1 John 3:10-15 - Loving The Brothers

Our text is 1 John 3:10-18,

10 By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.

11 For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. 12 We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother's righteous. 13 Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you. 14 We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. 15 Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.

16 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 17 But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.

I would like to begin this morning with a story about three men: John Greenwood who was born in 1560 and died in 1593. Henry Barrow who was born in 1550 and died in 1593. And John Penry who was born in 1559 and died in 1593.

All three of these men died in the same year. They were not victims of a great earthquake. They did not die during the Plague. They were not in the same place when a great fire burned through an entire town. No, these men were all hanged by the state for an act of civil disobedience, namely secession from the established teaching of the church.

One wonders what their crime was that these men were all found guilty so that they had to pay for it with their lives. Did they deny the Trinity? Did they teach a false Christ? Did they teach a damnable heresy that compromised the Gospel? Did they condone sin and lawlessness of an extremely vile nature?

When Penry was being examined by the state authorities, he was adamant that a true church was ‘a company of those whom the Word calls Saints, which do not only profess in word that they know God, but also are subject unto His Laws and Ordinance.

In saying these words Penry was criticizing the idea that a parish church membership was made up of every person who lived within the geographical boundaries of the parish. This was the heresy that these three men committed and for which they would die. They dared to state that a member of the church is not simply one because they lived in a certain area, but they must profess faith in Jesus Christ and show fruits of that conversion.

In the book, Baptist Foundation, Mark Dever and Jonathan Leeman say of Penry, “One gets a sense of how committed these men were to their understanding of the Bible from words spoken by Penry shortly before his execution, when he affirmed that ‘imprisonment, judgments, yea, death itself, are not suitable weapons to turn away men’s consciences, which are grounded on the Word of God.’

Take a moment and consider the fact that these three men were willing to loose their lives over a doctrine concerning ecclesiology. In our day church membership is taken so lightly. Church membership seems trivial, unimportant, it seems inconsequential and insignificant to the majority of people today. Being a member of the visible body of Christ is considered meaningless, petty, superficial and immaterial by a the vast majority of people today. In their day, men and women thought that it was their right to be a member of the parish even if their lives did not reflect it. Today, we believe the opposite in many ways. The majority of people simply don’t see the need to be a member of the church and to be accountable to the local church.

Yet, these three men were willing to be killed, to be hung by their necks from the gallows, so that the visible church might be made up of professing Christians who had submitted their lives to the Laws and Ordinances of the church. They were willing to die at the ages of 33, 34 and 43 for the belief that not everyone is a Christian and not everyone should be a member of the church just because they live in the same geographical area as the parish.

How many of us would die on the gallows over the issue of church membership today? Yet, as we see in Penry’s final statement, he had no choice because for him this was a scriptural issue. It is a doctrine that is found in Scripture and so it was worth dying over. These men were like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. They were willing to be the die if it was the LORD’s will.

The apostle John writes this letter to believers whose churches had been overrun with false teachers and their teachings. These worldly men and women attended the church, were members of the church, participated in the teaching and ordinances of the church.