October 28 – Commandments or Love?

1 John 2: 1 – 11 NLT

“My dear children, I am writing this to you so that you will not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate who pleads our case before the Father. He is Jesus Christ, the one who is truly righteous. He himself is the sacrifice that atones for our sins—and not only our sins but the sins of all the world.

And we can be sure that we know him if we obey his commandments. If someone claims, “I know God,” but doesn’t obey God’s commandments, that person is a liar and is not living in the truth. But those who obey God’s word truly show how completely they love him. That is how we know we are living in him. Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did.

Dear friends, I am not writing a new commandment for you; rather it is an old one you have had from the very beginning. This old commandment—to love one another—is the same message you heard before. Yet it is also new. Jesus lived the truth of this commandment, and you also are living it. For the darkness is disappearing, and the true light is already shining.

If anyone claims, “I am living in the light,” but hates a fellow believer, that person is still living in darkness. 10 Anyone who loves a fellow believer is living in the light and does not cause others to stumble. 11 But anyone who hates a fellow believer is still living and walking in darkness. Such a person does not know the way to go, having been blinded by the darkness.”

John begins this chapter with the phrase, “my dear children”. Scholars say that John was likely between 88 and 93 years of age when he wrote this book., likely near the end of his life. When I think of his age and that he calls his readers, “dear children”, it makes me think of a grandfather. John is not writing this to be a critical, grumpy old man. This is more like a loving grandpa who wants to give some good advice to his children/grandchildren.

When I read verses like these that talk about not sinning, but rather obeying God’s commandments, I tend to shrink back inside. Over the years, I’ve met legalistic people who have lists of what Christians should not do – dancing is wrong, going to movies is wrong, drinking alcohol is wrong, too much make-up is wrong, certain types of dress are wrong, playing cards is wrong, and on and on it goes. Most Christians don’t go along with those legalistic ideas. But many non-Christians look at church people and think that our lifestyle is cramped and unattractive, that we have lots of rules and regulations. So just what is meant when John talks about “not living in the truth” when they don’t follow God’s commandments? Are we supposed to be rule followers?

First of all, John says he is “writing this to you so that you will not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate who pleads our case before the Father. He is Jesus Christ, the one who is truly righteous. He himself is the sacrifice that atones for our sins—and not only our sins but the sins of all the world.” (v. 1 – 2) John mentioned this in chapter 1 as well. “If we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.” (1: 9) Our sin doesn’t have to separate us from God. Jesus paid the price for my sin and your sin. He is willing to forgive.

If we are honest with ourselves, we know we do sin. We put our own interests first in many situations. We know we don’t always tell the truth; we try to cover it up by saying it is a ‘little white lie’. We get angry and say things we later regret. We spend so much time focused on getting ahead, promoted, acquiring stuff, etc. but for all that and so much more, Jesus died and took the punishment for our sin. There is forgiveness, total forgiveness.

“And we can be sure that we know him if we obey his commandments.” (v.3) So we have to obey laws after all? Just stop for a moment and think about someone who has treated you extremely well. It may be a parent who has put up with tons of your goofy and obnoxious behaviour. It may be a boss who has mentored you and helped you do well in your job. It may be a husband or wife who has loved and supported you in so many ways. Do you treat those people badly? Do you ignore what you know would please them? No. When we are in a loving relationship, we do our best to maintain that relationship in healthy ways. And that is what John is saying. “Those who obey God’s word truly show how completely they love him.”

Again, does that mean obeying rules and laws? John tells us one important thing and it’s not a rule. “Love one another.” Love is shown is so many ways. It’s not a rule or law. Jesus gave us an example to follow. As we read the gospels, we see Jesus act in so many loving ways. He was quite willing to spend time with the people that the rulers and synagogue leaders thought were way beneath them. He was willing to stop the stoning of a woman caught in adultery. He was willing to keep on teaching and travelling with his disciples who often didn’t really get what Jesus was all about. They even betrayed him and ran away when he was about to be crucified.

I wonder if John was thinking about some of his times with Jesus. Was he thinking about the Last Supper when Jesus washed their feet? “After washing their feet, he put on his robe again and sat down and asked, “Do you understand what I was doing? You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you are right, because that’s what I am. And since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you. I tell you the truth, slaves are not greater than their master. Nor is the messenger more important than the one who sends the message. Now that you know these things, God will bless you for doing them.” (John 13: 12 – 17) Jesus showed them what a loving person will do.

Or was John thinking about what Jesus said that night after the last supper when Jesus was sharing his last words before the crucifixion with them. “Jesus replied, “All who love me will do what I say. My Father will love them, and we will come and make our home with each of them. Anyone who doesn’t love me will not obey me. And remember, my words are not my own. What I am telling you is from the Father who sent me. I am telling you these things now while I am still with you. But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you.

“I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.” (John 14: 23 – 27)

Love is a characteristic of a Christ follower. If people take a look at our behaviour and see a criticizing demanding person, they won’t see Jesus. If they see a gossiping person who likes to stir up trouble, they won’t see Jesus. If they see a person who ignores those who need help, but only looks out for themselves, they won’t see Jesus. It’s not about following rules, it’s about love.

“If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.

Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.”

1 Corinthians 13: 1 – 7; 13

Our song for today is Love God Love People by Danny Gokey

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