A simple description of the believer’s history and experience is found in two easy to remember verses in the bible – both written by John. The first is familiar, John 3:16 which reads:
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”
And the second is by Divine coincidence 1 John 3:16 which reads:
“We know love by this that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.”
Jesus is quoted as saying in John 13 that we would be known by our love for one another. That is the long and short of our life together. In fact Paul wrote that without love we are nothing more than a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal (cf. 1 Cor 13:1)!
We live by the indwelling Life of Christ who is Love. God IS love (1 John 4). God doesn’t love because it’s what He does. God loves because Love is who He is and we love because He is our life. So why do we have so much difficulty with it – especially when it comes to certain people – those who are less than lovable! For the answer to that we need to go back to the beginning in the Garden.
“The LORD God planted a garden toward the east, in Eden; and there He placed the man whom He had formed. Out of the ground the LORD God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” (Gen 2:8-9)
“In the midst of the Garden” means “in the centre of the Garden” and this is significant as it is the centre of Adam’s world. Of this centre, God said:
“Then the LORD God took the man and put him into the Garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it. The LORD God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.” (Gen 2:15-17)
At this juncture man was faced with a choice of how to live. If he chose to eat from the Tree of Life he would have come into union with God – for Christ IS the Tree of Life – and God who IS Love would have been the source and centre of Adam’s being. Adam, created in the image and likeness of God would have manifested His love to all of creation thus fulfilling his created destiny. The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was of God also but was strictly reserved for Him.
“Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.'” The serpent said to the woman, “You surely will not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Gen 3:1-5)
And there you have it: “You will be like God!” Adam had taken it upon himself to discern good and evil, no longer having to look to God for such discernment. Two significant things happened when Adam and Eve did this. First they experienced death, not immediate physical death, but spiritual death because they no longer had the option of the Tree of Christ from which to draw Life (cf. John 1:4) thus leaving a gnawing emptiness within them. Second, having taken it upon themselves to know good and evil, they became self-conscious for the first time.
“Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings.” (Gen 3:7)
So with their new-found knowledge, the first thing they did was make the decision to cover themselves. Then they thought it also might be an idea to hide from God!
“They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.” (Gen 3:8)
So Adam and Eve had set mankind on a course of forever having to find ways to deal with the fallout of their God-like knowledge of good and evil. History records just how well they have and are doing. And God in His mercy said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”. The LORD God sent him out from the Garden of Eden (cf. Gen 3:22-23).
And what of love? Man no longer had any hope of loving God or his neighbour because his capacity to contain the very Life of God which is Love had been replaced by a dark void. Instead, man was left having to try to fill that void as best he could out of his own knowledge of good and evil. Unlike God who wanted to share Himself as Love with man and creation, man instead had to determine how to use his fellow man and creation to satisfy the dark void within himself that in reality, only God could satisfy.
Instead of living out of Love with God as his centre, man became the centre of his world with only his knowledge of good and evil to guide him. In reality, the knowledge of good and evil is only beneficial if used in conjunction with knowing all things. In other words, it is impossible to make a right judgement using the knowledge of good and evil without first knowing all the facts and it is only God who is omniscient. That is the reason we have the saying “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” Indeed it is but man has no choice outside of God except to work with what he has.
So we have a world with people who are incapable of loving one another yet are driven to judge one another according to each person’s own knowledge of good and evil, trying to fill the emptiness within. Having no objective benchmark of truth, in our self-consciousness we compare ourselves with one another striving to mask the pain of emptiness in order to feel good about ourselves according to whatever standards and values we live by.
Without being able to see the inside of a person we content ourselves with judging by appearances, sometimes feeling good about ourselves and sometimes feeling disappointed with ourselves. “I wish I was as slim as that person but at least I am not as fat as that person.” “He has a beautiful home but I’ll bet he has a huge mortgage! At least I’m debt free!” “I don’t see anyone else doing all the works
“I” do for God and they think they are good Christians.” And on and on and on it goes. But where is the one mark of a true believer? Where is God’s love for one another?” Again:
“If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing. Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away.” (1Co 13:1-8)
Only God who is Love is able to judge another rightly because he knows what is in a man. We do not, so cannot both judge and love at the same time. For us they are mutually exclusive. Paul writes in Romans:
“Therefore you have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things.” (Rom 2:1-2)
“Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions. One person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only. The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.” (Rom 14:1-4)
“But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. For it is written, “AS I LIVE, SAYS THE LORD, EVERY KNEE SHALL BOW TO ME, AND EVERY TONGUE SHALL GIVE PRAISE TO GOD.” So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God. Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this–not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way.” (Rom 14:10-13)
In conclusion John records Jesus as saying:
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (Joh 13:34-35)