In 1918 the United States government finished the construction on Fort Knox.  Fort Knox is where you want to go if you’re interested in stealing 5000 tons of gold.  It’s the only place in the United States, or in the world, that you could do that.  But here’s the problem—if you tried to break into Fort Knox, you would find that the sides have granite walls that are four feet thick.  This would prevent you from getting into the sides of the building.  If you say, okay, I will tunnel my way in.  I’ll dig under, then dig up.  Good luck!   Down underneath it is a number of feet of concrete.  After you get through the concrete you have ten feet of granite that this building sits on.  Let’s hypothetically say you made it in.  Once you got in, you’d find a vault.  The vault itself has a 22 ton door that blocks the way to get into that 5000 tons of gold that you’re looking for.  If you say, “Well, I’m not going to break the door down, I’m just going to pick the lock.”  You would need ten employees who work at Fort Knox, and each one of them have A portion of THE code that allows you to get into the door.  None of the others know the other parts of the code, they just know their own.  You need all ten parts of that code.  Let’s say, hypothetically, that you actually made it into the vault, in order to get out, you would have to get passed the 30,000 military people who are stationed there.  Good luck!!  There’s a reason why that at the beginning of the second World War most European nations stored their gold here.  The Magna Carta was stored there.  The Declaration of Independence was stored there.  The Crown Jewels from the United Kingdom were stored there. The vault is said to be atomic bomb proof.

We protect the things that are important to us, don’t we?  We guard the things that are important to us.  It’s the reason that it takes an hour to get through the security line at the airport.  We guard the things that are important to us, don’t we?  We put a hedge around them and we protect them.  Here’s the thing, if you’re a follower of Jesus this morning, the Scriptures are going to talk to us about guarding the things that are most important to us.  If you’re not a follower of Christ this morning, you get to look in on what OUR Fort Knox should be as followers of Christ.  We’ve made it a lot of different things.  If you were to do a straw-poll — What’s the most important…..what’s the thing we’re suppose to guard above all else, as followers of Christ?  You’d probably hear….well, it’s important for us to guard good theology.  Totally agree.  It’s important for us to guard having the right world view.  Totally agree.  It’s important for us to guard the religious liberties and the rights that we have.  I agree.  But it’s not our Fort Knox.  It’s not the thing that we’re called to guard above all else.  If you want to find out what it is, open with me to 1 John 2.

We’re going to pick up where we left off last week.  John is a friend of Jesus.  He’s leaned against Jesus.  He’s cared for Jesus’s mom.  He’s a pastor of a number of churches, sort of oversees them, and he’s writing them this letter about what it looks like to hold onto the things that are most important in a world that’s pressing in.  In a culture that’s pluralistic.  In many ways, anything goes and spirituality is held up as something to be pursued, but has very little impact on the way that they actually live.  John writes this letter to those churches, and here’s what he says (1 John 2:3)  — And by this we know that we have come to know him {He says, and we know that we know that we know that we know him IF…..   IF.  Not if we believe the right things, and if we can pass a doctrinal exam, and if we’ve read the entire…..   We know we know we know him…..}  if we keep his commandments.  John has zero place for “I’m a spiritual person but it doesn’t impact the way that I live.”  He says no, no, no, when we believe in the Jesus who came and lived and died, that John touched and saw and heard, then it absolutely changes the way that we live, and we know that we know him if it does.

This word ‘keep’ in the Greek is a real interesting word.  It could be translated ‘protect’ or ‘guard’ or even… could imagine putting something under surveillance.  In our life, we put this thing, this one thing, under surveillance.  We put it above everything else.  It’s our ‘Fort Knox.’  But what is that?  Well, we keep his….commandments.  There’s a lot of those.  Yeah, there’s 613 in the Old Testament.  You go man, where’s our checklist?  Is there an app for that where we can load it in and go well, I kept that one, kept that one, did that one, did that one…..?   If there’s that many, how do we really actually know?  John is going to zoom in on one commandment.  He’s going to zoom in on one……just one, and it’s the commandment to love.  Here’s what he writes in verses 7 and 8.  Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, {He goes from commandments to just one.}  but an old commandment that you had from the beginning.  The old commandment is the word that you have heard.  At the same time, 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 true light is already shining.

Okay, raise your hand if you’re confused.  This is not a new commandment, it’s an old commandment.  And it’s a new commandment.  You want to go hey, John, you’re inspired and all, so I get it.  You can say what you want to say.  You’re under the power of the spirit…..    I get it.  But, no new commandment……this is a new commandment.  Seems like it contradicts itself.  Is the command to love new or is it old?

A few years ago, my friend invited me to go to the BMW Invitational Golf Tournament that was hosted here at Cherry Hills Country Club.  It was an amazing experience.  I play golf….I play three or four times every year.  I love getting out there and playing golf.  I really do.  I’m no good, but I love being out there.  I think I know a thing or two about golf.  I went and I watched Rory McIlroy step up to the ball.  I watched him tee off and I watched his body torque in a way that I would need to go and live in a chiropractor’s office if I did that myself.  I watched him hit the ball 340 yards—because it is Colorado—straight down the fairway and here’s what I realized:  I don’t golf.  I don’t golf like that, that’s for sure!!  Do I know how to golf?  Well, sure.  But not like that.

William Barclay, a commentator, wrote:  “A game may become a new game when we see the master play it.”  Is it a new command?  Or is it an old one?  Well, it’s ancient and yet, the extent and the application that Jesus of Nazareth takes love to makes it completely new.  It’s completely different.  No one, on the face of the planet, had seen love defined like this.  In fact, when Jesus—after he washes his disciples’ feet—gathers them around him and says:  A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you  {So he says, I’ve just washed your feet and I’m about to go to the cross and here’s what I’m asking you to do.  I’m asking you to love one another, JUST AS I have loved you.}  you also are to love one another.  (John 13:34)   So he changes the ballgame.  He changes the way we live out this ancient command.  You can read about it in Leviticus 19:18, the Old Testament says it there.  The Jews would say the Shema every morning  —  Hear O Israel….love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might.  What Jesus does is that he takes it to a completely new level and a completely different degree.  Love.  And John says to keep this, guard this, protect it, put it under surveillance in your life.  Because it’s going to be really easy to get off track.  It’s going to be really easy to go down a different road.

In Matthew 5:38-39, Jesus picks up a command from the Old Testament.   I’ll show you how he took these commands to different levels and different extents.  You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for tooth.  {Quick time out.  It was a really good command back then.  It meant that you couldn’t take retribution beyond the level that you were wronged.  It was a way of prohibiting somebody from killing another person if they just knocked out one of their teeth.  If you knock out someone’s tooth, you just get your tooth knocked out.  Jesus says that’s not a bad command…..}  But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil.  But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.   He’s taking what was a good command and saying, okay, we’re not even going to be about retributive justice at all anymore, we’re going to do good to those EVEN who would wrong us.

As followers of Jesus, we don’t read the words of Christ and the command of Christ to love alongside of the 612 other commands.  We’re followers of Jesus.  We read the commands of Jesus above everything else and everything else runs through them.  It’s why the Apostle Paul writes to the church of Galatia —-  For the whole law is fulfilled in one word:  You shall LOVE your neighbor as yourself.  (Gal. 5:14)    Guard this.  Guard it above all.  KEEP. THIS. COMMAND.

Here’s his point.  Relationship with Jesus results in (or SHOULD result in, if it’s genuine) loving like Jesus.  Relationship with Jesus results in loving like Jesus.  Perfectly?  No.  Imperfectly?  Absolutely.  But mean, hateful, bitter, vindictive, violent Christian should be an oxymoron.   Because our way is the way of love.  Friends, true love for God is not expressed in sentimental language.  It’s not expressed in ethereal experience.  It’s expressed on the ground, in love.  In love for those who love us and in love for those who don’t.  It’s the reason that the early followers of Jesus were not called ‘The Belief.’  They were not called ‘The Theology.’  Early followers of Jesus were called ‘The Way.’  Why?  Because they lived in His way.  It’s what a disciple is.  It’s someone who lives in the way of Jesus with the heart of Jesus.  It is what a disciple is.  It’s what you and I, if we claim to be followers of Christ, are called to.  So here’s the question we need to wrestle with this morning:  Am I living in the way of love?  John’s going to unpack (in the second chapter of this letter) a number of things that start to rise up in us as we live in this way.

He continues in 1 John 2:4-6.  He’s going to talk about what comes out of us as this gets into us.  Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, {He’s already repeating what he said….we know that we know that we know that we know him if we love like him.  Because relationship with Jesus leads to loving like Jesus.}  and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected.  Anybody else and you’d read that and go, wow, that’s quite the statement John.  As we walk in the way of love, God’s love is perfected in us?  That’s quite the bulls-eye on the board, isn’t it?  We get this word ‘perfected’ wrong often.  There’s not a great English translation of the Greek word.  The Greek word is telos.  It means to complete or fulfill a goal.  You could picture it as a marathon runner getting across the finish line, throwing their arms up in the air and going, “I did it!”  It’s the idea that we become who God dreams and designs and intends that we would be.

There’s this interesting—and this is for all the Greek nerds in the room—play on words that’s going on in the Greek.  We read this word ‘command,’ and that’s what we’re intended to keep.  This word ‘telos’ is the Greek word to finish or to complete.  We translate it, in the Scriptures, ‘to be perfected.’  The word for ‘commandment’ is entolé.  It’s two words put together — “en” and “telos.”   It’s literally “in the end” commandment.  In the end or keeping the end in mind.  What John wants to say is protect this, guard this, above all else, because by it you are going to be the types of people that God dreamed that you would be.  So you hold onto “in the end.”  You keep the end in mind, because you’re becoming a type of person, an eternal being.  And you have to keep that in mind.  The decisions that you make in your family.  The decisions that you make in your work place.  The decisions you make in your home and your relationships.  Keep the end goal in mind.  Commandment forces us to zoom out from the immediate and to focus on what’s really important and what we really want our lives to say in the end.

Here’s what John says — Love is the fuel (it’s the motivation) and it’s the finish line.  It’s where we’re leading to.  It’s the love of God perfected in us.  Of growth.  {Slide reads:  Love is the fuel and finish line of growth.}  We have this growth chart in my son Reid’s room, and every once in while, every few months, we’ll go and put our kids up against it.  We’ll mark it and put a date.  Anybody else do this?  We love tracking their growth.  It’s interesting, though, as adults we don’t track our growth in the same way, do we?  We don’t want to go up when we get older, do we?  Because we’re not growing up as far as height.  We’re only growing one direction if the numbers go north, right?  We track our growth down.  That’s what we want as adults, right?  John’s saying no, no, no, no, no, we want to grow as followers of Christ.  We want to develop.  We want to mature.  There’s only one way we do that.  It’s not a myriad of things.  There’s one thing that causes us to grow.  Good theology’s important.  Good programs and activities are helpful, but EVERYTHING that moves towards maturity in the Christian life, moves towards LOVE.  That’s it.  All Christian growth and maturity is a result of love.  All Christian growth and maturity is a result of love and progress in love.  If you want to grow, decide to love.

There’s no Plan B.  We don’t grow beyond that.  It’s not like….okay, now that I’ve nailed love, what’s next?  More love.  That’s what’s next.  Grow deeper into it.  Grow more because of it.  If you want to grow love, it’s that simple — Love when it’s difficult, love when it’s inconvenient, love when it means having a hard conversation, love when it means speaking truth, love when it means serving when you’re exhausted, love when it means forgiving when you’ve been genuinely wronged. If you want to grow as a follower of Jesus, there’s one bulls-eye you’re shooting at and it’s……LOVE.  That’s it.

The Apostle Paul will write to the church at Ephesus and say:  Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up  {We’re going to mature.  We’re going to get bigger.  We’re going to get stronger.  We’re going to have our feet under us.}  in every way into him who is the head, into Christ. (Eph. 4:16)  If you want to grow into Christ, live in the way of Christ and it’s the way of love.  John says it’s the motivation, it’s the fuel, and it’s the finish line of maturity, of growth.  So here’s my question for you:  How would you chart your growth in love?  Are you a more loving person at this time, this year, than you were last year?  If you’re not, can I give you just a few things that might help.  Oftentimes, the reason we refuse the way of love is because we doubt the Great Lover.  The Scriptures are clear…we love because He first loved us.  If we are on uncertain ground when it comes to God’s love for us, the way that comes out of our lives is that we are uncertain in the way that we love others.  The first step is to abide, as John 15:9-10 says.  We abide in His love.  We make our home there.  It starts to be what we give to other people.  Maybe there’s one situation you’re staring at right now.  One really hard thing you’re looking at….a decision you have to make, a relationship that’s gone awry.  What does it look like to bring love to bear on that situation?

John gives us a second result of living in the way of love in 1 John 2:9-11.  Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness.  Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling.  But whoever 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.   John is saying that love is the guidance and protection on the journey.

This last summer, we had the chance to go to Mount Hermon, which is just outside Santa Cruz (CA).  It’s in the mountains with massive redwoods.  When we first got to that area, my family went on a hike on a well-worn trail that thousands of people had walked that same day.  My oldest son Ethan, who’s 8 years old, kept running ahead and coming back to us.  He kept leaving the pack.  My wife and I kept looking at each other and looking at this massive redwood that had a hollowed-out trunk.  We thought the four of us—me, my wife, and our two youngest—could fit inside that hollowed-out trunk.  The next time Ethan ran away, we all hid inside the tree.  We’re peeking out and watching him as he runs back to where we were and starts looking around.  It’s the look we did this for.  It was the terrified, where-are-my-parents-I-really-do-love-them look.  And the I-never-thought-I’d-this-but-I-want-them-back look.  He’s looking around.  A normal person, at that point, would have come out and said okay, game’s over….   We kept hiding.  He goes up to somebody and they ask, “Are you okay?”  I’m like YES!  He’s like, “I’m looking for my parents.”  We see him jet down the trail at a fast run.  At that point, we came out and yelled for him.  Ethan! We’re over here!  But this picture of him, terrified, is stuck in my mind….in all of its glory and splendor.  Totally lost!

John writes hey, if you choose hate instead of love, you stumble.  It’s the Greek word ‘skandalon.’  It means you get stuck in a snare.  When you walk in the way of love, you know where you’re going.  When you walk in evil, when you walk in hate, you’re like my son who’s looking around.  You have no clue where you’re going.  The foundation of the very cosmos is love, and when we choose to live against that, we live against the God who loves us and created us and we get lost.  When John claims that walking in the light leads to no cause for stumbling and knowing where we’re going, he’s pleading with us.  You guys, there’s a better way.  There’s a better way than anger.  There’s a better way than bitterness.  There’s a better way than lack of forgiveness.  There’s a way to know where you are, and to know whose you are.  To know how to move forward in His world.  There IS a BETTER way.

I don’t know about you, but I find myself slipping back into believing that issues are more important than people.  If I win an argument, that’s the end goal.  Winning the argument isn’t the end goal, friends.  People are the end goal.   When people become a problem to solve rather than people to love, we’ve lost.  We’ve lost what’s most important to us.  We’ve lost our first love.  We’ve lost our Fort Knox, if you will.  When we become obsessed with power over influence… get power through position, you get influence through love.  You want to impact the world around you?  Love the world around you… the way just as Jesus did it.  I get lost sometimes in my own pain and the way that people have wronged me, in the way that they’ve hurt me.  It’s easy for me to get off that path and to justify some of the things that stir up in my soul.  Here’s what John says:  Love.  It is the guidance and the protection, it’s the true North on the Christian pathway walking with Jesus.

He gives one final result.  In verses 12 through 14 (1 John 2), it sort of looks like a poem.  It was either a poem or a song, probably, that the early church would have sung.  I’m going to sing it for you today.  Just kidding.  He says this:  I am writing to you, little children, {There’s going to be ‘little children,’ ‘young men,’ and ‘fathers.’  There’s no shortage of debate about what John is actually talking about here.  Some people think he’s talking about stages along the spiritual growth continuum.  Some people think he’s talking about literal children and fathers.  I tend to think he’s talking about different places you can be as you walk with Christ in general.}  ..because your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake.  I am writing to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning.  I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one.  I write to you, children, because you know the Father.  I write to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning.  I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.

For some reason, John, in the early church, wanted to get these truths into peoples’ lives.  They wanted to get the truth of forgiveness in deeply.  They wanted to get the truth that they were part of no new thing, but that God  is from the beginning.  They’re jumping in a stream that’s been moving since the beginning of time.  Those are both things he’s already addressed in this letter.   But there’s one thing he addresses that’s new.  …you have overcome the evil one.    He says it twice.  He says it to young men, or to people who are in the everyday battle of what it looks like and what it means to follow the way of Jesus.  Here’s his reminder to them:  You want victory in the Christian life?  If you want to hold on to the One who’s holding you, if you want to walk in the victory that He’s already purchased… walk in the way of love.  Love is both the weapon….it’s the way that we fight, ironically….AND it’s the prize at the end of it all.  {Slide:  Love is the weapon and prize for victory.}

The old way said that you gain victory through power, you gain victory through coercion, you gain victory through might, and you gain victory by having your way.  Whatever it takes, in order to do those things, you use.  If it takes violence, you use violence.  If it takes manipulation, you use manipulation.  Whatever it takes, you use.  So Jesus is walking down the road, leaving a town in Samaria, a town that didn’t accept his teachings, and his disciples (Luke 9:54-55) turn to him and say, “Hey, Jesus, we’ve got an idea.  Let’s call fire down on that town!”  All they’re doing is reading their Old Testament (2 Kings 1:10).  Elijah did the exact same thing.  He called fire down.  They’re going, “Hey, let’s do that!  That was awesome!  That worked!”  They’re quoting the Bible to Jesus.  But a new day is dawning.  Jesus says: And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?”  {Don’t you just love the scene?  Do you want us to tell fire to come down?  Hey, Jesus, should we call a fireball down right now?  Jesus is probably like, “You think you have that kind of……   Oh my gosh!”}  But he turned and rebuked them.   That’s not my way.  When Peter takes out a sword, on the night that Jesus is betrayed, and he cuts off the ear of a Roman soldier, I’m guessing that Jesus just buries his head in his hands and goes, “Oh my gosh, I don’t have anymore time to teach these guys!  I’ve only got one more thing to demonstrate the way my kingdom comes.”  Picks up his ear, puts it back on his head, and walks to the cross to show them what victory really looks like.   It doesn’t come with a sword.  It comes with a cross.  It doesn’t come with putting people on them.  The Jesus way is He hangs on it himself.

I’m not sure that we’ve gotten this, you guys.  I don’t know that we believe this, I really don’t.  I was reading a book by a prominent atheist.  His name is Sam Harris.  In the beginning of this book he says:  “Since the publication of my first book, The End of Faith, thousands of people have written to tell me that I am wrong not to believe in God.  The most hostile of these communications have come from Christians.  This is ironic, as Christians generally imagine that no faith imparts the virtues of love and forgiveness more effectively than their own.  The truth is that many who claim to be transformed by Christ’s love are deeply, even murderously, intolerant of criticism.  While we may want to ascribe this to human nature, it is clear that such hatred draws considerable support from the Bible.”  I wish he would have written….I couldn’t agree any less with these people, but the way that they respond, and the way that they treat me, and the things that they’ve said, actually reinforce the fact that they believe in the way of Jesus.  They believe that the way that we fight is with the weapon of love.

Is it the way that we fight?  Is it our Fort Knox?  Is it the thing we’re going to protect at all costs?  And defend?  The Apostle Paul, writing to the church at Rome, says:  If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.  {I love that!  You want to win?  LOVE.}  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:20-21)  Friends, this is the way of Jesus.  In Romans 5:8, Paul says it as succinctly and clearly as it’s said anywhere in the Scriptures:  But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.   His marching orders for His church is to do and to live in the exact same way.  I love the way that the great theologian, Miroslav Volf, says it:  “To triumph fully, evil needs two victories, not one.  The first victory happens when an evil deed is perpetrated; the second victory, when evil is returned.  After the first victory, evil would die if the second victory did not infuse it with new life.”  All around the world, we have followers of Jesus who are emulating this way.  We have brothers in Pakistan right now.  One church is led by a man named Munawar Rumalshah.  He is leading the charge to love ISIS, to love the Taliban, to love people who are literally killing his congregation members.  Here was his quote in a recent NY Times article:  “We clean the wounds of those who hate us and those who would kill us.”  This is not a theory for them.  It’s on the ground.  They’re saying no, no, no, no, no, there’s a lot of things we don’t understand, but there’s one thing we’re called to.  We know that we know that we know that we know Him, if we love like Him.  So that’s what we’re going to do.  When it’s difficult, that’s what we’re going to do.  When people spit in our face, that’s what we’re going to do.  When they literally put Bibles in the middle of the street and urinate on them….which they do there….what do they do?  They love and they continue to love and they continue to love and they continue to love.

Two questions for you as we close.   1) What hatred am I justifying?  I don’t know about you, but I have a tendency to justify hatred.  I dislike somebody because they don’t like me.  I don’t like them because they hurt me.  I hear followers of Jesus who say, “We don’t like those people because we’re convinced that God doesn’t like them either.”  Here’s the thing….if you want to use who God likes or loves as a grid, God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.  You never laid eyes on a person whom God didn’t love.  Is there anyway that you’re justifying hatred?

The second question is:  What does love demand of me?  Maybe it’s just one situation going on in your life right now, where you know…..the Spirit of God is just going, “This is that situation for you.”   Maybe it looks like serving somebody.  Maybe it looks like confronting somebody, because love isn’t always soft.  Love says what’s true even when it’s hard, but it says it with a seasoning of mercy, grace, and love.  Maybe it’s a confrontation.  Maybe it’s being generous when you’d rather not.  What does love demand of you?

Yesterday, as a family, we were carving pumpkins in our kitchen.  I noticed as I cut the top off the pumpkin for my kids and I took off the top, the inside of it was just goopy and nasty and gross.  We hollowed all that stuff out and put it in the trash can.  In place of all the gooey, nasty junk that was on the inside, we put these little candles, these little lights.  It struck me that Jesus wants to do the same thing with us.  By the power of his Spirit, he wants to dig into our soul and take all of those things that cause us to walk, not in His victory, but in our own flesh….that cause us to walk and to stumble along the way….He wants to take all of those things and he wants to, by the power of his Spirit, carve them out.  He then wants to put the light of his love in place of it.  My prayer is that you and I would surrender to that love today.  Friends, relationship with Jesus….it always, always, always looks like loving like Jesus.  Imagine if we were that church.  I’ll tell you what would happen….because we can see in history the way that it’s happened.  Those kind of movements change the world.

Father, I pray that by your Spirit’s power, you would move us in the direction of love….just as You love.  It’s in your name we pray.  Amen.