|Series Theme: Meditations in 1 John|
Meditation No. 1
Meditation Title: We Know
1 John 1:1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched--this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.
I like the opening of 1 John in the same way I like the opening of Luke 1, for both of them are so down to earth. Luke wrote, “Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account.” (Lk 1:1-3) Luke spoke of eyewitnesses who had passed on what had happened involving Jesus. John goes one step further and is basically saying, “I was one of those eyewitnesses!”
After the first chapter, John uses the word ‘know' 33 times! John writes near the end of the first century and if persecution was often a problem for the early church in the first three hundred years of its life, the growing presence of heresies in that part of the world was possibly even a greater enemy to be resisted. Truth was thus a primary currency of the early church and they considered it vital to pass on the truth about Jesus and to resist the perversions of the truth that a variety of heretics sought to bring.
One particular group of heretics were the Gnostics who majored on having special knowledge. For them knowledge was all important but their knowledge declared that matter was evil and because of that, God could not have existed in a sinful human body, i.e. the incarnation could not have happened. Their knowledge was that of a special group, not given to the world at large. John combats this by declaring all these things in his letter openly, for anyone to see and know. Christianity was to be a faith open to all; all it needed was repentance and submissions to God.
And so, even with the opening of his Gospel, John has this slightly mystical or philosophical feel to his writing which would appeal to many of his era: “that which was from the beginning”. This beginning was not merely the beginning of Christianity but the beginning of everything. In his Gospel he had begun, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” (Jn 1:1-3) For John there was no doubt about Jesus: he was with God and was God and had been God from beginning of time, and had been part of the godhead bringing creation into being.
Although he does not name Jesus in these verses it is clear that this is who he is referring to. At the end of verse 2 he calls him “the Word of life.” Referring to Jesus in his Gospel he declared, “In him was life, and that life was the light of men.” (Jn 1:4) and to make sure no one misunderstood, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (Jn 1:14). A word is a part of communication and this ‘Word' was God's communication to us, His Son.
But with John there is nothing mystical in all this. Their experience of the Son of God had not been some weird experience induced by drugs. No, it has been in daily experience: “we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched”. This is why I said this is all so down to earth. God isn't found in strange and mystical experiences. Eastern religions are so often like certain modern philosophies that demand some ‘special out of body type of experience' to authenticate or make sense of life. In his book Kim, Rudyard Kipling has his young hero, Kim, encounter a holy man in India who is seeking some such experience. Eventually the old man, short on food and drink, falls into a water-filled ditch and has his ‘experience'. That is the sort of weird and wonderful deception the enemy seeks to bring to the world and it is a far thing from Christianity which is based on factual history.
This is why we have the Gospels, factual accounts of the things that happened in time-space history. John, writing near the end of that first century, is aware of the tendency of human beings who like the strange, the weird, and the spectacular. Yes, there is the divinely supernatural at the heart of Christianity but it is not to exalt man; it is simply the working of Almighty God. The same sort of thing was seen in unbelieving Naaman when he was sent to Elisha to be cured of his leprosy and was told by him – via his servant! – to go and wash in the Jordan seven times. Naaman was furious: “Naaman went away angry and said, "I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus , better than any of the waters of Israel ? Couldn't I wash in them and be cleansed?" So he turned and went off in a rage.” (2 Kings 5:11,12)
No, our faith is based upon facts of time-space history and we respond to the God who brought all things into being and who, in the course of time, sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to die for our sins. It all happened back there in history and John saw it, John had been there with Jesus and had travelled with him for three years. Oh yes, John knew, and he wants to pass that knowledge on to us to act as a foundation for our faith. Let your faith be built as you read God's word intelligently.
|Series Theme: Meditations in 1 John|
Meditation No. 2
Meditation Title: The Life has come
1 John 1:2 The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us.
John's language in this verse is remarkable, and each part requires careful attention. Look at the way he starts: “The life appeared.” He finished verses 1 with, “this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.” From his Gospel we saw that when he speaks of the Word, he means Jesus, God's perfect communication with mankind. This communication – Jesus – IS life. In the beginning of his Gospel he wrote of Jesus, “In him was life, and that life was the light of men.” (Jn 1:4). What John is trying to tell us is that Jesus is the source of all life – God is the source of all life.
Oh how we take Scripture for granted! “The life appeared.” How dramatic is that. The source of all life suddenly appeared to us. The implication is that previously he had been hidden from us – but he still existed. In the back part of the verse John expands on this: “the eternal life, which was with the Father … has appeared to us.” He is not only THE source of all life, he IS eternal life. Wow! That is an incredible claim. Jesus must be God for only He can claim to be life with no beginning and no ending. Yes, that is what John is saying. And again he makes this point that that which had been previously hidden from mankind has now appeared to us and made ‘himself' known to us in human form.
When you read John's Gospel you see that John, writing many years later than the others, had had time to reflect on and think back on the things that he had witnessed in those three incredible years with Jesus, and in so doing had realized that there were many significant things that Jesus had said which the earlier Gospels had not picked up. One such passage was Jesus conversation with the Jews about being the bread which came down from heaven: “it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” (Jn 6:32,33) Look at that language. He, Jesus, has come down from heaven where, by implication, he has already existed. In case we missed it the first time, he repeats it: “ I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.” (Jn 6:38) and then again, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven .” (Jn 6:51) This is the message that John brings us that Jesus, being eternal, had existed in heaven with God the Father before he came to earth.
This is what separates Jesus out from any holy men in history. It is the claim that he IS God. This claim is picked up throughout the New Testament. Listen how Paul puts it: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Col 1:15-17) That is an incredible description of Jesus. He is the visible expression of God, and just in case you're not sure, that means he is the Creator and is the one who holds all of existence together!
The writer to the Hebrews tried to express it similarly: “The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.” (Heb 1:3) There isn't that eternal dimension expressly stated, but it is clearly implied – Jesus is God's expression of Himself to us and he is truly God who has always existed and always will exist, the One who existed in heaven but who has now ‘appeared' to us in human form, the form of Jesus of Nazareth. Don't be under any illusions: Jesus did not start as a baby conceived in Mary. That was merely the ‘doorway' through which the eternal Son in heaven was manifested or made visible on earth.
But again John wants to emphasize to us why we can believe what he is saying: “we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you.” This ‘life' came in a form that was recognizable to us – a human form, a real, genuine human being, in every way like us – yet God! In verse 1 he had said, “we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched,” and just in case we hadn't fully taken it in, he emphasizes it – we've seen it!!!
This life has come in a form that was visible to us. This was no weird experience, this was as down to earth as you can get – we saw, talked to and touched this human being – but he was God! That is the incredible message that these New Testament writers bring to us – a unique message, found nowhere else in creation! Hallelujah!
When you read the Gospels, watch what Jesus says and does. It is like he pours out life wherever he goes. His words have transforming power. Lives are started anew when they have heard him speaking. Sometimes those words released a power that brought healing, physical changes to physical lives. These words from the mouth of the One who was life, literally brought physical life that transformed bodies. Of course the ultimate expression of it was when he spoke and dead bodies came to life. The Gospels show us several instances of Jesus speaking and literal life flowed forth and what which had been dead came to life again. Oh yes, ask for this revelation, to see that when John referred to Jesus as life, he really meant it. Life literally flowed from him as he travelled the countryside and lives were utterly changed – literally, spiritually, physically, socially, psychologically, emotionally, i.e. in every way possible. ‘Life' does that!
|Series Theme: Meditations in 1 John|
Meditation No. 3
Meditation Title: Fellowship
1 John 1:3,4 We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete.
There are things about the Christian faith and about the Bible that I am sure we take for granted. For instance, we take it for granted that these apostles of Jesus would want to share with the world about Jesus. Why was it that within the space of a few centuries the Gospel had flowed way outside the boundaries of the Middle East . Easy question with a simple answer: those who encountered the Gospel were transformed by it and wanted to share that wonder with others. Thus it is that we find this elderly saint, the apostle John expressing this desire to reach out to others. But it is more than just a desire to impart information; it is a desire for unity.
In these verses John introduces us to the concept of ‘ fellowship' (Greek koinonia – meaning spiritual unity). This is the reason he is writing, this is the reason he is proclaiming to us, his readers, the good news that Jesus has come from heaven and dwelt on earth and was seen, heard and touched by the apostles. There are always hundreds of things that a visiting preacher could bring to a church he is visiting, but for John his desire is to bring about a spiritual unity among us all, a unity between him and us. He has had a unity with Christ and now has it with God the Father, and so blessed is he by it that he wants all of us to have it as well.
Perhaps it has become something that many of us take for granted but the truth is, as John shares, that it is possible to have a oneness with God himself. All round the world there are ‘religions' which are groups of people striving to make contact with The One. Some of them think The One is just a force to be tuned into. Others think that The One is in fact made up of millions of lesser ones, and others think The One is a fearful being who has to be appeased by our following religious dogma. John comes and says The One has come to the earth and they have had intimate daily contact with Him. They have talked with Him, walked with Him and done things with Him. This is a far cry from many of the world's religions. This is something completely different!
In case we hadn't grasped the wonder of what he had said about jesus in the opening verses, he adds here, what we've already noted, that we now can have a spiritual unity with God who comes to us or reveals Himself to us, as Father, a loving Father. What is even more incredible,. Is hat unlike so many of the other so-called world religions, this ‘spiritual unity' or fellowship with God isn't something that completely swamps us so that we are lost in him, in some mystical experience, but this fellowship draws us out to be more and more us, who we were designed to be, unique individuals made in the image of The One. We are actually completed by knowing Him, and having fellowship with Him. We are made more real as human beings and not less so as sometimes happens when people become ‘religious'. How tragic that is, when God who has originally designed us is held at a distance and is not allowed to touch and bless our lives and bring us to fullness.
Writer Philip Yancey wrote on one occasion of how he kept a small home aquarium and painstakingly provided a properly balanced environment for his fish ensuring they are fed, cared for and protected, and yet whenever he went near them they fled from his presence. How could he convey to them his care and concern for the, he pondered? Only by becoming a fish! So much of the time, sin-tainted humanity scuttles away from God. Sin distorts our thinking and we think badly of God. How could He convey to us the fact that He is a loving, benign God, simply seeking our good constantly? The answer? By becoming a human being and coming to us.
Again sin-tainted minds think anything about contact with God must be hard and difficult but again John disabuses us of this idea. We write this to make our joy complete. You may note that in your Bible there is a note next to ‘our' that suggest that the word might be ‘your'. Whether it means that this brings joy to the apostle, this sharing, or that it will bring joy to us, his readers, the point is that it brings JOY. Joy is expressive happiness, happiness that cannot be contained. The truth is that knowing God, having fellowship with Him, having this spiritual unity with Him brings joy to us. It is a wonderful thing, a thing that brings great happiness. How far this is from the picture that grumpy crusading atheists would convey about the Christian faith! Rejoice in the wonder of this relationship with our heavenly Father, rejoice in the joy that it brings, rejoice that it is not just some strange mystical experience but is an experience that is founded in the relationship that the apostles were able to have with the Son of God on earth for three years, and which is now real to us by means of God's own Holy Spirit. Hallelujah!
|Series Theme: Meditations in 1 John|
Meditation No. 4
Meditation Title: God is Light
1 John 1:5 This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.
This verse is so powerful in the light of the condition of the world (sorry pun not intended!) that we must ponder on it and not move on. Ask people what they think of God (outside the church) and mostly they assess Him on the basis of what they see of the world. What do they see? Violence, illness, infirmity, injustice, earthquakes, floods, hurricanes and so on. Not a very good picture and so they say, “Well God can't be a good God if He allows all this!” Now of course that it s a very short-sighted assessment and it does not take into account that we live in a Fallen World where the free will of mankind is expressed through sin and that sin creates the picture we've just observed.
So then they look away from the world and may look into the Old Testament, and then say, “I don't like this God. He is harsh and judgmental.” Now again that is an incredibly limited and short-sighted view that ignores the teaching and illustrations of the Old Testament that God is loving and good and makes a shallow assessment of those times when God does bring discipline and correction in the form of judgment. Through the eyes of self-centred and godless Sin, the twisted and distorted mind makes poor assessments.
Even when you examine world religions (and I exclude Christianity and Judaism from this assessment) you find a fearful mankind who feel it is necessary to appease in some way this fearful God they seek to worship. Even in world religions Sin distorts thinking to suggest a harsh or angry holy God who is at a distance because he is utterly holy and we are not. (What holy means in their context is questionable).
Now John has been writing succinctly and graphically about Jesus, who he is and how he has come, and how they have been eyewitnesses to all he said and did. So far he has simply focused on the nature of the One they have encountered, this One who has come down from heaven, but now John indicates that Jesus came with a message which he conveyed to them. We may say, in terms of his goals and the significance of them that Jesus' ministry was in two parts: the first part was revealing the Father to his disciples, and the second part was dying on the Cross to take our sins and the punishment for them. It is the first part that John refers to now. During his three years of ministry Jesus was constantly revealing or reflecting something of the Father through all he said and did.
So what did he do? Jesus himself summarised it at one point: “ The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.” (Mt 11:5) That was pretty good! At the beginning of his ministry Jesus had applied the Isaiah prophecy to himself: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.” (Lk 4:18,19). On the day of Pentecost, the apostle Peter under the anointing of the Spirit summarized Jesus ministry: “Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him.” (Acts 2:22) Later on to the first gentile believers he preached the same thing: “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.” (Acts 10:38)
It would be a foolish person who would deny that all of this says that Jesus came to bring good from God – because if, as we've seen previously, Jesus is the image or reflection of God, then what he does is what the Father does (Jn 5:17,19). Now again and again light and darkness are used as illustrations of good and evil. Jesus' message that John and the others had received is that God is good and there is no evil in Him.
In his Gospel John wrote, “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.” (Jn 3:19-21) Note that those verses follow the more famous ones : “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (Jn 3:16) That famous verse summarizes it all! God is good and His goodness is an expression of His love and His love was expressed by sending Jesus to die for us so that sin would not destroy us but that we would be saved and experience eternal life with Him. That is NOT the description of a harsh, unkind, evil God! No, God is exactly the opposite to those things, and that was the message that Jesus brought and was the message that John was now conveying. Hallelujah!
|Series Theme: Meditations in 1 John|
Meditation No. 5
Meditation Title: Walk in the Light
1 John 1:6,7 If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.
In the early part of this twenty first century crusading atheists have attacked God and the Church and one of the key prongs of their attack has been based on poor examples of Christianity, people whose lives have not lived up to the call of Jesus. There is in these verses a call to a great separation and it is a call to every believer.
Now it may be that John was speaking out in these verses against those who purported to be believers in that time, yet whose lives could hardly be distinguished from the rest of the world. Some religious groups said it was all right to live how you wanted. It was the argument that Paul went against in his letter to Rome : “ What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? ….. Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace?” (Rom 6:1,15)
John is a great one for calling Christians to live godly lives, lives that are pure and righteous. He does it by contrasting light and darkness. We have already touched on it in the previous verse meditation. Referring to Jesus in his Gospel, John wrote, “The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.” (Jn 1:5) and “The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.” (Jn 1:9)
John uses light and darkness to describe right and wrong living, because the analogy is so clear – light and darkness cannot exist in the same space at the same time. If you go into a dark room and turn on the light the darkness disappears. It is as simple as that. So, says John, Jesus is light and if you claim to be united with him in fellowship, and yet carry on sinning, that is proof that Jesus' light is not in you, you are not in fellowship with him and all you say is a lie about being a believer.
When we talk about becoming a Christian we talk about inviting Jesus into your life. Now if you do that – genuinely – then his light will prevent you from sinning. Another way we put it is to talk about the Holy Spirit coming to live in us. He is light and if He genuinely lives in us and we fellowship with Him, then darkness cannot remain in us, sin cannot remain in us. The key word is ‘fellowship'. In his Gospel, John remembered Jesus, at the Last Supper speaking of similar things: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit.” (Jn 15:5) Remaining in, or, as the older versions had it, ‘abiding in' simply means living in harmony with Jesus, fellowshipping with him.
Sanctification – that change of life to become more like Jesus – is both an instant and a gradual thing. It is instant and starts from the moment we come to Christ and he places his Holy Spirit within us. At that point the goal of our life, all of our aims, changes. From that moment living for God becomes the all-important thing; that's what we mean when we talk about surrendering our lives to Him. From that moment on, His will is the all-important thing for us, but the trouble is that often there are things we haven't realized God wants to change and, in fact, the change will take years and years. But whenever we recognize something that is not right, we must deal with it immediately – for it is darkness and it can no longer exist within us.
When we fellowship or commune with God, He lets us know when they are obvious things that need dealing with. He takes away our peace and we become aware that here is something that must change. How many Christians, I wonder, never commune or fellowship with God? I wonder how many just hold him at a distance in their lives? When you do this you can tolerate wrong things in your life – but be warned, that has spin-offs!
If we hold God at arms' length, then we don't fellowship with Him and if we don't fellowship with Him it means we don't fellowship with other believers. It is the Holy Spirit within us who enables us to fellowship heart to heart, spirit to spirit, with other believers. But on the positive side, when we do fellowship with Him and with one another, that is how His life in us is supposed to work and that is the outworking of His salvation that He wants in us. That is why John appears to ‘tack on' this reference to the blood of Jesus, his Son, which purifies us from all sin. It is the outworking of our salvation is to be practical, not merely theoretical.
So often we seek to separate off references to our salvation and being cleansed from our sin, from practical living, but practical living is the outworking of what Jesus has achieved on the Cross. It wasn't simply that our consciences can be cleared; it was also to enable us to live new lives and that newness involves interacting with other believers at a deep and meaningful level. If we sin and hold darkness in our lives, that prevents fellowship taking place – fellowship with God and fellowship with other believers. We will have an appearance of a Christian faith, but it will not be what God has for you, it will fall short of that. That is how significant these verses are!
|Series Theme: Meditations in 1 John|
Meditation No. 6
Meditation Title: Still Sinners
1 John 1:8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.
Commentators often struggle at this point in John's letter. In fact a whole big part of the Church struggles with this verse because it seems to say something that many don't like – we're still sinners. There are those who claim perfection when we come to Christ. Did not Jesus say, “ Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”? (Mt 5:48) After all, they say, when we came to Christ he dealt with all my sins and the power of sin over me is broken and I am free from sin's domination – all of which are true! The Matthew verse would be better explained as, “Aim for the perfection that you see in your heavenly Father.” Also you have to be a very unknowing person to believe that you are perfect and you never think, say or do anything wrong, anything that is contrary to God's will for us.
There are also those who say this verse is a verse for application to unbelievers, before they come to Christ but the verses before it clearly indicate John is speaking to Christian believers. Is this an important issue? Yes, it is very important because the person who denies it fails to recognise their own vulnerability. Why would Jesus – and indeed the whole New Testament – warn us to be on our guard against temptation and failure if it wasn't a real possibility for the disciple? We'll examine some of those warnings in a moment.
But a bigger argument in favour of what we have been saying comes through the apostle Paul in Romans chapter 7. Again there are those who say he speaks about the past, but that is not how it reads and he concludes that chapter with, “ So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God's law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.” (Rom 7:25) When he moves in to the next chapter the force of his argument is that it is only in Christ and submitted to the Spirit are we free from sin. Are we always submitted to the Spirit? Again, it is a very unknowing person who claims to be so.
But an even stronger argument comes from Paul's reference to what is clearly one of the ‘sayings' of the early Church: “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners--of whom I am the worst.” (1 Tim 1:15) Was that something that seekers had to declare on the path to salvation or was it something the believers recognized about themselves. I have to say that the older I get – and my confidence in Christ gets stronger – the more I am aware of this truth in this early Church saying – applied and applies to me!
A little later in his letter John brings the balance that we need to hold: “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense--Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.” (1 Jn 2:1) His desire is that we will not sin BUT he recognizes that there IS the possibility for us believers and he tells us Christ's response to us when that happens. (In our next verses in this present chapter he tells us how we are to deal with it when it happens – see the next meditation). No, John is a realistic pastor and he knows the vulnerability of his flock.
But we said there are warnings in the New Testament that would be meaningless if we are perfect and cannot fall. Jesus himself taught, “Watch out that no one deceives you.” (Mark 13:5) and deception is about wrong thinking that leads into wrong behaviour. He concluded in that talk, “Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back ….. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping.” (Mk 13:35,36) He is clearly warning against wrong behaviour. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus is speaking to disciples and there we find much practical teaching and warnings against wrong attitudes and wrong behaviour – all of which we as disciples are still prone to!
The apostle Paul's letters are littered with practical teaching, warning against wrong ways of thinking and wrong ways of behaving – to which all believers are vulnerable. Probably the letter that reveals most practical teaching is that of James, full of instructions to do this or not do that. The fact is that we can get it wrong and that is why all this teaching is there for us. In the meantime we need to be aware of our vulnerability and with the help, guidance and power of the Holy Spirit, seek to avoid those things. May that be so!
|Series Theme: Meditations in 1 John|
Meditation No. 7
Meditation Title: The Way of Return
1 John 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness
The whole thing about the Christian faith is that it is about returning to God. The work of salvation on the Cross by Christ was so that we, who were hostile to God and His enemies, could be reconciled to Him: “ For if, when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” (Rom 5:10,11) The Christian life is all about being brought near to God with our sins forgiven and dealt with on the Cross, so that He, by His Spirit, may work in us to conform us (make us like) His Son, Jesus. That was why Paul said, “we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness .” (2 Cor 3:18).
This reconciliation was made possible by Christ's work on the Cross, and came into practical being when we surrendered our lives to him and became a Christian. From then on it was all about access to God and Him having access to me.
But of course we all know the experience of having blown it and feeling a million miles away from God. Yet that isn't actually how it is, it's just how it feels it is. We briefly mentioned this previously but from God's side He has not turned away from us, but Christ is active on our behalf: “But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense--Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.” (1 Jn 2:1) Yes, this is the truth: when we get it wrong, Jesus speaks up on our behalf. I imagine him turning to the Father and saying, “Father, I died for them. Please send the Spirit to draw them back to us, send Him to draw them back into that daily relationship with us, for I have done my part by dying for them, so their sins are dealt with.” This is the intent of the Godhead, to draw us back into relationship with them.
So how does He do that? The Spirit comes and convicts us of what we have done wrong. How does he do that? He simply speaks to us again and again and reminds us that it was wrong and that we will lack peace until we have dealt with it. Our conscience is that part of us that weighs ethical issues, moral issues that need facing, and the Spirit comes and speaks to us at conscience level and reminds us what, deep down, we already know: we got it wrong – and we can't just leave it.
This latter issue is an important and significant issue. As we said, deep down we know within ourselves that we have done wrong and we know that we have hurt or offended the Father and that there is an unresolved issue between us. You see exactly the same thing when a child breaks lose against a parent. Nothing may be said but the child knows that it has offended the parent and done wrong. We see it in children and in adults; there is often a ‘making up' behaviour that follows by the offender, an artificial brightness that tries to gloss over what happened. Yet the truth is that we know that this is not right and experience tells us that the only way to properly deal with it is to own up, face it and say sorry.
Perhaps because of this, throughout the Bible forgiveness only follows repentance, that facing up to our wrongs and saying sorry. And that, at last, brings us to our verse above which, when we have come to the place of confession, acknowledgement of our wrong and request for forgiveness, brings great reassurance. Unlike some world religions, or even misguided parts of the Christian Church, we will never get back to God by working to appease God and show Him how good we really are – because He knows the truth and knows that this side of heaven we will always need the sanctifying work of the Spirit changing us. And, of course, He has laid down the appropriate way for our sins to be dealt with.
Christ has taken every sin in his body on the Cross and so every sin has been dealt with, but that has to be applied to every individual human being and it can only be applied when they acknowledge their state and their need and accept what Christ has done for them. Then and only then does the work of Christ on the Cross apply to them.
But it is more than that because as we have noted in both this and the previous meditation, this side of heaven we will still need the sanctifying work of the Spirit changing us, because we can still get it wrong. Yet even every new failure has already been dealt with on the Cross, for Christ died for every sin ever committed, past, present, and future. But that still needs applying and the way it is applied is by us facing the sin and confessing it.
It is at that point – and the first part of the verse is down to us – that the work of Christ kicks in and we can be assured that God will remain true (faithful) to Himself and to His word, and so we can be guaranteed that when we do confess, then He WILL forgive. It is that simple but sometimes we struggle to accept that simplicity and so feel after we've confessed we still need to prove to God that we are good. No we're not, but our intent is to be.
So, if you are aware that you have a bad attitude towards God or against any other person, or if you are aware that you have said or done something you know you ought not to have said or done, then realize the truth and respond according to this verse. Amen? Amen!
|Series Theme: Meditations in 1 John|
Meditation No. 8
Meditation Title: Not a Sinner?
1 John 1: 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives
Previously we considered verse 8 – “ If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” There we suggested that John was saying that anyone who thinks they have not been tainted by Sin is misguided and unknowing. In that verse ‘sin' was a noun and describes the cause of our behaviour – a contagion. Every one of us is infected by this ‘disease' called Sin. As we noted two meditations back, that Sin was the thing that drove us to commit sins before we came to Christ, but since we have come to Christ, our goal is to avoid stumbling and falling to temptation and sin.
But John, here in verse 10, seems to go back over the things we've considered so far and reiterate them but with a different emphasis. Before we consider the emphasis let's consider the first part a little more, because it does bear further scrutiny. I don't know if you have ever been talking with a non-Christian, and they have suddenly burst out with, “Don't you call me a sinner! I'm as good as the next man!” Well that's funny in one way because it assumes that the ‘next man' is good! But what we see there is a commonly held belief that actually we are quite good. I will always remember Bill Hybels telling a story of how he joined a Squash league. He actually thought he was quite good at Squash and one day he played another man and was thoroughly beaten. It turned out that the man was actually only in one of the very lower levels of the league and recognized that if he played someone in the next level up, he would be thoroughly beaten himself, and as for then playing someone in the next level up… well! We really don't know ourselves. Merely because we have not killed someone or raped someone or burgled someone's house, we think we're quite good. I've often wondered how scary it would be if someone invented a form of x-ray machine that picked up bad attitudes or bad thoughts in us. Pride, jealousy, envy, hostility, etc., etc. There they all lurk and we ignore them or pretend they are not serious, and we say, “I haven't sinned!” Religious people are particularly prone to this!
But there in John's day, there were these people we refer to as Gnostics, who claimed to have advanced beyond sinfulness and said they had arrived at perfection. I have actually come across Christians who claim to be perfect – and they were the most egotistical people I've ever encountered!
When we considered this before, we observed a variety of verses from the New Testament that denied this claim to sinless ness. Perhaps we read the New Testament and don't realize what is there sometimes. For instance when Jesus was teaching his disciples on the mountainside (Mt 5-7) he gave them a prayer structure which included, “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” (6:12) Luke's version of that renders it, “Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.” (Lk 11:4). However you take it, it is a recognition by Jesus that we will fall short of perfection, get it wrong and need to confess it. Remember that he was teaching that to his disciples (Mt 5:1,2) - believers, us!
But now John brings that axe down: if we deny this, we are claiming that God is a liar! How come? Read the Old Testament: “All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.” (Psa 14:3) and “Everyone has turned away, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.” (Psa 53:3) and “There is not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins.” (Eccles 7:20) and in the New Testament Paul expands on those (Rom 3:12-18). No, without doubt the Bible is clear, we are part of a Fallen World and it is ‘fallen' because we have fallen and are sinners.
But there is yet another aspect of this. If we say we are sinless and, as John says, deny what God has said, then “ his word has no place in our lives.” In other words, if we say this we show that we have little or no understanding of His word and the Bible's teaching is meaningless to us. The truth is that if we hold this position we are deluded or deceived. We have got a wrong understanding and it is probable that Satan has led us astray and we've fallen to his lies. Modern relativistic thinking does just this very thing by denying wrong. The doing away with absolutes does this very thing. All around us we find this very thing that John is speaking about – people who, by a variety of means, deny they are sinners. Do away with the concept of sin and you do away with the concept of sinners. Do away with these concepts and you do away with any need for justice and judgment. That's how Satan and the world try to spin it, but the Bible – and John – speak the truth clearly to reveal the lie. Have nothing to do with ‘their' way of thinking. Realise that God and the Bible are clear that disobedience to God is sin, and sin needs dealing with.
|Series Theme: Meditations in 1 John|
Meditation No. 9
Meditation Title: No Need to Sin
1 John 2: 1 My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense--Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.
We have observed so far, John telling us that we are all sinners, people who are tainted with Sin. Note the capital letter we use to distinguish the tendency from the individual acts we refer to as sins (small s). Sin is the tendency or disposition that is inclined to being self-centred and godless, and thus in behaviour, unrighteous. When we give way to that Sin we commit sins, individual acts – thoughts, words, or deeds – that are wrong. John has said, “ If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves.” (1:8) But he didn't leave us there, he told us how to deal with those sins: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins.” (1:9)
Many Christians are uncomfortable with this language because it focuses on the negatives, on failure. Those who would want to speak about the victorious Christian life feels such talk takes something away from victory. No, it simply helps us realize our vulnerability and our constant need of Christ and of the power of his Holy Spirit. This is the point the apostle Paul reached at the end of Romans 7: “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God--through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom 7:24.25) In the following chapter he explains how Christ has dealt with our Sin and the Holy Spirit empowers us so that we can avoid sins.
This is now where we come to with John who doesn't want to leave us faced with sin, but moves us on to realize that although we are still vulnerable to it, we don't have to give way to it. This is the same sort of thing that I feel we have to say when we find ourselves in discussions about the genes we inherit from our parents. Every now and then the media latch on to the comments of some genetic scientist and are pronouncing that a particular gene makes us behave in certain ways. The truth is that a particular gene may give us a disposition that veers towards that particular behaviour.
Take the example of anger. A particular father clearly has a short fuse and blows up at the smallest thing. Even more than that, he uses his anger to get his own way. The child inherits some of his genes (not all of them because the child also inherits the genes of the mother and she never had a problem with anger!) and so has this same tendency, but more than that, the child has learned to use anger just as they have seen their parent use it. Now the only trouble is that this is wrong! So is the child condemned to be an anger-filled adult? No! The truth, as we've just noted it, is that there is only a tendency towards anger. We still have free will and we can chose to accept that behaviour or we can reject it and learn behavioral strategies that overcome the anger tendencies. And we can certainly refuse it to manipulate others. There may be a tendency but we don't have to give way to it. Even more, when we are a Christian, we have the Holy Spirit living within us and His power will help us control our temper, for He is a Spirit of self-control (2 Tim 1:7 older versions)
Now we must recognize that these changes may take place in different people at different times. For all of us some changes take place instantly, at the moment of our conversion, when we confess and surrender and are forgiven and given the Holy Spirit. But after that it becomes a lifetime of change. Some things take a very long time to change in us simply because we don't realize they are wrong and it is only as we receive God's word at some point – whether by reading the Bible or by preaching, say – that we suddenly see that a particular attitude or habit is wrong and needs changing. Other things just need working at. In my own case I had previously used swear words every fifth word almost and it took six months to completely break the habit, and I have never sworn since. Sometimes there may be an addiction, say to smoking. For some people giving up with the help of God through a simple prayer is no big deal. For others they struggle and struggle. I had a friend who really struggled to stop smoking, but it was only when the Holy Spirit fell on him was he truly delivered.
But John writes to show us that we don't have to sin. It doesn't have to be a part of our lives anymore. This IS the reality. I remember a friend who had sat in a meeting when the Speaker had asked, “How many of you have not sinned today?” He and one other put up their hands. When he talked about it later he said, “I have been too busy doing what God's given me to do to sin today.” Yes, we may stumble, but John's teaching is that these should be exceptions and not the rule. Yes, we are vulnerable as redeemed sinners and when we try to walk the walk on our own, we become very vulnerable. As we trust on Him and lean on Him and fellowship with Him and as we obediently go about doing the things He's given us to do, then, yes, our lives will be free from sinning. Hallelujah!
|Series Theme: Meditations in 1 John|
Meditation No. 10
Meditation Title: Jesus the Intercessor
1 John 2:1 My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense--Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.
We have made reference to this verse before but it is so significant that we need to look at it in more depth now. As a pastor for quite a number of years, it has always worried me, the lack of assurance that so many Christians have. It may be accentuated when they hear the challenges of the crusading atheists of the twenty first century, together with an unsympathetic media, but it arises, I am convinced, in people who have not been well taught.
The particular lack of assurance that comes to mind in the light of this verse is that very simple assurance that God is for you . Now to some this may appear stupid having to say this, but the reality is that there are many Christians who, when the way gets difficult for whatever reason (illness, negative circumstances etc. etc.), start to question what God thinks about them. They are suddenly unsure about His intentions towards them. It may be when you have been praying your heart out for something and no answer comes. It may be when everything suddenly goes pear-shaped. It is natural, it is human, at such times to question and even David the psalmist did it (again and again). It simply means we have to grab hold of the truth and let it bring us back into a place of reassurance.
Around the New Testament there are various such assurances. For our purpose the first one is here in this verse. John tells us that when we blow it, Jesus is speaking up for us to the Father. Note this: he does NOT sit there and moan about how useless we have turned out to be, but he speaks to the Father “in our defense” In a previous meditation I said, I imagine him turning to the Father and saying, “Father, I died for them. Please send the Spirit to draw them back to us, send Him to draw them back into that daily relationship with us, for I have done my part by dying for them, so their sins are dealt with.”
When the apostle Paul was writing to the Galatians, he said, “if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently.” (Gal 6:1). That is God's intention that we be restored. He is for us – even when we blow it.
To the Romans Paul asked a rhetorical question: “If God is for us , who can be against us?” (Rom 8:31) His clear implication, his starting point, is that God IS for us! Then he comes up with an incredible piece of logic: “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all--how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (v.32) You want to know how God is FOR us? He didn't spare His own Son in bringing salvation to us. Now, as the outworking of that salvation, He just gives and gives and gives. Paul goes on about how God has justified us (v.33) and how Jesus is interceding for us (v.34) – just like John says – so that nothing but nothing but nothing can separate us from God's love. THAT is how much He is for us!
Paul is telling us the same things that John told us in his Gospel: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned.” (Jn 3:16-18) How can we think that God is not for us when He sent Jesus to die for us and has given us eternal life? And what is that eternal life? It is life in His Spirit who He has given to us, who indwells us. You can't get much more committed than that – putting part of yourself into those who previously had been your enemies!!!!
So when we get it wrong, don't think that God writes you off; He doesn't! When you blow it, don't think God's big hand of correction is coming to smash you down; it isn't. When you have fallen and are in the dust, don't think you are all alone: you're not! When any of these things happen, Jesus is there interceding with the Father on our behalf to send resources to restore us. Why? Because he loves us and has given his life for us!
You want to know what He feels about you as part of His church? Listen to Paul, recorded by Luke in Acts: “Be shepherds of the church of God , which he bought with his own blood.” (Acts 20:28) There he's only saying what we've read elsewhere but he's put it in such a way that it triggers a further thought. Suppose, ladies, your husband went out to buy you a very special ring and, in the process of getting it, ended up being killed? How would you think about that ring? I suspect it would be incredibly precious to you. You could never look at it without thinking of your dead husband. Yes, you will no doubt regret that he gave his life to get it for you, but now you have it, it will be incredibly precious to you. Don't you think Jesus must feel the same way when he looks at us? “I gave my life to get you to this point!”
Wow! Gemstones are precious because they are rare and costly. Do you not think that God feels we are precious to Him, having gone to all the trouble He's gone to, to save us? Is He going to give up on us now, just because we fell over our feet? No way! He's going to continue to do what He's always done – everything He can to ensure we come through and finish the race.
That's just the conviction that Paul had: “I always pray with joy ….. being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus .” (Phil 1:4-6) I'm going to carry on praying for each of you, says Paul, because I'm convinced it is God's will that He is for you and is going to keep on being for you until He's able to complete it on the last day when He winds everything up. Until then, though, He's for you and will keep on being for you! He's not a quitter! So get up out of the dirt, dust yourself down, confess to Him that you blew it, receive His forgiveness and His love and get on with life again. There's lots more good stuff to come!
|Series Theme: Meditations in 1 John|
Meditation No. 11
Meditation Title: Jesus the Righteous One
1 John 2:1,2 My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense--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.
We have considered the first two sentences of these verses so that only leaves the last sentence, which is one which has received a variety of interpretations, so significant is its content. The crucial words for theologians are ‘atoning sacrifice'. Older versions of the Bible used the word ‘propitiation' and at least one version used the word ‘expiation'. Unfortunately none of these words are words we use commonly each day and so we need to explain them to see what theologians have been struggling with.
‘Propitiation' refers to appeasing an offended or angry person. ‘Expiation' refers to paying the penalty and making amends for. To ‘atone' means to make amends for and bring reconciliation.
Now the Bible does speak about the anger or wrath of God. Why does God get angry when, it is clear, before the foundation of the world, He knew before He created the world, that Adam and Eve would fall, and sin would enter the world. When we look up instances of God specifically being seen to be angry, we find He focuses His anger on wrong behaviour (see Num 11:10 with the Israelites' grumbling about manna, and Num 22:22 when Balaam's actions of going with the Princes of Moab, and Deut 1:34 at Israel's unbelief about entering the Land.).
Now anger is displeasure expressed strongly. To consider the opposite, how would we think of someone who was utterly calm and indifferent in the face of, say, a gross injustice? Suppose you heard of a gang rape in a street, say, and that there had been a policeman standing by watching, completely indifferent to what he was seeing? I think you would be horrified. Anger is a legitimate and even righteous reaction to gross wrong.
Now of course God knows the wonder of the perfect world that He made and He sees the awfulness of sin and its effects. When Jesus came to the tomb of Lazarus and saw Mary and the others weeping, the text says that he was deeply moved (Jn 11:33,34). The verb there suggests an element of anger was part of that feeling, as well as love and compassion. Jesus was angry with the effect of sin. Put it in its simplest form and we can say that God has strong negative feelings about the presence of Sin, feelings that prompted Him to do something about it. That started right back before the foundation of the world when the Godhead planned for salvation following sin. To see this in its various forms look up Jn 17:24 , 1 Pet 1:20, Eph 1:4, Rev 17:8, Rev 13:8, 2 Tim 1:9, Tit 1:2. God, knowing that with free will, mankind would turn from Him, was moved to plan for Jesus to come and do what He did on the Cross.
There is, of course, another way of putting this and it is to refer to justice. Justice is all about bringing right to remedy wrong. A child knows all about justice when they cry out, “Mummy, that's not fair, he's got more sweets than me.” The child is referring to an innate sense of right and wrong and calls on the mother to correct a wrong situation. This is what justice does, and we all have this sense in some measure. When a serious wrong is committed, we demand that the police take action to catch the culprit and deal with him or her. Of course when it comes to our own wrongs, we excuse them or make little of them, but they are still wrongs. Count them over a lifetime and there will be a lot of them, and there is justice demanding you be dealt with!
Until we took our eyes off God as a nation, we believed in capital punishment for especially serious crimes. Supposing the truth is that THE most serious crime is to turn your back on God – because all other ‘lesser' crimes follow and flow out of that one? Most of us are blind to the awfulness of that one most serious of crimes and its effect and so we probably need to pray for revelation to understand it, but that is at the heart of the call of the Bible for sin to be punished by death – because in the face of a perfect God and a perfect world that he made, what we have done and become is horrific. How can justice be satisfied?
This is where John comes in. Jesus, the Son of God has died as a sacrifice (a sacrifice is something that didn't need to die, that had no cause to die, but was put to death for a purpose.) The purpose of the Old Testament sacrifices for sin was to point to what Jesus, the Lamb of God, would do on the Cross.
We were slightly inaccurate earlier on because we hadn't fully finished with the previous sentence because there Jesus as referred to as the Righteous One. There has been no one in all of history apart from him to whom that description could be applied. It means that in everything he thought, said or did, he was righteous (did what was exactly right!) He had no sins of his own to pay for and so his death was totally unwarranted; he was a perfect sacrifice. Yet he did it because as God, only he was “big enough” to die for every sin in the world, both of the Jews and now of the Gentiles (that's John's reference to not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. )
This is why we can approach God today without fear, because Jesus has stepped into our place and taken every single thought, word or deed of ours that has been wrong and he has taken whatever punishment ‘justice' could dream up for them. We are free and, even more, when we still blow it today and get it wrong, he is there by the Father interceding for us on the basis of all he did on the Cross. Hallelujah!
|Series Theme: Meditations in 1 John|
Meditation No. 12
Meditation Title: Obedience
1 John 2:3,4 We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says, "I know him," but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him.
In some parts of what appears the Church, it seems that Christian faith is more like a nice social club where we turn up a few times a week and go through various rituals but which have little relevance to the rest of our lives. “Going to church” is just one box in the variety of boxes that make up our lives, and one box does not affect the other boxes. In other words we compartmentalise our lives so the ‘religious' box does not affect or influence the other ‘boxes' of business or society or family, or whatever else it is.
Yet this ‘style' of Christianity is about as far as you can get from Jesus and the New Testament's teaching. Using the analogy above, what has happened is that, if our encounter with Christ has been genuine, a genuine repentance and surrender to God, then it is like all the boxes of the parts of our lives have been put in one big box and that big box determines, directs and decides all that happens in the smaller boxes. They are now all influenced by the bigger box.
For John obedience is the key issue and it will come up again in his letter. Watch a person's life and hear of their conversion and then watch and see what happens. If that person's life starts changing and clearly takes on a new Christ-like nature, where the individual is now clearly following the New Testament teaching and is being filled with love and goodness, and is doing what they are learning are Christ's instructions, then we will know that what has happened to this person is genuine.
However, watch another person who makes a profession of conversion and we see no changes taking place, then we are being given grounds to suggest, as John does, that this person neither tells the truth about what they have done nor has the truth living within them. Where there is an absence of visible love and goodness growing in this person's life, then we have every reason to doubt that anything meaningful has taken place in their life, despite whatever they may say.
The individual may claim to be a Christian, but if that simply means they have a high moral outlook on life, that's not what it is all about. To tie this down we have to go back to their originating experience when they say they became a Christian. If they say they have been a Christian all their life, they are deceived. A person becomes a Christian at some specific point of time. It may indeed be in childhood and that little person may have invited Jesus to be their friend, and that may have been a genuine experience but what invariably happens is, as they grow up, sometime in their teens they have a fresh encounter with God with a fresh, deeper, more meaningful experience of Christ.
But whenever it is, it will be a specific experience. I can accept that for some people it will be a crisis moment and they can clearly identify the moment, and for others it is a growing awareness whereby there is a gradual coming to repentance and surrender, but repentance and surrender there must always be for a genuine conversion where someone encounters God and receives the Holy Spirit.
There is the significant issue: when a person comes to Christ, he imparts his Spirit so that the Holy Spirit indwells us (1 Cor 3:16 & 6:19). He does this when he sees we come to a place of genuine repentance and surrender and he sees we are committed to be obedient to him. The apostle Peter spoke of, “ the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him .” (Acts 5:32) Thus there are two things that will bring about the change we referred to earlier, possibly over simplistically, as bringing love and goodness visibly into our lives. Yes, there are lots of other things, a desire to read the Bible, a desire to pray, a desire to be with God's people and a desire to share what has happened with others. All of these things are part of the ‘visible package' that is this new life and they will be seen in varying degrees of clarity, but the overall characteristics of love and goodness are THE two primary things that start to be observed in this new life and they are both expressions of obedience.
A disciple was a person who followed a Master, to receive teaching and guidance but they were not a disciple if they did not then obey or put into practice the teaching of the Master. Thus in the famous ‘Great Commission' Jesus instructed, “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Mt 28:19,20). To be a disciple meant you obeyed Jesus' teaching. No obedience = no disciple. It IS as simple as that!
|Series Theme: Meditations in 1 John|
Meditation No. 13
Meditation Title: Made Complete
1 John 2:5,6 But if anyone obeys his word, God's love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.
Sometimes in Scripture I believe we skim over verses and perhaps miss potential gold mines of truth. That is possible with this verse before us now. I have lost track of how many times I have read it but as I pause over it, I get the feeling it is like peering down into what you thought was a shallow bit of sea only to realise that it goes down really deep. Five times in this letter John speaks about obeying God's commands but on this occasion it seems that his focus is on what happens when we do obey, and he makes this incredible claim – “God's love is truly made complete in him”.
I like J.B.Phillips' version of this: “In practice the more a man learns to obey God's laws the more truly and fully does he express his love for him” and yet I'm not sure it aims in the right direction, because that speaks about the way a man expresses his love for God, and yet in our NIV verse it speaks of God's love, i.e. the love from God. Another version puts it, “whoever obeys what Christ says is the kind of person in whom God's love is perfected,” In other words, if you want to see God's love perfectly expressed on earth, find someone whose life is given over to doing all that God in Christ has said to us.
Now why should that be? Well perhaps it is to do with what John tells us twice later in this letter: “God IS love” (1 Jn 4:8,16) reflecting what the Old Testament says again and again (e.g. Ex 11:13,15, Ex 20:5,6 Deut 7:9, 12,13 etc.) but especially in Ex 34:6,7 “the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.” If the character of God is love, then everything He thinks, says or does is love. (When it comes to interpreting the Old Testament activity of God we need to see it through this filter and if we cannot see it initially, then we need to think and meditate on it until we can see it!)
So when we came to Christ we surrendered our lives to him, accepting that on our own we got it wrong and that we needed him not only to forgive, wash and cleanse us, but we also needed him to guide us through the rest of our life. So how does he guide us? He speaks to us? How does he do that? Primarily he speaks through his written words, but it may also be through preaching, through prophesying, through a quiet voice in our spirit, or even through circumstances. When he does speak, we've just said, it will always be in love and will always be looking to bring about an outworking of love in our lives. Thus the more we heed his voice, and the more obey what we are hearing, the more we will be expressing God's love, and that will be seen in our family, our school, our college, our business, our club – wherever we encounter other people. Love is always expressed from one person to another, so in that sense the J.B.Phillips version was right.
God's expression of Himself and His objective for the world, is always to pour out His love to us. Have you ever thought what love means? We bandy this word around so much, but what does it mean? A dictionary definition might be “warm affection, liking, benevolence or strong feelings for” or perhaps in a Biblical context, looking at God, “selfless, sacrificial, unrestricted good will towards all others”.
THAT is God's approach to us and of course this form of ‘good will' is always expressed in some act, hence “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son.” (Jn 3:16) We'll see later on in John that he writes, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 Jn 4:10) i.e. the big issue isn't that we love God but that He has first loved us. Our love for Him is always a response to His love. When you are truly loved – and feel it and know it – it is almost impossible not to respond to it well. Of course the key words there were “and feel it and know it”.
How do we experience it like that? First of all we read about it in His word or hear of it from someone else. Then we surrender to it and receive it into our lives and that so changes us that we too start revealing or expressing this same love. How do we express it? We express it by living out our lives in accordance with His word, i.e. by obeying His word!
It is by this primarily that we know we are in him. It is as we live out the Christ life, revealed through his word, that we know we have been changed. I am no longer the person I once was. I think and say and do things I once could never have thought, said or done! I am changed because I am his and I am living out the life he has given me to live. It's just as John says: “Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.” That's what we are now doing. Hallelujah!
|Series Theme: Meditations in 1 John|
Meditation No. 14
Meditation Title: The Old Command
1 John 2:7,8 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 you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining.
This is one of those times when context is very important. In verses 3 to 6 John has been speaking all about obeying God's commands and this will be both an indication of our response of love to His love, and an expression of His love. Love and obedience go together.
It is in this context that John says, “I am not writing you a new command but an old one.” i.e. I'm not writing anything new when I say this. This love-obedience command, he says, they have “had since the beginning .” Now that must refer, not just to the beginning of the revelation of the Gospel, but way before that, right back to the earliest days of Israel's existence: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” (Deut 6:4,5) and of course, “ love your neighbour as yourself.” (Lev 19:18), which Jesus brought together: “ Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ` Love your neighbour as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Mt 22:37-40)
The link of love and obedience was also right there from the beginning. Following that first call to love God with all you are, Moses immediately followed it with: “These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.” (Deut 6:6-9) In other words, he was saying, hold to these commands as closely as you can, reminding yourself of them every minute of the day.
John continues, “This old command is the message you have heard.” Indeed throughout Jesus' teaching in his time with his disciples, he emphasized this link. The Sermon on the Mount is a good example of this. He declared that he had come to fulfil the Law (Mt 5:17) and so they should hold all the commands in high esteem (Mt 5:19,20) He then took Old Testament commands and challenged us to think what was the meaning behind them, and required a heart of love response instead, that went further than simply legalistically following rules. Specifically he extended the call to love your neighbour to even loving your enemies: “ You have heard that it was said, ` Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.” (Mt 5:43-45)
When a young lawyer came to talk and hedged on who his neighbour was that he was supposed to love, Jesus told the Parable of the Good Samaritan, clearly extending neighbours to mean more than those from your own group or culture, but to mean everyone.
At the Last Supper, Jesus put to the disciples that humility and obedience go together as expressions of love, when he washed the disciples' feet and then said, “I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” (Jn 13:15,16) So obedience was the call there at the beginning of the Last Supper. After he had dealt with the matter of being betrayed, and after Judas had left the room, he instructed the rest of them: “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.” (Jn 13:34,35) The love he now spoke of was a sacrificial love that looked beyond exteriors and accepted people as they were and indeed went further and laid down life for life.
Perhaps the pinnacle of obedience was being referred to when he later said, “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” (Jn 14:12) Then came the key link between love and obedience that we also find here in his letter: “If you love me, you will obey what I command,” (Jn 14:15) and then, “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.” (Jn 14:21)
There it is again and again, the teaching that came through Jesus that took the Old Testament commands that had been there from the beginning, and expanded on them and applied them into living the Christian life. Love and obedience go together and we deceive ourselves if they don't! This is why it is so important to read, take in, understand and then apply all that Jesus taught and all that we find throughout the rest of the New Testament. May it be so!
|Series Theme: Meditations in 1 John|
Meditation No. 15
Meditation Title: The New Command
1 John 2: 7,8 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 you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining.
In the previous meditation we saw that the old command was to love God with all you are and your neighbour as yourself. With the coming of Jesus that was extended to heart love that extended to everyone, enemies included, a sacrificial love.
A casual or careless reading of these two verses might suppose that John is now contradicting himself. First he says he's not writing a new command, but then he says he is writing a new command. Let's try and give an illustration. Suppose the Lord gives me a word of correction for a close friend of mine. I might go to them and say, “Hi, I've come to you as your close friend so you have no need to worry because I love you. On the other hand I have come with a corrective message from God which you may not like and you may not feel like I'm your friend, more your enemy.” I come as both a friend and an enemy depending on how you look at it.
With what John is saying, the same message may be seen to be old or new depending on how you look at it. Commentators have struggled with this, so here is my take on it. The crucial words are those we've already considered: “if anyone obeys his word, God's love is truly made complete in him.” (v.5). John has been speaking about obedience and love and the point he had made previously, and which comes freshly alive now, is that when we obey God's word and conform to His commands, we are expressing HIS love. THIS is the new element and it is vital to understand it. Previously in the Old Testament we were just told to love God and neighbour. As we said, Jesus extended that to include everyone including enemies. The means of that love was not specified, we just had to love. If you like it could even have been self-effort – I decide to love everyone and so I take steps to act out love, to think lovingly, to speak lovingly, and to act lovingly.
But now we see something different that John is bringing us: the love we express is actually God's love, an expression of Him through us. At one level it may just be as we obey His commands, but that falls into the earlier category where we might just achieve it by self-effort. But actually now it is different because the Holy Spirit now lives within us and our obeying the word is now a response to His prompting from within us and our thoughts of love, words or love and acts of love are actually Him expressing Himself through us. The love we express is actually the actual love coming from God. Do you see that?
This is why John goes on, “its truth is seen in him and you.” The expression of God's love literally being lived out and expressed on earth was seen first in Jesus and now, as his Spirit lives in us, it is seen and expressed in and through us. That is the wonder of what John is telling us here. The command thus becomes, let God's love be expressed through you as you allow the Holy Spirit to enable you to obey His commands and you are led, inspired and energised by Him.
In verse 5 John had spoken about us being “in Him” and went on into verse 6, “Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did .” In other words being in Him and Him being in us by His Spirit, we will walk out the life of Jesus and thus the love of God will literally be revealed through us by what we say and do.
To round this off John concludes, “because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining.” You remember earlier in the letter we noted how John uses light and darkness to refer to good and evil. Perhaps to put it another way, darkness might be seen as the ignorant way of living without God, a way of life where men and women stumble about, trying to make sense of the world and so often getting it wrong. The light that is Jesus came into the world to show men and women the reality, there is a benign and loving God who is there for them, who can show them how He has designed them to be, and lead them back into that way so that they might be fulfilled and enabled to reach the potential of who He has made them to be. That only comes about as they receive this light, the actual love of God expressed.
Think of what has happened in your life and see it in respect of what we've just said. At some point you found yourself drawn to consider your broken life and drawn to consider the truth about Jesus Christ dying for you. In your desperation you grabbed for that truth and to your amazement found your life was transformed and joy flowed. You were a new creation, you had been born again. God had done what you could not do.
Then you sought to follow Jesus' teaching and realised that by your own efforts you could not do it, but then, suddenly, you realised He still loved you when you got it wrong and He was still there helping, you guiding you and empowering you. Eventually you came to realise that actually it was all about Him in you, and Him through you. The more you knelt before Him the more it seemed to work, not you, but Him through you, and others were blessed. It was His love shining through you. That is what all this has been about. As you obeyed the command that John speaks about, to just let God flow in and through you as you responded to His word, to all He says, so His love flowed in and through you. Isn't it wonderful! Hallelujah!