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1st John (2011)

I Write You

1 John  2:1-17

Lesson audio

Walk As Jesus Did

1 John 2:1-11 NASB  My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous;  (2)  and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.  (3)  By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments.  (4)  The one who says, "I have come to know Him," and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him;  (5)  but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him:  (6)  the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.  (7)  Beloved, I am not writing a new commandment to you, but an old commandment which you have had from the beginning; the old commandment is the word which you have heard.  (8)  On the other hand, I am writing a new commandment to you, which is true in Him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true Light is already shining.  (9)  The one who says he is in the Light and yet hates his brother is in the darkness until now.  (10)  The one who loves his brother abides in the Light and there is no cause for stumbling in him.  (11)  But the one who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes.

Atonement

Central to our understanding of the gospel is the concept of the atonement of Jesus Christ. This idea involves the acceptance of our own sinful nature, the fact that we can't fix our own sinful nature nor provide our own atonement, but must accept the atonement that Christ made on the cross. For many Christians the problem comes when they sin after accepting Christ. Does the atonement cover this situation?

It does; but we need to be careful in accepting it. There is a temptation to decide that — since Christ is going to forgive us anyway – there is no sense avoiding sin. Indeed, some early heretics argued that the more we sin, the more the grace of Christ abounds. Thus, by sinning, we increase God's grace! You might get away with this in a theology class, but I wouldn't try it with your mother.

In fact, the real solution to sin after accepting Christ is the fact that we have an advocate who pleads our case before God the Father. My own father told me a story about this. He was living, bachelor style, on the island on which I was eventually to be born. He had two roommates; a Catholic and a Jew. (I know this sounds like a joke, but it's not.) The Jew once told them this: "you Christians are lucky; you have someone to argue your case before God. We Jews have to do our own arguing." There something to that. Our advocate, Christ, argues for our forgiveness on the basis of his sacrifice, not our merit. There's a simple reason for this: arguing based on our merit doesn't work.

This is somewhat of a side note, but an important one. Some interpreters argue that Christ's atonement — stated here to be for the sins of the whole world — implies that all will be forgiven, and no one will go to hell. This contradicts the plain sense of the Scripture in many other places. The meeting should be clear: anyone who accepts Christ can be forgiven; it is not reserved for the right kind of people.

Obedience

The test of whether or not Christian knows God is a simple one: does he obey Christ's commands? To understand this we must first examine the verb, "to know":

·         It may mean, "To be acquainted with." We might use it in the sense that we know the way to Disneyland.

·         Or it might mean, "To be deeply aware of." We speak of people who "know their business."

The sense in which we know God is implied to be the second of these two. So how does obedience bring to us the love of God? Think of it this way: if you want just a little bit of water, you turn on the tap just a little bit. If you want a line of water, you open the tap all the way. Obedience is opening the tap of God's love. If you want to know God's love in the fullest, you must have obedience in the fullest. The question is simply whether or not you will be God's commands.

This of course leads us down one of two trails: the first trail is that of legalism. The idea is that you can memorize a set of rules and regulations that will cover all possible circumstances. If you will recall, God tried this approach with the Jews for about 1500 years without a great deal of success. Rather than this, we need to know the principles by which we can obey God's commands. We need something that we can carry with us that in any given circumstance tells us what we should be doing.

That something is "the imitation of Christ." Christ is our example; we are to follow what he does. In these days we often hear it expressed as, "what would Jesus do?" The principle is the same; Jesus is our exemplar.

Love Your Neighbor

Of course, as soon as you try to imitate Christ you quickly discover that he has certain guiding principles to. One of these is "love your neighbor." This is hardly anything new; the Jews were given exactly such a command in the Old Testament law:

Leviticus 19:18 NASB  'You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the LORD.

So in one sense this is a very old commandment. But in a very real sense it is also a new commandment, for each Christian must learn it by experience. Consistently loving those around you is not something which comes naturally. If you don't think so, spend a day with some three-year-olds in a preschool. So even though the commandment goes back to the Old Testament, we still need to learn it as if it was issued just yesterday. A commandment is something which is posted on the wall – until it is carved in your heart.

Please do not that God does not wish you to be confused about this. Just exactly how are you supposed to love your neighbor? The answer to this the John gives us is that we should "walk in the light." Put shortly, it means that God will give us that guidance to do his will if we will let him. He will show us the way. The second implication of this is that if you don't know the way, can't figure out what you're supposed to be doing, then you're probably walking in darkness and you need to give heed to your obedience.

I Write You

1 John 2:12-14 NASB  I am writing to you, little children, because your sins have been forgiven you for His name's sake.  (13)  I am writing to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I have written to you, children, because you know the Father.  (14)  I have written to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning. I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.

In the Name

The concept of the name of God being important has declined in the last few years. Older Christians will remember when obscene language was referred to as "taking the name of the Lord in vain." We can learn something from this. The original meaning does not include casual obscenity, which is so common today. It meant to misuse God's name. For example, if I give you advice that comes from my brain alone but I tell you it's God's command, I am misusing the name of the Lord. I am taking upon myself the power and authority which belong to God. That is the true obscenity.

If we look what David himself says about that, you will see that he pleads for forgiveness in the name of God.[1] The argument is relatively simple; he is appealing to God's reputation. God is a loving God, known to be merciful — and that is what David is appealing to. It's not my merit, but his reputation.

We do something of the same kind every time we say "the boss wants you to…” We are invoking a name with a certain amount of power — and we should be aware of the risks in doing that falsely. John here tells us that we have been forgiven of our sins in Jesus’ name. We are invoking the name with all authority and power when we tell others that we have been forgiven in Jesus name.

From the Beginning

Think about it: we know the God of the universe. We know the one who created all things that we can see feel and touch. Indeed, we have a deep relationship with him, often the most profound relationship human being can have. We should not forget, however, that we have this relationship solely because he permits it.

He is the eternal one. Eternal doesn't mean just "forever." It also includes being beyond the reach of time, but not beyond reaching time. The master of time and space, its creator, has come in human form to us so that we might have a relationship with him – forever. Sometimes, you just have to sit back and think about these things.

What is even more amazing is this: he wants us to call him "Father." Can you imagine such a relationship? It is beyond the human mind to comprehend the God who is so mighty and yet so loving and compassionate. That's what happens when things which are finite are use to measure things which are not.

You Have Overcome

John tells his hearers that they are strong. When I first read this, I thought how fortunate they must be — because I certainly didn't feel strong. The matter deserves a bit of explanation.

Many years ago I was staying in a hotel which had a rather limited selection of late-night television. In fact, the only thing remotely worth watching was a Russian weightlifting competition. Igor came out, looked at that massive barbell, and with appropriate noises lifted it up over his head. To clear the stage, the authorities sent out 10 Russian soldiers who struggled to take that barbell off the stage. Later on, Ivan came out to face an even bigger barbell. He lifted it. This time they sent out one Russian soldier to take the barbell away. One Russian soldier – but he had a forklift.

That's us. We have the impression that we are supposed to be some sort of spiritual weightlifters. We are not. We are to be those who are strong in Christ. We think it's our independence we must chase; it's actually our dependence.

How can we do this? This happens when the word of God lives in you. There are two possible meanings to this:

·         First, it means that the spirit of Christ is in you — the Holy Spirit.

·         Second, it means that the word of God, the Bible, is in you by your patient study of them.

John then tells us that we have overcome the evil one. If there is one thing I can convince young Christians of, it would be the reality of Satan. We have been hammered so long with the comic image of the fellow in the red tights with the pitchfork the tail that we have stopped believing in the real thing. Satan, on the other hand, still believes that he exists. And in this one instance, he may be right.

So how do we overcome the evil one?

Romans 12:21 NASB  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Love of the World

1 John 2:15-17 NASB  Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  (16)  For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world.  (17)  The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.

Not in Him

Topics in preaching come and go. One which is currently out of favor, apparently, is the thought that the question is not to love the world or anything in it. It's not that our doctrine has really changed; it just is an unpopular subject right now. This has the unfortunate result of leading the average Christian slip into the habit of doing exactly that: loving the world and the things that are in it. Let's take these one at a time.

What does it mean to love the world? The Greek word for world is the one we get our word cosmos from. We may take this to mean the entire world system. If you accept the idea that your success in this world is the most important thing in your life, it doesn't matter how you define success. You have failed. The world and the things in it are temporary; and that includes us. God tells us to focus on the things that are eternal, for we are designed to be eternal. So if your life is bound up in the things of this world — in the "rat race" — you are living your life the wrong way. The key point to get out of this is that it doesn't matter just which aspects of the world you are chasing; the fact that you're chasing any of them is the problem.

The results of chasing the things of this world are rather consistent. The problem you have is not so much that you can't get them, but that you can. And what should you do get them, they lose their appeal. If you have to have a fishing boat capable of sailing around the world, you will work hard and long until you get it. There will be a brief period of euphoria or you say to yourself, "I finally accomplished it!" Then you will find that something else comes in and chased, and the fishing boat sits at the dock. Satan approves of hard work — as long as it's working for something that has no eternal value.

The difficulty stems from the fact that the verb "to love" must have an object. It is really faith to say that someone is a loving person, or that they are full of love. It is much more accurate to say that they love someone or something. The question is, just what is it that you love? If the love of God is not your first priority, all other loves do not fall in their correct position. Surprisingly, if all your loves are second to the love of God, you find it quite easy to express those other loves. Indeed, as Saint Augustine put it, you find that you can "love God — and do as you please."

How Does One Love the World?

John gives us three categories of method for loving the world:

·         The first he describes as "lust of the flesh." It's a familiar series of temptations. In our time we strive to make women just as vulnerable to this temptation as men are. We strive to make sure our women dress so that such temptations are more common, and more intense. Sex sells; sex also is used for temptation. We go to great length to justify our attitude toward sex. If you haven't noticed, the church has ceased to preach against this.

·         The next he describes as the lust of the eyes. It means you see something, and you have to have it. It doesn't matter too much what "it" might happen to be. For some it's expensive; for some it's rare; for others it is desirable solely for the fact that it gives offense to somebody else. Sometimes it's just the desire for the fashion of the moment; remember when we put up fiberglass sheep all over town? I see it, I wanted, I must have it, and it doesn't matter what I have to do to get it. That's the problem.

·         Of course, the last is always pride, the sin of Satan. Please understand that pride does not mean a sense of satisfaction in your work; it means that sense of "I'm better than you are." If you can't gloat over it, it's probably not pride.

Transient and Eternal

The world is passing away — what does that mean? It means that the stuff in this world gets old and goes away. Some of those other fashion; some of it wears out; some just rusts away. If your mind is fixed on this world, you are seeking continually for things that are new. Even if you're an antique collector, you need the new old stuff. It is this continual seeking of what is new, rather than what is right that defines the love of the world. Satan is pleased to give you one more thing to chase until you die.

If you set your sights on things above, you understand just how fleeting the world is — and how important are the eternal things, like other people. Remember that you and I are designed to live forever; the new sports car won't. All that is not eternal is eternally out of date.[2]



[1] Psalm 25:11, for example

[2] C. S. Lewis

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