It’s the first sin I can remember. A sin of commission. And I knew I was doing it.
My first grade year was not easy. As a child I had asthma and the harsh West Texas winters in Memphis, Texas knocked me out of a lot of school. Mrs. Newton, my teacher, wanted me to take a make-up test one day when I returned from a bout of sickness.
Mrs. Newton had me open my book. She showed me the questions I needed to answer. And then she left the room. They were simple math problems. Simple until I got to number eight: “Which number is the third number from the left?”
Sounds simple, right? I knew which was my right hand and which was my left. But I didn’t know if the question was asking for me to count from my perspective or its perspective. (Stop laughing.) I looked ahead and the next several questions were similar to this one. If I didn’t get my directionally challenged mind in gear I would miss them all and make a bad grade.
That’s when the temptation came. Mrs. Newton was gone. Her teacher’s book was on her desk. The one with the answers. All I needed was a peek at just one so that I could get my perspective corrected. I moved as quietly as a cat burglar to the book, stole a quick look, and headed back to my desk. Just as I was getting seated I saw Mrs. Newton through the windows coming back to the room to check on me. If she saw me she never said a word.
For several nights I couldn’t sleep. I just knew the test would come back with a note on it telling me where my eternity was going to be spent. Instead, she gave me an “A” and as far as I know she never knew what I did.
Maybe you can’t remember your first sin, but you can probably remember your last. You have some tapes that play in your head you wish you could erase. You have some words you’d like to take back. You have some actions you aren’t proud of.
And you call them all sorts of things: mistakes, bad judgment, poor decisions. And they are. But John calls them sin. And he thinks we should too.
In 1 John there is a specific sin he is concerned about. “Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness.” “But I don’t hate my spiritual brothers or sisters” you might say. Don’t be so quick to say you aren’t sinning.
The Greek word for hate, miseo, means “to love less.” Jesus used the word when he said, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” Jesus, who wants us to be known by our love, surely did not mean “hate” in the sense we typically use the word. He meant that if we want to follow him we have to love them, yes. But love them less. That’s what “hate” means here.
You may not feel the usual emotions associated with hate—things like anger, disgust, hostility—towards anyone in the fellowship. But you may love them less. Less than your own interests. Less than your own desires. Less than your schedule. Less than your personal agenda. The sin John is concerned with is not immorality or crime. Those sins need to be confessed too. But the sin he is concerned with has to do with missing the mark of a relationship with God that includes a relationship with others in the fellowship. You can’t have one without the other.
Loving those inside the church becomes a witness to those outside the church. “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Let’s love each other more. And when we love each other less, confess it. And then leave that sin for love.
It’s as simple as counting three spaces from your left.
Question: What specific step can you take this week to love those inside the church more?