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About richardsh

Messianic Jewish teacher in UK

Truth and Love (3 John)

Truth and Love (3 John)

As we come to the end of John’s three letters, we face yet again his tremendous repeated emphasis on truth and love. ‘Truth’ comes seven times in this short letter, while ‘love’/’beloved’ comes six times.

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Truth
“The whole purpose of life is to make money”, I heard recently. But how about the poor, the pensioner or the unemployed, none of whom are succeeding in making money? What is the real purpose of life? How can we know? And how can we discern what is right or wrong? Is making money or seeking our own pleasure the ultimate yard-stick by which we measure everything? If I live for money, how can I relate to you if you are only seeking your own welfare and pleasure?
The Bible sees things through totally different eyes. Truth is more important than money. Again and again in John’s writings we have noted his emphasis on Jesus as the truth. And therefore as his followers we too are called to walk in the truth – not money-grubbing. So in this lovely personal letter of 3 John he declares that he loves Gaius “in the truth” (1) and rejoices that Gaius is faithful to the truth and is walking in the truth (verses 3 and 4). In verse 12, also, the truth joins with everyone to speak well (literally ‘witness’) of Demetrius. John asserts that his own witness is also true.
In Jesus we have the genuine truth which forms a solid basis for everything in life. As we live, think and speak in accordance with that truth, our whole life increasingly reflects the nature and character of God himself. Like the apostle Paul we shall “have the mind of Christ” (1 Cor.2.16), discerning right from wrong like him, becoming truly trustworthy like him, living lives of purity and holiness like him, serving God and other people like him etc.
How then can we come to know the truth? As we have observed, the truth is found in Jesus. The more closely we know and relate to Jesus, the more we shall learn and experience the truth. The truth of Jesus is revealed to us particularly in the biblical Scriptures which are God’s Word. In 2 Timothy 3.16 we learn that the Scriptures were ‘breathed out’ by God himself, so they reveal the truth in perfect form. It is therefore vitally important for us all to be steeped in study of the Bible. Through the work of God’s Spirit as we soak in the revelation of God in our Bible study, our lives and our whole thinking will be moulded into the image of Jesus. Through the truth of God’s Word we shall know his purposes for us; our lives will reflect his character; we shall become people of truth and therefore trustworthy; we shall be able to discern what is right and what is wrong. In our society today financial gain and personal freedom and pleasure have become the plumb-line by which people judge what is good or bad, but this can only lead to socially and personally destructive consequences. Our society desperately needs the entirely reliable and morally upright truth of Jesus and the Bible.
John doesn’t speak just of ‘truth’, but of ‘the truth’ – there is only one truth. In all our moral controversies and our multi-faith context it is important that we maintain a deep assurance of Jesus and God’s Word in the Bible as the unique truth. Of course we are still to love our neighbour and strongly support religious tolerance in society, but we also long for everyone to find the truth, the life, the salvation through faith in Jesus.

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Love
In this letter John consistently addresses Gaius as “beloved” (NIV ‘dear friend’ loses John’s emphasis on love) and it is to his love that others witness (6-8). This love leads to practical outworking in hospitality and supporting other Christians as they move on,  in ways that are worthy of God.  Presumably these Christians were travelling evangelists and so unknown to John previously. Were they now leaving because they had been called by God to serve him elsewhere? So is this an early example of God’s call to support Christians who are called to serve in other countries?
Love goes together not only with hospitality (8), but also with loving cooperation in serving the truth together (8). Such team ministry stands in direct contrast with the evil example of Diotrephes who “loves to be first”. In Greek this very human desire for prominence (‘loves to be first’) is actually just one word ‘first-loving’ – such pride was and is so common that it merits a special word! Sadly this is often the case even in the Christian church. Because of this sin, Diotrephes would not accept John – was he threatened by him and so feared for his position? He evidently was trying to pull John’s reputation down by false gossip. He was also refusing to welcome other Christians to the church – perhaps because the advent of other faithful Christians might threaten his prominence? In fact, he was even throwing good Christians out of the church (NIV softens the violence of the Greek ‘throws out’ with its translation ‘ puts out’). Happily in this letter John doesn’t only give us the bad example of Diotrephes, but then goes on to commend Demetrius who “is well spoken of by everyone” (12). And John concludes with the word that his witness concerning Demetrius is true, as everyone knows.

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The Name (7)
God is so glorious, all-holy and splendid in majesty that Jews have felt that they should never allow his name to pass their sinful lips. So it has been customary to use the expression “the Name” for God. Still today Jews will normally refer to God as HaShem, the Name. John also follows this pattern of deeply honouring the absolute glory of God: “It was for the sake of the Name that they went out” (7). We today may prefer to speak of ‘God’ and ‘the Lord’, but let us do so with reverent worship in our hearts. It is easy as Christians to speak so casually of the Lord! And sadly non-Christians commonly blaspheme with the expression “God knows” or the ejaculation “God Almighty!”. Some times it may be good to respond with “Yes, I guess He does indeed know . . . ” or “Yes, God’s power is indeed fantastic”.

‘εθνικοι

The Pagans (Greek ethnikoi)
In verse 7 is John meaning ‘pagans’ (as in NIV) or non-Jewish Gentiles? The Greek word stems from a word which generally refers to the Gentiles, as in the incarnate Jesus’ closing command to his disciples (Matthew 28.19). Of course it was true that in those days the Gentiles were almost all ‘pagans’ who did not yet believe in the God of Israel. So John in verse 7 almost certainly meant non-Jews, but he will have assumed that as Gentiles they will still be unbelieving.
Even in much later centuries it became customary to use the word ‘Gentile’ as meaning ‘pagan’. Thus in Aquinas’ “Contra Gentiles” (Against the Gentiles) he assumes that the word ‘Gentile’ means non-Christian, while the term ‘Israel’ referred to the church – and the church then was almost entirely non-Jewish. So the term ‘Israel’ came to mean non-Jews, while the term ‘Gentile’ meant non-Christian Jews ! So Jews became Gentiles and Gentiles became Israel! The same muddled error afflicted the Reformers too. Thus Luther used the term ‘the heathen’ (German: die Heiden) when translating ‘Gentiles’ and Calvin used ‘les paiens’/the pagans. After that the early pietistic missionaries to North America called the North American Indians ‘the Gentiles’, while the white Christians were ‘Israel’. Some times as a Jew myself I am asked whether Elizabeth is also Jewish. I used to answer, “No, she is Gentile”, but now I have learned to answer differently. People used to be shocked at my words and wonder how I could be so rude about my wife! They too still had the misunderstanding that ‘Gentile’ was a negative word for people without faith.
The Bible underlines God’s concern not only for his own Jewish people, but also for the Gentiles. Evidently the Christians referred to in verse 7 must have been living and working for the Lord in a Gentile milieu, but they got no help from their Gentile neighbours. As Christians today we too are called to mission with people of all ethnic backgrounds, Jews and Gentiles.
In our next blog we shall move on to Jude’s letter.
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The chosen lady and her children (2 John)

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Who is this letter addressed to? “The chosen lady (Greek Kuria)”. ‘Kuria’ was a common personal name, but also the equivalent of our ‘lady’. We may also note that ‘Kuria’ is the feminine form of ‘Kurios’/Lord, the title of Jesus himself. Many highly reputable commentators (e.g. Schnakenburg, Brown, Westcott, Stott and the Asia Bible Commentary by Hoo published by Langham Global Library in 2016) suggest that John was writing to Christians in general, not to an individual person or church. But unlike John’s first letter (and James, 1 and 2 Peter, Jude), the early church did not give this letter the title “General (Greek Catholice = universal)” which implies that this letter does  have a particular person or church in mind. It is not intended for a wider, more general readership. So for myself I feel therefore that ‘kyria’ does probably signify a particular lady.

Commendations

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John unhesitatingly addresses this letter to “the elect lady”, thus affirming his confidence that the lady concerned (or the churches) has indeed been chosen by God to have the life Jesus has won for us. And in verse 1 he goes on to declare that he loves her children – are they literally the children of this lady or the members of the churches? In either case John affirms his love for them. But then in verse 4 he “rejoiced greatly” that from amongst her children he has found those who are “walking in truth”. Does this imply that others of her children (or some of the church members) were not following the Lord? Perhaps. But we need also to take seriously John’s assurance that he “rejoiced greatly”. We all long for the baton of faith to be passed on from generation to generation.
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As in 1 John 1.4, so also in 2 John 12 some ancient manuscripts have “our joy” and others have “your joy”. It would seem that they enjoyed such close, loving fellowship in unity that ‘our’ and ‘your’ coincide. ‘You’ are so immersed in that loving fellowship that ‘our’ joy also includes ‘you’. Such full joy is based on the fundamental commandment that “we love one another”, a constant refrain in John’s writings. Although it would seem that ‘the lady’ already knows God’s commandment of love, he feels the necessity to underline it and encourage her to walk in that love. Likewise he has confidence that the truth dwells in us, both in John himself and in the lady, and is with us eternally. Yet his repeated emphasis on the word “truth” (5 times in the first four verses) seems to hint that the lady and her children may need to be reminded of the call to walk in the truth. We may note also the repeated emphasis on “walking” (3 times in these few verses) in the truth seems to underline the necessity of the need for consistent practical outworking of truth and love in their everyday lives as believers.

Dangers to faith

danger.jpgAlongside John’s emphasis on truth comes a repeated warning about “the teaching” in verses 9 and 10. Many “deceivers” are spreading out into the world, refusing to acknowledge that Jesus has come in the flesh. John names them as “the deceiver” and “the anti-Christ”. Evidently the lady was in danger of hobnobbing with them and thus losing her ‘full reward’, the glory of eternal life with the Father and his Son. With the multiplicity of false and inadequate teaching in our world today  John’s words challenge us to think carefully about the company we keep.  Our contemporary cultures tend to emphasise our feelings and exciting experiences, but careful biblical teaching sometimes takes second place. John makes it abundantly clear that anyone can lose their relationship with God, including those who have in the past worked (verse 8) for the Lord. Anyone who “does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God”, but wonderfully “whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son” (9).
Seeing the danger of relating too closely with such deceivers, John then instructs strongly that “if anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching” (10), they should not be accepted into the house or given a welcome – the word used for ‘greet’ (Greek: chairo) also signifies ‘rejoicing’. As deceiving unbelievers they do not fit in the abundant joy of Christian fellowship. If we find our companionship largely with such people, we shall also share (the same word as ‘fellowship’) with them in their evil works (10). How important true Christian fellowship and love is!

John concludes this letter with the very personal note that he hopes to visit them and so talk face to face. Personal inter-relationship is so much more satisfactory than in writing – even better than through the latest forms of social media! In this way “our/your joy may be filled/completed” (12).

And John’s final words are that “the children (plural) of your elect/chosen sister greet(singular) you” (13). The singular form of the verb (greet) with its plural subject (children) reveals that they are closely joined together in a close-knit composite body. Do we observe here the beauty of a loving Christian family with siblings who richly enjoy each other? Or is John meaning the joy of a loving Christian church in fellowship together? Both are surely God’s perfect will and purpose for his children. Lord, work amongst us by your Spirit and let it be so! Amen!
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Knowing with Boldness (1 John 5.13-21)

Knowing with Boldness (1 John 5.13-21)

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Social media, Facebook, Text messages, Skype, email . . . Communication today is so easy and immediate. Back in the 1960s, as Christian workers in North Sumatra and in South Thailand we lived in good-sized towns, but even the Post Office didn’t have a telephone! And letters took an age – ‘snail-mail’ would indeed have been a fitting description! For John too, in the 1st century, writing and sending a letter was a major undertaking. So, why did he write this first Epistle?
Were Christians in danger of uncertainty concerning the Lord’s gift of eternal life? Good Muslims feel reasonably hopeful that Allah will bring them finally into Paradise, but absolute assurance might deny God’s all-powerful sovereignty; Allah has the power to send whoever he wants to Hell or to Paradise. Most Europeans too will feel that their lives have not been too bad, so God (if he exists!) will probably bring them to heaven, but they may feel it is too presumptuous to know with complete confidence that they have eternal life.
John writes with the gloriously clear aim that his readers might “know that you have eternal life” (5.13). What glorious good news that as believers in Jesus as God’s Son we can have that total confidence! Dying may remain painful and distressing, but death has lost its sting. The gateway to glory awaits us!

Boldness in Prayer (5.14/15)

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‘Knowing’ goes hand in hand with ‘boldness’. As believers in Jesus we have that assurance of eternal life, so boldness (Greek parrhesia) in prayer naturally follows. Because we are moving in our lives ever closer “towards (John’s favourite preposition of movement: Greek pros/towards) God” (5.14), we can have assurance also that God hears us and will respond positively to our prayers. And what a bold promise John gives us in 5.14/15! “Whatever we ask” God hears and “we know that we have what we asked of him”. Of course John is not thinking of self-centred or materialistic prayers – “Lord, please give me a Rolls Royce” or “Lord, I want a job with £100,000 a year”.
God’s promise relates to prayer “according to his will” (5.14). As followers of Jesus our aims in life should no longer follow the desires of the world. We should “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness” (Matthew 6.33). So this exhortation to bold assurance in prayer challenges us not only in the content of our prayers, but further also in the whole direction and purpose of our lives. If our primary aim in life is to follow the Lord and serve him, that will also determine what we pray for.

Loving our sister/brother (5.16-17)

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Christian love and fellowship should be so joyful (cf. 1.3/4) that our primary concern embraces our fellow believers. So, when John talks of “whatever we ask”, of course he assumes that our prayers would immediately turn to our sisters and brothers in Christ. And what a heart-ache afflicts us if we see a Christian sister or brother beginning to backslide! When faced with the tragedy of someone moving back into the world, we should turn to prayer with the confidence that “God will give them life” (5.16). So John contrasts true life with the sad reality of sin. But John goes on to observe that two distinct levels of sin can afflict people. Some sin so definitely rejects any living faith in Jesus the Messiah that prayer for such people achieves nothing. Concerning them John says ‘he is not saying that we should pray’. But for those whose sin “does not lead to (Greek pros again!death” God will assuredly respond to our prayer.

What do we know? (5.18-21)

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 “We know that we are from (Greek ek) God” (5.19) and “we know that anyone born from (Greek ek) God does not sin” (18). John here uses a continuous present tense, so the NIV translates this “does not continue to sin”. John does not mean that we never yield to temptation or that we live 100% pure and holy lives like God himself. But as children of God our lives are not characterised and marked as sinful. Sin no longer rules our hearts because wonderfully  Jesus ‘keeps us safe’ (5.18). He was also “born of God”, so he understands us perfectly and knows our need of his protection from sin.
We know that we are from God; we know that anyone born from God does not sin; we also know the stark contrast that we are from (Greek ek) God while “the whole world lies in the evil one” (5.19). In our contemporary societies we grieve to observe the tragic consequences of life without the grace of God. We see the breakdown of relationships and the consequent loneliness; knives on our streets and violence both in the home and more widely ruins lives; sexual sin and so-called ‘freedom’ promise bliss and fulfilment, but actually produce a shallow emptiness. God’s standards of purity and holiness may appear legalistic and even discriminatory, but actually produce the fullness of life abundant. The Messiah Jesus is the true God who gives his people truth and life already now for life in this world, but also finally in ‘eternal life’.
Finally John asserts that “we know also that the Son of God has come” (5.20) which leads to the glorious climax that “we know him who is true” – John here uses a different Greek word indicating personal relationship.  What an amazing privilege for us as believers in Jesus that we can enjoy an intimate relationship with him who is “the true God and eternal life” (5.20)! Good news (Gospel) indeed!
John has reached old age and now passes the baton on to the next generation of believers in Jesus. “Dear children, keep yourselves from idols” (5.21). John’s final word of exhortation touches us also. Don’t let anything else replace Jesus at the centre of our lives. If anything, good or bad, comes before our love and service for him, it/he/she becomes an idol. Let us not allow idolatry to spoil our lives! Jesus is Number One.

 

P.S. Elizabeth and I have just returned from a stimulating conference in Cambridge for Jubilee Centre. We were discussing relationships, a subject which of course lies at the heart of John’s thinking both in his Gospel and his first Epistle. I was asked to teach on Relationships in the Gospels, while other speakers taught on relationships in the Epistles, the Historical books, the Law, the Prophets and the Wisdom books. This was then applied to the educational world in Europe, big business in E. Africa, the banking world in Australia and NGOs in S.E. Asia. During the conference I was constantly reminded of John’s emphasis on Jesus’ relationships within the Trinity and his emphasis on love and fellowship amongst us as Christians.
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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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True love – 1 John 3.16-24

True love – 1 John 3.16-24

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John is writing this letter in order that his believing readers might know that they have eternal life (5.13). In 3.14 he makes it clear that such assurance of God’s gift of life comes to those who love their fellow Christians (3.14). Now in 3.16-24 he elaborates further on that love which lies at the heart of all true discipleship. The model of such true love stands before us in Jesus; John affirms that we know/recognise love in the historical fact that Jesus “laid down his life for us” (3.16). This may refer supremely to his death for our salvation, but it surely means all his sacrificial giving of himself for us in leaving the Father’s glory and descending to earth where he lived sacrificially in love amongst us. Now, John declares, we too ought to lay down our lives for our sisters and brothers in Christ. In 3.16 we note the emphatic “and we” in the second half of the verse. John’s use of “Beloved” in 3.21 shows that he himself follows the model of Jesus in love.

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Relating back to his reference to Cain (3.12), John states in strikingly emphatic and challenging words that whoever fails to love their fellow believers is a murderer (3.15). Through love comes life; lack of love robs people of life and steals life away from them. At first we may be shocked by the apparently exaggerated accusation of murder against those who fail to manifest love in the fellowship of the church of Christ. But the vital importance of such love cannot be ignored. Without it eternal life eludes us (3.15).
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Christian love is not just a romantic feeling; nor can we reduce it to an artificial smile or a hearty slap on the back. Jesus’ love demands practical service. If we have this world’s goods, we dare not fail to show our sympathy with a sister or brother in need. True love works itself out in very practical service and help for those who suffer. The 1st century church strongly emphasized loving care for the poor within the church. Deacons were appointed to make sure that widows, orphans and the needy were cared for. So John asserts that we are not to love just in word and in theory, but “in deed/action and in truth” (3.18). We may note too that charity begins at home within the borders of the Christian church.

The consequences of love

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If we love one another, we know with confident assurance that we have eternal life and that we “are of the truth” (3.19). Our faith and trust in Jesus is shown to be genuine. John then goes on to add that we are to “set our hearts at rest in his presence”. This NIV translation is attempting to translate a difficult Greek word (peitho); the old Authorised Version says we shall “assure our hearts”. The word implies a deep assurance based on being persuaded. So we come before the Lord with a confidence that is based on the fact of our love which shows us that our faith is true. Our love gives us the evidence that we can come before the holy God with genuine confidence. This confidence does not stem from pride and self-assurance, for all of us have to confess that some times “our heart condemns us” (3.20). Happily we can rest assured that God is greater than our doubting hearts. He knows us through and through, so we can come with assured faith into his presence. No wonder Paul declares with victorious joy that “death has been swallowed up in victory” and quotes Hosea 13.14 in asking “Death, where is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15.54/55).
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Interestingly, the Greek word peitho is some times translated incorrectly as ‘obey’ (e.g. Hebrews 13.17) whereas it really signifies ‘yielding to persuasion’. Likewise two other Greek words, hupakouo (Eph. 6.5) and hupotasso (Eph. 5.22), are also translated incorrectly as ‘obey’ or ‘submit’ (e.g. Eph. 5.22).  When the suffix arch of authority (as in the English monarchy or oligarchy) is added, then peitharcheo does indeed mean ‘obey’ (e.g. Acts 5.29, 32), but it is only used of our response to God. Peitharcheois never used in relation to other human beings. Towards other human beings (children towards parents, slaves towards masters, all of us towards teaching concerning the Gospel) we are to yield to persuasion. Rebellious attitudes which will not listen humbly will spoil Christian relationships of love. Likewise unthinking obedience goes against the will of God. Some Christian leaders and bishops may demand obedience, but this is clearly unbiblical. Rather, we are called to weigh people’s words of instruction and yield humbly and lovingly to them if they seem true.
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Our confidence before God, which stems from our love for our sisters and brothers in Christ, produces such a confident relationship with our heavenly Father that “we receive from him anything we ask” (3.22). Keeping (not the unthinking word ‘obey’ as in NIV) his commands and doing what pleases God are the basis for effective intercessory prayer (3.22). What a privilege we have as Christians! We can have assurance that God answers prayers that are in line with his will. When we read that keeping his commands is an essential condition for effective prayer, inevitably we ask ourselves what his commands consist of. The answer is simple: believe in God’s son Jesus Christ and love one another (3.23). If we obey these two commands, John assures us that we shall abide in the Lord and he will abide in us (3.24). What an amazing relationship of love we are given! We are totally at one with almighty God through Jesus Christ.
Can this all be possible? It all sounds too idyllic! John affirms that confirmation comes from the Spirit whom God has given us. We so experience the working of the Holy Spirit in and through us that we gain confidence that the Lord does indeed dwell in us and we in him. God’s Spirit lives in us and brings growing Christ-like holiness into our lives. He enables us to love our fellow believers. He works through us to share his good news of new, abundant and eternal life with others.
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So, God’s command to us through the writings of John comes once again to us. Believe in Jesus, trust and follow him! Let love reign in the church of God!
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Children of God (1 John 3.1-15)

Children of God (1 John 3.1-15)
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God the Father’s love takes our breath away. He has actually chosen to call us his children. And somewhat amusingly John notes that we are not only called his children; he adds the words “and we are”! Let us all stop for a moment and marvel that ordinary people like us should be adopted by God the Father as his beloved children. I find it almost incredible that the almighty all-holy God should want me in his family as his son. That’s good news if ever there was!
But the good news is followed by a warning. We are still living within the context of the non-Christian world. God loves us perfectly, but the world doesn’t know us because they also don’t know the Lord (3.1). So don’t let us be so carried away by the sheer glory of our adoption as God’s children that we are taken by surprise when opposition hits us.
Wonderfully, however, God’s staggering grace in making us his children cannot be dimmed by mere worldly opposition. The warmth of his love shines through to move John to another question. As God’s children what lies in the future? What sort of people will we be (3.2)? John has no answer to such questions, but he moves on to our final ultimate destiny when Jesus appears, when he comes again at the end of human history (3.2). More glory is revealed! These brief verses leave us breathless with their brilliance. “We shall be like him” and “we shall see him as he is”. Is it really possible that sinful people like us will then be totally God-like? God’s answer through John comes with a resounding ‘Yes!’. We shall not only be “like him”, but we shall also see and know him perfectly. What a future! To be absolutely like the Lord and to have that intimate relationship with him!
Holy like God (3.3-10)
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Having this sure hope for our future, we are now called to a life of holiness and purity. In preparation for the day when we shall “be like him” we are to sanctify ourselves and begin the process of making ourselves as righteous and holy as God is. As God’s very own children we inherit from him God’s own nature and being. By his Spirit he now lives in us and forms within us his own character of righteousness. Before we came to faith in Jesus and were born again as God’s children, we may have followed lives of selfishness, pride and godless sin. But if we have indeed been “born of God” (3.9), we cannot “continue to sin” (3.6). John’s teaching in this passage cannot but strike us forcefully; anyone who is living a life of sin is of the Devil (3.8). But Jesus came to earth in order to remove and destroy the works of the Devil. In Jesus sin has no place and we dare not allow it a place  in our lives. He came to earth to take our sin away.

This passage with its call to ‘sanctify ourselves’ sounds quite extreme. Our modern ears are unaccustomed to such a challenge to a life of disciplined holiness and moral righteousness in our daily living. We may shudder at John’s words, “sanctify yourself” (3.3). We might expect him to say that God’s indwelling Holy Spirit will work in us and for us. Of course this is also true. But John’s emphasis is rather that with God’s ‘seed’ dwelling in us (3.9) we ourselves have the responsibility not to go on sinning.

In this way, John declares, we can know who are genuinely God’s children. Those who do not follow a life of sinning are evidently God’s children, while those who do not follow righteousness show that they are “children of the Devil” (3.10).

God’s revealed Scriptures do not mince their words! The challenge of God’s demands stands starkly before us.

Not like Cain (3.10-15)

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Once again the central feature in the life of holiness and righteousness is that as Christians “we love one another” (3.10/11). John underlines that this is the message which we have heard “from the beginning”. Throughout biblical history God’s command has always been that love should reign amongst his people. If we don’t love our Christian sisters and brothers, we “are not from God”. As followers of Jesus we are to be known as people of love.
Every Thursday morning our little village church has an informal coffee time at our local garden centre. Their staff once told me that they looked forward to serving on Thursday mornings because of our being there. They thought that we were all of one family because they noticed how we loved each other! What an opportunity to share the reality of new life through faith in Jesus!
John goes on to warn his readers against any failure to love our fellow believers. He cites the dire example of Cain who was “from the evil one” and actually murdered his brother. What led him to such hatred? “His works were evil, those of his brother were righteous” (3.12). Today too some non-Christians will strongly oppose us because Christians’ moral standards make them feel uncomfortable and grubby. I well remember that feeling of dislike of Christians when I was first at university as a non-Christian; their lives showed up my sin and my lack of moral uprightness.
How can we be sure of our salvation? How can we know that we have “passed from death into life” (3.14) – once again we may observe John’s emphasis on LIFE? Assurance of that life comes because we see that we now love our sisters and brothers in Christ. It has become a delight to us when we happen to meet a fellow believer on the train or bus. We love to gather with other Christians and share the joy of God’s amazing love with them. Let us pray and work to foster such love within our local churches and fellowships!
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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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