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Sun, Jan 05, 2003

5 - Understanding Love

2 John 1:1-6 by Robert Dean
Series:2nd John (2002)
Duration:1 hr 2 mins 9 secs

Understanding Love; 2 John 1-6

 

What makes the difference between liberals and conservatives, whether we are talking about political liberalism or about religious/Christian liberalism, is how we view man. An excellent book on the subject is called "Conflict of Visions" by Thomas Sowell. He addresses the whole arena in the political dimension. He says:

"It is no mere coincidence that the same groups of people always seem to be together no matter what the political question might be. Whether talking about taxes, school vouchers, the death penalty, no matter what the subject might be, the same people tend to group together on the same side. Why is that?"

The reason he isolates is that there is a difference in the way they look at reality. There is one group of people in the world who look at the nature of man as being basically good, and everything flows from that. There is another group that looks at man as being inherently bad or evil and everything flows from that if they are consistent. That is a core issue; that is where we have to go, we have to ultimately ground it in their vision of the nature of man. Is man basically good? Or is man basically evil?

There was an editorial by Dennis Prager which was published in the Jewish World Review on December 31, 2002, and he makes the following observation:

"No issue has a greater influence on determining yor social and political views [we could add: also your views of the Bible] than whether you view human nature as basically good or not. In the 20 years as a radio talk show host I have had dialogue with thousands of people of both sexes and from virtually every ethnic, religious and national background. Very early on I Realised that perhaps the major reason for political and other disagreements I had with callers was that they believed that people were basically good, and I did not. I believe that we are born with tendencies for both good and evil—yes, babies are born innocent but not good. Why is this issue so important? First, if you believe people are born good you will attribute evil to forces outside the individual."

If you think people are basically good then when evil happens you are not going to think it is their fault, from their bad decisions, but it is some force that is acting upon them, whether that is secular culture or poverty or economics or whatever that may be. 

He continues: "That is why a secular humanistic culture so often attributes evil to poverty. Washington Senator Paddy Murray and former President Jimmy Carter and millions of other westerners believe that the cause of Islamic terrorism is poverty. Karl Marx thought that the cause of poverty and social problems in the world was economics. Something in these people cannot accept the fact that many people have evil values and choose evil for reasons having nothing to do with their economic situation. The representatives of that huge group of naïve westerners identified by the once-proud title liberal do not understand that no amount of money will dissuade those that believe that God wants them to rule the world and murder all those they deem infidels.

"Second, if you believe people are born good you will not stress character development when you raise children. If you think that your child is basically good then the way you approach discipline in child training is not only going to be not biblical but you are going to produce a person who will have a hard time facing reality as he grows up because he has been trained in a system that is divorced from reality. If you believe people are born good you will have schools teach young people how to use condoms, how to avoid first and second hand tobacco smoke, how to recycle, and how to prevent rain forests from disappearing. You will teach them how to struggle against the evils of society—remember, it is not the evils of your own person, it is all societal. Sexism, racism, classism and homophobia—but you will not teach them that the primary struggle they have to wage to make a better world is against their own nature."

That is a perceptive insight. The biggest fight that every individual has is not against some social evil but against the evil that resides in his own heart. The Bible says, Jeremiah 17:9 NASB "The heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick; Who can understand it?"

"Third, if you believe that people are basically good God and religion are morally unnecessary, even harmful. Why would basically good people need a God or religion to provide moral standards?" Therefore, if you believe that you are basically good, and therefore you basically know what is right or wrong, those who disagree with you must by definition be bad, not merely wrong. You also believe that the more power that you and those you agree with have, the better the society will be. This is why such people are so committed to powerful government and powerful judges. "Therefore the crowd that believes in innate human goodness tends to be secular or to reduce God and religion to social workers, providers of compassion, rather than those who teach moral standards and moral judgments."

The ultimate idea present in colonial America, whether one was Presbyterian, Congregational, Baptist, is that they all held to a primarily Calvinistic view of man, which is the fact that man is totally depraved, and a view of God that God is sovereign. Therefore since God is sovereign no human institution can claim sovereignty, so all human institutions have to be limited in power. Because all human institutions are run by fallen creatures and fallen creatures must be limited otherwise if they have absolute power then absolute power corrupts absolutely. So the idea that Prager has is that there has to be limited government and limited bureaucratic authority if you believe that people are basically bad. But of you believe that people are basically good then you can have unlimited government, unlimited bureaucracy, because after all government and bureaucracy are basically good and made up of basically good people. 

Prager in one editorial has exemplified some core values between conservatism and liberalism, that liberal theology and liberal politics flow together. They are consistent because they are both based on a certain vision of the world and vision of man, that man is basically good; whereas conservative politics and conservative theology also go hand in hand because they tend to view man as being basically evil.   

The reason that we believers who understand the Bible to be the revelation of God believe that man is basically evil, is because the Bible says so. We say that man is evil because God says that man is evil. Man was originally created in the image and likeness of God and he had perfect righteousness, and he was inherently good. But when Adam sinned he died spiritually and he acquired a sin nature which affected every aspect of his being so that man is basically evil, and left on his own he will deteriorate into that which is corrupt, that which is evil, that which is lazy, and that which is irresponsible; because that is the tendency, the proclivity of the sin nature. So the point here is that as Bible-believing Christians we recognise that things are the way they are because God says so, not because of our experience, not because of irrational systems, but because God has so defined things.

When we come to our basic doctrine in verses 5 & 6, which is love, we have to realise that we can't define love on the basis of some arbitrary standard, some culturally derived definition of love. Love must be understood. If we are going to have any understanding of love whatsoever it must be understood from the biblical starting point, and we must understand love as it is defined by God and not as it is defined by either human convention or by our own experience.  

2 John 1:5 NASB "Now I ask you, lady, not as though {I were} writing to you a new commandment, but the one which we have had from the beginning, that we love one another." The word "new" is the Greek kainos [kainoj], and it means new. In the New Testament there are two different words for new. There is the word neos [neoj], which means new in respect of something that is recent or young or newly arrived, or even immature. The second word is kainos and it means new and distinct, new in nature, something that is different from the old, something that is superior to the old—superior in value and attraction. The new commandment, therefore, is something that is new and that replaces the old. Something that is distinctive and something that is superior. This is the same terminology that Jesus used in the upper room, John 13:34.

What is this new commandment?

1.  The phrase "new commandment" that John is referring to here is a term that he picks up from Jesus' statement in the upper room. When Jesus said this is a new commandment it was a new commandment replacing the old, but John is not restating this as something new, he is restating that original new commandment that Jesus gave. John 13:34, 35 NASB "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another."

2.  The old commandment is that which was instantiated in the old covenant or Mosaic Law in Leviticus 19:18 NASB "You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the LORD." This commandment is restated in the New Testament in two key places. We should remember that these two key places in Galatians and in James were in contexts related to Judaism. In neither place is Paul or James restating the command as applicable today. There is a difference between the commandment as stated in the Mosaic Law and Jesus' new commandment which is a new distinctive commandment. The key word is love, it summarises the whole Law.

3.  The commandment in the Mosaic Law to love your neighbour as yourself was addressed to believers and unbelievers. It was made to the entire corporate body of Israel which is made up of believers and unbelievers. Therefore the expectation was that anyone could fulfil that commandment, both believers and unbelievers.

4.  In the old covenant commandment the object of love was "your neighbour." That would mean anyone, believer or unbeliever.

5.  "Neighbour" was further defined by our Lord in the parable of the good Samaritan—any human being, believer or unbeliever, who comes within your periphery, whether you know them or not, whether you have a relationship with them or not, and whether they are attractive to you or not.

6.  The standard for the love is defined in the "as" clause. That shows the comparison. Like the person like or as you love yourself. The standard, therefore is your own love for yourself. This does not mean that you first have to love yourself, have high self-esteem, before you can love anybody else. What Scripture is saying is that you automatically love yourself, that is the orientation of the sin nature; you are a lover of self. We have to learn to put others in the place of that self-love and treat them as we would want to be treated in that same situation.

7.  The conclusion of points 3-6 is that this passage in the Old Testament is addressed to unbelievers and believers alike for application to unbelievers and believers alike, and is therefore able to be fulfilled in a relative sense by unbelievers as well as believers. However, the new commandment by virtue of the term kainos is a replacement commandment. 

8.  First, John 13:34: "Love one another as I have loved you." It is addressed to believers only. Only believers are able to fulfil it. Galatians 5:22, 23—it is a fruit of the Spirit. John 13:35 states that it is by this unique mark that all men will know that you are my disciples. What is a disciple? A disciple and a believer are not the same thing. A believer is someone who trusts Christ as Saviour. But after he is saved he may or may not make learning doctrine and growing to spiritual maturity a priority. He is saved but he is not concerned about spiritual growth; he is not going to make the knowledge and application of the Word of God the highest priority in life. A disciple does; he makes his life doctrine. He makes doctrine such a part of his life that he is able to think biblically about everything. Some observations:

a)  The unique mark: All men will know you are my disciples. It is an objective standard with an objective model. That is, it is not based on feeling, on your own perceptions. It is based on an objective model which is Jesus' demonstration of love on the cross. 1 John 3:16 NASB "We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren."

b)  The mark of a disciple is not the symbol of the cross or any kind of overt symbol, it is a character quality. It is a unique character quality that cannot be emulated by unbelievers.

c)  It is not emotion, not sentimentality, some pseudo-compassion or pseudo-mercy, not being involved in some sort of charity organization, aiding the poor, etc. It is an objective standard with an objective model.

d)  It is based on character of Christ which is objectively discernable and knowable through what happened on the cross. It is not developed on our own. It is developed by walking by the Spirit. The Holy Spirit produces it, it is the fruit of the Spirit as a result of walking by the Spirit and abiding in Him.

e)  This mark of love for one another challenges unbelievers. (We may not know this)

f)  Jesus' statement that "by this the world will know that you are my disciples" presupposes that they do observe and they do know this. It is observable.

g)  This is the greatest defence of our faith. This doesn't mean to be on the defensive, but the greatest evidence of the truth of Christianity outside of the historical evidences of Scripture is the reality of the Holy Spirit's work in our lives as evidenced by love for one another. There is something about the mature believer that is not a counterfeit, it is something that is distinct, and the unbeliever does pay attention.

9.  The object of Jesus' command to love one another is directed to all believers. In the Old Testament it was "love your neighbour," believer or unbeliever; in John 13 it is "love one another," love other believers; it is directed to other members of the royal family of God, not just to unbelievers.

10.  The standard is different. It is not "as you love yourself," but "as I have loved you." That should remove all manner of subjectivity.  

11.  The mandate to love can only be truly exemplified by the advancing believer. This kind of love comes from knowing God, knowing His commandments, and keeping His commandments. That takes time; it takes maturity, It doesn't happen over night, it comes as a result of dedication, knowledge of the Word of God, making it the highest priority in life and advancing to spiritual maturity.

12.  Key verses: Romans 5:8 NASB "But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." John 3:16 NASB "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life." 1 John 3:16 NASB "We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren."

How do we analyse this kind of love? We have to go back to our basic premise, and that is that there are concepts we talk about that are part of our culture such as love, righteousness, truth, honour, virtue that we think everybody knows the meaning of. But unbelievers define those terms on the basis of experience whereas we have the absolute character of God that is the basis for understanding those things. We can't understand true love by starting with the creature. We have to understand true love by starting with how the creator defines love. This affects many other things in our thinking. Man in his independent or autonomous human viewpoint defines these terms on a relative basis derived from experience, therefore things like honour, truth and virtue are going to change from culture to culture. Every culture has values but they differ, so honour in one culture is going to be different from honour in another culture. To talk about righteousness, virtue, honour we have to have a real absolute other wise the terms just get lost in a sea of relativity. Think about other concepts we face, concepts like authority, abuse. What is abusive today was not abusive twenty years ago. What was abusive twenty years ago wasn't abusive 100 years ago. But what does the Bible say? There are some things in the Bible where if you judge the Bible on the basis of modern conventions and culture then we are going to walk away and think the Bible is really screwed up. We have to let the Bible define these abstract values; we don't just load them up with experience that we have picked up.

2 John 6 states: "And this is love, that we walk according to His commandments." It sets up a comparison. John says love is related to commandments. It has objective evaluation standards, it is not how we feel, it is not leaving church after the morning message saying, Oh wasn't it good to have been there. How do we know we love God? It is not how we feel, it is that we keep His commandments. We are taking in the doctrine and applying it consistently.

Matthew 22:36ff NASB "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law? [37] And He said to him, 'YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND. [38] This is the great and foremost commandment. [39] The second is like it, 'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.' [40] On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets." Jesus summarises everything in the Old Testament and says it is a picture of love, love for God and love for one another.

Let's take that and go back into the Old Testament and start to look at some ideas about what love is. Unfortunately modern man has reduced love to this one dimensional sentimental, emotional thing. If we take that and apply it to being a parent, to being a leader, to being a pastor, to another field of leadership in life, apply it to romance, we are going to be in trouble because it leaves too much out. In Deuteronomy 21 God is concerned about the integrity of the nation and the preservation of Israel in terms of social harmony and not fragmenting on the inside from criminality. So He is going to give certain guidelines in terms of civil law and all of this is part of what it means to love. All of this is part of love. Deuteronomy 21:18 NASB "If any man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey his father or his mother, and when they chastise him, he will not even listen to them, [19] then his father and mother shall seize him, and bring him out to the elders of his city at the gateway of his hometown. [20] They shall say to the elders of his city, 'This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey us, he is a glutton and a drunkard.' [21] Then all the men of his city shall stone him to death; so you shall remove the evil from your midst, and all Israel will hear {of it} and fear." Most of us would think that is harsh. God doesn't think that is harsh. We have been so polluted by human viewpoint concepts of what real love and mercy is that when we look at something like that we think that is not merciful, that is not love. But it is, because God is focusing on the fact that here is this unproductive member of society and if that is allowed like an evil root to continue it is going to infect like a plague everybody else in society and eventually destroy and fragment the society. God is looking at this in terms of the whole picture of what love is. Love is telling people things they don't want to hear, things that are harsh or hard. Sometimes as parents, if we love our children, it means we have to be extremely hard disciplinarians because by the grace of God we have a strong-willed child. Someone has to teach that strong-willed child discipline, and that is a parent's job. Part of love means being a strong disciplinarian. Today every will say that is abuse. We are letting the culture define these abstract concepts for us and when we go to the Word of God we really don't understand what it is saying because we are evaluating these words and giving meaning to these words that comes from outside in the culture.

We might say love is what is doing what is best for the object. But that word "best" is a superlative in English that relates to a value. Whose value? If we say that if you love someone you are going to be doing what is best for them we have to ask this question: How do we know what that best is value. If we are in arrogance and not grace orientation then we are going to think that our opinion, our agenda, whatever that is, is what is best for someone. But from the Word of God we come up with an external absolute, we do know as a parent what is best for our children, as an employer we should know what is best for our employees. If we are mature believers this value system has been replaced by divine viewpoint objective standards. Only there are we really able to love somebody. If we are immature we still have human viewpoint self-oriented values and we can't love, because what we think is best for somebody is really what we want, what is best for us. Real love is doing what is best for the object, and that does not mean that loving someone is always doing what they want, what seems easier for them, or allowing them to get away with whatever it is that they want to get away with. That is not real love.