Growing in Christ
"He opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures." Luke 24:45
John shows Jesus as Savior and Lord in His cosmic perspective and significance.
Practical and Pastoral Observations on the Letter of 1 John (please read each chapter slowly and meditatively before reading observations below):
Introduction: John's final years, before his imprisonment on Patmos, were likely spent in Ephesus where he wrote this letter to Christians throughout the region in about 90AD. John warned them and us against the dangers of Gnosticism which offered salvation (through the lure of secret knowledge) but could not deliver it. John used the contrasts familiar to Gnosticism (e.g. light and darkness, love of world and love of God, children of God and children of the evil one) to show how Christians should follow Jesus instead.
In every age there is a doctrine or philosophy opposed to the Gospel to which we need to respond, as John did, clearly and strongly. There is no substitute for Jesus (I John 5:11-12).
John was both "the apostle of love" ('love' appears 35 times) and the 'son of thunder' (Mark 3:17) in this way reflecting Christ who was both 'full of truth and of grace' (John 1:14). The letter of I John was likely written after the Gospel of John and before the Revelation of Jesus Christ (96 AD).
1 John 1
The Good News is that eternal life (Gk: zoe, which gives temporary biological life to God's creation on earth Gk: bios) - the eternal life which overflowing abundant life, the life of the eons which has always been - has come to us in Christ.
Eternal life has come to us in Christ's incarnation in a way that we could see, touch, have fellowship with and proclaim to others with great joy. This fellowship with God-in-Christ is priceless and to be valued and protected at all costs. This fellowship with God-in-Christ is the only basis of our fellowship with each other and mission in and to the world.
What are you doing to nurture your fellowship with the Father? What are you doing to nurture your fellowship with other Christ-followers?
The Nature of God: who is eternal life, is pure light (v.5) and truth (v.6). In Him there can be no mixture with the darkness and deceit of sin. Yet God by his grace enables life-giving fellowship with Himself through the blood of Jesus who cleanses us from sin's corrosive destruction (v.7).
God requires only that we value His grace enough to confess our need of His cleansing, be honest about our sin (v.8-10), turn to walk in the light with Him, always.
Joy comes from fellowship with God-in-Christ. Walking in the light (v.7) results also in fellowship with others who walk in the light and in the discovery of others sins to confess (agree with God on) and turn from in order to more fully reflect and be a beam of the light of God and of Jesus who is the Light of the World.
Personal Application: I will enjoy the joy which comes from fellowship with God and from fellowship with those who walk in His light. I will confess every sin God makes known to me today and turn from it that His Light may shine unimpeded. I will proclaim His incarnation, grace and light also to those who walk in darkness that they may know His joy also.
My Prayer: Father, nothing is more foundational than these truths and nothing more important to embrace and hold at all costs. Father, shine the light of your glory through us that those who walk in darkness may see. (Acts 26:18)
1 John 2
Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for our sins (v.2); literally the "propitiatory shelter" under which we find covering and protection - not from the wrath of God we don't deserve but from what we do deserve, yet by the grace of Christ is carried for us on the cross. Jesus carries us as we are "in Him" (v.5b).
The Power of the Cross: This grace of Christ not only changes our eternal destiny but our daily lives, enabling us to walk as Jesus did (v.6); loving our brothers and sisters (v.7-11), overcoming the evil one (v.13-14), not dancing to the tune of the world (v.15-17) but rather in the joy of the Kingdom.
Antichrist: Much has been written about antichrist(s), some of it imaginatively. John makes clear the matter is in fact simple: those who turn away from the Body of Christ (v.19) and deny Jesus as the Christ (v.22) are against Him.
Remaining in the Truth: John implies any of his readers can decide not to remain in Christ (v.24). The danger of being led astray (v.26) is real and dangerous; at stake is eternal life (v.25). For those who remain in Him (v.27) the best is yet to come ... (3:2)
The grace of His anointing: The Gospel message with its cosmic implications (v.2 world = cosmos) is utterly simple. Some would like this message to match their own sophistication (I Corinth 1) but it does not. Rather, in it's stark simplicity the Gospel is for us all incredibly challenging to live (Matt. 16:24ff). Yet the Lord Jesus, in us and with us, gives of his anointing (v.27) enabling us to do what, without Him, we could not.
Personal Application: I will turn away quickly from the glittering lies of the world (vs. 15-17) as they offer themselves to me. I will do so because I choose not to pass away with the world (v.17) but to do the will of my Father and by His grace live forever. I will be strong, invite the Word of God to live in me daily, and to overcome the evil one (v.14).
My Prayer: Father, thank you for Jesus; His obedience to You, His atoning sacrifice for me, and for the sustaining anointing, from Him given to me, by the Holy Spirit. Empower me to live as Jesus did (v.6).
1 John 3 ... calls us to examine our hearts as he, in the first 18 verses, essentially writes commentary on Jesus' words: "You will know them by their fruit" (Matt 7:20).
Confidence at His Coming: Abiding in Christ produces confidence in the presence of our Judge on the day of His coming (2:28). Until then, abiding in Christ also produces the fruit of righteousness (2:29) expressed in practical love (3:16-18) in day to day life. Gloriously, it can be no other way because the seed of God causes us to be born of Him (v.9), producing God's righteousness in us.
We are God's children (v.1), the 'first generation' from God himself. As such we do not practice sin (v.8,9) as a continuous habit. Continuous lawless habits (v.4) reveal alignment with the adversary (v.8) rather than with Christ who has come to undo ("annul, render ineffective") the sinful works of the devil.
Our hearts before Him: Some Christians have overly sensitive consciences and some non-Christians develop insensitive consciences (with many shades of sensitivity in between). We may in fact be too strict or lenient, frequent or infrequent, in examining our lives. As a result, because we set our eyes on Jesus who is sinless and want to be like Him (v.2), our hearts, conscious of remaining sin, may condemn us - gratefully God and His Word is greater than our erring hearts (v.20). "Now, little children, abide in Him, so that when He appears, we may have confidence and not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming (2:28)."
Abiding in Christ involves faithfully trusting, resting and drawing strength and direction for life from Him. All this is the work of the Holy Spirit in us (v.24) who enables us to trust Him confidently and to love others as an expression of His self-sacrificial love (v. 23).
Notice love in these verses is less a feeling, though feelings are normally involved, than it is doing what is right and practically helpful to meet the need of the other person, regardless of our feelings.
Personal Application: I will examine my life to see if a sin is comparatively rare and quickly repented of, or in fact, a regular ongoing practice. If I'm not sure, I will ask someone who will be honest with me. I will love practically and ask the Lord to challenge me where love remains a feeling without action. I will examine my heart for confidence in the day of His coming (v.28). I will praise Him for the experience of confidence and ask Him to show me what I may need to do to reverse any instinct of shrinking away. I recognize my heart may not be the best barometer but I will bring it to the Lord for recalibrating.
My Prayer: Jesus, thank you for bringing me, by Your boundless grace and needful discipline, to the place where I can imagine your coming again with confidence and anticipation, leaning in rather than shrinking back, as you appear to judge the earth and save those who abide in You.
1 John 4
Light and Love: God in fullness is impossible for humans to encapsulate but John focuses on a few key words to direct people to the great I AM (John 8:58): God is light (1:5) and God is love (4:8). In His light God is perfectly holy, illumines, dispels lies and deception, judges darkness and evil, shows us the way. In His love God redeems us by the cross, welcomes, forgives, heals and embraces.
Anti-Christ: Sadly, there are those who lead people away from God's gracious provision to know Him (v.1) which is "Jesus Christ come in the flesh" (v.2). Those who resist God's provision are antichrist (v.3); not simply an individual but many such persons. The world listens to those who are its own (v.5) just as God's people listen to those sent by God (v.6).
Overcoming: "You are from God, little children, and have overcome them (anti-Christ, false prophets); because greater is He who is in you (Christ) than he who is in the world (Satan) (v.4, NASB). The expression of Christ-in-us (v.4) is an overcoming moral grace seen in the agape love which comes from God (v.7) centrally expressed in the cross, freeing us from guilt and shame, to love (v.10).
Seeking Love: This love prompts us to seek others [whereas fear causes us to shrink from others, including God on the day of judgment (v.17-18)]. We seek others in love as Christ, the Savior of the world (v.14), first sought out us (v.10,19). We can be certain we abide in God and God abides in us (assurance of salvation) as we freely and joyfully confess Jesus to be the unique Son of God (v.15) and as we abide in His costly love (v.16) for God, for our brothers and sisters in Christ and for the world, fallen and needy.
Personal Application: I will focus on loving others as God loves me. I will not 'shrink back' but seek out. I will walk in love and not fear.
My Prayer: Father, you began our journey when you first loved us and sent your only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him (v.9) and you will complete our journey as Your love is perfected/completed in us (v.17). For both unspeakable gifts we praise you! In the in-between era may I abide in you and You in me, manifesting Your grace in me and through me to those You love also.
1 John 5
Jesus is eternal life and gives eternal life: John continues to challenge Gnosticism (which falsely taught Jesus became the Christ at his baptism and ceased being Christ before he died on the cross). Had this been so Jesus' death as mere man would not take away our sin (2:2, 4:10). Gnostics, denying the incarnation, also lived in shameless immorality.
Biblical faith always as an object (we do not have 'faith in faith') and real and ongoing consequences.
Consequences of Faith: The results of believing Jesus, the Son of God, is the Christ include being born of God, loving the Father, loving his children (v.1), carrying out God's commands (v.2) overcoming the world (v.4) both in an initial turning in faith from the world to God and in day-to-day living, not continuing in habitual sin, and safety from ultimate harm from the evil one (v.18).
Confidence of Faith: In addition we have confidence knowing we have eternal life (v.11-13), that our Father hears us (v.14-15), and that we are in him who is eternal life (v.20). God's testimony to His Son is true (v.9). Therefore we have confidence in Christ, in his death for us, in his redemptive mission (and our mission by his call and authority), in his victory over Satan and in his gift of eternal life as a present reality. "And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life and this is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life" (v.11-12).
God commands are not burdensome (v.3), not because doing right is easy but because of our empowering new birth in the Holy Spirit.
Personal Application: I will live in peace and confidence in my Father. I will accept his testimony (v.11) of the unique gift and dividing line that is Jesus. I will keep away from any other primary claims on my life, idols (v.21).
My Prayer: Father I rest in peace in you alone.
2 & 3 John
Introduction: John's final years, before his imprisonment on Patmos, were likely spent in Ephesus where he wrote letters to Christians throughout the region in about 90AD. In these brief letters John expresses joy in the progress in truth and love by the small churches being addressed but cautions of the dangers of losing ground by false teachers (2 John). At the same time the church is called to provide hospitality and be open to the benefits of being connected to the wider Body of Christ (3 John).
Practical and Pastoral Observations on the Letter of 2 John (please read the chapter slowly and meditatively before reading observations below):
Denying the Incarnation: John is concerned about traveling teachers, pretending to be Christian, yet denying that Jesus has come in the flesh (v.7). [Docetists claimed Jesus was merely a spirit mimicking a body; a doctrine which would make Jesus' death for us in vain.] False teachers should not be encouraged (v.10-11).
Truth matters: John refers repeatedly to the truth (Jesus came in the flesh) because truth is not a matter of armchair discussion but life and death (v.9). This understanding of truth needs to be recovered in our day which wrongly values every person's subjective convictions, though contradictory, as equally true believing this will enable us to 'get along'. Contrary to this view it must be asserted that to disagree does not involve disrespect of the other, rather that respectful dialogue between those who disagree is a means of surfacing truth.
Truth is love: Truth matters also for the sake of love. Christian love (v.5) is rooted in the truth that God first loved us personally in the incarnation. Denying Christ's incarnation means that agape love is an idea but not incarnate in the world.
Truth lives in us: He who is the truth lives in us (v.2); this wonderful truth is right doctrine but more: the very presence of God with us forever. The incarnation of Jesus cannot be removed from the core of the Gospel. Its denial in John's day was reasserted in 20th century German liberalism and continues in secular and new age doctrine today. John's battle in the 1st century is no less vital today.
Personal Application: I will help those who deny the incarnation understand that this denial excises their own salvation. I will defend to all whose hearts are open that truth is a matter of life and death, is personal in the sense that God is personal, that truth can be expressed propositionally and is not to be dismissed with a 'whatever'.
My Prayer: Father, give me grace and wisdom to defend the truth of incarnation to those who deny your coming at the risk of their salvation.
Practical and Pastoral Observations on the Letter of 3 John (please read the chapter slowly and meditatively before reading observations below):
Aiding Traveling Teachers: Travel was difficult and dangerous in the first century. Providing hospitality was a major aid to both false teachers (i.e. those denying the incarnation; the concern of 2 John) and those John calls brothers (v.5) teaching the truth of the Gospel (3 John 8).
Discernment: Since hospitality makes us fellow workers with those we welcome (v.8), discernment is necessary. Gaius (v.1) provided the necessary help (v.6) while Diotrephes (v.9-11) did not. Diotrephes's opposition extended to the apostle John (v.10), descending to behaviors John calls evil (v.11). Local congregations cannot cut themselves off from the influence of, or accountability to, the larger church.
The letters of 2 and 3 John in this context highlight a responsibility which cuts two ways: the local church must protect the flock from false teachers (2 John) and must not shield the flock from the encouragement and challenge of teachers of the Gospel in truth.
Personal Application: I will make my home open to those who claim the Name (v.7) though I do not yet know them, believing they will enrich my service of Christ. I will take care however to know their teachings before commending them to other Christians. I will also open my home to non-Christians in need. v.2 Beloved, I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers.
My Prayer: Father, Jesus knows and calls his sheep by name (John 10:3); give me discernment also regarding who is wholly yours. Give me generosity of spirit, of our home in hospitality, welcoming others as You have welcomed me in Christ.