The World – John’s message for our inter-ethnic world

The World – John’s message for our inter-ethnic world

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At a consultation in a local hospital here in England  I enjoyed meeting doctors and nurses from a wide variety of different countries. They responded so warmly when they discovered that I had been in their countries. After a while a British nurse came to treat me. “You are the first British nurse I have met this morning”, I said to her. Quickly with a nice smile she responded, “Actually there are several of us in this hospital!”
A similar experience stimulates me whenever I venture up to London. What a medley of languages with people from all over the world! I so enjoy trying to distinguish which language is being spoken by the people around me. English spoken with an English accent almost sounds something exotic!
Even our little village of Stanstead Abbotts now has people from a wide variety of countries living here. So John’s emphasis on ‘the world’  (the word ‘world’ is used almost 70 times in John’s Gospel) relates significantly in our multi-ethnic globalized societies. Our faith needs to relate to this inter-cultural and inter-ethnic context. No longer should our understanding of the Bible, our theological formulations or our evangelistic and teaching message be entirely Gentile and western in its nature. So, much of our ministerial and leadership training, our commentaries and theological books, our vision of church history, our homiletics in preaching, teaching, worship and personal witness needs a radical change. I have therefore greatly appreciated my years at All Nations Christian College with its strongly cross-cultural approach.
With all this in our mind we now turn to John’s teaching on ‘the world’.
Universality
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Jesus and his disciples were Jewish. The very early Christian church was also firmly grounded in its Jewish heritage. But John was writing later in the first century, by which time strong opposition had caused the Christian church to be increasingly separated from its Jewish roots. More and more Gentiles were coming to faith in Jesus as Lord and the church began the trend of becoming a Gentile movement. Paul evangelised Gentiles in southern Europe, Mark travelled into Egypt, Thomas probably started the church in southern India and Nathanael up into Armenia. So John had to face the questions that must have arisen from this situation. Did Jesus really intend Gentiles to come into his church? Or was it all a big mistake? Was Christianity to be merely a Messianic movement within Judaism or was it to be international? And were the Jewish and Gentile believers to be joined together in unity and love despite issues of the law and kosher foods?
Already in John’s Prologue he stresses that the new life in the Word of God was in itself/himself the light of all humanity, not just for Israel as in the Old Testament (1.4). Indeed the light shines in the darkness beyond the borders of God’s covenant people (1.5) with the aim that “all people might believe”. So God’s light was coming not just into Israel for the Jewish people, but also for the world, for everyone. As a consequence, the door to becoming children of God was now open also for non-Jews who were not the children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. By faith therefore Jew and Gentile alike can see the glory of Jesus (1.14). As brothers and sisters in Christ who have equally seen his glory, we are joined together in love. From the fullness of his grace we have together received grace and truth, one blessing after another (1.16).
a) No tribalism
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What can we deduce from John’s emphasis on ‘the world’ rather than just Israel? John was evidently standing against any Jewish separatism. Although we of course remain physically belonging to the race into which we were born, a new unity of love in Jesus the Messiah now determines our identity and our relationships. An individualistic failure to teach John’s emphasis on ‘the world’ can easily lead to jingoistic ethnic pride. As Christians we are challenged and rebuked by the example of Ruanda’s massacres, for Ruanda held a central place in the East African revival. How could committed Christians get involved in the inter-tribal Hutu-Tutsi slaughters? Had there been a lack of teaching on Jew-Gentile relationships in the New Testament? Personal salvation and relationship to the Lord without John’s teaching on ‘the world’ can have devastating consequences. The danger of tribalism, ethnic pride and racialism dogs us in every society all over the world. We need the challenge of John’s teaching on the ‘world’.
b) Environmentalism
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John starts his Gospel with the words “In the beginning” which he then repeats for emphasis in 1.2, a reminder of the Genesis teaching of God’s creation of the world. He goes straight on to underline that “through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made”. So John shows God’s concern not only for all people, but also all things. All creation comes from him, belongs to him and therefore needs to be treasured and cared for by us.
In this we may note a clear parallel with the teaching of Paul. Paul not only demonstrates God’s concern for all people and all peoples, Jew and Gentile. He also declares God’s purpose “to bring all things in heaven and earth together under one head, even Christ” (Eph.1.10). Likewise in his great Christological passage in Col.1.15-20 Paul shows God’s concern for “all things”. In our world today we desperately need this emphasis on valuing God’s creation, the ‘world’.
c) What a world!
what a world

John unhesitatingly points to the sadly fallen nature of ‘the world’. Jesus testifies that what the world does is evil (7.7). As a result he is deeply aware that the world hates him. So he assumes that it stands under the satanic power of “the prince of this world” (12.31, 14.30; 16.11). It is into this fallen world that the all-righteous Lord comes down, leaving the glory of the all-righteous Father in heaven. And  Jesus sends his disciples, and now us as his followers, into the world with all its temptations and evil (17.18). Although he sends them and us to serve “in the world”, we need firmly to avoid becoming “of the world” (17.14-16). Therefore Jesus prays urgently that they and we may be truly sanctified by that truth which is found in God’s Word (17.17). As Christians we are required constantly to check that we have not been moulded by the beliefs and common behaviour of the world around us. Let us stick firmly to the moral standards of God as revealed to us in the Bible, undismayed by the inevitable opposition the world will fling at us. As the world hated Jesus so also we cannot escape suffering the severe opposition of the world (e.g. 17.14).
In its emphasis on ‘the world’ John’s Gospel gives us a life-giving message to proclaim. So we go into the world as servants of the Lord. God has come into the world in the person of Jesus the Messiah. He loves the world so much that he has come to take away its sin and bring his abundant and eternal life. Although Jesus highlights God’s judgment of this world, he himself has not come to judge the world (12.47). On the contrary, he has come to save the world. What grace and love! We cannot but stand back in reverent wonder at such grace when one considers the fearful evil and sin of the world.
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