Monthly Archives: October 2011

1 John 5:1-5 – Faith; October 26, 2011

1 John 5:1-5 – Faith

 

I think sometimes Christians tend to lose sight of the truths we so readily confess.  This week in Sunday School we talked about Psalm 139 which is David’s attempt to express God’s omnipotence (all-powerful nature) and omnipresence (always present nature).  Two unthinkable aspects of God’s nature that we very easily affirm, but very rarely allow to affect our lives.  I just recently watched a documentary about the way fundamentalist Christians address the issue of homosexuality in American culture, and I found the same thing.  People saying they believed in the Bible but refused to surrender to what it taught them.  People holding on to a singular sin as if it were the only one that mattered, while the Bible teaches that any sin separates us from God.  We so often will make claims about what we believe or are taught in church without fully understanding the depth of what those things mean.

As John begins to conclude his letter, he will first unpack for us the doctrine that he has been affirming for the first 4 chapters.  What we find when we unpack the doctrine of love, light, and adoption is that they are all held together by this thing we call faith.  Sadly, even faith needs to be unpacked.  Faith is something that I try and emphasis with our students at Bono.  Faith is something that I think the vast majority of people who call themselves Christians don’t fully understand.  Part of that is bad teaching, part of that is pride, and part of that is the culture in which we live.  Here’s how I would imagine that faith would be defined by the majority of American Christians:

 

Faith – knowing something to be true without empirical evidence

 

Scripture has two very big problems with this definition.  First, faith in the Bible never goes contrary to evidence.  It may contradict human reason, but it does not contradict evidence.  God tells his people over and over again to remember His mighty works and to tell them to their children so that they will put faith in Him and not in their own ability to provide, protect, or prosper.  John at the beginning of his letter tells his readers that he has seen, touched, and heard what he is teaching from Christ Himself and is now translating to them.

The other important disagreement that Scripture would have with this definition is the word “knowing.”  Nowhere in Scripture is there a singular focus on faith being a cognitive understanding of God or His work.  Faith is always coupled with action in Scripture.  There is never one who is commended for their faith solely on the merit that they professed it.  There was always a hard and fast connection with their faith and their deeds.  Abraham is commended over and over again that his faith was counted to him as righteousness because he believed the promise of God to the point of being willing to sacrifice his only son.  Faith is the outward manifestation of the new birth that has occurred in the heart.  So to say that faith is the mere understanding or knowledge of the things of God is misstating what faith really is.

Now, why is this so important to what John is teaching and what we need to glean from John’s teaching? Because another thing that we learn about faith as we study the Bible is that it is not something that we come up with – it is not something that we muster – it is not something that we can accomplish on our own.  It is a gift given to us by God.  Romans 10:17 says, “So faith comes from hearing , and hearing through the word of Christ.”  Ephesians 2:8 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith.  And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.”  In Hebrews 12:2 Jesus is called the “founder and perfecter of our faith.” This truth, that faith is not of our own doing, is essential to understanding the rest of John’s teaching.  This is why John makes it such a point at the beginning of his letter and gospel that what he is teaching is not from him but from Christ.  He is simply testifying to it.

So, if a transforming faith is the foundation of love, walking in light, and adoption as sons and daughters of God, then we are given these things as we seek to abide in Him.  This is what John is trying to get through to us.  This is where we so often miss what the Bible is really saying and simply say things that sound good without really knowing what we’re talking about.  So when John tells us to love like Jesus loved, he’s not expecting us to magically like people more or be nicer to people that we really don’t want to be nice to – he is saying that as we humbly allow faith to do it’s work in our hearts, we will be given a love for people that is a reflection of the love Christ has given to us.  And when John tells us to walk in the light as He is in the light, he’s not just expecting us to find an illuminated road on Google maps and follow that until we can’t walk anymore – he’s saying that as we humbly seek to abide in Him, we will be given light that will allow us to walk in fellowship with God and people.

The bottom line for us is that we must begin to allow what we believe to be brought to life in what we do.  If we say that we have faith in Christ but live in contradiction to all that he stands for, is that faith real?  If we say that God is all-knowing and is always near us, then why do we continue to do those things we do in private or why do we continue to allow those thoughts to be entertained in our minds?  If salvation is a gift, why do we keep trying to earn it by sacrificing things that God never asked us to sacrifice?  May our faith be made real in our lives because it changes us, and may we stop trying to muster it out of our own understanding.  I love y’all more than you know.  Grace and peace,

 

JOT

1 John 4:13-21 – Confidence; October 19, 2011

1 John 4:13-21 – Confidence

 

My Dad is a great communicator – as long as you’re not his child.  You see, my Dad, like the Apostle John, will repeat himself over and over again in new ways so that his audience cannot help but get the point.  I’ll never forget the time that my Dad summarized part 1 of his sermon series before moving on to part 2.  He summarized for 32 minutes, and then started his sermon.  To a congregation of seeking brothers and sisters in Christ, this method can be very effective.  To his 16 year old son, not so much.  No 16 year old boy like to hear how wrong he’s been and what he can do to fix it over and over again in different language.  Unfortunately it took me far to long to actually hear what my Dad was really trying to say.  Teachers don’t repeat themselves because the like to hear themselves talk or because they want to torture their listeners – they repeat themselves to make sure we hear what is most important.  And in case we miss the peripheral aspects of their teaching, at least we will hear what is most important.

In reading this passage we see similar statements and elements from the first four chapters, from the previous 12 verses, and even from John’s gospel.  The key focus being love, which we have discussed previously in our discussions.  In this passage, however, John is wanting to point us to another proof of our abiding in God and He in us.  John is wanting us to see, touch and experience the confidence of having the love of God being perfected in us.  If we can remember back to chapter 2, we will find this theme to be redundant as well.  John points out that “we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments.” (1 John 2:3)  We can have confidence in our salvation when our actions line up with what God has commanded us to do.  In Matthew 22, Jesus says that the greatest commandment was to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength” and to that there was another like it, “love your neighbor as yourself,” and that if these could be made manifest in your life you would be fulfilling the requirements of holy living.  Love was the key, and more than that, the outpouring of love to the people around you was the proof of your being a Child of God.

Love is our proof.  Obedience is our proof.  The Spirit is our proof.  And we have confidence as these gifts are manifested in our lives.  Not one comes from our trying harder or our being better than anyone else.  They are all gifts from God to His children.  We do not accomplish them, they are accomplished in us.

I want to remind us to two very important things.  John says over and over that if we do not love our brothers then we are no Children of God.  He also says that we have an advocate in Jesus for the times that we do sin, because we will sin.  So which is it in your life?  Are you outside of the Family of God, living in sin, refusing to love those God has commanded you to love?  Or are you simply struggling with your flesh that has not yet been fully destroyed?  We must allow the Spirit to examine our hearts.  We must be willing to walk in the Light, and allow it to uncover dark and hidden places.  Most likely if you see and understand that there is a “love” issue in your heart, you have the Advocate acting on your behalf.  If you have no such issue and never have, it’s more likely that you’ve never truly walked in the Light.  We are to love like Christ loved, and I have never met a person who can stand and say they have always loved as they ought.  Spirit, open our eyes to see and give us ears to hear.  May we stop wandering in the darkness of our own deceitful hearts.  I love y’all more than you know.  Grace and peace,

 

JOT

1 John 4:7-12 – Beloved; October 12, 2011

1 John 4:7-12 – Beloved

I’ve often read this passage on love and wondered how we miss its message so easily.  Unfortunately for the English language we only have one word for an idea that the Greek language takes at least four to express.  The idea of “love” is one that can become muddled very easily when translated into a culture such as ours.  We rarely experience the type of love that John refers to over and over again in his epistle.  Even more rarely do we give this “love” as we ought.  Instead, we tend to mimic what we have learned from others or seen played out in our experience.  Most often the love we have learned or experienced is not an unconditional, sacrificial love.

I grew up in a home where love was not only something you said but something you did.  I was told on numerous occasions that if I love my Mom I would do a certain task that ordinarily I would despise doing.  My Dad lived out that example in our home.  Looking back now, able to see more clearly now that I am a husband and a dad, I know what those words were trying to express.  My Dad was modeling an unconditional love for my Mom.  My adolescent mind didn’t quite get it.  Similar misunderstandings would occur when we were getting ready for church when I was a child.  I have never been a fan of getting dressed up or putting on uncomfortable clothes, so getting dressed for church often turned into a battle of wills between my Mom and me.  I was told that we dressed up because we loved God and wanted to honor Him by looking our best when we went to worship Him.  Or at least that’s the way it was perceived through the eyes of a child.

So love often meant doing things you didn’t really want to do.  It meant making yourself uncomfortable on behalf of the one you loved.  Unfortunately, my love for God in my personal experience never led me to feel the need to dress up.  My love for God never led me to pull weeds in a garden over and over again.  My actions were never founded in my love for Him, they were simply a way for me to act like I loved Him.  It didn’t matter what I felt inside, the action was what mattered, not the heart.

Most of us have experienced this kind of love.  A very “phileo” type of love.  A love where you do something and that love is reciprocated back to you based on your act of love.  A love where you can further your advantage in life by abiding in certain behavior.  As long as you did the right things, the love remained.  Step out of line and the love was lost.  Stay out of line and the love might not come back.  We’ve experienced it in romantic relationships, friendships, family relations and even with our own parents.   Many of us base our love on such hidden principles and often believe those principles to be right and even holy.  John is commanding a different kind of love.

“In this is love, not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 4:10)  The love that we are to be giving is one that has no reciprocity to it – it’s a love that is not based on what they will do or have done for you.  Instead, the opposite is true.  Christ’s response to mankind’s blatant and arrogant defiance of Him was to respond in love leading to the Cross.  And not only dying a death He did not deserve, but taking the wrath of a Holy God so that we could receive the full benefits of God’s love (that’s what propitiation means, taking wrath so that favor may be given).  Christ loved those who stood defiantly not loving Him, even to the point of asking the Father to forgive those who stood at the foot of His cross in order to mock him and spit on Him as He died.  We don’t have a frame of reference for this kind of love.

Christ’s love that is to be “perfected” in us is one that we have a hard time truly living out practically.  We don’t want to love like this.  We don’t want to love our coworker who goes out of their way to make us look bad.  We don’t want to love the guy who cheats and steals from us and doesn’t get caught.  We don’t want to love that person who calls us names or despises us.  We don’t want to love the ones who hate us.  We don’t want to love like Christ loves us.  Instead, we would like to continue to receive His love, but only give our love to those who deserve it, have earned it, or that we are by nature required to give it.  No human being can love like that anyway.  And that my friends is “the rub,” if I may borrow from the Bard.

This love that John and Christ command us to have for the people in this world is not from us.  We are not going to feel this love.  We are not going to magically walk around with this ethereal feeling of love for everyone who hates us, mocks us, spits on us or kicks us while we are down.  It is the work of the Spirit within us that produces this kind of love.  It is our abiding in Him, and He in us that allows this love to be manifested in our lives.

In my own life, I had a hard time fully comprehending this command until I realized the true depth of love that Christ has for me.  For so long I tricked myself into believing that I somehow warranted Christ’s love because I did the right things.  I had convinced myself that I was better than most people and therefore deserved the love that Christ gave me.  Most of us, if we could be truly honest with ourselves, live in that lie.  We may not say it with our mouths, but we believe it in our hearts.  We are good enough to be loved by Christ, and salvation is just Him helping us out just a little bit.  Most of us believe that we only missed the mark by a little and the work done on the cross helped us just enough to hit the target.  I mean, it’s the murderers, drug-dealers, homosexuals and politicians who are the really bad ones, not me.  We neglect the truth of God’s Word that tells us that our righteous deeds are like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6).  We cannot do enough “good” things to overcome the fact that we refuse the regenerate work of Christ in our lives because we would rather trust in our own “goodness.”

So here is the full command of loving others as given by Christ and John:

  1. We ALL are broken, rebellious, and hostile in mind toward God
  2. Christ in His perfect, unconditional love comes to earth to take the punishment for our sin so that we may have life with Him
  3. The Spirit shines light into the darkness of our hearts revealing both of these truths and we submit our lives to Him in repentance and obedience
  4. We become reflections of Christ’s love to a dark world, allowing the love that Christ has given us to now be poured out on EVERYONE around us

This is the love that is to be perfected in us.  This is the work of sanctification in our lives.  This is what it means to abide and remain in His love.  It is not a work that we do.  It changes everything.  It changes the way you love your kids.  It changes the way you love your spouse.  It changes the way you love the waiter or waitress at the restaurant where you eat.  It changes the way you relate with people at work.  It is the life of Christ living through you.  I love y’all more than you know.  Grace and peace,

JOT

1 John 4:1-6 – Testing; October 5, 2011

1 John 4:1-6 – Testing

The word testing often comes up in the Christian world.  Mostly in the context of a trial or circumstance that “tests” your faith or your ability to overcome an obstacle in a given situation.  Rarely do you here it in the context of testing the things we hear from pulpits, books, external counsel or internal direction.  You might every now and then hear it from someone well-versed in Christianese who might be trying to guide you through a difficult decision without really having to think too deeply about the situation.  Or you might have heard it from someone who truly knows the depths of testing the spirits that John talks about in chapter 4.

John is addressing a method of deciphering what is from God and what is from man.  He is challenging the “little children” to purposefully lay each argument against the Word of God to see if it truly holds up to what is true.  Sadly, it is a discipline that is lost in churches today.

The first reason that I believe that the church today cannot test the spirits is that we prefer to reason things out in our own minds instead of looking to the Word of God as our source of direction.  So when we’re having marital problems it is much easier to justify our behavior by lining up with our feelings or preferences than actually having to live out “Wives submit to your husbands” or “Husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church” (Ephesians 5).  The spirits tell us that it’s ok for a wife to usurp authority in the relationship because the husband is just not doing it right or for a husband to find other things to love when his wife seems unlovable.  Here’s another popular spirit that ravages our church, children have no need to obey the outdated, often insane orders of their parents because they obviously are not in touch with today’s generation.  That spirit is a lot easier for us to follow than “Children obey your parents in everything” (Colossians 3:20).  Other spirits that tend to dominate our culture have to do with the workplace.  The end of Colossians chapter 3 and the beginning of chapter 4 are going to speak to many of these.  To the one who believes themselves to be stuck in a dead-end job, with a crazy boss and inadequate compensation Scripture says “work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.”  And to the employer who would prefer to domineer over their employees “treat your [workers] justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.”  We could go on for pages and pages bringing up spirits of the world that whisper in our ears where we ought to go, and counter each one with the voice of Spirit in God’s Word.

Of course, for every clearly defined spirit that contradicts the Word of God there are countless others that are not so clean-cut.  For instance, do I move from Grand Prairie, TX to Suwon, South Korea?  I have no Scriptural reference that I can point to that says, “Thou shalt move from GP to SK in the second month of the year on the twenty-eighth day of the month.” (2 Opinions 3:16).  That’s why being in the Word and Abiding are so vitally important.  Being able to distinguish the voice of God from the spirits of this world (spirits that often include your own voice and preferences) in the clearly defined areas help us in discerning His voice in the muddy areas.  The Spirit speaks to us beyond His Word, but how can we say we truly know His voice if we have not listened in the areas clearly defined in Scripture?

Let me tell you how this plays out in my own life.  When my wife and I were planning to come back from South Korea to Texas and I was looking for a job, my preference and so many voices in my mind were telling me to stay away from church employment.  I have never wanted to be involved in church.  I don’t like the politics, the hypocrisy, not to mention I have what some may call an “authority issue.”  But the more we prayed and sought the Lord and the more we fed ourselves with the Word the more it was confirmed in our hearts that we needed to apply for a position at a church.  What’s more, after we applied we felt confirmed that I was going to get the job.  There wasn’t a Scripture that said “Thou shalt do youth ministry.”  There was no cloud in the sky in the shape of a lighthouse.  There were no dreams or visions.  There was simply His voice calling us, and we had learned to hear His voice by submitting to His Word.  “Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts” (Psalm 95:7).  May we be hearers of the Word and in doing it learn to hear the Voice of the Lord in every moment of our lives.  I love y’all more than you know.  Grace and peace,

JOT