The Greatest Thing
Text: 1 John 2: 3-11
Proposition: The greatest thing in all our lives is to know God in a way that enables us to love God and our fellow believers as we obey His word.
Introduction: It was 340 AD and a man struggled to overcome the sin in his life. He became a hermit and then emerged from that to become one of the greatest academic theologians of the fourth century. He accepted Christ and his devotion to Scripture and to the Lord Jesus Christ transformed his life. We have come to know him as Saint Jerome. The wisdom of Jerome is shown in the many quotes attributed to hm but perhaps the one I like the most is that which is relevant for us here today, “Good, better, best. Never let it rest, ‘til your good is better and your better is best.” In 1977 a graphic artist and song writer named Mark Pendergrass wrote a song that we still sing today, ‘The Greatest Thing in All My Life’. It was one of the first songs that I learned as a young Christian in the early 1980’s. It had three verses that described the best, the greatest thing. Its verses were almost taken right out of 1 John 2, “the greatest thing in all my life is knowing you… the greatest thing in all my life is loving you… the greatest thing in all my life is serving you”. What catches our attention is that the greatest thing is really three things linked together like a chain. Have a look at 1 John 2: 3-11 with me.
I. The Greatest Thing In All My Life Is Knowing God. So what is the greatest thing in your life? I would submit it is that which makes you greater than your sin. It’s that which not only transforms you from the inside out but readies you for eternity. Look at how John began chapter 2, “My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin.” That’s the thesis. Overcome sin and you’ll be a better father, a better mother, a better friend, a better plumber, a better carpenter, a better follower of Christ. Look at verse 3, “Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments.” To be sure what John is referring to is not just knowing about Jesus but rather knowing Him directly. You could know about Billy Graham or Ravi Zacharias or Chris Tomlin but then they invite you to their house for lunch and you hit it off to such a degree that you stay in their home for a week. Now you know them not as facts and details but as a person, a friend, flesh and blood. We know that we know Jesus by the way that He has changed us from the inside out. What’s the greatest evidence that not only do we know Jesus but that He knows us? The answer is that we follow Him, we keep His directives, His commandments. In fact the acid test for this is that if we don’t follow His commands then we betray not only Him but even ourselves. Listen to the wording of verse 4, “He who says, “I know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” If you are a liar you are not immune from your own conscience, yet. So if there is an inconsistency in who you say you are as a Christian and what you choose not to do in following Christ, then realize the truth is not in you. Turn, repent is one way to say it, do what is good, then better and then pursue what is best. But notice this, that knowing Christ is inseparably linked to serving Him. The greatest thing in all your life is to know Him which is proved by the integrity of your heart in serving Him.
II. The Greatest Thing in All Your Life Is Loving Him. So to recap, to know Jesus is to serve Him, it proves the reality that you really do know Him and not just know about Him. That truth links us to the next, look at verse 5, “But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him.” It’s as you move in obedience to Christ, as you serve Him, that the love of God is perfected in him. Let’s look at that phrase a little more closely. What does it mean that love is perfected? What immediately comes to mind is that this refers to a process. It’s that good, better, best process that refers to the way our love matures, strengthens and grows. So how long does this perfection process go on for? I would submit that it goes on for as long as you are, in other words eternally. You will never cease to have the love God perfected in you because the character and nature of God are eternal, infinite, even unfathomable. But there’s another aspect to this statement that calls out for attention. What exactly is the ‘love of God’? Is that just a reference to our love for Him or can it also refer to the love that God has for us and how He intends to pour that out upon us changing us, drawing us, transforming us. It’s like that song that begins, “The love of God is greater far than tongue or pen can ever tell. It goes beyond the highest star and reaches to the lowest hell.” It’s the love of God, that John 3:16 love, it’s perfected in us to such a degree that we know we are in Him. So to know God is to serve Him and to serve God becomes the means by which we not only love Him but experience His great, great, love for us in Christ Jesus. I love how David Guzick describes the influence of this love upon us.
A Christian no longer loves sin as he once did.
A Christian no longer brags about his sin as he once did.
A Christian no longer plans to sin as he once did.
A Christian no longer fondly remembers his sin as he once did.
A Christian never fully enjoys his sin as he once did.
A Christian no longer is comfortable in habitual sin as he once was.
That is what Romans 12:1,2 is referring to when it speaks about not being conformed to this world but transformed that you may prove what the will of God is for you. In fact John takes it a step further, look at verse 6, “He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked.” Jesus came to be our propitiation for sin, God’s action of providing justice against sin by giving Himself as the One who would bear the ultimate consequence of sin, death. Jesus came that we would not only have life but have life abundantly. To walk in the days of our lives, as He walked, is to move through life resisting the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life. It is to walk through life in a way that denies sins attempt to master us. Sin does indeed crouch at the door and its desire is for you but you must master it. Such a walk is to walk like Jesus did, in the power of His strength, to the glory of God the Father.
There is one more thing I’d like you to see about what happens when loving Jesus Christ is the greatest thing in all your life. It sounds like a contradiction at first. Look at verses 7,8, “Brethren, I write no new commandment to you, but an old commandment which you have had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word which you heard from the beginning. Again, a new commandment I write to you, which thing is true in Him and in you, because the darkness is passing away, and the true light is already shining.” To paraphrase John is saying that the command of Christ that we are to follow, that is of extreme importance, is the greatest commandment. When Jesus was asked what this commandment was in Matthew 22:36, He replied that it was to love the Lord your God with all your heart. soul and mind and that the second was like it, that you should love you neighbor as yourself. That’s the word they had heard John preach from the beginning of his ministry. The new command is slightly elevated. It is a command that John gives to every Christian to love their brother and sister in Christ. In fact John says that when the church does this, when Christians especially love their brothers and sisters in Christ, the darkness is passing away. When Jesus said that you the church are the light of the world He meant it because that love for one another is foreign to a sinful world. It pushes the darkness back and collectively enables the whole body of Christ to then love their neighbors as themselves. The metaphor he uses is that such love is like light and the absence of it is like darkness. Do you remember the words of Jesus in John 13:34, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” The order or standard of that love is that it would resemble the love that Jesus has for us. How great was Jesus love for us? It’s Romans 5:8 isn’t it? “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” That’s the love of Christ for you. It’s the depth of love that He calls us to exercise for each other in this church and every church that proclaims the risen Christ. It’s why the greatest thing in all our lives is to know Him, to serve Him and to love Him.
It’s the greatest thing in all my life.