CURRENT PREACHING SERIES:
The First Letter of 1 John
Apr 15, 2018 - 1 John 1:1-4 - What has been heard & seen
Apr 22, 2018 - 1 John 1:5-2:2 - God is light, so walk in the light
Apr 29, 2018 - 1 John 2:3-14 - Obeying God’s old & new commands
May 6, 2018 - 1 John 2:15-27 - The world is full of lies
May 13, 2018 - 1 John 2:28-3:10- Being children of God
May 20, 2018 - 1 John 3:11-24 (Pentecost) - The Spirit God gave us
May 27, 2018 - 1 John 4:1-21 (Trinity) - God’s Spirit acknowledges that Jesus is Christ
Jun 3, 2018 - 1 John 5:1-12 - Everyone born of God overcomes the world
Jun 17, 2018 - 1 John 5:13-21 - Confidence in approaching God
The Life Cycle of God’s Word
1 John 1:1-4
Leading up to the New Testament…
…the people of God believed that God’s word had accomplished great things in the past: the cosmos was “spoken” into existence, servants like Moses were “spoken” to, “commands” were written down for kings, prophets were “spoken” through, and finally their “words” were recorded and preserved for the people. God’s word also pointed ahead to a day when God would raise up a king for his people from the line of David, and God himself would visit the world, judge the nations, and vindicate Israel.
But when Jesus came, people’s expectations about God’s word completely changed.
The New Testament letters…
…were written to churches trying to live faithfully for Jesus while they awaited his return. This was not easy—in their day or ours—because so much about the world has gone awry: there is darkness, hate, sin, and even false teaching in the church. To counteract all this, apostles like John re-wrote God’s words for the people, and interpreted them through the person of Jesus.
John’s first letter very much aligns with his Gospel: they both view Jesus from the perspective of God’s word. As such, God’s Word was always with him, even before the world began, and God used his Word to create all things (John 1:1-4; cf. Gen 1:1-2:3). Likewise, that Word took on flesh (John 1:14; 1 Jn 1:1) and brought true life to the disciples (1 Jn 1:2). Therefore, the life cycle of God’s Word continued through the disciples: not only did it create life in the beginning, and extend life to the disciples who knew Jesus, but after, as those disciples shared God’s living Word with others, they too were—and are—invited into eternal life, found only in the Father and Son whom are preached (1 Jn 1:3).
The Properties of Light
1 John 1:1-2:2
…a mysterious substance. It used to be spoken of as a particle with wave-like properties. Then, once quantum mechanics became a thing, it was spoken of as a wave-particle duality. It can bend, it can disperse, it can be reflected, it can be absorbed. It is the fastest thing we know, travelling at speeds over 186,000 miles per second. Without light, there would be no sight. Without the wavelengths of light, there would be no color. Without light from the sun, there would be no life at all in this world.
…a mysterious Person. He is unseen, but has, on occasion, revealed himself to different people at different times. He created all life. He works behind the scenes to orchestrate or curb human affairs. He apparently has an overall plan for how history will work itself out, but his plans are often obscured to us and he only offers limited perspectives to a select few. He is at once powerful, wise, and unapproachable, but also relational.
John the apostle knew this because he was in relationship with God through the person of Christ Jesus. He wrote a letter to the churches to explain what fellowship with God—and with his Son—looked like (1 Jn 1:1-4). The first way John explains God—and perhaps the first way he sees him—is as light (1:5). Light, as we said, is mysterious. It reveals, it keeps us from stumbling, it illumines, and it exposes. To “walk in the light” (1:7) causes our sins against our sisters and brothers in this world to get exposed. But this is not meant to be unbearable; John assures us this is what Jesus shed his blood for—to purify us (1:7), forgive us (1:9), and atone for our sins (2:2).
If we really want to know and be known, we have to draw nearer to the Light. This is God’s gift to us, it is his promise, and it is also his deep desire.
“Walk Like Jesus”
1 John 2:3-14
In 1986 the American pop-rock band, The Bangles, released a very popular song titled "Walk Like an Egyptian". While the lyrics were a bit odd, the song started a trend across the country in which people would pose or walk around in bizarre ways, like the “Egyptians” depicted in old paintings. Maybe some of you remember doing this, and in doing so, you also received some strange looks. But one thing was clear, we were all trying to imitate, or "walk", like these ancient peoples.
Do you ever try to be like someone else? Or, does anyone ever rub off on you to the point that you start to live your life differently? Sometimes we imitate our loved ones because of their close relationship with us, or because of their unique personalities. When we do this, we start to live life like they do, in our thoughts, words, and actions. In other words, we start to “walk” like them. While it is not necessarily wrong to do this, we often miss the most important person to walk like and imitate – Jesus.
John makes it apparent in chapter 2 that if we really know and love Jesus, then we will live like him and walk like him (v. 6). But what does that look like? Primarily, it means that we must obey his commands and love our brothers and sisters in Christ. If we don’t do these things, then we are liars (v. 4). Not only liars, but we are also blind and living in the darkness (vs. 9-11). Therefore, it seems that if we want to call ourselves Christians, then we have to be about what Jesus was about. We need to walk, talk, and act like he did, because that is what makes us truly his children and disciples.
Does that mean it is easy? No! Walking like Jesus is hard, but it is essential to following him. We are called to be conformed to who he is, and this is most characterized by our love and our obedience to his commands. If we do these things, John says that God’s love has been perfected in us (v. 5). What a powerful message! What an exciting challenge! Are you ready to walk like Jesus?
The World of Lies
1 John 2:15-27
When we speak of “the world”…
…we could be speaking of a variety of things. We could mean our planet, which is covered in water and dry land and has an atmosphere surrounding it. We could mean all the people who inhabit this planet. We could mean the environment, we could mean nature, we could even mean the philosophies or experiences of individuals that are different from—and sometimes intersecting of—our own experiences and philosophies.
When the apostle John speaks of “the world”…
…he means something specific that we see, that we move through, that we interact with, and that is false. It is something very different than the planet God originally created, and something that has taken a very different course than that which God originally planned for it. The “world” is filled with “lust” and “pride” (2:16), things that distort God’s good intentions by promising satisfaction but leading instead to destruction.
In this world of lies, John sees false love (2:15), false christs (2:18), false members of the Jesus-communities (2:19), and false teachings (2:22-23). In order to stay away from these counterfeit realities, John tells the churches to stand firm in the “teaching” the apostles first gave them (1:5; 2:7-8, 21, 27); in their “anointing,” or abiding presence of God’s Spirit, which came from the apostle’s teaching (2:20, 27); and in their “fellowship” with God, which also came from the apostle’s teaching (1:3; 2:24).
Do not be deceived sisters and brothers, the world is still filled with false realities. By God’s word and the abiding presence of his Spirit, may we continually seek to be honest about ourselves, about our communities, and about the good news of Christ Jesus.
“A Simple Test”
1 John 2:28-3:10
A freshly brewed cup of coffee and a tall glass of orange juice with ice. They are both consumable liquids that taste good (to most people), but they have obvious differences. One is cool, refreshing and sweet, and the other is hot, caffeinated and bitter. One is orange, the other is black. If someone were to ask you which one was which, it would be very simple, because they are different in taste, touch, sight, and smell.
1 John 2-3 also speaks of major differences that exist between things, only here they are not “things”, they are people. Some of these people belong to God and some do not. The one group places their hope in Christ (2:28; 3:1), does not sin (3:3-9), practices righteousness (2:29; 3:7, 10), and loves their fellow believer (3:10). These are children of God. They abide in Christ, and Christ abides in them (3:5, 9). He is pure and righteous (3:3, 7), so they live in the same way.
The other group does not belong to God, because they practice sin and unrighteousness (3:8-10). John says that this group also denies God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ (2:22). These are children of the devil. They do these things because they are of the devil, who has been sinning from the beginning (3:8). He is a liar and a murderer (John 8:44), so they live in same way.
Therefore, it should be a simple test to know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are. God's children are so radically changed by his incredible love (3:1) that they no longer go on sinning, but instead follow his commands, and love their brothers and sisters in Christ. On the other hand, the children of the devil keep on sinning and live in the darkness. By this the prove that they do not really know God.
The question is, whose children are we? If we are truly God’s children, then we will turn from our lives of sin and love each other. In the meantime, let us continually thank and praise him for the great love that he lavished upon us that we should be called children of God!
Love Is Kinetic
1 John 3:11-24
All throughout this letter we call 1 John, it becomes evident the apostle was writing to churches who knew the truth but were living in a sin-darkened world. In many ways, we could say he was trying to keep the light of God’s truth alive and prevent it from being extinguished (1:5-7). He assures the churches that he is “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” (2:7), but he then never explains what that message was. Part of this seems to be John’s writing style—to introduce topics and return to them in layers, adding additional details as he goes. Thus, up to this point, he let his audience know the message had something to do with “living by the truth” (1:6), “not sinning” (2:1), and “not hating your brother or sister” in the church (2:9-11).
Now, in chapter three, the apostle comes back to this message the churches had heard from the beginning; namely, that “we should love one another” (3:11). While that may seem anticlimactic, it is nevertheless powerful and it is all the more difficult. For the apostle, to love or not love is the difference between life and death (3:14-15). This is made evident through Jesus, who laid his life down for us and demonstrated that we should likewise lay our lives down for our sisters and brothers (3:16). Love is what animates us. It isn’t static, it’s kinetic. It connects us to God (3:24), it connects us to one another (3:17), and it salves our conscience (3:18-20). So, how does this happen and how is it all possible? It is made possible only through God’s Spirit (3:24).
On this Pentecost Sunday, we remember back to that sacred day when the Holy Spirit first filled those 120-or-so believers (Acts 2:1-41). It was not just a multilingual, cross-cultural experience for them, but it animated them to move out into the surrounding world and engage others with the good news of Jesus. Even more so, it empowered them to live together in love (Acts 2:42-47). That same Spirit which filled John on the church’s first Pentecost is the same Spirit which also filled the churches John was writing to, and it is the same Spirit which fills us still today. So go, let love move you.
Who Gets to Narrate the World?
1 John 4:1-21
Whether you know it or not, somebody gave you the narrative by which you have come to understand the world. Maybe there are multiple narratives, maybe they’ve changed over time for you, but nevertheless they’re there. Stories about Prince Charming and happily ever after; stories about safety and security and a world full of empathy; stories about people being generally good; stories about how, if you just work hard enough, you will always overcome. Some stories are darker. There are stories about how there is no God; about how we are alone in this universe; about how there is nothing after death; about how life is random and meaningless.
There are all sorts of stories told by different cultures and different religions, but the question for us ultimately becomes, “Who has the right and the authority to narrate what the world is supposed to be and where the world should be going?”
The apostle John wrote about a God who was telling a very different story than that which the world was telling. John’s story, a very Jewish story, was about a God who was equally light (1 Jn 1:5) and love (1 Jn 4:8, 16). In this sense, God’s light shined the truth and exposed all sin. But, since God is also love, he didn’t abandon creation in its sin and darkness. With these two attributes together, we see how the triune community of the Godhead operated—God the Father created in love (Jn 1:1-3); he sent his Son in love (1 Jn 4:9); Jesus, God’s Son, acted in love to lay down his life for the sins of the world (1 Jn 2:2; 3:16); the Father and Son together sent the Spirit in love (Jn 14:15-18); and the Spirit was poured out on all God’s children to empower them to live in love (1 Jn 4:13-16).
So, what story do you believe and how is it shaping your life? This Trinity Sunday, let us remind ourselves that, while there are many narratives out there, God is the only one who gets to decide what the story of the world actually is and where we are supposed to be going. And we can trust that God, who is full of light and love, tells a much better story than we could possibly imagine ourselves.
What Sets Us Apart
1 John 5:1-12
As we near the end of this first letter of John’s, the vast majority of his themes have already been revealed—light or darkness, love or hate, the truth or lies, Christ or antichrists, relationship with the world or relationship with the Father, life or murder, being children of God or children of the devil, the Spirit of truth or the spirit of falsehood. Each time the apostle returns to one of these themes, he develops it further and with greater detail. By the time he enters chapter five, he returns again to the themes of love, obedience, being children of God, life, faith, and the lies of the world. This time, however, I couldn’t help but think about how these themes relate to students.
This weekend, high school seniors will be “walking the Bowl” for graduation. That means they will receive much advice about making their way, their career, and their mark in the world. But for me, the words which stand out most as relevant to new graduates are the words of John. It’s in his writing we find what truly matters for the future—not diplomas, degrees, careers, spouses, or retirement plans, but Jesus. If someone believes that Jesus is the Christ, then he or she is “born of God” (5:1-2), which also makes her or him a child of God. God’s children are given the gift of faith (5:4), and that faith allows them to overcome the world (5:5).
So, as our students graduate and begin focusing their studies on a career path, what will set them apart in this world is not their GPA or the school which they attend, it will be their belief and reliance on Jesus. “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life” (5:12).
1 John 5:13-21
Prayer is a powerful thing, but it is something that we often either do not do enough of, or we have misconceptions about. There is a song by Steven Curtis Chapman, called “Let us Pray”, where he sings “let us pray, let us pray, everywhere and in every way, every moment of the day is the right time. For the Father above, he is listening in love, and he wants to answer us, so let us pray.” This song has two powerful messages, the first is that we should pray at all times, and the second is the reason why – because God hears us and wants to answer us. These truths are confirmed in the Psalms, the Gospels, and in our text today from 1 John 5. Yet, lest we think that anything and everything we ask for from God will be answered, no matter how crazy it is, we need to remember it is answered only according to his will (v. 14).
In understanding God’s will then, we remember John’s frequent calls to abide in Christ, and also to realize that “all of our prayers are governed, ultimately, by the loving sovereignty of our Father – that if we ask for something wrong, or sinful, or something we don’t need in the moment, or something that is not best for us, then we submit that to his will” (Professor Rob Plummer). Yet, the apostle John does want us to pray with confidence before God, because we have assurance of eternal life (v. 13). The question is, what do we pray for and who do we pray for? In v. 16 John says we should pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ when we see them sin. Specially, we should pray that God will give them life and grant them forgiveness, due to the seriousness and danger of sin, especially in our communities of faith. This prayer God will hear and answer, so we need to always be lifting each other up, confirming our walk with Christ, and experiencing the fullness of the Christian life.
What a high calling it is to pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ in this way. What a blessing it is to grow in our faith and with our family. What an amazing confidence it is to come before our Father in heaven, knowing that he hears us, and will answer us when we ask for forgiveness and life.