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Monday, November 24, 1 John Chapter 4
The Spirit who is in you is more powerful than the spirit in those who belong to the world. Phillips We who belong to God have His Holy Spirit to guide us, we need only listen for His voice.
This, then, is how we can tell the difference between the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error. Phillips God is Truth. Jesus said I am the way, the truth, and the life. KJV This is a major concept for the Apostle John, whether he wrote the letters before or after the Gospel does not matter. The concept of God as Truth is all over the Old Testament and for John, it became a central theme.
Paul Tillich said in one of his sermons, For us, statements are true or false; people may have truth or not; but how can they be truth, even the truth? The truth of which the Fourth Gospel speaks is a true reality—that reality which does not deceive us if we accept it and live with it….
How do we reach this truth? By doing it….This does not mean being obedient to the commandments, accepting them and fulfilling them. Doing the truth means living out of the reality which is He who is the truth, making His being the being of ourselves and of our world….
The truth which liberates is the power of love, for God is love. The father of the lie binds us to himself by binding us to ourselves—or to that in us which is not our true self. Love liberates from the father of the lie because it liberates us from our false self to our true self—to that self which is grounded in true reality. Therefore, distrust every claim for truth where you do not see truth united with love; and be certain that you are of the truth and that the truth has taken hold of you only when love has taken hold of you and has started to make you free from yourselves.
In verse 16 we read God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. NIV Dietrich Bonhoeffer was asked to baptize his eight month old nephew, Thomas, in 1932 at his parent’s home often done in those days. Here is part of his sermon based on verse 16 b. This word is to be spoken today over this child. And not the way one might give him just any other word of one’s choice—as they say—to take along on his way in life, but rather with the very particular claim that this is God’s word at this time over this child; that means that this word becomes real at this moment and shows itself to be true and valid. God is love—from today on in the life of this child, that is no longer a general word of wisdom or unwisdom for his life, but is the real, only indestructible basis on which his whole life is built. It is truth, and it is reality. That is the meaning of baptism.
In 1943, Thomas was eleven and played the piano for his sister’s wedding in the same home. Bonhoeffer was to have performed the service but was arrested shortly before. None-the-less, he wrote the sermon. Thomas went on after the war to become a notable theologian in his own right in Germany and lives today as proof of the power of the Word of God.
Tuesday, November 25, 1 John Chapter 5
It is not possible to love God but fail to love people. Given that our love is imperfect, our love for God equals our love for people, the more love the better. God gives us commands, but they are not the hundreds of rules established by religious organizations, they are the commands to love.
Matthew 11:28-30: Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. NIV
Heaven has plenty of room for people who never enter a church, which is not a command. We best worship God by being kind to people, doing what we can to fulfill their needs. Church is a place to refresh ourselves for that work, to renew by hearing the Word. Church is important, but only if it helps us do the real work of God.
The Spirit, the water and the blood. This section directly attacks the Gnostics who contended that Jesus was not both man and God. Some contended that Jesus was just a simple man until the Messiah entered and took over control of the body, leaving him before the crucifixion to die alone, the most common view in John’s day. Others argue that Jesus appeared as the Messiah without birth and that he lives still on earth because he cannot be killed. There are many variations on the theme.
John says, no, no, no. The Son of God gave up the glory of being a Prince in the Kingdom to become a mere human through natural birth; to live a normal human life while growing in the knowledge of God just as you and I have to; to make the decision to follow God’s will for him by being baptized with water; and by allowing, even forcing, the authorities to execute him, to bleed him. Only in that process was it possible to defeat sin. Through it all the Holy Spirit acted as an intermediary between God and Jesus.
The Spirit, the water and the blood; all testimony from God. Life comes to us through Jesus.
The sin leading to death was probably the sin of Gnosticism, since that is what John had been writing about.
We know: a restatement of his main points. Remain true.
Wednesday, November 26, 2 John
This short letter is also clearly from the Apostle John. This time he does include a salutation, though without specific names. His purpose is to remind churches to train and correct the traveling evangelist of the day. Do not allow any to preach false doctrine. The lady could be either a person or a church.
John returns to his image of walking in love, even saying that the command of God is to love.
In verse 7, he specifically describes the Gnostics who were traveling around with their false teachings. Watch for them, try to correct them, but do not be taken in by them and do not allow them to stay and spread their false notions. Stay true to the faith.
Thursday, November 27, 3 John
This third letter of John has a similar message, but deals with a specific incident. John had, like Paul, sent trusted disciples out to preach the word. John first commends Gaius (a Roman name) for supporting some of those disciples. In doing so, he was being faithful to Jesus.
It seems that Diotrephes had taken control of whatever church Gaius was part of. Diotrephes was eager for the power of his position and did not want anyone to threaten it. He may also have been Gnostic, but that is not mentioned.
Demetrius is mentioned as a faithful servant, though we do not know any specifics.
The outcome remains a mystery.
Friday, November 18, Jude
It seems obvious at first that Jude was the brother of James and Jesus, but he may be using the brother to mean spiritual brother. If so, it is possible that he is the Jude (short for Judas) of the Apostles. There are some problems with that. He was Judas son of James and the letter never suggests that he was an Apostle.
This letter was almost certainly written by the youngest brother (half-brother) of Jesus, probably in the mid-sixties. The purpose was similar to that of 2 Peter, to fight the early ideas of Gnosticism.
One of the tenants of the Gnostics was that Jesus said we could do anything we wanted to, nothing was a sin. Jude said they pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality. NIV The idea that the Grace of God allows us to do anything is clearly a distortion of the teaching of Jesus and the Word of God. These were the people who were not of the Truth in the letters of John.
Jude reminds us, as did Peter, that God punished people who disobeyed, even Moses and David. Those who sin can expect the same. We are called to follow Jesus in love for others, not self.
Verse 9 is based on the Assumption of Moses, an apocryphal book never accepted as scripture but widely known in the First Century. Jude is rejected by some to be scripture because he quoted from non-scripture sources. Most argue that any source supporting the love of God is worthwhile. It would be somewhat like us quoting from a popular book of today.
Verse 11 gives us three sins from the Old Testament: the selfishness of Cain, the greed of Balaam and the opposition to God of Korah. Those are cases we can study and learn from, the example of how not to do.
Verses 12-13 give a wonderful description of the false teachers, all noise, no Truth.
Verses 14-15 quote another popular apocryphal book, Enoch, without a doubt the most popular of the apocryphal books and one that had strong influence on the New Testament as a whole. It does stay within the Old Testament message.
Jesus did try to prepare us for the false teachers, as verses 17-19 remind us. Yet the battle is on-going and will only be won by Jesus in the last day. We must ignore what is false and build ourselves up with the Truth.
The last two verses are a beautiful and fitting ending to all the letters.
Be righteous and do good.