This is the message you have heard from the beginning: We should love one another. – 1 John 3:11
There is nothing more plaintive and comprehendable than that simple statement. We should love one another. Who could disagree with it? The Amplified Bible gives insight when it offers this translation:
For this is the message which you [believers] have heard from the beginning [of your relationship with Christ], that we should [unselfishly] love and seek the best for one another…
To love is to unselfishly seek the best for one another.
It is simple, but complicated. Our minds immediately begin to search for exceptions. We wonder if we can really seek the best for someone we do not like very much. Maybe the passage just means ‘be nice to your brothers and sisters’. Maybe there are loopholes here that make my feelings toward a brother or sister acceptable. After all, they deserve to be … less than loved in this way.
Let me make this perfectly clear: ALL of us deserve to be less than loved. If the truth were known, and all of our motives and misdeeds were exposed, we would recognize the big job it is to love one another. It takes a lot of grace to love someone you know really well.
In the end, it’s not what you believe or understand about love that matters.
“We know what real love is because Jessus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters” – 1 John 3:12.
To understand how to love my brothers and sisters, I simply must replicate the love I have experienced from Christ. He unselfishly sought the best for another… for me.
That’s the message we have heard from the beginning. What’s keeping us from loving one another?
First, given the title of this post, why are YOU reading it?
Apostle John wrote, “If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth” (1 John 1:8 NLT).
I know there was probably some background issue that John was writing to deal with, but I think it has resurrected in modern times. In today’s world no one thinks they are a sinner. If Nathaniel Hawthorne had lived in our culture, he could never have conceived of The Scarlet Letter. The only thing that is deemed ‘wrong’ today is telling someone they are wrong. But I’m just pointing fingers at others when I write about this. I need to look into the mirror for a minute.
I freely confess to be a sinner, in desperate need of God’s grace. I often claim to be ‘grace-dependent’ because I am.
In an honest moment, however, I can sometimes think of myself as always being right. I can believe that my approach is best. I can frown when someone suggests something different. That’s not the same as claiming to have no sin, but I wonder how often I overlook my own sin and focus on someone else’s sin? If I do, I’m only fooling myself and not living in the truth.
It’s more serious than just a Christian in need of some honest introspection. John goes on to write:
“If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts” (1 John 1:10 NLT).
Calling God a liar is something I want no part of. But if I fail to acknowledge my all-too-obvious shortcomings, I may be in that territory. The more we spend time in the Word being drawn closer to the heart of the Father, the clearer our station really is. John’s prompt is to bring your sin to the One who can do something about it.
“But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness” (1 John 1:9 NLT).
Now that’s a heavy burden removed… and a daily focus. We do not have to be afraid to bring it all to Him, because He forgives and cleanses. And I like the word “all” there.
In the Amplified Bible Classic, we read:
If we [freely] admit that we have sinned and confess our sins, He is faithful and just (true to His own nature and promises) and will forgive our sins [dismiss our lawlessness] and [continuously] cleanse us from all unrighteousness [everything not in conformity to His will in purpose, thought, and action].
So, for those who haven’t sinned … well… that’s not anyone reading this. For the rest of us, we have the truth about ourselves to face and we have the truth about our Father to embrace.
“I will never forget this awful time, as I grieve over my loss. Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this: The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning. I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in him!‘” (Lamentations 3:20-24).
Jeremiah, the ‘weeping prophet’, only gives us glimpses of hope in small doses. The subject matter of his prophecy, the times in which he lived, and the experiences he had leave little about which to be hopeful. I think that’s why it is important to notice when the sun comes out from behind the clouds in his writings.
Lamentations is properly named … a lament over God’s faithless people. Dire prophecies came from the Lord through Jeremiah in very plain and frightening terms. Ultimately what God wanted more than anything was for His people to turn away from idolatry and uniting with the heathen nations that surrounded them. It was not to happen for a long time.
But even in his grief, Jeremiah dared to hope. Everything around him may be in ruins, but the love of the Lord was strong and dependable. The Lord’s mercy regenerated daily. The only hope that Jeremiah could find in this world was in God. He goes on to say…
“The Lord is good to those who depend on him, to those who search for him. So it is good to wait quietly for salvation from the Lord” (Lamentations 3:25-26).
I don’t know what might be crashing and burning in your life right now. I know I’ve experienced that at different times in my life. I see it happening in the lives of friends and loved ones as they walk through the fire of hurt, pain, and suffering. Jeremiah points the way for all the hurting people … wait quietly, God isn’t absent in your struggle. Depend on Him. You can dare to hope because in spite of everything you see around you, God is not through yet.
Whatever season you are in, dare to hope. Find some grace in this moment when Jeremiah came up for air and realized He was in God’s capable hands. And, as he suggests, let there be some introspection as well.
“Instead, let us test and examine our ways. Let us turn back to the Lord” (Lamentations 3:40).
Remember when the debt is piling high, when betrayal is stabbing your heart, when you’ve been let go from your job, when the failures keep happening, when you feel there is no hope – dare to hope. And call out to God.
“Yes, you came when I called; you told me, ‘Do not fear'” (Lamentations 3:57).
The Narrative Lectionary text for this week are Exodus 16:1-18 and John 6:51. In the Exodus account we read of the Israelite journey into the Desert of Sin, two months after they marched out of Egyptian slavery into the unknown wilderness ahead. Unfortunately, the exhilaration of newfound freedom had worn off with each step along the way. Now, as we so often do, the Israelites begin to romanticize the past with selective memory.
“If only the Lord had killed us back in Egypt… There we sat around pots filled with meat and ate all the bread we wanted. But now you have brought us into this wilderness to starve us all to death.” – Exodus 16:3
The Lord’s response is to “rain down food from heaven” for them (vs 4), with some specific rules about when it could be collected and how much. each person / family can collect. These rules were set in place as a “test”.
While the Israelites were grumbling against Moses and Aaron, Moses is clear that it was “the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt” (vs 6) and He would provide meat in the evening and bread in the morning. A reminder of the Lord’s presence was nearby – a glorious pillar of cloud by day (vs 10). That evening quail flew in and covered the camp. The next morning they found “a flaky substance as fine as frost blanketed the ground” (vs 14). When they saw it they asked, “What is it?“. That’s what the word ‘manna’ means, basically. What is it?
What It Is
What it is, is a provision of a loving Father to his hungry children. But we shouldn’t let them off the hook so easily. This text emphasizes nothing positive about the children of Israel, only that they were complainers who had a false remembrance of what it was like to live back in Egypt. Two months and they’ve forgotten the intense slavery and conditions that led to death. They only remember that they had food to eat and graves in which to be buried. The Scripture is clear that they weren’t complaining about Moses and Aaron, but they were complaining about God (vs 7).
I am tempted to say some harsh things about these forgetful folks, if I weren’t one of them. How often have we complained in the midst of immense blessing? Honestly, the American life I live is a dream to many in third world countries. But still, if the A/C isn’t working well, I can be heard to mumble. If the food is not too tasty, I can push it aside. If the place where I wanted to sit was dirty, I’ll just stand. If someone smells bad, I’ll step back. If the worship service runs long, I might frown. When my bills overtake my income, I gripe because the economy isn’t favoring my station.
There is a certain freedom to confess these things because most people I know are in the same boat. We are the Israelites complaining about our current blessings not being big enough. Maybe we even think about the past and how good we might have had it before we became Christians. We didn’t have to worry about giving the church some of our money back then. Who has complained about COVID restrictions and practices – whether we embrace them or not? No need to have a show of hands.
I don’t know how you relate to the Israelites on a specific level, but I hope we all relate to the God who provides in spite of our failure to trust the One who led us out of bondage. God’s provision is not only sufficient but overflowing. He provided a meal for thousands, not just a differ party. In the same way, God has been providing for you the basics of life up to this point. It’s easy to take credit for what we have provided for ourselves, but the life of the believer is about what God is doing.
Who It Is
Just as the Israelites were focused on Moses and Aaron instead of the glory of the Lord visible to them in the pillar of cloud by day and pillar of fire by night, so we also can be focused in the wrong area. We should turn our gaze to the One who loved us enough to guide us out of our wilderness and into a secure home. l
“I tell you the truth, anyone who believes has eternal life. Yes, I am the bread of life! Your ancestors ate manna in the wilderness, but they all died. Anyone who eats the bread from heaven, however, will never die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live forever; and this bread, which I will offer so the world many live, is my flesh. – John 6:47-51
Our sights should always remain on Jesus – the bread of life – the one who enlivens, provides, and sustains us. When we commune together and eat the bread and drink the cup, we remember. But we should let that remembrance continue through the days ahead, no matter what the circumstances. After all, Jesus didn’t die just to give us something to do on Sundays. He rose from the dead to give us eternal life.
Preachers using this text Sunday will do well to move listeners away from the complaints of the day to the Savior of all times. Sometimes complaining feel smart. Sarcastic diminishing of others is fodder for Social Media – but actually when we complain it is always against the Lord. Why? Because we have removed our sights from His wonderful provision and focused on a petty gripe instead. We excuse away complaining, but continue reading the narrative of Exodus. God gets his fill, eventually. We have to move way from being focused on WHAT IS IT and instead be engaged fully in WHO IT IS. What are the blessings we often ignore? What should help us feel filled and alive in Christ? God bless you as you preach the Word this Sunday!
I was wandering around a discount store’s book section and saw the enticing cover and title, “I’d Rather Be Reading”. I picked it up and was immediately attracted to it, but set it down. I have so many books I haven’t read, I shouldn’t buy another one. But in another part of the store, on an unrelated shelf, there it was again. Someone else had picked it up, carried it for a while, and in my imagination said, “I have too many books already, I shouldn’t buy another one.” But that’s when I changed my mind and bought it. The one word I can use to describe this book is “Delightful”. Yes, it’s in the subtitle, “The delights and dilemmas of the reading life”, but it is just true. I recommend it to all readers – of whatever genre – because you will find here a friend who knows why you pick up the next book to read.