I write to you because…

Today, we have an amazing text, one that I have never really appreciated until about 10 minutes ago.  It just hit me: Wow!

I must have been a victim of my training, because this is a transitional passage between John’s introductory section and the rest of the letter.  In verses 1:1-2:11, John has been going through this comparison and contrast that shows his readers who is and who is not in Christ.  Great section, lots of insight! Now, he is giving the reasons he has written the letter, and after this he gets into some very deep thoughts.  We often just blow by this little transition and wade into the content that begins in verse 15, but hold on a minute; the transition is amazing!

I  am writing to you, dear children,
    because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name.
I am writing to you, fathers,
    because you know him who is from the beginning.
I am writing to you, young men,
    because you have overcome the evil one.

I write to you, dear children,
    because you know the Father.
I write to you, fathers,
    because you know him who is from the beginning.
I write to you, young men,
    because you are strong,
    and the word of God lives in you,
    and you have overcome the evil one.

1 John 2:12-14

Do you see what this is?  It isn’t so much the “who” John is addressing, it’s the “why” that is important, contrary to so much that has been written and discussed over the years!  Let’s restructure these verses:

If you are in Christ, John is writing to you BECAUSE:

1. YOUR sins have been forgiven on account of His name.

2. YOU know Him who is from the beginning.

3. YOU HAVE OVERCOME THE EVIL ONE.

4. YOU know the Father.

5. YOU know Him who is from the beginning.

6. YOU are strong.

7. The Word of God lives in YOU.

8. YOU HAVE OVERCOME THE EVIL ONE.

Did you notice the tense used here?  Each of these “because” statements is either in present or past tense, indicating that they are facts at this very moment, not something to come in the future. I’m sure that I need not mention that there are no “buts” in any of these statements. Now, as for the “who,”  there are three “who’s”  in the passage, “dear children,” “fathers” and “young men.”

“Dear children” as we have already seen is one of the ways that John addressed the community of believers; it is an inclusive term.  “Fathers” can either be literally a father of children, or it can refer to the head of the household, and in Scripture this is often the case; certainly it is when referring to a patriarch.  In those cases, something that is true of the father is true of the household.  It seems to me that here, because of the inclusive reference at the beginning, the inclusive meaning is also true of fathers, particularly since there is nothing in the text that would indicate specificity of intent.  “young men” are the heads of households yet to be born, and I think we can take this reference to mean that not only are these things true in believing households of today, but they will also be true of future generations of believing households.  You might wonder about a household of one, but remember that in John’s day, households of one were extremely unusual if not non-existent; they are actually quite a modern development. Looking at the list of statements again, it seems that we can take them to refer to all of us who are in Christ. That is also the context of the previous and following sections…

Notice that there is some repetition.  Numbers 2 and 5 are the same, but 2 comes after a reference to the Son, while 5 comes after a reference to the Father.  If you know Jesus, then you also know the Father.  Having overcome the evil one is mentioned twice also, numbers 3 and 8. Both are directed to young men, and it seems to me interesting that it is repeated the second time in a series of three statements made to young men.  Now if we have an accurate understanding of “young men,” then let’s consider these future heads of household.  They are the future, but they are also young.  They are the ones who need encouragement and the mentoring of the Elder Apostle the most, and so they, who will bear the spiritual battle in the future need a little more instruction that those who are experienced, the veterans we might say.  Here, John gives an extra assurance that they are strong, filled with the Word, and have overcome.  I would guess that this is as much comfort to John’s “young men” in their day, as this whole list should be to us in our day. This is particularly true when we get into the rest of this letter; John is getting his readers prepared for what is coming.

Take another look at the list of statements:

Would accepting these statements as the facts they are, with no “buts” attached, alter your view of the challenges you face in life?

Is God speaking to you in this text?

If so, what is He saying?

What will you do about it?

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How Strong is our Faith?

I met a guy once who was really down; it was a low point for him.  He had problems at home, at work and with his health. He had reached a point where he wasn’t so sure about his faith either…tumblr_mixwagdrix1s46kdmo1_500

He told me that he felt as though his faith was covered up with vines and weeds, that it was cracking away and was in need of serious repair.

Life doesn’t always move along as we might like it to; there are periods when it may seem that our lives and our faith are in need of repair.  Some of us try to deal with these things entirely on our own.  Some may turn to friends and family for support, and others might even seek out the wise counsel of Christian brothers or sisters for advice.

Of all of the advice that is out there for anyone whose faith is crumbling, or who is having problems like the guy I met, the best advice is to focus on building our relationship with Jesus Christ.  If you want a great home life, focus on Jesus Christ.  If you want to climb out of despair, focus on Jesus Christ.  If your health is failing, focus on Jesus Christ… Yes, there’s a pattern.

When it seems like things just aren’t going right: focus on Jesus Christ and your relationship with Him.

The guy I met that time did that.  It wasn’t an instant fix, but he got through it and discovered that his best days were soon to come. All too often, people do not do that, and they can only rest upon the laurels of the past, with the result being an old future. I know it sounds like this is a simplistic answer to problems, but if you really think about it, you’ll see that building up a close relationship with our Lord is a powerful undertaking.

Jesus Christ is not only the source of life, He is also the source of our strength. Being in His presence is an experience of healing, and when the world seems to be crashing in on us, we need healing.  Jesus Christ can also provide us with wisdom, guidance and support when we need them most, and finally being focused on Him, we see things much more clearly.  What is really important? What is really our priority?  Having these questions answered, often makes the solutions to our problems more clear; while despair makes everything cloudy.

Yep, that’s the answer all right, why wait until there are problems?  Pull near to Him when things are going well!

The Power of One Word

We often assume that the big words are the really important ones, yet the more I think about it, the more I believe that it’s really the little words that make or break a person. This is particularly true for those of us who are followers of our Lord Jesus Christ. We read passages in the Bible that are greatly comforting, encouraging or even empowering, and we add one little word to the picture, and send our lives into despair.  One such word, containing only three little letters can be a killer.  That word is “but.”

Yes, I believe God’s promises, but…” Yes, I’m walking in newness of life with Jesus, but…” I am a new creation in Christ, but…” “My sins are forgiven, but…”

Dear brother or sisterthere is no “but” in any of those verses!

We are called to love one another, and there is no “but.” We are called to relationship with God through Christ, and there is no “but.”  We must pray continually, and there is no “but.” We must focus on our relationships with Jesus Christ and there is no “but.”

The word “but” has a cousin, and that is the word “try.”  They are close cousins, you may have noticed that they often hang out together. “Yes, I will try, but… I know it won’t work.”

The Bible has much to say on a wide variety of topics, including a better way to live our lives, and quite frankly, it usually gives simple answers to life’s challenges.  Simple doesn’t always mean easy, it means uncomplicated, easy to comprehend.  Easy to do is another matter entirely.  All of the Biblical answers to life’s challenges begin with our relationship with Jesus Christ.  If you think surmounting an obstacle is difficult in life, just try to do it alone!  You’ll find out what hard really is!  You might be interested to know that every person or couple I’ve ever counselled had the same root problem: No healthy relationship with Christ. You simply can’t live by Scriptural principles without it, any more than someone who is not a follower of Christ can… and for the same reason.  Know what that reason is?  This, too is simple: They can’t see why they should even bother to try! In a non-Christian, this attitude is perfectly understandable, even sensible, but for the Christian, it is deadly.

Before I go any further, I should make it very clear that I am not talking about people who face addiction, mental illness or severe emotional trauma, I’m referring to more typical spiritual situations.  These other folks need a mentor who is experienced with those specific  problems.  Let’s be honest, most of us don’t have those kinds of issues to surmount.

I’m not sitting here at my keyboard this morning trying to play “Shrink” I’m simply trying to put some Biblical teaching out there for consideration.  Take it if you find it helpful, or toss it in the bin if it isn’t.  In any case, focus your whole being on your relationship with Christ.  This is easier for some than it is for others, I understand that, so if it is hard for you, better get started.  I’ve set forth many ideas along these lines in this blog for over two years now, and particularly in the last couple of weeks, so there is plenty of ideas here.  There are also many ideas on other blogs, and some of you have posted some great stuff yourselves lately.

Seek our the resources available in your local church.  Your church should be a place of love and healing, and there should be people either in the congregation, in the leadership or on staff who can mentor you through this… and if there isn’t I’d suggest that you might be in the wrong church!  There should be people who are glad to help, and who want nothing at all in return.

What ever you do, loose the word “but” from your vocabulary, and be suspicious of the word “try.” We must find a way to “do” in these areas, don’t you think? Here’s something I’ll leave you with.  I know I’ve written posts on this verse several times, so here’s the quick version.  Suppose you come upon ne of the promises of Scripture, like the one that says that you are a new creation in Christ, the old is gone and the new is here… “but” you don’t feel all that new because the old stuff is still giving you problems.  Notice I didn’t quote the verse, I paraphrased it and added the “but” portion that I’ve heard so many times over the years… and maybe I’ve said it myself once or twice.  Now, I’ll quote a different verse: “Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness.”  (Gen. 15:5; Rom. 4:3)  Abraham was far from perfect, but he believed God.  God credited his belief to him as righteousness.  When we take the promises of God, and add “but” after them, are we being righteous?  Maybe we ‘re really telling God that we don’t believe Him, instead…  Let’s not listen to the lie of the enemy that usually follows the word “but.”  Instead, let’s act in faith, believing His Word and seeking His presence with confident hope, that we will find the peace that we are seeking in Him. That, dear reader is my prayer for you.

Love and Hate; Light and Dark

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Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning. This old command is the message you have heard. Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and in you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining.

Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness. Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble. But anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness. They do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them.

1 John 2:7-11

In these verses, John gives one more comparison and contrast.  This time it is love and hate, light and darkness. If we are in Christ, then we must love our brother and sister.  If we claim to be in Christ, yet we hate out brother or sister, then we cannot be in Christ; I think this is a fair summary of John’s point.

You will recall from the last few posts that John made the point that if we are in Christ, we must live our lives like Christ. In fact he has made this point several times in various ways, but recall in particular 2:3-6.  Where in the Gospels can we find any indication whatsoever that Jesus ever hated anyone? Far from it!  We see Him showing love in all cases, even when He let the Pharisees have it with the seven woes.  Remember, right after that, Jesus is lamenting the fact that despite all that God has done, they insisted on turning against Him; Jesus was clearly grieved by this.  (Matt. 23:37 ff.)  When you reduce the Christian faith down to its simplest form, and I am a fan of doing this, its central idea is love God; love your neighbor. There is no room for hate in that formula.

Our brother may irritate us now and then, he may also let us down.  In truth, our brother may well be every bit as imperfect as we are, but we are to love him anyway, just as he is to love us anyway, just as Jesus loves all of us anyway. Remember that love means that we put the interests of the other person ahead of our own.

To this message from John, I’d like to add my own observation:  How much damage do you suppose has been done over the years to the Gospel by people calling themselves Christians, who fail to demonstrate His love to others? How many thousands have said “no” to Christ because of some so-called believers, who show an attitude of hatred for other people? How many have left the faith because of this behavior in the church?

Those who hate rather than love can call themselves whatever they like, they may fool many people, but they cannot fool God, and I would respectfully suggest they repent, and do so quickly.

“My dear children…”

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 My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins,and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.

1 John 2:1-2

Here at the beginning of the second chapter, John restates what came at the end of chapter one about the forgiveness of sins, although here, he adds a different vantage point.  Rather than simply saying that if we acknowledge our sins that God is faithful to forgive them, thus putting forgiveness in a covenant context, (faithful being a covenant term) now John reminds us of how this is accomplished. It is because of our “advocate” Jesus Christ.

He has also spoken as the Elder, starting out with the words “my dear children.”  John is the last of the Apostles of Christ remaining alive in the body, and his writings in this vein are filled with truth, grace and love for his “children.”  His desire is that we shouldn’t sin, thus he compares and contrasts light and darkness that we might clearly understand the difference as we journey through this life.  Knowing that we will all stumble, he gives us the reassurance that all will be right, thanks to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ… and this is always a comfort to me, I don’t know about you, for I am prone to stumbling.

I also would mention that at the end of verse two, John tells us that Jesus has paved the way for our sins to be forgiven, just as He has for the sins of the entire world.  Sometimes, I think that many of us might have the feeling that Jesus has enabled us to have been forgiven, and then we look at the world, and the forgiveness of the world.  We share this with others, that they too can be forgiven, and then we stumble ourselves again and forget that our new sin is forgiven also, just like our previous sins.  In fact, I have watched many faithful followers struggle with this concept, and if this is ever our plight, take heart with John’s words here in verse 2.

We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands. Whoever says, “I know him,”but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.

1 John 2:3-6

I read with interest, and sometimes sadness, when people write that we need ever do anything as Christians, because there are no conditions in the New Covenant.  They seem to suggest that since grace is free, we need accept it, and then we’re set for life, so to speak, with no obligation to ever do anything or behave in any particular way.  Most of the time, I conclude that they are probably just wording things a little bit wrong, and don’t really mean to go quite that far, but sometimes, I think they entirely misunderstand the Christian walk.  John makes it quite clear in these verses that we are to obey the commands that Jesus gave us.  In fact, Jesus commanded that we should teach others to obey Him also. (Matt. 28:18-20)

The overriding standard in this obedience is to live our lives as Jesus lived.  How is that? Love your neighbor, serve others by putting their interests ahead of our own.  Spread the Good News to the lost.  Love God, and place His priorities above our own, and to love our brother.  John seems to me to be pretty clear, that we must live as Jesus did, and if we are not willing to do so, we may have a serious problem.

As John continues, he will elaborate on this theme further, and we’ll see where he takes it when we get together next time…

Come Into the Light!

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This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out 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.

1 John 1:5-7

Earlier we looked at the introduction to this letter, and here, we enter the first section of the letter which begins at verse 5 and continues through 2:14. This section is given context in verse 5: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. Thus, this section is all about John’s declaration of light versus darkness, and it contains comparisons and contrasts.

Before we take a look at it, keep in mind what John wrote in John 1:4 “In him was life, and that life was the light of men.” All through the Gospel story, John used “light” as signifying the presence of Jesus, contrasted with “darkness” denoting His absence.  Keeping this in mind, let’s take a look at our text. After proclaiming that God is light, John gets down to his explanation claiming that if we claim to be in fellowship with God, but walk in darkness, we lie, and are not in the truth.  This is a rather easy statement to understand, for if we are in darkness, then we aren’t in His presence, and if we aren’t in His presence, we couldn’t possibly be in fellowship.  There is no half-way!

The contrast is that if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship… because we are with Him in the light.  If we have this fellowship in the light of His presence and truth, then His blood purifies us from all sin.  The reality of the statement is that we can’t be in fellowship with Him until our sins have been forgiven by His sacrifice on the cross.

Sometimes, we may walk a ways in darkness, and by this I mean that we may stray from time-to-time.  John doesn’t suggest that our errors kick us out of fellowship as we will see a little farther through this text, but that there is a way to return to the light of His presence, by confessing our sins., as we see in the next paragraph:

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.

1 John 1:8-10

I think we all would agree that a claim by any one of us to have never sinned would be little short of crazy.  John seems to think it’s worse than that!  All have sinned, but take heart, for there is a way out, confess your sins and He will forgive; this is our covenant promise.  There is simply no need for us to wring our hands and carry around a burden of guilt and shame before God, for when we confess out sins (acknowledge them) He will forgive; we have His Word on that!

Next time, John will have more to say on this topic; see you there!

The Word of Life

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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. 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. 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.

1 John 1:1-4

John has a way of telling the story of Jesus from a lofty, heavenly viewpoint, and this is surely one of those instances.  His Gospel begins in a similar way, (see John 1:1-4) it provides a perfect parallel passage in fact.  Of course, in Revelation, John’s vantage point is so lofty that most misread it entirely. Here in this short letter, John is setting forth two basic and wonderful facts:  First, that Jesus is the Messiah, the anointed One of God.  Second, He is setting forth the fact that he, himself, is an eyewitness of Jesus, and Apostle who lived and walked with Jesus for over three years, and that he is able to give eyewitness testimony about Him.

In verse one, John is letting us know that he saw this Jesus with his own eyes, touched Him with his own hands, heard Him with his own ears, and that now he (John) is proclaiming as the Word of Life, the Word that was with God and that was in fact God from the very beginning, a beginning that predates time itself.

I hate to be crass after such lofty statements, but to put it in the simplest possible modern American terms, John is saying something like:  Hey!  I’m about to tell you something important; listen up. Hey dummy, I know what the heck I’m talking about here!

Back to lofty: In verse two, John takes a step further, as he did in John 1:2.  This Word of Life really appeared, and John saw it, he was there.  This eternal life that came from the Father Himself John is now going to proclaim to us! John will proclaim this great news of the Word of Life so that we may have fellowship with John and with Jesus, the Son as well as with the Father. And in doing so, our entry into fellowship will make John’s joy complete.

Fellowship is an interesting word, from the Greek word  koinōnia meaning  association, community, communion, joint participation, intercourse; the share which one has in anything, participation. This participation is not only in relationship, but in purpose, for we really cannot separate the Person of Christ from the purpose of the Father.  John’s joy will be complete, because by the proclaiming of the Word of Life, we will be in relationship and purpose with John, our fellow believers, and with the Lord Himself.

Well dear reader, this is the introduction, I can’t wait to get to the proclamation itself, but that will have to wait until next time…