1 John 3:14-24 New International Version (NIV)
14 We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death. 15 Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him.
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. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.
19 This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: 20 If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 21 Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God 22 and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him. 23 And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. 24 The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.
Another metaphor! We start off today’s passage with yet another metaphor. We have read in this short book of the Bible that God is light; in him there is no darkness. We have seen that God loves us like a father loves his children. And today, John compares loving each other to life and not loving each other to death. Love is a life or death situation. Last week’s sermon was all about the love that God has for us and today we are going to focus on the love that we should have for each other, specifically how that love should be made known and visible.
But what does it mean to love someone? I love ice cream, I love my wife, I love my children, and I love each of you. One of the challenges of the Bible is that Greek, the language that the New Testament was written in, has more words than English does. So we combine a bunch of Greek words and translate that group of Greek words into English. This works just fine most of the time, but there are other times when our English interpretations leave us without the bigger picture. It is not that our English versions are wrong, but just less thorough and clear. Please don’t think that I am saying our Bibles are not trustworthy. They are, but I think we can all agree that our Bibles can also be a bit confusing.
Greek would use a different word to describe how I feel about ice cream and my wife. I don’t love ice cream in the same way that I love my wife, which brings back memories of being in Elementary School and saying that I love something, only to have a classmate say, “If you love it so much, why don’t you marry it?”
The word that John uses in this passage when he says we are to love one another is agape. This isn’t like loving ice cream or even like loving a sibling. This is self-sacrificing love. This is the kind of love that says “You are worth dying for.” Maybe you love ice cream that much, but I don’t think I would go that far myself.
John is going to build on this metaphor of life and death a bit here in verse 16. We all have probably memorized John 3:16 at some point in our lives. But just as important is 1 John 3:16, “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.”
Again, this is what agape love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. I often say that the love that we are to have for one another is the kind of love that Jesus showed us on the cross. But notice that the cross is not mentioned in this passage so we just assume that when John says about Jesus laying down his life that he is talking about Jesus’ crucifixion. I think that is a great message and it is totally biblical, but I don’t think that is what this passage is saying.
If you look at verse 17 through the end of the passage, it would appear that John is changing gears and going from talking about laying one’s life down for others to providing for the physical needs of others. Do all of the New Testament writers have ADD? No, I contend that he does not change directions. I believe that when John talks about laying one’s life down for others that he is speaking of providing for the physical needs of others.
We are introduced to another important word in verse 16 and that word is “life.” There are a number of Greek words that we translate as life when we translate them into English. I expected this word to be “bios,” the word we get our English word “biology” from. Bios is our physical life. Jesus laid down his bios on the cross. But the word in verse 16 isn’t bios. The word is psuche, the word we get “psychology” and “psyche” from. Psuche has to do with your mindset.
Did Jesus lay down his physical life? Yes, I believe that he did. But Jesus sacrificed more than just his physical body and physical (bios) life. He sacrificed his psuche life as well. The book of John spends a lot of time developing this this theme of Jesus being the word and being with God and being God and choosing to dwell among us human beings. That is tough on a person’s psyche. What Jesus laid aside was everything that he had ever known–the comforts and pleasures of heaven. He laid down his lifestyle in heaven for a life here on earth which he laid down on the cross.
Philippians 2:5-8 is helpful for us to understand this passage from 1 John, “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death– even death on a cross!”
Jesus laid down his psuche to dwell among us, humbling himself, taking on human form. Then he humbled himself by laying down his bios life on the cross. And now John is saying that if we want to truly love our brothers and sisters, we must be willing to lay down our psuche, our life as we know it, our lifestyle, perhaps our mindset.
I don’t know which is easier, to lay down your physical life or your life as you know it. Laying down your life as you know it means a lot of uncertainties. But we are called to drop everything and follow Jesus.
Verses 17-18 say, “If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.”
There is another interesting word play at hand here because the Greek text says that if anyone has the bios of this world and sees a brother or sister in need and has no pity on them that the love of God is not in that person. The bios of this world. Remember that bios is our physical life. So what John is saying is that if we work all of our physical life to gain and accumulate more and more stuff and aren’t willing to share it when others are in need, we are not loving as Christ loves. What John is telling his readers is that they need a change of heart, and change of priorities, and to look more like Jesus. We must lay certain lifestyles aside for the glory of God. That is our task as Christians, and that is our goal as the church. We manifest the kingdom of God here for the glory of God.
I believe that the churches that I have been a part of in my lifetime have been really good at giving of themselves financially and of their time. And I’m going to brag on you all a bit today. Because the money that we could have spent on more stuff and the time that they could have invested in ourselves is often shared with others.
We are really good at taking care of people when they are in need within our church. If you have ever had surgery or been injured, you know this first hand. Hadley was born six weeks ago today. We received meals from this church right up to last Sunday. And you haven’t been feeding us because you know that financially we are hurting. We aren’t hurting right now. When college comes around, that might be a different story. But the biggest shortcoming in our lives has been in the area of time.
Every time one of you prepares a meal for us, that means an extra hour or so for us to feed the baby, change diapers, or maybe actually sleep. Thanks for that. You all have been very generous to us and I know that you have been very generous with each other.
This church is also very generous outside of this congregation. This too is a part of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. Yes, 1 John is talking about being generous within the church. But passages like Matthew 25, which talks about the separation of the sheep and the goats, makes it clear that our generosity needs to extend past the four walls of the church building. When you help someone in need, you are helping Jesus.
So we give money to SACRA, the Staunton Augusta County Relief Association. We give money to various other ministries like Weekday Religious Education because we believe that there is a spiritual need in our school system. We give money to the Virginia Mennonite Conference and Virginia Mennonite Missions. And just a word of encouragement, we gave so much last year that we were in the top tier of per-member giving for both Virginia Mennonite Conference and Missions. We give a lot of time and money to Mennonite Central Committee, which is our denomination’s relief organization. Many of us give our time to the annual fundraiser auction and some of the more talented woodworkers even make and donate items to be auctioned off. I know some of you donate time with Meals on Wheels, Mennonite Disaster Service, and I could go on and on! I believe that you all deserve a round of applause and a pat on the back!
But I want to say to you all today that as great as all of this is, I know that I can do more. I’m not going to say that you can do more because I don’t know if you can. But I do know that I can do more. I can give more money and more time to help people in need. I can get over my addiction to the newest electronic gadget and instead give that money toward helping someone in need. Because if I am not willing to sacrifice my lifestyle, I don’t have the love of God in me. When we lay down our psuche for Jesus, it should cause us to have to tighten our belt a little and live off a little less.
I think that we are in a great place here at 2405 Third St. to do some real good for the kingdom of God. We are not located in the fanciest part of town. There are needs all around us. If we go just a couple of blocks to the South-East, we come to the Valley Mission. I would love to see our church involved more with the Mission. Could we offer to clean the Mission once a month, prepare or serve a meal at the Mission? Or maybe we could get together a musical group to perform and worship with the folks there at the Valley Mission during one of two chapel services each week? We can donate used clothes to their thrift store, or donate our time at the thrift store. Giving doesn’t have to cost us money; we can share of our time and talents as well.
Just up the hill from us is Shelburne Middle School and Ware Elementary School. If anyone wants to donate time tutoring students, I know that there is a need there. I would love if we could do some physical labor at these schools, maybe something as simple as mulching around the grounds or painting. Anything that we can do to help get kids excited to go to school and receive a better education is kingdom work! We can take pride in our community and try to make things a little more beautiful for the glory of God. And if we can make a difference in one person’s life, then it was more than worth it!
But above all, I want this to be the kind of church where nobody that is a part of this congregation ever goes without their most basic needs being met. There are a lot of people in the world that are in need, and we can only do so much to help. I know that and so do you. We need to be realistic in the number of people that we can help out. But what we can do is make the commitment that nobody in our church will ever have to do without water, electricity, clothing, or shelter.
I have heard of other congregations that have an unofficial rule that nobody in their church will have to go without these basic needs being met. I want to go one step further and make that an official rule here today. I don’t have the authority to do so, but you do. Will you commit with me to make sure that your brothers and sisters at Staunton Mennonite never have to do without their most basic needs being met?
That doesn’t mean that you come to me because you need to buy that new plasma television that is bigger than you are, and I only mention televisions because I recently got a new one. It doesn’t mean that if you already bought that plasma television and now can’t pay your electric bill that I am going to pay it for you. But it might mean that I help you to sell your plasma television on Craig’s List or Ebay and use that money to pay your bills. I’m not looking to give handouts. I am interested in mutual aid. I want to help you if you need it and I want to know that you will help me if I need it. We are called to be good stewards. We are called to live in communities where needs are met from within.
John tells us that if anyone sees a brother or sister in need and doesn’t do anything to help, then the love of God isn’t in that person. We must be willing to lay down our lives for that person. This doesn’t necessarily mean we will physically die, but that we are willing to kill some of our dreams of owning more and buying more stuff, we might have to kill our current lifestyle to be able to help others.
As I close I want to go back to verse 14, which says, “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death.” I want to thoroughly confuse you all before I send you off to love the world by dying for them. Hopefully it is clear to you now that John is saying that Jesus laid down his life for us and that we should be willing to lay down the life that we could achieve so that we can share a bit with others. Die to the ways of the world. But in verse 14 John says that if we love each other, we will have passed from death to life. So which is it? Are we to die or are we to live?
I believe that what John is teaching us is that true life is not found in accumulating more and more stuff for yourself. True life is only found when we die to the ways of this world and follow Jesus. And following Jesus means that we will give up some of our stuff for the benefit of others. Jesus gave up life in heaven for our benefit. What can we sacrifice for others?