A sermon on 1 John 5:1-5 by Rev Richard Keith on Sunday 2 May 2021
One of the few benefits of the COVID pandemic was that Karen and I got a second helping of our daughter Hannah last year. When we thought that we had sent all our children into the world, when we thought that we just had to get used to living on our own, the pandemic brought Hannah home to live with us again for 12 months. Even though we had to say good-bye to her again this year, it was a great delight. Because like a mother bear will protect her cubs with her life, like a plover will pretend to have a broken wing to lead a predator away from the chicks in the nest, there is no love like a parent’s love for their children.
This is the insight which John quotes in the second half of verse one.
Everyone who loves the father loves the child as well.
It may seem like stating the obvious. I mean, you don’t know me, you can’t say you love me, if you don’t love my children. But John applies this general truth in two different specific directions. Firstly, if you love God, you must love his only Son Jesus Christ. Secondly, if you love God, you must love his adopted children, the Church, your brothers and sisters in Christ. It is in that context that we will turn thirdly to look at the victory of faith.
John says in verse one,
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God.
What is at stake with this statement is the identity of the Christ of God, the saviour of the world. John maintains here his one-eyed, not-to-be-distracted, focus on the man Jesus of Nazareth that he began with in chapter one, verse one, and which he will continue all the way until the end of his letter.
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God.
It is not just that this is the main point of distinction between John’s readers and those others who left the church. The others claimed to have faith in God. They claimed to be his true followers. But they didn’t think much of the man Jesus of Nazareth except perhaps that he was more blessed by God than other similar people. A good man, if any man can be called good. A prophet who lived and spoke in the great traditions of the prophets. But they were unwilling to give him any more glory.
Yes, it was the main point of distinction between John’s readers and the others who had left the church. But it is in fact this single point on which Christianity hangs or falls. Because Jesus is more than a good man and more than a great prophet. He is the Christ, the Son of God. The one who fulfils all God’s promises. The one who not only preached the kingdom of God, but is the king of the kingdom. The king of kings and Lord of lords. Queen Elizabeth’s head is on our money, but she bends the knee to Jesus. For he is the one who comes to us as God to be with us. The one who as one of us fulfilled what it means to be the obedient child of God. The one who as both God and man can act as the mediator between us and bring us peace with God. The one who forges the link that mends the chain of love between us and our creator.
To believe in God and yet to reject his Son Jesus is like saying that you love Australia but you can’t stand Australians. It’s like saying that you like looking at food but not eating it. It’s like saying that you love a man but hate his children. To know God, to trust him, to serve him and love him, is to accept Jesus Christ as your personal Saviour and Lord. Because this is how we are born again. This is how we are born of God, and receive his Spirit and promise of eternal life.
To know God is to know Jesus. To love God is to love Jesus. To believe God is to believe the one he has sent, to receive him into our hearts as Lord. Jesus Christ, our Saviour, the Son of God. Because whoever loves the Father, will love his child.
But secondly, for the same reason, we will love each other. Because Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, calls us his brothers and sisters. And through him we are adopted into the family of God. And as John tells us if you love the Father you will love the child.
He goes on in verse 2,
This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands.
To love each other is an expression of our love for God and it is the fulfilment of his commandments. Do not kill. Do not lie. Do not commit adultery. Do not steal. Love is the fulfilment of all these commands because love respects the natural boundaries of life. The boundaries between life and death. The boundaries between what is mine and what is yours. The boundaries between what is true and what is false. Love respects those limits and would not cross them if it wanted to and would not want to cross them if it could.
Love does not take what does not belong to it. Love does not call black white and white black. Love is faithful. Love is honest. It isn’t violent or angry. It is content with what it has and it seeks the good of others. To fail to love, to fail to show that respect for those natural boundaries is to trespass. It is to commit a transgression.
Love, however, fulfils God’s commands because God is love. He rules us by his love for his love. Love is his will for us and love is the life for which he claims us as his own child. All around us we are surrounded by hate. Hate expressed as selfishness as pride as indifference as anger and contempt. It doesn’t just surround us, but we know the seductive song it sings in our hearts. To hoard the things that belong to us. To covet the things that belong to others. To shut our heart to the needs of the weak. And to hurt others before they hurt us.
But just as God’s light banishes the darkness, just as death is swallowed up in his life, so hate is defeated by the victory of his love. This is God’s victory that conquers our hearts, that draws from us and inspires in us genuine obedience to God and sincere love for each other. We keep God’s commands, not because we have to, but because we want to. And for that reason, his commands are not burdensome. They are not too heavy for us to bear. They are not too hard for us to do.
The commands of others, of bosses, of governments, are a terrible burden. They tell us to do what they want, not what we want. They command what’s good for them, not what’s good for us. They don’t provide us with the resources to carry out their wishes and they have the hide to punish us when we fail, when it is just as much their fault. But God commands what is good for us, not just for him, because he doesn’t need any help from us. And God commands what we can do, because by his Spirit he makes us able to do what he commands. And more than anything, God changes our heart so we actually want to do what he commands.
This, thirdly, is the victory of God that overcomes the world, one converted sinner at a time. Or as John says in verse 4,
This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.
Our faith is the victory, not because of the facts that it believes, but because of the person that it trusts. Because by faith we are linked to the one who is the victor, the true champion, our Lord Jesus Christ. In him we are more than conquerors, as Romans 8 says, because
nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Because of his resurrection, as 1 Corinthians 15 says,
death is swallowed up in victory.
Colossians 2 says,
Jesus has disarmed the powers and authorities, triumphing over them by the cross.
This language of victory is used again and again in the book of Revelation. To him who overcomes, says Revelation 2, Jesus promises to give them the right to eat of the tree of life. To him who overcomes, Jesus promises that the second death will not hurt them. To him who overcomes, Jesus promises in Revelation chapter 3, that they will be dressed in white. To him who overcomes, Jesus promises that they will sit with him on his throne.
But who is it that is promised this victory? Who is it that will share in the spoils of the conqueror? Who is it that overcomes the world, immune to its short term promises that comes with terrible long term costs? Who is it that cries out
Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Who is it that overcomes the world and all the powers of sin and death and hell? John says in verse 5,
The one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.
Our faith brings us that victory, not because we believe so much, not because we believe so hard, but because of who we believe in, because we believe in, we trust the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world. Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
If you love God, love his Son Jesus Christ. If you love God, love each other. Let Jesus Christ conquer your heart with his love and you will overcome the world. The world will not be able to defeat you with its lies and short term benefits that come with terrible long term costs. And you will be invited to join God’s mission to defeat the world, one converted sinner at a time.