By This We Know Love
Grace Community Church
Jan. 28, 2018
The Light of Love Overcomes the Darkness of Hate
1 John 2:7-11
Last week we saw that John gave us a general test to determine if we know God or not. It’s a simple test: we keep his commandments. John isn’t talking about legalism, nor is he saying that we will keep them perfectly, for when we sin, we have an Advocate to plead our case and forgive our sins. But if we truly know the Lord, there will be a desire to obey Him and walk as Jesus walked, in love, compassion, holiness, and such. It’s a general test to help us know that we know Christ.
Now John gets more specific: the test is whether we walk in love or walk with hate in our hearts. But the way he begins can seem rather confusing: Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word that you have heard. 8 At the same time, it is a new commandment that I am writing to you…
The commandment is for us to love one another, but why does John seem to contradict himself? “I’m not writing you a new commandment, I’m writing you an old commandment. At the same time it’s a new commandment…” It reminds me of the time we were on a family trip and when we came to a confusing intersection, Google maps said, “Bear left to keep right.” Huh? How is that even possible? If I bear left, won’t I be going left, not right? But as we went through the intersection I could see that there was a way I was bearing left and a way I was keeping right. In the same way, there is a sense that John is giving us an old commandment and a sense he is giving us a new commandment at the same time.
It’s an old commandment because it’s as old as the law God gave Israel. In Lev. 19 God commands the Jews: you shall love your neighbor as yourself. It’s a command as old as the Law itself. It’s also an old commandment to these believers because, John writes, you’ve had it from the beginning. One of the first things you were taught when you became a Christian is to love one another. Right at the very beginning of your becoming a Christian, you were taught and commanded to love one another. It’s an old commandment.
And, at the same time, it’s a new commandment. There are two words in the Greek that mean “new”. One means “new in time” and the other means “new in quality”. John uses the second word. It’s not new in time – it’s been around a long time. But Jesus made it fresh and new in quality when he raised loving one another out of all the many commandments given to the Jews and said, “I give you a new commandment: love one another.” He made it new by emphasizing it as primary. Jesus also made it new in quality when he changed it from loving our neighbor as we love ourselves to loving one another with the same love that he loved us, which is a deeper and stronger and richer love.
Then John gives us the test (vs. 9): 9 Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. 10 Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him[b] there is no cause for stumbling.
Once again John contrasts light and darkness, this time connecting them with walking in love and walking in hatred. To love my brother is to walk in light, to hate my brother is to walk in darkness.
When I was about a year old, my mom and dad were driving, mom holding me in the front seat (this was before car seats), when my dad decided to pick up a hitchhiker. Mom said he was a really scruffy, homeless looking guy. Sidenote: there had been a spree of violent murders in the area with 3 or 4 gas station attendants killed while they were working, so there was a serial killer on the loose. It’s probably never a good idea to pick up hitchhikers when there is a serial killer on the loose. Anyway, this shady looking character climbs into the back seat of their little car and mom and dad told him their names and asked what his name was, and he answered, “Mr. Hate”. Ok. Then he began to ask a lot of questions about me (I’m just a baby) as he’s leaning over the seat watching at me, and it just chilled my mom’s blood. It was a terrifying ride for mom and dad, but thankfully Mr. Hate got out where he asked to be dropped off without incident. Mom said, you can imagine the conversation I had with your dad after Mr. Hate got out!
John is warning us not to let Mr. Hate get into our car. Darkness enters our lives when we allow hate to enter our hearts. To hate means to loath or detest someone. It describes an intense hostility or dislike of another person. Sadly, we live in a world full of hate. Racists hate people who have a different color skin than theirs. Religious fanatics hate those who have a different faith than theirs. Lately even our politics are becoming more hate-filled as extremists on each side portray the other side as, not just wrong for thinking what they think, but as evil for thinking what they think. Unfortunately, Mr. Hate doesn’t stop at the front doors of the church either. In far too many churches there are people sitting on one side of the church hating someone who’s sitting on the other side of the church.
There are probably people sitting in this room who right now are struggling with some kind of feeling of hate for someone else. Maybe someone hurt you really, really badly. Maybe you found out someone was saying horrible things about you behind your back. Maybe someone completely betrayed your trust. And deep inside, you find yourself hating that person. Hate sometimes comes in less extreme forms: it could just be there’s someone that you can’t stand being around – something about their personality you hate…uh, I mean, intensely dislike. For others the person you think of is from your past and you don’t even have any contact with them anymore. It could even be who’s not alive anymore. But Mr. Hate keeps bringing up their name over and over again and you struggle with hating them.
Whatever form it takes, hate has a blinding effect: 9 Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness… 11Whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.
Walking in hate is like walking in the darkness where we can’t see where we’re going. Hate knocks our lives off the course God desires for us by blinding us so we have no idea where we are, or where we’re going, or what God’s will for us is. We may think we know, but we end up in places we don’t want to be.
Did you know that humans are incapable of walking in a straight line when we don’t have sight of a visible, fixed guidepost like the sun or moon? Experiments have been conducted where people were blindfolded and asked to do things like walk a straight line across a field, or swim a straight line across a lake, or drive a car across an empty Kansas field. Each time the subjects start out walking in a relatively straight line, but soon they begin to go in circles. They think they’re still going straight, they feel like they’re going straight, but they end up circling around and around.
If you are struggling with hate, there’s a really good chance that your relationships are always ending up in the same place again and again. You feel like you’re walking in a straight line but you end up doing relational donuts over and over. You might even get to the point where you start thinking there must be something wrong with everyone else in the world cause every relationship always ends up in the same place. They go bad. You are trying to walk straight, but they always circles back to the same bad place. And that feeds Mr. Hate in our heart which blinds us even more. It’s an endless circle.
Which is why it can feel impossible to get Mr. Hate out of the car. One thing I’ve learned from being a pastor for many years is that for a lot of people, they don’t want that relationship to be where it is, they don’t want to have hate gnawing at their hearts, but they feel like they have no power to change it. They don’t know how to get out of it. If you’ve been hurt or betrayed or abused, you especially know it’s not easy to get hate out of the heart. Feelings that flow from hate like bitterness, resentment, anger, envy, seem to overpower our hearts and we don’t feel like we have any power to change it. And we don’t.
But Jesus does. The Holy Spirit wants to free us from hate. He is the One with the power to do it, but we have a part to play. The answer isn’t trying to remove the darkness of hate, the answer is to shine the light of love.
Overcoming the darkness with light
God built some pretty amazing spiritual insights into the natural world and one such insight is this: darkness isn’t actually a thing; darkness is the absence of a thing - light. Light is a thing (actually many things): it’s a spectrum of colors, it’s an electromagnetic wave, it’s a particle. Darkness isn’t any of these things – it’s the absence of these things. That’s why light always overcomes darkness. Darkness can never be deep enough or dark enough to overcome light because darkness isn’t a thing, it’s the absence of a thing and so all you need to get rid of darkness is light.
When we come to Christ, the light of God’s love floods our hearts and the light of that love, from the very beginning fills our hearts with love for one another. I am writing…an old commandment that you had from the beginning. (vs. 7) This love isn’t something we work up or manufacture; it is a supernatural love, a supernatural light that shines from God to us first and then through us to others. We aren’t the source of this light; God is the source of all love and light. But we are commanded by God to walk in the light of His love, which will lead to shining the light of His love on those around us.
…it is a new commandment that I am writing to you, which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. (vs. 8)
When our hearts struggle with the darkness of hate, or dislike, or bitterness, we don’t disperse the darkness by trying to remove the darkness, we disperse the darkness by drawing near to the true light, Jesus Christ. Draw near to God’s love for you in Christ. Let the love of Christ fill your heart. Allow the amazing grace and forgiveness that Christ has given you shine in your heart and then direct the love and grace and forgiveness you receive from God towards the person or persons you are tempted to hate.
When we really get it that God loved us when we were still His enemies, and that Jesus gave his life, not for those who loved him but for those who hated him, the light of his love will chase the darkness of hate out of our hearts. We can’t hate our brother when our hearts are filled with the love of Christ. There won’t be room in our lives for Mr. Hate when the love of Christ fills us.
So let’s not focus on getting rid of hate. Don’t try to stop hating that person who hurt you, or try to stop disliking that person who really rubs you the wrong way. Instead, focus on Christ and his love for you. Allow the light of his love to permeate your heart. Realize that the reasons Jesus has for disliking you – detesting you even – are far, far greater than any reason you have for disliking or detesting that other person. The gap between you and that person is nothing compared to the gap between you and a holy God. Then be amazed that Jesus sought you while you were still an enemy. And as his undeserved love fills your heart, realize that he loves that other person in the same way. And pray and ask the Lord to help you love them with His love.
This is a good place to pause and remind us of something I said last week: the difference between direction and destination. Jesus is perfect love and light, we are not so much. I’ve had to pray and ask God over and over again to help me love someone that I don’t feel any love for. It helps to pray for that person, that God would bless them, and do good things in their lives. It’s hard to pray good over someone and still hate them.
God promises us that as we walk by the light of His love, that light will help us to see where we are going. We’ll see how to stop going in circles and making the same relational mistakes over and over and over again. We will see clearer to do our part to foster healthier, God-glorifying relationships. We’ll see clearer to do things differently, say things differently, treat people differently than we were before. That alone can stop us from doing relational donuts in people’s front yards.
10 Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling.
The darkness of hate – even mild hate – causes us to be a stumbling block for others. Hate begets hate. The dad who hates his boss comes home and takes out his anger on his kids, who then grow up and take their anger out on their kids. We stumble others and they in turn stumble others. Jesus came to stop this cycle of stumbling, so that as we walk in the light we don’t stumble others, we help them to walk in the light.
Jesus said the second greatest commandment is you shall love your neighbor as yourself. He was quoting from Lev. 19. Listen to the verses leading up to that second greatest commandment:
17 “You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. 18 You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord. Lev. 19:17-18
What I take this to mean is that we can love our neighbor and be straightforward with them. You shall reason frankly with your neighbor. Love isn’t afraid to talk things out in an honest way. Love doesn’t bottle up and keep everything to itself. Love isn’t afraid to confront. Love also isn’t afraid to admit honestly when we’ve messed up. Reasoning frankly doesn’t always mean we identify where someone else has gone wrong, a lot of times it’s going to mean confessing where we’ve sinned and asking forgiveness.
Love reasons frankly, but always with the good of the other person in mind. When we love them, we won’t slash and burn them with our words – because that will not produce good in their lives. Sometimes we need to say hard things. Sometimes we need to hear hard things. But hard things said with love are very different in word and tone than hard things said in hate.
Finally, it needs to be said that walking in love won’t save every relationship. We can only do what is possible on our end. Jesus loved the rich young man who came to him, but he also let him walk away. He didn’t run after him desperate to salvage their relationship. If someone else is determined to walk in hate or anger or abusiveness or rebellion, there may not be anything we can do about it except pray for them. But we can pray with love that God will turn their hearts around and restore them to Himself. We don’t know what the final chapter of that rich young man’s life was. Did he ever come to faith? Or did he reject Jesus’ invitation for the rest of his life? We don’t know. We know Jesus loved him, and we know that he walked away from that love. Beyond that is in God’s hands. Love sometimes needs to leave people in God’s hands.
Is there a way that Mr. Hate has gotten in your car? Be honest with God. These verses aren’t meant to condemn you, they are written to draw you to Christ and the light of His love. And they are meant to convince us that we really aren’t experiencing the love of Christ, we aren’t really walking in the love of Christ, if we’re comfortable living with hate being in our hearts. The Lord loves us too much to let us live with Mr. Hate in the car. Let the Holy Spirit shine His light right now into your heart and let the light of His love drive the darkness of hate from your heart.
Open your heart to Him and welcome His light of love in as we pray.