…these things we write, so that our joy may be made complete. – 1John 1:4
John rather surprisingly writes that he pens his first epistle for the purpose of completing the joy of his companions and himself. The implications were discussed in part 1, and now we are in the midst of trying to see what kind of thinking leads to such an almost bizarre statement, and to discover that, we are looking at three propositions I believe are undergirding the mind of John. The first proposition was this: Union with Jesus can never be divorced from union with brothers.
The second proposition I want to make is this:
Love for Jesus can never be divorced from love for brothers.
Or we could say it this way: Love for Jesus is equal and proportional to to love for my brother.
Here’s one place where John expresses this idea in 2:9-10, “The one who says he is in the Light and yet hates his brother is in the darkness until now. The one who loves his brother abides in the Light and there is no cause for stumbling in him. (So he says basically the same thing twice, then says it a third time in v.11) But the one who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes.”
That is to say, brother-hating equals darkness-walking. Hate your brother, you’re walking in darkness. Love your brother, you’re walking in the Light.
John isn’t done, look ahead to 3:10, “By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God (no surprise there, really), nor the one who does not love his brother.”
John continues: “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death.” Here’s one way to be assured of your salvation: ask “do I love the brothers?” The follow up to that will be “how do I love the brothers?”
John continues, “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer.” This sounds like something John heard directly from Jesus’ lips at the Sermon on the Mount, doesn’t it? Murderers don’t inherit the kingdom. So again, hate your brother, you’re not a follower of Jesus. If that seems a little harsh and judgmental, read on…
In 4:20, John writes this: “If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar.” That’s pretty blunt, yes? Why would you say that John? He would respond, “for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” Now that’s an interesting statement – the one who does not love his visible brother cannot love the invisible God. I say to you John, Why not? Why can’t you love God and hate your brother? It doesn’t seem that difficult, really. God is lovely; my brother frankly isn’t. Jesus is easier to love than my brother. We love Him because He first loved us, but I’m often not sure my brother loves me at all, much less loved me first! How can John connect those two, especially when Jesus is so loveable, and my brother is not?
I said that love for Jesus is equal and proportional to love for brother, and vice versa. But I didn’t say, and John wouldn’t say, that Jesus and brother are equally lovely, because they’re not. Paul got frustrated and at times brutally sarcastic with the Corinthians, and it seems he almost gave up hope on the Galatians. Frustration and despair might strain our love, but certainly he didn’t have any feelings like that straining his love for Jesus!
Here’s why I think John would say Jesus-love and brother-love are inextricably linked. Bear with me, and I’ll try to make this simple. In 4:21, John says, “this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also.” Here brother-love is a command. If you love God, you should love your brother. So brother-love is commanded of those who have a love for God.
Now look at 5:1, “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, (that’s John 3:16 basic, right?) and whoever loves the Father loves the child born of Him.” Those who believe in Jesus are born of God. “Born of God” refers to a work of the Holy Spirit. It’s the new birth, or regeneration; it’s a springing up of new life within, a life that wasn’t there before, and with it, affections that weren’t there before. One of those affections is love for God. You can’t be a believer and hate God. That’s hardly a disputable point. The Spirit of God Himself implants a love for God in the believer. So those who are born of God love God, but John also says that those who love the Father love the one born of Him. The same Spirit who creates Father-love also creates brother love.
Furthermore, loving brother is also commandment keeping, and commandment keeping is the way we express our love for God. If that’s confusing, perhaps this will help: Jesus said, “if you love me, you will keep my commandments.” What was the primary commandment Jesus had in mind? “Love one another.” So Jesus says, “If you love me, you will love one another.” What if you don’t keep Jesus commandments? You don’t love Him. What if you hate your brother? You don’t love Jesus. It’s really that simple. So that’s how we can say love for Jesus is equal and proportional to love for our brother.
To make one more run at it, we could continue on in 1 John 5, now v.3, “this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments.” Loving God is keeping God’s commandments, keeping God’s commandments is loving our brother, hence there is a direct line between loving God and loving our brother.
That’s why John can say, then, back in 1:7, “if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another.” It’s utterly inconceivable in the mind of John that one could walk in the light and not have fellowship with the rest of the body of Jesus. He doesn’t think that way. Fellowship with one another is as natural a result of the work of the gospel as fellowship with Jesus is.
Now at this point we need to define what “love” means. In rural Minnesota, “love one another” generally means “never offend each other,” or “be nice to each other” or “if a brother doesn’t like you, then you have failed and probably aren’t a Christian.” I know of no gun in the hands of enemies of the pulpit with such a sensitive trigger as the “you’re just not a loving person” bazooka. It shoots loudly and can leave a gaping wound in the already broken heart of one pleading with sinners to embrace the gospel, only to have his compassion and zeal for truth misunderstood as being “unloving.” So what does John and Jesus mean when they say, “love one another?”
I boil it down to this simple statement: Love at a net loss. Love with higher expenses than income.
Here’s how John expresses this idea, in 3:17, “whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.” Saying “I love you” is cheap, and might actually gain you something. You can actually say, “I love you” and make a profit. But giving stuff to someone who doesn’t have stuff to give you back is expensive, and almost certainly won’t yield a return greater than your investment. That’s the idea behind giving to the poor – they can’t give back to you, they’re poor! So that kind of love is a net loss. But that’s the kind of love John calls at the end of v.17 “the love of God abid[ing] in him.”
Here’s how Jesus expresses the same idea in John 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” The greatest love lays down one’s life, which costs everything, and when you’re dead, what can you get back? Nothing. You can’t get anything back, cuz you’re dead, and who could give you more than your life, anyway? So that’s a massive net loss; really, it’s the ultimate net-loss, but Jesus says it’s also the ultimate love.
And of course that’s the love of God, right? Jesus is going to lay down His life for His friends. Really, whose life is worth more, Jesus’ or everybody else’s? Assume for a moment that we do a cost-analysis. Which is more valuable, the single life of Jesus, or the accumulated value of all the lives of all who gain eternal life through faith in Him? And we have to answer that the life of Jesus is infinitely more valuable. So Jesus’ death proved that He loved at a net-loss, at least on that side of the grave. And so should we.
So this is love: Not just being nice, not necessarily being non-offensive, but loving at a net-loss. When we self-analyze, (which we shouldn’t do constantly but have biblical directive to do regularly) this is what we ask: Do I love at a net loss? What have I been willing to lose for the sake of my brother? If the answer comes back “nothing,” we have good reason to question whether or not we truly love the real Jesus.
I say “the real Jesus” because it is possible to love a made-up Jesus and hate your brother, and I think that happens far more than we care to admit. Just as it’s possible to have your own private Jesus, (just realize He’s not the real Jesus and won’t save you), it’s possible to love your idea of Jesus, and hate your brother, but your idea of Jesus won’t save you.
And one last clarification on this point, remember that the Bible is not saying, “Love your brother so that you can love Jesus,” it’s saying, “truly love Jesus and you will love your brother.” Brother-love is the immediate and necessary effect of Jesus-love, not the cause.
So John, I would argue, knows nothing about a private love affair with Jesus divorced from a passionate love for his brothers. Love for Jesus, like union with Jesus, is personal, but never private. Love for Jesus does not exist apart from love for brother. And genuine, net-loss kind of love for brother can only exist in the heart where the love of God has taken root.
This is a strange worldview to our radically individualistic way of thinking. This is so strange, that it seems to me that the rather straightforward statement Jesus makes, “by this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another,” has been replaced with something like, “by this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you are happy all the time, even when things are bad.” We have nearly lost, it seems to me, the defining mark, or brand, of a Christian. Instead of finding our identity in our love for Jesus expressed as a net-loss love for our brothers, we’ve tried to find it in ourselves apart from our brothers.
I would go a step further, and even say that in the same way the Israelites were identified by the nations around them as the people of God by means of keeping strange diet, distinctive laws of cleanliness and dress, Sabbath rest, and even circumcision, the mark of the people of God in the New Covenant is a distinctive, strange, almost senseless sort of loving each other at a loss. “By this all men will know that you are my disciples…”
The early church was noted for selling property to meet the needs of the needy among them. We may debate on whether or not that was descriptive or prescriptive, whether it was the product of an unusual moment in history or a pattern to be followed, but what we can’t deny is this – they commendably loved each other at a net loss. The believers in Hebrews 10 demonstrated similar behavior. Why? Ultimately, because they loved Jesus, and therefore they loved their brothers regardless of the cost.
I suppose if we read that the early church built a coffee shop in the foyer and after service split into small groups to play X-Box, we’d assume it was prescriptive, because that sounds like something we’d want to emulate. Loving at a net loss isn’t quite as fun, hence the battle rages to explain away in simplistic anti-communist terms why we don’t have to consider suffering loss for one another like they so naturally seemed to do.
There remains yet one more proposition to buttress the words of John, we write these things so that our joy may be made complete, and that will comprise part 4.