2 John 4-6
2 John is one of the three letters by the apostle to his Christian friends. It is interesting that in the brief compass of three verses John writes three times of “walking in the truth.” Obviously he uses the verb in a metaphorical sense because one doesn’t literally “walk” in a concept. The point seems to be that they carry on their daily life in a steady and unhurried manner. They are to “walk” in the truth, not “run” or “skip through.” So much good can be said of a faithful and steadfast life that moves ahead each day under the control of a calm spirit. It is a little bit like the childhood fable of the tortoise and the hare – the hare may be a bit more exciting, the tortoise is the one that gets the job done.
Apparently John had gotten word that some of the younger members of the assembly were “walking in the truth,” content to live balanced lives that showed a commitment to their parents in the Lord. This is how God had instructed the church to live. There may be times for quick action but as an ongoing policy it is the tortoise believer who gets there first. The Father had commanded, not suggested, that this was the way to live as a believing Christian.
In verse 5 John reminds the “dear lady” (the feminine form of the word “Lord”), that is, the church body, that from the beginning God’s desire for the members of the assembly was that they would “love one another.” The importance of love for one another in the church is absolutely basic. Believers are redeemed not simply so they will go to heaven, but so, by the beauty of their mutual concern for one another, they will display a quality of life that will attract others into a relationship with God. (John makes the same point in his gospel: 17:21, 23).
In verse 6 John explains what he means by love. As he puts it, love is a life walked in obedience to all that God had commanded. To love God is to do what God has said. That is simple yet profound, brief yet all-inclusive. In God’s world clarity replaces complexity. The “commands” of which Jesus speaks are not military regulations but loving concern for others. That’s what lies at the heart of God’s desire for man. His plan is that we become like him. We are made in his image for one major reason, and that is so we can relate to him in a personal sense. He wants us to know him.
2 John 6
“To love is to live as God has ordained. As you’ve heard from the beginning, let love control your life.”
We have said it before, but once again it calls for our attention – We are to carry out the will of God in our lives. We are to do what he has commanded. That sounds a bit severe, but the truth is that God’s laws are warnings against acts and attitudes that, should we follow them, would lead to solitude and misery. How infinitely kind of God to say, “Don’t put your finger on that “hot stove.” The hot stove is anything and everything that, should we touch it, would burn us sometimes fatally. God is our sovereign guardian keeping watch lest we damage ourselves with sin.
In one sense life is 70 plus years of decision-making. Many of the decisions have no moral or ethical element but more than you would think do. Someone crosses the street outside a pedestrian zone bringing you to a screeching stop and you let him know in no uncertain terms what he has put you through. You made two decisions simultaneously: slam on the brakes and let the other know your opinion of him (and the last was ethical.) No big deal, you say. Well, let’s see. You are 65 now and you started making ethical decisions when you were . . let’s say 2 and that means that you have made about 12,345,678 (obviously a rough number) moral decisions in which you knew on the basis of custom and conscience were either right or wrong. What has happened is that you yourself have created your own character because who you really are (that part of you that goes one place or the other at death) was being developed all along the way. In a very real sense we determine by our life choices who we want to be.
This is where God enters the picture. God created us in his image so we could have fellowship with him. To do his he gave us freedom, and with that comes the prospect of failure. This calls for some coaching from the sidelines. Here is what you should do in this situation (commandment #1): here is what you should not do (commandment #2). And so it goes. God tells us where the landmines of life are laid. There are places where you shouldn’t put your feet and other places where you can tramp around all you want. It is all defined in scripture and what isn’t there are either those non-secular items that don’t amount to anything of lasting value or decisions that call for nothing but common sense.
In summary, we create who we are by the decisions we make and God’s involvement has to do with helping us do the right things.
1 John 5:18-20
John closes his letter by reminding the believers of several basic things that they know to be true and therefore should play a major role in their thinking.
The first is basic. “We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin” (v. 18). The NIV (and others) note that John used the present tense of the verb hamartano, “to sin,” thus calling attention to the fact that it was the continuing in sin that was not acceptable. Obviously we all are guilty of the occasional sin but to continue in sin reveals an intentional decision not to stop sinning in that particular way. The church correctly understood that to deliberately continue doing something that was wrong or to refuse to change an unacceptable attitude was wrong. If a person is “born of God” and kept safe in his care so the “evil one cannot harm him” they simply will not continue in some sin (as was happening with the group that had given up the truth that Jesus had come from The Father). Being born of God redirects the believer away from sin, especially intentional sin.
The second thing they knew was that they were “children of God” (v. 19). They had denounced the way they had been living and turned gladly to Jesus, thus making them brothers and sisters in the family of God. When a family gathers it is time for celebration and the sharing of memories. In contrast to that joyful scene “the whole world is under the control of the evil one” (v. 19). There is nothing quite like the strong ties of family or the bonding that develops in the time of war. As “family” we enjoy a unique relationship of love and affection. How remarkable it is to be members of a family with God as Father and Jesus Christ as an elder brother. While families here on earth come and go, our family in heaven will continue forever.
The third thing we know is that God’s Son came and made it possible for us to understand the one true God. We can read this in two ways: Jesus himself discloses to the believer what God the Father is like. By knowing the Son we understand the Father. The other nuance is that knowing the Son has provided us with what might be called an introductory course in the spiritual world. The world in which we have lived is a created world and is wide open to scientific inquiry that explains that which is material. God’s “world” is of a different source and Jesus has made it possible to enter it and to some degree understand it.
1 John 5.11-13
John wrote his letter to the church against the dark background of error. There were those who were insisting that Jesus did not have a divine origin – that is, he had not “come in the flesh from God” (4:2). But John rightly insists that God had given them eternal life and that “this life is in his Son.” He leaves no doubt that if you have the Son you have life and if you don’t have the Son you don’t have life. John stresses the importance of having the Son because those who don’t have him, simply do not have eternal life (v. 12). The reason he clarifies this point is that some of the believers were beginning to wonder whether or not their salvation was secure – whether or not they had eternal life.
Doubts of that sort still tend to trouble many contemporary believers. Those who believe that they could lose their salvation live with considerable uncertainty. But, if eternal life is in the Son, and they “are in” the Son, then the future is secure. Since by definition the Son of God has life that never ends, it follows that if you are in the Son you will share in that life – you will live forever. John is crystal clear on the issue and hopefully all believers will come to enjoy the same confidence.
Once again we are reminded that Satan, although defeated at Calvary, is still very much around. Undermining believers’ security is a primary method of achieving his goal. Doubt is the weapon he uses just as he did in the Garden when Eve was tempted with Satan’s, “Did God really say?” Even 2,000 years later he watches for an opening when he can suggest the possibility, “Does God really mean that?” Confidence is essential in the Christian’s life because apart from it, life looses its bright future. Among other things, lack of certainty undermines effective prayer (v. 14). To be theologically confident leads to a more fruitful life. And isn’t bearing fruit what we are to be doing? I known that the Christian faith would have ever grown from that handful of Galilean peasants to become the dominant factor in the westward expansion of Christianity if our religious forefathers had been doubtful about the person of Christ?
Yes, eternal life is in the Son and we are in the Son. So it follows that we have eternal life. As John puts it, “I write these things . . . so that you may know that you have eternal life” (v. 13).
1 John 5.1-5
As John begins to drawn his letter to a close we find him using the word “love” five times in the first three verses of the final chapter. We learn that those who love the father will love the son (v. 1), that it is by loving God that we know we love his children (v. 2), and that love is the keeping of his commandments (v. 3). A question keeps coming up as to the meaning of love – put simply, is it a noun or a verb? Is love a relationship that expresses itself by loving acts or is it the acts themselves? Perhaps it is only a question of semantics, but it is worth pursuing.
Verse 3 gives us the clearest definition and it says that love is keeping his commandments. The point is clearly made by the translation in the NJB – ”This is what the love of God is: keeping his commandments.” Granted, the common point of view is that love is a relationship that expresses itself in acts of kindness, but here it is understood not as something you have but as something you do. I believe the difference is significant. Love calls for involvement, for action. To love your friend who has just had a heart attack is to get up and rush him to the hospital. It is not feeling bad about the unfortunate turn of events but doing something about it. If you were that person how would you want your friend to react?
I’d like to turn for the moment to another book written by John for help on the distinction. John 3:16 says that “God so loved the world that he gave . . .” In almost every translation the little word “so” is understood as expressing the intensity of God’s love; he SO loved the world. But the Greek text rules against that and understands the verse to read, “For this is how God loved the world: he gave his one and only Son (Mounce in GEINT: cf. also the Holman Bible). When it comes to loving and giving one doesn’t produce the other but they are one and the same.
I emphasize this point because of the philosophical tendency to move from action to its cause. When truth becomes something to talk about rather than something to do, its basic purpose has been derailed. God wants us to “love another” which is not to think about the other but to do whatever is appropriate for them in the immediate context. In the case of God his love was not a tender feeling but an act – the giving of his Son to die for us. Let’s keep the emphasis where it belongs.
1 John 4:7-21 is a remarkable section of scripture in that in its 14 verses the apostle John uses the word “love” 12 times. Nowhere else will we find such a rich discussion of the word that so perfectly expresses the heart and soul of God’s redemptive involvement in our world. Let’s listen as God speaks to us through his first century mouthpiece, the “beloved disciple” John.
Believers are to love one another because love is from God (v. 7). Since love has its origin in God it follows that all who belong to him should reflect this essential characteristic. Those who fail to show this quality obviously do not know God (v. 8) because God is love. It is simply impossible to have a personal relationship to the One who is love and not reflect it in one’s daily life. We know that God is love because he revealed this attribute by sending his only Son into our world (v. 9) so we could have eternal life. Real love is not defined by our love for God but by his love for us (v. 10). Christ entered our world and died for our sins, thus giving us the ultimate definition of what it means to love. Love has an obligation: since God loved us to that degree we are to express that same kind of other-centered concern (read “love”) for our brothers and sisters in the faith (v. 11).
While no one has ever seen God, it is true that in our love for one another we experience His presence (v. 12). We have experienced God’s love for us and know that as we continue a life of love we are in union with Him (16). As we live out our life of love it will reach its final goal on the day of judgment, and on that day we will have the confidence that love supplies (v. 17). Perfect love rules out fear, and if a person does fear it reveals that love has not yet reached its goal in that life (v. 18). We can love, that is true, but what makes it possible is God’s prior love for us (v. 18). So let us love because God is the One who loves us (v. 19). However, keep in mind that if you say you love God but hate your fellow believer you are a liar (v. 20). If you can’t love your brother whom you have seen how could you ever love God whom you have not seen? We have been given a commandment and that is that if we love God must also love our fellow Christian (v. 21).
And there you have a complete presentation of the origin, the power, and the result of genuine love. God is love. We know what love truly is as we learn more and more about God. And central to that is the fact that love is as verb. It is something God did. He came in the person of Christ and died for our sins. His love is the motivating factor as well as the source of power that leads us to love not only God, but our fellow believers for whom he made the ultimate sacrifice. Say it with me, “God is love!”
1 John 4:1-6.
In the final verse of the preceding chapter John assured his readers that they could know that God lives in them by the Spirit that he has given to them. The early church was very aware of something to which contemporary Christian society pays little attention, and that is the world of spirits, angelic and demonic, in which we live. Such suggestions are acknowledged today, but usually with a certain embarrassed reticence. John continues his letter distinguishing between the false prophets that deny the incarnate Christ (v. 2) and the local believers who have correctly understand the truth as they received it. John writes that they have overcome these false teachers because the Spirit that dwells in them is greater than the spirit of antichrist that has led others away from the truth.
John goes on to point out that the believers have come out victorious because “the one who is in them is greater than the one who is in the world” (v. 4). This sets the stage for an important distinction between the world and the children of God. Assumptions are crucial. Where one begins determines to a great extent where one ends. The false prophets “speak from the standpoint of the world (v. 5) and the believers speak from a new perspective (v. 6). That is why the “world listens to them” while believers “listen to us” (vv. 5, 6). It is still the same: the secular mind relies on what others like themselves think and say, while the believer accepts the world-view of scripture.
Assumptions are where we start in our desire to understand the crucial issues of life. For example, the scientific method begins with the assumption that in the natural world, what is was not the result of something outside of nature. Simply put, God cannot exist because that would bring an unknowable into the equation. Everything has a simple this world explanation. Note however, that the absence of something from without is an assumption, an act of faith that escapes logic. By contrast the believer holds that God exists outside our material universe and has a causal relationship to everything that is. It too is an assumption, so the question is which assumption leads to a coherent argument for truth. Dr. Carnel, former theologian at Fuller Seminary, used to say that you evaluate your assumptions on (1) inner coherence, and (2) how well they answer to life as you experience it.
Francis Collins is a physician geneticist who was in charge of the famous Human Geonome Project. In a public lecture I heard this remarkable man tell of his work in science and his turn to faith in God. In his earlier days he simply assumed God was not a necessary part of reality as he experienced it. One day he realized to his surprise that while he had always studied the data before coming to a conclusion (the scientific method), he had not done that with religion. So he began looking into the basis for faith in God as revealed through Jesus Christ and before long became an evangelical Christian. A remarkably honest man applied the scientific method to the Christian faith and came to believe. I mention this as an example of the importance of due consideration to the initial assumptions with which every person begins to structure their understanding of life. You will remember that in verse 5 and 6 false prophets and believers begin at two different points, the mind-set of the world and the new perspective that includes the supernatural. Where one begins largely defines where a person will end. Faith includes the supernatural and turns out to be a better review of life in all its possible dimensions.
1 John 3:19-24
Do you ever feel guilty and don’t know why? Of course if you wander around in your mind long enough you can always scare up something. While none of us are saints, I know from experience that from time to time Satan wants to stir us up for his own pleasure. Something like this was going on in the group to which John is writing. In verse 19 he writes about “setting our heart at rest” and in the following verse of peoples heart condemning them. The point is that God is greater than the subjective response of our wounded conscience. When God forgives there is no room left for our self-inflicted guilt that we are not perfect. Verse 21 points out that a clear understanding of this truth will grant us “confidence before God;” then when we come to him with our requests he will grant us” anything we ask” (v. 22).
Prayer is a mystery. We know from scripture that God answers prayer and that he will do what we ask. We understand, of course, that we are to ask for things that are consistent with his will. We do not give our children what they ask for if it could hurt them in any way, so they learn that it is useless to ask for candy at bedtime. So let’s apply that same condition to our prayer requests. We do not pray, “Lord, help me become a rich man.” We know he is not in that business. But we often ask him for what seems to us to be perfectly acceptable and he doesn’t answer.
I think that prayer may be more for our benefit than for a result in someone else’s life. In prayer we talk to God. We share with him. We ask him questions. He makes suggestions. Back and forth it goes just as in a normal conversation. And in the process we get to know him better. And the result of that is that our prayers are far more likely to be heard and answered because we don’t waste time asking for what we know could not be a part of his will. Put another way, prayer changes us in the same way an extended conversation with a friend will influence how we may think on a subject. The fact that God is almighty means that there is nothing that exceeds his ability and power to accomplish. So if he wanted a certain thing to happen in your life why would you have to ask for help? Could he not accomplish whatever it is on his own? He is omnipotent and doesn’t that mean he can do it all by himself?
In answer to that I think that in a certain way God has put “limits” on his ability to achieve certain results. He may be saying,“ I will do such and such IF Bob, Joe, Nelly, or whoever, asks me. I’m going to operate that way in order to involve them for their own sake. Prayer is for those who pray. They need to draw close and as they become more serious about our friendship they will understand that it is my desire for a certain thing to happen – let’s say, the conversion of their friends. If I withhold their “candy” this evening they will search their own soul in a desire to know more about what I want and when their friend comes to me by faith I will have my desire fulfilled and they will be stronger and more informed believers.”
What do you think? Does God think along those lines? Is prayer for the one praying or for what God wants done – or both?