Archive for the 'Gems in John' Category

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Gems in the Letter of 1 John

Part 105 - 1 John 2:12-14
Why John Wrote...



These are rather strange verses both in the format they are in and their content. John says ‘I am writing to you’ 3 times to children, fathers and young men; then he goes on to say ‘I write’ or ‘I wrote’ 3 times to the same 3 groups of people. (We will consider the people he does not write to next time!) To pick 2 examples: he says to the third group in each case: ‘I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one’ and ‘I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God lives in you, and you have overcome the evil one.’ Fine, but it is hard to see why he should say what he did to each of those groups and not one of the others. The young men are physically strong but are they spiritually strong? And the same sort of questions can be raised against each of the other statements.


Two things follow from that observation. First we should not be at all concerned about what was said to each specific group but take it that all the statements are addressed to all the groups. Secondly, and directly following from that comment is the observation that John considered all the church to be involved in what he was saying and requiring. This is not what most modern churches do. We split things up. Children go to Sunday School. Young people go to their separate meetings, possibly not even attending the main fellowship meetings very often. We have Ladies Fellowships etc. Of course we have to live as a fellowship in our culture and not in theirs and the two cultures will be radically different wherever you may be in the world listening to or reading this. A significant part of leading a church or any sort of fellowship has to be working out, with the guidance of the Spirit, what is best and most effective in a particular situation. Not all answers will be the same. There is plenty of room in the world for us all, reflecting as we do many different attitudes to worship and service. There should be straightforward main line churches emphasising Biblical teaching as well as charismatic churches leaning much more heavily on experience in every place. Things go wrong when churches split apart for social and inter personal reasons rather than any genuine desire to cater for different people and different personalities.

The clear teaching of this passage is that all sorts and branches of the followers of Jesus are to have a common source of authority. It is variously described in these few verses as ‘him who is from the beginning’, ‘the Father’ and ‘the word of God’. No one of the parts of John’s threefold division is given any priority in these authority statements. All, from the infant part of the Sunday School to the senior elders meetings has any other authority basis.

What about the place where you worship? Has due concern been given to where the source of authority comes from? Or is it the case in practice, if not in principle, that the real source of authority comes from one charismatic (in the non-religious meaning of that word) personality? That is all too often the way it is and it is ultimately disastrous for the long-term continuing life of the fellowship.
Have you given proper thought to what happens in your place? Have you taken any steps to ensure that the place has a proper basis?

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Gems in the Letter of 1 John

Part 104 - 1 John 2:7-8
Keeping the new commandment



What is your memory like? I hope it is better than mine, which is not improving either, but that is because of old age!
John is very anxious that neither the folk he was writing to and talking to, nor us 2000 years later, should forget one very important thing. So he says, ‘Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning. This old command is the message you have heard. Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and in you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining.’ in 2: 7,8. What is he referring to? It is not hard to see that his back reference is to John 15: 12, where we read, ‘My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.’

At first sight there seems to be something strange here. Why did Jesus seem to suggest that their love should be extended to their brothers and sisters in the faith and not, it would seem, to anyone else. We can work this out by considering the different levels of difficulty in loving (that is placing someone else’s needs and requirements above our own). Consider the levels of difficulty we face in loving others from least to greatest like this:

1. Jesus - who wouldn’t love him? He places no burdens upon us and lifts many from us.
2. Family members - well most of the time and not perhaps including the more awkward ones who will need perhaps to go into category 5.
3. Nice fellow believers - these are our closest friends, they share our general outlook on life and we have a great affinity with them.
4. Nice people generally - many people, neighbours, colleagues at work and friends are very nice and easy to get on with.
5. Difficult believers - unfortunately they do exist. Perhaps life or illness or age has made them difficult.
6. Difficult people generally - as with the last category, only more so because there is no basic affinity with them, which make getting on with them more difficult.
7. Our enemies - oh dear. Did you really have to tell us to love them, Jesus (I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. Matt 5: 44). We do wish you hadn’t!

Both John and Jesus knew very well that this commandment is not at all easy for most people. So they were not expecting every one to go straight to number 7 - much better to start at the beginning and ask people to love those in categories 1, 2 and 3. Then it would not be too difficult to tackle 4 and 5. 6 should follow on from that and then 7 would be possible only after that.
Of course, the obvious thing I am going to do next is to ask where you are in this sequence. Where are you?
As we move through the categories our attitudes will inevitably change, real affection will, or should, colour our approach to 1, 2 and 3. After that it is more a matter of treating people as if they were in those easier categories even when they are not. Take the really difficult guy at work. How do you treat him? Are you the first to greet him in the morning although you know you will only get a grunt or a growl in exchange? If you do it long enough you may be surprised that eventually his resistance will begin to crumble and he will become a much nicer person, to you anyway.
There is much to think of here. We so easily skip over commands of Jesus like this one, ‘loving people’, as if they are not there. But they are and we are meant to obey them!

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Gems in the Letter of 1 John

Part 103 - 1 John 2:6
Walking with Jesus



After those two very striking verses at the start of chapter 2 there are several much less striking ones out of which it is hard to say there is a gem of any sort. But the totality of what is being said is very important so we need to choose one to carry the burden of what is being said. Let that be 2: 6 which, in the NIV, reads, ‘Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.’ However, I much prefer the translation of the NRSV which is “whoever says, ‘I abide in him’ ought to walk just as he walked.”
There are two reasons for that preference and if I explain them we shall see most of the force of what is being said.


First: the word ‘abide’ is much stronger than ‘live in’ although they mean the same thing. A dog can live in a kennel; a cat can live in an outhouse; but we would never say of either a dog or a cat that it abided anywhere. The word abide is reserved for human beings. We can abide, in a house or a tent, or a particular state of being. To abide has a sense of permanence about it. All these things add up to make saying we can ‘abide in him’ a stronger, more powerful, statement about something more lasting than saying we ‘live in him’.

Second: to ‘live as Jesus did’ is not as powerful an expression as is ‘walking as he walked’. You can live in one room and go nowhere, if you want to or are handicapped. ‘Living’ has no necessary suggestion of motion about it. But if you walk you go somewhere. You are moving; you are progressing, and that is what John is talking about here. You cannot become a Christian and stay in one place; you must move as he moved. You must progress as he progressed. You must walk as he walked – and with him. There is an unfortunate line of teaching in some quarters that seems to suggest that if you are ‘born again’ that is it. You can now sit back knowing that your place in heaven is assured. You need do no more - indeed to suggest you need to do anything else is to deny the strength of the great gift the Lord has given you; it is to deny the full efficacy of grace, and that is heresy. In one sense it is. It is not necessary to add anything to the gift of God. Jesus said to the man dying beside him on a cross, ‘today you will be with me in paradise’. That man could clearly add absolutely nothing to the gift he had just been given. But Jesus talked about his disciples keeping his commands and that it was necessary to do so if they wanted to stay in his love. So John 15: 10 says, ‘If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love.’

The first and always necessary step is to receive the gift of new life which is God’s gracious gift to those who commit themselves to following him, because only then can the Holy Spirit be given and the first steps taken in the true life of faith. And what a magnificent life that is! Sometimes the steps will be difficult; so difficult perhaps that we slip backwards, and have to take the same step more than once. But they are still hugely worthwhile.

We went walking this morning. We greatly enjoyed the steps we took even through the mud and the occasional light shower of rain. I hope you are enjoying the walk that you are taking hand-in-hand with Jesus. It is there for you and for your enjoyment. Not that there may not be considerably worse ‘mud’ on your way than anything we encountered. He will be with you through it. The previous verses say that love for God is made complete if we keep his commands. We will come across what that means before long and many times in the rest of this epistle. We just note here that surely there can be nothing richer, more satisfying, than that.

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Gems in the Letter of 1 John

Part 102 - 1 John 2:2
The sacrifice on the Cross


The second of these so important verses says: ‘. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.’

There is, in the original an even more important and difficult word to translate here than we had in the last verse. It is, in the Greek, ‘hilasmos’. The NIV, and also the NRSV, have chosen to translate it as ‘atoning sacrifice’, which is a very neutral choice, as we still have to work out what that means! Other versions are often bolder. Some have ‘propitiation’ (that is: an action which turns aside the wrath of an angry God, NASB, ESV, HCSB). Many have argued that should be ‘expiation’ (that is: an action which deals with a persons sins which are preventing their approach to a holy God). Other less difficult words are used in some other translations: ‘the means by which our sins are forgiven (GNB)’, or ‘ the sacrifice that takes away our sins” (CEV, JB). As if all that is not enough none of these are the basic meaning with which the word is used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament that most of these New Testament writers used. That basic meaning is ‘mercy seat’, referring to the gold covered lid of the covenant box which was placed in the deepest and most holy part of the tabernacle and then of the temple. At either side of the lid were two cherubim who spread their wings over the centre of the seat thus creating a kind of cavity. Moses was specifically told that that was where the Lord would be when he met with him and from where he would be given further instructions as to how he was to proceed. Thus in Exodus 25: 22 we read, ‘There, above the cover between the two cherubim that are over the ark of the covenant law, I will meet with you and give you all my commands for the Israelites.’ The great significance of that is that it was then considered to be the place where the Lord God was - in a very special way.

If we then realise that this is the image we are being given of Jesus and his work it is not only about the great sacrifice Jesus had made on the cross but also a clear indication that it was in him that God came to earth and communicated with mankind.

This marvellous verse is telling us that it is in and through Jesus, the advocate with the Father, of the previous verse that we – yes – you and me – have contact with the Father God! In a real way that has to come before and with the work of atonement that Jesus effected through his death on the Cross. It came from the moment Jesus came to earth.

Note that this also explains why John says it was ‘for the whole world’. This is not saying that everyone will be saved but that a new era of human life opened up as Jesus lived and died. From that moment on the ‘mercy seat’ became available for all mankind. Before that only a few very special people, mainly Jews, had had any possibility of approaching and communicating with God. Now the way was open for all peoples, all nations, all races, everyone in the community you live in, your neighbours, YOU and me, to approach and communicate with the Lord God. The only qualification was, and is, active belief and trust in Jesus. Wow!

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Gems in the Letter of 1 John

Part 101 - 1 John 2:1
Our Advocate


We come now to two very important verses in the thinking of John. He is deeply concerned about the people in his fellowship. I will call them the ‘In’ group. They are being got at by the ‘Out’ group, who are people who have left the fellowship. They are mentioned most clearly in 2: 19 where John says, ‘ they went out from us’. We do not know with absolute certainty what happened but by far the most likely thing is that they had become Gnostic in their thinking. They had decided that there were special things they knew that made them superior to the In group. For them belief in Jesus and following his teaching was no longer enough. Their religion was therefore very similar to that of many of the other small religious groups common in those days. That would probably have had the advantage of making them much safer physically because they would not have appeared to the authorities to be as dangerously different as the Christians seemed to be.

The Out group were trying to persuade members of the In group to join them. In the eyes of John what the Out folk were teaching was so far adrift from what Jesus had taught, and the main line of the early church were teaching, that they were idolatrous and therefore very sinful. So we get the two verses 2:1,2: ‘My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.’

Here, in the first of these two verses, we get the word that appeared several times in the farewell message of Jesus in chapters 14 - 16 of John’s gospel that was translated in the NIV as ‘advocate’ and in several different ways, including ‘counselor’ and ‘helper’ in other versions,. There is much less problem here. An ‘advocate’ is ‘one who speaks on behalf of another’ or ‘one called alongside to help’ and that is the more straightforward meaning here.

Bur there is a problem: in what sense can we say that Jesus was alongside to help these people and indeed, can be alongside to help us today? The answer lies in the whole purpose of the ascension of Jesus after his death and resurrection. He did not go back to heaven to do nothing. Of course it is quite impossible to describe precisely what goes on in heaven in earthly terms so we get slightly different pictures of what he is doing in the books of Hebrews and Romans. The writer to the Hebrews has a static picture of what Jesus is doing. He says Jesus is sitting at the right hand of the Lord God, establishing by his presence there the eternal validity of his sacrifice on the cross. He is sitting there as the Great High Priest, much superior to all human high priests in the effectiveness and eternal duration of his sacrifice on the cross. We see that in Hebrews chapters 4 - 10 and particularly in 9: 11 - 15 where he says: ‘But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.’

And the writer to the Hebrews sums up the effect for us by saying in 7: 25, ‘Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.’

Paul has a more dynamic picture when he says in Romans 8:26, ‘ In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.’ He refers to the Holy Spirit rather than Jesus but, of course, the two pictures are more or less interchangeable in this context.

When we talk about our prayer life some people even boast about how extensive and effective their prayers are, but all that fades into insignificance before what the Lord is doing for us. He is praying for you and me, talking about us with his Father, in heaven right now. He is continuously reminding the Father about us, our strengths and weaknesses, our triumphs and our failures – known as sins (not that the Father has a bad memory, but how else can I emphasize what he is doing?). Why he can do that so effectively we are told in the next verse – but that is for next time.

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Gems in the Letter of 1 John

Part 100 - 1 John 1:9
Confession


When I was converted at University the first verse that we were exhorted to take to heart was this one: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

Confession – apologizing to God and telling other people the wrong things we have done – is an important part of repentance. Repentance is changing direction – from a wrong way of living to the one and only right way. So part of it is moving forward in a very different and much better direction and the other part of it is stopping doing the wrong things in your life. In most ways the best and most important part is the positive bit – moving forward in a much better direction and we always have the Holy Spirit to help us to do that. The negative bit is turning away from the wrong things in our lives and a very important part of that is confession – telling ourselves, God and other people that we have a strong intention to do so. That is confession.

In practice, one’s attitude to confession tends to depend on which sort of church you belong to! If you belong to a High Anglican or Catholic Church you may be expected to confess very regularly, weekly perhaps. If however you belong to a, Baptist, Charismatic or non-conformist church you will be expected to confess your sins when you become a Christian but scarcely ever thereafter. Why the difference and what does scripture say to incline us one way or the other?

It is easy to see that the difference is between concentration on the negative or on the positive aspects of what has happened to us as we set out on and continue along the Christian Way. Both bits are important and we need to cater for both bits in our thinking. It does seem to me that it is the positive outlook that is by far the more important – but then I would, wouldn’t I, because I come from a strongly Baptist and non-conformist background. As I read the Gospels it seems to me that Jesus was always more concerned with people’s future than their past. “go, and sin no more” is the sort of statement he addressed to people who had turned to follow him.

John knew two lots of people. One was all those who had stayed in the fellowship that he had set up and of which he was still the centre. He was in fellowship with them. He reckoned they were walking in the light. Because he had known and touched Jesus they had, in a sense, known and touched him.

The other group, against which much of this epistle is directed, had broken the fellowship, moved into the darkness, and lost all physical contact with Jesus, to say nothing of the moral and spiritual contact they had lost. What they now believed was not the truth. There was no doubt in John’s mind: they were sinners. It wasn’t just an alternative point of view – they were wrong. They were no longer in any sort of relationship with God through Jesus.

Yet, even so, God would not continue to reject them if they acknowledged their ‘mistake’ by confession. He would accept them back into his family, consider them to be still pure and righteous, that is not those who made some bad ‘mistakes’ thus sinning. They are once again in closest fellowship with him.

Perhaps you too have been enticed away from the straight and narrow way of walking with Jesus. if so, confess what you have thought and done and he will take your hand and lead you once more along the only true way.

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