Love One Another...

Reading: 1 John 4.1-21
In 1675 Charles II directed Christopher Wren to "build a small observatory within our park at Greenwich" for "the finding out of the longitude of places for perfecting navigation and astronomy." Originally map and chart makers fixed the zero meridian wherever they pleased - Greenwich, Paris, the Fortunate Islands... When the Nautical Almanack commenced annual publication in 1767, the British reading began to be generally adopted. By using the marine chronometer and sextant with the Almanack, navigators could find their longitude in relation to the Greenwich meridian. Map and chart makers began to base their calculations on Greenwich. There were still some anomalies and even legal disputes. By 1884, when the Meridian Conference was called in Washington, 75% of the world's charts were based on the Greenwich meridian and it was agreed that, together with Greenwich Mean Time, it should be the world standard.

When it comes to dates, times, measurements... there are still countries who insist on doing it their own way. That might cause few problems for a country living in isolation from the rest of the world. But most countries want trade and tourists and are willing to accept the universal standard.

It used to be accepted that Truth, Beauty and Goodness are absolutes. But that has all changed. Goodness is decided in terms of what is socially acceptable for the present. Beauty is seen to be totally subjective - it is "in the eye of the beholder", as the saying goes. Even truth is relative and subjective. Our multi-cultural society almost guarantees that, in the area of religion, anything at all can be regarded as "true to you". And without an acceptance of God and his Word as the standard of Truth and Goodness, changes of values are far more rapid than we could have dreamed possible.

Be careful what you accept as the Truth. Sooner or later it will be translated into values and actions.

Truth and Error

Already John has written about errors to avoid. In chapter 1, it was the error of unconfessed sin (1.6,8). In chapter 2, it was the hatred of one's brother (2.9,11) and the rejection of Jesus as the Messiah (2.18,22-23). In chapter 3, it was the view that we are not required live right (3.7-10).

In this present chapter, John warns that the claim to have the Spirit is not to be taken at face value - there are many false prophets. It is necessary to "test the spirits to see whether they are from God" (v. 1b).

John in fact gives several tests to confirm the true Spirit of God. The first of these is: "Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God" (vv. 2b,3a). In commenting on chapter 1, we noted, "At [the] time [John was writing] the view which came to be known as Gnosticism was starting to emerge. Among other things, it taught that the physical world was essentially evil and said that Jesus the Son of God couldn't have been a real human being." John's first test is specifically against this view.

The Christian view of Jesus is that he was fully divine and fully human. There are serious consequences for our whole understanding of the redemptive work of Christ if this dual truth is not grasped.

This false view that would see Jesus as the Son of God but not as a human being "the spirit of the antichrist" (v. 3b - see 2.18-23).

So do not strive for popularity, but for truth, knowing that "the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world" (v. 4b).

John gives another test - a willingness to listen to and accept apostolic teaching. "We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognise the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood" (v. 6).

These words are claimed by some groups who say they are the only ones right. They rule out anyone who doesn't agree with them. But the essential point is whether we are listening to the apostolic teaching which is now embodied in Scripture.

The church of today, in seeking to be acceptable to our society, is strongly tempted to turn aside from the teaching of the apostolic Scriptures. We express a great deal of caring concern about those who are "marginalised" - pushed to the edges of our society. It is even suggested that God prefers the marginalised over against the main stream of society. At that point we part company with the Scriptures. In speaking to the learned people of Athens, Paul said that God "now commands all people everywhere to repent" (Acts 17.30). When Jesus said that "the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you" (Mt. 21.31) he was noting their willingness to turn away from their evil ways. He wasn't suggesting that God prefers them in some other way.

God is Love

No, the measure of love isn't popular appeal, but God who is Love. As John talks about love we can begin to think about a sentimentality (and sensuality) which has little to do with the mind and character of God. John's words have been used to support ideas which are far from his thinking.

In my student days there were writers propounding what is called "situational ethics". They maintained that love is the only absolute (not the ten commandments), and that sexually deviant behaviour (for example) may well be good if it expresses "love". Such behaviour certainly indicates an emptiness and a desire for wholeness and fulfilment in intimacy. But it expresses itself in the brokenness of human sin and comes under the judgement of God, as Paul makes clear in Rom. 1.26-27.

God is our standard, our reference-point. True love is measured by him and flows from him. We cannot say, "This is love. Therefore it comes from God." We err when we use our human measure of love as the test.

God's Character in Action

Love is the very character of God who is pure and holy. And his love reached out to fallen humanity through the sending of the Son. "This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him" (v. 9) - words which recall John 3.16. So the origin of love is not in us but in God himself who "loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins" (v. 10).

Now those who have received God's redemptive love are to "love one another" (v. 11). In fact, our love for one another will become part of the visible expression of God's love within the world (v. 12).

We can understand that God is loving towards his creation, but to say that he is Love is going much further. The character of God from all eternity has been Love. Within the Godhead, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit have been bound together by Love. And in his relationship with us, we see the love of the Father in sending his Son "to be the Saviour of the world" and in "giving us his Spirit" (vv. 13-14).

"God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him" (v. 16b). The essential character of God will increasingly become visible in us.

Back in the late 50's, I heard Corrie ten Boom speaking in Brisbane. She had been through many terrible experiences in German concentration camps. Her sister Betsy was cruelly treated and died there. After the War she met a German woman who had beaten her sister. Anger rose up within her. How could she love a person who had done that? She came to a point where she said, "Lord, I can't love that woman! And yet you love her! Please love her through me!" Love springs from God within us!

"In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love" (vv. 17-18).

So - perfect love gives us courage, perfect love drives out fear. But what sort of comfort is that to those of us who know that our love is not perfect, to us who are aware of the reality of personal sin? We are brought back to the truths expressed in the first two chapters again. Yes, it is true that we sin (1.8,10). But do we seek to live in his light, in fellowship with one another, confessing our sins to God... ? Then we are living under his forgiveness and are experiencing his cleansing from all our wrongdoing. Don't live in fear - he is still working on you!

But John sees fellowship with one another as vital. He comes back again to the importance of loving our brother. "We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, 'I love God,' yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother" (vv. 19-21). God is the source of our love. If he truly lives within us, our lives will reach out in love to one another. We will not be able to rest content with a broken relationship with either a Christian or a natural brother.

Where is our "zero meridian"? What is the central reference-point of our life? We need to allow God to be at the centre of our life, of our thinking, of our values, of our goals and ambitions...

Some tourists get their photo taken astride the zero meridian in Greenwich - east and west! That zero-point is the reference-point for all points on the globe. But you can't spend your life there!

Sometimes people want to spend their life with God - in holy separation from the world about them. But God loves the whole world. He is "out there", and calls us to be with him "out there" and not just in the "holy place"!

It is important to get the reference-point right. But God is Love. Spend time with him. Go out with him - to love!

© Peter J. Blackburn, Home Hill Uniting Church, 28 May 2000
Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, © International Bible Society, 1984.

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