Mike Wilkins tells this story -- In Donald Miller’s book “Blue Like Jazz,” he has a chapter called “Love: How to Really Love Other People." He was at a lecture by Greg Spencer that talked about the metaphors that we use around (amongst other things) relationships. We talk about how we value people, invest in people, how we say people are priceless, or that a relationship is bankrupt. All these metaphors are economic ones. “And that’s when it hit me -- the problem with Christian culture is we think of love as a commodity. We use it like money. Professor Spencer was right, and not only was he right, I felt as though he had cured me, as though he had let me out of my cage. I could see it very clearly…if somebody is doing something for us, offering us something, be it gifts, time, popularity, or what have you, we feel they have value, we feel they are worth something to us, and perhaps, we feel they are priceless. This was the thing that had smelled so rotten all these years. I used love like money. The church used love like money. With love, we withheld affirmation from the people who did not agree with us, but we lavishly financed the ones who did.” There are always going to be those situations in our lives where it feels like we are going to use love “as a commodity,” rather than allow love to transform us. We cannot withhold love from our friends, or from those with whom we disagree. We learn and grow in relationship to allowing the Spirit, in love, to help us to learn to disagree agreeably…to move on and to grow. In this, we mature in Christ. I think that this is the concept that John shares in his first letter. In 3:11ff, love isn’t just a commodity, but it is who we are – we are producers.
I my previous message, I talked about how the Christian is supposed “to pass from death to life” in the Ephesian letter. It is a personal, spiritual journey…we go from living in the flesh to resurrected, spiritual beings for Jesus. So…is that all there is to it? Does this take place in a vacuum…or, is there more to the story? John says…yes, there is. So, here we go. He starts us off by talking about the children of our “first parents,” Adam and Eve. Cain and Abel had the same parents, but they approached life from completely different perspectives. They both had the same opportunities – they both brought sacrifices to God…both acted, but one had a heart that was thankful, while the other had a heart that was indifferent. Abel’s offering was “by faith”…Cain’s, however, was not. And instead of listening to God concerning His heart problem, Cain listened to the voice of the evil one. Instead of repenting, he was filled with jealousy and hatred toward his righteous brother, whom he plotted against and destroyed. Cain’s attitude represents the system of this world…serve self…look out for number 1…trample on those who keep you from goals #1, 2.
When people in the world come face to face with the truth of Jesus Christ, it forces them to go in one of two directions – repentance and submission to Christ…or defiance and antagonism. In effect, hatred is the destruction of the spirit, according to John and has the same effectual quality as “murder”…which is not a good thing, obviously. This is where the world resides, but it doesn’t have to be this way…what is the answer? It is found in “passing from death to life,” which John equates to “living according to love”. It is a living out of the resurrected life that we talked about last week…it is about living in the Spirit, walking in newness of life, and so on. We cannot stay in the angst of hatred, jealousy and living according to the flesh – this is “to stay dead.” John says that “true love” means loving in deed and truth. We are no longer simply to talk about meeting needs or loving others…we must find ways to do it. One of the reasons that sinners were so attracted to Jesus is that they were certain that He would love them in a sincere and unbiased way.
What kind of love would it take to come down from heaven to be among men? What kind of love would it take to struggle through the Garden of Gethsemane…to die on a cross and be raised from the dead to eternity? This is a costly love, a sacrificial love…it is unconditional. When believers choose to live in this committed, sacrificial way of love, there are some tremendous benefits. The first is assurance. If we love, our understanding of God’s truth grows and we can enjoy hearts filled with loving confidence before God, and confidence in our salvation. Another blessing is answered prayer. Because of our confidence toward God, we can ask of God…and He can answer. Love proves that we are living in the will of God. In addition, our relationships with our brothers and sisters in Christ cannot be divorced from our prayer lives. Living in the right, loving relationship with our brothers and sisters enables our prayers to be answered. A final blessing is abiding. From the upper room to the garden, Jesus illustrated this principle, comparing His followers to branches in a vine (which we are going to get to in a couple of weeks). If we abide in Christ…obeying His Word…living holy lives…then the fruit of the Spirit of love is going to become evident in our lives.
What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds." Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do” (James 2:14-18 NIV). As the saying goes, “All it takes in order for evil to succeed is for ‘the good’ to do nothing.” One might think I am talking about politics…no, but the everyday living of the Christian life. As Randy Harris shares, “What happens when people make themselves available to the work of the Spirit? (To use a band/choir analogy), He helps us to hit or sing the right notes. We can trust our instinct to be right most of the time…this is spiritual maturity." Love is not indifferent…as it was with Cain, but is proactive…as it was with Abel. Love is not static, but dynamic. Love is a verb, much more so than a noun when it comes to our lives. Love is not apathetic (notice there is only one letter difference between “apathetic” and “pathetic”), but it is passionate…it cares enough to encourage, to confront, to bless. We live in a culture, not only where people…including many believers…are apathetic, don’t care, but where people expect things to come to them -- but this is not the way of Christ. We can’t expect that it is always going to be “someone else’s responsibility” as it relates to being Jesus to the world or to the brethren. There are way too many folks who live a “consumer Christianity”…who treat it like a “commodity”, rather than a “producer lifestyle.” Once again, James has a word for us, “Do not merely listen to the Word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” (James 1:22 NIV). Be a producer.