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Archive for the 'Gems in John' Category

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Gems in the Letter of 3 John

Part 120 - 3 John
More steps in the truth.


3 John is the shortest writing in the New Testament, which doesn’t help when trying to pick out a ‘gem’. In fact in many ways there aren’t any so I will just list verse 1 as a gem because there are some important lessons to be learnt from the situation which clearly lies behind the letter, so it would be a pity to miss it out. 4 characters appear in the story behind the writing: the elder who wrote it, Gaius who received it, a good guy, Demetrius and a bad guy, Diotrephes.

It is impossible to be sure what the argument that the elder refers to was about but there is a good chance it was the old problem which is still around: should we keep the church tightly restricted to those whose loyalty to the faith we feel we can totally rely on; and those who think the church needs to be rather freer in its approach, even including those of whom it is not possible to be totally sure of their stickability in the faith. That is as much, or more, a twenty-first century problem as a first century one.

Dotrephes was entirely for the pure church. He may not have had Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians beside him but he would thoroughly have approved of Paul’s advice to the church in 5:4-8: “when you are assembled … hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh,[ so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord. … Get rid of the old yeast … keep the Festival, not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”

Demetrius on the other hand would have been anxious to obey the words of Jesus in Matthew 13:24-30: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared. “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’ ‘An enemy did this,’ he replied. The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’ ‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”


There is no clear way of resolving that dilemma. Each situation must be resolved ‘face to face’ as the elder clearly wants to do when he meets Gaius who would seem to have had some authority over the whole situation, though that authority may have been informal since there is no indication of any formal authority structure of bishops or deacons existing.

That is the first thing to be learnt from this short letter. The second is this: human nature being what it is it is all too likely that, particularly in an informal structure, those who gain power can all too easily become too conscious of it, too fond of it and too overbearing in their attempts to direct other people. And there are always people willing to be led for want of the strength of mind to understand what is happening and take appropriate action. They will often do that from a misguided feeling that it is Christian to accept the direction (or misdirection) of others.

It is a pity that we have to end these ‘gems’ on such a pair of negative notes, but that is the way it is. Note that besides these warning notes in this short letter there is much that the elder is prepared to rejoice in. He says many nice and gracious things to Gaius.

Take care. If you have been with me all, or most of the way, through this exploration of some of the lovely and encouraging things John has said - thank you. May the Lord bless you on your further journey of faith. He will be with you and bless you through thick and thin - and there will probably be both experiences on your onward journey.

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Gems in the Letter of 2 John

Part 119 - 2 John 4
Walking in the truth



. This second epistle of John’s is seldom read but is rather lovely. It gives us a view into the very early church. We don’t know who the writer was - probably not the same John as the writer of the Gospel and the first letter since he calls himself the ‘elder’ and not the apostle as he surely would have done had he been one. It is also unclear who the ‘lady chosen by God’ was. Most probably it is a way of referring to a local church rather than a person.


We have this delightful phrase in verse 4, “walking in the truth“ as the commendation of the members of the church. All too often the various translators have in many places translated the word meaning ‘walking’ by ‘living’ because that is clearly what it is a picture of. But in doing so much is lost. One can ‘live’ sitting in a chair or lying in bed all day while walking strongly implies activity and progress.

We, my wife and I, made a conscious decision when we retired from active work that we would go for a walk every day to avoid slowly getting less and less fit. Of course, as the years have passed we have slowly got less and less fit anyway but we would have done so much quicker had we not determined to keep moving as long as possible.

What is true in the physical world is also true in the spiritual world. We need to keep moving, moving towards our ultimate goal of being with Jesus in the life of the ages. This we can do in many ways according to our abilities and gifts. You may become much more regular in the prayer meetings and other meetings of your church than you have ever been able to be as you were working fulltime (without intending to I have slipped into thinking about the situation of those entering retirement. You will need to translate what I say into a more appropriate language if you are much younger!). You may be able to help in the practical tasks involved in a church. You may be able to help with the outreach tasks as well, door to door work, visiting places with the gospel, perhaps - if you are fortunate like me with these short ‘gems’- doing something with a directly Bible teaching ministry.

An old wartime song exhorted people to ‘keep right on to the end of the road, keep right on to the end’. That is excellent advice for us all in a spiritual sense. And, of course, I don’t actually need to look for secular encouragements. 1 John 2: 6 would say “walk as he walked” if they hadn’t gone and translated the ‘walks’ as ‘liveds’ (see what I mean)!, or we can go to Isaiah 2: 3 where it says, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the temple of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.”

John has said we are to walk in the way of truth. By ‘truth’ he means in the way set out by Jesus. Jesus did plenty of walking, backwards and forwards through Galilee and on frequent visits to Jerusalem.
Let us walk - easily the most enjoyable way of getting around either in the country or in the Kingdom of Jesus. The Pilgrim’s Progress (a famous old book written centuries ago) should never be restricted to one man’s story. It is to be the experience of all of us – you and me! Together – see you on the path.

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Gems in the Letter of 1 John

Part 118 - 1 John 5:20
What We Should Know



What we should know. John wanted the people of his fellowship to ‘know’ 4 things.

They are:
  • that they have eternal life (16);
  • that those born of God do not continue to sin (18);
  • that they are children of God but all the world marches to a quite different tune - that of the evil one (19);
  • that by knowing Jesus they know the truth in a very special way (20);
  • Then he summarizes it all by saying that they were ‘in’ Jesus.

    Their job was much easier than ours. In those days there were not too many things to know. Even those who could read would not have many things to read. We, on the other hand, are deluged with things to know. The TV and the radio and a million books take care of that. So it is hard for us to really concentrate on things like these and make sure they are really deeply imbedded in our thinking. But we must make the effort to get them there and hold them there.

    We have eternal life - the life of the ages. A whole new worldview opened up with the appearance of Jesus in the lanes and houses of Galilee. The Kingdom has come, with him as its Crown Prince. It is a kingdom that is unlike any other there has ever been. Not only is it a kingdom we can, and should, enjoy now but it is one that will take care of us after we have died out of this earthly life. We will be in heaven, briefly, before we are resurrected, as Jesus was, to partake in the new heaven and the new earth. What it will be like we do not know in any detail but we have his word for it and may rest in that with great confidence.

    He then gives us a sharp reminder that we must not live in sinfulness by his positive statement that we do not continue to sin. What happens if we do he does not say but the prospect would not be good. We do all sin, as he said in his first chapter, but we must not live with a fixed tendency to sin. That is idolatry. Beware.

    He then says that, presumably provided we do not disbar ourselves by idolatry, we are the children of God, members of the family of faith. That you will probably not fully understand until you are overseas, away from home, and have to rely on your brothers and sisters of the faith. Then you will realise what the power of a worldwide family is.

    In knowing your fellows of the faith you will have some slight idea of what it means to be ‘in Jesus’, part of the body of the Messiah.. You will come to understand that much of the world is quite antagonistic to you because of your faith. Some of you who read this will understand that very much better than I, in my comfortable Western country ever can, even although I lived for a few years in a country where Christians are not very welcome.

    In summary then, his 4 messages are:
    We have eternal life
    Continuing in sin is not possible for us
    We are in the family of the Messiah
    That all our thinking is to be centred on Jesus

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Gems in the Letter of 1 John

Part 117 - 1 John 5:11
Testimony



. John says that amongst other things, “this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.” I say ‘amongst other things’ because this verse is in the middle of a group of verses centering on ‘testimony’, a word which appears some 8 times in 6 verses. John is picking up again the idea he started his letter with when he talked about the things they – the apostles – had seen and heard and touched. Unfortunately this whole passage is somewhat confused. In particular it is not possible to be quite sure what he meant when he was referring to ‘water’ (the verse omitted from most Bibles is a translation of words that do not appear in any manuscript earlier than the 14th century). Water may refer to the believer’s baptism, to the baptism of Jesus, or the water that came from his side when he was hanging on the cross – the 3 most likely possibilities.

But the detail doesn’t matter. What he is telling us, loud and clear, is that what does matter is that we place our faith firmly and securely on the matter of testimony. Our faith is not founded on ideas but on facts. It all happened a long time ago but it did happen and so these things matter. That is what John is intent on convincing his people. Those who had left his fellowship were probably gnostics – people who placed their faith on gnosis = wisdom. They thought, as all too many people think these days, that you could achieve all you needed to achieve by thinking. You can’t. The Lord of all creation has made himself known to us – isn’t that amazing – and if we ignore that simple fact we end up in a cloud of our own ideas which have no validity beyond our own thought processes.

What we believe is not what someone, in one instance of time or even over a lifetime, thought. It is the result of more than a thousand years in which the peoples of one nation related to the Lord God. They wrestled and struggled with how they were to understand him. They sometimes worked hard to get to know him better. At other times they tried hard to forget about him and go their own way. Then finally they were challenged by his presence in human form and that became the critical point of their experience. It was still many more than one person’s experience of him. We have the four Gospels, a history of the first few years of the church and a collection of writings from those years. Everything they wrote down and that we still have constitute an enormous testimony to the ways of God, his provision for us and the ways we should respond to him. In the end it comes down to a simple statement, “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.” (5:12).

Once again, as he has done before, John is drawing a very firm line between those who believe in Jesus, who have set out quite determinedly to follow him, and those who haven’t. Those who have have the promise of God of eternal life, the life of the age to come.

The obvious question each of us must ask ourselves is, ‘which side of the line am I on?’

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Gems in the Letter of 1 John

Part 116 - 1 John 5:4
Comparative powers



John says, “This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.” Oh, really, we may feel like retorting. Many of us will feel that we have no sort of victory much of the time, or even ever. Unfortunately that is the way life often is. We may be overworked, stressed, ill, subject to family problems, or financial problems, unemployed, frightened of dying (no Christian should ever be afraid of death but dying can be an uncomfortable process!), frightened of being killed, bored or whatever. Christians are not invulnerable to those sorts of things. How then can John say that we have a victory because of our faith?
In fact if we look back through this lovely letter he has written we will see that he deals out a great deal of encouragement to the people he is writing to.


In 1 John 2:27, 28 he says, “…the anointing you received from him remains in you, … his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him. … so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming.”

Then in 1 John 3:21, “Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God”.
In 1 John 4:17, “This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the Day of Judgment; In this world we are like Jesus.”

And in 1 John 5:14, “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.”

There is plenty there about confidence. Of course, it is not sufficient for the Olympic athlete to be confident as they crouch down ready to run; they need to come first to get the victory. But then the victory we are talking about is of quite a different nature; it is a victory in the sense of overcoming all our worries and anxieties our fears and our failures. How are we to do that?

John cleverly parcels up the answers in this short passage of the first 5 verses of this chapter. He starts with “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well.” And finishes with “Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.” All that he has said in between – well worth reading if you have a Bible handy – is gathered up between those 2 statements about believing Jesus is the Messiah and that he is the Son of God.
 
If we keep those 2 facts well held in our minds, grow from our starting points as the babies of God and allow the Spirit to work in our lives we shall overcome. Nothing is more certain; it is the great Creator and Sustainer God of all the earth who has you in his hand. It probably wont be at all obvious to your neighbours that you are operating at a different level to them – if they are not believers in Jesus – but that will be the true fact of what is happening.

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Gems in the Letter of 1 John

Part 115 - 1 John 4:16
God is love.


This is one of the diamonds of John’s gems! Unfortunately, the first thing I must say is to be careful and not think of it as ‘Love is God’. It isn’t! Even though many pop songs etc. would seem to suggest it is. The verses before and after this phrase stand out and we need to read them. We have:

 
“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Saviour of the world.
If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the Day of Judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.”

How can we summarize what we have there and put it together into one idea. I would suggest that we should go back to the idea which is dominant in the first 3 Gospels but which John used very little. And that is the idea of ‘kingdom’, the kingdom of God. One of the dominant characteristics of that kingdom, if not THE dominant characteristic is ‘love’

We live in a world in which more people than ever before are changing the kingdom, or nation, within which they are going to live. There are huge numbers of displaced people and migrants all over the world. They are causing problems. Many of them want to live in a different country but without changing their culture. But the existing people of the country demand that they should change culture, accepting theirs and fitting in properly. The outcome is conflict.

Jesus followers have no choice. They are to change their culture to that of the kingdom of God. The dominant feature of it is ‘love’. They are to receive the love of God because they are born of God; they have received all the benefits of the death of the Son of God through his atoning sacrifice on the cross. That love must be reflected out from their lives. If it isn’t they are not truly born of God and have not received those benefits: the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Spirit. That reflection means that we love one another. We will also have confidence for the moment when we have to approach the throne of judgement. Fear will not be a factor on that day and should not be now.

Our task now is not to be careful not to break a long list of rules. It is to live as true citizens of the Kingdom, rejoicing in our relationship to its Lord and Ruler and in our relationships to every other member of that Kingdom. What a prospect! What a challenge! What a joy!

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