1 John 4:12-13 says, “No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit.” No one has ever yet seen God. Why does John say this here? How can we love an invisible God? We show love to God by loving the image of God in His people. In other words, love of faulty fellow church goers proves the indwelling of God. That is, possession of the loving Spirit proves “we abide in Him”.
Soldiers go to war voluntarily, usually. Police officers voluntarily sacrifice their safety. Parents sacrifice for their children. Missionaries sacrifice equity, savings, and personal safety to go overseas and spread Christianity. Even retailers sacrifice privacy in order to be able to make money. Everyone sacrifices something so we can live together in peace. Medical Doctor Commander Edward Jewel wrote in the New Yorker in 2003 that he treated enemy prisoners of war.1 He soon realized that could be his job for the duration of the war in Iraq. The greatest sacrifice is the one who lays down his life for an enemy. Jesus died while we were still enemies (Romans 5:10).
I grew up spending summers on my uncle’s sheep farm. Though I learned a lot about sheep, I did not learn much about shepherding. Later I became pastor of a rural church with many sheep farmers. Though I learned a lot more about sheep from them, I still did not learn much about shepherding until I met Robin. She was a shepherd. There is a difference. Sheep farmers have thousands of sheep, but Robin had a small flock and knew each one by name. Sheep often flee a sheep farmer, but when Robin took a small can of grain and shook it, they came to her and they knew her voice. That’s an advantage of small churches. Jesus is like Robin. He is the Good Shepherd and calls us into his flock to be cared for individually (John 10:10-18).
1 John 4:6 says, “We are of God. He who knows God hears us; he who is not of God does not hear us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.” John is saying that we who teach the things of God are heard by those who know God. What qualifies any teacher is not apostolic succession or ordination by men, but the spirit of truth rather than error. When people give in to the spirit of falsehood, contradicting the teachings of the Apostles, claiming the Bible is just the teachings of men, they become false prophets, falsely claiming to be speaking for God.
John 10:18 says, “No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father.” Nobody, neither the Jews nor Romans, not even the Father, took Jesus’ life from Him. His submission and death was entirely voluntary. He voluntarily went up to Jerusalem, knowing that He would die. He said that Pilate would have no power unless God gave it (John 19:11). The fact that Jesus had power to take His life again, shows His divinity. And, He voluntarily fulfilled the commission from the Father.
In 1 John 4:1 we read, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” A misunderstanding of Jesus’ instructions not to be judgmental, is that we should not discern who are false prophets. Yet after Jesus said, “Judge not” (Matthew 7:1) He said “Beware of false prophets.” (Matthew 7:15) Is that a contradiction? Jesus does not want us to be always judging, hypercritical, and beware of false prophets, falsely claiming to bring a message from God. How do we test without judging? We do not condemn, but discern by the fruits.
John 10:17 says, “Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again.” The Father loved the Son from eternity, and that love is culminated and fully justified, because He is the Good Shepherd, and because of His voluntary readiness to sacrifice Himself for the sheep. His desire was to bring the whole world back to the Father. Jesus lay down His life of His own free will and had the power to take His life back again. The Good Shepherd dies, not to leave the sheep defenseless, but to rise again and be the Shepherd of more sheep coming into the flock.
John 10:16 says, “And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd.” Jesus describes one flock, but not one fold or courtyard, and he described one Shepherd Jesus, not any human leader. Mark found sheep in Egypt and the Coptic church became a separate sheepfold. Thomas, Thaddeus and Bartholomew also did the same in Assyria. Later Thomas did the same in Kerala, southwest India. Competing Roman and Eastern Orthodox claims of being the “one true church” are not borne out by history. All Christians are one in Christ.
In John 10:15 we read, “As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep.” We might ask how is the two-sided intimate knowledge between Jesus and His sheep? His answer is to compare it with the mutual knowledge between Him and His Father. Those of us far removed from ancient agricultural practices may not understand the love of a shepherd for his sheep, but perhaps we can relate in some ways if we’ve ever had pets that we loved and spent many hours with. The love of this Shepherd is so great that He willingly dies for his flock.
In John 10:14 we read, “I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own.” Psalm 23 is a picture of life under the Good Shepherd. I once knew a shepherdess who taught me the difference between a sheep farmer and a shepherd. She knew her sheep by name and they knew her. She didn’t drive them like a sheep farmer would, but called them and they knew her voice and came to her. A bond of trust exists between shepherd and sheep. To a stranger all sheep may look alike, but to a loving shepherd, each is an individual and cared for individually.