Monthly Archives: August 2019

God in us and we in Him (1 John 4.13-21)

God in us and we in Him (1 John 4.13-21)
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In Roman Catholic and High Anglican churches people bow to the table (incorrectly called ‘altar’) in the front of the church, as if somehow the Lord was particularly present there. How wrong! Actually, the New Testament more generally, and our passage now in 1 John 4, clearly teach us that God lives in all who believe in Jesus and are committed to him. So, if anything, we should be bowing to each other because the living God dwells in us!
Three times in this passage in 1 John we read that God dwells in us and we in him (4.13, 15, 16).
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God in us
What an awesome reality! It is almost unbelievable that the almighty God with all his glory, holiness and love should make his home in us. When we lived and served as missionaries in the small town of Kabanjahe in North Sumatra, Indonesia, one or two people commented on their surprise that someone from England would actually chose to come and live in their relatively simple little town. But how much more amazing that God himself should take up residence in people like us! What grace! What love! What a spirit of committed service and care! He has come down to us as the saviour of the world – not only for our sake, but through us for “the world” (4.14).
If God truly lives in us, his character should be being formed in us. His love and grace abide in us, so we should be becoming increasingly like him in love and grace. Likewise his absolute holiness and purity reside in us, making us holy and pure in our innermost being. With God’s heavenly power within us we cannot remain the same. No wonder John in his writings underlines the glorious truth that through our faith in Jesus we have new life, abundant life.
With the individualism of western cultures, the fact of ‘God in us‘ tends to be interpreted as God living in each one of us individually and personally. The ‘us’ thus refers to each individual Christian within the fellowship of God’s people. And how wonderfully true it is that God has actually chosen to make his home in each one of us as believers in his Son, Jesus Christ! This individualistic application may be supported by the singular “anyone” in 4.15 and “in him” in 4.16. But this passage more often uses the plural “we/us”. Other more group-conscious cultures around the world may therefore rightly underline the fact that God resides in the loving fellowship of his church and people. In communal worship too we need to emphasize the glorious reality of God living in us as a church or fellowship together, not just in each of us individually. The fact that God lives in us as a body of believers must inject his abundant life into our life and relationships as his church.

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We in Him
Where do we feel at home? In the world or in God? Because God first loved us and came into us to make his home in us, we should respond by living in him. Our whole lives in every detail, in all we are and do, should reflect the fact that he is now the context in which we live. Total commitment to him becomes entirely natural to us.
When Elizabeth and I first went to live and work in Indonesia, her elderly ex-missionary father wrote to remind her that we were “in Christ”, secure and safe within the Lord himself. Being in God we cannot be reached by Satan or his demonic powers. In his letter Elizabeth’s father developed the meaning of living in God. God is our ceiling, our floor and our four walls. We are entirely surrounded by God himself. He is like a wall of fire around us, so we have nothing to fear. No wonder John goes on to point out that “there is no fear in love” (4.18). We live within God who is love and who loves us. Love and fear cannot coexist. God’s perfect love “drives out fear”.
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How can we be sure?
These great words about God living in us and we in him can sound like spiritual hyperbole which remains way beyond any possibility of us experiencing it in our ordinary everyday lives as Christians. How then can we know the reality of it all? John explains that “we know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit” (4.13). And “we have known and trusted/believed the love which God has in/among us” (4.16).
Already in 3.24 John has affirmed that we know God lives in us “by/from the Spirit he gave us”. Now again in 4.13 we have that assurance “by/from the Spirit he gave us”. Although it remains impossible to see the Holy Spirit with our mortal eyes, we recognize the consequences of his working on our behalf. We notice how he produces the fruit of the Spirit in us (Galatians 5.22/23), how he gives us a real love for our sisters and brothers who share our faith in Jesus, how he also gives us his gifts so that we can serve his church more effectively. We therefore observe the Spirit at work in us and for us, so we can have the assurance that it is God who lives in us and that it is in him that we now find our home.

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The Consequences
Because we already experience the love of God who lives in us, we have confidence/boldness (Greek parrhesia) “on the day of judgment” (4.17). By the working of the Spirit in us, we already have become “like him in this world”. Although we still live physically “in this world”, we find our true home living in him. Already we are halfway there! So death is merely the gateway into the completion of God’s work when we become fully “like him”, and we fully live in him and he in us. So why should we fear death and the day of judgment? In Jesus through faith we have eternal life. Rejoice! God loves us!
Linked immediately with our experience of the Spirit (4.13) John proceeds to state that “we have known and we testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the saviour of the world” (4.14). All the rich blessings of God as our Saviour stem from our knowledge and faith in Jesus. He has been sent by the Father into the world to bring his life-giving salvation to all who believe in him. The Spirit gives us such a sure faith in Jesus that we “testify/witness”. Our world desperately needs the life and love of Jesus. So the call comes to us by his Spirit to share the good news of Jesus. We are his witnesses in the world today.
This chapter comes to its conclusion with strong teaching on the absolute necessity of us loving our sisters and brothers in Christ. Love and fellowship among us as Christians occupies a central place in John’s heart. So he comes back to it again and again in this letter. He never seems to put it to one side. Right at the start of the letter he declares that his aim in proclaiming the message of Jesus is that “you may have fellowship with us” (1.3). Then in the ensuing chapters he returns several times to the theme – loving fellowship among believers lies at the very heart of the Christian life. It also forms the basis for our witness to the world. God is love. God loves his people who are one with his much-loved Son. Let our love shine out into our world where loneliness and broken relationships so often prevail! Love and mission  belong together.



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Testing the Spirits (1 John 4.1-12)

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Confessing Jesus (4.1-6)
We know that God lives in us (3.24). How can we gain such assurance? Where does such confidence come from? John asserts that this certainty comes “from (Greek ek = out from – the opposite of John’s favourite preposition eis = into) the Spirit he gave us” (3.24). Now 3.24 leads naturally to chapter 4 (the chapter and verse divisions are not part of the original biblical text and can some times hide the text’s sequence of thought). So John proceeds to warn that not all spirits stem from God and we need therefore to test them (4.1). Does a particular spirit or prophecy come from (ek/from) God? John warns his readers that many false prophets have come into (Greek eis) the world, so we need to be very careful to discern the true origin of a spirit.
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How then can we recognise God’s Spirit? John provides two clear tests: the confession of Jesus and our love together. Proper testing of the spirits starts with their confession of Jesus Christ. Does Jesus have his rightful place at the centre? The true Spirit of God always confesses that Jesus has come in flesh from the glory; he has come from above into this world. The truth about Jesus must always stand openly as our primary confession. Some years ago I realised that my primary emphasis in my preaching, teaching and writing was international mission rather than the glory of Jesus Christ. And the Lord was also useful in encouraging people to get involved in mission! Of course mission lies close to the heart of God and should motivate everything in our Christian life. But even mission can become an idol which replaces Jesus and his glory. So John reminds us that confession of Jesus Christ’s coming in the flesh shows that the spirit or prophecy does indeed come from God.
With this repeated emphasis of the preposition ‘from’ John reveals the necessity of discerning where the spirit comes from. Does it originate from God or just from some worldly human source? Have we mistaken the spirit as originating from God when actually it comes from our own intuitions, desires and thoughts? Or is the spirit from God but mixed with very human character or thoughts? As John so clearly advocates, we need constantly to “test the spirits”. To describe those spirits which do not come from God, John uses strong words – “false prophets” and even “the spirit of the antichrist” (4.3). Perhaps John had in his mind the declaration of the Lord in Jeremiah 23.30-40 that God stands against “the prophets who wag their own tongues and yet declare, ‘the Lord declares'”. God will punish such false prophets, casting them out of his presence (Jeremiah 23.39). Claiming something as the evident presence of God’s Spirit or giving a prophetic word is no light matter! And all of us are called to discern the spirits to check whether they indeed come ‘from God’ (ek tou theou) and should be received as “the Spirit of God”.

Love one another (4.7-12)

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In the context of discerning the spirits John returns to the principle theme of the letter. As God’s beloved children we should love one another. Surely John has it in his mind that such love is the necessary mark of the Spirit of God, so we may discern the genuineness of a spirit by whether it leads to greater love. Such love between believers comes “from/ek) God” and shows that we have been born of God and that we know God with the intimacy of personal relationship (4.7).
Sunday School teachers often ask small children to learn off by heart that “God is love” (4.8). It is short, deeply significant and easy to understand. But in its simplicity we can easily overlook its profound meaning. Love lies at the very heart of God’s fundamental nature. Because he islove, he cannot stop loving. We may reverently declare that he must love; he cannot avoid loving. And he has shown the reality of his love by sending his Son, Jesus Christ, in order that “we might live through him” (4.9). In these words John reaffirms his basic  Gospel message of new life, abundant life and eternal life. So love is another vital test for whether a spirit comes from God.
God sent his Son “as an atonement for our sins” (4.10). Whereas God’s gift of resurrection life comes again and again in his writings, the more Pauline message of atonement for our sins and redemption hardly features in John’s Gospel or in this letter. But this verse shows that John and Paul share the same faith in Jesus’ life-giving salvation through his death and resurrection. It reminds us, however, that their particular Gospel emphasis differs slightly. It is rare for John to write about sin and atonement.
John reiterates that God’s love for us should motivate us as Jesus’ followers to love one another. He has loved us long before we came to love him and our fellow believers. What an amazing privilege and comfort it is to know that we are loved! If we really follow him and love each other, it is evident that God (who is love) lives in us. By his Spirit his nature of love is being worked into our innermost being. Although nobody can see God (4.12) in his absolute glory, purity and holiness, people can see that God lives is us. His love is completed in us (4.12)  and the wonderful outworking of that divine love is manifest in our lives.
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In this passage John twice addresses his readers as “Beloved”, not just “dear friends” (4.7 and 11). Evidently John practises what he preaches – he loves his fellow-Christian readers. In the life and teaching of our churches let us give due importance to anything which fosters a growing love in our fellowship together. And surely our love together will be deeply attractive in our broken societies where loneliness can so easily prevail. What good news we bring: new life and love!
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Truth and Boldness (1 John 3.16-24)

Truth and Boldness (1 John 3.16-24)

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Thus far in looking at this passage in 1 John we have purposely not dealt with two significant words – truth and boldness. John uses both these words frequently and they are important in our understanding of his thinking and his message. John’s teaching relates particularly closely to today’s world and should form the basis for the Gospel/Good News in our 21st century. So it is specially important that we look carefully at the key words he uses to convey the heart of his beliefs concerning our relationship with God.

Truth (3.18/19)

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Pontius Pilate’s desperate question at the trial of Jesus rings in our ears. “What is truth?” (John 18.38). In its definition of ‘truth’ the Oxford Dictionary not only refers to accuracy, but also uses such terms as honest, sincere and loyal. We may wish to add the concept of being absolutely real. So the word ‘truth’ covers a wide variety of meanings. It does signify factual accuracy, but it also touches on positive relationships. And because it denotes total reality it denies the emptiness of meaningless life, often expressed in superficial make-believe. For John, truth and reality stem from God himself, for truth reflects the very nature of God as the one who is true. As the perfect image and likeness of the Father, Jesus has no hesitation in affirming that he himself is the truth. John frequently also calls the Holy Spirit “the Spirit of truth”, for Jesus promises that the Spirit will lead us into all truth (John 16.33).  Likewise John assures us that God’s word is truth (John 17.17) and as Jesus’ followers we are called to “do truth” (John 3.21, 1 John 1.6), to worship in truth (John 4.23), to be sanctified by the truth (John 17.17), to witness to the truth (John 5.33) and indeed to love the Lord and our fellow Christians in truth (1 John 3.18). It is also by the Spirit of truth that we can gain true freedom, for he “will set you free” (John 8.32).
In John’s Gospel Jesus repeatedly asserts that he tells people the truth, that he says the truth (e.g. John 8.44/45 and 16.7). Through Jesus, by his Spirit and Word we can come into the fullness of truth, experiencing those honest, sincere and loyal relationships of which the Oxford Dictionary speaks. As Christians we are to be known as people who are totally trustworthy, whose words speak truth, whose lives consistently demonstrate meaningful reality.
John’s emphasis on truth strikes home as particularly relevant and needed by the church and our world today. Political double-talk and the common acceptance of deceptive untruth makes us doubt what people say or promise. How vital truth and therefore trustworthiness is for the well-being of society! Marriage and every other relationship depend on such truth. And we all long for that reality which makes our lives truly meaningful. What ‘good news’ we have in the ‘Gospel’ of Jesus!

Boldness (Greek parrhesia)

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In our blog on John 7 (to be found in the ‘Archives’ for September 2018) we noted John’s use of the Greek word ‘Parrhesia’/boldness. This word comes frequently both in John’s Gospel and in his first letter. It signifies such confidence in what one believes that boldness of speech and action ensues.
In his Gospel John refers to Jesus speaking ‘openly/boldly’ (7.26) and in 10.24 the Jewish people around him complain that Jesus is keeping them in suspense and demand that he tell them ‘plainly/boldly’ whether he is indeed the long-promised Messiah. Jesus himself assures his disciples that at some future stage he will “tell you plainly/boldly about my Father” (16.25). There are times when Jesus cannot walk ‘openly/boldly’ because of the fierce opposition of the leaders in Judea, knowing that the hour had not yet come for his death and resurrection (e.g. 11.54). On the other hand Jesus did some times speak boldly, as for example when he told his disciples ‘plainly/boldly’ that Lazarus was dead (11.14). Supremely at his trial he defends himself against the questioning of the high priest, declaring that “I have spoken openly/boldly to the world” (18.20). Jesus’ brothers had previously urged him not to do things in secret, but rather to live in openness/boldness (7.4).
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In John’s first letter too the word ‘parrhesia’ comes four times. In 1 John 5.13 the aim of this letter is declared “that you may know that you have eternal life”. In having eternal life we have ‘confidence/boldness’ in coming to God (1 John 5.14). Although the full perfection of eternal life lies in the future, we already have received its first fruits. The present tense of “you have eternal life” is matched by a further present tense “the confidence we have in coming to God”. We have such confident assurance of his gift to us of new life and eternal life that we can now come boldly to almighty God in all his glory and holiness. This is John’s emphasis each time he uses the word ‘Parrhesia’ in this letter. We have confidence/boldness before God as we follow Jesus in obedience to his command to “believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ” and “love one another” (1 John 3.21). These two fundamental elements in God’s command to us undergird the whole teaching of this letter and form the essential mark of the fact that we have eternal life as his children. So we are encouraged to continue and abide in him, “so that when he appears we may be confident/bold and unashamed at his coming” (2.28). In the context of God’s gracious love to us “we will have confidence/boldness on the day of judgment” (4.17). Indeed, we should have such definite assurance in Jesus Christ that as a result we have truly confident boldness in coming to him both now in this world and finally at the judgment when he comes again.
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The opposite of confidence/boldness is fear. So John continues by asserting that ‘perfect love drives out fear (4.18). Of course God’s love for us preceded our love for him and for our fellow believers (4.19). His love for us inspired the love we have for him and for each other. So our love for God must go hand in hand with love for each other (4.21). God not only loves, but he is in his very nature love. We may say therefore that God’s nature compels him to love. We can therefore have absolute confidence/boldness in his love for us through Jesus Christ and by his Spirit. Consequently we need have no fear of the final judgment because his perfect love does drive out fear (4.18). Love and confidence/boldness are happily married, but love and fear never sleep in the same bed.
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