As we come to the end of 1 John, it’s appropriate to step back and take in the big picture. What was the overall message of the book? What prompted John to write this letter-essay in the first place?
For married couples, sooner or later—unfortunately—the newness of marriage can wear off. Maybe the spark that started the relationship, or the fire that was burning in the early months and years of marriage, begins to fizzle. Questions may arise: Did I marry the right person? What if I had married someone else? This is not good.
From what we can surmise about the state of Christianity 50-60 years after Jesus had been on earth, many in the churches began to wrestle with questions about their “marriage” to Christ. It was definitely not good.
For some, the freshness of faith had begun to get stale. The flame of devotion seemed to be getting dimmer and dimmer. Doubts and uncertainties were on the rise. False teachings were brewing in back corners. Some who claimed to be Christians were capitulating to pressures from the Roman Empire. Jews who had been part of the church were dropping like flies, because they couldn’t accept a gospel that didn’t require certain Jewish practices.
All this left the door open for God’s truth to come under attack.
Well, John to the rescue! The life preserver that he threw out was careful teaching and reminders of the most important truths of the Christian faith.
Though John’s letter was short and to the point, he spoke boldly to stir up conversations and bring about conviction, hoping believers would regain their commitment to truth, their devotion to the Lord, and their love for one another.
APPLICATION: Are there church-goers today that need to hear what John wrote in his letter 2,000 years ago? What did John say that you and I most need to hear?
We all know what the “typical” idol of old looked like, there are lots of them in museums. They are gold-covered statues, squat and ugly, often sexual in nature, maybe in front of an altar. But what about modern idols? Anything that takes the place of God, or is elevated above God in priority and dedication, is an idol. Ironically some of our modern idols are also gold-covered (seeking wealth and material things), and are often sexual in nature. “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” The biggest difference now is how we spend our time, things we put ahead of God. You all can list dozens of things that come before God in our time priority: Facebook, sports, TV, even spouse and family. All of those things are fine IN THEIR PROPER place and order, but place them out of order and they become idols.
Nothing new here, but what might be new is to ask God for help in actually changing it. (I am preaching first of all to myself.) Interesting that this is addressed to “little children.” The way you train a little child is by repetition, and then over time, the new habits replace the old bad habits. Might work for adults too?
Even though this is the last verse from 1st John, do not assume that it is continued in 2nd John, they may be out of sequence. But this does end the five chapters of John’s Epistle with simple advice and one command. It all boils down to this: put God first.
For the adventurous the thrills of taking risks override the blandness of feeling safe, but for the majority of us we identify with wanting security so much it can take the form of idolatry. (By this I don’t mean spiritual security, but financial or relational kinds of security.)
What did John mean by believers being kept safe? He certainly wasn’t referring to having problem-free paradise during our time on earth. Hebrews 12 tells us the Lord disciplines those He loves and James 1 says we will face trials of many kinds. In the Narnia Chronicles when Susan and Lucy ask Mr. Beaver if the lion Aslan is safe, he answered, “Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the king I tell you.”
A nineteenth-century hymn has the lines, “Leaning on the everlasting arms . . . safe and secure from all alarms.” The leaning has to precede the security. Many people keep trying to lean on things that topple.
“A New Creation” is a chapter in Tom Julians’s book, The Three Princes (2011). The opening paragraph tells of the only place where true believers are safe, no matter how difficult life’s circumstances are, or how evil the world is and answers my earlier question of what John meant by being safe:
The resurrection marks the start of a new race of people whose citizenship is in heaven. Their authority supersedes that of Satan and all his angels, whose former authority is now totally illegitimate. The believer’s position is in Christ (Ephesians 2:6), raised with Christ, and seated in heavenly places far above all other powers. This is a legal transaction, giving the believer divine authority. In addition, Christ is in the believer, filling him or her with power, and transforming the believer into His image.
John 17:15 records part of what Jesus prayed for His followers. “I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one.”
We don’t need to try to play it safe, for we have been declared safe when that legal spiritual transaction took place. Hallelujah!
Our reading today brings up a dreadful subject: a fellow believer who sins. To properly understand John, we must consider the context, so note the preceding verses:
13 I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. 14 This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.
Our assurance of salvation gives us confidence that God will hear our prayers and give us what we ask. What follows in today’s passage begins in some other translations: “For instance …” (The Message) or “In this regard …” (The Voice). In other words verses 16-17 are an application of our confident praying. John gives us an example of what it means to pray about sin in the life of a fellow believer.
What a shocking contrast: there is a sin that leads to death and one that doesn’t. The Apostle Paul wrote a warning to the Corinthian church about believers who sin and do not repent. He said that some who dishonored the Lord’s Supper were “weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep (died)” (1 Cor. 11:30). That’s pretty serious stuff! We can conclude that unconfessed sin in the life of a believer might even result in premature death.
In 1 John 1, the Apostle had written about the awful possibility that a believer would sin (2:1). He had assured us that we could confess our sin and receive God’s forgiveness (1:9). In helping another who sins, however, we must exercise great care. In a spirit of meekness, we should pray, interceding for the brother or sister, not gossiping, criticizing, or judging. In Galatians, Paul suggests going to that brother in an attempt to “restore him” (6:1). When there is confession and restoration, John writes, “God will give him life.”
John’s talking here about a believer who is unwilling to repent of his sin. Dare we ask, “Is that you?” Such sin brings shame on the name of God and his church. There’s no reason to even pray for the unrepentant . . . except that he repent.
So, remember these two important truths:
We have noted before that John’s reasoning for writing 1 John is made clear in 5:13: so that we may know that we belong to Christ and have eternal life. It’s about confidence and assurance.
Confidence. That’s what we’re going to be looking at in today’s reading. We have seen over and over again what John’s main theme is: abide in Christ! But why is that such a major emphasis for John? Because abiding in Christ means that we have truly embraced his saving work, and when we have truly embraced his saving work then we will live it out in obedience to his commands, and when those things are present then we will have assurance that we belong to Christ! So his main message (abide!) and his reasoning for writing this letter (that you may know!) go together.
As he nears the conclusion of the letter, he makes that clear: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life” (v.13). Isn’t this remarkable? There are a number of religions that say it is impossible to have confidence before god, yet the Christian faith says that not only is it possible, it is actually God’s desire for His people!
In fact, this confidence is so resolute that the Christian can actually come into the presence of God through prayer and bring requests to Him (v.14)! We often fly by prayer, but think about that for a moment: we come into the presence of the almighty, holy, sovereign Creator and ruler of all things and can dare to offer requests. Who does that? Only those who know their status as sons and daughters of the King. So because we have the confidence of eternal life (v.13), we can have confidence in prayer (v.14).
John writes that, “if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him” (vv.14-15). So the fact that we have confidence in our eternal life and that we have confidence in our position before God means that we can have confidence in the requests that we bring before Him – provided that they are in accordance with His will (which Christians should desire anyway).
So as we get close to the end of this letter, take some time to think on your life. Salvation in Christ comes through no work of our own but only through faith in him; that’s why John says that the one who believes in Christ is the one who has eternal life (v.13). But as we’ve been reading this letter we have realized that there are plenty of outward evidences of this internal reality that should give us confidence that we truly believe in Christ and give us blessed assurance that we are his!
The Olympic and Paralympic Games are probably the world’s biggest celebrations of skill and dedication. For both types of Olympians, athletes must have two things: a DNA of exceptional physical ability and a determination to push the limits of the human body.
Question: Which kind of Olympics is most like the Christian life? In which does a person overcome the most impossible odds and achieve the greatest victory?
Lauren Woolstencroft was born missing her left arm below the elbow as well as both legs below the knees. That would seem to have left her hopelessly incapable of doing anything athletic. But with a ski-enthusiast father and a lot of trial and error, they figured out a way for her to go skiing along with her dad. Soon she was hitting the slopes as a weekend pastime, and her natural ability to ski became more and more apparent. Going as fast as possible on the slopes grew into an impassioned vocation for the budding athlete. Incredibly, Lauren began racing with the Alberta Para-Alpine Ski Team when she was just 14 years old. She said:
“When I first started competing, I definitely thought being on the top step of that podium seemed impossible. But through years of training and hard work, I was able to translate that into ten medals at the Paralympic Games.”
Wow! Now that’s doing the impossible. The analogy is, Christians can face huge hurdles too and we can also do the improbable, if not the impossible. The devil is intent on doing everything possible to destroy us, which can take the form of illnesses, temptations, false teachings, even persecution; there seems to be no limit to how Satan works against what God wants to accomplish.
But here’s good news: John recorded Jesus saying, “Take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). John follows that up, using the word “overcome” more frequently than any other author in the Bible, actually twenty-one times (in contrast to the Apostle Paul, for example, who only uses it twice). Here’s a few of the ways John describes an overcomer’s victory in the “Christian Olympics”:
Maybe we can imagine a little of what an Olympic athlete needs to do to become an overcomer. But what about a Christian? How do we become overcomers? John addressed that as well.
APPLICATION: Is living the Christian life difficult at times? Does it seem that the devil has us down on the mat and won’t let us up? What steps we can take to gain the victory and be overcomers?
My grandmother used to have a set of wooden nesting dolls (Matryoshka). I could tell the proper order because you couldn’t fit a larger one inside of a smaller one. That is, until I read the last book of the Chronicles of Narnia. Lucy says, “‘I see now. This garden is like the Stable. It is far bigger inside than it was outside.’ ‘Of course, Daughter of Eve … the further up and the further in you go, the bigger everything gets. The inside is larger than the outside.’” (Similar to Dr. Who’s TARDIS, if you will.)
In John’s writing, he refers to things inside of other things. The beauty is that the things inside are so much bigger than their containers. There are four items: us, the Son, the witness/testimony, and eternal life. Then eternal life is further defined.
“The one who believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself; the one who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has given concerning His Son. And the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life.” [1st John 5]
“This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” [John 17]
Note like the wooden nesting dolls, we are the smallest of the dolls but contain the biggest of the items. In us is the Son, in us is the testimony/witness; the Son contains eternal life, the testimony contains eternal life. And finally, eternal life (in us) is here and now: knowing God and His Son.
One of the responsibilities of my job is doing playground duty for an hour every day. No recess has ever been uneventful since there is always someone getting hurt or fighting. When I ask for witnesses, I seldom get stories that agree – so I pray for wisdom to do what’s best for the victim and victimizer(s). (It’s not easy to discern when certain kids frequently cry wolf.)
1 John says we have a threefold and objective witness for declaring Who Jesus is. We who believe this cohesive witness may not fully appreciate what John was up against in trying to convince doubtful folk about Christ’s deity during the first century. We have the benefit of having the entire Bible and record of many centuries of Spirit-filled believers who proclaimed it to be reliable.
A right relationship with God depends on Jesus’ death and resurrection that offered us purification from sin and that released to us the gift of the Holy Spirit. So, Jesus’ real death brings us real life!
Back in 1976 when I asked my high school Bible teacher what John meant by water and blood, he said the water represented Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem. Since then I’ve learned these words point to Jesus’ baptism and death and could also be referring to the water and blood that flowed from His side while on the cross.
Yes, John was a human witness to the crucifixion; he saw the water and blood. In 1 John 5 we read the Spirit, Who is Truth, confirmed his testimony. The Spirit’s witness equals that of God Himself about His Son’s atoning work on the cross. Who would dare to question God’s authority?
The significance of this truth continues today as Jesus’ payment for sin provides the atonement we need. No one can say he/she believes only part of this threefold testimony of water and blood and the Spirit, because then it’s no longer true at all.
Challenged by the recent winter Olympics, Brent Sandy wrote in last Friday’s WL blog about being gold medal winners in the game of life. How do we do that? In today’s text the Apostle writes on that very subject. He asks, “Who is it that overcomes the world? (v. 5). And then he answers his own question, “Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.” He wrote, “Everyone born of God overcomes the world,” (v. 4).
Do you believe that Jesus is God’s Son, who came in the flesh to live a sinless life, to pay the sacrifice for your sin, and then to be raised again as proof of the acceptance of his work? If that is so, John says that you can overcome the world; you can have victory “in the game of life.” The question remains, “How do we do that”? Answer: the same way we receive God’s promise of eternal life: by faith. “This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith” (v. 4).
You might well say, “That may be true but how do I experience that kind of faith? How does it work in my life practically?” The additional reading suggested for today is Ephesians 6:10-20 where we will find some helpful counsel. Here are the specifics from that text:
If we put on the armor as a defense against the devil and his attacks and use the sword of the Spirit (God’s Word) and prayer as our offensive weapons, we can have victory. The victory is for our benefit, of course, but note that it also enables us to accomplish what God’s purpose for us is: to “clearly proclaim the mystery of the gospel” (Eph. 6:19-20).
We may never stand on the podium to receive medals on behalf of our country, but, if we’ve been faithful in overcoming, we can anticipate with joy kneeling before the Lord to hear him say, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant.”
I think today’s reading in 1 John can be broken up into two main ideas: believe and love. Let’s examine both of those as we trace John’s thought in these few verses.
John’s non-negotiable is this: you cannot be born again without believing Jesus as the Messiah. He makes that clear in verse one when he writes, “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God.” Note the word everyone – this does not mean that everyone is saved but rather that everyone who truly believes that Jesus Christ is the Messiah has been born again. The Christian must believe rightly about Jesus. A few weeks ago we read about how the false teachers got it wrong about Jesus, while also understanding that those who confess Christ are from God. I will say again here what I said then: getting it right about Jesus is everything. John would agree. The one who believes Jesus is the Messiah is the one who has been born again.
Here it is important to understand the reality of Jesus the Messiah (which John assumes in this passage) because as Sam talked about on Sunday at WL, when we understand the love that Christ has shown us (as our Savior), how then could we not show that love to others? So John moves on to say that, “everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him.” You say you’ve been born again? You say you love God? Well do you love those who have also been born again of Him? It is expected that, in a normal family relationship, you will love your brothers and sisters, right? If you were to ask why you needed to love them, one might answer, “because they’re your sibling(s)!” So why should we love our fellow Christians? Because they’re our siblings, those who have also been born again of God!
That is true and good, but leaving it there misses John’s deeper point in this passage: the motivation for this love is God! In verse two he writes something that may seem to us backward if we’ve been following John’s thoughts so far in this letter: “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments.” We might expect John to say that loving the children of God helps us know that we love God, but here he says that loving God helps us know we love the children of God. What? I believe that John here is getting at the heart of love. We love others because we love God and becasue we want to follow His commandments (which can be summed up as loving God and loving people). So we can know that we are truly loving others in a God-honoring way when we root ourselves in loving God and obeying Him. Christianity, then, is more than a set of morals – that you should love your brothers and sisters because it’s the right thing to do – and goes deep into our motivations; we love others because we understand the love God has shown us, we love God, and we obey Him – which includes loving those who have been born of God.
But the Christian does not view this as a burden – it is not as if we say, “Oh man, I have to love God again today…” or “Crap, I guess I have to love that person again!” – but rather embraces it. That does not mean that it is easy, but it means that we should be eager and willing to love others because we know God’s love for us and because we love God and desire to obey Him! Christians should be marked by the kind of love that is rooted in the love God first showed us (1 John 4:19), is sacrificial in the way God loved us (1 John 4:11), and is joyful rather than burdensome (1 John 5:3).
So here’s the summation of what John is saying: True faith in Christ leads to true love in one’s life, first for God and then for others.