Wednesday in the Fourteenth Week of Ordinary Time

1 John 2:24-25

That Which You Have Heard from the Beginning

Nobody figures it out on their own.  Nobody sits down at their kitchen table, reads the Bible and puts together what has taken twenty centuries to unfold.  Oh, I do believe in the perspicuity of Scripture.  There are portions that are clear enough for even a child to understand.  And certainly an adult can pick up a Bible and understand its words and stories.  But all of this is far different from the believer who reads the Scriptures with the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit within, and it is certainly different from the one who has been raised in a family of faith where he was taught to rightly understand the sacred writings. 

So here the Apostle warns his readers against the “deceivers” they have around them—those who are in the camp of the antichrist who deny that Jesus is the Christ—to “let what you have heard from the beginning abide in you.  If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father.”  And what is that which they have heard from the beginning?  In a word, the apostolic teaching.  These had received the word from the apostles, and those who came after, that Jesus Christ is he who was from the beginning, that he became man and was seen, heard, and touched by the apostles, that he died for our sins and rose again, that he now sits on the right hand of power, that he shall someday return to judge the living and dead and to bring to completion the Kingdom opening the gates of heaven to all who believed.  This is what they had heard.  This is what they believed.  This is the doctrine that was to abide in them so that they would likewise abide in the Son and the Father and enjoy eternal life.

We need to hear this message today.  Americans are forever chasing the next thing, the newest thing, the freshest thing, the hot-off-the-press thing.  Americans have a built in distrust for the old, for tradition, and unfortunately, for what they were taught by their parents, grandparents, and the church of their youth.  Americans bend to the culture and are quick to jump on the train before it leaves the station without thinking where it will take them.  Assuming that what you learned was the apostolic word clearly recorded in the Sacred Scriptures, here is John’s word again: “Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you.”  And we have this apostolic word coming down to us from a course of two thousand years, a train which includes the greatest minds of the Ancient Church to the lowest peasant of the Middle Ages to your beloved Grandma.  It has worn well.  Do not be deceived by those who contradict that word.  Abide in it—and thereby in Him.

Tuesday in the Fourteenth Week of Ordinary Time

1 John 2:21-23

Who Is an Antichrist?

Continuing our thought from yesterday, when someone we know and respect leaves the faith he once lived, preached, taught, shared, and encouraged others to embrace, it leaves question marks in the minds of fellow-believers.  John is aware of this and he very much wants to reassure his readers.  Thus, having explained that those who left us were “not of us,” implying that they were never with us or born again to begin with, he writes: “But you have been anointed by the Holy One and you all have knowledge.”  The Apostle is certain that these have been reborn and have received the Holy Spirit through faith in Jesus Christ.  The Holy Spirit is both the one who anoints and the anointing, just as Jesus was both he who offers the sacrifice and the one sacrificed.  This anointing provides the knowledge that believers need of their own salvation, for he is the Spirit who bears witness with our spirits that we are children of God (Romans 8:16).  And he is the Holy Spirit who bears witness saying, “This is the covenant I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and will write them on their minds, ‘then he adds,’ I will remember their sins and lawless deeds no more” (Hebrews 10:15-17).  So, the Spirit’s anointing is that assurance of salvation that believers have through the Spirit’s indwelling which is further confirmed by obedience and love for God’s way and will.  John is certain himself of their salvation as he plainly tells them implying that believers themselves bear witness to the salvation of their brothers and sisters in Christ.  Indeed, that is one of the purposes of the local church—to affirm, encourage, and hold accountable the saints of God.

Then John lays down some very simple instructions about how to tell an antichrist: “Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ?  This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son.  No one who denies the Son has the Father.  Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also.”  Nothing could be plainer.  To speak colloquially, there is no daylight between the Father and the Son (nor the Holy Spirit).  Here, the doctrine of the divinity of Christ, and the Trinity by implication, is revealed.  No one comes to the Father except through the Son; indeed, Jesus could even say, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14: 6, 9).  He is the Son who reveals the Father, and he is the Son who takes us into the Father’s presence through the veil of his own flesh.  And he can do all of this because he is the co-equal Son of the Father, begotten of his Father before all worlds.  He who denies this has not God, however nice he may be.  We are not all God’s children.  Choose your friends well and know your antichrists.

Monday in the Fourteenth Week of Ordinary Time

1 John 2:18-21

But They Were Not of Us

It hurts.  Whenever some famous preacher or teacher falls away from the faith, either through hypocrisy or just plain apostasy (denying the faith they once professed), it hurts.   I personally believe that one of the biggest problems with evangelicalism is that it is too centered on personalities: the best preacher out there, the best artist, the best writer.  It’s like the church at Corinth: “I am of this preacher; I am of that musical artist; I am of the other writer.”  But then that preacher, artist, or writer denies the faith they once proclaimed as has happened recently.  And it hurts even more when someone we know and love walks away—not just from church—but from the faith as well, or at least it seems they have.  They care not for the things of God anymore; the fellowship of the saints means nothing to them; they embrace the world’s view of things and pagan values and morals.  We ask ourselves: “What happened?”

It’s not up to me to question one’s salvation—that’s the Lord’s business and not mine.  However, we have seen people who “went out from us.”  They didn’t go someplace else; they just fell away.  And what do we make of those who deny the faith they once professed—or, as some have said, are “deconstructing” their faith for (I assume) a “better” one.  It’s a legitimate question and apparently one that John’s readers were struggling with.  And it can shake the faith of others: “Gee!  I respected so-and-so.  Now they’re denying the faith they taught me!  So, what does this mean about the faith I learned from them?  What does their departure from the faith mean for me?”

The apostle answers this question: “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us.  But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.”  John takes this topic up in his discussion of antichrists, not THE Antichrist who is yet to come and might even be alive today waiting to be revealed, but those who once professed the faith and now deny it—“apostates,” being the traditional word for them.  Understand that we are not talking about sin which we all commit and for which we may seek forgiveness, but open denial of the Lord either by word or a lifestyle which indicates so.  Well, though it hurts terribly, the believer may take comfort in his own salvation knowing that no one ultimately falls away whom God has saved.  “They were not of us,” John tells us.  And we have the Holy Spirit (an anointing) living within us crying “Abba, Father!”  Their going out says nothing about the Christian faith or your faith.  Cling to Christ—not personalities.

The Fourteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

1 John 2:15-17

If Anyone Loves the World

The word, “world,” is used by the Apostle John in different ways.  For instance, in his Gospel, he tells us that “God so loved the world” (John 3:16).  John the Baptist saw Jesus coming and said, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).  In each of these cases, the “world” that is in view is people for whom the Father sent the Son to give himself in atonement for sin.  God will even include the physical realm of the world in the ultimate redemption that awaits His Son’s return (Romans 8:18-25), but that is not the “world” in view here.  John’s Gospel speaks of “world” in relation to people.

But here in his Letter, John tells us that “if anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him,” implying that if one loves the world, it is proof that he has never even experienced the saving grace and love of God.  In this case, “world” is taking on an entirely different meaning: People are not the object but instead the world as it is under the dominion of sin.  To love the world in this sense is to love the things of the world: “the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and the pride in possessions.”  Such things are “not from the Father”—indeed are in direct opposition to Him—but are “from the world.”  They have the world for their origin and their destination, for their meaning and their purpose, for their beginning and their end.

And so Christians, who are referred to as “exiles” by the Apostle Peter, are to keep a healthy distance from the world, even shun it as far as the things of it are concerned (1 Peter 2:11-12).  We are citizens of another world and from there we await a Savior (Philippians 3:20).  The love of this world gets in the way of our loving and longing for that world.  We begin to make idols of its trinkets and baubles as if this world had something to offer better than the vision of God, the fellowship of angels, glorified bodies, and redeemed souls.  Being people who still carry about our sinful natures, we are yet enticed by the vanities of this world.  It is for this reason that the Apostle Paul implores us to “set [our] minds on things that are above” (Colossians 3:1-4). 

There is hardly anything more pathetic than a Christian chasing after the world, especially since we of all people know that “the world is passing away along with its desires.”  It is he who does the will of God that abides forever.  Fix your mind above, dear Christian.  Be passionate for holiness, pant for godliness, desire to be loving, kind, and gracious.  The world is one great big “Vanity Fair.”  Read Bunyan’s, The Pilgrim’s Progress; you’ll understand then.

Saturday in the Thirteenth Week of Ordinary Time

1 John 2:12-14

I Write to You

Proverbs 25:11 tells us: “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.”  In other words, saying the right thing at the right time and in the right manner is a wonderful gift that few of us have; and, of all people, preachers need it most.  A preacher must know when to prod the sheep and when to ease up, when to admonish and when to comfort.  And he can’t be fearful to do either one.  If he’s doing it right, your pastor has a difficult task that requires wisdom and discernment.  Furthermore, sheep need to be able to listen to the hard word just as willingly as the easy word.  And I dare say that pastors must be able to receive as they give.  Such makes for a holy, humble people.

That’s what I like to think John is doing here.  These six parallel clauses baffle scholars.  Why are they here?  Why are they written the way they are written?  Why these three classes of people?  No one really knows.  They seem to come out of the blue—some poetic lines sandwiched between teaching about keeping the commandments and warnings about the world and antichrists.  What purpose do these six clauses serve?

I don’t pretend to know the answer, but I wonder if John is stopping to take a break from the heavier matters he has covered: Our Lord’s coming in the flesh, his being our advocate at the side of the Father, his propitiation, walking in the light, keeping the commandments, and loving one another.  I wonder if he is stopping to encourage his readers before moving on to other weighty matters.  He reminds the children, perhaps new believers, that their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake and that through him have come to know the Father.  He encourages the fathers, perhaps those who have long been believers, that they have not only known the Father but know His greatness, His eternity, His omnipotence, and His steadfast love as well.  And he encourages the young men to exercise their strength in the midst of temptation, which tends to be the time when temptations for men are strongest.  He tells them that the word of God abides in them and thereby implores them to stand fast and resist in the strength of that word.  The fact that the Apostle repeats himself with each group further shows his deep concern to encourage them to righteous living.

John has some stern warnings ahead; he needed to stop and lift them up.  There are dark days ahead for the Church in America.  We must be about the task of lifting one another up.  For, “a fitly word spoken….”

Friday in the Thirteenth Week of Ordinary Time

1 John 2:10-11

The “Noetic” Effects of Sin

When we come to saving faith in Jesus Christ, we are not only cleansed of our sin, but we receive a new heart and mind.  And this renewing of our minds is something that we must nurture in the Holy Spirit; hence, the Apostle Paul writes: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2).  The renewing of our minds allows us to see with the light God provides through His word and Spirit.  And the word and Spirit plainly indicate that we are to love our brothers and our neighbors as ourselves; this is the light God provides for both our knowledge and obedience.  And the more we walk in that light, the more the light shines that we may see the right path and walk therein.  In short, the light God provides through His word shows us the way to go.  As we walk that path, we gain more knowledge as that light continues to enlighten both our minds and the path.

But the opposite is true as well.  If, once enlightened through faith in Jesus Christ, we choose instead to walk contrary to the light God has given us, if instead we disobey the teachings of his word and hate our brother and our neighbor, then we risk losing the meager light that we have gained.  We call this the “noetic” effects of sin.  “Noetic” has to do with the mind and its mental state and capacity.  The more we walk in darkness (which John defines as hating one’s brother but could include any sin of commission or omission), the less we see, understand, and know.  Sin causes a cloud of unknowing to descend upon our minds and darkness to blind our eyes.  We then do not know as we ought or do as we ought.  We lose our way and know not which way to go.  Moral and ethical decisions which would be second nature to the believer walking in the light suddenly become quandaries for the one disobedient to the word and thus walking in darkness.  What’s worse is that he will attribute his darkened mind and indecisiveness to his being a broadminded fellow, open-minded, tolerant, liberal, and a host of other terms whereby he may put darkness for light and light for darkness, bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter (Isaiah 5:20), the whole time blind as a bat and wandering like a cloud.

Christians are people who know where they are going about their daily lives, meaning that they walk in the light.  They might not know what the day will bring—it might bring unexpected heartache or a challenging temptation, but regardless, they continue to walk in the light as God gives them light.

Thursday in the Thirteenth Week of Ordinary Time

1 John 2:7-9

A New Commandment

Leviticus 19:18 plainly states: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  Some Christians are unaware of this.  When they read that Jesus said in his Sermon on the Mount, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy’” (Matthew 5:43), they assume that he was quoting the Old Testament.  On the contrary, he was quoting a horrible misinterpretation of the Old Testament.  God’s commandment was always to love one’s neighbor; Jesus changed nothing regarding that commandment, and for this reason, John could write, “Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you had from the beginning.”  The commandment John is speaking of is to love one another.

But then again something has changed—not the commandment itself but the context in which it is now understood, that being in the light of Christ: “At the same time, it is a new commandment that I am writing to you which is true in him and in you.”  And why is this: “Because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining.”  And what light is this “true light?”  The true light is the new age that has dawned in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Our Lord has changed everything and set everything on its head.  The old world is on life support just as the Apostle Paul said: “For the present form of this world is passing away” (1 Corinthians 7:31).  The gospel goes out and changes lives as people are reborn and transformed by the Holy Spirit as God’s people (the Church) witness to his saving power.  So, yes, the commandment has changed in the sense that God’s people are now empowered by the Holy Spirit to do that which they could never do in their own power—die to self while loving the unlovable, even those who persecute them.

And then he gives God’s people another test of their personal growth, even the reality of their regeneration: “Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness.”  The fact of the matter is that we cannot love God and hate our brother.  Of course, this refers to fellow believers, but we should not discount that this refers to unbelievers as well.  Our Lord said, “If you love those who love you, what reward have you…even [pagans] do the same” (Matthew 5:46-47).  Bear in mind that you are not required to have a “warm-fuzzy feeling” towards another but a desire of good will towards everyone which proves itself in deeds of mercy and compassion; take for example, the “Good Samaritan” (Luke 10:25-37).  Jesus said from the cross: “Father forgive them; they know not what they do.”  Never forget that.

Wednesday in the Thirteenth Week of Ordinary Time

1 John 2:3-6

If We Keep His Commandments

One reason that John was an apostle was because he was one of the twelve who was with Jesus for three years hearing him preach and teach and watching him do the things that only Jesus could do.  But it wasn’t just a knowledge based on observation; he knew the Lord and the Lord knew him in a saving and personal way.  John had been changed by the Lord and was a new man.

One thing that John heard Jesus say and which he later recorded in his gospel was this: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (14:15).  Therefore, it is no wonder that we now read John writing the very same words in his first letter.  He has just acknowledged that we are sinners and that our sins are forgiven upon our Lord’s sacrificial death as we confess those sins.  But just as we see throughout the New Testament, John places just as much emphasis on the new life believers should live as a result of the new birth, of forgiveness of sins, of amazing grace.  He practically repeats what Jesus said: “And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments.”  Jesus made keeping his commands a measure of our love for him; John makes such keeping as the touchstone of whether we have even come to know him at all—that is, whether or not we have experienced the new birth.  Indeed, John is emphatic: “Whoever says, ‘I know him’ (or, ‘have come to know him’), but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him.”  One must work hard to misunderstand that.

I should say that the verbs translated “keep” (his commandments) are in the present tense.  In Greek, tense has more to do with kind of action and less to do with time of action, meaning that a present tense verb in Greek stresses continuous action.  In other words, a literal translation would be, “keeping his commandments,” continually, daily, on a regular basis.  Thus, we are not called to obey God every once in a while or when it is convenient for us to do so; Christians seek to obey God in all aspects of life continuously and every day.  They know they fail; they know that they have a sin nature that cleaves to them, but they do not use such as an excuse for sin.  Their desire is that “the love of God [be] perfected” in them, and they know that this cannot happen unless they are “straining forward to what lies ahead…press[ing] on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ” (Philippians 3:13-14).  This is how we test ourselves, not by confessing our sins, but by walking in the same manner as he walked.

Tuesday in the Thirteenth Week of Ordinary Time

1 John 2:1-2

Our Advocate and Sacrifice

Although we noted yesterday that we all have sinned, and that to deny such is simply to lie in the plainest and most obvious way, John quickly turns to say that his very reason for writing his letter was so that his readers would not sin.  This statement would hold true for all of the biblical writers, Old and New Testaments, alike.  The call was ever to turn away from sin and to God, to repent, and to live a godly life.  In saying this, John is merely summarizing the Law and the Prophets, and the Apostles as well.

But John knows that people do and will sin—even believers.  And so he writes, “But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”  By way of aside, and as a matter of Greek grammar, 1:6-2:1 are loaded with “If…then” statements, the meaning of which being that “if this happens, then that will result.”  For instance, “If we walk in the light…we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us of all sin.” Or, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  In other words, “If this, for certain that.”  Well, here we have another such statement from the Apostle stated in 2:1.  There is no doubt that if we sin that we have an advocate by the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  In this case, “advocate” means “one who appears on another’s behalf” and as such is a mediator and intercessor (BAG, 2nd ed., 618).  Thus, when Christians sin, Jesus our advocate stands on our behalf before the Father.

Now what gives him the right to do so?  Verse two answers this question: “He is the propitiation for our sins.”  And how did he come by this?  By offering himself unto the Father on our behalf.  Our Lord was both the atoning sacrifice whereby our sins were canceled and the propitiation whereby God’s just wrath against our sin was appeased (NICNT, 117-120).  These concepts offend modern ears who believe sin is a trifle, if they believe in the reality of sin at all.  Such a notion derives from a faulty view of God which sees Him not as holy but as a divine doting old fool or celestial Jeanie in the bottle: “Whatever God does, he does not condemn us for any wrongs we have done; after all, he loves us”—which further shows how little such people understand about love.  Scripture teaches that God is holy and just and does not clear the wicked but on the condition which He laid out Himself which John proclaims here: Our sins are forgiven on the basis of the shed blood of the Righteous One—his sacrifice, his propitiation, and now his intercessory work on our behalf before the Father—and all out of real love.

Monday in the Thirteenth Week of Ordinary Time

1 John 1:8-10

If We Confess Our Sins

It’s true: We sin.  Even as born again, Spirit-filled, regenerated believers, we still sin.  Granted, we are supposed to be growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord daily such that the shattered image of Adam within us slowly gives way to the renewed image of Christ; and, we should be looking less like ourselves and more like Jesus every day (John 3:30).  But the fact remains, we still sin.  The sinful nature still cleaves to us.  The Apostle Paul described the battle we experience well when he spoke of the antithesis between the “flesh” (sinful nature) and the Spirit living within us.  The two cannot mix; we either live by one or the other.  So we must crucify the sinful nature so to live unto God (Romans 8:13). 

But even so, the sinful nature is never completely dead.  Paul refers to this in Romans 7:15: “For I do not understand my own actions.  For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”  We know exactly what the Apostle is talking about: the trivial matters over which we worry or get angry, the lustful thoughts, jealousies and envies, grudges, and the list goes on.  And those only have to do with the mind; I haven’t mentioned the sins we commit. 

Why do we do these things?  We must remember that sin is not first and foremost a matter of what we do but a matter of who we are as sinners saved by grace.  We do not sin to become sinners; we sin because we are sinners.  This sinful nature is the result of our ancient rebellion.  But through the Spirit’s work within us, we are being slowly restored—which restoration only awaits its completion when the day comes—for we have the promise: “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).

Apparently, there were some to whom the beloved Apostle was writing who thought they had no sin.  There were such heretical ideas circulating in the early Church.  It was a by-product of the Gnosticism I spoke of the other day which was “in the air” at that time.  Through some special knowledge these thought they had received from on high, they considered themselves above sin.  The idea is both a lie and plainly absurd.  But there is a true remedy for our sins: Confession.  All we need do is to sincerely confess our sins to the Father who is faithful and just to forgive us on behalf of His Son Jesus Christ.  And not only forgive, but cleanse!  This is what the Old Testament sacrifices could never do: Cleanse the conscience (Hebrews 9:11-14).