Monthly Archives: June 2019

Make your choice – love the Father or the world? (1 John 2.12-17)

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Young Adults
In our last blog we looked at John’s words concerning children and older people, so now we come to young adults and then all Christians of any age or background.
John writes now to young adults, acknowledging that they are in the prime of life. At this stage of life many are determined to make a success of everything. Ambition in their careers and whole-hearted enjoyment of their social life is matched for true Christians by dedicated commitment in their discipleship of Christ. So John twice observes that they “have overcome evil/the evil one” (2.13/14).
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At the outset of adulthood temptations to immorality and evil of every sort abound. Life-determining choices face them as they sort out what course they will follow for the rest of their life. Who will they marry? What circles will they adopt for their friendships and companionships? What studies and training will they work at? What career will they follow and how ambitious do they want to be in their work? Ethical and moral issues will also face them. The plethora of such battles all stand under the great choice of whether they will commit their lives to following the Lord or give way to the temptations of the world. Graciously John assumes that the young adults he is addressing have made the decision to follow the Lord whole-heartedly.
So John asserts that these young Christian adults have faced the question of whether to follow the Lord’s commands or to give way to sin and evil. Immorality and moral compromise will surely have tempted them, but they have won the battle and overcome evil. How much our society today needs such disciplined young adults! The pressures of so-called ‘freedom’ and ‘inclusivity’ can so easily undermine our obedience to Christ and God’s word in the Bible.
All sin and lack of moral purity stems ultimately from ‘the evil one’, Satan himself. So John’s word “evil” can also mean ‘the evil one’. It is Satan himself who seeks to undermine any consecrated discipleship of the Lord. He hates it when people earnestly follow the Lord’s will and commands. Total commitment to Christ and the Heavenly Father is anathema to Satan and he therefore makes it extremely difficult in our contemporary society with its lack of sure truth and definite moral standards.
In this present letter John merely states that these young adults “have overcome evil/the evil one”. But he goes on to elaborate on this statement in 2.14. In overcoming evil they show that they “are strong, and the word of God abides in you”. Facing all the temptations and pressures of the world around them, they needed to be strong. And such strength cannot be separated from the assurance that they have the biblical word of God living in them. In our day we note a fearful lack of disciplined reading and study of the Bible. But, if young adults today are to overcome evil and the evil one, they need their very mind and thinking to be formed by God’s word in the Bible. Only through good knowledge of the Bible can they make right decisions with godly moral standards. May it be true of the young adults in our churches today that they “have the mind of Christ” (1 Cor.2.16)!

The World or the Father?

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John presents us with a clear choice – to love the world or to love our heavenly Father. At first he relates this challenge to love the Father only to the young adults, but then this is quickly widened to include “if anyone . . .” (2.15). All of us need to ask ourselves what comes first in our lives and what therefore has priority. Many consider their careers and their financial position as more important than anything else. For the sake of success in their work and a rise in their salary they may not only neglect their families, but also sacrifice their commitment to God and his church. In today’s world John’s emphasis on “those things in the world” stands strongly against materialistic consumerism. How many gain their pleasure and self-esteem through owning smart cars or buying yet more of the latest fashion clothes! Even Christians can easily give way to the pressures of brilliant advertising which assures us that we ‘need’ and ‘deserve’ something. Contemporary insecurities can open the younger generations particularly to anything related to their image – cosmetics, hair sprays etc. John calls such things “the cravings of the flesh, the desire of the eyes and the boasting of our being” (2.16).
John sees the world and what is of the world through the grid of eternity. “The world and its desires pass away, but those who do the will of God abide into eternity” (2.17). Why give priority to what is ephemeral, when we have the possibility of eternity with the Father through Jesus Christ? So to us all today the choice stands starkly before us – does God have priority in all our choices, in our use of our time and money, in our choice of work and career, in our family life and relationships etc?
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John’s concern for young and old (1 John 2.12-14)?

John’s concern for young and old (1 John 2.12-14)?

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In these verses John starts by using the present tense “I am writing” to declare his purpose in addressing the three age groups of young people, parents (who are presumably older) and young adults (2.12/13). He then changes to the past tense as he further elaborates his aim in having formerly written to young adults, parents and youth (2.13/14). Finally he gives some fundamental teaching to us all, starting with the words “if anyone . . .” (2.15).

Young people/youth

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In addressing the younger generation John uses two separate words. In verse 12 he calls them “children”, a word which embraces all our pre-adult childhood, while in verse 13 the word also includes unmarried young adults. Young people may lack the wisdom and experience of more mature Christians, but they often have the advantage of confident strength and dynamic. John notes that their Christian life is marked by a victorious struggle against evil. As young Christians they have the challenging experience of passing through the difficult and some times rebellious teen-age years of puberty, so the reality of sin and guilt may cloud their consciences. What good news therefore that their sins have been removed through the name of Jesus! Of course this fundamental truth of the Gospel rejoices all our hearts, but for young people it may have special importance. Those of us who have been believers for many years should have frequently heard the good news of our sins being forgiven and cleansed, but for younger Christians this message may come with fresh and exciting relevance. This glorious message of sins wiped clean often inspires a new life-changing experience which opens the door to a life of commitment to loving and serving the Lord.
No wonder John starts this passage with the assertion that he is writing to young people because their sins have been removed through Jesus.
As he remembers his previous letters’ purpose, he declares that he wrote to young people “because you have known the Father” (2.13). In his writings John frequently asserts that Jesus came to reveal the Father and open the door to knowledge of the Father. Just as the Holy Spirit has come in order to make Jesus real to us, so likewise Jesus brings us into the very presence of the all-glorious Father. In our sinful weakness we could not possibly have the right to approach the burning purity of Almighty God, the heavenly Father. It doesn’t surprise us that non-Christians find it impossible to reach into any sort of experience of relationship with God. They some times say that their prayers only seem to bounce back without any sense of being heard or received by God. God appears so unknowable and remote!
But through the cross and resurrection of Jesus our sinful nature is covered and washed clean. Jesus takes our sin upon his shoulders as he dies in our place on the cross. In exchange for our sins he graciously covers us with his righteousness, so in him and in his sinless holiness we can approach the throne of God. It is sad when Christians some times fail to get beyond faith in Jesus and experience of the Holy Spirit. Jesus sees that the goal of his life and work is that we might know the Father through him. What glory and sheer privilege! So John writes to young Christians because they have (as a new experience?) come to know the Father.

“Fathers”/Parents

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Being personally now in my mid-80s, I rejoice that John still considers it worthwhile to write also for older people like me! But we may notice that his brief reason for writing to “the fathers” (doubtless used in these verses as a general term for older people of both genders) remains the same both in 2.13 and 2.14 – “because you have known him who is from the beginning”.
The Greek verb tense means that these older Christians have had a life-changing experience of coming to know the Lord and that this relationship is still present and alive. The same tense is also used of the youth who have come to know and still know the Father (2.13). In our new birth we come into such a knowledge of the Lord that we form a living relationship of love with him. And this relationship must continue and grow right through the following years. It is some times said that babies are beautiful, but twenty year old babies are a tragedy. So likewise we rejoice when someone first comes to faith, but it is a spiritual catastrophe if they do not continue in faith and grow in their knowledge of the Lord.
We may wonder why John, for older people, merely repeats the same somewhat basic assertion that they “have known him who is from the beginning”, whereas with the young people he talks of knowing the Father. Unlike younger people, of course John himself writes as an older person and may perhaps be very aware that other older people could also have actually known Jesus when he was incarnate on earth. Jesus himself often declared that he had come from above and that he was with the Father from the beginning. John is therefore just using the sort of words that Jesus used of himself.
What more could anyone want than to have known Jesus personally and walked with him through all the activities of each day? We may imagine the enormous privilege of having sat at his feet when he shared his teaching and to have witnessed his miracles as they happened – just to think of it sends a tingle down the spine! No wonder John doesn’t add anything more to his spine-tingling words “because you have known him who is from the beginning”!

Next week.


Next week our blog will look at what John has to say to young adults and then to us all – so we can look forward to the next instalment!

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Happy Birthday, Martin – 85 on 12 June!

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No more sinning! (1 John 2.1-11)

No more sinning! (1 John 2.1-11)
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In Jesus Christ

How can we know that we are safely “in him” (2.5)? How can God’s love be fully experienced and evident in our lives (2.5)?
How can we be sure that we really do “know him” in genuine personal relationship (2.3)?
John addresses his letter to people who claim to be believers in Jesus. And he is concerned that their lives should match their profession of faith. How vitally important it is that we too should demonstrate the reality of our faith in lives of true holiness! John states this quite baldly, “I am writing these things to you in order that you may not sin” (2.1).  He goes on to explain what he has in mind when he talks of “sin”. He means that we must obey the commands of God which come to us by means of God’s Word (2.3-5) – how vital it is therefore that we soak ourselves in the Bible, so that we can live our lives in accordance with his Word! Those who claim to “abide in him” should follow Jesus, modelling our lives on his life. Just as he is loving and holy, so we too are called to mirror his sinless perfection in our daily lives (2.6).
John even says that our Christian assurance rests on the fact of our obedience to God’s commands (2.3). We recognise that we “know” the Lord and so have come into a living relationship with him if we “obey his commands”. If we don’t obey his Word and his truth does not live in us (truth/truly comes four times in these few verses. In John’s Gospel too he strongly stresses truth), then we are liars when we claim to know the Lord (2.4). We may note again the tremendous importance of obedience to God’s commands in his Word.
But what if . . . ?
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Having boldly declared that we should not sin any more (2.1), John realises immediately that actually none of us live perfectly without sin. So he straight away gives us the remedy, “If anyone does sin . . . “. The glorious truth shines out to warm and comfort our hearts, “We have an advocate to approach (pros/towards) the Father” (2.1). Before his cross, resurrection and ascension Jesus had promised that he would not desert them or leave them without his presence. He assured them that he would send them “another advocate/paraclete” (John 14.16). Now John reminds his readers that, like the Holy Spirit, Jesus himself is our advocate to bring us into the very glory of the Father despite our sin. The word ‘paraclete’ was normally used for an ‘advocate’ in legal court cases, not just a ‘comforter’ or ‘counsellor’ as in some translations of John 14.16.  So, Jesus represents us and pleads for our acceptance on the basis of his sacrificial death on the cross. John then uses a technical term which refers back to the old sacrificial system and which NIV rightly translates as “the atoning sacrifice” (2.2). Likewise KJV translates it as ‘propitiation’ which correctly carries the idea of placating the righteous anger of our holy God against sin. Both these translations convey the true sense of this word. In this context John points out that Jesus is “the Righteous One”, the perfect sacrifice without spot or blemish.
The fundamental nature of Jesus’ work on our behalf lies in his revelation of the Father to us. And he not only reveals the Father, but also covers our sin with his righteousness and prays for us. As we think of Jesus interceding for us, we can be confident that Martha was right in her faith-filled word to Jesus, “God will give you whatever you ask” (John 11.22). In our sin we cannot hope to stand before the all-holy God, but in and through the all-righteous Jesus’ prayers on our behalf we gain acceptance into relationship with the ever gracious almighty Father.

“For the whole world” (2.2)

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As Christians we always face the danger of becoming very self-centred – our faith, our salvation, our discipleship, our filling with the Spirit, our eternal life. And as Christian churches we can easily become ethnically narrow and inward-looking. So it was also for the 1st century church which John was relating to. Throughout the Old Testament times Israel had been uniquely ‘God’s people’. Now Jesus the Messiah with his disciples and followers were all Jews. How easy therefore to feel that Jesus had come only for his own Jewish people! Was Jesus’ atoning death only for Jews?
By the time John wrote his letters large numbers of Gentiles had also come to faith in Jesus and been joined to the fundamentally Jewish church. But it was still a debatable issue whether Gentiles should be accepted as equal members of Jesus’ church. Should the church remain a Jewish institution with a few Gentile proselytes and God-fearers grudgingly accepted on the fringes? Or should the church become an international movement, although its roots should of course always remain firmly Jewish?
It is in the context of this sort of debate that John affirms that the sacrificial death of Jesus as an atonement for sin was valid not just for our sins as Jews, “but also for the sins of the whole world” (2.2). Today too we need to be reminded that the message of Jesus’ cross should be proclaimed to Jew and Gentile, to all people and all nations everywhere. What a call to world mission! Does this world vision lie at the heart of our Christian life and as the fundamental purpose of our church?
The old commandment
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Following on from 2.1-6, Jesus told his disciples that he was giving them a new commandment (John 13.34). Actually it had its roots in the very beginning of human existence (2.7). Adam and Eve already at the outset of human history seem to have lived together in mutual love and harmony. So John declares that the command he is giving his readers originated “since the beginning” (2.7). As fellow disciples of Jesus and thus as sisters and brothers of each other, we are commanded to love one another. This command for Christians to love one another follows naturally from John’s emphasis on joyful fellowship in 1.3/4. Of course righteousness in obedience to God’s commands must include much more than just our love and fellowship as Christians together. But such love forms the foundation and lies at the heart of our life as Christians in his church. Loving our fellow believers is at the heart of what it means to ‘walk in the light’ (2.9-11).
How encouraging that John confidently asserts that the old loveless darkness “is passing and the true light is already shining” (2.8). The fulfilment of the commandment to love our fellow believers has begun to be evident not only in the life of Jesus himself, but also in the inter-relationship of the Christians John is writing for, “in him and you” (2.8). Failure to obey this command to love our fellow believers shows that we are still walking in darkness with the inevitable consequence that we will “stumble”. Because we are then walking in the dark, we will not know where our lives are heading (2.10/11). How common this is today – people eat in order to work and work in order to eat. Life can become terribly aimless, living only for the occasional intermittent pleasure activities. As is commonly said in our world today, “there must be more to life than what we’ve got”.
May we and our church show in our lives and by our loving fellowship that the true light is indeed already shining!
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P.S. For further Bible study I hope many of you will get hold of my books “Matthew and Mission: the Gospel through Jewish eyes” (available through Jews for Jesus in London) and “Any Complaints? Blame God: God’s Message for today – Habakkuk the Prophet Speaks” (Authentic Media).(click on pics to purchase for 1p!)
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