The Course Of Love
Tim Temple


Probably the best known verse in the Bible, and in some sense the most basic truth of the Bible, is John, chapter 3, verse 16:

John 3:

16For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

When you get right down to it, the love of God is the bedrock foundation, the ultimate bottom line, of all of God's revelation to us. The love of God for human beings whom He created is the most compelling force in all of history. As men and women through the years have recognized the force of that love, they have left the comfort of their homes and gone to other parts of the world to take that message. Men and women, as they have recognized the compelling force of God's love, have gotten up the nerve to speak to their neighbors and to their associates and have spread the Word of Jesus Christ.

The love of Christ for him caused the Apostle Paul to say, “The love of Christ constrains me to go through all the suffering and difficulties and hardships that I have gone through,” to bring the gospel to the world in his day, to establish churches all over the known world of his day, and that world has continued to constrain people all down through the years to take the gospel to the world around them. It has broken through hearts full of hate and greed and lust and rebellion and has made new creatures of men and women all down through the years, and that is the theme of the passage that we come to as we continue to look at this letter from Jesus' disciple, John the Apostle.

In chapter three of this letter, which we have been looking at for several weeks, he has been writing about the unimaginable truth that we so often take for granted, the fact that we who have trusted Jesus Christ as Savior are placed as sons of God. In verse 1, he referred to it as “a foreign kind of love:” “Behold, what foreign kind of love God has bestowed upon us that we should be called the sons of God.” In verses 1-3, he talked about this position that we have as sons of God. Then in verses 4-9, we see the practices of sons of God, the ways in which we can overcome lawlessness and can have the power to practice righteousness in our lives.

Today we begin the last section of the chapter, verses 10-24, in which he is going to talk about the principle that guides the sons of God. That is what we want to focus on today and probably into our study next week. Notice that this is a principle—singular, not a group of principles, but one principle that John is going to talk about out of which a number of other principles flow, a basic guiding principle—for sons of God.

The essentials of the message are given in verse 10. Notice with me:

I John 3:

10In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother.

John says here that there is one basic way that you can determine who God's children are and whether or not they practice righteousness. By looking at the way they live, you can tell who God's children are. We have been seeing in the previous verses that the practice of righteousness is not just a matter of acting spiritual or having a set of rules of do's and don't's that we follow, but rather that practice of righteousness that he is talking about is a righteousness that comes from within. That inward righteousness is there because God Himself abides within us, and if we will, John tells us in the first part of the chapter, we can abide in Him. He exhorts us to let God be at home in our hearts. That is what the word abide means as we have seen in our previous studies. God lives within us. He indwells us, but John says, “Let Him abide, let Him be at home, within you.”

Then as we talked about last week, we are to be at home with Him, and it is out of that kind of relationship that this righteousness that is the mark of God's children comes. So we are going to have to look carefully at that righteousness. We may not just assume because a person does certain things and doesn't do certain other things that he is a Christian, but John says that we can determine who God's children are primarily by this mark of righteousness in our lives. John says that is the essential nature of this principle that he is going to be talking about in the last third of this chapter that guides us as sons of God.

The Essential Element Of Abiding In Christ

If you have been with us for the last several weeks as we have looked at the details of this subject, I hope you understand clearly that essential nature. If you haven't been here, it may sound pretty technical and hard to understand. If that is the case, in the last line of verse 10, he gives us an example of what he is talking about. He says:

I John 3:

10In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, [notice this] neither he that loveth not his brother.

This is the essential element of abiding in Christ. The real proof that we are at home with Him and He is at home with us, as we come to understand His love for us, as we respond in love to Him, the result is going to be that we are going to be able to love those around us. That is the essential element of this guiding principle and that brings us back to that central element of our relationship with God that we are talking about.

With that essential element of the principle in mind, that broad, general statement of what he is going to be talking about, let's think for a minute about the elements of this principle. We have talked about the essentials of it, but now in verses 11-18, we have the elements of the principle. Notice in verse 11:

I John 3:

11For this is the message that ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.

Throughout this letter, John has established a pattern of talking about contrasts. We saw in chapter 1 the contrast between light and darkness. Then in chapter 2, he talked about the contrast between life and death and, also in chapter 2, the contrast between truth and error. Then, throughout the letter, he keeps referring to the contrast between God and the Devil. So John writes with the use of contrasts.

In this passage, we have another contrast and that is the contrast between love and hate. John presents this contrast just as it occurs in life and that is intertwined and intermingled. In verses 11-18, he talks a little bit about hate and then he talks a little bit about love and then he talks about hate again. They are not in separate compartments, but they are as it is in real life—all intermeshed with each other. For purposes of careful analysis, we are going to separate those verses and talk about them separately. I want to remind you that as you experience this contrast, you are not going to experience it separately. You are going to experience some love and some hate and all of that mixed together at various times, very often, usually all in the course of the same day; but as I say, for careful study, we want to think about them separately.

The Source Of Love

Today we want to talk about love, and, the Lord willing, next week we will talk about what John has to say about hate. John begins by talking about the source of love in verse 11:

I John 3:

11For this is the message that ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.

What John is saying in this verse is that the source of love is coming to Christ for salvation. You may say, “Oh, I don't see that in that verse.” The reason that I say that is the little phrase, “from the beginning.” He said:

I John 3:

11For this is the message that ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.

John says that love is produced by the message that you heard from the beginning. That should be a familiar phrase by now if you have been studying I John week by week. We have seen it many times in this letter from John. In fact, the first phrase with which the whole letter begins in chapter 1 is that. You remember in the very beginning of the letter he said:

I John 1:

1That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life;

“That which was from the beginning.” Then in chapter 2 he said: “If that which you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you will also abide in the Son and the Father.” At least a half dozen times before today's passage we have seen this phrase, “from the beginning.” As we put those phrases together in the places where they occur, let me just review with you that we have seen before what he is talking about when he uses that phrase is a reference to the beginning of the Christian life. In each of those cases, he is talking about how we became believers or when we became believers in Jesus Christ, so what he is saying here in verse 11 is that the possibility of loving other people, the possibility of loving one another, originates with our conversion experience. It originates with coming to know Jesus Christ as personal Savior. Only those who know Jesus Christ as Savior can love as God intends people to love.

Someone may be troubled by that. If you are thinking with me, you may be upset and think that John is saying, or that I am interpreting John to say, that Christians have a monopoly on love and that it is impossible for a non-Christian to show genuine love. You may be thinking, “Do you mean that unsaved people don't love their children or don't love their spouses, that they don't have real love and Christians are the only ones who can love in that way?” Or you may be thinking, “Isn't the love of a man for a woman or a friend for a friend equally real for non-Christians as it is for Christians?” The answer to that, of course, is yes. Love is love.

The Bible doesn't say that Christians have a monopoly on love, but it does say, and this is one of the places that it does, that love in its highest form, love as God intended it to be, only begins to flow in our hearts when we come to know Jesus Christ as Savior and our lives are made right. It is only then that we become able to love in the ultimate experience of love in the way that God intended. In fact, in verse 14 of this chapter, John says that we know that we have passed from death into life because we love the brethren. One of the ways that we know that we have been saved, that we have become new creatures in Christ, is that we love the brethren. We will talk more about that in a few minutes.

He goes on to say in the end of verse 14, “He who does not love his brother abides in death.” Let's think about this for a minute because it is easy to misunderstand. First, we need to understand that all love is from God. In fact, no one would be able to love if it were not for the fact that God loves us. God is the source of all love for Christians and non-Christians alike. The love of parents for children, the love of friends for friends, the love of spouses for each other, all of that love originates from God. In fact, John tells us that God is love in chapter 4. Love pours out from God into human hearts in the same way that the sun shines on human beings. It is one of the blessings that God gives the human race along with all the other things that He provides for the human race. He provides the ability to love and just like Jesus said, “The sun shines on the just and the unjust alike,” the same thing is true of God's love. God pours His love out upon the just and the unjust alike. Criminals love as well as non-criminals do. The unsaved love as well as believers do. It is something that we all have in common.

But something happens to this pure, unadulterated love which comes from God's heart into mankind. When God's love pours into the heart of an unbeliever, it pours into a twisted, distorted heart that is different from what God intended because of sin—sin that we inherit from our parents, that they inherited from Adam. The human race is a fallen race. We have talked about that many times before, and I am sure you understand that concept. As the pure love of God flows into a fallen human heart, that love becomes twisted, not because there is anything wrong with God's love, but because it is being poured into a defective heart. Then it is exercised by a defective heart, a heart that is twisted and fallen and defective from its true goal because of sin. In fallen man, with our sin nature, that love becomes directed primarily to ourselves.

Think about this: Before Christ comes into our hearts, our love is a self-centered love. We love our children because they are extensions of us, and it is genuine love; but it has to do with ourselves, with our relationship to them. We love our father or our mother because our life is related to theirs. We love our relatives, presumably, because they are our relatives. We love our dog, our cat, our horse, our house. Human love is always related to the one doing the loving. We love things around us in relationship to ourselves and our love for ourselves. Love is always directed in the human heart toward those who do something for us or mean something to us. Human love is self-centered.

Jesus recognized this in the Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew, chapter 5, verse 46, he said:

Matthew 5:

46For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?

Even those despised tax-collectors loved like that and to the Jews that would be the worst kind of person they could think of. “If you only love those who are kind to you, you are no different from anybody else,” Jesus said. The quality of love which is present in the lives of unsaved people is a fallen kind of love. It is genuine, but it is tainted. It is fallen. It is always self-centered.

John is going to tell us in this passage that when Christ comes into our lives, something begins to happen to our love. When a person is born again through faith in Jesus Christ, John says in verse 14, “He passes from death into life.” Paul said, “If anyone be in Christ, he is a new creation. Old things are passed away. Behold all things are become new.” One of the primary results of that change is that we begin to be able to love in a new way on a new level in a fuller sense of love, still love passed through a human being, but love on a higher level. We begin to love people that we never loved before and to love people that we did love before in a new way. One of the clearest marks of a genuine salvation experience is that almost immediately the individual who trusts Christ begins to express concern for other people, very often people that he had difficulty loving before or maybe had even hated before. That is a mark of true salvation. It is a love that not only loves those who love us, but loves those who don't love us—in fact, those who treat us badly. It is a love that doesn't depend on a return of our love for acceptance, but it loves anyhow, regardless of the return.

Before salvation, apart from the love that Christ brings, our attitude is to see people as either our friends or our enemies, as either someone who can help me or someone who is a hindrance to me, as someone who can help me toward my goal or as an obstacle that stands in the way of my achieving that goal. It is all related to me and the way I feel. The way I respond to other people is always based on me before salvation; but when Christ comes in and the heart is made right and we pass from death into life and from darkness into light and all things become new, a healing takes place that enables a love to be expressed in which we see people as other people—like ourselves, but not in any particular relationship to us. We see them as people who have needs just as we have needs and problems and fears and anxieties and troubles just as we do. We are able to empathize and sympathize and to enter in with them to want to help, and it's all because of the source of our love.

The Course Of Love

All of that brings John to a second thing about love and that is the course of love. We have been talking about the source of love, but now he is going to talk about the course of it. John was the perfect person to write about this. You may not have thought about this before. In fact, we don't often emphasize it, but we think of John as the beloved apostle. He was the disciple of love. John says more about love than any of the other writers of the New Testament even though it was Paul who wrote that classic chapter on love in I Corinthians, chapter 13. In terms of the amount that is said about love, it was John who did it.

If you go back and read carefully the details of the life of the disciples that are recorded in the gospels, evidently this was not originally John's nature at all. Do you remember what Jesus called John and his brother James in Mark, chapter 3, verse 17? Sons of thunder. These were the guys who were always thundering at somebody else. They were always mad; they were always upset. They were the ones who came to the Lord in Luke, chapter 9, when Jesus had first sent the disciples out to preach the gospel of the Kingdom. He told them to go out into all the cities and villages of Israel and say, “The Messiah is here. Prepare your hearts.” It was a genuine, legitimate offer of the Kingdom to Israel. That is a whole other subject, but Jesus offered Himself as the Messiah to Israel, and it was only when they did not respond that He began to open His ministry, as the prophets had said He would, to the rest of the world.

Israel has no right to claim that Jesus overlooked them or ignored them or didn't give them an opportunity before turning to the whole world. “Whosoever will may come.” He sent the disciples out to make the offer of the Kingdom, but in Luke, chapter 9, we are told that James and John came back to Jesus and told Him about a village that refused to let them come in and they said, “Shall we not call down fire from Heaven upon them?” That was John, the disciple of love. It was John and James who were constantly stirring up arguments among the other disciples. They were the ones who, as they traveled along on the trip together and the disciples were arguing among themselves, Jesus said, “What were you arguing about?” They said, “About who would be the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.” If you look at that story, you will see that it was James and John who stirred that argument up.

The temperament of John was not a temperament of naturally showing love. Before he knew Jesus, he was not a loving person at all. He was more like me and more like you. He was not a natural born lover. He was a human being who loved like humans love; but when he was born again, he became acutely aware of the love that Jesus had for him. You are aware, I am sure, that in the gospel that he wrote, he refers to himself over and over again as the disciple whom Jesus loved. Sometimes people read the gospel of John and they think, “Didn't Jesus love all of the disciples?” and then they realize that of course He loved all of the disciples. So then they think, “Boy, John sure was egotistical to refer to himself as the one whom Jesus loved.”

I think the reason John said that so many times about himself was that he was amazed, and just out of amazement he said, “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” He couldn't believe that Jesus would love him because he was not a very loveable person. Love became the theme for John's life. The ability to show love was born into his heart, and so John knows what he is talking about as he writes this letter to us with an example of how it can happen to one who would not naturally be a loving kind of person.

It is also interesting to notice where John begins as he describes the course of love. Skip down to verse 14. He says:

I John 3:

14We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death.

Notice where he stops describing the course of love: “We love” who? “The brethren.” “We know we have passed from death into life because we love the brethren.” In fact, he says, “If we don't love the brethren, we remain in death.” He goes on to say that the new aspect of love, this new level of love to show is with our brethren, with our families and with other Christians, with those who are closest to us.

You might think offhand, “Well, that is easy. Of course we are going to love the people around us.” Stop and think about this for a minute. Isn't it true that sometimes the hardest people for us to love are the people who are closest to us? Of course, it is. There used to be a little jingle that I haven't heard in a long time, but I remember as a boy hearing my parents and other people say, “To dwell above with saints with love, oh that will be glory; but to dwell below with saints we know, well that is another story.” Isn't that the truth? It is hard to put up with each other sometimes, isn't it? It is true that it is difficult for us to love those who are close to us. Maybe that is because we know that they know us all too well. The occasional, unpleasant encounters that we have with other people like waiters or waitresses or people in the office, we can put up with pretty well. We can mask over that for a while. They don't bother us because they are remote from us, but the ones that are near to us, when they offend us or hurt us, those are the ones we find difficult to show love to. That is where the course of love begins. John says, “This is the true test of love.” Can you love those who are near to you, those who are your brethren, to use John's term?

The Scripture gives us very clear instructions about how to handle disputes with those who are near us. I think one of the reasons that problems develop and fester and grow between us as believers and within families is we don't follow Christ's instructions. In Matthew, chapter 19, he tells us very clearly that if someone sins against us, we should go, and the sense of the passage seems to be that we should go as soon as possible, and tell him his fault between you and him alone. It goes on to give other steps to take, ultimately taking it to the church if you have to. So that difficulty in loving sometimes becomes far worse than it should because we don't exercise a step of remedy that God outlines so clearly for us. If, in spite of those kinds of opportunities for making things right, you say, “I just cannot love that other person,” maybe not your sibling but another Christian, do you know what God says through this letter from John? He says, “You had better check your heart.” If you say, “I cannot love that person. I will not love that person,” there is a good possibility that you are not even saved because the mark of a new life in Christ is that we love the brethren, not that we will never have trouble with them, but when we do have trouble, we are willing to follow God's instructions about dealing with that trouble and getting those things made right; and ultimately we are willing to express love and to exercise love and to live in a loving relationship with that other believer.

Jesus said the same thing in John, chapter 13, verse 35:

John 13:

35By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.

As we look at the passage next week and see that it is love and hate and love and dislike intertwined in our lives, this is not to say that you are not a Christian or not to say that you are not a good Christian if you ever have an argument with anybody or if anybody ever offends you. It is talking about that willingness to work with, that willingness to seek a solution, that willingness to find a common ground with those with whom we disagree. As a practical matter, it may be that there are people who are so much like us that we basically just need to stay away from each other or they are so unlike us that we may need to stay away from each other. What we are talking about is heart attitude of loving as Christ loved.

The Essence Of True Love

Everybody tries to imitate this quality of love, and so in the next verses John goes on to give us several examples and characteristics of what true love is. In verse 16, he gives us the first characteristic. He says:

I John 3:

16Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he [Jesus Christ laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.

This is the essence of true love. This is the true example of true love—laying down our lives for the brethren as Christ laid down His life for us. John isn't actually talking about dying for somebody else. There may be an occasion when one Christian would have to die for another Christian, but that is such a rare possibility that that can't be the ultimate meaning of this verse. What he is talking about is the giving up of our rights or our self-interests to help someone else. This is exactly the same thing that God tells husbands to do for their wives. “Love your wives as Christ loved the church,” He says in Ephesians, chapter 5, verse 25. How did Christ love the Church? By willing to give up His right to stay in Heaven and come to earth and die for us because that is what we needed.

Now John expands that beyond just husbands to all of us. Christ died for us. We ought to be willing to lay down our lives for the brethren. That would include physical death, but more likely in the huge majority of cases, it would be that willingness to give up something we had a right to in order to meet the needs of that person who is in need. Where would we be if Christ had said, “They got themselves into that mess; let them get themselves out. Why should they expect Me to do something about it? I shouldn't be expected to leave My rightful place in Heaven. I didn't do anything wrong. Why would they ask Me to do something about it?”

Do those words sound familiar? Does that attitude strike a bell with you? How many times as Christians is that not exactly what we think whether we say it or not? We may go do something about it, but we are doing it with clenched teeth. We'll help our wife, but we shouldn't be having to do this. Where would we be if our Savior had treated us that way? John says, “He laid down His life for us. Therefore we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.”

Love In Deed And In Truth

Then in verse 17 he goes on to the next characteristic and that is that true love will show up in deeds, not just in words. He says:

I John 3:

17But whoso hath this world's good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?

If we can see other people who are in need emotionally, spiritually, physically, whatever, and pass by them and not be concerned about it, not do anything about it, then all of our words and our fine talk about love are as Paul says in I Corinthians, chapter 13—like a clanging symbol. I think that was something like a cowbell. It means nothing. It is just a hollow, harsh sound. He goes on in verse 18:

I John 3:

18My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.

There is a lot of talk about love among Christians while actually so often we are turning away from the people who are in need. That is phoniness, and that is what is causing many people to turn away from the truth of the gospel. There are problems that we can do nothing about. None of us individually and as a church have the ability to meet all the needs that we hear about. But if you see a brother in need and you can do something about it (Now notice the verse does say that.), if you have this world's goods and see a brother in need and you turn away from it, God says, “How does God's love abide in you? How can you claim to be a changed person? It is just talk.” To use John's terms, it is love in words, but not in deed. But when God's special kind of love, which is not based upon the loveableness of the individual, but just love for Christ's sake, is shown, it becomes the most powerful force in all the world. When it is seen, it hits with an amazing impact.


I want to close with the story I read recently about the conversion of a man by the name of Arthur Cates. He was a former atheist and Communist who gave his life to Jesus Christ. He was raised as an atheist. Even though he was born in a Jewish home, his parents were atheists and they raised him that way. Early in his life, he became a Marxist, a committed Communist, and he devoted his life to promoting socialist revolution and Communist takeover of the world. At the close of World War II, he happened to be in Germany and personally saw the gas chambers. He came away from that scene filled with hatred, first for the German people and ultimately for the human race as a whole. Then through the next few years he had a series of losses in his life, a series of hard experiences. He came to the realization that Communism wasn't the answer, but neither was education and neither was money. He decided there were no answers for the suffering in the human race. Finally, he just gave it all up and he went out to travel the world, literally hitchhiking around the world, just going wherever he decided to go.

One cold, rainy, stormy day he was in Greece with a week's growth of beard. His clothes were dirty and wet and his backpack was filthy. He was out on the road, standing in the wind and the rain thumbing a ride. Of course, no one wanted to pick him up. He stood there for hours and at last a big Cadillac, driven by a big American, stopped. To his amazement, the driver didn't just reach out and open the door and motion for him to get in. The driver stopped the car, got out and came over to Art Cates, took him around and opened the door for him, took his backpack off and threw it into the beautiful upholstery of that car. Arthur Cates said he even winced at that. He ushered him into that car and treated him like he was a king. He couldn't believe his eyes. He took Arthur to the next town, and by this time, it was evening. He got him a hotel room and gave him time to go get cleaned up and then had him come down to the restaurant and bought him a fine meal. He sat and talked with him for a long time.

During this time, this young, Jewish atheist poured out his heart with all of his problems to this American man. The man sat and listened patiently to all of it. Finally, this American said, “You know what the world needs, Art? The world needs people who are willing to wash one another's feet.” Arthur Cates said, “That is the most beautiful thing that I have ever heard. Why do you say that?” This American said, “Because that is what my Lord did for me.” Arthur Cates said that for the first time in his life, he heard a Christian witness. He heard an expression of God's love for him. It was the beginning of the end for him as an atheist and a Communist. There are a number of other details of the story of how he actually came to place his faith and trust in Jesus Christ, but the thing that broke through all of that hatred and resentment in his heart, those years of accumulated difficulties, and which opened him up to the truth of Jesus Christ was that one short afternoon of kindnesses done to him when he knew that he didn't deserve it—mercy and kindness in the name of Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “By this shall all men know that you are My disciples.” That is the course of love.

John's exhortation to us is to let it show. John says, “Little children, let us not love in word and tongue, but in deed and in truth.”

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