Peter Misselbrook's Blog
05/12/2020 - 1 John 4:1-21 – We live through him

The gospel, indeed, the whole of Scripture, centres in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Not surprising then that those who wish to undermine the gospel frequently deny key truths about the Lord Jesus. John warns his readers about “false prophets” who were travelling around the churches seeking to gain a hearing and a following for their own views. You can spot these false teachers, says John, by their denial of the incarnation; they deny that Jesus was God become man.

There may have been some who claimed that Jesus was divine but denied that he was really a human being (a form of early Gnosticism). Perhaps they claimed to be more ‘spiritual’ than orthodox teachers by asserting that the Son of God from heaven was a spirit who simply appeared in human form – perhaps entering Jesus at the time of his baptism and leaving just before his crucifixion. Such people, says John, are not spiritual at all for the Spirit of God testifies to the Lord Jesus Christ as God come in the flesh.

Maybe there were others who taught that Jesus was a wonderful man – maybe the wisest of men and greatest of the prophets, come to point us to God – but he was no more than a man. These too are condemned by John for denying Jesus’ divine origin.

Why is all of this so important? Isn’t it just so much theology? Well yes, it is. It is theology in the true sense of the word; it is talking about and knowing God. God has revealed himself in the Lord Jesus Christ in all his glory, humility and grace. To fail to recognise God in Christ is to fail to know God.

Secondly, God has revealed himself in the Lord Jesus that the life of God and love of God displayed in him might be displayed in our lives also. John writes, “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:9-10). We need to live in this love (4:16). This means confidently basking in the gracious embrace of God’s love towards us in Christ – a love that will never let us go. But it also means that we must be willing to embrace others in their need. The love of God cannot be contained within us, it must flow from us and embrace even those who seem unlovely and unlovable – for that is how God has loved us.

And this is what the world needs. In 4:12 John writes, "No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us." The implication is that when we love one another we reflect the character of God and make him visible to the watching world. God's love has appeared in Christ so that, as we live in him, God's love is made visible through us also (see again 4:9).

"Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God" (4:7). It’s a word of encouragement that we need to hear again and again. The life of God that became incarnate in the Lord Jesus is to become incarnate and visible in us as we live in Christ.

Lord Jesus, remind me ever afresh of your great love for me. You have shown me the inestimable love of God. Help me to reflect that love in my attitude towards and care of others that they may see something of the life and character of the living God and feel the wonder of your love.

04/12/2020 - 1 John 3:7-24 – Love beyond words

One of the central themes of 1 John is love. The world may talk a lot about love and sing endlessly about love, but it is Jesus who shows us what love really means: "This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters" (1 John 3:16). Love is not self-preoccupied; it is concerned about the welfare and blessing of the one(s) loved. Jesus’ love for us moved him to leave his throne in glory and come into this world to save us. He laid down his life for us, taking the punishment that our sin deserved. Now he calls us to lay down our lives for others. We are to love one another as he has loved us; to be more concerned about the welfare of others than we are concerned about ourselves.

What does it mean to love as Jesus loved? John writes, "If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth" (3:17-16). John challenges us to do more than talk about love – whether it is love for God or for others. Love is not a matter of sentiment or feeling, it is seen in action – “Love is a verb,” as one writer has put it. Without acts of love, our profession of love is just empty words.

We often want to place limitations on Jesus command to love. We draw a line around our immediate circle of family and friends; loving them is demanding enough at times, surely we cannot be expected to love others outside this circle? Jesus did not restrict his love to those who were close to him; he loved us when we were rebels and sinners; he loved us when we were far off from him. Jesus calls us to love like that – even to love our enemies!

The call to love regularly disrupts our own priorities and plays havoc with our plans; it is an inconvenient command. It robs us of our pretence to independence and self-sufficiency. It reminds us that the Christian life is not a solitary life of contemplation; it has to be lived out in relationship even as it has its origin in the relationship we enjoy with God through Christ.

We do not have the power to love like that. It is only as Jesus lives within us by his Spirit that we are enabled to walk as he walked, to love as he loved.

It had gone on for three years. Three years of patiently teaching and doing good with only misunderstanding and hostility in return. He wanted to say: 'I quit, I don't need this.' But instead he said: 'Not my will but yours be done.' A few hours later he hung on a cross, nails cutting into his limbs, lungs struggling for air, crowds spitting venom. He wanted to say: 'I quit. I'm coming down.' But instead he said: 'Father, forgive.' He kept going until he could cry, 'It is finished.'

Jesus is the perfect person, the true image of God, the glory of the Father. And God's agenda for change is for us to become like Jesus. (Tim Chester, You Can Change)

Father God, thank you for embracing me in your love and making me part of your family. Help me to love others as Jesus, your Son, has loved us. Help us to love one another extravagantly and freely that the love of Christ might be made visible in our shared life.

03/12/2020 - 1 John 2:18-3:6 – We shall be like him

"See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!" (1 John 3:1). We are greatly loved children; loved so much that God gave his Son for us. John wants us to marvel at this lavish love of God.

And not only has he given his Son for us, he has also given his Spirit to us, “you have an anointing from the Holy One” (2:20). The Spirit pours out the love of God into our hearts and assures us that we are children of God. So John encourages those to whom he writes to go on following Christ and not to be led away by any attractive but deadly teaching that would draw them away from him; “See that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father. And this is what he promised us – eternal life… As his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit – just as it has taught you, remain in him” (2:24-25,27).

The Spirit (this anointing) teaches us more of Christ and helps us to grow in likeness to him. So, says John, by this same Spirit, remain in Christ and go on following him. And do this in the knowledge that the best is yet to come. Already God owns us as his children because of Jesus. But his work of making us like his Son has only just begun: "Now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure" (3:2-3).

Some might be tempted to argue that the pursuit of holiness now is just too difficult and demanding. Why bother? We know that God accepts us as we are, and we know that he will make us perfectly like his Son in the day when we stand with Christ in glory. What more is necessary? ("Let us continue in sin that grace may abound"?) But John won't allow such twisted logic for he tells us, "All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure." Our hope is in Christ and we long for that day when we shall be perfectly like him. This hope, this longing, calls us to go on following him; pursuing the hope we have in him. We want now to be more like what we shall be when he appears.

And the same truth applies to our attitude to the world in which we live. We cannot write off this world and simply wait for the new world that Christ will create at his coming. What we hope for in that day will shape our prayers and endeavours day-by-day now:

As we pray and work for Jesus’ world, as we seek to repair the damage we have done and as we preach the gospel to all creation, we may catch glimpses of how things will be one day. What we are part of now can only ever be the palest reflection of that day, but just imagine all the best things of this world, all the most beautiful, most inspiring, truest and loveliest things in all creation, combined with the glorious perfection of God’s presence in heaven. Imagine God once more making his home amongst human beings (Revelation 21:3). Imagine creation set free from its bondage to decay, all things released from death and suffering, and earth and heaven reconciled to God. As followers of Jesus, let this be our vision, and let this be our mission. (Dave Bookless, Planetwise.)

Father God, help us by your Spirit to grow more like Jesus even as we shall be made perfectly like him when he appears. Help us also to bring something of the world to come into this present world that your will may be done on earth even as it is done in heaven.

02/12/2020 - 1 John 2:1-17 – Walk as Jesus walked

Jesus calls us to follow him; to walk in his steps; to live a life that reflects the life that has appeared in him. The proof of our discipleship is our imitation of the Master. In particular we are to love one another; to love each other as Christ has loved us.

This is a big ask and John knows that we will frequently fail to live up to our calling. John is honest about the imperfect nature of our present discipleship. We are called to live Christ-like lives – to live without sin; to live a life of love – but we do sin and will continue to sin. John tells us in the passage we read yesterday, "If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:8-9). In today's passage John provides us with further assurance, "If anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father – Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world" (2:1-2). Jesus died for us that our sins might be forgiven. Now he lives for us as our advocate with the Father, ensuring our continued acceptance with him even though we fall short of all that we should be.

But we should never become habituated to sin; never fall into excusing sin or resigning ourselves to its inevitability. God's purpose remains that we should not sin; that we should walk as Jesus walked.

The love which God has shown us in Christ and which he has poured out into our lives (2:5) is to be poured out again in love for others; we are to love one another as Jesus has loved us (2:9-11). We are to encourage and help one another in the great business of following Jesus. Older Christians are to encourage younger Christians from their long experience of knowing God and walking with Christ. Younger Christians are to encourage older Christians with their energy and enthusiastic love for Jesus that enables them to overcome the evil one. All are to encourage one another in the knowledge that our sins are forgiven and that we are much loved children of God with nothing to prove either to each other or to God. (See 2:12-14.)

And we are to encourage one another in resisting the attractions of this present age with all its dazzling but hollow and fading allurements. The love of God is to fill our lives and leave no room for any conflicting loves – it’s as if it reserves all the space for the things he loves. We are to set our hearts upon the solid joys and lasting treasures that are ours in the Lord Jesus Christ (2:15-17).

But we are not to keep ourselves secluded from the world. John reminds us that Jesus gave himself not only to save us from our sin but also to save the whole world (2:2). God’s love embraces all that he has made; he loved this world so much that he sent his Son into the world to rescue it from disaster. Walking closely with the Lord Jesus demands that we love the world as he loved it and still loves it. We are to show the world the love of God in the prayerful hope that others may also be drawn to trust in the Lord Jesus and follow him.

Father God, we thank you for your great love for us shown to us in the Lord Jesus. Help us by your Spirit to love as you have loved and to walk as Jesus walked. May the world see something of Jesus in us and be drawn to him.

01/12/2020 - Introduction to the first letter of John

Who wrote these letters?

Many scholars argue that the Epistles of John have a different author from that of the fourth Gospel. However, Howard Marshall, having carefully considered the various arguments concludes, "These considerations show that there is little reason to attribute the outlook found in 1 John to an author of different outlook from that of the main body of the Gospel. It is, therefore, possible that both works come from the same author. In any case, however, the Gospel and Epistles stand so close together in terms of theological outlook that they must at least have been written by authors who stood very close to each other."

Why was this letter written?

B F Westcott points out that the letter we know as 1 John is not really a letter: it lacks opening salutation and closing subscription. He considers it to be more of a pastoral address. 

John writes to a church disturbed by false teachers. By the time John writes they seem to have left the church (2:19) but still have contacts with members causing them to question whether they could truly regard themselves as Christians. John writes to provide "a careful statement of the apostolic understanding of Christianity for the benefit of his friends so that they might see where it was distorted by the seceders and confirm their own understanding of it and their place in the company of God's people." (Marshall).

The claims which John denies at the beginning of the Epistle probably represent those of the false teachers: they claimed to have fellowship with God and to be sinless (1:6, 8, 10); They may have believed that God was light and have said that they lived in the light (2:9). It is evident that they held unorthodox views about Jesus: They did not believe that Jesus was the Christ or the Son of God (2:22; 5:1, 5); they denied that Jesus had come in the flesh (4:2; cf. 2 Jn. 7); they did not see the need to obey the commands given by Jesus (2:4). It seems that they felt that they had moved beyond the elementary stages of orthodox theology to a new position of superior spirituality.

John emphasises that:

  • Faith is linked with orthodoxy – particularly a right view of Christ.
  • Faith cannot be separated from love.
  • Faith expresses itself in righteousness, obedience and avoidance of sin.
  • Faith is linked with assurance.

Such teaching is equally vital for the church and the world today. We need this call to learn afresh "that faith must rest on God's revelation of himself in his Son, Jesus Christ, that faith and love cannot be separated from one another, that Christians are called to a life of perfect love, and that they can enjoy assurance and certainty in their knowledge of God" (Marshall).

01/12/2020 - 1 John 1:1-10 – Eternal life … has appeared

John begins his first letter with remarkable words. He speaks of life having appeared; "eternal life, which was with the Father ... has appeared to us" (1 John 1:2). He says that they have seen and heard and touched this life for it has appeared not as a force or influence but in the living person of the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the one "which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched" (1:1).

It gives John joy to write to others about what he has seen and heard. He wants them to share with him in the glorious privilege of having fellowship with God through Jesus Christ. To know him is to share in the eternal life that has appeared in him. He calls us to follow him and to walk together in the light of his presence: "if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin" (1:7).

But we know ourselves. We do not always follow Jesus as we ought – we do not always walk in the light. There are times when we wander from the path he has set out for us. There are even times when we turn away from him. How wonderful to be assured that he is always ready to receive us back again; “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1:8-9). He is ready not only to forgive but to cleanse and restore, to welcome us back into fellowship.

John encourages us to face up to who we are – children of the living God through the Lord Jesus Christ, yet also those who are prone to wander and continually in need of his forgiveness. Praise God he does not grow tired of us nor does he ever turn us away.

Come thou fount of every blessing
Tune my heart to sing thy grace
Streams of mercy never ceasing
Call for songs of loudest praise
Teach me some melodious sonnet
Sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise His Name I'm fixed upon it
Name of God's redeeming love.

Hitherto thy love has blessed me
Thou has brought me to this place
And I know thy hand will bring me
Safely home by thy good grace
Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger,
Bought me with His precious blood.

O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I'm constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee:
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here's my heart, O take and seal it;
Seal it for Thy courts above.

Let's walk closely with Jesus today and take delight in telling others of what we have found in him  in the longing that they may share with us the treasure and joy of fellowship with God through the Lord Jesus Christ.

Lord, we recognise our weakness and our sin. Help us so to delight in you this day that we may walk closely with you. May something of the light of your presence fill our lives and shine from us. May we shine like lights in the darkness and illumine the way to you.

30/11/2020 - John 21:1-25 – Feed my sheep

Jesus had been raised from the dead and appeared at least a couple of times to the disciples. But now they do not know what to do with themselves. Peter tells them, "I'm going fishing" (John 21:3), and the other disciples who were with him replied, "We'll come too." So they go out for a night of fishing, but catch nothing. Nothing that is until, in the dim and misty light of dawn, a figure on the shore calls to them and tells them to throw out their nets on the right side of the boat. Now they have a huge catch which they cannot pull into the boat; they have to drag the net behind them as they row to the beach where Jesus awaits them.

The natural tendency of these first disciples was to return to the life they had known, to the routines with which they were familiar. But those routines prove fruitless; Jesus alone can give success to the work of their hands. And this remarkable catch of fish, caught at his command, is a foretaste of the harvest that they will yet secure with his help. He calls them to go fishing for people (remember Matthew 4:19).

We are no different from these first disciples. We so easily fall back into the patterns of life with which we are familiar rather than following Jesus out of our comfort zone and into the work he has for us to do.

Having provided his disciples with a cooked breakfast on the beach, it is now time for Jesus to give Peter a grilling. Peter had denied Jesus three times. Three times Jesus now challenges him with the question, “Do you love me?” Jesus does not ask Peter if he is ready now to follow him even to the point of death rather than run away when trouble comes. Jesus does not ask Peter if he is ready now to speak of him before others rather than denying him. He asks Peter whether he loves him. This is the fundamental question – a question of supreme importance for Peter and for us.

Each time, when Peter expresses his love he is told, “Feed my sheep.” Peter is forgiven and called now to show his love by following in the footsteps of his master, in life and in death, and by telling others of Jesus.

This cannot have been an easy experience for Peter. He must have felt ashamed, embarrassed and put on the spot. So, when he catches sight of the disciple whom Jesus loved he asks the question, “And what about him?” Jesus’ answer is, in effect, “You mind your own business. You are to follow me.”

We need continually to hear the same words of Jesus. We find it so easy to identify the ways in which other Christians fall short of all that they should be. We point out such failings to one another (though more rarely to the person concerned). We complain loudly of the way in which others have behaved towards us. We need to hear the words of Jesus, “Mind your own business. Follow me.”

Our business is firstly that of our own discipleship, to be diligent in walking closely with Jesus. Out of that close walk we are then to encourage others in following Jesus – to feed his sheep. Jesus command is still “Follow me... Feed my sheep.”

Lord Jesus, help me to follow you and labour for you in the fishing-work of the kingdom. Help me to feed and encourage others rather than trying to enlarge my own reputation by highlighting their behaviour. Help us then to labour side by side in the work of the kingdom, knowing the task is too great for any one of us to accomplish on our own.

29/11/2020 - John 20:1-31 – Seeing and believing

Thomas was not with the other disciples when Jesus appeared to them on the evening of that first Easter day. He just could not believe that Jesus had risen from the dead until he saw it for himself. The following week, when Jesus again appeared to them, Thomas was present and immediately confessed, “My Lord and my God.” Jesus responds by saying, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who believe without seeing” (John 20:29).

It’s tempting to take this last phrase of the Lord Jesus as a definition of true faith – faith believes without evidence. This certainly is what many would affirm concerning our faith – Mark Twain famously quipped that faith is believing what you know is not true! But such a view of faith fails to pay attention to how John’s Gospel continues. Immediately after this pronouncement of blessing by Jesus upon those who have not seen yet believe, John adds his own comment to the effect that the risen Jesus appeared on other occasions among the disciples and performed signs among them that are not recorded in his book. Nevertheless, “These things are recorded in order that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that through faith you may have eternal life in his name” (20:30-31). John does not expect us to believe without evidence. He records the things that the first disciples and eyewitnesses had seen and heard so that we, through their testimony, might believe in Jesus and share in his resurrection life.

But this is no bookish faith – like believing that Henry the eighth had six wives because we have done the necessary historical research (or at least read books by, or seen programmes written by, those who have done such research). Christian faith is not less than that kind of believing, but it is far more. It is a passionate conviction that Jesus is the Christ; he is the Saviour of the world and Lord of all. It is a passionate commitment to him.

That passionate commitment springs from the fact that we know him. When Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene on that first resurrection morning she wanted to cling on to him so that he would never be taken away from her again. But Jesus tells her, "Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’" (20:17).

The relationship which Jesus, the Son, enjoyed with the Father from all eternity, has become an open relationship – one that we enjoy with him. By the presence and testimony of the Spirit we have intimations of this reality now; we shall know it in all its fullness hereafter.

When Jesus appeared to the disciples on the evening of that first Easter day, John records that he told them, “Just as the Father sent me, so I am now sending you.” Then he breathed on the disciples saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (20:21-22). They are to continue Jesus’ work, testifying to him and to his kingdom and calling people to repentance and faith. But they do not do this work alone, for the Spirit works in them, through them and with them. He also bears testimony to who Jesus is, what he has done and to his resurrection power and the arrival of his kingdom. It is the Spirit, not the disciples, who will bring people to faith.

And so it continues, generation after generation: word and Spirit together bear witness to Jesus, and the followers of Jesus continue his work as they bear testimony to him in word and through the power of transformed lives. We speak of what we know and we speak that others also may believe and know that Jesus Christ is Lord.

Risen Saviour, empower me by your Spirit to bear witness to you in word and in how I live. May my faith be more than mere words. May it be the fire of your Spirit within me, consuming me and energising me in the work of your kingdom.

Peter Misselbrook