Just Do it

1 John 2:3-11

September 18, 2011 | Brian Bill

Do you ever try to accomplish too much at the same time?  Sometimes I think I’m a master at multi-tasking but then something usually happens to remind me that I should be doing only one thing at a time.

This past Tuesday morning, I stopped by Thornton’s for a large cup of coffee on my way to the office.  When I arrived in the parking lot, I got out of the car, put my briefcase over my shoulder, grabbed the salad I made for lunch and then remembered my coffee.  I leaned back into the car, grabbed my java and balanced it on the lid of my salad container and headed toward the church office door.  

Everything was going well until my phone rang and I reached down to answer it.  When I did, my coffee cup fell, spilling boiling brew on my arm and my stomach.  Not to get off my game, I continued my phone call and then walked in the building, thankful that I still had some caffeinated Joe to get me through the morning.

My arm still hurts today.  Hopefully it will serve as a reminder to focus on just walking.  We’ve been learning in our study of 1 John that God is committed to giving us confidence in our Christianity.  He wants us to know that we can trust the truthfulness of our faith because Jesus was and is a real person.  John was an eyewitness.  Because it’s true, we’re to share it with others and we’re to share our lives with fellow followers, all in a spirit of joyfulness.

By the way, how are you doing at reading 1 John?  I talked to a man this week who told me he’s been reading the whole book twice a day!  There are great things happening in the women’s Bible Study as they tackle it and some of our Connection Groups are drilling down on this letter as well.

Last week in 1 John 1:5-2:2 we discovered three distinguishing marks of a Christian.  A Christ-follower:

  • Lives in the light
  • Faces their failures
  • Strives to not sin

I see two additional descriptions of a disciple in 1 John 2:3-11.  If we get these two traits, and live them out at home and in the context of all of our relationships, we won’t have to do too much multitasking.

  • Live as Jesus lived (3-6)
  • Love as Jesus loved (7-11)

Here’s the big idea for today: We show we know God when we do what He says.  Among other things, the Apostle John is a great teacher.  He uses repetition and other methods to reinforce the fact that we can be confident in our Christianity as he continuously calls Christians to walk the talk.  For instance, the word “know” is used over 40 times in this brief book.  Partly this is because he is confronting the false teachers who believed the spiritually elite were the only ones in “the know” and the rest were in the darkness.  The word John most often uses for “know” means “to know experientially,” not just to know something intellectually.  This idea in Hebrew was used of the intimate relationship between a husband and wife.

1. Live as Jesus lived. 

Let’s look first at verse 3: “We know that we have come to know Him if we obey His commands.” There’s a big difference between knowing about God and actually knowing God.  I like how J.I. Packer puts it in his classic book, Knowing God: “What were we made for? To know God.  What aim should we have in life? To know God. What is the eternal life that Jesus gives? To know God.  What is the best thing in life?  To know God.  What in humans gives God most pleasure?  Knowledge of himself.   Knowing God is more than knowing about Him; it is a matter of dealing with Him as He opens up to you, and being dealt with by Him as He takes knowledge of you.”

To claim to know God without acknowledging His claim on us is shallow and hollow

The test of whether or not we know God has more to do with our behavior than with our beliefs.  Real deal Christianity is marked by a life of obedience.  To claim to know God without acknowledging His claim on us is shallow and hollow.  The emphasis on the word “obey” is on the continuous nature of the action.  One Bible teacher has called it, “daily, detailed and disciplined obedience.”

John is saying that we can know that we know God by our desire to grow in obedience.  If we truly know God then we should grow in God.  Our knowing must lead to growing.  If we claim to be in the light, then we must do those things that are right.  We can know that we know if we do what He says we should do.  Jesus said it plainly in John 14:15, 21: “If you love me, you will obey what I command…Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me.”

In case we don’t quite get this, John takes a less subtle approach in verse 4: “The man who says, ‘I know him,’ but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him.”  This verse is very emphatic and should make us do an inventory.  My guess is that none of us want to be labeled a liar.  This is similar to the teaching found in Titus 1:16: “They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him.  They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good.”  Brothers and sisters, our profession of faith must be lived out in our practice of faith.

In George Barna’s new book on U.S. Christians called Futurecast, he tracks annual changes from 1991 to 2011 and shows that all the major trend lines of religious belief and behavior ran downward except two: More people claim they have accepted Jesus as their Savior and expect to go to heaven, and more say they haven’t been to church in the past six months except for special occasions.  In 1991, 24% were “unchurched.”  Today, it’s 37%.  Barna lamented: “People say: ‘I believe in God.  I believe the Bible is a good book.  And then I believe whatever I want…We are a designer society. We want everything customized to our personal needs — our clothing, our food, our education…Now it’s our religion.” (USA Today, 9/14/11).

John then switches back to the positive in verse 5: “But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is made complete in him…”  When we obey Him, God’s love is unleashed in us.  To say it another way, God’s love accomplishes its purpose in us.  The word comes from the same word that Jesus uttered on the cross when He said, “It is finished.”  It’s paid in full.  The mission is complete.  We could say that the “Burn Jel Plus” that I applied to my burn was made complete when it took the pain and infection away.  Love reaches its goal when it leads to obedience.  The reason God gives us His love isn’t just to make us feel good or to heal our hurts, its ultimate purpose is to lead us to obedience.  Love doesn’t achieve its purpose in our lives until we live a life of obedience to God.  Do you want God’s love to have its full effect in your life?  Then develop the attitude and action of obedience.

Recognizing that it’s difficult to figure out everything we’re supposed to be doing and what obedience looks like, in the last part of verse 5 and verse 6 John says, “…This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.”  Verse 3 tells us we can know that we know Him through our obedience.  Here we know that we’re in Christ, if we walk as He walked.  It’s easy to claim that I’m a Christian; the true test is whether my life reflects Jesus.  Notice the little word “must.”  This refers to an obligation or debt.  It’s in the present tense which means that there is never a time when I don’t sense the compulsion to walk like Christ walked.  Because of all Jesus has done for us, we must walk like He walked; we have a debt to discharge.  Every one of us owes God 100% of our lives.

Let’s think about the word “walk.”  In the Greek it means to walk according to a pattern.  Walking implies forward motion, a movement toward a goal.  It doesn’t say sit or sleep or slouch.  It also doesn’t say jump high or fly or run fast.  Walking involves taking steady and sure steps.  I like when people refer to the Christian life as a walk.  How’s your walk going?  What step do you need to take next?  Are you walking the truth in your marriage?  Do your kids see you walking like Jesus walked?

How do we walk like Jesus walked?  Do we need to wear sandals and grow a beard and move to Israel in order to retrace His footsteps?  While that might be tempting, the first step in walking like Jesus walked is to get to know Him by reading the four gospels.  Study how he responded to the hurting, how he forgave those who wronged Him, and how He loved the unlovable.  

To put it simply, Jesus lived in order to do the Father’s will according to John 6:38: “For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.”  John 17:4 reveals that His aim was to bring glory to God the Father by doing the work He was given to do: “I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.”  Likewise, to walk like Jesus walked is to do the Father’s will, to be focused on giving Him glory and by doing the work He’s given us to do.

Do you remember the WWJD campaign from a few years back?  I thought there were elements about this that were really helpful.  If we can stop and ask ourselves what Jesus would do in the situations we are in, we would be more prone to walk as Jesus walked.  This emphasis has its roots in the book called, “In His Steps” by Charles Sheldon, first published in 1897.  The main character of the book is a pastor who challenges his congregation to not do anything for a whole year without first asking the question, “What Would Jesus Do?”  Based on 1 Peter 2:21: “…that you should follow in his steps,” the book traces how the character’s lives change as they try to live like Jesus lived. 

I think this is helpful as far as it goes.  But we must remember that we can only do what Jesus does as the Holy Spirit enables us.  We must also move from WWJD to WWID – “What Will I Do?”  We show we know God when we do what He says.  

You can know that you know God if there is something within you that compels you to obey the Lord Jesus Christ in your family relationships, in how you raise your children, in how you honor your parents, in your serving, in your giving, in your worshipping.  Friend, are you focused on living as Jesus lived?  Let’s look now at the second challenge.

2. Love as Jesus loved. 

Once again we’re brought back to the absolute importance of loving like Jesus loved beginning in verses 7-8: “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.  Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining.” 

I like how tenderly John talks to his readers.  Here he calls them “Dear friends…”  As a way to introduce the importance of loving like Jesus loved, he tells us that love is not a new command.  It doesn’t come as a surprise.  Love is found throughout the Old Testament in passages like Deuteronomy 6:5: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul…” and Leviticus 19:18: “Love your neighbor as yourself…” Love is also not new to these Christ-followers because Jesus spoke about love all the time – “This old command is the message you have heard.”  How are you doing at loving God wholeheartedly and loving others sacrificially?

And yet, it’s a “new command,” in the sense that it is fresh and qualitatively different as experienced in Christ.  For instance, Jesus said this in Matthew 5:43-44: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”  Jesus Himself called His command to love new in John 13:34: “A new command I give you: Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”  Jesus is the model of how we should love others – unconditionally, sacrificially and abundantly.  I think it was Warren Wiersbe who said that this love is new in emphasis, example and experience.

It’s easy to make the claim that I’m a Christian but if I’m hatin’ on someone, then I’m really still in the dark according to verse 9: “Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness.”   I must confess that I had a real hard time yesterday because I had to go to the home of my enemy.  I entered cautiously with my guard up because my foe hates me as much as I hate him.  I wasn’t quite sure how I was going to be received but I was welcomed into Soldier Field with my Wisconsin hat on to watch the Badgers play NIU.  I think it would have been a different story had I wore my full Packer jersey and Cheesehead crown.

Dear friends, if you claim to be a Christian, then you can’t harbor hatred against a fellow believer.  Light (the Packers) and darkness (the Bears) are mutually exclusive.  This is tough because we live in a culture of hatred.  Whether that’s in the political arena or in families, in the workplace or in churches, there’s a whole lot of hatin’ going on.  That reminds me of the guy who telephoned his neighbor at three in the morning and said, “Hey, your dog is barking and keeping me awake!”  The neighbor called this guy back at 3 a.m. the next morning and said, “Just so you know…I don’t have a dog!”

we are either actively loving a person or we hate them

Some of us may be thinking that we don’t really have a problem with hate.  Actually, we are either actively loving a person or we hate them.  There is no middle ground.  We either align ourselves with God by loving other believers, or we hate them by default.  To act indifferently toward someone, to turn the other way when you see them coming, to behave like they don’t matter is the same thing as hating them.  Jesus describes what hate looks like in Luke 6:25, when he says, “Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil…”

  • Exclusion.  This word is also translated as “to ostracize” and comes from two words which mean: away from and to draw a line.  This is when we say something like this (not usually out loud): “I am never going to cross the line to associate with you and I’m going to treat you like you don’t even exist.” Hate excludes; love includes.  Hate pushes away while love pulls in.  Are you treating anyone like this in your family?  Anyone you’ve ostracized here at church?
  • Insults.  This refers to the use of abusive words.  Hatred at some point turns from an attitude of exclusion into words meant to insult and cause damage.
  • Rejection.  The Greek here is vivid.  It means “to cast out of.”  It’s the idea of taking someone’s name and speaking falsely about them by spreading slander.  Hate causes us to tear someone else down so that we can build ourselves up.  Who do you talk about when you’re home?  Is there a name that when it is brought up, your eyes roll and you start launching verbal grenades?

The Expositor’s Bible says this: “Love unexpressed is not love at all.  Love has no neutral capabilities.  When it is absent, hate is present.”  Remember that biblical love is a self-sacrificing, caring commitment that seeks the good of the one loved.  Or, as I like to share in my premarital counseling sessions, “Love is an unconditional commitment to an imperfect person.”  Simply put, biblical love is an action, not an emotion.

What C.S. Lewis said in “Mere Christianity” is really helpful: “Do not waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbour; act as if you did.  As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets.  When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him.  If you injure someone you dislike, you will find yourself disliking him more.  If you do him a good turn, you will find yourself disliking him less.”

Verse 10 provides a contrast.  This is what happens when the believer loves instead of hates: “Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble.”  This is a good time to mention that John has 46 references to love in this little book.  I think we can safely say that this was important to him.  When we love we live in the light.  When we love we live right.  And this can keep us, and others, from stumbling.  The word for “stumble” refers to the trigger of a trap and literally reads, “A stumbling block is not in him.”  Proverbs 3:23 says that when you do the right thing “Then you will go on your way in safety, and your foot will not stumble.”  Don’t let the trigger of hatred entrap you or anyone else.  The trap is always set, so be careful.

Just as bitterness can be a poison that ends up defiling not only you, but others around you; the harboring of hatred can end up destroying you and those closest to you.  In contrast, when we love, those stumbling blocks are removed.  When we truly love we won’t be doing things that trip others up.  Love is our greatest testimony to the world.  Jesus said it like this in John 13:35: “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

This book is filled with contrasts to show those who are in the faith and those who are not.  And in verse 11 we go back to a warning: “But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him.”  If it sounds like we just heard this, we did.  John is trying to root out all hatred in our hearts.  Hatred can cause us to stumble and it can blind us so that we no longer can see where we’re going.  As someone has said, “Hate is like acid.  It can damage the vessel in which it is stored as well as destroy the object on which it is poured.”  Someone else has said that “Hating people is like burning down your own house to get rid of a rat.”

Just Do It…Now

It strikes me that it is impossible to live like Jesus lived or to love like Jesus loved, until we have been personally transformed by God’s grace.  Let me ask you a question.  Do you know Him?  I mean, really know Him?  You might know of Him, or know some information about Him, but do you actually know Him experientially.

How’s your walk?  Are you trying to balance too many things?  Be careful to not get burned.  Are you moving forward or are you standing still?  The problem with being in neutral is that you’ll eventually start rolling backward.  Have you been walking in the wrong direction?  It’s time to turn around.  Just do it…now.  Are you willing to walk as Jesus walked?  We show we know God when we do what He says.  

How are you lining up with living like Jesus lived?  Is there anything you need to start doing that you’ve not been doing?  Anything you need to stop doing?

Are you loving like Jesus loved?  Is there anyone you are harboring hatred towards?  What specific act of love will you do this week?

It really all comes down to who you’re following.  Are you following yourself?  Are you following someone else?  Or are you following Jesus so that you live like He lived and love like He loved?  Get back on the path so that your walk lines up with your talk.  

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?