First John 3:14-18
Giving Up One's Life For The Brothers
Passed From Death To Life
1. The Apostles' Creed, which we say each week, ends with the phrase "I believe in eternal life." The ultimate salvation given unto us is experienced as "eternal life." It is the life in the world to come, life in the kingdom of God, life set free from sin and death. We are waiting in hope to take part in that kind of life. But, when salvation is expressed as "eternal life," it is not just a state belonging to the future. As a believer, John states that he has already begun to experience that eternal life. He said, "We know that we have passed from death unto life."
2. The faith confession, "I believe in eternal life," belongs to the third section of the Apostles' Creed, that is, in the section starting out with "I believe in the Holy Spirit." Thus, our having a part in eternal life is in the workings of God's Spirit. Since the Holy Spirit has already been poured out from the Day of Pentecost, it has come to mean that we have already begun to experience eternal life.
3. Therefore, Paul, too, calls the Holy Spirit given to us "a guarantee." "The one who has joined us and you fast to Christ and who has anointed us is God. God, also, has pressed a seal upon us, as a guarantee, he has given into our hearts 'The Spirit.'," (Second Corinthians 1:21-22). In saying "guarantee" it is a word that means "downpayment, earnest money." Before receiving in its entirety everything we've been promised, it means that we have already received a portion of it. This is the experience in the Christian faith, which is an experience of eternal life already given to us.
4. So, in what places specifically has John experienced eternal life? Verse fourteen, which I quoted earlier, takes it further as follows: "We know that we have passed from death unto life. -- 'Because we love the brothers.'," (verse fourteen). In this way then, eternal life is experienced in loving. The experience of eternal life is in the relationships in which we are loving one another.
5. Well, I'd say this teaches us something important even about the completion of our salvation. Eternal life is not defined as merely what a person receives individually. Our having a part in eternal life is to be granted to live in relationships of perfect love. While simultaneously it is a relationship with God, it is a relationship with our neighbors. Eternal life is in those relationships of love. (Therefore, the pattern of faith in which one seeks for salvation in solitude and isolation as individuals is not the way the Christian faith had been meant to be from the start.)
6. To begin with, we are taught that God as the source of life has a relationship of love within [His Being]. Such is true with God being a trinitarian God. Also, we are taught even humankind was not created as one being, but in plurality, human beings were created as male and female. The scripture says that they "were created male and female," (Genesis 1:27). From the beginning it has been humans having relationships with other beings. Humans were created as beings to love one another. Therefore, the perfecting of salvation is but [our] perfecting as a people who love one another. Thus, eternal life as the perfection and the completion of salvation lies directly in relationships of love.
7. So, we've already begun to experience this eternal life even in imperfect relationships of love on this earth. But, the exact opposite also can take place. Just like a person experiences eternal life in love, a person experiences death in hatred. In the next part John stated it as follows: "Anyone who does not love still abides in death. Anyone who hates the brothers is a murderer. As you know, eternal life does not abide in any murderer," (second half verse fourteen through verse fifteen).
8. "Anyone who hates the brothers is a murderer" is a very severe statement. But, it is probably of this severity because [he] saw how far this thing of hatred is from life. In regard to thinking about others that "It would be better if this person didn't exist," there is no actual difference in being someone who hates and being someone who murders. This very kind of thought lies on the opposite polarity to eternal life. When a person hates someone or justifies one's hating of someone, even though he or she has been alive in a biological sense, that person is really experiencing eternal death.
9. So how does a person become loving of others and not a hater? John says, "We know that we have passed from death unto life." He says it is "Because we love the brothers." But, this love and life were not things that John had from the beginning because he says that he "passed from death unto life." This love is a love that is given. Love is only given through love. He was loved, he was made to know love, he turned into a loving person. Where did John know love? Verse sixteen in the original text begins with the words, "We knew love right here." In the epistles of John the words "right here" appear in the text quite frequently. He is steadfastly pointing to just one point, saying, "It is here." At the tip of his pointing finger is Christ. He says, "Christ has given up his life for us," (verse sixteen). At the tip of the finger he is pointing with is the crucified Christ.
10. This is why we cannot separate the life producing work of the Holy Spirit from the crucified Christ. The Holy Spirit shows the meaning of Christ's cross to us. [The Spirit of God] enlightens us to the fact that Christ gave up his life on our very behalf. The Holy Spirit bears witness to us that Christ loved us so much that he would give up his life for us. Through the Holy Spirit we are made into persons who declare that "Jesus gave up his life for us." That's how we pass from death unto life. Therefore, the fact that we "are passed from death unto life" also means that we are made listeners of the following words. What is written in the scriptures? It is written, "Therefore, we too ought to give up our lives for the brothers," (verse sixteen).
Giving Up One's Life For The Brothers
11. That's what it says, but you might say how many times in our lives will there be situations like these surreal words of "Give up your life for the brothers?" We certainly understand in theory the words of John that "We too ought to give up our lives for the brothers," but couldn't we say they are words far removed from the ordinary for us?
12. Actually, not only us today, but even for the people in the church back then when martyrdom was a regular possibility, the words, "Give up your life for the brothers," were not words that were very much associated with the ordinary [nature of things]. John was fully aware of this fact. Therefore, immediately so John restates this and replaces it with specific nearby situations. He says, "While a person has the riches of the world, if this person sees a brother lacking in a need and has no compassion, how is the love of God abiding within a person like that? O children, not only with words and the outward lips, but let us love one another with sincerity with our deeds," (verses seventeen and eighteen).
13. In this way then, though it says "Give up your life for the brothers," there is no need to think of death from it. Because what lies in it, in the final analysis, is the issue of "How are you using this life? How are you using your life on this earth?" So, though it says, "How are you using this life?," there is no need to think of anything big. There is no need for everyone to become like Mother Teresa and go to Calcutta in India. Because the brothers are nearby us. The important thing is the very naturally ordinary, and in [the ordinary] how we use our day to day lives on this earth and all the things related to our day to day lives for the brothers nearby.
14. What John is touching upon in particular here is situations in the church. At the background to John's words is the state of the church of his time, in which the wealthy were bound as a group through supporting the poor. So, we are not necessarily to think of the direct giving and receiving of things among individuals. When we read The Acts Of The Apostles, in it a depiction of the early church is portrayed in which they gathered unto the apostles what everyone had and it was distributed according to need. In the first place, "the Lord's Supper" was held like that. In the early days of the church, the differences between the usual meal (the Agape dinner) and "the Lord's Supper" were not always distinct. In them, the ones who could provide food brought a pot luck dinner, it was offered up to God, was shared between [everyone] and was made the meal. The poor could eat at these [meals] as well. They all ate the meal, both the rich and the poor -- They had worship around the Lord's table, offered up by loving one another there.
15. Well, we today don't regularly have food in church. We don't ever practice the Lord's Supper with brought-in food. But, what used to be practiced remains but in changed form. It is the monetary offering. We offer up money during services. If you're a church member, you present a monthly offering. Of course, this is called "an offering" because we offer it to God. But, on the other hand, through our offerings all the business of the church is supported. That is, our gifts support the faith life of someone else. That's how we support each other. To "give up one's life for the brothers" also takes place in our offerings, and in that too we can experience eternal life.
16. Also, this is to take place in our ministries as well. "The riches of the world" for us today is not necessarily limited to money. It may be the talents we have. It may be our time. "Giving up our lives for the brothers" will take place even in presenting these on behalf of one another. The various ministries in the church are not heavy loads with which we are burdened. They are experiences of "Giving up our lives for the brothers," they are specific experiences of loving each other, which is none other than experiences of eternal life.
17. I repeat. The words "We ought to give up our lives for the brothers" are a continuation of the words "Jesus gave up his life for us. We have known love through this." We cannot separate this premise out from it. Therefore, the most important thing of all is that we turn our eyes in this direction to which John is earnestly pointing and through the Holy Spirit have ourselves become persons who express that "We have known love."