Archive for 1 John

Oct
16

Applying 1 John:: 3

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Keeping in Stride

This week I’ve already posted two major take-a-ways from John’s conclusion to his epistle. Theology is incomplete without application, and so far we’ve observed that genuine faith results in, at least, believing prayer and loving “carefrontation.” The third major application from 1 John is joyful obedience.

We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the One who was born of God keeps them safe, and the evil one cannot harm them. We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one. We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true by being in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. Dear children, keep away from anything that might take God’s place in your hearts. (1 John 5:18-21, NLT)

John’s concern is twofold: our sins and idolatry (5:21) Because of our fellowship with Christ we are not powerless to obey him and renounce sin and idolatry. He pointed out that even though the world is under the control of Satan, Satan does not have God’s children in his (literal rendering) grasp. Sin is the distortion of God’s good gifts, and idolatry happens when we take a good thing and make it a “god thing”–and that’s a bad thing.

The larger issue with sin and idolatry is that they uniquely reveal that we are trying to seek satisfaction outside of Christ. When we sin or erect idols, we are in a sense conveying that Christ is somehow incomplete or insufficient to meet our needs. The antidote for such challenges is not obedience, but joyful obedience. Joyful obedience recognizes that there is nothing in this world worth having apart from Christ. Joyful obedience esteems God above all things. When our values are shifted from the transient and temporal to the eternal, we see sin and idolatry for what it is: unappealing and unsatisfying.

Thanks for taking the journey with me through 1 John. On Sunday I challenged our congregation to take time to read 1 John in its entirety in one sitting. I believe that 15 minute exercise will help open the book to you in a fresh way. Thanks for recommending this site to your friends.

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Oct
15

Applying 1 John:: 2

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Keeping in Stride

Yesterday I began this week’s series of pulpit posts by sharing the first application from the epistle of 1 John: Believing Prayer (1 John 5:14-15). Today I want to share the second application from John’s conclusion, Loving Carefrontation.

If you see a Christian brother or sister sinning in a way that does not lead to death, you should pray, and God will give that person life. But there is a sin that leads to death, and I am not saying you should pray for those who commit it. All wicked actions are sin, but not every sin leads to death (1 John 5:16-17, NLT).

Verse 16 is important and verse 17 is difficult. I’ll deal with the important part first because that was John’s emphasis.

Loving carefrontation begins with personal observation. Notice he wrote if anyone SEES a brother or sister sinning. John didn’t write, “If anyone HEARS about a brother or sister sinning.” It should be assumed that our observation must be conducted with deep humility. Remember Jesus words from the Sermon on the Mount about pulling the log (doken) out of our own eye before we try to deal with the speck (karphos) from our brother’s eye? (Matthew 7:1-5)

If we observe a brother or sister sinning, our first response is to pray for that person. Prayer keeps our hearts tender and free from judgment of those who sin. It’s virtually impossible to sincerely pray for someone and judge them at the same time.

Our prayer results in God granting life to that person. The goal of all carefrontation is reconciliation and restoration. If that’s not your goal, you’re approaching the situation with the wrong spirit.

Now the difficult part. What is the sin that leads to death that John mentions in verse 17? Needless to say, scholars are divided and unwilling to come down on a firm position. Here are the three most common opinions.

1. John has in mind some specific sin. In Old Testament passages such as Leviticus 4 and Numbers 15, the Bible speaks of sins “of the high hand”, committed with deliberation, that would result in the offender being “cut off” from the community. An illustration of this would be Achan’s disobedience at Jericho. The Roman Catholic Church has something like this in mind by dividing sins into mortal and venial. Catholic theologian Thomas Aquinis described mortal sins as “a disorder of the divine,” and venial sins as “a disorder of the soul.” One of the reasons that this position is compelling is that the first century church carried Judaism through the first century of existence. The didn’t have the New Testament available, so it is possible John is recalling these Old Testament texts.

2. John is describing the apostasy that has taken place among the readers of his letter. Apostasy is understood as the denial and renunciation of Christ and an abandonment of the “faith.”

3. John is referring to blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, such as was committed by the Pharisees. This is the deliberate, open eyed rejection of truth.

Whatever John is referencing in verse 17, two things are clear. First, whatever John intended was understood by his original readers and needed no further explanation. Second, we cannot say with any certainty what this “sin that leads to death” is really all about. It would seem unlikely that he is referring to a sin that leads to physical death since the context is spiritual life. Whatever it was, his main point is for us to remember that the Christian community shares mutual ownership of problems, including our sin problems. Tomorrow I’ll make the final post in this series from 1 John and deal with the final application from the book, joyful obedience.

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Oct
14

Applying 1 John:: 1

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Keeping in Stride

The first half of the fifth chapter of 1 John summarizes the theological arguments of the book. Here, John explains that genuine faith is composed of three elements: belief that Jesus Christ is the Son of God; love for one’s Christian brothers and sisters; and obedience to God’s commands. If one or two of those elements are missing, one’s faith is incomplete.

The result of genuine faith is “life in the son” (1 John 5:11-12). As children of God we can be confident that we have life in the son (1 John 5:13). The theological argument is complete. Now what do we do with what we’ve learned? How is it applied and fleshed out in everyday life?

John provides three final points of application as he concludes chapter 5. Each corresponds with a key element of faith, the first of which is believing prayer.

“And we are confident that he hears us whenever we ask for anything that pleases him. And since we know he hears us when we make our requests, we also know that he will give us what we ask for” (1 John 5:14-15, NLT).

John’s emphasis in these verses is that those who possess genuine faith can have confidence in approaching God in prayer. Our confidence is not based on our goodness, but on the goodness of God. The temptation we face is to take verses like these and turn them into a formula that guarantees we will get what we want from God. But notice how God’s response is conditioned. We must ask in accordance to his will. If we ask according to his will, he hears us. The word “hear” means that God will listen favorably. If God hears a request that is in accordance to his will, he will grant it.

John R.W. Stott wrote these words about this text: “Prayer is not so much getting God to agree with us as it is subordinating our will to his. It is the process of prayer where we seek God will, embrace it and align ourselves to it.”

Sometimes I hear people say that prayer changes things. I think a better way to think of prayer is that prayer changes the pray-er.

So how does God answer prayer? I’m thankful for Bill Hybels’ answer. According to Hybels, If the request is wrong, God says, “no.” If the timing is wrong, God says, “slow.” If my spiritual condition is wrong, God says, “grow.” But when the request is right, the timing is right, and my spiritual condition is right, God says, “go!” The request is granted.

Tomorrow I’ll take up the second application, loving carefrontation. (That’s not a typo!)

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Oct
08

Faith Full

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Keeping in Stride

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christa has become a child of God. And everyone who loves the Father loves his children, too. We know we love God’s children if we love God and obey his commandments. Loving God means keeping his commandments, and his commandments are not burdensome. For every child of God defeats this evil world, and we achieve this victory through our faith. And who can win this battle against the world? Only those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God (1 John 5:1-5, NLT).

I have a birthmark on my right cheek. The people who have noticed it have suspected that it was a birth mark or from some other external force. As time has passed, fewer people notice it because it has faded with age. It has never really bothered me, and I’ve not really bothered to understand why it is there. I’ve simply understood it as something that happened on the day of my birth that has left a permanent mark.

That is the point John tried to convey to his readers as he concluded his epistle. Throughout the first four chapters of 1 John, he has redundantly stated that a life of genuine faith is characterized by three things: the firm belief that Jesus Christ has come from God; the importance of loving our Christian brothers and sisters; and the necessity of obeying God’s commands. These three “birthmarks” are like three legs of a stool. Each has to be in place to support biblical faith. It is insufficient to have any one or even two of the three and claim to have “faith” in God.

And Jesus Christ was revealed as God’s Son by his baptism in water and by shedding his blood on the cross—not by water only, but by water and blood. And the Spirit, who is truth, confirms it with his testimony. So we have these three witnesses— the Spirit, the water, and the blood—and all three agree. Since we believe human testimony, surely we can believe the greater testimony that comes from God. And God has testified about his Son. All who believe in the Son of God know in their hearts that this testimony is true. Those who don’t believe this are actually calling God a liar because they don’t believe what God has testified about his Son (1 John 5:6-10, NLT).

John does not support his claim with facts. Rather, he chose to do so through the testimony of the Spirit, the water, and the blood. We understand the witness of the Spirit. Paul wrote in Romans that “the Spirit of God bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” So what’s this business of water and blood? Augustine and the patristics viewed this as the witness of the death of Christ, citing the closing moments of the crucifixion when the Roman soldier thrust the spear in the side of Christ, producing an outflow of water and blood. Centuries later, reformation fathers Luther and Calvin interpreted these verses sacramentally and believed that the water and blood represented baptism and the eucharist. Modern theologians, however, have provided a more balanced approach, claiming that the water represents the baptism of Christ and the blood represents the death of Christ. In first century thought, the first and the last of anything is inclusive of all that comes between. So we have the testimony of the Spirit alongside the testimony of the ministry of Christ. Since every testimony was to be established by two or three witnesses, John argued that genuine faith is established based on these three elements.

And this is what God has testified: He has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have God’s Son does not have life (1 John 5:10-11, NLT).

Based therefore on these three witnesses, we can be assured that we have genuine faith that results in eternal life. John concludes the section by affirming that “life is in the Son.” I illustrated it on Sunday this way. Suppose I take my pen and place it in my Bible. My pen is in the Bible. If I give you my Bible, what have I also given you? That’s right, my pen. In similar fashion, life is in the Son. If we have the Son, we have eternal life. If we have hope of eternal life, its only because we have found it in the Son of God. And like my birthmark, that life will be evident to all.

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Sep
18

Understanding Christian Love:: 4

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Keeping in Stride

This week I’ve been posting reflections from John’s third exhortation on the subject of Christian love in his epistle. Yesterday I noted that God’s indwelling love enables us to love others. In this final section John points to how God increases our capacity to love.

“And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world” (1 John 4:17, NLT)

The word “perfect” does not mean mistake free. It means “mature.” As we embody Christ’s love we are able to express love in ever deepening, sacrificial ways. As you might suspect, our capacity to love is not enlarged by being surrounded by loving, gracious people. That’s right, God enlarges our capacity by introducing difficult people into our lives.

“Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love. We love each other because he loved us first” (1 John 4:18-19, NLT)

We know that different people come in all shapes and sizes, but John calls out those who create fear in our lives. In the first century there were only two kinds of people: the slaves and the free. Literally one half of the world was enslaved to the other half, so power issues were a great concern to John’s congregation. 2,000 years later we still have global concerns relating to the use and abuse of power.

Today we also have fear regarding those who are different. We distinguish one another through labels, which seldom unite us. Republicans and Democrats; the wealthy and the poor; white, black, Asian and latino; liberal and conservative; educated and uneducated; gay and straight; married and divorced are examples of labels that we frequently apply to one another instead of seeing others in light of the value that God has placed on them. God will bring people into our lives who are different as an invitation to grow in our capacity to love.

“If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a Christian brother or sister, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see? And he has given us this command: Those who love God must also love their Christian brothers and sisters” (1 John 4:20-21, NLT).

We not only have different people come into our lives, we also have difficult people. Some people are just hard to get along with, let alone love as Christ would have us love. When you have a difficult person in your life, remember that love doesn’t overlook offenses, it overcomes offenses. We can overlook offenses by ignoring them or pretending they don’t exist. Love overcomes offenses, seeking to reconcile relationships with difficult ones rather than kick them to the curb and moving on.

I alluded to this a moment ago, but I want to make sure you get this. Every person that is different or difficult that comes into your life is not there by accident. That person, or persons as the case may be, represent God’s invitation to you to increase your capacity to love.

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Sep
17

Understanding Christian Love:: 3

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Keeping in Stride

Before we can understand how we are to love each other, we have to first understand a couple of things about God’s love. As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, God’s love flows out of his character. His love is most clearly demonstrated through the sacrificial gift of Jesus Christ. That brings us to my third observation from John’s text: God’s love is what enables us to love one another. Check this out.

“Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us. And God has given us his Spirit as proof that we live in him and he in us. Furthermore, we have seen with our own eyes and now testify that the Father sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. All who confess that Jesus is the Son of God have God living in them, and they live in God. We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love. God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them” (1 John 4:11-16, NLT).

To summarize John’s words, the only way we can appropriately love one another is to embody Christ’s love and let his love be expressed through our lives. So how do we do that?

1. I must understand that God’s love for me is more than part of a legal transaction.

As a believer I embraced God’s love at the moment of my salvation. God loved me and sent his Son, and I responded to his grace in faith and received Christ as Lord and Savior. But God’s love is more than a legal transaction. It is important that I understand this because if all God’s love means to me is that I receive salvation and go to heaven when I die I’ll never be able to fully love others. It is true that I embraced Christ’s love at salvation, but I must also embody that love. His love indwells me, thus enabling me to live as Christ lived and love as Christ loved. His love is not merely an experience. It’s a relationship.

2. The command to love one another is beyond my personal ability.

I must confess that I do not have what it takes to love others as Christ would have me to. It is a goal that is beyond my reach. I need to rely on Christ’s indwelling love to be able to love others. Otherwise, I will settle for simply being nice.

3. God gives his love to me so He can get his love through me to others.

I have certainly benefited from God’s love. The day that I finally understood that God loves me in spite of myself was a great revelation. In his love I find comfort, strength, and security. But I began to mature when I realized that God loves others as well. It’s not just about me. It’s about others as well.

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Sep
16

Understanding Christian Love:: 2

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Keeping in Stride

“Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love. God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins” (1 John 4:7-10, NLT).

The first thing John wants us to know about Christian love is that it originates in the character of God. We are well aware of the fact that God does loving things and that He expresses love on a continuous basis. But what God does comes out of the overflow of who He is. John spoke plainly: “God IS love.” This is foundational to our understanding of Christian love, especially with regards to how we love one another, which is John’s chief concern in this passage. If we are going to genuinely love one another we must love out of who we are. If our love is not character driven, then we run the risk for settling for being “nice.”

Next, John reminds us that love has been demonstrated for us through the sacrifice of God. Think about this for a moment. Every gift says something about the giver and every gift says something about the receiver. When we consider the gift of Jesus, we recognize that God is extravagant, generous, and selfless. When we consider ourselves in light of this priceless gift, we realize that God places high value upon us. We have done nothing deserving of the gift. It has not been earned. It is out of his loving character that God gave his very best to the world, because that’s who He is.

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Sep
15

Understanding Christian Love:: 1

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Keeping in Stride

There’s an old story that’s told about a young preacher who was called to his first assignment as Pastor of a church. The congregation was excited about his first day in the pulpit and the young pulpiteer did not disappoint. After the service the congregation congratulated themselves on finding this diamond in the rough, and quickly agreed that they could not wait until the next Lord’s Day.

When the following Sunday arrived the young pastor stood to preach. Within moments church members were a bit confused. The pastor preached with the same fervor and the same eloquence as before. The problem though, was that he preached the exact same sermon as the week before. In the parking lot church members expressed mild disappointment that they received the exact same sermon as the previous week, but quickly gave the youthful preacher the benefit of the doubt, assuming that it was first church jitters.

Week three arrived and the church was filled. To the surprise of the members, the pastor stood and preached the exact same sermon for the third week in a row. After the worship service dismissed, the board assembled in the church basement to discuss their emerging dilemma. After some conversation, the board agreed to send a representative to talk to their new pastor to see if they could understand why he only seemed to have the one sermon.

That week the board representative made an appointment to meet with the pastor. After their obligatory small talk, the board member asked about the three sermons. The young pastor pushed back in his chair and replied, “When our church members start living the sermon I preached, they’ll get a new one.”

John’s readers must have felt the same way. John had already addressed the importance of Christian love two times before he made his third run on the same subject in chapter 4. It makes you wonder if John felt as though he needed to be redundant to make sure his point hit home. This week I’ll be posting about Christian love and John’s helpful explanation that helps us understand what it really means to love one another and why it matters. Thanks for checking in, and thanks for referring your friends to my blog.

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Sep
10

Be Discerning:: 2

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Keeping in Stride

Today we face different challenges than John’s first century audience, but there are challenges nonetheless. God has given us three tools to help us be discerning regarding the messages we hear.

The first tool God has given us is the Bible. One thing the New Testament Church lacked that we have readily available is Scripture. What we hear and read must be measured against that standard. Do you remember Harold Camping? He was the radio evangelist who predicted Christ would return on May 21, 2011. As the day passed, Camping commented that he had miscalculated the date and that Christ would return in October. That day passed as well. During the days leading up to May and again in October, I received a ton of mail encouraging me to lead our church into preparedness for the second advent. As I considered this prediction, I recalled that Jesus said that no person would know the hour of Christ’s appearing (Matthew 24:36). When we hear something or read something, our first response should be, “What does the Bible say about that?

The second tool that we have to discern truth from error is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit bears witness to Jesus Christ and serves us in two ways. The Spirit convicts us of sin and convinces us of righteousness. When we stray, the Spirit calls us to return. When we hear truth, the Spirit confirms and affirms what we hear. Truth resonates in our hearts because the of the Spirit’s confirming voice.

The final tool we have is each another. The verbs in the text (1 John 4:1-6) are all plural, indicating that we are not to undertake our struggles and questions singularly. Throughout church history, the people of God have gathered to clarify their understanding and weed out theological error. The creeds and confessions we have today are largely the result of such gatherings that have determined to distinguish fact from fiction.

We hear a lot of different messages today, but the Scriptures, the Spirit, and the Body of Christ help us to discern truth from error.

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Sep
09

Be Discerning:: 1

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Keeping in Stride

God has always encouraged his people to think critically about the content of the teaching they hear. Twice in Deuteronomy (13:1-5; 18:22) and again in Jeremiah (28:9), tests are provided the verify the authenticity of the prophetic message. Jesus addressed this as well in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7:16-20) with the challenge, “You shall know them by their fruit.” The first century was filled with itinerant teachers. Like Paul and the apostles, itinerant teachers would travel from community to community, sharing their inspired messages about God. Some who went out were legitimate, spreading the gospel and starting churches. Others were illegitimate. Itinerant teachers had no source of income other than the hospitality of the listeners. The illegitimate teachers would seek to share messages that would allow them to profit. You don’t have to be an economics major to understand that the bigger the audience, the bigger the income potential. So the false teachers would tailor their messages to have a broad base of appeal so they could profit from the people. Evidently, John’s readers tended to accept any and all teaching that claimed to be inspired. John’s pastoral response to this trend was to challenge them to investigate the source of every claim.

Dear friends, do not believe everyone who claims to speak by the Spirit. You must test them to see if the spirit they have comes from God. For there are many false prophets in the world. This is how we know if they have the Spirit of God: If a person claiming to be a propheta acknowledges that Jesus Christ came in a real body, that person has the Spirit of God. But if someone claims to be a prophet and does not acknowledge the truth about Jesus, that person is not from God. Such a person has the spirit of the Antichrist, which you heard is coming into the world and indeed is already here. But you belong to God, my dear children. You have already won a victory over those people, because the Spirit who lives in you is greater than the spirit who lives in the world. Those people belong to this world, so they speak from the world’s viewpoint, and the world listens to them. But we belong to God, and those who know God listen to us. If they do not belong to God, they do not listen to us. That is how we know if someone has the Spirit of truth or the spirit of deception” (1 John 4:1-6, NLT).

John’s counsel to the church was two fold: examine the teacher’s message in light of Jesus Christ; and to test the audience to see if the message is gaining popular appeal from the world. Times have changed over 2,000 years. Their historical setting is not exactly like ours today, and we face the same dangers in different ways. Like then, there is a lot of static in the signal. Things are different today but the overarching principle that remains. Everything we hear or read must be filtered through the lens of Jesus Christ. He is the standard.

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