Saturday, 30 October 2021

Romans 15:4 - Teamwork and God's Word for all: Reformation day 2021

Audio 

Studiocam



Introduction

We’re taking a short (one week) break today from our regular series in 1 John to look at a contemporary issue.

I imagine that with COP 26 starting in Scotland this weekend you’re already thinking ‘he’s going to go on about the Environment a bit …

Not quite this time!

You’ll have heard that the Queen isn’t well enough at this time to go to Scotland for this conference and I’m sure we’ll have been remembering her in our prayers as the Scriptures teach us to, whether we are monarchists or not.

But have you heard that although the Head of the Anglican Church can’t make it to the conference, the organisers have managed to make sure the Pope is in town?

Well, I only know because he was doing the Thought for the Day on radio 4 on Friday morning … but he is.

Which is a tiny bit relevant to the fact that around the world today (this Sunday) Bible believing Christians are celebrating Reformation Day.

            •          Reformation Day

Reformation Day is a Protestant Christian religious holiday celebrated on 31 October, coinciding with All Hallows Eve (which others have turned into Hallowe’en … something very different.) 

Reformation Day exists in remembrance of what most of the school history books say is the start of the Reformation … the big ‘Back to the Bible’ movement of the 1500s all across Europe

 

The date for Reformation Day is chosen because according to Philip Melanchthon, 31 October 1517 was the day German monk Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-five Theses on the door of the All Saints' Church in Wittenberg, Electorate of Saxony in the Holy Roman Empire. 

The thing is, I’m not sure God entirely bases his work on just one man’s ideas in the way a lot of the books write this story up.

Let’s look at a verse for that … and we’ll work that verse out through the teaching of our verse of Scripture today which is Romans 15:4 

“For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.”

            •          Romans Context

Paul’s letter to the set of house churches around Rome seems to have been written while Paul was in Corinth, probably while he was staying in the house of Gaius, and transcribed by Tertius, his amanuensis.

The precise time at which it was written is not mentioned in the epistle, but it was obviously written when the collection for Jerusalem had been assembled and Paul was about to "go up to Jerusalem to minister unto the saints", that is, at the close of his second visit to Greece, during the winter preceding his last visit to that city. 

Therefore, the majority of scholars writing on Romans propose the letter was written in late 55/early 56 or late 56/early 57.

That puts this letter bang in the middle of the reign of the tyrannical Roman Emperor Nero (54–68 A.D.) 

Nero was at this time, though, still young and had not yet murdered his mother, faced up to Boadicea’s revolt in England nor kicked his pregnant wife to death. Allegedly.

This letter WAS however written at a time of cruelty and pagan excesses, immorality and violence whilst the Roman world during a time of rapid social change … an age of turmoil that would lead to a lot of unrest after Nero’s death.

It is written to believers from all strata in society, living in unsettling times at the heart of Rome’s evil Empire with an unstable young emperor at the helm.

            •          Romans content

Some of you have heard me summarise the content of this letter to the Romans before, but it pays to have a clear outline of this (Paul’s last and longest letter, and his great magnum opus) clearly established in our minds.

In that social context where there are SO many social issue, moral issue and instances of social injustice to tackle, Paul side-steps those to deal with the strings of the heart and the soul, which when properly tuned will adjust the melody of the heart and re-orientate the dance of life.

He starts with the heart of the human problem, which is the problem of the human heart … and he sets out what GOD has done (not what mankind has done) to address the very heart of the problems with the world.

I doubt if they’ll get anywhere NEAR these at COP26 this week, but even where the Climate Crisis is concerned, it seems to me that the human heart lies at the heart of the climate change problem, and that in itself is why science on its own won’t change our warming world.

To summarise the context of the verse we are looking at today, the main sections of he letter look like this:

•           Romans 1-3 All of humanity is in the same storm, and we are all offered the same lifeboat … There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”

 

•         Romans 4-5 The ‘We are Sons of Abraham so don’t need your Gospel of Faith objection’ – met by the Scriptural teaching that actually Abraham was NOT justified by keeping the Law but by faith (Romans 4:3)

•         Romans 6-8 The immorality objection which says that if you are justified by faith you don’t need to behave properly … met by the Biblical teaching that faith and REPENTANCE go hand in hand (Romans 6:22, for example)

•         Romans 9-11 The Jewish objection which says that God promised salvation to the Jewish people and if it is now on some other basis God is unfaithful to His covenant … basically Paul shows that ethnic Israel has stepped out of the covenant and that ‘not all of (ethnic) Israel, are truly Israel’.

•         Romans 12-15 Life in the Lifeboat … Paul spells out in chapters 12-15 the implications of living within the life that justification by grace through faith alone brings  

•         Romans 16 - The Fellowship of the Lifeboat 

In Romans 16 Paul reviews all the folks in the Roman churches who have been together in the lifeboat … fellow believers in and therefore workers for this gospel … because if you believe it, then you will see how important it is, what good news it is and how important it is that people get to hear and know about it for themselves.

You see, the way the Reformation gets communicated in school history lessons and often in TV programmes about it and so on is as if it was down to one man, Martin Luther, being a bit of a lad and nailing some stuff to a church door because he’d got annoyed with the pope.

But in fact it started way back before that as scholars started to translate books like Romans, the Biblical Scriptures (the ‘everything that was written in the past’ in our verse today) into language that first of all the educated people and then as they passed it on and taught ordinary people to read, the delivered it to the masses in the sort of language that also the ordinary people could understand.

The message we really need to get across this Reformation Day is this:

The Reformation (which we commemorate today) wasn’t so much Luther’s work as Bible work and teamwork … Gospel work is always teamwork as that final chapter of Romans so clearly portrays.

And this is an example and delivers an exhortation to us to do likewise.

Teams have leaders, for sure, but God works through His people in fellowship together around His Word.

Long before Luther turned up on the scene, there were at least four men who led up to this big back to the Bible movement, and a good number came after Luther’s initial bombshell to put some shine on the job too.

And then Luther was himself part of ‘the Big Three’ … Luther, Calvin and Zwingli.

But they were all doing one thing … improving the job of doing one thing.

There’s a Reformation Day ‘extra’ that I’ve produced showing the principles of the Foundational Four and the Big Three leaders of this huge Back to the Bible movement that did so much to shape modern Europe which you’ll find in the podcast and the blog but the basic issue is this … 

 

The Reformation was all about the Word of God and putting it straight to the ordinary people that motivated the Foundational Four (Wycliffe, Waldo, Hus and Savonarola) then the Big Three (Luther, Calvin and Zwingli) along with all of these other guys they reached and that they motivated into action … and they did this with their plain, simple Gospel and Bible teaching.

And that’s the thing the Reformation illustrates and that any other Back to The Bible movement which bring spiritual renewal is characterised by and draws its power from.

Lay people.

Ordinary people.

And the leaders of the churches - acting possibly loosely but together - using their training and their gifts of intellect and rhetoric to put Scripture and give empowerment to use it to ordinary people, convinced themselves and convincing EVERYONE of the truth of our text today, which I’m now about to come to …

    •        More than one man, v. 4a

Everything that was written in the past

Paul has dealt with the potential for Jewish believers to argue back against the Gospel of God’s grace in the context of a growing Gentile element in the Christian churches of Rome from chapters 4-11.

That’s a huge lot of effort in just one book.

But now Paul explicitly affirms the value of Scripture whether it was old or apostolic.

It’s worth just reminding ourselves of what Paul is trying to say in the context of the text we are looking at here:

“We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves.

2 Each of us should please our neighbours for their good, to build them up. 

3 For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: ‘The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.’[a] 

4 For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.”

Paul is writing about nurturing the weak with the strong in the churches of Rome as the outflow, the consequence and the fruit of the doctrine of justification by grace through faith alone.

In doing so Paul notes that this will require believers refraining from pleasing themselves and instead pleasing their neighbour to build them up.

That’s something we need to keep hold of in church life … 

And then Paul highlights the Lord Jesus’s doing just that Himself to encourage US to do it.

Next, Paul quotes a verse from the Old Testament, from Psalm 69:9 to back up the Lord’s example … Old and New testaments working together, Old Testament writers and Gospel writers working together, to show how the Psalmist and the Saviour hung close on this issue of not pleasing themselves but serving the Lord first.

And THEN Paul writes our verse about the ‘hang together-ness’ of the foundation of the Apostles and the Prophets:

“For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us …”

Christianity, genuine Christianity, takes us back to the ‘personal experience of the Living God Who speaks plainly through His Word’ sort of faith that was recovered at the time of the Reformation.

It’s a faith of clear, plain language Bible and walking close with the God Who speaks in His Word.

It is not an innovated faith but a rooted one …. rooted in the speaking and the walking with His people that God has done through godly men across continents, cultures and history.

A God Who is consistent with His Word and His revealed character as He has spoken His Word to His people and as those inspired by the Spirit to write Scripture passed His Word on.

The word used in the text here means all that was written beforehand here the word used is προγράφω

… it became a technical term for all the Scriptures …

It is fascinating how much of what we’ve illustrated from the sixteenth century Reformation is covered by this word!

Everything that was in God’s written, set forth Word in times past … 

And what that Word of God and what those Scriptures written beforehand do is they don’t just make an interesting museum-piece.

Those Scriptures work in a particular way for a particular purpose which was CRUCIAL for the well-being of the believers living in the city of Rome as we’ve already described it for you in the early years of the reign of Emperor Nero …

They work … not just to gather an interest group or a supporters’ club, but to do specific extremely helpful things for those who feast on them

         •        More than a Movement: v. 4b

Endurance and Encouragement

“so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide …”

Well we know something is going to come from this first thing they do but let’s hold it there just for a minute …

Everything written in the past … Old Testament and New Testament Scriptures which were really coming together by the time Paul wrote this last letter of his, and which the leaders of the Reformation took us back to … 

This ‘everything that was written in the past’ Paul refers to was written to produce endurance and encouragement.

Endurance is taught and encouragement provided IN THE BOOK!

            •          Endurance

We tend to think that the Fellowship of the Lifeboat is what gives us encouragement … you’re not on your own, you’ve got people with you .. that sort of idea.

But Paul’s point is that you’re not on your own when you’ve got GOD with you, speaking His love, life and truth to your heart through His Word … strengthening you inwardly as He speaks with you by His Spirit from His written Word day by day.

THAT is what gives you endurance.

That is what makes pressurised Christian like the ones in Nero’s Rome to LAST … to persevere through the persecution and the pressures of every day.

‘Endurance’ here is ὑπομονή

1) steadfastness, constancy, endurance 

1a) in the NT the characteristic of a man who is not swerved from his deliberate purpose and his loyalty to faith and piety by even the greatest trials and sufferings 

1b) patiently, and steadfastly 

2) a patient, steadfast waiting for 

3) a patient enduring, sustaining, perseverance

(Drop me an email if you think you don’t need that?

Thanks!)

Everything written … Scripture … from the past was written so that when we put it in plain English (or whichever is the language of a person’s heart) and give it to people or when we grasp it and read it prayerfully and dwell on it, then consistently it produces in God’s people eternal endurance.

It was given to give us endurance and it was written so that:

“through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.”

 

            •          Encouragement

``through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.”

Now, who is it who doesn’t need encouragement?

But look, the word here is redolent of things more Biblical than therapeutic or congratulatory.

 παράκλησις – this word covers exhortation, admonition, and encouragement as well as persuasive discourse, stirring address – an instructive, admonitory, conciliatory, powerful exhortation.

It CAN mean the sort of thing that makes you feel good about doing something, but it often means the sort of pick me up that GETS you up to go again.

‘Encouragement’ actually puts the courage back into you, and it covers pep-talks, correction and coming alongside a person to give help.

If you’ve spent any time Reforming your own life lived with the God Who speaks in his Word, then you’ll have experience of just exactly how it does that. 

The Reformation took God’s people back to that.

And we need this functioning of God’s Word in our lives, producing endurance and encouragement for a reason, which is where Paul goes next in this verse.

The reason for living as a person of God’s Word is that together we as God’s people hearing from God’s Word might have HOPE!

         •        God’s Word: v. 4c Bringing hope

“… everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.”

Let’s be frank about this.

Just humanly let alone spiritually speaking, it is almost impossible to continue to live without hope.

Just let that factoid sink in for a moment … it is almost impossible to live without hope of one sort or another.

You can even just about live without love … if you hold out HOPE of it.

But it is almost impossible to live without hope.

Cling to hope!

Paul writes to tell the pressurised persecuted Christians in old Nero’s Rome that it is through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide that we might have hope.

it is through the encouragement and endurance taught and brought to them by God’s Word that

τὴν ἐλπίδα ἔχωμεν …  that hope we have

ἐλπίς – hope in the Christian sense of hope. 

It refers to the joyful and confident expectation of eternal salvation.

And this hope born of dwelling close to the God Who speaks in plain language, through his team of servants, over time, from His Word … which is what gave the Christians tortured to death by Nero the encouragement, endurance and hope to be sustained through that, and what gave the leaders of the Reformation’s great Back to the Bible movement all they needed to bear their sufferings in the cause of the Gospel, and what gives you and me the strength to follow the Lord in the way of His Word through the experiences we face day by day.

         •        Conclusion

Spiritual life in the Old Testament, in the New Testament Apostolic era, in the great Reformation-era Back to the Bible movement and in our own spiritually poor days SPRINGS from, FLOWS from group led, popular level exposure of men and women to the doctrines of grace set out clearly and plainly in God’s Word, producing the encouragement and endurance and hope that empowers and invigorates spiritual life.

It is NOT funky worship that does this … although that helps.

It is NOT great learned preaching that does this … although if that takes us to the heart of God in His Word in ways we can grasp, then that certainly is going to help.

But it is street level, engaged and engaging proclamation of the everything written in the past that is described as the Word of the God Who cannot lie.

Or as the Lord Himself put it in a time of great trial:

Matthew 4:4

“Jesus answered, ‘It is written: “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”’

Even He lived on the accessible and plainly taught Word of God, and as He dealt with the devil quoted the Bible at him from Deuteronomy chapter eight and verse three.

And if that’s where He lived, then this Reformation Day and every day, then how very surely should we?

Saturday, 23 October 2021

1 John 2:7-11 - Light and Love in a toxic environment

 Audio


Studiocam



Introduction

Have you noticed over the last year or two how much NASTIER the world seems to have become?

The way people have become more verbally volatile, pouring out hostility and hatred?

Now this may be a feature of people’s frustrations at the COVID lockdown, or the pressure the pandemic has put on the economy, or the way newspapers have become much more vitriolic in the way they express themselves, or the increasingly polarised policies and statements that we find littering politics and public life.

But there’s no doubt in my mind that the immediacy of human communications through social media or email … where you type something expressing hasty frustration quickly and hit the button … and then it’s too late, has played a very significant part in fanning the flames of all of this.

And there’s no doubt in my own mind that the fear of death lurking beneath the surface in many people has come up for air and is both breathing in the oxygen of fear and blowing out the flames of animosity from tongues that have been kindled in the recent stresses and strains that our society has known.

Bottom line: the people of our land have not processed their stresses but passed them on and the world around us has got a lot nastier.

There’s just one more twist in the tail of this and it is very much on the point with what John is saying to those house churches spread around the rural areas surrounding Ephesus in our passage in 1 John 2:7-11 today.

The divisions of the multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-faith society they were living in there (and I’m suggesting that we are living in HERE) have permeated the church.

Not just the divisions, the divisiveness.

What we are now living here as they were there is the polluting effect of sin in society.

The Biblical understanding of sin from the Old Testament sacrificial system onwards sees evil as having at least two clear effects.

There is a DIRECT effect of our evil … as in the sort of situation where a person steals from another person they create an injustice for their victim.

But there’s another INDIRECT effect, because they haven’t just ruined the relationship by their action, they have also ruined the ENVIRONMENT of the relationship … creating a lack of trust, emotional damage, relational vandalism.

So Old Testament people needed to address not just the direct injustice they’ve done but the damage to the overall societal environment that they’ve caused as well … which was done through the symbolic provisions of the Old Testament sacrificial system.

In the Bible, the relational vandalism is described as polluting or defiling the land and making it ‘unclean’.

         Tolerated sin makes and leaves the land polluted, defiled and ‘unclean’.

So, in the Temple the priest would ritually wash away this uncleanness on the whole people and land by sprinkling the sin offering’s blood in various places around the Temple.

The sprinkling of the blood is a visual representation of how God is cleansing away these indirect consequences of sin, purging away the evil in their community.

In our current cultural situation, people do deny the reality of the direct consequences of their sin because they don’t like the implications of having to turn from cherished sin to follow Christ.

But there is somehow still a dislike of and revulsion from the relational vandalism, the toxicity of the environment where sin is not renounced and atoned for.

People are generally more willing to confront the indirect consequences of sin than the direct ones.

I’m suggesting, then, that it is the indirect consequences of cherished sin that we see appearing in the culture’s vandalisation of human relationships.

It’s polluted our culture not to be dealing directly with sin, because neither the direct nor the indirect effects of sin are covered.

And I’m also suggesting that people genuinely don’t want to be living with the social media, print media and a cultural mess of hatred and evil which has come to defile our land …

Sin’s direct reality has not been getting dealt with.

It’s been getting denied and re-named out of sight in so many inventive and different ways amongst us.

‘Purification’, as the Old `testament described it, is what’s needed.

You can discover more about all of this in the short Bible Project video on Sacrifice and Atonement  HERE

And so, John writes:

“Dear friends, 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 that you have already heard. 

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 but still hates his fellow Christian is still in the darkness. 

10 The one who loves his fellow Christian resides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him. 

11 But the one who hates his fellow Christian is in the darkness, walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes.”

1 John 2:7-11

So in the first section of our passage (in vv. 7-8) John is writing about the point his readers have arrived at in the history of salvation …

1)   The drawing together of the Old and the New, vv. 7-8

“Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning. This old command is the message you have heard. 

8 Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and in you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining.”

What’s going on?

a)    The Old

“Dear friends, 

I am not writing you a new command but an old one, 

which you have had since the beginning. 

This old command is the message you have heard.”

i)  Change?!

What John does here is starting to explain the continuity and discontinuity between Christian moral life and the previous, Old Testament-based situation.

John is doing this delicately and lovingly, because we all find change difficult to adapt to, and we all find living consistently in the light of changed ideas to be even more difficult to take on board.

So, for example, it is a lot easier (humanly speaking) to persuade someone from legalism to grace intellectually than it is to see their affections, response and instinctual responses moved across from legal ones to ones moulded and motivated by God’s grace to us in Christ.

ii) Affection

So John writes, gently and lovingly: 

Ἀγαπητοί

Now, historically ἀγαπητός has been translated: beloved, esteemed, dear, favourite, person worthy of love.

Language changes and ‘beloved’ has become a confusing translation to choose now in our language, but ‘my great friends’ or ‘dear friends’ is now a better way to go.

And that’s right and proper, isn’t it?

Shouldn’t Christians who are adopted into the family of God by our Heavenly Father and therefore now brothers and sisters both aspire to be and be growing into being ‘dear friends’?!

It is not always so, and it has especially not been so as Christians have interacted online through the pandemic as differences have come rapidly to the fore about all manner of non-Kingdom of God issues have been questioned with Gospel and Biblical reasons being adduced at one another fairly freely and in public (social media) full view.

Or so it has appeared.

And in a situation where Christians around Ephesus are taking positions and falling out in this way, John takes them to this apparently niche area in Christian theology of the contrast between the old knowledge and the new.

 

So, in 1 John 2:3-6 John addressed how love for God was to be expressed and then in 2:7-11 John shows how love for ones’ brethren is to be expressed … in these verses we’re now looking at.

John reminds his readers that what John has just written about - the person who knows God must keep God’s commands and the person who ‘abides’ in God must live as Jesus did - is not a new idea but an old one.

This was essential even in the Old Covenant … John refers to these old commandments as the ‘message’ you heard in time past … ὁ λόγος ὃν ἠκούσατε … which looks like a reference to the ‘Ten Words’, or as we say in English ‘The Ten Commandments’ of Exodus 34:28 and Deuteronomy 10:4.

There is a common Christian misunderstanding here that we ought to just touch on in that we can tend to think of the Law of Love as a purely New Testament idea, but the heart of the Old Covenant lay in love for God and love for others … 

Deuteronomy 6:5 says “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.”

Leviticus 19:18 says “‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbour as yourself. I am the Lord.”

When challenged as to what the greatest commandment in the Law was, the Lord Jesus turned to these two pillars of the Old Covenant requirements … to love God with your entire heart and soul and to love your neighbour as yourself.

Now, recognising the centrality of the love command in the Old Testament (as well as in Jesus’ teaching) helps us understand what it means that John’s readers had this command ‘from the beginning’ … 

Now, of course, there was the love command in the Old `testament, but it had developed quite a bit by the time the New Covenant came about.

So I’m reckoning that this ‘from the beginning’ is mainly about their first awareness of the Gospel at the beginning of their Christian life.

John’s point seems to be that the command they have had from the beginning goes back to Jesus … but then further back in a less well-worked form to the covenant God had with early Israel

To that extent, John wasn’t writing a TOTALLY new commandment to his readers.

And yet whilst this is all true, I’m not sure it exhausts the point John is making in this exact location, though.

It’s quite different in the Old Testament because in the OT the ten commandments have a setting in the covenant between God and Israel at Sinai; they were the stipulations that Israel had to observe if the nation were to be God’s chosen people.

You see, in John 13:34-35 Jesus says this:

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

The idea that love is a commandment is interesting, of course, because we tend to see it as what happens when you give a lady a box of choclates … obviously it’s the brand the TV ads are telling us that makes all the difference!

 Well, there was the love command in the Old Testament, but let’s look at what happened with the New …

b)    The New

“Yet I am writing you a new command …”

In speaking of love as the new commandment for those whom Jesus had chosen as his own (John 13:1; 15:16) and as a mark by which they could be distinguished from others (13:35), John shows that he is thinking of this scene in covenant terminology. 

But notice that the disciples are to love one another “Just as I have loved you” (13:34). 

Now, the love Jesus has for his followers cannot be duplicated by them in one sense because it effects their salvation, since he lays down his life for them. 

His example of love is an act of love that gives life to people, and that is not for us.

But in another sense, the Lord’s followers can follow his example (remember John 13:1 speaks of the Lord having loved His disciples now at the final stages in His life loving them ‘to the end’? 

Also relevant to this are 1 John 3:16; 4:16 and the interpretation of Jesus’ washing of the disciples’ feet in John 13:15 has the Lord saying: “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” 

So it is in this way Jesus’ disciples are to love one another: They are to follow his example of sacrificial service to one another, and that is going to mean serving one another all the way up to death if necessary.

On the one hand John highlights to these Christian believers the continuity of what he is saying with what they’ve already had revealed to them through the Old Testament and through the ministry of Jesus. 

But on the other hand, he is showing that the circumstances in which that command must be applied (the hostility that has broken out amongst the believers around Ephesus with false brethren being very uncharitable from within the congregations) are new circumstances.

So as Karen Jobes puts it: “John’s apostolic teaching is nothing new and novel, but is the culmination of, and consistent with, what God has been saying all along.”

c)     The Authority for the New

This new command is authentic and built on a quirky-sounding basis of authority …

(v. 8) “I am writing you a new command; 

its truth is seen in him and in you, 

because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining.”

So, the authority for this new command (which he still hasn’t told us yet) is in the life of the Lord Jesus and the new life of the readers which they have received in Him

And it is evidenced in that the life of Jesus and the new life in Christ of these believers in the Ephesus area shows that the darkness is passing, and the true light is already shining.

Now, we do sometime hear people talking about God ‘doing a new thing’.

That sounds great and we all want God to break out in power that is as yet unknown to us and therefore new to us.

But all too often there is no basis in God’s Word and in God’s previous promises and dealings with His people for what they are talking about.

And what we’re being told about as a new thing looks pretty much like a different thing.

I have no problem with God doing a new thing … bring it on!

But I think we do need to have a problem if we’re being asked to be enthusiastic when He’s claimed to be behind the doing of a different thing.

John has been at pains to show this is God doing a new but not different thing.

We need to move on …

What IS this new but not different thing, John, that you are telling us?

2)   The New – the era of the Light Warriors, 

vv. 9-11

 

The last verse just dealt with the evidence in the life and ministry of Christ and the new life in Christ these believers had received for accepting the authority of this new command John is about to give.

But the tangential truth to that is this huge point about both those things (Christ’s life and work and the salvation of these folks around Ephesus) is they evidence that the light has already come (rather than merely being something promised and hoped for in the eschatological future) v. 8 “because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining.”

It shone in Christ, is now shining in the believer and the importance of both those things is that the cosmic darkness that has shrouded and blinded humanity to God and to all that is good is ON THE RETREAT as they live their new life consistently in Christ …

But ARE these guys the light bearers and the darkness banishers?

Are the folks you are looking on as part of the same band of brothers and sisters?

Because believe it or not, there are fakes out there … and they can be more obvious to people outside than inside the visible church.

a)    Fake Light Warriors, v. 9

Look here at v. 9:

“Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness. 

Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble. 

But anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness. 

They do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them.”

Oh - wow! 

We didn’t see THAT one coming!

There was all this binary ‘either light or dark’ stuff.

That was simple, clear-cut and manageable.

Them versus us with us winning.

Cool.

But it just got complicated.

And it got complicated because there are fake light warriors i amongst the real ones.

You CAN spot it … at least, there are tell-tale signs of the phenomenon, but you’ve got to stay sharp.

b)    True Light Warriors, v. 10

“Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble.”

The bottom line is that ‘to remain in the light’ means to remain in God because He is light.

Two particular sorts of statements (predicative nominative statements) are made about God in 1 John.

God is Light comes in 1 John 1:5, then

God is Love comes along in 1 John 4:8

What John does … watch this, it is very godly magic is this …

John brings the ethical and moral … the discipleship … impacts of those two theological statements to bear on the everyday lives of his readers here.

Quite simply, to remain in the light demands that a person loves their brother or sister in Christ.

(Think pandemic, the press, our politics and … the stuff that happens on your laptop).

The second part of this verse (after the first bit about loving your brother or sister as a professing Christian shows you are actually walking in the light) goes on to say “… and there is nothing in them to make them stumble.”

This is a really important thing to take note of.

καὶ σκάνδαλον

And a stumbling block

 ἐν αὐτῷ 

In him (in whom? In the individual who walk in the Light, i.e. with God in Love like Jesus …)

οὐκ ἔστιν

There is none of.

John is saying that Christ’s sort of love shown towards one another in the visible church puts no ‘rock of offence that causes them to trip up and stumble’ in another person’s path.

There is a whole world of back-sliding pain here in this period of the Pandemic, as warm, loving light warrior type Christian people haven’t been able to meet and express the love of Christ to one another as the hunger for fellowship between light warriors has waned … the warmth has gone, and love has waned.

But secondly the LACK of love, disappointment in the lack of love has grown and more people have faced living with a declining awareness of the Light overcoming the darkness for them and of the reality of the perception that the discipleship there is real because as the Lord Jesus Himself taught His first disciples:

““A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

John 13:34-35

You can have as many clever Christian apologetics lectures and evangelism courses and whatever in your church as you like.

But if you don’t have this New Covenant love for one another as professing disciples of Christ the light is not going to be winning out and the darkness is not going to be pushed back as souls are saved because (in spite of every available clever argument) it is by your love that all men will see and grasp what a genuine discipleship to Christ looks like.

The hard reality of sleep-walkers amongst groups of apparent believers is the hard reality that John is trying to get these early Christians to lay hold of … early Christians who lived, remember, in times of harsh comments, and times with clear parallels to ours.

So, John puts it on the line …

c)     Sleep-walkers, v. 11

“But anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness. They do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them.”

1 John 2:11

Let’s boil this down.

“Hate for others is moral darkness that is inconsistent with a God Who is light”, says Karen Jobes at this point.

John has already highlighted that hating a brother or sister constitutes walking in darkness, and thinking otherwise doesn’t change that fact (see v. 9).

John has also said that it is love for a fellow believer which demonstrates that one is remaining in the light (tat’s v. 10)

And if God is Light (1:5) and God is Love (4:8, 16) then walking in the light cannot be separated from love for one another.

The person who does not replicate Christ’s love for fellow believers is a person who is walking around in the darkness making noises like they can see where they are going but they can’t.

And the behaviour of those sleep-walkers … claiming to be able to see (sometimes able to see what we CAN’T see) is causing people to stumble and fall spiritually because it is the opposite of what models Christ’s magnetic love in this world.

Conclusion

Darkness is not neutral … just another point of view.

On the contrary, it causes moral and spiritual blindness and takes people away from the Lord Who is Light.

It is NOT OK.

And darkness is the evidence and reality of the absence of God in a person’s life.

And a lack of love … let alone hostility to a brother … is what evidences it.

What’s more, from the Old Testament picture of sacrifice and atonement we know about the reality not just of sin but of the relational vandalism it causes.

So, in a society where sin is tolerated as ‘another point of view’ (it certainly is another point of view) and therefore LEFT ALONE (that is, unchallenged by exposure to the light) then you do get the sort of relational vandalism that we have begun to see sprouting across the pages of our newspapers, the digital news media and across our online social media sites too.

And what DO we see?

We see those who shine light being silenced, ostracised, mocked … of course if we seek to shine light in a way that is not (as it were) ‘lit up’ with ad by the God Who is both LOVE and Light, then to some extent we might deserve what we get.

I think that really needs to be said.

However, what I have sought to do today is to account Biblically for the rising tide of verbal and relational vandalism … the hate … that we have witnessed throughout our recent political and pandemic era, and also alongside that to deal with the tendency to want to point a very bright light at brethren when 1 John says Light and Love are the character of God that we must reflect, because HE is the One that His genuine people follow and they will therefore model light and love in their human interactions (particularly with their brethren) in a proactive and fellowship-building way.

In fact, our passage today is saying, THAT is the hall-mark of genuine Biblical faith.


DIY Sunday Service Kit - 26/06/22 - Testing the 'Voices' and matters of 'Legacy'

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