Text: 1 John 3:11-18 — For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. 12 We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. 13 Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you. 14 We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. 15 Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. 16 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 17 But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.
Introduction: The evangelical church in America is not near as large as many think and is shrinking at an alarming rate. So says, John Dickerson in his book The Great Evangelical Recession. He cites a 2009 American Religious Identification Survey that claims three out of four people living in the United States consider themselves “Christian.” This should bring no small amount of encouragement to us until we consider that, according to Dickerson, this statistic has been challenged more recently by others who have demonstrated that most of these people rarely if ever attend any church. This fact by itself doesn’t mean they are unbelievers, but it does give us pause to question the sincerity of their Christian faith given that the Bible commands us to ‘not forsake the assembling together’ — Hebrews 10:24– and that John the apostle says this of pretenders – ‘They went out from us, but they were not of us. If they had been of us, they would have remained with us’ – 1 John 2:19. Sadly, four well known researchers, independently of each other, have arrived at a very different estimate of the number of believers in the U.S. Their studies indicate that a mere 7% to 9% of America are Christians as defined by two things: (1)they believe the Bible to be the authoritative Word of God and (2)they believe that a personal decision to trust in Christ as Savior is necessary for salvation. Even more disconcerting is the fact that this population of Christians, estimated at about 22 to 29 million today(out of a total population of 327 million), is declining at a rate of more than 1% per year. This means that, if things continue in their current trajectory, by 2023 the general population will have increased by about 23,000,000 people, but evangelicals will have seen our numbers drop to less than 20 million or about 6% of the population with a continuing trend downwards. Why is this happening? Dickerson suggests a variety of reasons including: (1)Our culture is beginning to reject Christianity as a viable worldview; (2)the church has become more divided in its viewpoints(the implication is that we can’t get along with one another why should anyone else want to join us?);(3)an unwillingness on the part of believers to financially support the church, especially the younger generation who give only a third as much as those who were born before 1945 and only 40% of what boomers give-See CDF Capitol – Significant Statistics About Tithing and Church Generosity; (4)a mass migration away from Christianity by the children of evangelicals(more than half leave in their twenties and the majority do not return); and (5)a lack of new converts — most church growth is the result of transfers. Now before you get too depressed about our current state of affairs, let me offer a slightly different perspective. Most evangelicals have never believed that the true church was as large as some claimed. In addition, while it may well be that we’re currently in an evangelical recession; an evangelical recovery is always a real possibility. For it to happen, however, the church has to get back to being the church and doing the things that grew our sphere of influence in the first place.
Context: As we continue in our series called Vital Signs which looks at ways to measure the spiritual health of professing Christians, today we’re going to contrast two groups of people that the Apostle John knew were laying claim to Christ. While both professed to follow Him, only the lifestyle of one of the groups actually confirmed that their faith was real. These he referred to as children of God (1 John 3:1 – See what kind of love the Father has bestowed on us that we should be called children of God). Now John writes to all Christians in order to provide us with a reminder of the Gospel message that has been proclaimed from the very beginning … God sent His Son to save us from our sin and transform us into the character and image of Christ. And there is no greater evidence of this transformation then that which is seen by outsiders as believers love one another.
Now, I know that John mentioned this in 1 John 2:7-11. In fact, I preached two messages on love from chapter two. However, since John, while under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, felt it necessary to cover the same topic again, I do not feel the freedom to skip it. So, listen as I address three questions that will help us understand what sets true Christians apart from nominal believers, and makes Christianity a more attractive alternative to the world’s offerings.
I. What distinguishes believers from unbelievers?(1 John 3:11-12a — For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. 12 We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother.) By way of reminder, John wrote these words to the churches in Asia Minor because false teachers had infiltrated their ranks and were teaching that love was not an essential characteristic of true faith. Of course, he begs to differ, remembering the words of Jesus inJohn 13:35…by this all men will know you are my disciples if you love one another. So here he repeats Christ’s message and argues that loving others the way God loves us is what distinguishes believers from unbelievers.
A. Believers are expected to love one another. I wonder if your parents ever said something like this to you when you were a child: “Hey, we’re Bauman’s, and we always do this (tell the truth/are kind to people/go the extra mile)or never do that (discriminate on the basis of race/do anything less than our best/steal from others).” If they did, it was their way of marking you for life by a specific good behavior or the lack of a bad one. Here John wants us to know that Christians are also identified by certain behaviors. Specifically, in our passage for this morning, he mentions the fact that believers care deeply for other Christians. It is not that we don’t demonstrate love for the unchurched, certainly we should do that as well (Mark 12:31 — love your neighbor as yourself). But here the focus is on our love for fellow believers as one of the key identifying characteristics of a true Christian. In fact, in 1 John 2:10, the apostle tells us that authentic followers of Christ give evidence that they live in light(light has two meanings: the salvation revealed to us in the Light of the Word—Jesus; and holiness as opposed to darkness) as they love one another. How can he say this? Because believers in Christ aspire to follow in His footsteps. And just as God is love, so Jesus is love. That’s why He took time to defend the helpless, heal the sick, feed the hungry and share the good news of salvation with those who were formerly His enemies.
B. Unbelievers should not be expected to love believers(just because they’re believers).Why not? Because they, like Cain, are children of the Devil (See John 8:44; 1 John 3:10). And the devil’s plan has always been to steal, kill and destroy everything that God values. That, by the way, is what Cain did by committing the first murder. Perhaps you remember his story in Genesis 4:1-16. Cain presented to God an unacceptable sacrifice from the fruit of the soil that was rejected while God had regard for the offering of Abel who sacrificed the firstborn of his flock and the fat portions (obviously God had made it clear what he and his brother were to present as their offerings – Genesis 4:3-5, 8 — In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, 4 and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, 5 but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell … Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him). This leads me to another question about love or the lack thereof for Christians.
II. Why is there growing animosity toward believers?(1 John 3:12b-13 — And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. 13 Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you.) Cain is identified as a child of the devil by his hatred for a child of God…in this case his brother Abel. What fueled his hatred? The answer is simple. His actions were evil while Abel’s were righteous(In Matthew 23:35– Jesus called Abel innocent … so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of innocent Abel to the blood of Zechariah). While walking in the light often brings blessing, those living in darkness don’t always appreciate when believers do what is right or take God’s side on moral issues. Rather, they tend to feel convicted by them. And that is one of the reasons why Americans are turning against the church, but it is not the only one. Here are a couple more for us to think about that fall squarely on the shoulders of us Christians.
A. (In some cases) We are disengaging with the culture. Some have separated themselves from the unbelieving world to the degree that they no longer are capable of positively influencing it (See Philippians 2:14-16a).
B. (In other cases) We are conforming to the culture. Others have tarnished the image of the church by virtue of their unholy living. While people expect Christians to be different, often we are not. This only serves to increase the world’s already negative perception of the church. Illustration: According to anew study from Grey Matter Research & Consulting, Americans have both negative and positive perceptions about Christianity’s impact on culture. The study found that there were only two key areas in which strong majorities claim to see Christianity’s benefits in America. Seventy-two percent of respondents claim that the faith system is good for helping poor people in need and for raising children with good morals. Overall, 52 percent report that they believe Christianity helps to keep the U.S. a “strong nation.” Despite these positives, there are a number of areas where substantial portions of the nation see Christianity has having either a negative impact or no influence at all. For many believers, these perceptions have been met with concern. In the poll, respondents were provided with 16 issues and were asked if they believe that the Christian faith has had a positive impact, a negative impact or no impact at all. These issues included: crime, business ethics, the role of women, how people treat the environment, and sexuality, among others. When it comes to sexuality, an issue that some in the Christian movement have called a losing battle for believers, only 26 percent of respondents said that the faith system has a positive impact. 37% percent see no impact at all and another 37 percent say that Christianity has a negative impact on the issue. Here are their perceptions on key indicators, as presented by Grey Matter: (1)The amount of crime in society: 55% say Christians have no impact or a negative one; (2) the amount of poverty in society: 59% — no impact or negative; (3) the amount of violence in society: 61% — no impact or negative; (4) the ability to discuss differences of opinion in a civil manner: 62% — no impact or negative; (5) practicing ethics in the business world: 66% — no impact or negative; (6) participation in politics and voting: 67% — no impactor negative. Now we all know that perception and reality are often two different things. However, these negative perceptions surrounding Christians should be a cause of concern for all of us. And we’re the ones who can do something about it by following Christ and becoming a change agent for good!
III. How can we change the world’s opinion of believers?(1 John 3:14-18 — We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. 15 Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. 16 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 17 But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.)We should follow the example of our Lord who offered Himself as a sacrifice for our sin. Now we’re called to sacrifice ourselves for one another.
A. We must love in deed. It is not enough to say we care, we must demonstrate it. This demands that we be in a position to recognize one’s need and then be willing to meet it as God directs(Luke 10:36-37 — Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise”).
B. We must love in truth. Our love is revealed in good deeds that are in alignment with the truth as it has been revealed to us in the Scriptures. This is the truth that gives us new birth(See James 1:18) and purifies us as we walk in obedience to God(1 Peter 1:22 — Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart).
Applications: As we conclude let me share with you a few suggestions as to how we, as believers, should conduct ourselves in the midst of growing hostility directed so that the church is still able to exert influence in the world disproportionate to our size. I think you might agree that it is hard to blame unbelievers for doubting our claim to love them if we cannot even love one another. Here’s what we must do to rebuild our reputation as the church:
1. We have to care for one another. There are some families in this church right now who need your help. One of them is moving on August 31stand is looking for some people to help load the truck. Another older couple had two trees in their front yard come down in the last storm. They need help putting everything back to its former condition. And there are other opportunities as well.
2. We have to get along with one another. Why would anyone want to join what they perceive to be a dysfunctional family? We have to demonstrate that we are holier than our culture and know more about loving one another.
3. We have to help each other grow. This is what gets us to move from immaturity to maturity and Christlikeness.
Conclusion: Today, as much as ever, here in America, Christians are known less for what we are for than what we are against. We have become a people most noticed for our condemnation of culture rather than the transformation of it. While certainly we need to take a moral stand against unrighteousness wherever it raises its ugly head, we must change the perception that others have about us by demonstrating Christ’s love at every opportunity to our brothers and sisters in Christ. Listen to these words written in about 125 AD by a philosopher named Aristides as he observed Christians going about their daily lives.”They walk in all humility and kindness, and falsehood is not found among them, and they love one another. They despise not the widow, and grieve not the orphan. He that has distributes liberally to him that has not. If they see a stranger, they bring him under their roof, and rejoice over him, as if he were their own brother: for they call themselves brethren, not after the flesh, but after the spirit and in God; but when one of their poor passes away from the world, and any of them see him, then he provides for his burial according to his ability; and if they hear that any of their number is imprisoned or oppressed for the name of their Messiah, all of them provide for his needs, and if it is possible that he may be delivered, they deliver him. And if there is among them a man that is poor and needy, and they have not an abundance of necessaries, they fast two or three days that they may supply the needy with their necessary food.” No wonder the early church grew as fast as it did and its impact was felt around the world.