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Growing in your love walk 3 John apostle of love

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Series: Growing In Your Love Walk—3

The Apostle John: From ‘Son-of-Thunder’ to ‘Apostle-of-Love’


Over the past few weeks we’ve been talking about “main things.”  And church, what is the “main thing?”

“The main thing, is to keep the main thing, the main thing.”

And what is the “main thing” that must always be kept the “main thing?”  Love God . . . and Love Others.

When a scribe (teacher of the law) asked Jesus “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus replied:

  • Mark 12:30-31 “…thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these. [KJV]

The Apostle Paul also places love as “the main thing”:

  • Galatians 5:6 “… The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. [NIV]
  • 1 Cor. 14:1 Let love be your highest goal! [NLT]
  • [AMP] Eagerly purse…love…make it your aim, your great quest…”  

And what is “love?” I gave you a definition last week that I want to keep before you this week and the weeks ahead:

Agape/Love is ...

“The God-Given Capacity to put Others first—AND—to Love even the Most Unlovable.”

[And I want to again reiterate a point that I made last week]

When we were born-again, through the Holy Spirit, God “moved in” to our lives and hearts. And When God “moved in”…He didn’t leave His agape-love behind. He brought His agape-love with Him! Which means…

We have the God-Given Capacity to actually manifest the supernatural Agape-Love of God!

In the time that we have today, I want us to take a brief look at the life of the Apostle John. Because he speaks about love more than any of the other biblical writers, the Apostle John is often called—“The Apostle of Love.”  But it wasn’t always that way. John “grew” in his love-walk (just as believe it is God’s will that WE grow in our love-walk).

Background on John: He was a fisherman (in the family business with his brother, James, and his father Zebedee). John likely lived in Capernaum—next to the Sea of Galilee. One day Jesus was walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee. The first disciples Jesus called were Simon Peter and his brother Andrew (who were also fishermen). We further read in

  • Matthew 4:21-22 A little farther up the shore he saw two other brothers, James and John, sitting in a boat with their father, Zebedee, repairing their nets. And he called them to come, too. They immediately followed him, leaving the boat and their father behind. [NLT]

Hey, I’m pretty impressed with John already. Jesus calls—and they “go for it!” [go with the Spirit…]

At this point, we don’t know much about John’s personality. He’s obviously a risk-taker since he’s willing to leave the family business (and his family) to follow Jesus. But there’s a passage in the Gospel of Mark that gives us a bit of a hint that John has some ragged-edges to his and his brother’s personality:

  • Mark 3:13-17 And He went up on the mountain and called to Him those He Himself wanted. And they came to Him. Then He appointed twelve, that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach, and to have power to heal sicknesses and to cast out demons: Simon, to whom He gave the name Peter; James the son of Zebedee and John the brother of James, to whom He gave the name Boanerges, that is, “Sons of Thunder”; [NKJV]

“Sons of Thunder”… scholars today still don’t understand precisely why Jesus gave James and John this knick-name. I did learn that “Sons of Thunder” could accurately be translated “Sons of Rage.”  Can you imagine that John, the Apostle of love, might have had a temper? That he might have needed to attend an anger-management class? Consider Luke 9:51ff

  • Luke 9:51-56 As the time drew near for him to ascend to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. He sent messengers ahead to a Samaritan village to prepare for his arrival. But the people of the village did not welcome Jesus because he was on his way to Jerusalem. When James and John saw this, they said to Jesus, “Lord, should we call down fire from heaven to burn them up?” But Jesus turned and rebuked them. So they went on to another village. [NLT]

***Paint a picture: James and John are seriously teed off!  In the verses just previous to this, the Bible says that Jesus appointed the 12 to go and preach the gospel and that He gave them power to heal the sick and cast out demons. I guess the ‘power’ went to their heads!  That happens, you know?  People gain power and authority and it often times “messes with their heads.”  Jesus simply rebuked them—some Gk manuscripts tell us the exact rebuke—“You do not know what manner of Spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.”

And then in Luke 9, we get another glimpse of John that is quite unflattering:


  • Luke 9:46-50 Then his disciples began arguing about which of them was the greatest. But Jesus knew their thoughts, so he brought a little child to his side. Then he said to them, “Anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me also welcomes my Father who sent me. Whoever is the least among you is the greatest.” John said to Jesus, “Master, we saw someone using your name to cast out demons, but we told him to stop because he isn’t in our group.” But Jesus said, “Don’t stop him! Anyone who is not against you is for you.” [NLT]

Folks, that’s what you call “a party spirit.”  I mean, here is some guy using the name of Jesus to cast out demons in order to free people who had been possessed and oppressed by demons. You would think that John and the others would be thrilled that there were others, probably believers, who were setting people free!  But not John! This Son of Thunder probably personally went up to this fellow casting out the demons and said something like this:

“Stop that! Who do you think you are! You’re not a part of our group…!”

[Ah, yes. There’s John—“the Son of Thunder”—in typical form!]

Let’s look at another episode that is most unflattering to both John and James—and even their Mother.


  • Matthew 20:20-21 Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Him with her sons, kneeling down and asking something from Him. And He said to her, “What do you wish?” She said to Him, “Grant that these two sons of mine may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on the left, in Your kingdom.” [NKJV]


“Jesus, besides you, make my boys, my sons the “head-honcho’s” over the kingdom & everyone in the kingdom!”

Maybe Mom had ambitions for her sons….maybe James and John are just manipulators. But either way, James and John are pulling out all the stops! They are going to ask the same thing in a moment. But first, they call in Mom to perhaps soften Jesus up. In the Gospel of Mark, chapter 10 we read:

  • Mark 10:35-37 Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Him, saying, “Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask.” And He said to them, “What do you want Me to do for you?” They said to Him, “Grant us that we may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on Your left, in Your glory.” [NKJV]


You recall that we have discovered that a primary characteristic of Agape/Love is ...

“The God-Given Capacity to put Others first

Hey James! Hey John! Guess what? You just flunked the test! I mean look again at what they say to Jesus:

“Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask.”


***That’s the mind-set of so many of God’s people today—“Jesus, we want you to do for us whatever we ask!”

“Jesus, not THY will be done, but MY will be done!”

***Mark Driscoll (a preacher that I listen to on the internet and find quite stimulating) puts it like this…I’m paraphrasing:

“We come to Jesus with our job-description for Him. We write for Him the script for our lives…and He’s supposed to work for us and read and follow our script—“Jesus, we want You to do for us whatever we ask!”

But Jesus wants James and John, indeed all the Apostles to know that the kingdom of God is not about power and preeminence!  It’s about “love”—putting others first. Living to serve others rather than looking for others to serve you.


Mark 10:38-45 But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” They said to Him, “We are able.” … And when the ten heard it, they began to be greatly displeased with James and John. But Jesus called them to Himself and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” [NKJV]


It’s not long after the birth of the church that John’s brother (James) was the first apostle to be martyred. Herod Agrippa had James killed with a sword.

But what about John?  I wish we knew more about John. We know he wrote the Gospel of John, 1,2,3 John and the book of Revelation. I wish I could know the process by which this “Son of Thunder” was transformed and became known as “The Apostle of Love.” In all his writings, John is not interested in talking about himself

but only in talking about Jesus!

But I do believe we can get some clues as to how this “Son of Thunder” became “The Apostle of Love” just by exploring a few of the verses that he wrote (especially in 1 John):

  • 1 John 4:19-21 We love each other because HE loved us first. If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a Christian brother or sister, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see? And he has given us this command: Those who love God must also love their Christian brothers and sisters. [NLT]


  • 1 John 4:7-12 Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love. God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us. [NLT]


  • 1 John 4:16-17 We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love. God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect…”[NLT]


How did this ‘Son of Thunder’ become ‘The Apostle of Love?’ 

The answer, I believe, is found at the foot of the Cross:


It was at the cross where, John, being the only apostle present, learned what real love is. As he stood with Jesus’ mother…seeing the bloody and ravaged body of Jesus hanging on that cross…seeing the blood flowing down his face from the crown of thorns…beholding the savagely lacerated body of Jesus…and then hearing Jesus say to those who crucified him, casts insults at him and jeered him—

“Father, forgive them. They know not what they do.”

And after long agonizing hours of hanging on that old rugged cross, These were among Jesus’ final words:

  • John 19:25-27 Standing near the cross were Jesus’ mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary (the wife of Clopas), and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother standing there beside the disciple he loved, he said to her, “Dear woman, here is your son.” And he said to this disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from then on this disciple took her into his home. [NLT]

[In effect, Jesus was saying this:]

“Mother, John is now your son…he will take care of you.

John, Mary is now your mother, I entrust her now to your care. Take good care of her.”


I think THAT was the real moment, that John’s heart was gripped by love. I believe THAT moment explains how and when “John, Son of Thunder” became—“John, The Apostle of Love.”  Looking at the beaten body, the bloody face of his Crucified Lord…John now knew what love was . . . and what love is all about


  • 1 John 3:16  We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us…” [NLT]

What is ‘real’ love all about?

Sacrifice, putting others (and the needs of others) above yourself Dying to Self . . . so that Others might have life that is truly life.


Story of John: After his release from the prison Island of Patmos, John, now an old man about 95 yrs old, returned to Ephesus—preaching the word of God. Tradition tells us that when John was barely able to stand up, he would travel to different churches and preach…Interestingly, John preach a mere 5–word-sermon: “Little Children, Love on another.”

According to tradition, in one church, after saying those 5 words, one man’s response to the aged Apostle was this:

“Is that it? Why, you are the Apostle John. Don’t you have anything heavier to say than that?”

[With a twinkle in his yet bright eyes, the aged Apostle replied with these words]…

“My child, it doesn’t get any heavier than that . . .

“Little children…Love one another.”


I have neither the right nor the rank to address you as “little children.”  But if the one-time “Son of Thunder” who became “John: the Apostle of Love”… appeared before us today, I think he would preach the same message that he preached to so many, in generations long before us.  And it’s “The Apostle of Love’s” message that I will close with today . . .

“Little Children . . . Love One Another.”

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