05/12/2013 - 1 John 5:1-21 – Whoever has the Son has life
The Christian gospel can sometimes sound very arrogant – as if we Christians alone have the answer to all of the world's problems. John makes a bold statement of this sort in 1 John 5:12 when he says, "Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life."
We need to be careful that such statements do not lead to arrogant and intolerant attitudes. This is not a statement about Christians – that we've got it all right and everyone else has got it all wrong – it's a statement about Christ. In equally striking fashion, John says of Jesus Christ at the end of his letter, "He is the true God and eternal life" (5:20). There is no one else like Jesus: He is the true God come in the flesh; he is Immanuel, "God with us". He is the source of true life: resurrection life; eternal life. He is the one who said, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6). As C S Lewis said, one who can make such statements cannot be brushed off as a wonderful teacher or fine moralist; he is either mad, or he is bad, or he is truly the one he claims to be. It is the unique person of Jesus Christ who stands at the centre of the Christian message.
So, when John says “"Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life", he is reminding us that Jesus is the source of life – eternal life, “God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son” (5:11). To embrace him is to receive life. This should not be the source of arrogance and intolerance but of humble thankfulness and praise. It should also make us determined to live the life that is ours in Christ – to turn away from sin and to live for him.
Moreover, we will want to invite the world to come and find life in Jesus – life in all its fullness. John writes, “this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son” (5:11). This is our testimony and this is the message we have for a world that is under the deadly control of the evil one (5:19). Far from having a sense of superiority, we should be marked by the compassion that moved John Wesley often to say, "Let me commend my Saviour to you."
John concludes his letter with the plea, "Dear children, keep yourselves from idols" (5:21). There is no one else like Jesus Christ. We need to make sure that he is the unrivalled Lord of our lives.
Lord Jesus, we recognise that there is no-one like you. You are the one in whom the living God has appeared in a perfect human life; we want our lives to be filled with the life of God; we want to live the life that appeared in you. You became the atoning sacrifice for our sin; we thank you that we are forgiven and welcomed into the embrace of Father God. Help us to turn away from all that nailed you to the cross; keep us from sin. You were raised from the dead; we thank you that, in fellowship with you, we share in that resurrection life now and we shall know that life in all its fullness when you appear. You have overcome the evil one; help us to overcome his malevolent influence in this world – to push back the dark realm of his kingdom with the light of your presence. Help us to keep ourselves from idols and may our testimony to you be used to turn many others from idols to serve the living and true God.
04/12/2013 - 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.
03/12/2013 - 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 us; 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.
02/12/2013 - 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 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.
01/12/2013 - 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 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 to 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.
30/11/2013 - 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.
29/11/2013 - 2 Peter 3:1-18 – The day of the Lord
We are entering the period of Advent, the run up to Christmas in which we focus our minds on the coming of the Lord. During the 400 years between the Testaments, godly Jews must have wondered when the promised Messiah would come; others would have mocked their hope with the scoffing accusation, "Where is this 'coming' he promised?" But, when the time had fully come, God sent the Saviour into the world to the accompaniment of angels and the joy of those like Simeon and Anna who longed for his appearing.
The Saviour who came to earth in Bethlehem has long returned to heaven. But he has promised that the day will come when he will return in power and in glory and that every knee shall bow to him. Before one hundred years had passed there were scoffers who said, "Where is this 'coming' he promised?" (2 Peter 3:4). How much more does the promise of Jesus' return seem simply ridiculous to many today.
Nor is that mockery reduced by misguided attempts by Christians to predict the time when Jesus will come again. I have a fourth edition of John Wesley's Notes on the New Testament, printed in Bristol in 1768 – when John Wesley was 65 years old. At the very end of the book, appended to his notes on the book of Revelation, is an outline of world history. It concludes with the beast ascending from the bottomless pit in 1832 and the destruction of the beast and imprisonment of Satan in 1836, ushering in the Millennium.
Today it is all too clear that John Wesley was unwise to place such dates against future events. Indeed, someone reading this final page of his Notes might conclude that the whole book is unreliable – if he got this wrong, why trust him on anything else?
Jesus told us that no-one knows the timing of his return and Peter here reminds us that God’s time-scales are different from ours. Notwithstanding all the bad press, we can be sure that the day will come when Jesus will return, to the delight of those who have longed for his appearing and the dismay of those who have mocked the promise of his coming. Peter encourages us to go on trusting in the promises of God and to look forward to the return of our Lord Jesus Christ.
And there’s a reason for the 'delay' in his return. Peter tells us that, "The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance" (3:9). This is not an age of inactivity; not a time during which God is leaving the world to its own devices. Now is the age of salvation, the time during which God is at work by his Spirit to bring people into his kingdom that they also might look forward to Christ's return (see 3:15). Nor is it to be marked by inactivity on our part: "You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming" (3:11b-12a). We are not only to look forward to the coming of Christ; we are to 'speed' his coming by being active in the work of the kingdom and seeking to draw others to Christ.
Lord Jesus, we thank you for the season of Advent. We look forward to the day of your coming and to the transformation of all things at your appearing – “to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.” We look forward to the day the whole of creation will share in the glory of your resurrection life. Help us to prepare the way for your coming – to speed your coming by praying and working towards the day when the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.
28/11/2013 - 2 Peter 2:1-22 – Lot
2 Peter 2 is a rather dark chapter, a chapter chiefly about the judgment of God. Buried in the midst of the gloom is the promise that "the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials" (2:9). As evidence to support this assurance, we are reminded of how Lot was rescued from Sodom before the judgment of God destroyed that city: "he rescued Lot, a righteous man, who was distressed by the depraved conduct of the lawless (for that righteous man, living among them day after day, was tormented in his righteous soul by the lawless deeds he saw and heard)" (2:7-8).
Certainly Lot was rescued, but the description given of him in 2 Peter does not seem to fit well with the narrative of Genesis. In this letter, Lot is described as a righteous man who was continually distressed and tormented by the conduct of those around him, while in Genesis we read of Lot choosing to live in Sodom and being most reluctant to leave. How can both of these pictures be true?
Sadly, both pictures can be true. Godless conduct can often hold a fascination and perverse attraction for the godly; the very things they profess hateful and distressing they are also reluctant to leave behind. Sodom seems to have held such a perverse fascination for Lot. This righteous man, despite living in the city for some years, had no effect on its inhabitants; God was not able to find ten righteous persons in the city.
The world in which we live is filled with all manner of evil and godlessness. Jesus calls us to live in such a world – it is the world into which he came as Saviour. He calls us to love this world not with an envious love but with his own transformative love. He calls us not to wring our hands at its godlessness while being held captive by its values. He calls us to be salt and light, to bring the transforming power of the kingdom into a lost world. God longs to find many righteous persons in our cities. He wants us not only to be righteous but to be agents of righteousness – those through whom godliness becomes fashionable.
In his valuable little book, The Practice of Godliness, Jerry Bridges writes, “Godliness is no optional spiritual luxury for a few quaint Christians of a bygone era or for some group of super-saints of today. It is both the privilege and duty of every Christian to pursue godliness, to train himself to be godly, to study diligently the practice of godliness… Godliness is more than Christian character: It is Christian character that springs from a devotion to God.” Jerry Bridges argues that such devotion to God “is composed of three essential elements: the fear of God; the love of God; the desire for God.”
We are called to live such lives not simply for our own sake – that we might escape “what is going to happen to the ungodly” (2:6). It is not the matter of perfecting personal piety but of bringing the presence of God into a world that has turned its back on him. We are to live godly and attractive lives for the sake of others – that they too might be saved.
Take a moment to think about those whose lives and words have encouraged you to live for God. What were the characteristics of their lives? How did they have an influence on you?
Think now about how your life might have an influence upon others.
Lord Jesus, make me more like you. By the power of your life within me, may my life have a transformative influence on others. May they also come to know you, follow you and rejoice in your salvation.