1 John 3:11-15

When we become children of God at our new birth, we are not just patched up or even washed clean; we are whole new creatures. The old has died and the new has come! (2 Corinthians 5:17) If we remember this, it makes it so much easier to see ourselves as God sees us: with our new-born spirit as the dominant force in our lives. Because we are joined with His Spirit, we can walk, increasingly, in victory through the process of "sanctification" (being made holy). (1 Peter 1:2) In this way, we gradually become more and more like Jesus. In this next section, John returns to the subject of "love".

The heart of the matter

As we recognise that "the Father loves us" (Study Five), we are challenged to love others, even those who hate us. In Matthew 22:37-40, Jesus says that we are to love the Lord with all our heart, but to love our neighbour as ourselves. If we have a problem loving and accepting ourselves, it is going to rub off on our relationships, even with friends and family, before we consider any enemies we may have. Enemies really highlight our insecurities, so we need to work on seeing ourselves as God sees us. At the heart of the Christian faith is not a set of rules, formal doctrines or a life of theological correctness, but a life-changing, relationship-restoring, and community-transforming love.

Let's consider a simple example. Think of a wrapped, chocolate sweet. There is a lovely, shiny wrapper with an attractive name but, if we chose the sweet just because of its wrapper, we would miss out on so much. If we were to keep looking at it and admiring the outside, without seeing and tasting the inside, how crazy would that be? The inside is far more important and satisfying than the outside! The "world" (those outside the kingdom of God) encourages us to focus all our energy, time and attention on external appearances, but God is far more interested in the satisfying centre. This is where our deep intimate relationship with Him grows and gains strength and where we need to focus our attention. After all, this is the part of us that we are going to live with for ever. We love ourselves simply by pulling down strongholds - the old ways of seeing ourselves - and replacing them with God's word and how He sees us. (2 Corinthians 10:3) This is set out in one of our "Life Lessons":

"Who I am in Jesus Christ"

Understanding how God sees us is something that takes place in our minds and it is a moment-by-moment choice, but also vital if we are to walk the "love walk" as Jesus did. Paul wrote: "I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge — that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God." (Ephesians 3:17-19) As believers, we need to love each other because God has loved us and because we need the support and help of each other, especially at this time in history. There is so much strife and discord outside of God's kingdom in the way that other people live their lives. When we are persecuted and rejected for being Christians, we need to be supportive of each other. John reminds us that this sort of trouble has been around since the time of Cain. (1 John 3:12-13)

Envy, hatred and blood

We can see in the story of Cain and Abel that Adam & Eve must have told their children about the way in which God had responded to their own sin by providing animal skins for them. (Genesis 3:21) This would have involved shedding blood through the sacrifice of the chosen animal. We then read that God accepted Abel's offering (of an animal sacrifice) but rejected the offering brought by Cain (fruits of the harvest). (Genesis 4:3-5) The reason for this was made clearer much later (in Moses' time) and summarised by the writer to the Hebrews: "The law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness." (Hebrews 9:22) This shedding of blood as a sacrifice for sin was passed down to every generation. It is described in almost every book of the Old Testament, but it was really only a pointer to the things that were to come – a temporary measure. As we read the Old Testament, we find that, every year, the High Priest would enter the "Holy of Holies" (firstly in the "Tent of Meeting", then later in the temple) with the blood of a lamb that had been sacrificed. He would sprinkle the "Mercy Seat" (that covered the "Ark of the Covenant") with the blood, to atone for the sins of the people. (Hebrews 9:19-21) He himself had to be purified before he entered the "Holy of Holies" for this purpose.

We can never get back to God in our own way. Our own good deeds are never good enough to make us right with God. The only way back to God had to be provided by God Himself: a single and lasting sacrifice of the perfect "Lamb of God" - Jesus Christ. He was the one who was present at the creation of the universe and He was able to bridge the "gulf of separation" between God and humanity. Cain was resentful of the fact that Abel’s sacrifice had been accepted by God, even though it was his own disobedience that had caused God to reject his offering. This led to jealousy and hatred as he allowed sin to go unchecked in his heart. It culminated in Cain murdering his own brother, bringing judgement on himself and great sadness to his parents. There is a certain likeness here to Judas Iscariot who betrayed Jesus. (Matthew 26:47) Although Judas was offered many ways of escaping the temptation, he "hardened his heart". After his betrayal, he had deep regrets but it was too late. (1 Corinthians 10:13)

Loving our enemies

Cain's reaction to his brother being in the right whilst he was in the wrong is, sadly, all too common in our own day and age. Because we have been created in God's image, we have an instinctive understanding of "right and wrong". But, because we have also inherited Adam & Eve's desire to "go it alone", we can be quick to resent those who are doing the right thing whilst we are forging our own path. This is why, as believers who are seeking to live the right way in what we do, we may find that other people are resentful of us and aggressive towards us if they know us to be Christians. In his book, "The Heavenly Man", Liu Zhenying from China tells the story of how a very humble, elderly man visited him in prison, every week for about six months. This man wanted to tell him about the love of God but all he got in return were grunts or swear words. Nevertheless, the old man never gave up on him and, eventually, Yun agreed to read what the man was offering him and came to know Jesus Christ as his saviour. "Brother Yun" - as he was subsequently known - has been a great encouragement to the persecuted church in China and a challenge to the Western world to pray and give to those who are behind bars for the sake of the good news about Jesus. Let us be careful not to judge people before their time or fail to offer them an opportunity to find Jesus for themselves. (John 16:8)

Jesus is not just asking us to love those we like, or feel comfortable around. All through the Bible, there are practical examples of how to love those we do not like, albeit for a host of different reasons. Jesus takes this a step further and calls us to love those we hate because they have wronged us. It may be anything, from the murder of a close relative through to stolen belongings or hateful speech directed against us. Our response has to be the same: to love them in God’s way and to see them as He sees them. We can only love our enemies and do good to those who hate us or wrong us if we see them as valuable and precious. (1 John 2:11)

Some examples to help us

  • Jesus prayed for those who wronged Him. (Luke 23:34)
  • Stephen saw the people who stoned him as those whom God loved and wanted to reconcile to Himself. (Acts 7:50-60)
  • Peter says that we must live in harmony, being compassionate, humble and loving as brothers and sisters. (1 Peter 3:8-11)

Some attitudes to guide us

  • Do not retaliate. (Proverbs 24:29; Matthew 5:39; Romans 12:17; 1 Thessalonians 5:15; 1 Peter 2:23; 1 Peter 3:9)
  • Show mercy. (Proverbs 3:3; Micah 6:8; Luke 6:36-37)
  • Learn to forgive. (Mark 11:22-25; Ephesians 4:32; Matthew 6:14; Colossians 3:13)
  • Show practical love. (Proverbs 25:21-22; Romans 12:9-21; John 15:20)
  • Pray for our enemies. (Matthew 5:43-48; Luke 6:28-29; Luke 23:32-34; Acts 7:60)
  • Do not speak evil. (Psalm 7:1; Proverbs 17:9; James 4:11)
  • Look for ways to bless others. (Luke 6:28; Romans 12:14)

Jesus showed us how to love all people in the same way when He washed the disciples’ feet. He washed Judas’ feet at the same time as those of Peter and John, knowing what Judas was about to do. He did not cut him out of their Passover feast or make an example of him, even though He wanted to warn His friends. (John 13:1-17) Would we be happy to have someone at our Christmas dinner who we knew was about to destroy us? Modern "foot-washing" involves doing any menial task that may cost us energy, pride, the risk of being misunderstood or losing friends. Examples include visiting the sick, cleaning the church building, making a meal, collecting children, child-minding and many more acts of service. These are characteristic of a true disciple and show everyone what it means to love each other. (John 13:35)

"Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous." (Matthew 5:44-45)

A prayer for help

"In Jesus’ name, I make a fresh and strong commitment today to live the life of love,
To let the tenderness of God flow through me and heal the wounded hearts of those I meet.
Father, teach me to love, even when things go wrong;
To be patient and kind when the children are underfoot;
To overlook the spiteful words of an angry spouse;
To rejoice when someone gets something I was wanting.
Teach me to talk in love,
To lay gossip quietly aside and to take up words of grace instead.
Lord, Your word says that Your love is already inside me,
That it has been shed abroad in my heart.
So, today, I resolve to remove every obstacle
That would keep that love from flowing freely into the lives of others.
I put resentments behind me and I forgive all those who have done me wrong.
In the days ahead, cause me to increase and excel
And overflow with Your love.
Cause me to be what this world needs most of all...
A living example of love. Amen."

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