A river and a building

Hope Made Known By Love Among Us (1 John 3:7-18)


We thought about it briefly last week, what is it in the world – and to each other within the Church – that defines our faith and following of Jesus. In the world of social media and instant news, it can seem like the only thing the Church is known for is something negative. Another Pastor has failed morally, another church has had some scandal around finance, and on and on the media narrative goes. Thus, with all the news that floats about telling us how Christianity is perceived by the world, it can be hard to believe there might be anything positive in our perception and to even believe anything positive about ourselves.

I found it fascinating that during a video message for the “Big Church Day out Conference” a few years ago that this was something the then Prince Charles acknowledged:

“Ladies and Gentlemen, as I travel around our country, I am often greatly heartened by what I see the Church doing locally, serving Christ by serving their communities. This is a good news story that unfortunately receives very little coverage…”

In a world of news, bad news is the only news that sells. Thus, the only thing we will hear about churches is negative. Yet, the Church is a place that exists to share the good news, and in many communities worldwide is a good news story! There are over 40,000 churches across the United Kingdom and some 800,000 churches across the Western world. While there will be some bad eggs in the dozen, the reality is that many of those churches are serving God faithfully in the communities that they have been called to. The world might not see it, but local lives are being changed and communities transformed by Churches that are making Christ known. What would those churches be known by locally? What those who are faithful to Christ are always marked by: Love and Hope! 1 John 3 helps us to think through just what that means for us.

Some Context

John’s 1st Letter is short, punchy and powerful; it embarks on a journey that takes us deep into the heart of the early Christian community. Written by the apostle John, he addresses a specific group of believers and, in so doing, highlights their unique challenges. In all that they are facing, he writes to encourage them to hold fast to their faith. It’s a letter that offers some rebuke, yet it’s gentle in tone as John seeks to encourage the Church with love, reassurance, and guidance.

Context of the Letter

Imagine if you picked up a book in which the beginning and end were missing, you would hardly read the middle because, without the whole picture (context), it would not make sense. Thus, even when we read bigs of Scripture, it’s important to remember the context of the writing. Both the time the scriptures were written and the passage’s placement in the Letter. The context of 1 John is crucial to understanding our few verses., The early Christian community faced numerous trials and conflicts. False teachers had infiltrated their midst, spreading deceptive doctrines and sowing seeds of doubt. The believers grappled with questions of assurance, seeking to understand the authenticity of their faith and the assurance of their Salvation. In this context, John writes to provide clarity and reassurance, reminding them of the foundational truths of their faith and, from it, the things they would be known by! What was it that would mark their life? Love.

A Letter all Above Love and Community.

Love stands as the central theme woven throughout the fabric of 1 John. John emphasises the importance of loving one another, reflecting the love of God. Love, for him, is not a mere sentiment or superficial affection. It is an active and sacrificial way of life that reflects the very nature of God. Love is the litmus test of genuine faith, demonstrating the believer’s connection to God and their love for their fellow believers. John reminds us that God is love and that love originates from Him.

In addition to love, the theme of fellowship and community permeates the Letter. John encourages believers to remain united, to support one another, and to bear each other’s burdens. He emphasises the importance of genuine fellowship, where believers share their lives, resources, and spiritual journey with one another. Why? because it is the context of the community of faith that love is known, grown in and made known to the world Additionally, it is a healthy community grounded in the love and truth of Christ that will provide protection against heresies and those who bring them -false teachers. This community marked by love becomes a safeguard against deception and a source of strength and encouragement because it points away from the lies of this world to the beautiful truth of the Gospel made known in word and deed among one another and from one another. Love is our message, and it is also the glue which holds us together and keeps us safe in the truth of Christ.

Coming into Our Passage

As we come to our Passage, John has been dealing with contrasting groups of people – from 2:29- 3:10. Specifically, those who do right and live rightly (2:29) and those who just keep on sinning (3:4-5). Basically, those who live for Jesus and with him, and their living makes it known: and those who live as if they have never seen nor known Jesus (3:6). The climax of this passage is in verse 10. As the passage builds, it becomes clear that John is writing about two “families,” and with those families, two heads: One headed by Christ, the other headed by the devil. Each family is marked by the fruit that is in keeping with the head of their family unit. Thus, John’s challenge and question for the Church that he is writing to is to consider what marks their life and what they want to be known by.. John’s encouragement in a difficult world is with the help of the Holy Spirit to keep choosing love, being fruitful in love and being sustained by the love of Christ made known in the family of Christ. One Commentator writes: “The two groups can be more closely defined and identified as two families of people, with two heads—the children of God and the children of the devil. These very practical facts, which must be applied if we are to know we are truly of God, all centre on the way we live. In establishing this criterion, John is following not simply the logic of common sense and experience but also the teaching of his Master: ‘Watch out for false prophets.… By their fruit you will recognise them (Matt 7:15-16)” 1 Our great challenge today among ourselves and in our normal living? Does our fruit mark us with the love of Christ or something else?

1 The Source of Love and its Effect (1 John 3:7-10)

Easily Identifiable (3:7-8)

A few days ago as I walked into a class in the gym I thought I recognised Someone in front of me by the way they were walking and moving about, then when I put my glasses on I suddenly realised it was not who I thought it was; they did not even remotely look like the person I was thinking of! Why, with my impaired vision, did I think they were Someone else? Because of their Deminier, how they moved and interacted with the people around them, we are not just recognisable in this world by how we look, we are also recognisable in how we move and interact because even things as simple as that are unique to a person, a fruit of a who Someone is.

By their fruit you will recognise them.” – Matthew 7:20 (NIV)

Recognition comes in life not just from what we look like but what we produce in our interactions with others and the world – our fruit. In Matthew 7, when Jesus is speaking those words of Wisdom, he is addressing the dangers of false Prophets and the messages they bring; how do you recognise it? Not simply by the words because they might sound sincere but by the fruit of their lives? Specifically, do their lives match up with what they are saying, and then be wiser and judge it off the gold standard of fruitfulness: Does their fruit match that of Jesus? If not, then they are false Disciples. Interestingly after the section on false teachers, Jesus goes on to teach about the dangers of false disciples, and what is interesting is their lives appear fruitful. They are people who have done lots of things for Jesus, yet, he does not know them! Why? Their hearts do not belong to Jesus; they might have done things that looked like the Kingdom of God, but they did them to please rather than in response to Jesus.

Our fruitfulness shows what our heart loves, what our heart is living for. Thus, as John writes to the Church, he addresses them as little Children because it is little children without experience that can easily lead away from that which is good for them. The Children of God continue to live for God in the model of the Son of God because he does what is right and is righteous as Jesus was. The New Living Translation puts verse seven succinctly when it writes: When people do what is right, it shows that they are righteous, even as Christ is righteous. When the children of God by faith live as the Son of God by doing what is right, then as the Son of God, they are marked Righteous.

Yet, it is not just the Citizens of the Kingdom of God who will be marked by their fruitfulness, everyone is known by what they produce, and God will recognise it for us. As those who do what is Right are righteous by Christ and because of Christ, so those who reject the way of God will be known by the produce of their choice – sin. These are stark challenges of identity and belonging; there is no middle ground, no grey area where we might find some loophole by which to escape and walk through. It is a binary, black-and-white picture: either we are Children of God by faith in Christ and, through the work of the Holy Spirit, produce fruit in keeping with the Kingdom, or we align with the devil by choosing the things contrary to God – sin.

What we love will be shown in how we interact with the world and those around us (our fruit). To say it another way: What we love and base our life on will show in our love for those in our lives. Tim Keller writes: ” Faith in the Gospel restructures our motivations, our self-understanding, our identity, and our view of the world. Behavioural compliance to rules without heart change will be superficial and fleeting… We can only change permanently as we take the Gospel more deeply into our understanding and into our hearts. We must feed on the Gospel, as it were, digesting it and making it part of ourselves. That is how we grow.” If that is how we grow, then that is how we produce Good fruit, so: What will we be known by?

Fruitfulness Reveals our Loves (3:9-10)

There is one thing that we should be clear about from the beginning of this passage, John is not saying that those who have been born again through faith and our now temples of the Holy Spirit will never stumble or sin. That day will not come until the Son of God comes again. As Christians, we can be assured of our Salvation by faith, and we know that God sees us as righteousness – without the blemish of sin – but as we know this, we must remember that we are as such not in literal reality but in Christ. We might be righteous, but we are still sinners and will still sin every day (Think about Romans 7). What is being talked about in this passage is a natural inclination – the desire of our hearts every day. John furthers the image of fruitful identity in the first two verses here by expanding the points.

Verse 8, the ‘those who keep on sinning’ is not Someone immature in faith or who is making stupid choices; it is the image of Someone who lives there every day without sight or thought for the things of God; they might not be an immoral person, but everything they do is motivated by a love other than God. Thus, they keep sinning, and it shows that they belong not to God but to the devil. Yet, in verse nine, we see the opposite: Those who are children of God do not make a practice of sinning. The natural choice of their heart is not towards sin because the life of God is in them, which orientates their life towards the love of God and the things of God, and that life of God is the same life of Christ whose whole reason for appearing was to ‘destroy the devils work.’ If Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil, then it makes no sense that those who love him live’ would produce contrary to his purpose. Eugene Peterson captures it as he phrases this: “It’s not in the nature of the God-born to practice and parade sin.”

Then John outlines the Golden rule of identifying whether Someone is a child of God or an ally of the prince of this world: “Anyone who does not live righteously and does not love other believers does not belong to God.” Wiersbe challenges us to think as he writes:

” True children of God are recognised not by religious labels or mere profession, but by their righteous actions and love for others. Our conduct reveals our true spiritual lineage, for those who do not practice righteousness and fail to love their brothers and sisters demonstrate that they do not belong to God’s family.” 2

2 The Practice of Love (1 John 3:11-15)

Our Way From the Beginning (3:11-12)

Yet, even as John writes to implores the Church to be discerning by considering how people live their life in response to the love of God in righteousness and then show the love of God by how they love one another, he grounds the command by reminding those who are listening that its nothing new! He is not a parent saying to the little children you have heard me say this time and time again to you, nor is he referring to the writings of some of the other apostles. John does not even mean the teachings of Jesus here; when he reminds the Church that this command to love is nothing new, he goes back even further; in fact, he goes all the way back to the birth of creation and the lessons of Scripture there.

This is the message we have heard from the begging: ” We Should love one another,” and in our loving, we should model our love on the warnings of the bible by not being like Cain, who lived as one allied with Satan. Why? Because he belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother because his brother was a righteous person. We have heard it from the beginning, and we have seen from the beginning we must love God and, by the Spirit of God, live lives that produce the fruit of God. Fruit that witnesses to our life in God by how we love one another.

Be Aware of Hate (3:13-15)

John has grounded the biblical command to love as one of the foundational commands that the children of God have heard from the beginning. That if we love God with all our hearts and we live for him, then it will be shown in the world by our fruit, and one of those fruits will be how we love one another. Not love in the simple sense, not love as a feeling in our heart, but love as real and tangible – costly. Love that we could say looks the opposite of how Cain treats his brother Able. Where Cains’s actions brought dead through hate, the Christian will bring life through love.

Cain and able to act as a warning to us about the reality of the human heart, that while we might be set on love, there will be those among us who are only capable of hate. In verse thirteen, the warning of hate and the Imagery of brother extends from a focus on Cain and Able to a much brother picture with a greater lesson. In Genesis, one brother should have watched out for the hate of one; now, John says all who are children of God (his brothers and sisters in Christ) must watch out for hate. As Cain hated Able, so the world will hate those who truly love God and live for him.

It is a hate that is not to surprise us because Scriptures have warned us, yet even more clearly, if the world could not heed the love of Jesus and bow to it if the world was so perplexed by the love of Jesus and its way to the point that it dealt with it by crucifying it. Then how can we expect a different reaction? If we are to expect hate from the world, then we do not need it within the family of faith – it will be our love is known among each other that will sustain us and keep us in the way of God because it is in that love that the things of God grow in us and through us. So let us love one another!

In verse fourteen, John again repeats the litmus test of the Kingdom of God (grounded in the example to come): Our love of each other in the Kingdom of God. It is by how we love one another – by how we fulfil the commands of Jesus to his disciples – that we will prove that we have passed from death into life. If love if the proof of life, then hate is the proof of death and a heart that does not belong to Jesus. John counters the Litmus test of the Kingdom with its opposite effects; to hate in one heat is the equivalent of Murder through the lens of Jesus. Murderers who are bringers of death by choice can hardly be they who know the wonder of eternal life? The actions of one’s life reveal the reality of one’s heart. What might life say about the state of our hearts?

3 The Evidence of Love (1 John 3:16-18)

Love’s Greatest Example (3:16)

The actions of one’s life reveal the reality of one’s heart; then, if we know that Someone has hate by how they live towards the children of God, we also know that Someone has loved by how they live towards the children of God. After everything that John has written in warning and desire in this passage, you can almost feel the weight of the words that come after the startling Imagery of the last few verses; we have a clear picture of what hate is. Now writes John with the weight of Heaven: WE KNOW WHAT REAL LOVE IS. (NLT)

Hate and the reality of a heart that opposes God are known to us, and we have been made aware of how to watch out for it. Love and its way have been our call, and we have been made aware that it is to be our primary reality in the Church of Jesus and that our love of one another is the sign of Gospel life. However, just in case we are not sure what love actually looks like, John now makes it clear: This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. Whereas hate murders in its heart, true love will die to bring life to the model of Jesus on the way of the Cross.

Today we are reminded that Jesus Christ is not just our saviour, our Lord and our King; he is also our ethics and example. To live in the Kingdom of God is to model our living, morals, and ethics on its King – fully. As he lived, so must we, and if his love was self-sacrifice that by his death, life was brought, then our love must also be. Furthermore, if we are his children, then we will delight in his ways as the Spirit of God works in us to make us look to him and to look like him. Thus, as he delighted in doing so, will we: So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters. writes John. How do we know what Loves us: by the example of Jesus, how do we make known love in the world and in the Kingdom: with the Spirit of God, help to live out the way of the Son, the way of the Cross. If John 3:16 is our great assurance of Salvation, then 1 John 3:16 is our great reminder of what it is to follow Jesus and to be Church. What does our love of one another look like.

Love Becomes Incarnate (3:17)

Love has a cost; it had a cost for Jesus in that he died so that we might live. A Cost we remind ourselves of every day as we live out the way of the Cross. A cost we are delighted that he was willing to pay. The Cross in love incarnate for us; the Cross is the ultimate example of the way of love. The Cross makes it clear that within the Church and the Kingdom of God, were all benefit from the Cross that love should be real, tangible and knowable.

Thus, if we are to love one another, and if we do love one another, it means more than some mushy feeling. It means more than just praying from a distance or offering support in conversations when Someone is going through something difficult; it means more than bearing patiently without Someone when in another context, they might have annoyed us and found us expressing our annoyance with them! It means knowing the way of Jesus and living it out as he meets needs, so by his example of love, we will be compelled to be and choose to do when the situation arises. John gives us the grounded example of a believer who has been blessed with much material wealth and who, in the context of the community of faith, knows that Someone in their spiritual family has a need they can meet and does nothing about it: John poses the question, How can they have a love of God in their heart?

Real love is known in us and through us, and in this simplest of examples, John grounds everything that Jesus has taught the Church, everything that he has taught about love and hate, in a simple and grounded example that is to act as a mirror for our living. John is not saying that we must give of all that we have to help those in need; he is painting the picture of Someone who has more than they could ever need in the Church and knows Someone close to them who is in great need and chooses to do nothing about it. If we are known by our fruit and our actions, that is not an action that displays a love of God but rather a love of money. Thus, as we consider ourselves against the example, let us ponder our own hearts and how we love one another. Perhaps let us even take this grounded example of what love is and go away and think of ways that we can love one another as Christ has loved us.

Conclusion: Love Made Real ( 1 John 3:18)

“Dear children,” John concludes, “let us not love one another with words or speeches but with actions and truths.” Let us not love one another in ways that are easy and bear no cost to our lives and discomfort to our living. John calls his brothers and sisters of Christ to live out the way of Christ, where love is incarnated beyond ideals, ideas and hot air into actions and deeds of which there was no greater than the Cross. So as the Church was called to, then, we are called to know: to love one another in a way that is real and mirrors Christ. It is very easy to talk about love and to do so even in a way where it seems real. John tells us it’s time to stop talking and start asking: How are we loving? Then get on with doing it!. To put it another way: “Don’t just talk about it, Kids – just do it!”

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