A few days ago I was strolling along the beach with my wife. We bought some amazing tropical fruit from a roadside vendor, I went for a swim and then lay down on a deckchair sipping a cold beer. I said to Emma “This is the life.”
When have you said that phrase? “This is the life”? You might not like hot holidays. Maybe you’d rather go skiing with friends and then sit down by a roaring fire with a big hot chocolate, extra cream. “This is the life.”
Or you go out and celebrate some success at your favourite restaurant with your favourite people. “This is the life” we say.
It’s funny how rarely we use that saying isn’t it? We live for awfully long stretches of time without saying “this is the life”. Apparently most of life isn’t “the life”. Evidently only very rarely is life THE LIFE. We have to stop doing everything we have been doing and fly halfway around the world before our life starts to be THE LIFE. Is that right? Is it the case that most of our lives aren’t really “the life”? That would be a real shame wouldn’t it?
Because 36 hours after I said: “this is the life”, we were locked outside our house in the freezing rain, rummaging through our suitcases before concluding our house-keys were somewhere on the continent of Australia. Was this “the life”? “The life” seemed far away at that point.
But I wonder whether for most of us “the life” seems out of reach.
But John, the author of this letter, thinks very differently about “the life.” For John “the life” is not a time or a place. “The life” is a person – a person who was there in the beginning. A person with whom we now have fellowship. Look at the first few verses of the letter:
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched--this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. 2 The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us.
This is the life. Not a time or a place. A person. This is the life: Jesus. He was there in the beginning. There with the Father. He came in the middle to live out “THE LIFE” on full display to the world. John had seen THE LIFE. He’d walked the dusty roads of Israel with THE LIFE. When he saw Jesus saying and doing His thing, John said to Himself “THIS is the life.” Jesus is the life. And so John wants to tell the whole world about THE LIFE. Verse 3:
3 We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.
It’s John’s greatest joy to pass on THE LIFE to us. So that you and I can enjoy THE LIFE, not just when we’re sunbathing by the pool or having drinks with friends, but when we’re locked out of the house in the freezing rain, when we lose our jobs and our health and our friends, our family, even our own lives. We can lose everything in life and still have THE LIFE. Because we have Jesus: the Author of Life, the Word of Life, the Meaning of Life.
In all of life we can have THE LIFE.
But it’s a different kind of life to “THE LIFE” we enjoy sitting by the pool. THE LIFE we seek is usually pretty self-indulgent. THE LIFE that Jesus gives is self-giving. THE LIFE we pursue is about sitting back and relaxing. THE LIFE of Jesus is an outgoing life.
Did you notice in these opening verses: Jesus goes out from the Father into the world. He “appears” to the disciples who receive THE LIFE and then they go out and tell others.
THE LIFE is Jesus and it’s not a self-indulgent, sitting-back kind of life. It’s a self-giving, out-going kind of life.
And with that as background, come now to a crucial verse in our passage – chapter 3, verse 16:
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.
Do you see the same dynamic going on here? The LIFE – Jesus Christ – went out from the Father and sacrificed for us. We who receive that life should go out with Jesus and sacrifice for others.
He loved us, we love our brothers and sisters.
He laid down His life for us, we lay down our life for others.
Do you see what THE LIFE is all about?
Here’s what our lives are all about: Receive the love of Jesus, pass it on.
There is a fountain from heaven pouring down to you. You are called to receive that love to overflowing and pass it on.
You’re not called to produce these waters yourself. You are not called to pay Jesus back for what He gives you. You are swept along in a torrent from Jesus to you. And now with Jesus in you – out you go to others.
Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.
John says the same thing again in verse 23:
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.
It’s the overflowing thing all over again. To believe in Jesus is another way of saying “receive Him”. To accept Him given to us on the cross. And then, John says, love others with that same love.
That’s the life. That’s what THE LIFE has always been. The Life (Jesus) came down from heaven and sacrificed for you. Now that the life is in you, pass it on. That’s the life.
The life is not a time or a place. The life is not about self-indulgence or sitting back. The life is Jesus Christ sent out for you, given for you. And now that you have Him – you go out and give yourself for others. That is the life.
And so that’s why our passage begins like it does:
11 This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. [And this is a very ancient way of LIFE] 12 Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother's were righteous.
Do you remember Cain and Abel? They were the sons of Adam and Eve, remember them? Remember how they refused to receive from God, but decided to make life happen on their own. They sinned against the LORD and immediately tried to cover up their sins. Do you remember how Adam and Eve covered up?
Fig leaves. Pathetic, worthless, puny fig leaves. The LORD is clearly unhappy with the fig leaf covering. He makes them a different covering. You remember what it was? Skins.
Animals were killed. Blood was shed. It should have been the blood of Adam and Eve. But instead a substitute dies in their place and Adam and Eve are clothed in the sacrifice of another.
In this way the gospel was being modeled to them. We CANNOT cover up for our sins. We can’t atone for our mistakes. We need the death of our sacrifice Jesus. We need to be clothed in Christ not in our paltry good deeds.
Well the next generation comes along and they start sacrificing to God. Abel learns the lesson. He sacrifices animals. He’s showing his trust in the future blood sacrifice of Christ. But Cain offers vegetables. It’s like more fig leaves. There’s no acknowledgement of the need for blood. Well the LORD receives the sacrifices of Abel but not of Cain. Abel is at peace with God through the blood sacrifices. Cain is not at peace with God. He makes fig-leaf type offerings to God, but he only ends up resenting God and resenting Abel. In the end his hatred leads him to murder Abel.
John says the whole world is divided into Abels and Cains. There are those who have peace with God through the sacrifice of Christ. And there are those who do a bit but have no peace with God and they hate the righteous.
So John says, v13:
Do not be surprised, my brothers, if the world hates you.
Cains have always hated Abels. And Abels have always been surprised, because after all, Abel’s only ever done right. John wants his readers to know that the world has always hated those who are at peace with God, who are clothed in Christ and righteous in Him. We mustn’t be surprised by this animosity. The whole world is divided into Cains and Abels.
But then, here’s a question. And it’s a question that will dominate the rest of our passage. How do I know I’m an Abel and not a Cain?
How do I know I’ve got the life?
How do I know that I personally have got the life of Jesus?
It’s all through chapter 3. Look at verse 14: It’s about how “We know that we have passed from death to life …”
Or look at verse 19: “This then is how we know that we belong to the truth.”
Or look halfway through verse 24: “And this is how we know that he lives in us.”
John wants us to KNOW that we have Jesus. He wants us to have assurance of our standing with God.
To put it in the words of verse 19 he wants our hearts to be set at rest in God’s presence. Or, verse 20, he wants us to have confidence before God.
This assurance is a big reason why he writes the letter. Look at chapter 5 verse 13
I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.
John says you can know that you HAVE eternal life. Not that one day you might get eternal life. But that right now you have eternal life. Because THE LIFE is Jesus and if you have Jesus, He’s not going anywhere, you’ve got Him forever. John says you can know that you HAVE – right now – eternal life. Eternity is sorted for you and you can know it. You can put your heart at rest and have confidence before God… forever.
Well it should be obvious really. If that is the life – receiving the love of Jesus and passing it on – how do we know that we’re in on that?
Well you could look to two things to know whether you’re in on that. First you could Drink at the Source. Second you could Watch the overflow.
"this is how we know that He lives in us: We know it by the Spirit He gave us."
In other words you can hear the offer of Jesus Christ given for you and you can know, just know He’s for you.
Perhaps a preacher starts talking about verse 16. Jesus laying down His life for us. There He is on that cross, the Creator, stretched out and bleeding for us. Jesus Christ, Maker of Heaven and Earth, Sustainer of the Cosmos, Lord of Life – and He’s laying His life down in sacrificial death. The Mighty has become so meek. God is bleeding and He’s bleeding for you. And suddenly, the lights go on. The Holy Spirit takes that truth and press it down into your heart so that you start singing that great old hymn: “Blessed Assurance, Jesus is MINE.” He’s mine. He died for ME. He laid down His life for me. At that point you’re drinking from the Source. You’re hearing Christ offered to you and you receive Him. And you know that you’re receiving Him.
You know it, verse 24, by the Spirit God gave us. This is the essence of drinking from the Source. As we hear the offer of Jesus in the gospel, the Spirit makes Jesus real to our hearts and we KNOW that He is FOR US and IN US.
Do you know the reality of v24 in your life? The Spirit making Jesus real to you so that you KNOW.
If this isn’t something you know for yourself – keep drinking from the source. Keep hearing about Jesus. Keep opening your bibles and coming to church or join a midweek group where we hear about Jesus – we’ve got a Christianity Explored course coming up where you can hear about the offer of Jesus again and again. Keep putting yourself in the path of this offer of LIFE. And faith comes by hearing. The Spirit will take the offer of Jesus and make it real to your heart. That’s v24. That’s drinking at the Source. Then you know.
Now the recipients of John’s letter have drunk from the Source. John is certain of that. He is certain that they have Jesus – just look at chapter 2 from v12 if you want proof
John knows that they know. He knows that they have drunk from the Source.
And so John gives them a secondary way of knowing. Here’s a secondary path to assurance: Watch the overflow.
Watch as the life of Christ comes out of you. Because if the life of Christ comes out of you then you’ll know that the life of Christ was in you.
14 We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death.
If the life of Christ is in you, it’ll come out of you. Because THE LIFE is out-going. But v17 gives the flip-side of that truth:
17 If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?
If it’s not coming out of you, how can the love of God be in you? See the last time the Apostle John checked “the love of God” was an expanding, expansive, overflowing, outgoing reality. You can’t have it in you without it coming out of you.
And when it comes out of you, here’s what it will look like…
Jesus laid down His life, we ought to lay down ours. Jesus gave up His rights, His position, His status, His comfort. He valued our life more than His. He valued our neck, our skin more than His own neck, His own skin. There was a moment in Gethsemane, the night before Jesus died. It became very clear, either Jesus suffers hell on that cross or we do. And Jesus stood up and said “Let it be me.”
He did that for us. Can we lay down our lives for others? It probably won’t mean volunteering for crucifixion. Probably we’ll have to lay down our lives in installments. But it calls on us to give up our own little rights, position, status and comforts. To sacrifice our little plans for the sake of others. To value our brothers and sisters more than ourselves. That’s what this love will look like when it overflows from us.
Or secondly, it’ll look like v17: sacrificing materially
17 If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?
God’s love meets physical needs. Do you hear that? God’s love meets physical needs. Our brothers and sisters in trouble don’t just need our prayers – they do need our prayers, but they also need our money, our possessions, our car, our house, our stuff. We think of God's love as some kind of spiritual candy floss in never-never land. John thinks of it as giving money away, offering your spare room to someone, offering practical help. Or to put it another way – when you watch the overflow of someone giving their money or possessions away, you’re not just seeing human generosity. You are seeing the love of God spilling out of a person. Isn’t that cool?
Thirdly, v18, it will look like actions.
18 Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.
In one of the many terrible films I saw while flying to Australia there was a scene where a man who is raising a child with this woman. And he decides to take a job across the other side of the country and abandons them for the sake of his career. When he comes back she’s surprised and says “I thought you didn’t love me.” He says “I always loved you, I loved you every day I was gone.” And I screamed at the TV screen. You are a LIAR and a CAD. It is not love to say “I love you” and then abandon someone. That’s loving with words or tongue. That’s just a feeling he happened to nurse for her. But I wonder how often we kid ourselves we’re loving when it’s just in words or tongue. Love that is IN TRUTH is love that is IN ACTION.
But you know something cool. When you see love for brothers and sisters in action, you’re not just seeing a kind act, you’re seeing Jesus IN someone, bubbling out of them.
So when we see these kinds of things: when we lay down our lives, when we sacrifice materially, when we love IN ACTION, we’re seeing proof of the love of God in us, coming out of us.
And so, v19:
19 This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence
But perhaps you’re thinking: my overflow hasn’t been flowing too much lately and it seems to be polluted by a whole lot of selfishness, fear and pride.
Well a couple of things to say. First: we are not best placed to see the overflow. Our brothers and sisters are. You see John looked on at the recipients of this letter and he could see that they were real Christians. He tells them so again and again. But they were the ones who struggled with assurance. Often we’re the last people to see our own overflow.
But second – we need to realize that watching the overflow is only ever a secondary way of gaining assurance. I think verse 20 should be read slightly differently to how our translation punctuates it:
20 whenever our hearts condemn us.... God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.
Whatever our hearts say about our salvation they are only subordinate to what God says about our salvation. That’s the primary thing. So if you’re watching your overflow and it’s more like a dribble or a dry river-bed – Drink from the Source.
Go direct to God in His Word. Go directly to His offer of Christ in the Gospel. Because Christ is for sinners. Christ died for the loveless. Christ died for the selfish, He died for the proud and the greedy. Drink again from the Source and see if the love doesn’t start to flow again.
Maybe you never were a Christian and you need to become a proper Christian for the first time. Or maybe you are a Christian and you’ve just lost your confidence, your assurance. You’ve dried up.
Either way we all need to return to our first love. We all need to drink from the Source and then we’ll have that confidence as Christians. Verse 21:
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 obey his commands and do what pleases him.
This is the LIFE. Confident before God. Our hearts at rest. The love of God dwelling in us and bubbling out of us. And, v22, we ask God for more. More love please – a deeper experience of your love please so I can flow over to others more and more. Any kind of prayer like that God will answer in a second. If you want more from God so you know Jesus better, and then lay down your life more, sacrifice materially and love in action – then you’ll be inundated. “Anything we ask” in that vein is ours. This is the Life.
It’s our life. It’s been given to us in Jesus.
Are we loving as a church community? I see incredible acts of love from this body of believers. I see the life of Jesus coming out in many, many ways. Let’s take heart from that. And let’s encourage one another when we see the love of God in action.
But let’s also guard against fake love. There is such a thing as fake love. “Loving in word or tongue.” There’s termperamental niceness and politeness and sweet-talking. But John doesn’t want that. Jesus doesn’t want that. That’s not how He’s loved us. Let’s love with our lives laid down, sacrificing materially, and active in service.
And of course the only way we’ll do this is by drinking from the Source…