Without love, truth will not be valued. Without truth, it is difficult to know how to obey. Without obedience, it is impossible to demonstrate true love.
To understand Love, it will help to understand how it is integrally connected to Truth and to Obedience, such that you cannot separate the three. These three ideas intersect with one another at almost every point.
Taking our lead from the letter of 1 John, we have looked at Perfect Love (Part 2 of this series). We turn our attention now to the relationships between Love, Truth and Obedience.
Let’s consider ‘Love’.
For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. 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. Do not be surprised, my brothers and sisters, if the world hates you. We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him. 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. (1 John 3:11-16)
Some context and then background will be helpful.
John describes the difference between being a child of God and being a child of the devil (3:10). You want to know if you are a child of God, then John, presumable remembering what Jesus had taught him (c.f. John 15:16-17) says: ‘Love one another’. To make the point he tells the story of two family groups. The first is the story of Cain (‘do not be like Cain’). The second is the story of Jesus (‘Jesus Christ laid down his life’). Don’t be like Cain. Be like Jesus.
Cain murdered his brother Abel as recorded back in Genesis 4. He was motivated by hate and envy. Both brothers presented the Lord an offering. Cain, some of the fruits of the soil and Abel some of the fat portions from his flock. For an unstated reason, God looked in favour on Abel not Cain (Gen 4:3-5). We don’t know why God preferred one over the other, but the point was that Cain had a choice going forward – to do what was right or to do what was wrong in the eyes of God.
Imagine, that I ask two of my children to take out the garbage and the recycling. When they return one has taken the garbage out, but the other has instead cleaned up the family room. Whilst it is great they have both done something helpful, one has done what I asked and the other has not.
Push this a little further, when the second child is still asked to take out the recycling, it helps no one to storm off indignantly because he had ‘helped’ but just not in a way that was obedient. This may help us understand something about love and obedience.
Cain had a choice. He could do what was asked of him or not! If he did, it would be pleasing to God, yet even when he didn’t do what was asked, he still had a choice. Instead of love he hated and took the life of his brother.
John uses this story to teach what true love really looks like. It is to love the other. For him, true love is that which is both pleasing and acceptable to God.
When John calls people to love each other, he calls them to love as a child of God. Importantly, this love of others must be in a way that is pleasing and acceptable to God first. And to love in this way may not be a love that is accepted by the world. As such, the world may hate, like Cain.
What is it that the world wants you to love? The answer to that could be an almost endless list of possessions, ideals, lifestyles or behaviours. Whether or not those things are good, the point John wants to make is that Christian love is a love for others that is both pleasing and acceptable to God before it is to the world.
And here is a contrasting observation. The opposite to this kind of love may well be hate, as demonstrated by Cain. Often the opposite to this Christian love is fear.
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. (1 John 4:18)
If your love is Christian love, then there is nothing to fear. There is no punishment that goes with a love that is pleasing and acceptable to God. But if you taint that love. If you call for a love that is not pleasing and acceptable to God, then as a tainted love, it is logical that people will fear that kind of love.
It is not uncommon today (at least in the first world) for Christians to be accused of being unloving. What lies behind the accusation, at times could be the very fact that Christians have indeed been unloving. They have done something that was not pleasing and acceptable to God (e.g. physical, mental or sexual abuse, financial mismanagement, anger – to name a few). In that case the accusation is well founded, and the Christian person should feel the weight of the rebuke or consequence.
At other times, what lies behind the accusation is not that the Christian has been unloving, but that they have been loving in a way that the accuser does not want to agree with. In rejecting those things that are pleasing and acceptable to God, the accuser may have embraced that which the world has embraced which does not please God or is acceptable to him (e.g. materialism, some aspects of sexuality, individualism, terrorism to name a few).
People will fear a love that they do not understand or accept. That should not prevent the Christian from being loving in all relationships.
For more in this Series:
Uncomfortable Love (Part 1 of 6)
Perfect Love (Part 2 of 6)
Love (this one)
Truth (Part 4 of 6)
Obedience (Part 5 of 6)
Loving in Relationships (Part 6 of 6)