Summary: We cannot live our lives without the guidance and companionship of Christ; but then, when we have that guidance, we will either share it for others’ benefit or we will let them stumble in the darkness.
Without question one of the most challenging periods of parenting is that time when a baby is first learning to walk. This is the time when you have to work at child-proofing the house. You put barriers across the stairs; you put stoppers in all the electrical outlets; you hide as many wires as you can. And, as my wife and I found out when friends visited, if you value your potted plants and the lovely Williamsburg pottery in which they come, you don’t put your plants on low tables. Down will come baby, Norfolk pine, and all!
Learning to walk is a wonderful time of exploring and growing and extending themselves for young children. For the first time they aren’t quite so limited as to where they can go and what they can discover. Those first stumbling steps have some great surprises for baby and some frightening moments for Mom and Dad. I think we still have a coffee table that has teeth marks on it made by little ones learning to walk, but stumbling and falling.
I wonder if Dr. God’s Baby Book can instruct us about what happens to baby Christians taking those first stumbling spiritual steps. You’ll remember that last week I suggested to you that the First Letter of John could well be called Dr. God’s Baby Book, because it’s so simple, it’s so straightforward; it’s addressed to children. It’s written for growing Christians. And, I said, the problem is, that, like most baby books, we read it too late. We read it after we’ve already blundered into growing up. But let’s at least read it now and let it teach us.
Dr. God’s Baby Book this morning will give us instructions about walking and about taking those first stumbling steps.
In these verses, I hear the apostle John giving us two very basic principles about the Christian walk: first, that we cannot walk entirely on our own, but we have to walk in relationship with, in companionship with, Jesus Christ, or else we will stumble. And second, that if we can see anything at all, if we have any light or understanding at all, our walk will either offer guidance for somebody else, or our walk will lead that somebody else into stumbling and falling.
On our recent vacation, one day I was sitting on a park bench waiting for my wife to clean out yet another souvenir shop, and my eye was caught by a father and his tiny little daughter making their way along the path. The little girl was obviously very new at this business of walking. Her fragile hand was captured by her father’s hand, and she was so short and he so tall that she was almost lifted right up off the ground. She took about five fast little mincing steps for every one of his long, easy strides. They made quite a picture.
But I also noticed that every now and again, he would drop her hand and let her go on her own. I would say that within about ten seconds, every time he let go of her hand, she would dart off in some totally unpredictable and unacceptable direction. And, of course, Dad would have to catch her and get her in hand again. Off toward the traffic; here comes Dad, to keep her out of harm’s way. The next time, off toward the river, and here comes Dad again. A little freedom, a few stumbling steps off in the wrong and dangerous directions, and then father’s guiding hand – that’s the way that child was learning to walk.
I want to suggest that that is the way Christians learn to walk spiritually too. Christians learn to walk by putting ourselves into the guiding hands of our God. When we do that, we will learn that God gives us some freedom, freedom which we very likely will misuse. But just having the strong hand of God nearby keeps us safe during those first stumbling steps.
John says it so simply and yet so profoundly, "Whoever says, ‘I abide in him’ ought to walk just as he walked." "Whoever says, ‘I abide in him’ ought to walk just as he walked."
Learning to walk, you see, involves those first stumbling steps of freedom, and it involves learning to use our freedom, learning to choose our freedom, in relationship to Christ. As we grow and mature, our God is like that father I watched; he gives us as much freedom as we can handle, and then he snatches us back from danger, but then he gives us a little more freedom – and a little more freedom – and a little more and a little more. The trick is, as you and I get our freedom, the task is to learn to use it, learn to choose, in freedom, to do what we would do if his hand were holding us tight. "Whoever says ‘I abide in him’ ought to walk just as he walked". Whoever lives in relationship to Jesus Christ must learn how to choose and use freedom.