-centeredness and that is death. You also live in fear and doubt because you have a broken relationship with others, and you have a broken relationship with God. But it doesn’t have to be that way. You have been shown a way where you can have full confidence before God. The action to love is a real experience so you know when you are in the light.
As a Christian who has experienced Jesus Christ, you have his command, “to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another.” This may sound like two things, but it is the same thing. To believe in the name of Jesus means to accept his Lordship. It means being willing to be his disciple, and that is a disciple that loves as Jesus did. Now that you know the truth, you can choose to obey the command to love one another. To live a life that is life-giving. This is something you can choose to exercise and you can experience. You can know that you are in the light and have confidence before God. John professes the same knowledge. John says when we love with this life-giving love, we know we are in the light. We know this in our hearts and God knows too.
I hope with a proper understanding of Love, Life and Light, you now appreciate John's beautiful picture of curlicue. The three concepts dance in their own sphere but John shows us how they all interweave into the person of Jesus. As a community that is shown this light, given this life and blessed with this love, let us live out this christlikeness. Let it be manifested in this church in curlicues everywhere of light, life and love.
1 John 3:11–24 (Listen)
11 For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. 12 We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. 13 Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you. 14 We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. 15 Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.
16 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 17 But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.
19 By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; 20 for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. 21 Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; 22 and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. 23 And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 24 Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.