Have you ever carefully thought about why it’s so important that Christians love one another? We’ve started the year with eight days of prayer because prayer is a life blood of the church. We began the year with this emphasis on prayer because we will not be a church that grows spiritually, we will not be effective for the Lord Jesus Christ, we will not please God, if we aren’t serious about prayer. But did you know that if we aren’t serious about loving our brothers and sisters in Christ our prayer will be hindered?
Photo by: Muffet (Creative Commons)
Title: Why Is It Important That Christians Love One Another?
Scripture: 1 John 4:11
Speaker: Kevin A. Pierpont
Last week as we began the new year I gave you 3 reasons, as God’s children, we are to pray. First, we are commanded to pray. Second, Jesus prayed, and if Jesus needed to pray so do we. Third, the early church learned quickly that they needed to pray and they made it their continual practice to pray as God’s people.
There are many more reasons we ought to pray than these, but as I said last week, I think those are the big three.
We could also say we are to pray because God answers our prayers. We could also say that we pray because prayer strengthens our faith. It also encourages us. And there are many more reasons.
We began the year with prayer not only because it’s important but also because I wanted us to practice praying so that we would continue on praying through all of 2012, not just for these first 8 days. I’m hoping that during these eight days of prayer you’ve been refreshed and encouraged in your praying and have grown in your understanding of our need to pray. I certainly hope that from the teaching last week and your praying throughout the week that you are convinced in your heart that you need to be faithful in prayer. And if you aren’t yet convinced I hope you will be by the time we’re done here.
But do you know that there is something that will hinder our prayers more than anything else, even if we’re trying really hard to pray more? Do you know that there’s something God’s Word clearly instructs us to do that failing to practice this will have a direct effect on whether or not God answers our prayers?
1 John 4:1-21
4:1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. 4 Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. 5 They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. 6 We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.
7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.
13 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16 So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. 17 By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. 19 We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.
What is it that will hinder the answers to our prayers more than anything else? Even if we are completely convinced we need to pray more and even try to pray more? It’s a lack of love for one another.
I wanted you to hear all of 1 John 4 because it sets the context so well for one verse I want to go back to – verse 11.
11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
You’ve heard it said, “familiarity breeds contempt”. I think one fellow who knew what that meant was the one who said, that the definition of “mixed emotions” was seeing his mother-in-law drive his new truck over a cliff.
Familiarity can breed contempt. You know it’s true. You know as well as I that if you spend enough time with another person you’ll find reasons not to love one another. It can be true between husband and wife. It can be true for parents and children. And it can be true for each of us in the church.
It’s a grievous and difficult thing when God’s people won’t work at getting along. I’ve seen this in the ministry experience of my father who has been a Pastor for longer than I’ve been alive. I’ve seen him deeply troubled when people under his care refused to get along. On one occasion, two people were arguing over something at the front of the sanctuary, and the source of disagreement was, of all things, where the poinsettias should be placed. He placed them out back in a snow bank. I think he was young and impetuous then and quickly realized that was likely not the best way to respond as their pastor.
I can also speak to this that in my 15 years of Pastoral ministry I’m most grieved and discouraged when God’s children aren’t getting along – or maybe worse, when they simply refuse to speak to one another because of their differences.
I can also speak to this as a parent. There’s nothing that grieves me more than when my children aren’t getting along. We parents all know that feeling right – or is it just my children that don’t always get along?
We also have a heavenly Father who, I believe, like earthy Fathers is also grieved when His children aren’t getting along. One of the reasons I say this is because there is clear evidence in the Scriptures that points to serious consequences for our failure to get along and love one anther – serious consequences for our praying, in fact.
One of the places I think this is clearest is in 1 Peter. There are three places in First Peter that remind us and warn us about the importance of maintaining proper relationships with one another and one thing that’s clear in each of them is that a failure to love one another will be a serious hinderance to our praying.
The first caution we see in 1 Peter is to husbands when it says in 1 Peter 3:7:
7 Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.
The second caution is given to all believers in general and it’s seen just a couple of verses later in 1 Peter 3:8-12.
8 Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. 9 Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. 10 For “Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; 11 let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. 12 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”
The third caution we’re given is in 1 Peter 4:7.
7 The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.
So clearly, there’s something in each of these passages that points to a lack of effectiveness in our prayer lives. What each points to is the fact that failing to live the way God’s Word instructs us hinders our prayer lives. Stated positively, living in obedience to God’s Word leads to powerful and effective praying. Says James 5:16, …The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.
So, going back to 1 John 4:11, what I see here reminds me of what I long to see in my own family, what I long to live out faithfully in my own life, and it’s what I long to see see lived out in our church family. – that we love one another.
And with instruction like that which we have in 1 Peter about our prayer life, I believe this is God’s desire too. So much so that God says that if we won’t follow His Word, if we won’t live right, if we won’t work at getting along with each other, then God will not answer our prayers. And that’s pretty serious isn’t it?
So I’d like to point you to something that I think will help encourage you to love one another, for the sake of the joy that will be yours when you’re getting along with your brothers and sisters in Christ and for the sake of your prayers.
Look at 1 John 4 verse 11 again, because I think it holds something that we all need to hear again and again. It holds what we all need to be overwhelmed with if we’re to love each other as we should. It’s the first half of verse 11,
11 Beloved, if God so loved us,…
So beloved, (and if you are God’s child you are, God’s beloved) if God so loved us makes us think, how did God love us, which makes us think of just how much God loves us, doesn’t it? And we don’t know how much God loves us don’t we?
But how often we forget when it comes to loving others. And it does us good to remember and dwell on that fact, that God loves us so much He sent His son to take the punishment for our sins. And back in verse 10 there’s a statement that helps us see more clearly the depths of God’s love for us.
10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
Propitiation – it’s a word you won’t find in every translation of the Bible, but it’s good to hear it because it makes you go looking for a proper understanding. John Murray’s explanation in his book The Atonement is most helpful…
The doctrine of propitiation is precisely this: that God loved the objects of His wrath (the world) so much that He gave His own Son to the end that He by His blood should make provision for the removal of His wrath. It was Christ’s so to deal with the wrath that the loved would no longer be the objects of wrath, and love would achieve its aim of making the children of wrath the children of God’s good pleasure. (John Murray, The Atonement, quoted here)
So verse 10 gives a clear picture of the depths of God’s love for you and verse 11 shows you what you are called to as a result of God’s love for you. So if you want to learn to love one another, I think you must first be overwhelmed with God’s love for you.
But there’s something more I want you to see. You are not left to your own resources when it comes to loving one another. There’s a cue to this earlier when verse 4 says, he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. That’s Christ in you. Theologically we understand that this is the Holy Spirit at work in you. And this is great news when we put this all together, because we’re encouraged to learn that love for one another doesn’t happen in our own strength and frankly we don’t always feel like loving one another, do we?
But when we get to verse 7, lest we be inclined to think we have, in our own strength, what it takes to love one another, we hear this reminder, Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.
So, God’s children can only love one another because love is first from God. Then in verse 9 we hear this. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. So not only do we have the example of God’s love in Jesus Christ to live by, we also only have the ability to love because of Christ. And we only are truly living through Christ when by the work of the Word and the Spirit, God is changing our attitudes from fleshly and selfish, to Christlike and loving.
So I take all of this to mean that love for others is something that the Spirit of God, living in me, initiates. And, I take this to mean that you will have love for one another, not because you’re all such great people. No, you will have love for one another when you have yielded to the Spirit of God dwelling in you as He initiates and perfects His love in you. I think we saw that when we read verses 16 and 17 earlier. When it says, whoever abides in love, abides in God and God abides in him. And, by this is love perfected in us…
So God’s love grows and is perfected in you as you walk in obedience to His Word day by day. That’s abiding in God. In fact, that’s an identifying characteristic of believers in Jesus Christ – the believer’s lifestyle is to be one of love for one another. As Paul writes…
Ephesians 5:2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Walk in love. That’s a daily activity. Like getting on our feet and walking here and there without even thinking about it every day, so also our love for one another should become like second nature. And that’s a “no strings attached” kind of love. We ought not love one another for what we will get if others return our love, but because God loves us and His Spirit gives us the ability and His Word shows us how to love.
So love God’s way won’t be self centered – it will be others centered – it won’t be self serving, it will be others serving – it won’t be selfish, it will be selfless.
And this should be true of us if we are growing in Christ likeness because the fruit of the Spirit is first of all love. It’s the love of Christ, dying for us while we were still sinners, even enemies, rejecting and fighting against God.
So, how important is this, that we dwell on the depths of God’s love for us as we seek to grow in the love of Christ for one another? I think it’s at the very heart of God’s plan for the church and all His children, that we love one another. Why?
So that those who don’t know Christ will see our love for one another and believe in Him. Which is what we hear in John 13:34-35, in the words of Jesus.
34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
But it’s also for the sake of our prayers. I think this is why God takes so seriously a lack of love for one another that He will not answer our prayers. Because a lack of love for one another dishonors God before the watching world.
So I think if you want to have the greatest impact for the Lord Jesus Christ in the year ahead, and if you want God to hear and answer your prayers, then you need to remember often and dwell on, the love of God for you in Jesus Christ and practice loving one another as Christ has loved you. And that love will be evident to those you serve, for God’s glory, and God will hear and your prayers.