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Thursday, February 19, 2015

Study Notes: Law and Love in 1 John

My heart is hardwired to see God as a taskmaster. 

I tend to read His love letters as chore lists and interpret His declaratives as imperatives.
As He works grace in me more deeply, I'm surprised and delighted to find deep wells of relief in passages that were previously sources of stress.

1 John is one of those turnarounds for me. In 5 chapters, only 105 verses, a grace-filled reading reveals that most of it John's book is descriptive, not prescriptive. There are surprisingly few imperative statements, and in the greater context of the book they all point to my need for Christ.

LET Commands

  • 2:24- let what you heard from the beginning abide in you
  • 3:7- let no one deceive you 
  • 3:18- let us not love in word, but in deed and truth 
  • 4:7- let us love one another

DO NOT Commands

  • 2:15- do not love the world 
  • 3:13- do not be surprised that the world hates you 
  • 4:1- do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits 

DO Commands

  • 2:27- abide in Him 
  • 3:1- see what kind of love the Father has given us 
  • 3:11- love one another 
  • 3:23- believe in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ 
  • 3:23- love one another
  • 4:10- whoever loves God must also love his brother 
  • 5:21- keep yourselves from idols

What strikes me is that the commands are all targeted at the heart, not at behaviors.
He commands what to love, what to believe, what to look at.
John (and Jesus!) knows that when the heart loves, the actions follow.
You can't get those out of order. Loves and beliefs can only be changed by God when He gives the new heart under the new covenant. It's not something I can reach in an adjust for myself.

Even putting the commands in categories of what to do and not do, as I did above, just speaks to my tendency to leave my place of dependence on Jesus and try harder to LET, DO NOT, and DO.
For that reason it may be more helpful to categorize them conceptually:

  • Believe in Jesus. 
    • 2:24- let what you heard from the beginning abide in you
    • 2:27- abide in Him 
    • 3:1- see what kind of love the Father has given us 
    • 3:23- believe in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ 
  • Don't believe anything that isn't Jesus. 
    • 2:15- do not love the world 
    • 3:7- let no one deceive you
    • 3:13- do not be surprised that the world hates you 
    • 4:1- do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits 
    • 5:21- keep yourselves from idols
  • Let His love pour out of you. 
    • 3:18- let us not love in word, but in deed and truth 
    • 4:7- let us love one another 
    • 3:11- love one another
    • 3:23- love one another
    • 4:10- whoever loves God must also love his brother 

As the rest of the book emphatically asserts, the natural, organic keeping of these commands comes out of people who have the Spirit. They don't work for it. They don't try harder. It just happens, because God is doing it in them. They do not spend the day trying to "love one another." They believe. And as result of that, they love one another.

It is not the keeping of the commands, but HOW the commands are kept that makes all the difference. The "how" is why John can make this shocking if/then statement.
5:3:"For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome." 
Commandments are burdensome when we try to keep them by willpower and legalism. Commandments are NOT burdensome when the Spirit is working them through us and we have been captivated by the love of God.We can't help but love when we know we've been loved! It's like a spring of water that keeps bubbling up. You'd have to forcibly try to plug it up to make it stop.

Where does it come from? 
4:9-11 "In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another."
This is another of John's cause/effects. God's love in the gospel is Jesus' death on the cross for me, when He became the atoning sacrifice for my sins.

  • If I love God, it's because I believe the Truth that I've been loved by God in the gospel. 
  • If I love God, the Spirit is in me convincing me of the love of God in the gospel. 
  • If the Spirit is in me, He is changing my affections without my help as a result of God's love in the gospel.

How do we love?  It isn't by trying. My heart is far too selfish and sinful to be able to love anything but me. But these commands are self fulfilling in the grace of God.

  • We love Him by obeying the command to believe what Jesus says. 
  • We love Him by not believing what isn't from Him.
  • We love Him by letting Him work His love in us and watching it pour out to others.
What is left for me to do but rest in Him?