1 John series: (post #5)
In 2nd Corinthians 13:5, the apostle Paul says to the Christians of Corinth, “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you — unless, of course, you fail the test?” (N.I.V.). In light of Paul’s suggestion, I submit that doing such an examination is a good idea for anyone who professes to be a Christian. I myself can truthfully say that I don’t doubt my salvation, but that doesn’t mean that I’m opposed to putting it under the microscope of God’s written word, the Bible. I mean, if there is one thing that I am absolutely, positively sure about it’s the fact that I don’t want to die and go to hell!
But where do we go in the Bible to find a good test regarding salvation? I can’t think of any better place than the book of 1 John. That’s because John says in 1 John 5:13, “These things (the entirety of the book) I have written to you (Christians) who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God.”
And so, under the inspiration of God, John wrote this book that gives us at least ten reliable evidences that mark a true salvation experience. Thus far in this series we have covered three of those ten. Those were: you have a desire to fellowship with other Christians; you walk in the light of Christ’s teachings; and you keep Christ’s commandments. Now we are ready to cover a fourth piece of evidence. I’ll call this one “loving your fellow Christians.”
This particular evidence is a big one with John, and he hits upon it in at least five passages in 1 John. Here they are (all from the N.K.J.V.):
He who says he is in the light, and hates his brother, is in darkness until now. He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him. But he who hates his brother is in darkness and walks in darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes. (1 John 2:9-11)
We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love not his brother abides in death. Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. By this we know love, because He laid down his life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth. And by this we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him. (1 John 3:14-19)
And this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us commandment. (1 John 3:23)
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us. (1 John 4:7-12)
And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him. Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. We love Him because He first loved us. If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also. (1 John 4:16-21)
It isn’t hard to understand the idea that is being hammered home in these passages, is it? In John’s way of thinking, the true Christian will show a true love for his or her fellow Christians. While this evidence of salvation is similar to the first one we named in this series — having a desire to fellowship with other Christians — it runs much deeper than mere fellowship. You see, it’s possible to fellowship with someone without actually loving them.
Of course, this notion of Christians loving their fellow Christians wasn’t original with John. He himself had personally heard Jesus say the words that are recorded in chapter 13, verses 34 and 35, of John’s gospel. There, Jesus says to His apostles, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (N.K.J.V.).
Logically speaking, it does make perfect sense that Christians should love their fellow brethren. Christians are, after all, members of the same eternal family and all have God the Father as their heavenly Father. Furthermore, they are also all part of the same bride, the bride of Christ (the church). So, why shouldn’t they love one another?
The fact is, though, that there are many times when professing Christians don’t exhibit a love for one another. When we hear about church fights, church splits, denominational wars, and Christians just not getting along in general we have to wonder where the love is. These reports didn’t just start recently, either. In 1 Corinthians 6:1-11, we find that the early church’s Christians of Corinth were having so many problems among themselves that they were actually suing one another in the public courts of Corinth. Paul was just flabbergasted that they would do such a thing and said to them, “Do you not know that the saints (Christians) will judge the world?…Do you not know that we shall judge angels (referring to fallen angels)?….But brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers!”
At this point I should probably mention that Christians loving fellow Christians doesn’t mean that we must accept sin, tolerate what is wrong, or promote what is ungodly in the lives of professing Christians. The reality is that rebuking error can be an act of love if it is done in the right spirit. Jesus often rebuked people, including His own disciples, and yet He always loved them. Likewise, Paul loved those Christians of Corinth even as he was rebuking them. It is only our undiscerning society that has created the wrong idea that factually calling someone’s behavior “sinful” can’t possibly convey love.
Getting back to our text passages, we find that John mentions certain things that happen when the Christian shows love toward his fellow Christians. First, that Christian will create within himself no cause for stumbling (2:10). Second, he will assure his own heart before God (3:19). Third, he will have boldness in the day of judgment (4:17). These benefits are all in addition to the primary benefit, which is that his life will provide definite evidence of salvation. So, to use the reasoning that John uses in 1 John 3:14, how can we know that we have passed from spiritual death (Ephesians 2:1) to spiritual life? The answer is simple: We love the brethren. That’s as good a piece of evidence as there is.