Thursday, July 29, 2010

God's Sovereignty Over the Wills and Desires of People Around Us

Photo Credit: Jonathan Farrington's blog:

Much of what we are today were shaped by the wills and desires of people around us; and much of what we will be in the future is contingent upon other people's future courses of action.

If God is not in control over  man's “free will”, then I will suffer from non-stop anxiety over what other people might do. One action from a neighbor could ruin my life. But thank God I don't have to worry about that because the Bible reveals that God is Sovereign even in the wills and desires of people around me. Romans 8:28 says “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose”. “All things” in that verse certainly includes men's decisions or else the word “all” would lose its meaning.

Proverbs 21:1 says “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, Like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes."

That is demonstrated when Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken in the entire Roman world. He thought he was in control; he thought he was calling the shots. He doesn't know however that his heart is in the the hands of the Sovereign God. Because of that census, Joseph and Mary were compelled to travel from Nazareth to Joseph's hometown to comply with the king's order. Thus, the prophecy that the Messiah will be born in the little town of Betlehem was fulfilled (Micah 5:2).

Another demonstration of God's sovereignty over the wills and desires of the people around us is that when the Egyptians who were by nature  harsh in their treatment of the Israelite slaves suddenly became very generous towards their subjects. They were economically depleted because of the nine recent plagues that fell on them but when the Israelites asked for articles of gold, silver and clothing, they gave abundantly that by this means, the Israelites plundered the Egyptians. How could that be? It was because “The LORD had made the Egyptians favorably disposed toward the people” (Exodus 12:36)

This is astonishing! There were more than 50 million registered voters for this year's national elections and God is sovereign over the wills and desires of every one of them-- even for those who have chosen to abstain!

This also means that for every Administrative Order that will be issued by Malacanang and for every bill that shall be passed or rejected by both houses of Congress for the next six years, God is in control. He is working for your welfare not just through good laws and policies but through the bad ones as well.

If you are a job seeker, you don't have to worry about the number of applicants falling in line or by the toughness of the competition. When the boss says “You're in”, God is at work; When the boss says “You're out”, God is also at work. In both cases, God causes all things to work together for your good.

When you are a businessman, you should thank God for every customer or client that approches you. The only reason why he did not go to the other store or dined at the other restaurant is because God is Sovereign over his wills and desires.

If you're dreaming to study in a prestigious university in Metro Manila or somewhere else and you're parents shouted “NO, study in Dagupan!”, you are not missing anything. You are studying in Dagupan according to God's purpose and it is good for you.

God was Sovereign when your father courted your mother. When your mother said “Yes” to your father, God was at work. Thank God then for you were born because of God's Sovereignty over the wills and desires of your parents.

If you are a young man, and you have pounded the doors of heaven until your hands are swollen; yet your dream girl rejects you in favor of another guy, rejoice in the Lord! God caused the rejection to happen for your good.

If you are a young woman and you have spent half a decade on your knees asking God for that handsome gentleman; yet he fell for your best friend, rejoice in the Lord! By his wisdom and goodness, God withheld what you are asking for in exchange of something (or someone???) better.

And how were you saved? Someone shared you the gospel in obedience to the Lord's Great Commission. God worked in the heart of that person both to will and to act according to God's good purpose (Philippians 2:13). If God did not work in his heart, he will not even have the desire to obey the Great Commission.

The people around us, including the really irritating ones are God's servants for your good. Praise the Lord!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Van Til says: "Barthianism is not Calvinism"

"Many Reformed people. Christians, people who were Reformed thought:

'here is a wonderful new development. Here is a great modern theologian who is once more receiving the theology of the Reformation and notably the theology of John Calvin'.

On the Other hand, there was a Lutheran who wrote a book on Barth at the beginning who said:

'Well we must have this. This is Calvinism.'

Well it was neither Reformation theology, it was not Calvinism nor was it anything remotely, I shouldn't say resembling it unless alas it does resemble it precisely in terminology and form. But in content... it is man-centered theology. Now that's my thesis with respect to the whole of Barth's development.”

transcribed from this lecture

Restrained or Unrestrained, Evil-minded Men Can Only Work for our Welfare.

Like many in his time, Guido de Bres suffered the pains of persecution because of his belief in Reformation theology. On May 31, 1567 he was hanged to death after being tried before the Spanish Inquisition. But before he died, he penned this words:

"We believe that this good God, after he created all things, did not abandon them to chance or fortune but leads and governs them according to his holy will, in such a way that nothing happens in this world without his orderly arrangement.

Yet God is not the author of, nor can he be charged with, the sin that occurs. For his power and goodness are so great and incomprehensible that he arranges and does his work very well and justly even when the devils and wicked men act unjustly."
(The Belgic Confession, Article 13)

We have seen in the previous post that God is sovereign even over the wills and desires of evil-minded men. Why then does he not restrain ALL wickedness?

Why did he not subdue the wills and desires of Joseph's brothers when they were planning to sell him to merchants. Why did he not subdue the evil plans of Potiphar's wife when she was falsely accusing Joseph of attempted rape?

Genesis 50:20
"You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives." (NIV)

It is because God is infinitely rich in wisdom that he could use even the evil intentions of men for the fulfillment of his perfect purposes.

The greatest crime in world history is that when men crucified God's Son. God has all the power to subdue the wills and desires of the religious and civil leaders of that time but he did not. He could even send multitudes of angels to execute judgment upon these men while they were arresting Jesus at Gethsemane, but he did not.

For it was his will to give his Son for the redemption of souls-- a purpose that he has foreordained even before the foundation of the world.
Acts 2:47-48
Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. 28 They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen. (NIV)

Restrained or unrestrained,
evil-minded men can only work for our welfare.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Sovereignty of God Over the Wills and Desires of Criminal Minds

 Exodus 34:23-24
“Three times a year all your men are to appear before the Sovereign LORD, the God of Israel.  I will drive out nations before you and enlarge your territory, and no one will covet your land when you go up three times each year to appear before the LORD your God.

One way to measure a king's majesty is by the size of his empire. And it was an era when kings enlarge their territories by conquering weaker kingdoms

Look at the situation: God commanded the men of Israel to go up to Jerusalem three times a year:
1.Feast of the Unleavened Bread
2.Feast of Harvest
3.Feast of the Ingathering

All the men of Israel including their best warriors are in Jerusalem three times a year. What's left in the other towns and cities are the women and children. It will be natural for a greedy king nearby to take advantage during these times when Israel's defense amounts to ZERO.

But look at God's promise in verse 24: “no one will covet your land when you go up three times each year to appear before the LORD your God.”

God promises that no one will even desire to take their lands.This shows the sovereignty of God even in subduing the desires of brutal men. Isn't this the same message of Proverbs 21:1

"The king's heart is in the hand of the LORD; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases."

It took faith for the men of Israel to leave their families and go up to Jerusalem while cruel enemies may be lurking around. I take it as an application that we should trust the Lord in obedience for whatever he requires of us. If we do, we don't have to worry about the criminal minds surrounding us for he is able to restrain them.

But what about those times when criminal acts against God's people are not restrained? That question will be tackled in a separate post.

Photo Credit: Thanks to Simon Howden who has kindly offered the image I used above at Howden's portfolio is found here

Sunday, July 18, 2010

TGC-approved lectures on Barthianism

I have some friends at Grace Communion International (formerly Herbert Armstrong's Worldwide Church of God). So when I learned that they have embraced the Barthian view of Atonement, my immediate concern was GCI's standing in the evangelical community.

To my frustration, there are so many missing pages in Oliver Crisp's article On Barth's Denial of Universalism in The Gospel Coalition's archive of Themelios issues. I have already reported the case to The Gospel Coalition a long time ago, but the pages remained missing up to this point.

Yet by the grace of God, I found out that there are some audio files on Barthianism that are available over the Gospel Coalition website.

and here


Friday, July 9, 2010

The Returning Exiles: Young and Old

I once asked the GLCC-Dagupan flock to put themselves in the shoes of the returning octogenarian and  nonagenarian exiles from  Babylon. I did so because the exiles 70 years old and below did not see the terror of Jerusalem's fall. The octogenarians and nonagenarians however saw it all. They witnessed how the buildings were burned including the King's Palace and even worse, the Temple. Beautiful Jerusalem turned to ashes before their very eyes.

Seventy years ago, they arrived at Babylon as grief-stricken young men. The sorrow in their hearts was so severe that even their best musicians hung their harps; their best singers can't sing.

  PS 137:3-4 for there our captors asked us for songs,
    our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
    they said, "Sing us one of the songs of Zion!"

  How can we sing the songs of the LORD
    while in a foreign land?"

As time flew, they witnessed the death of the men older than them one by one. Upon reaching the age of 80, they told themselves, "I'm next, I shall never see Jerusalem again".

Suddenly, they heard the news that Babylon's king ordered the return of the exiles. He also agreed for the rebuilding of the city. That explains the joy described in Psalm 126:1-3

"When the LORD brought back the captives to Zion,
    we were like men who dreamed.

  Our mouths were filled with laughter,
    our tongues with songs of joy.
  Then it was said among the nations,
    "The LORD has done great things for them."

  The LORD has done great things for us,
    and we are filled with joy.

As I said, I asked the congregation to put themselves in the shoes of the elderly. My pastor, Jun Malazo however played the maverick's role that day. He put himself in the shoes of the younger ones instead.

They were already comfortable and settled in Babylon. They have their own families. They are peaceful and productive in Babylon (Jeremiah 29:4-7). It takes so much faith for them to rejoice in the King's order for them to return to Jerusalem.

What a faith indeed!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Beautiful Extravagance

Within our sensibilities, we know that extravagance is wrong. That's why there was a public outrage when the a scoop came out that the President with other government officials spent around $20,000 for a single dinner at Le Cirque, a luxurious French Restaurant in New York

I think I am even more sensitive to extravagance because I live in Region 1 -- the Ilocos Region. (Alam naman ninyong may reputasyon tayo dito bilang mga kuripot pagdating sa gastusan). But I must go with historian Teodoro Agoncillo that Ilocanos just earn their money the hard way so they hate spending it. So I think even non-Ilocanos who earn their money the hard way can sympathize with me when I say that I don't understand people who spend fortunes collecting stuff such as shoes, bags or Barbie dolls.

In the Bible, extravagance is usually presented as an ugly thing. God requires the king not to acquire for himself a great number of horses or to accumulate large amounts of silver and gold (Deuteronomy 17:16-17). And in the story of the Rich man and Lazarus, the rich man who went to Hades at death wore expensive clothes of purple and linen and spent lavishly for daily feasting (Luke 16:19).

What has drawn me to this text is because there is an unusual twist here: Extravagance is called a beautiful thing. Caring for the poor is even seen as a lesser priority compared this type of extravagance.

The event took place less than a week before the crucifixion. A dinner was held in the house of Simon- a man who recovered from leprosy. A controversy arose because a woman approached Jesus with an alabaster flask of expensive perfume (probably imported because it is native to India). From Mark's account, we know that it is worth a year's wages.

The woman broke the thin neck of the bottle and she poured it's contents on Jesus' head. It's volume is considerable because it flowed to cover Jesus' body also.

Matthew records: "When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. "Why this waste?" they asked. "This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor"  (Matthew 26:8-9).

Jesus answered: ""Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial."

There are any other things that could be pointed out in this account like the significance of the perfume in Jesus' coming burial (verse 12) and the promise that her story will be remembered wherever the gospel is proclaimed. But I will just focus on one aspect.

This type of extravagance was commended because it was not done to feed the ego or satisfy the flesh. It was done out of devotion to Jesus. An extravagance that recognizes the greatness of our Lord is beautiful. He deserves our all. He deserves our best. Anyway, he owns all things and all these things were created by him and for him (Psalm 24:1; Col. 1:16). Nothing we possess is too costly to be disposed for his sake.

Be like Jesus, not Cain

I'm holding in my hands a copy of Faithwalk Vol.2 No.4; the theme of this issue is the precious gospel itself. On page 10 is an excerpt of the document The Gospel of Jesus Christ: An Evangelical Celebration. It is a consensus among evangelicals of different traditions and backgrounds on what the gospel is. Let me read a portion:
"God's justification of those who trust Him, according to the Gospel, is a decisive transition, here and now, from a state of condemnation and wrath because of their sins to one of acceptance and favor...”

This part is very relevant because there's a recent sad development within Grace Communion International (GCI); formerly Wordwide Church of God (WCG)-- that former bastion of Armstrongism which gradually moved into more orthodox positions in the mid-90's. This sad development is that they have recently embraced Karl Barth's view of the atonement. In this view, the efficacy (not just the potentiality as in the Arminian camp) of the atonement is all-inclusive. Christ's death effectively reconciled all men to God.

With his pen, Barth writes:

“We must think of every human being, even the oddest or most villainest or miserable as to one whom Jesus is brother and God is Father”

He also wrote:

“The so-called outsiders are really only insiders who have not yet understood and apprehended themselves as such.”

I asked one of their pastors to read the Evangelical Celebration document; he initially says he has no problems with it. So I read aloud the part which says: “God's justification of those who trust Him, according to the Gospel, is a decisive transition, here and now, from a state of condemnation and wrath because of their sins to one of acceptance and favor...” And then I asked him, “Do you accept that pastor?” . He admitted that they disagree with that.

For some, they may treat this as a small thing. “That's a non-essential” they may say. But the same document on evangelical consensus says:

“In things necessary there must be unity, in things less than necessary there must be liberty, and in all things there must be charity. We see all these Gospel thruths as necessary

As for me, I don't know how to evangelize without saying that man is separated from God because of his sins.

But this post is not about the atonement; it's on the theme: “Loving One Another in the Church”. I am introducing this post this way because last year, a friend of mine who belongs to that denomination was asked to preach once a month. He chose to preach verse-by-verse on the First Johannine epistle. What happened was he cannot reconcile their newly embraced soteriology with what he was seeing in 1 John. Because here, John does make a distinction between INSIDERS and OUTSIDERS.

1 John 2:19: “They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.”

Here, John does make a distinction between those who are of God and of those who are of the devil:

1 John 5:19: “We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.”

1 John 3:10 “This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother.”

We are finally one verse away from our text.

1 John 3:10 is a conclusion to the previous section (3:4-10). In this section, John makes a distinction between those who are God's children and those who are not. He is simply saying in this section that God's children practices righteousness. Those who live in sin are of the devil because the devil has been sinning since the beginning.

Yet aside from concluding this section, 3:10 also introduces the next section. After discussing that true Christians are known by their righteousness, they are also known by how they treat their fellow Christians.

For this post, I will just follow the structure of the Apostle John in developing this thought.
1.The Admonition (3:11)
2.Principles from a negative example (3:12-15)
3.Principles from a positive example (3:16-18)

THE ADMONITION: “ We should love one another”

No doubt, the princliple of love should be applied to all, not just on our fellow Christians. Our Lord Jesus himself said that the second greatest command in the Law is that we should love our neighbor as we love ourselves. (Matt. 22:39).

At one point, an expert in the Law asked him, “Who is my neighbor?”. What was Jesus' response? He told the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37). A man was traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. Thieves took away his possessions; he was stripped of his clothes, and he was fatally wounded He is dying. The first man to see him was a religious man. He was a priest; but he passed by the other side. Another religious man saw him, this time a Levite (a temple worker), but he did the same as the priest.

Here comes a Samaritan. This difinitely made an impact to the first century audience. When Jesus ask for water from a Samaritan woman, she replied “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink? ((For Jews do not associate with Samaritans. There is a hostility between the Jews and the Samaritans. But look, two religious Jews ignored a dying man. Here comes someone who is perceived as an enemy yet he got something the religious Jews don't have. Verse 10 says that when he saw him, he had compassion. He helped the dying man. After that Jesus asked the question ”Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man...?” The expert of the Law correctly answered “The one who had mercy on him.”. Jesus then told him to go and do likewise.

Jesus' point is clear. We should be a neighbor to everybody. And we should love them as much as we love ourselves.

But the text at hand limits its application on how we should love our brothers. Our fellow believers in Christ.

Galatians. 6:10 says “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”

While we are to love all men, we should love our brethren in a special way or greater extent. That is also implied in what God requires of Christian employees.

1 Tim. 6:1-2 "All who are under the yoke of slavery should consider their masters worthy of full respect, so that God's name and our teaching may not be slandered. Those who have believing masters are not to show less respect for them because they are brothers. Instead, they are to serve them even better, because those who benefit from their service are believers, and dear to them."

We are to love the authorities God has place above us; but we are to love them even better if they are our brothers in Christ.

We must not be lazy and say “Okay lang magpakatamad ng konti kasi si Brother_________ naman amo ko eh. Maiindindihan niya yan. Mabait yan eh." We have to work harder for the one's dear to us.

What I'm saying here is our love should apply generally to all people but it must be intensified when the recipients are our brothers. I really can't understand Christians who are happier sharing their life with their highschool batchmates or Facebook friends than with their fellow believers in Christ. I can't understand people who are more excited in a class reunion than in a worship gathering. There is nothing wrong with keeping in touch with your highschool and college friends or even online friends-- I do. But my affections for them can never match the affections I have for my brothers and sisters in Christ.

Two quick points from the admonition part:

1. Loving the brethren is not optional-  the text says we should. If you are a Christian, God requires you to love your brethren. Even if one of them holds a different political view than yours (Republican vs. Democrat; Pro or anti Charter Change). Even if you don't like his personality (baduy). The family of God knows no class: rich or poor; dark-skinned or light-skinned; Vilmanian o Noranian; Kapuso o Kapamilya)

2. Loving the brethren is inherent in the gospel message itself- John says this message is not a new lesson. From the moment the apostolic message was given, loving one another was an integral component of the Christian life. In 1 John 1:3, John says that they have proclaimed the gospel so that the recipients may have fellowship not just with God but with the proclaimers themselves. And so in following the footsteps of the apostles, we also share the gospel with outsiders for the purpose of drawing them into fellowship with us.

Just as love for other Christians is essential in the beginning, it continues as an essential all throughout our Christian life. We proclaimed loved when we first met, w continue to teach you that you must love each other says John.

After giving the admonition, John goes on to give a negative example..

John teaches us how we should love by presenting the opposite of love: hatred. He found a classic example of hatred by moving backwards in time. A time when the universe was so young-- even Adam and were still young. He uses the case of Adam and Eve's first two sons. The account in Genesis 4 tells us that Adam and Eve had two sons. Cain's calling was that of a farmer while Abel's was that of a shepherd. In the course of time, both offered an offering to the Lord. Cain brought some products from his field while Abel brought animal offering from his flock. Abel's offering was accepted while Cain's was not.

There are various opinions as to why Abel's sacrifice was accepted while Cain's was rejected. The most popular being that Abel's involves blood while Cain's was bloodless. For these teachers it is a typology for Christ's death and the acceptable sacrifice he offered on the cross.

But I find those opinions unconvincing since the Bible writers themselves are silent about it. Those are just speculations and conjectures. (Kesyo ipinag-utos daw ng Diyos na hayop ang ialay-- pero wala namang nakasulat na ganun dito) The Genesis account doesn't even say its a “sacrifice”. It simply says “offering” and there are examples of acceptable bloodless offerings in the Scriptures like grain offering and drink offering. But one thing is certain, Abel's sacrifice was accepted because it was from a righteous man. In Matthew 23:35, the Lord Jesus talking to the Pharisees says “And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah”.

The focus of John is what led Cain to do such a horrible thing. The ultimate cause was because he was of the devil. (v.12). He did not become of the devil because he murdered. It was the other way around. He murdered because he was of the devil. If you will moved backwards to verse 8, John writes “He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning” The reason why you inflict harm upon the brethren is because you are just imitating the devil who owns you.

Elsewhere, John records a conversation between Jesus and some religious leaders who were planning to kill him. They claimed "The only Father we have is God himself." Jesus responds "If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now am here. I have not come on my own; but he sent me. Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father's desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him..." (John 8:42-44)

The other thing that led Cain to murder was because his unrighteousness was exposed when it was juxtaposed with the righteousness of his brother. The Genesis account reports that he was very angry when his offering was not accepted. God confronted him saying, “if you do well, will you not be accepted?”. The rejection of his offering revealed that he was not doing well and he was angry about it. The murder was premeditated as he deceitfully asked his brother to go with him in to the field. Abel was unsuspecting. He trusts him fully. He is his brother, isn't he? They grew up together in the same home. They received the same instruction from their parents. They used to play together (walang ibang kalaro; wala naman kasing kapitbahay ang kanilang mga magulang). But the trust was repaid with violent hands.

That's how a professing brother in the church works, you trust him fully, yet he'll repay it with evil.

From this negative example, John draws out some principles:

1st, Christians should not be surprised when they are hated by the world.

Since their father the Devil hates us, his sons also shall follow what their father is doing. It doesn't mean they hate us all the time. There were moments in the lives of Jesus and John the Baptist when crowds sought them and admired them. But when by the light that we possess, their unrighteousness is exposed, they will begin to hate us. John 3:19 says, 'People loved darkness rather than light...” and since they love darkness, they will take it as an offense if you will ask them to abandon it. Why was John the Baptist imprisoned and subsequently beheaded? Because he boldly exposed the sinfulness of Herod's unlawfulmarriage with Herodias, his brother's wife (Matthew 14:6-12)

When we are hated by the world because of Christ, that is not a strange thing. 2 Tim 3:12 “everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted”

Those who are in the habit of defrauding the brethren and other people do so because they are not God's children. They belong to a different family. They have Satan as their father, not the God who is good all the time.

The 2nd, principle that John draws out from the negative example is that the love for the brethren is a proof that we are of God-- that we have passed from death to life.

That phrase was lifted from Jesus' words in John 5:24 “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.“

No wonder, there's immesurable joy and thanksgiving in Paul's heart everytime he hears some news that a particular church practices love within the body:

Colossians 1:3-4: “ We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints--...”

Ephesians 1:15: “ For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers...”

3rd, those who hate the brethren are of the devil.

Notice that they may not actually shed innocent blood; just a plain hatred for a brother makes you a murderer.

Matt.5:21-22 "You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, `Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.' But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, `Raca, ' is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, `You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell”

Perhaps the equivalent of this in our time and place is saying T-A-N-G-A or B-O-B-O to our fellows. Just plain anger that leads to verbal abuse is a murderous act.


1.The Standard for loving our brethren is Christ sacrificial love (v.16)

John 13:34-35 A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."
Loving our neighbors was required since the Old Testament times. It becomes a new commandment here because we now have a standard on how we should do it. We must love one another to the extent that Christ has love us. That is to the point of death.You don't have to do it now, but if the circumstances require it, we must be ready to sacrifice our very lives for the sake of the brethren. Who was your seatmate last Sunday service? Are you ready to die for him or her?. If not, you are below the standard and you must work on your heart until you match the standard.

2.Our love for the brethren is reflected not merely in words but in practical needs. (v.17-18)

There is nothing wrong with love expressed in words. The problem is when love is expressed merely in words It is easy to say “I am willing to die for you.”. Peter found it easy to say "Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will." But at crunch time, he denied the Lord.

John is saying here that our claim to love our brethren is back-up by what we do at crunch time-- when the real need arises. (read v.17).