John’s Emphasis on Truth and Action

We’ve had a short hiatus with posts to go along with our readings, but we are back. (And if you needed something to tide you over, we did have a couple worship services that, as always, draw from the readings in both the times of prayer and preaching.)

We’re finishing up the trio of Johannine letters this week with 3 John. While there is a great satisfaction with finishing a good, long book, finding a good, short book is wonderful, too. And John comes through for us three times. And his short books don’t make them insignificant.

There are issues behind all the letters of the New Testament, and we’re pretty certain one issue for John was something like a first century Christian conspiracy theory, Gnosticism. Gnosticism itself wasn’t new and it often would morph and latch on to different ideas of the day, and Christianity was just another target. John’s repeated insistence on Jesus coming in the flesh in 1 John was a direct challenge to gnostic beliefs that Jesus only appeared in the flesh.

Gnosticism appealed to a desire to know a secret truth behind the public truth. Something hidden and kept back, and that knowledge gives you power. If you know something that others don’t that gives you a leg up. A similar draw is found within conspiracy groups who claim to see what no one else can see.

Here in 3 John the author continues to drive home that truth is still very important. In verse four he says there is no greater joy for him than to hear that the church is walking in the truth. Walking and truth go together for him. Action and belief are linked. For them to waiver from the truth of Jesus will undoubtedly lead them astray in their walk. He even name drops an example of someone doing this, Diotrephes, who is a clear example of how closely tied a belief (I am first) goes with action (put myself first). And Dio is talking “wicked nonsense”—not harmless lies, but harmful—that leads him to harm some brothers.

Yet the truth of Jesus is in contrast to the gnostics. The wonderful news of Jesus is that he came to reveal the way, the truth, and the life. What was not known in full has been shared, and the fullness of God is seen in the face of Jesus! It isn’t to be kept back and made a secret so that only the few may know. Jesus did all he did for us so we can know and experience life with God. While yes, not everyone knows this and certainly not everyone believes it, the tone of the gospel message is out of step with the gnostics who seek to maintain some level of secrecy. Jesus came so that the whole world may know the truth and he invites us to walk in it.

John through his three letters shows that link between truth and action, and frequently truth and love. There is no expectation of one without the other. Hence, he’s not content to write about these issues. That’d make it too easy to lean upon truth alone. Rather John puts down the pen, intending to be with them soon, face to face, able then to join action to his words.

Matching the tone of Scripture in the feel of music

I just love reading Scripture and hearing lyrics start to run through my head. There’s a more recent song by MercyMe that finds its lyrics in 1 John 4:4b:

for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.

Let me tell you some thoughts on the song. First the good. Any Scripture put to music is a great place to start. Music has an incredible ability to help us remember the holy words of the Bible, and we need any help we can find to store them up. We want an overabundance of God’s word in us. So the fact that this song focuses on this as its chorus helps me recall this good news and that is great.

Another good of this song: the tone. Just because a song has Scripture-soaked lyrics doesn’t mean the tone matches. Not all of Scripture is upbeat, and to sing a lament with your toes tapping doesn’t quite match up. But these words of 1 John can have that uplifting feel. We are confessing God’s greatness and how he is greater than the difficulties we’ll face out in the world. In 1 John he’s writing about false spirits and antichrists. So this is like a rallying cry. Something we need to remember again and again. We have a knack at forgetting what we believe to be true and we need that constant refreshing. So a song like this can do well when we direct it inward and keep telling ourselves that God is greater.

1 John does have plenty to say for how we should Iive and love. The call of the Christian is a high calling. But ultimately it is about what Christ has done and he is greater than any other so-called powers.

(Now I’ll quietly say my one persnickety nitpick. I’ll put this whole paragraph in parentheses to further downplay it. Skip if you’d like. The refrain is this long “in the world.” Or more accurately, “in the wooooooooorld.” You can listen below. That tone is strange because the part that is held out repeatedly is talking about the the false spirits in the world and “he” who is out there with power. He’s likely talking about Satan. God in us is greater than Satan, or any demonic forces in the world. If I write a song that says “God is greater than Satan”, I’d try to avoid repeating “Satan” in a soaring chorus. Anyways…)

Again, this song helps me remember that God is greater, and for that I am appreciative. Give it a few listens and let that victorious truth lift you up.

MercyMe – Greater

Our Stunning Ability for Self-Deception

Our focus passage this week was a shorter selection with only a handful of verses from the end of chapter one. But in those few verses we see what I believe is a progression of deceit.

In the context of our sinfulness and subsequent confession, John looks at three lies and their implications.

Verse 6
If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.

Verse 8
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.

Verse 10
If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

The first is an example of someone who is sinning yet claiming such sinful behavior is good. They walk in the darkness, but call the darkness light. In a somewhat similar vein the second example is an equally foolish position, claiming to have no sin. Since all of us have sinned and no one is righteous, the only way to claim to have no sin is to again call good what is truly evil. The third example again claims that we have no sin, and this gets to the implication that if we have no sin, we need to savior. If we have no need for Christ then we have made him and God out to be liars.

I don’t think John is going through an abstract hypothetical here. I think he brings these points up because he has come up against similar claims. So he lays it out plainly, showing the reader the ability sinful humanity has for deception. In verse six “we lie”, verse eight “we deceive ourselves”, and in verse ten we go so far as to “make him a liar.” We lie to others, lie to ourselves, and portray God as a liar.

The second one really struck me when I studied this before. Our lies will carry us to the point of even lying to ourselves. One translation renders it that “we fool ourselves” and another that “we lead ourselves astray.” We repeat a lie so often that we begin to take it as truth. What an indication of the effects of sin in our own lives and our inability to judge what is right. We can fooled with no one to thank but ourself. It is one thing for someone else to try to deceive us, but we easily go along with our own lies.

Really think about that phrase: deceive ourselves. What is key to being able to deceive someone else? You know something that they do not. You are aware of the lie, but they are ignorant. If the other person knows the lie, your chance to deceive vanishes. So how in the world could we play both parts? How can we taken in by deceit in such a way!? How can I both know the lie and believe it? But again, I think this is revealing of our fallen nature and how we are in such dire straits thanks to sin. We are enticed to believe just what we want to believe and in pursuit of that, we’ll swallow just about anything.

Perhaps this could get too detached from reality, but John gives us great examples. If not self-deception what is it when we claim to be in the light or to love God yet we hate our brother? (1 John 2:9 and 1 John 4:20) To love God is to love our neighbor and follow his commands, so how can we claim to be loving him and following him while at the same time hating the ones he came to save?

Let’s not let that last question be rhetorical. How? Because we feed ourselves lies. We deceive ourselves into thinking we can do whatever it is we’d like to do. We believe all that we do is good, and even the sin we commit is thought of as walking in the light.

We need to be reminded by books like 1 John of what is true. We need to be reminded of what is in the light and not to do so by following some inner light found within me. To seek truth and not some knock-off, second rate, unsatisfying counterfeit, we need to steep ourselves in the Bible, surround ourselves with wise sisters and brothers, and desperately and humbly seek God in prayer. If we acknowledge that we, like anyone else, can fall victim to such self-destructive self-deception, then we know we need others. I can’t do this on my own, and left to my own devices I’ll be so much more likely to weave my own truth. I need and we all need to submit ourselves to God’s Word, and seek to test ourselves according to it.

What Kind of Love the Father has Lavished Upon Us

1 John is a book that hits on a number of topics, but love sure is one of them. It could be tempting by the time you reach chapter three to just gloss over all this love talk. But if you do you’d miss a beautiful line of Scripture. I actually like the sound of the NIV so I’ll quote from there:

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!

Our understanding of love is defined in many ways through passages in this book as we’re told what love has done, who has loved first, what love should look like now, and so on. But this line has such simplicity and profundity. God’s love for us is visible in the fact that he would call us his very own children. The Christian understanding of how we relate to God is amazing in that fact. There is not some distant God who cares little for the affairs of this tiny world. We do not have a God who tolerates us because of what we do for it. Our God loved us before we ever could and calls us his children. We are no long slaves to sin and bound to death, rather we are rescued from that peril and are God’s sons and daughters.

We are not merely saved from sin then left in a position always needing to please a capricious God who could easily reverse his judgment. No we are saved from sin and saved for God himself. He is faithful to his promises and has adopted us as his children, an action that cannot then be undone. What love God has truly lavished upon us that we are his own, and how overwhelming it is when we fix our mind upon the fact that we are his beloved.

A Letter on Love: Welcome to 1 John

We have now finished our history blitz, at least according to the calendar. Some of you now find yourself wondering what to do with a mere five chapters to read this whole week. Not long ago, if you divided it evenly for each day, we were reading six chapters per day. Others have no idea who these over-achievers are that I’m talking about and are looking forward to this week being when you finish out 2 Chronicles. That is a good plan, too.

Either way, don’t forget we are in a different genre with 1 John. Take your time. Ask yourself what issues may have been present that caused John to write on these specific topics. If you only have 1 John to read this week, try reading it once through in a sitting and the again slowly. See if that helps you to get a sense of the larger message. There is plenty packed in this short book–we spent almost a whole year studying it not that long ago!