For once, apart from a couple of spots, I managed to fairly well follow today’s passage on first reading! Remember that John’s main purpose in writing was so that they/we will know we have eternal life. This passage is a little more practical in terms of the things which characterise a life lived with a view to heaven, and links with the last part of what he said in last week’s passage. Let me talk you through it.
Last week’s passage finished by saying that believers will show God is their Father through loving their follow believers . That was John’s message from the beginning: love one another . While that applies to loving everyone with the same love with which God has loved us, it especially applies to loving our fellow believers. John continues to be as subtle as a brick and so uses Cain as a prime negative example . Cain showed he had the devil for his father because he murdered his own brother, thereby showing what was really in his heart. Murdering Abel didn’t make him evil; he murdered him because he was evil; that’s what was in his heart.
In fact, says John, we shouldn’t be surprised when the world hates the followers of Jesus to a similar degree . People of the world—the antichrists, those who follow the desires of the flesh and eyes and whose pride is in riches—have the devil for their father, and so being hated is not unexpected. I’ve noticed a change in recent years. In my early years in the Christian faith I didn’t experience too much (if any) of what I might call hatred from non-believers. Christianity was pretty much accepted as one of the voices in the community and was seen to have a place in helping maintain the fabric of society. That is less and less the case these days as there are signs of increasing hostility towards Christians and the sorts of things the Christian faith stands for. It’s now often seen as regressive and out of step with the times. I see Christians lamenting the fact. My question is, Why would we expect it to be any different? If that’s not been the case to this point then that’s unusual, not the other way around.
Remember how John spoke in a black and white manner earlier on? He keeps on the same track here and does a comparison. How do you know someone has passed from death to life  i.e. what will we see in a person who has God as a Father as opposed to the devil as a father? A person who has God as their Father will show that in their love for their fellow believers. Regardless of what they might say, a believer who does not love their fellow believer shows they abide in death instead of abiding in Jesus. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re a wicked sinner consigned to hell. They may even be a true believer, but their actions are more consistent with death and the devil rather than God and life.
In his quest to be black and white, John goes a further step: if you hate your fellow believers you’re no better than Cain the murderer [15a].
Picture this. John’s letter is being read out on Sunday morning in the house of Adventurus. You hear the mention of Cain and his murdering ways  and you are somewhat relieved. ‘I admit I could do a lot better at loving my fellow believers, and there are some I really could do without. For example, I wish Disastrus would just shut his mouth and stop grizzling all the time. He drives me and others nuts. But at least I haven’t murdered him or his equally annoying son Mischievus.’ You are sitting there in your self-satisfied self-righteousness when the further part of John’s letter hits you right between the eyes: even to hate your fellow believer is as bad as murdering them! Hate is nowhere in the list of characteristics of those whose lives reflect the life of the kingdom to come [15b].
Here’s what Love is: Jesus showed it when he laid down his life for us [16a]. How do we show love to others? Gifts, time, words, helping, caring, flowers and many other ways. If we really want to express love, we may do more of the above e.g. a more expensive gift, more time, stronger words and so on. For Jesus, there was only one thing by which he could adequately show the extent of his love for people: he laid down his life.
We ought to be willing and ready to do the same [16b]. What does that mean? Literally dying for someone else? Hopefully not, but many people have done that over the years. In a myriad of ways it simply means putting others first because that is what Jesus did. You know what? That can get really trying and tiring when you keep giving and giving and those to whom you are giving simply keep on taking as much as you’re prepared to give. Is there ever an end to laying down our lives for others? It would seem not; but there may be an end to giving someone ongoing permission to stay in their bad behaviour.
There’s no room for hate in laying down our lives for others in the family of God. Not only that, how can we say we have God’s love living in us if we see a fellow believer in need and do nothing to help ? The two cannot coexist. I had a personal example of that last week. I was out doing my usual on a Saturday morning when I saw an older aboriginal man walking towards me on the side of the road. As I got close he put his hand up to indicate he wanted me to stop, but I kept on driving. About 50 metres down the road I thought I can’t leave him there so I turned around and went back. He wanted to get to the Smithfield railway station so I told him to get in and I took him. He was Ngarrindjeri from down the Coorong so we had a good talk about Raukkan and Clive Rigney. He then hit me up for $5 and I dropped him off at the station.
That was a lesson to me about caring: how could I say God’s love was in me if I’d have kept on driving? Love is not so much expressed in words but in truth and action  i.e. it is expressed in acts consistent with the character of God, with things as they really are.
There’s a benefit from freely and willingly loving others in that way [19-21]. I’m guessing that most of us at one point or another will have had an attack of self-condemnation. John refers to it as ‘our hearts condemning’ us, which essentially refers to our conscience at work. There are some things for which our conscience will rightly condemn us because we do do wrong. But at other times our conscience may be working overtime simply through some inner feeling of dread, of being a failure, of not coming up to scratch in terms of God’s expectations. We judge ourselves and declare ourselves guilty. A soft conscience can be something to be desired, but it can also be a hard taskmaster. But if something strikes our conscience that in turn shakes our confidence before God, we can take comfort that regardless of what we might think or feel, God knows us and he knows where our hearts are really at. Here’s how we can be reassured: those times when our hearts condemn us, we can ask ourselves this question: do my actions show that I love my fellow believers? If the answer is yes, we can stand before God boldly and without fear of condemnation. It’s not that those things assure our salvation, but they show that we have it already and are OK with God.
Based on our obedience to the commandment to love and our desire to please God, we can ask from God whatever we want and he will give it . I always struggle with this one because there’s plenty of times I’ve asked and nothing has happened.
I’m guessing I won’t be alone in that experience. The problem is that John doesn’t qualify it; he makes a bald statement. Jesus pretty much said the same in the gospels. The only thing I can conclude is that we can’t take that statement out of its context of obedience and abiding i.e. if we are being obedient and abiding in Jesus, the things we ask will be the things in accord with his will and purpose, so we will receive. Having said that, I don’t find it a satisfactory explanation because it feels like I’ve become an apologist for one of the hard things of scripture to understand.
Here’s the summary of Jesus’ commands: believe in him and love one another . That’s the sum of it and it starts with a relationship of faith.
John 6:28-29 (NIV)
28 Then they asked him, "What must we do to do the works God requires?" 29 Jesus answered, "The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent."
His Spirit will affirm our abiding in Jesus .