1 John: Loving Your Brothers and Sisters

Good morning and welcome to Journey Church.  I’d especially like to welcome anyone who might be here for the first time today.  Wherever you are on your own spiritual journey – you are welcome here.  You might be at a place where you aren’t sure whether there is a God – and – to be honest we are going to do our level best to try to help you see that there is a God and that he is good.  But we respect your space today – even if some of the things you hear might be hard for you to hear – and we come across a passage today that might be hard on the ears – but we are trusting that if nothing else you will be challenged to think and consider if there is truth in what the Bible is teaching.

Last week we began studying chapter 3 – and spent the entire time really looking at this outburst of emotion from John – who writes – Behold!  What manner of love is this – from what universe does this kind of love comes from that God has bestowed upon us?  That we might be called children of God – and that is what we are!

Not only is there a God in Heaven but through faith in Jesus, we are adopted into his family and we get to call God our father.

Well now John is going to talk a little more about what it means to be in this family.  And he is going to lay out for us today two traits of a child of God.  What does a child of God look like?

Who do you resemble most in your family?  I came across an interesting photo this week of a distant relative of Abraham Lincoln – and they mashed the two halve together – and I think it’s close enough to see that that guy carries some of the characteristics of his great great grandfather father.

I came across this photo as well, here’s a cute little two month old baby and I thought – I wonder if he looks like his father?  And the answer is – Yes, he looks like his father.

I’ve been told I look like my Father – here’s a picture of my dad holding me – that’s my sister and that is my fathers father – And it’s hard to tell from this picture but my family made a big deal about the dimples that got passed down on the Lawton side of my family – you’ve got the Lawton dimples!  I heard many many times in my life – and when Jody and I had kids – the Lawton dimples – passed down from generation to generation.

You can’t really tell from this angle but if you zoom into this picture you can see – Yup!  there’s the Lawton dimples! 

Well, John is going to teach us today that there are common traits to all children of God.  In John’s opinion there are two traits that people ought to look when people see Christians –  they say- you look just like your Heavenly father.  I see it in you.  Let’s jump in and read from John’s first letter to the churches he pastored.

10 This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are:

Now – let me stop for a moment here – remember I told you that you might hear something that doesn’t land super great on your ears – well- one verse in you understand what I mean – John is here declaring that there are only two families in the spiritual realm.  You either are a child of God or you are a child of the devil.

Now one thing that is helpful when you read John – is to understand that John doesn’t have a lot of colors in his coloring box- he usually colors everything in black and white.

However – this is a writing style – John doesn’t want his readers to imagine that there is a third option.  And in fact- the bible over and over again – insists that when it comes to spiritual reality – there really is only two options.  You are either in the kingdom of darkness, or you are in the kingdom of light.  You are either a sheep or you are a goat.  Life or death.  You’re building your life on the rock, or on shifting sand.  You are either blind or you see.

And in the bible the fork in the road, so to speak – the defining issue is – NOT whether you are a good person.  Not whether you do more good than bad – the only thing that matters is what you do with Jesus.

Faith in Jesus places you by Grace into the family of God.  It is faith in Jesus that transfers you from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light.

And – what John is about to tell us – is that after we are adopted into the family we will start to behave like children of God.  In two specific ways….

10 This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister.

John says – if you are a child of God – then it will show in two specific areas – One way is in our actions – and we will talk more about that next week because he gets more specific about that a few more verses down.

And the second area is the way we love people – but note he has a specific kind of person in mind.  John says that it will show in the way you love other brothers and sisters in the faith.

Now Jesus tells us to love all – and to become the kind of person who can love even an enemy – but John narrows it down – apparently he is seeing something in the churches that he is writing to that concerns him – and that is the way Christians are treating one another within the church.

11 For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. 12 Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous. 

13 Do not be surprised, my brothers and sisters, if the world hates you. 14 We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death. 

The story of Cain and Abel is found in Genesis chapter 4.  Cain and Abel are the first two children of Adam and Eve – and the story goes that both brought offerings before the Lord and for reasons that are not the clearest reasons – one is acceptable to the Lord and the other is rejected.

And immediately we see the ramifications of Adam and Eve’s sin – as Cain is filled with resentment towards his brother.  He begins to seethe with anger – so much so that God shows up and begins talking with Cain – which is interesting in and of itself – God hadn’t rejected Cain – he is still speaking and in fact counseling Cain – he asks him Cain – why are so you angry?

Now anytime in scripture we find God asking a question it isn’t because he is befuddled or needs help – he asks us questions to get us to think about what’s going on inside of us – why so angry Cain?  And then he warns Cain – watch out Cain, sin is crouching at your door ready to pounce.

Cain ignores God’s advice and the next day kills his brother Abel in the field.  When God shows up he tells Cain – that the blood of an innocent man is crying out to him from the ground for justice.

What is this story?  This story is the history of the world in a nutshell.  resentment, anger, contempt and murder pouring out of humanity ever since.

And perhaps you are thinking – well I’ve never murdered anyone – this passage doesn’t apply to me – John I’ve never murdered anyone – but then Jesus comes along in Matthew 5,6,7 and begins to teach – if you are the kind of person who nurtures resentment, bitterness, scorn, anger and contempt – then you are well on your way to murder.

And Jesus begins to paint a picture and a promise – the picture?  Jesus can turn us into a people who actually and genuinely love people – instead of hating them.  That we could become the kind of people who love even people who think and act differently than we do? That we could become the kinds of people who love even someone who considers us their enemy?

Now to John – if Jesus has in mind that his church would be filled with people who love even enemies – then how much more should the church be filled with people who treat one their brother and sister in Christ with respect and love and honor.

This should be the easy thing.  But it’s not, is it?  It’s not easy to love people.  The easy way – the worldly way – the evil one’s way, is the Cain way – resentment – anger – bitterness.

John writes his churches to say, Brothers and sisters – this cannot stand.  Love is the way of our heavenly father.   This is how our family does things – we love one another.

Its not easy but it’s important.  But it’s not easy – is it?  But it’s so important – but it’s so not easy!  You know why I know it’s not easy – and that it’s never been easy?  Because John is 5 short chapters mentions this concept more than a dozen different times.

Why?  Because he sees something in his churches that concerns him.  They aren’t acting like children of God – they aren’t loving one another within the walls of the church.  12 times – I mean about 6 of them are in this section alone – but look at the next chapter – John turns up the heat on this idea…

1 John 4:20 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.

It’s not easy but it’s so important.  Why?  Because when it works – when a group of people are united by love – then it’s incredibly powerful… let me give you an example form the bible.  We read in Acts 11,12,13 about a city called Antioch, in Sryia.

Antioch in the first century was a world class city – it had half a million people living within its walls.

And what made Antioch interesting is that it had walls – not only around the outside of the city – but within the walls of the city.  They built walls to separate people into ethnic groups – and their thinking was- it’s safer for everyone to keep to their own…

I read this week that there were at least 18 different ethnic groups within the city of Antioch – and many of them built walls to keep others out.

But then one day a 19th group began to appear.  A group of Jesus followers showed up from Jerusalem and they begin sharing the good news of Jesus.  And pretty soon so many people came to faith that the people of Antioch decided to name this group – and the name they gave them was the name Christian.  The name Christian was invented in Antioch.

But this group was different.  This group of Jesus followers were not building walls – they were taking them down.  At least proverbially – because people from all 18 of those ethnicities were placing their faith in Jesus.

By the way – when we read that passage we came across a weird little statement that seemed perhaps out of place to you – when John says don’t be surprised when the world hates you – love your brothers.  And you might think – why would the world hate people who love all?

But the reality is that it scared the Romans to death.  These Christians were doing what Rome could never do – they were uniting people from every walk of life – from every tongue and tribe and country – and it scared the Romans, and it still scares communist countries – they see the power of the unifying effects of brothers and sisters loving one another.

In fact – in Acts 13 – there is a description of the leaders in the church in Antioch – and they include Simeon – who it tells us what a black African.  You have Lucius – who was from Libya – north African – probably more Arabic looking  – you have a guy named Manean who was brought up in the palace of Herod – Barnabas from Cyprus and Paul from Jerusalem.  These are the leaders of the church in Antioch.

The church from the very beginning was built on its ability to overcome walls – to tear them down – and to unite people in love.

You know – these past two years have been incredibly difficult years – we talk about walls being built up inside a city – more walls than ever have been built up within the city that is the church.  We have people in this camp about masks – in that camp about vaccines – in those camps about the elections.  In this camps about masks.

So let me ask you – how are you doing loving people who are not in your camp?  And when I say you I always include me – but it’s important to take the time to ask how are YOU doing loving your brother and sister in Christ?

Because – the only way Journey Church is going to be a loving church is if you are a loving person you are Journey Church.

Listen – yo know we are in the process of building this new facility for Journey Church – where we’ve been saying for a long time now – for generations to come people will be able to hear the good news of Jesus.  What will they find when they walk in the doors?

It better be more than a steel building.  They can find that at Costco.  What’s good about the good news if they don’t find people who love one another and treat one another respectfully and lovingly?

If we aren’t people who have been transformed by the love of Jesus – then why would people come?  To get more of what they can get anywhere else?

Pettiness – bitterness – resentment – gossip – they can get that on their neighborhood  Nextdoor app.  They don’t need to come to church to be trolled.

Brothers and sisters, our heritage is about tearing down walls not building them up.  How are we doing loving our brothers and sisters?

Does it sound like I am being too harsh?  I hope not- I’m trying to be true to the word of God – and when John talks about the importance of loving one another within the walls of the church more than a dozen times – with clarity and force – then we need to at least be willing to admit – if those churches struggled with it, we might also.

The only way to know is to ask the Lord for help in pointing it out to us.  To bring John’s concerns to the Lord and ask for help – to give the Holy Spirit permission to do an inventory of our heart.  The Psalmist writes in Psalm 139

23Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting
.

Ask the Lord to search us to see if we are giving safe harbor to resentment, anger, hatred?  And – if we find it there – what do we do?

What are we to do?  We repent.  We ask God to put is in line.  We admit we’ve behaved in the likeness of Cain – we’ve desired harm and anger and allowed resentment and we confess our sins to the Lord. Confess that in our hearts we’ve built up walls instead of tearing them down.

We confess our sins and He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Why?  Why?  Because there is blood in the ground that cries our for justice – for you and for me.  Because two thousand years after Cain and Abel.  And two thousand years ago – there was another innocent man who’s blood dripped into the dirt.

It was the blood of Jesus – who freely died in order to provide a way for us to be made right with God and to begin the process of becoming different kinds of people.  And it’s that blood we rely on –

There is blood on the ground crying out for justice.  And in our case – the penalty of our sins is death- Jesus stands before the judge and says – the death has been died.  The blood has been shed.  It would e now unjust to penalize us – through faith , we are justified and cleansed and made new.

Free to become the kinds of people who don’t get defensive when our sin is called out.  Who don’t try to justify or deflect – we see ourselves and we submit ourselves to God’s will.

16 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 and sisters.