LOVING THE CHILDREN OF GOD
The love of the brethren can be approached from Mount Sinai or from Mount Zion; from law or from grace; from the standpoint of "works" or the standpoint of "faith." Our approach to the subject will determine the level of involvement on the part of God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit. The entire Godhead is involved in salvation--the thing that makes us "brethren." God has placed us "in Christ" (1 Cor 1:30). Christ dwells in our hearts by faith (Eph 3:16-17). The Holy Spirit is the Administrator of the body of Christ (1 Cor 12:11). If we approach our love for one another as though it were a harsh and difficult commandment, we will not enjoy the blessing of the Lord. He no longer speaks from Mount Sinai, a place for alienated people. God has wrought a great salvation through Christ Jesus; a salvation that allows Him to speak to a reconciled people. This consideration must dominate our thinking as we approach this subject.
We are called into a spiritual society God has set "the solitary in families" (Psa 68:6). In Christ, He takes people from the world, and places them in a new spiritual environment. The Word of God addresses this subject in Hebrews 12:22-24. The following are mentioned in this marvelous catalog of advantages: "the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem . . . the general assembly and church of the Firstborn, which are written in heaven . . . the spirits of just men made perfect." This is an environment of redeemed personalities. They are in harmony with "an innumerable company of angels," "God the Judge of all," and "Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant." They have all received: "the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel." The society into which we have come is an elevated one, having been raised and made to sit together in heavenly places (Eph 1:3; 2:6). Therefore, they are identified with "Mount Zion." Together, they comprise a city in which God is pleased to dwell. Therefore they are called "the city of the living God." Their appetite and demeanor have been adapted to heaven, and thus they are called "the heavenly Jerusalem." This is an assembly comprising diverse people, from every kindred, tongue, people, and nation. Therefore they are a "general assembly." This gathering has Jesus in common. They have been joined to Him, and follow Him wherever He goes. Therefore they are "the church of the Firstborn." They are all recognized in heaven, although rejected by earth. Thus it is said of them, "which are written in heaven." There are personalities in this assembly that have already finished the race that was set before them. They are "the spirits of just men made perfect." This society--a redeemed, exalted, society--is the object of "brotherly love." Everyone in Christ relates directly to these personalities by virtue of their union with Christ. No one outside Christ sustains the kind of relationship with them that we are addressing. What is more, this is the closest of all human bonds. There is no earthly relationship, however dear, that is in the same category as that of those in Christ Jesus. THE LOVE OF THE BRETHREN IS EVIDENCE OF SPIRITUAL LIFE
If the people of God can see what great things have occurred in them, they will throw off the shackles of sectarianism. A factious spirit and failure to love the brethren is evidence of an unsure heart. The individual that looks closely at his brother to find a flaw, only does so because he has not looked at himself. For this reason, loving the brethren becomes evidence of spiritual life. Knowing we have passed from death to life Passing from death to life is everything. It is being born again. It is being delivered from the power of darkness, and translated into the kingdom of God's dear Son (Col 1:13). Jesus spoke of this experience in arresting words. "Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on Him that sent Me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life" (John 5:24). "Life," in this case, is "everlasting life." Passing from death is exclusion from condemnation. It is not possible to be more blessed! How can we know we have passed from death into life; from a state of condemnation into everlasting life? Are we confined to supposition and guesswork? You would think so to hear most professed believers talk on the subject. Rare, indeed, is the individual that is confident they have everlasting life. Hear the word of God, and rejoice in it. "Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you. We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren . . . " (1 John 3:13-14). When we pass from death, we come into conflict with the world. It no longer loves us because we do not belong to that order. We are now suited for heavenly places, accepted by God, and therefore rejected by the realm of darkness. When the world disdains us, preferring its own, we do not wonder. However, there is a society to which we are attracted--the brethren of Christ. They are our kind. They love the things we love, and are journeying to the city that has captured our attention. We do not love them because of their individual attainment, but because of their natures, preferences, and faith. Our love of the brethren proves we have passed from death to life. It proves our condition to us! The confirmation is incontestable, because loving the brethren of Christ is not possible unless you are in Christ. The chasm between the children of God and the children of the wicked one is wide. That wideness does not allow affinity with the children of God unless you have crossed the chasm to occupy everlasting realms. If you love the brethren, you are alive to God! Abiding in the light To abide in the light is to walk in God's favor. It is to maintain spiritual perspective, and be in harmony with the mind of the Lord. It is walking by faith, and walking in the spirit. We walk in the light when we are dominated by the consideration of heavenly things. John gets to the point in his comments on love. "He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now. He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him. But he that hateth his brother is in darkness, and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because that darkness hath blinded his eyes" (1 John 2:9-11). John concludes that loving Christ's brothers confirms we are abiding on the light. That is the light of God's glory as seen in the face of Christ Jesus (2 Cor 4:6). It is seeing God as He is, finding it refreshing, and maintaining the vision. Those that sustain the vision love others who do the same. We can learn to reason from effect to cause, as well as cause to effect. In the case of the latter (cause to effect), those that abide in the light of God's glory WILL love the brethren. In the former (effect to cause), those that are loving the brethren have, in that very love, proof that they ARE walking in the light. Suffice it to say, you cannot have the effect without the cause, whatever the level of discipline effort required. The person that does not love his brother is abiding in spiritual darkness: that is why he does not love his brother. The knowledge of God The knowledge of God is unique to those that are in Christ Jesus. An intimacy with (knowledge of) God is enjoyed by "the elect" that cannot be known by any one else. This is especially important because of the tendency of people to identify themselves with God, though living in contradiction of Him. Forthrightly, John wrote, "He that loveth not knoweth not God: for God is love" (1 John 4:8). There are several things to be seen here. First, God Himself is the essence of love; i.e., He is the embodiment of love. Love is properly defined in the Person of God, not in the lexicons of men. The full definition of love is found in God. Love gives like God, acts like God, and reacts like God. God is love! There is nothing about love that is not found in Him, and there is nothing about Him that is not related to love. God is love. Second, you cannot dwell with God without becoming like Him. In salvation, we are transformed by the Spirit into the divine image. As it is written, "But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord" (2 Cor 3:18). This transformation is evidenced in the love of and preference for all that are "joined to the Lord." There are no exceptions to the rule, and therefore no explanations for failure to love the brethren are required. John simply says that the one that does not love does not know God. That is why he does not love those loved by the Lord. You can also reason another way. If I do love the brethren, then I do so because I know God. It is my involvement with Him by faith, in Christ, and through the Spirit, which has enabled me to love them. There is great comfort to be had in recognizing this situation. God dwelling in us "God is great, and greatly to be praised," declares the Psalmist (Psa 48:1). Yet, His greatness does not for forbid His close alliance with His people. This is a marvelous thing! One of the great handicaps of the contemporary church is its minuscule view of God Himself. That small view does not allow for rejoicing in a great God that dwells within the redeemed. Isaiah's words are poignant on this matter; and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity: I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones" (Isa 57:15).
How can we know that God dwells with us? He has promised, "I will dwell in them and walk in them" (2 Cor 6:16). How can we know? Some point to an external experience they call "the baptism of the Holy Spirit," giving that as their evidence. Is that sufficient? The fight of faith requires consistent evidence--something that does not hinge upon an irrational and sensual experience. We have such evidence in the love of the brethren. "No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and His love is perfected in us" (1 John 4:12). Think of those weighty remarks: "God dwelleth in us," and "His love is perfected (made complete or matured) in us." Those are high expressions that challenge the mind and the heart. They indicate that God is doing work within us, fulfilling His purpose within us! This means you cannot love the brethren without God dwelling in you. It also means that you cannot love the brethren without God's love coming to maturity within you. If, therefore, I do not love the brethren, God is not in me. It makes little difference what I may profess, or how eloquently I may say it: He does not dwell within me! It also means that I cannot, while failing to love the brethren, grow spiritually, come to spiritual maturity. But, if I love the brethren--if I have a preference for them, and seek their betterment --I have God's Word on this: God dwells in me, and His love is being perfected in me. Blessed is the soul that possesses such evidence. It is a most pleasant cordial in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is! Dwelling in God Not only does God dwell within us, we can dwell in God. This should surprise no one. It is frequently declared that our regeneration has placed us into Deity. We have been "baptized into Christ," and have thus "put on Christ" (Gal 3:27). Our position is precisely described by Paul in Colossians 3:3; "For ye are dead, and your life is hid [now hidden, NIV] with Christ in God." Our "life" is our renewed person--it is me myself! Having died to the world and "joined to the Lord," we are now hidden "with Christ in God." The church, comprised of the redeemed, is "in God the Father, and in the Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Thess 1:1; 2 Thess 1:1). Again, the love of the brethren proves to our hearts that we dwell in God. "And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love, and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him" (1 John 4:16). Notice there is no ambiguity in this affirmation. John does not say this OUGHT to be the case, but that it IS the case! The individual that "dwells" in love dwells in God--that is WHY he dwells in love. What is more, the dwelling is reciprocal; i.e., not only does he dwell in God, God also dwells in him! "Dwell" means to continue, remain, or abide. Those dwelling in love continue to love the brethren; they abide in that frame of spirit, and are not dislodged from it by the evil one. Thus the love of the brethren becomes our confirmation that we are abiding in the Vine (John 15), and that God Himself remains in us. It is not possible to overstate the value of this confirmation. You can endure any test or circumstance if you know that you are dwelling in God and God is dwelling in you! That is the essence of salvation. Spiritual reasoning It is imperative that our powers of reason be renewed by the Spirit of God. Those that cannot reason correctly cannot live correctly. That is why we are admonished to be "transformed by the renewing of our mind" (Rom 12:1). In that transformation, we become capable of approving "what God's will is--His good, pleasing, and perfect will" (Rom 12:2, NIV). Here are some examples of spiritual reasoning on the matter of brotherly love. A profession of loving God that is not accompanied by a love of God's people is not a true one. "If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen" (1 John 4:20). The Spirit makes no allowances for a profession of love without the possession of it! He reasons that if we cannot love the evidence of God that we have seen, we certainly will not be able to love the "invisible God" (Col 1:15). If you love the God of the new birth, you will love those that are born again. "Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and every one that loveth Him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of Him" (1 John 5:1). Again, observe that no allowance is made for living in contradiction of this truth. "Every one" that loves God ("Him that begat") also loves the ones begotten by Him (the brethren). The NIV reads, "everyone who loves the Father loves His child as well." If, therefore, there is no love of the brethren, there is no love for God. On the other hand, if I do love the people of God, I do love God. It is just that simple. You can know that you love God's people. Rational evidence is available to you. If you take the time to examine the evidence, you can be confident of the conclusion. "By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments: and His commandments are not grievous" (1 John 5:2-3). Keeping the commandments of God is not synonymous with perfect obedience, although that is our unwavering desire. Keeping the commandments is a requisite to doing them. "And ye shall keep my commandments, and do them" (Lev 20:8,22). "Therefore shall ye keep my commandments, and do them" (Lev 22:31). "Keep . . . and do [follow, NIV]" is the frequent admonition of Scripture (Lev 26:3; Deut 4:6; 5:1). Keeping the commandments is a matter of the mind. It is "remembering" them (Num 15:39) and "learning" them (Deut 5:1). Keeping the commandments is hiding them in your heart, that you sin not against the Lord (Psa 119:11). If, therefore, you retain God's commandments in your heart, keeping them, you DO love the children of God! The commands to which he refers are identified in 1 John 3:23; "And this is His commandment, That we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as He gave us commandment." The persuasion that God loves us, compels us to love our brethren. The focus of the kingdom is God, not the brethren. Our primary love is for God, not the brethren. Once that has been established in our hearts, the result becomes obvious: "Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another" (1 John 4:11). It is totally unreasonable and unacceptable for a person to profess the reception of God's love, and not love God's people. When the word says "we OUGHT also . . . " it speaks of moral constraint. This is not a statement of cold law, but of sensible conclusion. The Spirit is saying, "If this is the way God loved us [propitiating our sins, v 10], then it makes perfect sense to love lone another." After all, we know less about one another than God knows--and yet He loves us. As you ponder God's love for you, you will come to the conclusion that you should love your brethren. Your heart will not allow any other conclusion.