Time To Do It : 1 John 4:13-5:21
The People of God: Studies in 1 John November 27, 2005
I have a big task this morning – recap 1 John, complete our study (which is about a chapter and a half), and launch us into the Advent season… so let’s pray!
Context and Review:
We started a study of 1 John in September, looking especially to find answers to the question: “what does it mean to be the people of God?” We’ve had 8 messages, and have seen that being the people of God means that:
• we are a forgiven fellowship (1:1-2:2)
• we are a people who have assurance that our actions of love are evidence of a transformed heart. (2:3-14)
• we have a love that is permanent, and we have a foundation of truth revealed by the Spirit. (2:15-27)
• we are deeply loved children (3:1 – “How great is the love the Father has lavished”)
• we love with actions and in truth (3:16-22)
• Sue – we are one (3:18-24)
• we are not naïve, but rather test the spirits (4:1-6)
• the love of God is made perfect through us. (4:7-12)
There has been a very consistent theme throughout – love. We are going to see that same theme in our last study in 1 John 4:13-5:21. Obviously I’m not going to go verse by verse, so let me pull out some big themes.
In 4:13-21, John’s focus is on the idea of “abiding”. He has talked about it earlier, but here we find a significant deepening of his thought: it is reciprocal. It is mutual. Earlier he has talked about us “abiding in him” (eg 2:28). Now John makes it very clear, three times, that it goes both directions: “13 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Saviour of the world. 15God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God. 16So we have known and believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.”
The idea of “abide” is to stick with it, to remain, even through difficulty. It makes us think of choosing to stay because we need to, we have determined to, and because we know in the end it will be best. Here is good news: as we abide in God, God abides in us. God is committed to us, He has chosen to stick with us even when it is hard, He has determined to remain in us. You are never alone. Never without power. Never abandoned. It will never be too hard, too unmanageable, or too overwhelming. Because it will never be you or I on our own. God abides with us as we abide with Him.
There are three ways this becomes a reality, and although we haven’t pointed it out they have been three themes that John has mentioned repeatedly. First, we see that God abides in us “because he has given us of his Spirit.” God abides in us through the reality of the Holy Spirit at work in each of us Second is through the truth about Jesus: “in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God”. Both are at work, and both must be in balance.
I remember one Saturday many years ago that a bunch of friends and I decided we should learn how to kayak. One of us had taken a couple lessons in a pool and so we figured she could teach the rest of us, and so we rented some boats and headed out to a lake and hopped in. When it was my turn, I pushed out from the dock and then leaned right to take a powerful stroke with my oar. And immediately I flipped upside down, and got stuck underneath the kayak. Thankfully, we had had a lesson on how to get out of the kayak upside down, and my presence here today is evidence that that lesson stuck and it actually worked. You see, I had no balance – and I got swamped. The same is true in our spiritual lives. We must always keep spirit and truth in balance, and in fact both lead to one another – the Spirit leads us into truth; and truth leads us to experience the Spirit. Spirit without truth is raw emotional experience; truth without the Spirit is dead religiosity of the type Jesus condemned in the religious leaders of His day. As soon as we get out of balance we flip the boat and are quickly drowning.
I said there was a third way that the mutual abiding becomes a reality, and that is in obedience. This is the theme in 17-21, where once again John links our love for God with the way we treat one another. His point is that as we abide in God and God in us, our actions of love for one another will demonstrate the reality of mutually abiding between God and us.
The idea of obedience continues in the first part of chapter 5: “2By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. 3For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, 4for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith. 5Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?”
Here is the point: obedience brings victory. In John’s words, we “conquer the world”. It is not difficult to understand – if we obey God, we conquer the world. By “world” here John means everything that opposes God and seeks to bring misery to our lives. Our faith in Christ means that we win, we are victorious, we are conquerors.
Here again we find the need for both truth and the Spirit – the truth is that we are conquerors through our faith, and it is the Holy Spirit that leads us into that truth in the reality of our daily lives.
Asking and Listening: (5:14-15)
Let’s jump down to vs 14-15: “14 And this is the boldness we have in him, that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 15And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have obtained the requests made of him.” John is talking about prayer, and in a very positive way teaching us to pray “according to (God’s) will”. This is the key to seeing answers to our prayers – to pray according to the will of God.
How do we do that? How do we know, in a particular situation, what God’s will is, and therefore how to pray? Let me answer that two ways: first, we know what God’s will is by studying His Word. Now, of course we are not going to find a verse in the Bible that tells me what school to send my son Thomas to, but I am going to find instruction about my responsibility as his father to teach him, to be involved in his life and education, to find the balance between protecting him from evil and being a positive influence and a light in the world. From those principles, I am free to choose and then to pray not that God would tell me what school to send him to, but rather that I would be a good teacher as a father, that God would shape him into Christlikeness, and that God would shine through us as a family into a dark world. Those are prayers prayed with great confidence that we “obtain the requests made of him.”
The second way is to listen in prayer; to ask God what His will is and to join Him in doing it. I often find myself beginning prayer by asking for guidance from God in how to pray, especially for people I care about in difficult situations. Has God done everything He needs to do through the difficult circumstance, so that I should pray it ends? Or is there more God needs to do to break someone and reshape them into Christlikeness, so that I should pray along those lines.
The point is that effective prayer doesn’t end with us just pouring out our desires to God. That is a good place to start, God wants to hear what is on our hearts and minds, but it cannot stop there. Prayer isn’t done when we’ve said our bit; we then must let God mold our desires and requests so that they are in line with His will. That is when we see the incredible power of prayer shaping us and shaping our world.
“The Son of God Has Come”: (5:20)
The last paragraph in 1 John states three things that “we know”. I’m only going to point out the last one: “we know that the Son of God has come”. This leads us straight into our Advent season, our season of waiting for Jesus, anticipating His arrival not just in Bethlehem but in our lives and our priorities and in our frailties.
We have seen, over and over in 1 John, the primary place of Jesus. Everything hinges on this simple statement, “the Son of God has come”. That is where love comes from. If we believe that, if we accept that by faith, then our response must be to love God and one another deeply, wholly, and with self-sacrifice.
This brings to an end our journey through 1 John. Now one thing remains – to do it. For each of us to take this repeated command, to love God and one another, and put it into practice.
Some of you have maybe found this series a little repetitive. The letter is quite focused on this one theme, of a deep love for God and a deep love for one another, and I have been coming back to that same theme again and again as well. Do you wonder why John is repeating this thought so often, or why I am repeating it so often? There are two reasons: first and most important is because love is the central story of God and of life. Jesus brought it down to two things – love for God and love for others. The good news is that that God so loved us that He gave. John’s epistle is all about that. It is worth repeating over and over because it really is the main message of all of Scripture and of all of God’s interaction with humanity.
There is a second reason I have spent so much time on this theme: I believe we have just begun to put this depth of love for God and one another into practice. So far I think we only have a taste, an inkling, of what it would really be like if we lived out the love that we have seen in 1 John. I do see it and celebrate it and rejoice in it like we did on Thanksgiving Sunday. Yet as I study 1 John, I see how much further we have to go before we really see that love of God transform us as a church to Christlikeness. There is a lot of it here at Laurier – but I still haven’t seen it go so deep in us that we have become like Jesus – willingly and gladly suffering for one another. Willingly and gladly sacrificing our wants for one another in a consistent way. Willingly and gladly putting others’ needs ahead of our own in a consistent way. Willingly and gladly laying down our lives for one another. Again let me reiterate – I do see the love of God manifested in our community, and it fills me with hope and joy and a desire to continue to pour my life and my love into our church. But I read of a deeper love in 1 John. I haven’t yet seen us broken by our selfishness and fickle love for God and for one another. I haven’t yet seen us repent of the ways we have said and thought hurtful things to others. I haven’t yet seen us speak truth in love and in humility and in a way that brings forgiveness and reconciliation. And I haven’t yet seen us be united in a deep love for God and a deep love for one another. So I keep preaching it, and trying to live it in my relationships, and may the grace of God break us, convict us, forgive us, purify us, mold us, and empower us to know and experience and live out the depth of love to which we have been commanded.
Here’s why: I can imagine what that would be like to love that deeply; can you? Can you envision what it would look like to be a part of a church that loved the way 1 John commands us to love?? How the moment you walked through a door you knew the presence of God, how you would look and see people from very different backgrounds and experiences relating as equals without pretension or hierarchy, how you would never hear a negative comment whispered behind someone’s back, how the moment God’s Word was opened the entire congregation was tuned and eager to hear what God wanted to communicate, how the moment we went to prayer you knew that this group believed they were in the very throne room of the God of the universe and knew that they were welcome there, how the moment we started to sing songs of praise you knew it was with all the heart and mind and soul and strength that we have and out of gratitude for the fact of breath and voice with which to sing. Can you imagine helping create a church that “is patient, is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6(it) does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (1 Cor 13:4-7). What would that kind of love do to our church and our community and our world?
My friends that is not some lofty, unattainable vision. That is the very basics of what we have been commanded to be out of love from God and for God. And that is why I keep preaching about God’s love for us and our love for one another. It needs to start with you, not the person beside you – let God worry about them. Each of us need to look just at ourselves and the depth of our love for God and one another, and make changes there. Because when we start to really live this love of which John speaks and we see in Jesus, there is nothing on earth that could possibly stop it. People’s eternities, including our own, will never be the same again. That, to me, is extremely exciting.
Here is how: first let the Spirit and the truth reveal to you exactly where your love is currently. Let God convict you of the people and places you have not loved, confront that sin and the destruction it has caused to you and to others and grieve it. Next find forgiveness, from God and from others. Already some of you are saying “too hard… sorry” – and I respond by saying go back and read 1 John and see if you have any other choice. Go back and read the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection and decide if you want to have any involvement in salvation, and then decide whether or not you want to obey God’s very clear call to a high standard of love. And then, when it feels impossible for you, remember the truth we started with: as you abide in God, God abides in you. You and I cannot love like this in our own strength; we cannot ask for forgiveness and offer forgiveness if it is just us trying our hardest. We don’t even need to try – God is faithful, the Son of God has come, the Spirit of God remains. Through God’s strength and power, we can be conquerors. We can be the people of God, so consumed by the love of God that our lives, our families, our church, our community, and our world is forever changed. Let’s do it today.