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1st John (2011)

Testimony

1 John  5:6-12

Lesson audio

A Side Note

The reader who is following these lessons in the King James Bible will notice a substantial disagreement in the text. In particular, between verses seven and eight there seems to be a lot more material in the King James. The reason for it is this: when Erasmus, the scholar who put together the first comprehensive Greek text for the New Testament, was doing his work he came across this passage as being disputed. Only two manuscripts supported the inclusion of the extra words; one of those was highly suspected as a fraud. Erasmus, trying to err on the side of caution, included the text for the simple reason that it seemed to him to provide a better argument for the existence of the Trinity. Scholars since that time have been almost unanimous in labeling this a late insertion, largely motivated by the fact that the Vulgate has a similar insertion. This insertion, or its lack, does not really affect the doctrine of the Trinity. It does affect the meaning of the passage, however; it is also a great example of how textual modifications can be identified and corrected.

Testimony

1 John 5:6-9 NASB  This is the One who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ; not with the water only, but with the water and with the blood. It is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth.  (7)  For there are three that testify:  (8)  the Spirit and the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement.  (9)  If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater; for the testimony of God is this, that He has testified concerning His Son.

The Nature of Testimony

If you've ever had to serve on the jury, the nature of testimony is probably very clear to you. Someone comes up, purporting to know something about the matter, takes the oath that he will tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth — and proceeds to tell you his story. The key to this is that word, "someone." Testimony is something which is delivered from a person. That testimony — outside the courtroom — might be entirely symbolic. That's particularly true when the one doing the testifying is God. Most of us don't get the "open up the sky and deep bass voice tells you" kind of testimony. But that doesn't mean God has left you without such things.

Testimony is distinguished from evidence by the fact that evidence is something which does not come from a person. The fact that Joe's fingerprint is on the jar is evidence; testimony is when I tell you that I saw him run out of the house with a smoking gun. The distinction is important because most people, quite logically, accept evidence as being fact. How Joe's fingerprint on the jar might be a matter for testimony; the fingerprint is evidence. Evidence pretty much forces itself upon you. Testimony you must decide on: accept it or reject it.

Ark of the Testimony

One of the places where God gives his testimony is in the Ark of the Covenant, which is also known as the Ark of the Testimony. Take a look at this diagram:

Ark of the Covenant

It's basically a box, and the box has a lid. The angels are sitting on top of the lid, the cover is down between them. Inside that box is the testimony of God against the Israelites:

·         Aaron's rod — the testimony that God selects the leaders of Israel, not men. He reminds them of their rebellion by including this.

·         Manna — he reminds them of their lack of faith, and his consistent Providence.

·         The 10 Commandments — the reminder that God makes the rules.

Inside the ark are items which God uses to testify against Israelites. But please notice: they are covered up by the lid on the box. That lid is called the Atonement Cover. You have to look at this from God's point of view; which is to say from above. As he looks down on the ark he sees the atonement cover, but not the testimony below it. So it is a pitcher of God's mercy that he does not see their sins but recognizes their atonement.

Coherence of Truth

So for those on the jury the question quickly arises: how do we evaluate testimony? A number of methods arise for this, but they all base themselves on one central assumption: truth has only one value. In the court, the idea that something is "true for you but not for me" is considered absurd. So we evaluate witnesses on the basis of their coherence with the truth. For example, do they agree with the other witnesses? Does their testimony correspond well with the physical evidence? I submit to you there are three relatively simple tests we can apply to the testimony in any case:

·         Truth is unitary; it has only one value. This is why the ancients wanted to hear three witnesses for any event. If all three told the same story, the chances were good that they were telling the truth. It isn't 100% certain[1], but it's a good start.

·         Truth is objective. It doesn't depend on someone's feelings; it's a matter of fact which exists beyond the witness.

·         Truth is somewhat discernible. By that I mean that very often we can find the truth, but sometimes we have to admit we don't know what the truth is. In those instances we are left evaluate the testimony based on the one doing the testifying.

Triple Testimony

John, in this passage, brings forward three witnesses to Christ. In doing this he is following along with both Roman law and Jewish law. It's not like he's trying to legally prove this in a court of law, but he is trying to prove it in the court of your mind.

Water

John's first witness is "water." Remember, he is trying to convince people who are already Christians that their salvation is secure. So he is bringing to mind the experiences that they have so that they might properly evaluate their security. Let's look at water:

·         The first thing that comes to mind is baptism. One of the aspects of this is cleansing. In effect, John is asking the Christian to look back to his own baptism and ask himself whether or not by that baptism he was cleansed of his sins. The question, then, did you get a new start?

·         Baptism is also the experience by which we are "born again." He's asking you this: after your new start, did you continue to grow in this new personhood of yours?

·         One test of that comes from another expression used of water, "living water." He's asking you the question, does your life now overflow with the fruits of the Spirit? In the world see that you are a source of living water, one who knows the way to the master.

Blood

It always strikes the modern Christian as being rather strange that blood plays the part of does in the symbolic nature of worship. We think of blood is something which gets the floor dirty; if you work in a medical office it can be downright dangerous as a carrier of HIV. But the view in the first century was quite different:

·         The first use of blood is in purification. The blood from the sacrifice was used to purify any number of things in the Old Testament — Temple, Ark, tabernacle. So the question John might be asking here is, don't you know that his blood has made you holy?

·         The second use is in atonement. There is no remission of sin without the shedding of blood, the Scripture assures us. So John here reminds the Christian that Christ's blood was shed on the cross to provide atonement for the sins of the church.

·         The third use might be somewhat strange to you: it comes from the fact that the high priest never entered the sanctuary without blood. Blood is a way of access to the Father. John might be asking is here do you have access to God the Father? Are your prayers heard?

Spirit

The effects of water and blood are fairly visible in the Christian life. But when you mention the Spirit you must (obviously) be dealing with something which is internal to you. So this witness may not be too helpful in dealing with others — but it should be quite convincing do you. Let's take a look:

·         The Spirit is first and foremost counselor, pointing us to the truth. So we might ask you, are you having difficulty finding the truth? Or do you have the Spirit within to guide you into truth?

·         The Spirit "testifies with our spirit" that we are children of God. If you are confident that you are a child of God, this is the work of the Spirit – testimony if you will.

·         Finally, the presence of the Spirit is a deposit guaranteeing your resurrection. If you know you have the Spirit, you know you have Christ.

Our Reaction

1 John 5:10-12 NASB  The one who believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself; the one who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has given concerning His Son.  (11)  And the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.  (12)  He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life.

Choice

If you go back to the beginning of the lesson, you'll see that evidence leaves you no option about what you believe. Testimony, on the other hand, leaves you with a choice: believe it, or reject it. It's fairly obvious that if you believe the testimony and accept it, then you have the evidence necessary for Christian faith. That much is pretty obvious.

If you don't accept the testimony, however, it's not just like accepting someone's opinion about who's going to win the football game this afternoon. Not accepting the testimony has consequences. In particular, you are calling God a liar. That is a most serious step. Most of those who do this would like to tell you that they just didn't believe the Christian. I submit to you that this is not really the case. John is not talking the unbeliever here; he is talking to the one who believes — but has doubts. What he's telling you here is this: if you have doubts, and therefore refused to commit yourself to the Christian life, you are telling God he lied to you.

What makes us really dangerous is the usual reason for not accepting this testimony is that some human being told you something to the contrary. So you not only calling God a liar you are telling him that his word is worth as much is that human being over there. Think this one through folks; this just might be what Ray Stevens called "a great example of a bad idea."

What Is the Testimony?

So that we may be clear on this, let's review just what this test he is about: eternal life. Please remember that eternal life is an attribute of God, for God is eternal. What were saying by this is that God has given us a chance to partake of that same eternal existence.

This testimony is given also to convince us that the life in question is given through his Son, Jesus Christ. So we now have an attribute, we have a method. And that leads us to a result: eternal life. I now point out to you that this is a binary result: you either have eternal life for you don't. The fence on which you wish to sit is razor-sharp. For those of us who have eternal life, it is the best possible news.

Hell

What may strike you as strange is that John, the apostle of love, is pointing this out. You might expect that Peter, the fiery member of the disciples, would bring the subject up. The impression is that John is just too nice to do that. But let me ask you a question: is it loving to ignore heaven and hell? If you know the right answer, shouldn't you share it with those in danger of hell? That's the punch line. John is convincing you of the security of your salvation so that you may spread it to others.



[1] Especially if your witnesses are named Larry, Curly and Moe.

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