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?
1 John 3:16-18
While John 3:16 (the most widely known verse in the bible) speaks to us of the greatness of God’s love, 1 John 3:16 explains what love is and how it works. Verses 16-18
Describe our obligation to love, and
Deny that love exists where it is not demonstrated.
(Sounds like a sermon outline!)
The pivotal verse, v. 16, defines love as taking action on behalf of another, that is, Jesus “laid down his life for us,” and that’s “how we know what love is.” Love is volitional not emotional. It does something, not feels something.
The obligation follows: “And we ought to lay down our lives for one another.” To be a follower of Jesus Christ means to share his purpose in life. Since he came to “love” on Calvary’s cross, we are now under obligation to do exactly that. One might say that since he took our place on the cross, we are now to take his place in the world. As his body, we do those things he would do if he were here. We fulfill his desires for those he died for. In a real sense we are “Jesus” in our world, reacting to need as he would, speaking a helpful word as he would, placing the needs of others on the same level as our own as he would. What is the Christian life if not carrying out in every day practical ways his concerns for others? You can’t reflect Jesus if the mirror of your life is covered with little posts on how God could better serve you.
Now comes the illustration. Let’s say that you are blessed with all you need and one day you notice a fellow Christian lacking something essential, but instead of helping, you “close your heart to him” (NJB). John asks in amazement, “How can the love of God be in you?” It just doesn’t make sense. Love responds to need. Remember how it is defined? Verse 16 once again, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.” Would Jesus “close his heart” to any need in the Christian family if he were here? But he is here, he lives in each of us. If our faith is real, Christ in us will respond to every need we are privileged to see. We can’t help but respond because that’s what love does.
Strong challenge. How good of John to add, “Dear children” (v. 18), he knows we are still growing up. Then he encourages us to let our love express itself not in mere talk but in action and truth. It can all be summed up with the simple statement, “Love is a verb.”
1 John 3:11-15
The basic message to the Christian believers is crystal clear and unchanging. John puts it this way, ”We are to love one another.” To be living in genuine fellowship with God, whose dominant characteristic is love, is to reflect that same quality in all of our relationships. Now that we committed ourselves without reservation to the center and source of all love, it is obvious that we are to love one another. The reality our relationship to God is proven by the nature of our relationship to each another.
I’ve learned that human nature has a way of “believing” truth but not carrying it out in actual life. No believer would say that although God is love they have no responsibility as a follower to live that way. If you are a Christian believer you will act like one. God forgives failure, but not an intentional decision to keep doing what’s wrong.
While the practice of doing what is right demonstrates love for the other person, if that person is Jesus then get ready for opposition. Luke says that if you love one another “Don’t be surprised if the world hates you” (v. 13). How could that be; love should prompt love? Right, but Luke says that Christian love for one another will be met by hate in the non-Christian world. Actually, the answer is not difficult because love has a way of reminding the other of the lack of that important ingredient in their own life. Your act of selfless concern reminds me of my lack, and for that reason I react against you and what you have done. It’s a sort of sad story but everything seems to have an alternative – even love.
Now in the paragraph comes the wonderful assurance that “we have passed from death to life because we love each other” (v. 14). This old world we live in is marked by death. Everything has its terminal point and life ends in death. Even the earth on which we live, and the universe that surrounds it for that matter, are involved in disintegration. It’s all destined to extinction. Not so the believer. We have already taken the necessary step. Because Christ died for our sins and we have accepted that gift by faith we have moved “out of death” (ek) and “into life” (eis). Don’t live there any more! The new address is “100 Eternal Life Court” not “-10 Here and Gone Alley.” It would never have happened had we not learned how to love one another and the power to make the move came from the love that God’s love created in our hearts. Never could have made it on our own. So change my address in your directory. I’m on my way to the new hom
1 John 3:4-10
In our journey through the three epistles of John we have come to a place where the “disciple whom Jesus loved” (cf. John 20:2; 21:7, 20) provides us with a short theological essay on the subject of sin. (I mention this because some see love and sin as incongruent). Very briefly it runs as follows:
6. Christ came to destroy the work of the devil.
7. If you are a child of God you will do what is right (10)
8. If you are a child of the devil you won’t love your family (10)
What I notice in this list is that everything seems to hinge on action: if you break the law, if you continue to sin, if you do what is right, if you decide not to love brother and sister, etc. While you do nothing meritorious to become a believer, once you are, what you do on a continuing basis demonstrates your allegiance. It declares who you are.
This is important for at least two reasons: One is that in the Christian faith, belief is not simply an intellectual activity. Followers of the One who bore the humiliation and pain of crucifixion for our eternal welfare should certainly understand that faith in Christ calls for infinitely more than the intellectual assent. It is a call for action. We take up arms against sin in all its forms. We simply will not condone evil in any of its forms. Sin is our mortal enemy and as John wrote, “No one who is born of God will continue to sin” (v. 9). No way!
Sin is a serious problem. It is living a life diametrically opposed to the will of God. Faithfulness to that covenant relationship is a necessity not an option. We recognize that as sinners by birth we will sin, but what about living in sin after we have returned from our long journey into the far off land? We remind our selves that the Christian life is not simply a lot of rules that we have to follow. What are designated “laws” are not restrictions, but precautions about conduct that should we decide to do anyway will bring us significant hardship and sorrow. The warning of a bridge just around the corner that’s been destroyed, is not a restriction but an act of grace. Whether we speed on is our decision. True Christians pay attention to life’s warning signs.
1 John 3:2-3
The other thing in the paragraph we are dealing with is the incredible change that will take place in believers when Christ returns. John takes great pleasure in assuring his readers of the fact that they are actually “children of God.” Truths of that nature take a long time to sink in. But even when we understand a bit more perfectly that God is our father and we are privileged to be his sons and daughters, it is till true that there are things that “no eye has seen” and “no ear has heard” – in fact, they are “what no human mind has conceived” (1 Cor. 2:9). These things are gradually coming into focus for the serious Spirit-filled believer, but when Christ returns the final stage of transformation into Christ-likeness will take place. John says, “We shall be like him, because (taking the Greek hoti in a causal sense) we shall see him as he really is.”
We marvel at God’s remedy for the fallen state of the human race, what he did to change it, and how it works out. In other settings I have referred to this as “The Grand Old Story.” To be sure we are all on the same page let me summarize the most exciting and rewarding “novel” of all time. It begins in Garden of Eden with the first couple enjoying the friendship of God in that perfect setting. Tempted by Satan they disobey and are alienated from God and removed from the Garden. Like the prodigal son they wander in the far off country of Sin until they remember how pleasing and satisfying was their former condition. Returning (i.e., repenting and trusting the sacrificial gift of his Son) they are welcomed into the arms of his Father to “live happily ever after.”
So the change begins when they return from the distant land of .Sin, but even then a complete and perfect knowledge of God is beyond their ability to understand. Then that focal point in history arrives and the skies break open to reveal the Son returning on a white horse (Rev 19.11-16) to take believers to heaven. That is when the scales of our limited ability to understand are removed from our eyes of our soul and we will be transformed in the most complete sense – John says, “We shall be like him, because we shall see him as he really is.” Imagine that! To be like Him. Not “sort of” but “like him!” Imagine the transforming effect of seeing God in terms of who he actually is! Sin is banished and its powerful control over sinners is gone. We won’t even want to sin. No wonder that we who have this hope (absolute confidence in that which will certainly happen) live a different kind of life, namely, we “purify” ourselves (v. 3) in preparation for the great eschatological purification
1 John 3.1
In our last post on 1 John we marveled at the greatness and magnitude of God’s love. But that isn’t the only issue of importance in this first verse of chapter 3. As recipients of this unfathomable love we have become citizens of a future realm where we will dwell with Christ in the throne room of heaven. This current redirection of our hearts and minds to a life beyond is changing how we think of all that is yet to come. We are “strangers” here on earth and “foreigners” waiting to be taken back home. This readjustment makes us stand out as members of a group that is different. We seem to be filled with joy regardless of the situation, given to an unusual concern for others, living by a “philosophy” that doesn’t fit well in the existing society, and confident that the plans of our God will turn out to be the best. We don’t do certain things that our neighbors, albeit with an uneasy conscience, do on a regular basis. We give a good share of our hard earned cash to organizations that have humanitarian purposes not consistent with our present world. To put it mildly, we are different. While we don’t wear something like a bonnet to identify our religious tradition, other things reveal that we don’t belong indiscriminately to the current culture.
So what does the history of the Christian church say about people like us? Well, early on we were “on stage” at the local coliseum to face the lions. Or we were expelled from our homeland to waste away some where in the four corners of the earth. Back at home we were mocked for our faith, faced by taxation to support causes contrary to what we believe to be moral, and derided by those who believe something else. In fact, the one who began the Christian movement was publicly crucified while the crowds jeered. It is exactly as the apostle John wrote in 3:1, “The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.” He is the perfect model for those who have decided to affiliate with the Christian cause. Since the world rejected him (the NJB has, “did not acknowledge” him) they will reject us as well. I know you understand that I am not making a case for ostentatiously promoting our difference from the contemporary culture, but only for being true to our convictions and where they differ, to pay the price.