Love your enemies–even the ones in your church

1 John 2:7-11

Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning. This old command is the message you have heard. 8 Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and in you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining.

 9 Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness. 10 Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble. 11 But anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness. They do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them.

 

            This text is more than a little confusing to start off with. John says I am not writing you a new commandment, it is an old commandment. But yet here is a new commandment. And all of this is because of the true light which is already shining. Thanks for clearing that up, John.

            It is times like this when I like to go to the contemporary paraphrases of the Bible like The Message. By looking at The Message, I can allow Eugene Peterson to tell me what on earth John is saying. Verses 7-8 from the Message, “My dear friends, I’m not writing anything new here. This is the oldest commandment in the book, and you’ve known it from day one. It’s always been implicit in the Message you’ve heard. On the other hand, perhaps it is new, freshly minted as it is in both Christ and you—the darkness on its way out and the True Light already blazing!”

            John says This isn’t anything new. You have heard it before. But you are going to be able to see it in a new light. This is kind of how I view my role as a pastor. I am to take the things that you have read and heard many times before and present it in a new and challenging way.

Last week we talked about coming into the light, seeing things as we have never seen them before. So what John seems to be saying is that even the oldest commandment in the book is going to look a little bit different when you view it in this new way. Not that it is a new commandment, but you are going to see it from a fresh perspective.

            If I am to be completely honest, I would say that this is one of those topics that I keep coming back to because it is a bit of a pet peeve for me. And perhaps it is a pet peeve for me because it is something that I struggle with. If pastors keeps preaching about something, they probably are suffering from it themselves. This old command that the people are to see in this new light is the commandment to love our brothers and sisters.

            Verses 9-11 essentially say that if you claim to be in the light, but you hate a brother or a sister, that you are wrong. You are still in the darkness. And if you are in the darkness, you are going to be tripping and falling over stuff all of the time.

            Evidently there is some disagreement within the church that 1 John is written to that is causing some animosity. It is believed that a system of thought had sprung up among the church known as Docetism, which comes from the Greek word δοκέω which means “to seem.” The Docetists believed that Jesus did not come in flesh but he only seemed to be human. His life, death, and resurrection were only a mirage and that Jesus was only here as a spirit and therefore could not have died on the cross.

            If you were to look at the writings of John, particularly the Gospel of John, you might notice that John goes to great lengths to emphasize both Jesus’ humanity and divinity. Just looking at the prologue of John you see that emphasis in the Word being God and the word becoming flesh and dwelling among us. John really seems to be trying to hammer this home to counteract this theology of Docetism in the church.

            But here, early in this letter, John takes the opportunity to talk about loving our brothers and sisters in the church. The text is clearly speaking about loving others in the church. John uses the word “adelphos” which is a reference to our fellow believers in and followers of Jesus. If you don’t love your brothers and sisters, you are not in the light. You might think you are in the light, but you’re not. You’re only seeing the shadows of the things that really are.

            John never says that the Docetists are correct. He doesn’t say to just go along with them and agree with everything that they say. John is very careful and intentional in articulating his belief that Jesus came to this earth in the flesh. But this theological difference isn’t reason to hate your brothers and sisters. If you do hate them, you aren’t in the light; you aren’t following Jesus.

            When it comes to theology, I think that I am correct. No, I don’t think that I have everything figured out and I still have plenty of questions. But I like to think that I have things figured out better than most people. And if you disagree with me, I can show you why I am right and you are wrong. This, of course, makes me a really fun person to live with. Please pray for my wife.

             I need to repent of that mentality. Being correct or right is nothing short of an idol and it causes division within the church. We are called to be the body of Christ, his hands and feet, and instead we often turn out looking more like the posterior. I love a good debate, but when we spend all of our time arguing over theological ideas, doctrine, or dogma, we fail to actually live as Jesus called us to live. We can spend all day long talking about what Jesus meant when he told us to love our enemies and never actually spend any time loving our enemies. Instead we are making new enemies within the church!

            No, I believe that as the church we are called to work together for a greater purpose with people who are diametrically opposite to us. I love the example that Jesus gave to us when he called his disciples. In Jesus’ close group of 12 followers he called fishermen, who were some of the lowest people on the totem pole in 1st Century Judaism. They would have been stinky and uneducated men. Jesus called a Zealot named Simon. The Zealots were a sect of Judaism that believed that they were called by God to take back Jerusalem for God and take it back by any means necessary. They were the ones ready to rise up against the Romans and kill everyone that stood in the way. This is God’s will! Jesus also called a tax collector named Matthew to be his disciple. The tax collector was usually a Jewish man who had the mentality of If you can’t beat them, join them. Matthew worked for the Roman government; Matthew worked for the enemy in the eyes of Simon the Zealot. This is like Jesus calling Joe the Plumber, Rush Limbaugh, and Jim Wallis to be his closest friends and work together for a common cause. Can you even imagine inviting those guys to work together and do something as simple as bake a cake? It wouldn’t seem like the most effective way to get things done to me.

            Based on Scripture, Jesus never told these people that they needed to change their political affiliation or job. What Jesus did was tell them that there is a higher purpose in life. Jesus called the fishermen, the Zealot, the tax collector and said, “Follow me.” Come into the light and work together for this greater purpose.

            This past week we had some excitement right out in front of our house. Our neighbors were getting a new gas meter installed outside of their home. This means that at 7:30am on Monday morning several big dump trucks and a trailer with a trackhoe pulled up to the 900 block of Springhill Rd and, to use the language of John’s Gospel, “dwelled among us.” Paxton was in heaven because for the next 48 hours we got to watch the “digger” tear up the neighbor’s yard, the sidewalk, and the road itself.

            Monday the road was shut down completely and traffic was redirected. Cones were set up at both ends of our block keeping the traffic from entering into this construction zone. But it also kept us from getting out of our driveway. At about 8:30 I wanted to leave to come to the church and I backed out of my driveway, expecting one of the men that appeared to be just leaning on a shovel to let me out by moving a cone. I sat there for a few minutes and then had to get out and ask them which way I could go. The man I asked just seemed ticked off at me. “How dare you want to leave your home?”

            Monday is also trash day and after having three house guests for the last eight days, we had plenty of it and I was looking forward to getting rid of the trash that had been accumulating. Guess what, the garbage men don’t like to carry trash a block away to dump it in the truck. So when I got home that evening, the trash was still sitting on the curb.

            That was only a minor inconvenience, but what really ticked me off was when I came home from the church that day I pulled up to the cones, turned on the flashers on my car, and got out of my car to move the cones so that I could get back into my own driveway. Furthermore, I ended up moving the cones for my neighbors to be able to get out of their driveway. I just really didn’t like the way that they were doing things.

            Later that evening, I was mowing the lawn, and I spied something in the grass. I am attracted to shiny things so I noticed a set of keys in my yard. I picked them up and examined them. There were two Caterpillar keys and one John Deere key. I knew where those keys had come from. The foreman must have dropped them. I am a nice guy, most of the time. But I really wanted to do something like accidently lose the keys of the foreman. But really, what would be the purpose? This construction crew had only caused me a slight inconvenience. So I wanted to cause them a major inconvenience in return? See, the funny thing is that we both had the same goal in mind. We both wanted to have them finish the job quickly and move on. I just didn’t like the way that they were doing it and I didn’t really care for the attitude I was getting. We had some personality conflicts. Whatever it was, we just didn’t click.

            I think that this is the issue between churches and denominations sometimes. Sometimes we just don’t click. We can spend so much time trying to prove that we are right and someone else is wrong, we put so much effort in showing our supreme intellect and devotion that we do more harm than good and we forget that ultimately we have the same goal in mind. We have the goal of the kingdom of God. Why do we allow ourselves to be sidetracked by things that really aren’t that important?

            For instance, I know that there is a lot of time, money, and effort that goes into trying to prove that the age of the earth is around 6,000 years old. This number is arrived at by looking at the generations of people that the Bible records back through the creation of Adam and Eve. The theory is that if people tend to live X many years, and people were created on the sixth day, we can calculate when God first created the earth.

            But then come in those scientists that try to say that the earth is more like 4.5 billion years old. And some would say that this can’t be true or else the creation narrative in the Bible isn’t true. And if the creation narrative isn’t true, then how can we believe that any of it is true?

            So people go crazy about this stuff. Young earth verse Old earth. People within the church come out on both sides of the issue. And often they start to throw out words like “heretic” and “antichrist” to describe the people on the other side. And we start to form subgroups of people who think just like us. If they believe in a literal 7 day creation, the inerrancy of the Bible, the virgin birth, the rapture, then they are on our side. But if the miss one, just one, they are a heretic and we need to stand against them. I just want to yell at the top of my lungs, “What does it matter?!”

            Yes, I have an opinion on these issues. But I am willing to listen to other people’s opinions without calling them names or questioning their faith; questioning whether or not they are really Christians. And I am open to the possibility that maybe someone else is correct and I am wrong. And if I am wrong, I want to know about it. I don’t want to go on believing something that isn’t correct. You see, my belief system isn’t built upon some dogma or doctrine. My Christianity isn’t built upon the age of the earth, the virgin birth, penal substitutionary atonement, or the rapture. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 3:11, “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.” I build my faith upon Jesus, not on some theology, doctrine, or dogma.

            I am going to disagree with people. You are going to disagree with me. And at least once a month someone comes up to me after church and tells me something that they disagree with. Sometimes that is hard for me to hear, but that is because I have made being “right” into my idol. But I encourage you all to disagree with me and let me know when you think I am wrong, if it is worth taking the time to talk about it. I have had to change a few things over the years and I now would say some things differently than I might have 5-6 years ago. That’s called growth. And we grow through dialogue and study.

            Not having to be right all of the time means that sometimes we let things slide. Last week my father-in-law pointed out that he learned something new during my sermon. Quoting me he said, “I learned that if you bring light into a dark room all of the light goes away.” I listened to my sermon, and sure enough, I said that. That was a slip of the tongue, not a theological growing point. And I thought to myself, Well, if that is the worst thing I said, I guess I did all right. But sometimes as we seek to love each other, we need to learn to just let things go. If someone says something that we don’t agree with and it isn’t going to cause them or someone else trouble, then why make a big deal about it. And if it is something that needs to be addressed, always, ALWAYS address it in private.

            I don’t spend a lot of time talking about demons and the devil in church services. I don’t avoid the topic, but perhaps I feel that sometimes we spend too much time blaming the devil for something rather than taking the blame for our own shortcomings. But I want to go on record today as saying that I believe this need to be “right” about everything and criticizing others to no ends is not us being hyper spiritual or uber Christian. I believe it is nothing less than the work of the devil.

            When we fight over things like the age of the earth and it divides the church, causing us to split and fight against each other, when we fight over what it means to be a peacemaker, when we fight over the inerrancy of scripture, penal substitutionary atonement, or the second coming, I believe that is the work of the devil. Here is the trickery involved: we think we are being holy and righteous in our pursuit of the truth. But instead we are allowing the body of Christ to be divided and separated. There is nothing holy or righteous about dividing the body of Christ.

            There are eight churches within the Southern District of the Virginia Mennonite Conference. I get together monthly with the other pastors for lunch where we share in one another’s joys and concerns, we walk with each other through difficult situations, and we have some challenging theological discussions. And you better believe that we don’t always come out at the same place on these theological discussions.

            I believe that we pastors could do a lot better job of agreeing and disagreeing in love, but we try to keep the focus on our foundation, which is Jesus. Whether someone is a strong proponent of a 6,000 year old earth or a 4.5 billion year old earth, we can still pray together for the mission trip that they are going on with their youth group or the surgery that they are about to undergo. This doesn’t mean that we don’t continue to have conversations and seek to better articulate who we believe Jesus to be and what he is calling us to. But we take John as our model. John made attempts to clearly articulate why he thought that the Docetist Christians were wrong. But John also said that if we hate a brother or sister, we are in the darkness, not in the light.

            Tonight at 6:00, we will gather together as a district at Waynesboro Mennonite. There will be conservatives, liberals, Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, and anarchists. There will be people that believe in a young earth and some that believe in an old earth. But we all share the same kingdom goal because we all have the same foundation.

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About Kevin Gasser

I envision this site to be a place where I can post my weekly sermon text and invite feedback from anyone who is interested in the church, theology, or life in general. Please note that these sermons are rough drafts of what I plan to say from the pulpit, so typos are common.
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3 Responses to Love your enemies–even the ones in your church

  1. traceyinva4now says:

    I left another mennonite church in the district for exactly this reason. I’ve listened to several of your messages here, and I’ll be coming to Staunton Mennonite tomorrow. I’m tired of personalities getting in the way of the work of the church.

  2. Kevin Gasser says:

    Tracey, we look forward to seeing you tomorrow! Please know we are not immune from these distractions at Staunton Mennonite. But we are aware of some of the things that keep us from working toward our goals and seek to correct them when possible.

  3. Deona says:

    This was great, Kevin. Thank you!

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