Archive for July, 2015

Notes on 1 John – 3:16-18

By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us,

John consistently grounds the gospel in God’s love. His most famous statement to this effect is “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son” (John 3:16,ESV).” We both know what love is and know love in the sense being loved because Jesus laid down his life for us. John recorded Jesus’ words reminding us, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13, ESV).

An important point is made about the death of Jesus in this clause. John writes that Jesus “laid down his life.” Jesus’ life was not forcibly taken from him. A life that is forcibly taken is hardly an example of the love of that person for another. However, if someone gives their life that another may live, that is indeed a remarkable display of love. Jesus was in control even of his death. Jesus knew why he came to earth. He knew he was going to die. Jesus willing gave his life.

A second point can be made from this verse. Jesus gave his life “for us.” We were in such a state that our only hope was that someone die for us. Because of our sin, we were deserving death. Jesus died for us. Jesus’ death was not a symbolic act, it was actually in the place of his people.

and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.

Jesus’ death gains salvation for his people. Salvation is given by grace through faith, not by our works. However, the gospel is also the fulfillment of the law which teaches us to love our neighbor as ourselves. For this reason, John draws the moral imperative for Christians to love one another by laying down our lives for one another from the work of Jesus Christ. John is talking specifically to Christians in his call for such sacrificial love because it is Christians who have benefited from and been transformed by the sacrificial love of Jesus Christ. On what grounds could one whose eternal life, hope, identity, security, and forgiveness of sins has been established by the death of Jesus not willingly give up the things of this world, which are mere shadows of the realities secured for us by Christ?

But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart to him, how does God’s love abide in him?

The world’s goods are exactly what we they sound like, the resources of this world – money, food, clothing, cars, time, energy, talents, etc. If we possess these things, the Bible sees no way around sharing them with our brothers in need. This in fact was precisely the pattern of the early church. Luke writes,

Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet (Acts 4:32-37, ESV).

But I worked hard for what I have, don’t I deserve it? Shouldn’t they get a job and not just live off of other people? Isn’t giving people stuff freely enabling them? Are you saying I am supposed to sell all my stuff and be destitute? Doesn’t this put all of the call to sacrifice on the rich? Don’t the poor get off scot-free? All of these questions, and every other question we ask along the same lines, flows from an unloving heart that is more committed to securing the stuff of this world for itself than it is convinced that Jesus has secured all that it needs for eternity. I get it, this is a hard reality for us to swallow. It is shockingly un-American. It sounds like a bunch of hippies living in a free love commune. We can throw whatever stones we want, but we cannot escape the call to actually love our brothers and sisters in Christ in this sacrificial way.

And it is our brothers and sisters in Christ that John has in mind, not the world at large. John uses the family language for the household God, for Christians. As we said yesterday, John is making the point that we cannot claim to love Jesus and hate those whom Jesus claimed as his own. Does this mean that we are not to care for the poor of the world? No that is not what this means, but, frankly, you cannot demand the church or Christians into being the welfare agents of the world based on this passage. To do so is to un-biblically bind the conscience of man with your opinion. It is simply not what John is talking about in this verse. John is specifically dealing with dividing between those who have the devil as their father and those who have God as their Father. The latter he calls brothers. If we do not love those whom God has loved by sending his Son to die for them, John says we do not know God’s love.

Let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.

John recognizes that it is very easy for us to talk a big talk and never take a single step in the direction of our words. We need to recognize this about ourselves and repent of our selfishness that allows for such inconsistent gospel living and love in deed and truth.

| Permalink
Notes on 1 John – 3:13-15

Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you.

John takes Cain’s hatred of Abel as a paradigm for how the world will relate to Christians, calling us not to be surprised when we are hated. This is a harsh reality, but is the only logical conclusion to the fact that everyone is either a child of the devil or a child of God. The enmity that exists between the children of God and the children of the devil goes all the way back to the garden of Eden where God said, “I will put enmity between you and the woman and between your offspring and her offspring” (Genesis 3:15a, ESV). Of course this points forward to Jesus, as the seed of the woman, but it also explains the tension that exists between Christians and the world. Of course, Christians should seek to be winsome, but we also must be realistic about the tension that exists. This has a number of applications for evangelism. First, evangelism is hard. Evangelism is announcing to the world that hates you the very message that serves as the basis for the world hating you. Second, being rejected and hated does not mean you are doing something wrong. You may deliver the most kind and gentle gospel presentation that perfectly balances love and truth out of a clear concern for the person to whom you are talking and be hated, mocked, rejected, or killed for it. Third, God is aware of the tension and resulting, potential danger, and asks us to go anyway.

We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers.

This is the reality of the Christian life. We are no longer bound by death. We have been freed by the finished work of Jesus Christ who conquered death for his people. You cannot be in Christ and hate others who are in Christ. On the other hand only those who love Christ will truly love the brothers found in him, this is why John can see this as a sign of having passed from death to life.

Whoever does not love abides in death. 

This statement is painfully straightforward. If our lives are patterned by a lack of love, then we are abiding in death. If we abide in death, then we have not passed out of death into life. John simply does not allow us to claim Christ and live with a hatred of those whom Christ has claimed.

Everyone who hates his brother is a murder,

John is echoing Jesus’ teaching from the Sermon on the Mount.

You have heard that it was said to those of old, “You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.” But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, “You fool!” will be liable to the hell of fire (Matthew 5:21-22, ESV).

This passage reminds us that all of us are shut up in sin by the law.

and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. 

Again, if the pattern of our life is hatred, then the pattern of our life is murder. If this is the case then we do not have eternal life abiding in us, that is to day we are not saved, we are apart from Christ. Our sin condemns us. If the pattern of our life is one of sin, then we have some rather difficult questions to ask ourselves. Just as Cain’s murder of Abel revealed his lack of trust in God, so our hatred of our brother reveals our lack of resting in Jesus Christ.

| Permalink
Notes on 1 John – 3:11-12

For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.

“For” is a causal particle. John is giving the basis for his previous statement, “whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother” (1 John 3:10, ESV). The basis for John’s bold statement is the message they have heard. However, John writes the message they have heard is to love one another. We would expect the message they heard from the beginning to be some pure statement of the gospel. What is going on? Is John confusing law and gospel? Well, no, for two reasons.

First, John clearly has a history of ministry with the people to whom he is writing. There is a context to the letter that John is writing that the original audience would have been familiar with. Any minister that has consistently taught a congregation can assume things with that congregation as he communicates with them concerning the summary his teaching.

Second, John sees a clear connection between the character of God and the ethics to which he calls his people, and John sees that connection flowing directly through Jesus.

John opened his letter writing,

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life – the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us – that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1:1-3, ESV).

Later in his letter John will write,

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another (1 John 4:7-11, ESV).

John sees a clear and definite connection between the character of God, “God is love,” the gospel of Jesus Christ, “[God] loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins,” the message he has proclaimed, “that which we have seen and heard we proclaim to you,” and the resulting ethic that flows from the character of God and his gospel, “if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” This is why he can say “the message you have heard from the beginning…” is to love one another.

We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother.

Cain was the firstborn of Adam and Eve and the older brother to Abel. Genesis 4 contains the story of Cain killing his brother, Abel out of jealousy. John states the obvious, we shouldn’t be like Cain. John also states that Cain was of the evil one. How does John come to this conclusion based on one action of Cain? What happened to the idea of a pattern of life being indicative of whose you are?

And why did he murder him? Because his own deed were evil and his brother’s righteous.

When we read the story of Cain and Abel in Genesis 4 we see that Cain’s pattern of life was evil and came to a head in the murder of his brother. This is John’s point in this clause. This should serve as a warning to us that the issue is not simply the pattern of gross sins in our life, such as murder, which everyone would condemn, but the pattern of sins like jealousy, anger, and pride which we often ignore in our lives and the lives our Christian brothers and sisters.

| Permalink
Notes on 1 John – 3:10

By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil:

We don’t necessarily like it, but how we are does give evidence of whose we are. Of course, we must keep things in the proper order. Nowhere does the Bible give us the freedom to reverse what John is saying in this verse in order to come up with a doctrine of doing stuff to become a child of God. On the other hand, nowhere does Scripture give us the freedom to act as if the gospel is not actually transformative. The author of Hebrews writes, “For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (Hebrews 10:14, ESV). How we live says something about whose children we are, and there are only two options.

whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. 

It is important for us to see that John distinguished between practicing righteousness and loving our brother. Loving our brother is best understood not as something entirely different from practicing righteousness but as a specific subset of practicing righteousness. In other words, we can’t talk about what it means to love our brother without talking about it in the context of practicing righteousness more broadly. In our current cultural environment, loving people is routinely presented as the sum total of all righteousness. However, here, in 1 John, we see love in the context of practicing a broader righteousness. When we divorce love from a broader pattern of righteousness, we have no real basis for defining what love actually looks like and it gets reduced to not saying or doing anything dubbed offensive or unloving by the one who has taken the role of love judge. This begs the question, “What does John mean by practicing righteousness and loving one’s brother?”

Throughout John’s letter righteousness is defined in terms of God. John says God is just or righteous to forgive us our sins when we confess them. Jesus is said to be righteous, and those who practice righteousness are said to be righteous as he is righteous. If righteousness is connected to who God is, then it is connected to his law wherein he has defined righteousness for us. This fits well with the broader testimony of Jesus who said that he came to fulfill God’s law. Further, John contrasts righteousness with sin or practicing lawlessness. If we want to know what it means to practice righteousness then we have to look to God’s law wherein he defines what righteousness is. Jesus sums up the law in Matthew 22 saying, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all you soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:36-40, ESV). To practice righteousness is to walk by faith in Christ and with the help of the Holy Spirit in accord with the Law of God.

With this broader understanding of righteousness being defined in relation to the Law of God, which is summarized, in part, by the statement, love your neighbor as yourself, it makes perfect sense that the one who does not love his brother is giving evidence that he is not a child of God. But what exactly does it mean to love our brother? To summarize Paul’s teaching in Philippians, it means to consider our brother as more significant than ourselves and to look out not only for our own interests but the interests of our brother.

 

| Permalink
Exodus 23.10-19 – Sabbaths and Feasts

The sermon recording from July 26,2015  Exodus 23.10-19 – Sabbaths and Feasts

| Permalink
Praying the Bible

Praying is hard. The ever increasing number of books on prayer prove that we struggle with prayer. I have recommended A Praying Life, by Paul Miller, before, and I still do. Adding to the list of books on prayer, Crossway has recently published a book titled, Praying the Bible, by Donald Whitney. To publicize the book, Crossway released a series of video’s by Donald Whitney under the same title. I have not read the book, so I cannot speak to it. However, the videos are very helpful. In each video, which are about 5 minutes a piece, Whitney walks through a passage of Scripture showing how praying the Bible is a beneficial way to approach prayer. I would add, praying the Bible is in perfect accord with the pattern of prayer that Jesus taught his disciples. Here are the videos. I hope you find them as beneficial and invigorating for your prayer life as I have for mine. 

 

Don Whitney – Praying the Bible: Psalm 23

Don Whitney – Praying the Bible: Psalm 37

Don Whitney – Praying the Bible: Psalm 67

Don Whitney – Praying the Bible: 1 Thessalonians 2

Don Whitney – Praying the Bible: John 5

| Permalink
Notes on 1 John – 3:9

No one born of God makes a practice of sinning,

John continues his commentary on the difference between the patterns of the lives of believers and non-believers. What does it mean to be born of God? In his gospel John writes of Jesus, “He came to his own, but his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:11-13, ESV). Later we read Jesus’ words to Nicodemus. “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of flesh is flesh and that which is born of Spirit is spirit” (John 3:5-6, ESV). To be “born of God” is to be made new by ministry of the Holy Spirit through the Word, to be given life. The Bible is clear that we are all born dead in our sin and it is only by the powerful working of God that we can have life. This is the point of Ezekiel’s valley of dry bones. John is saying that God does not vivify his people in order that they might continue to walk in dead works of sin. The salvation that God brings to his people is an effective salvation, it actually makes us alive and frees from the bondage of sin and death.

for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. 

From the very beginning the people of God have been waiting on the promised seed to deliver them from the deadly influence of the serpent. The seed of the woman was to come and crush the head of the serpent. God made many promises to Abraham and his seed. God told Moses that a prophet would arise from the offspring of Israel whom they should listen to and follow. God made a promise to David that one of his offspring would reign on the throne of David forever. That promised seed of the woman, that seed of Abraham who would both receive and secure the promises, that prophet from the offspring of Israel, that kingly offspring of David who would reign forever is none other than Jesus Christ. Jesus is the promised seed who has conquered Satan, secured the promises of Abraham, spoken greater truths than Moses, established David’s throne forever, and now dwells in every believer by his Spirit. The One who has conquered Satan will not let him continue to rule us. The One who has secured the Abrahamic promises will not let us live as though they were not ours. The One who speaks the greater truth than Moses will not let us live in falsehood. The One who reigns on David’s throne in victory will not let the citizens of his kingdom live as though they were still subject to foreign rule. When we understand whose seed abides in us, John’s bold statements about not continuing in sin makes perfect sense. If we are in Christ we have been born of and indwelt by the head crushing, promise securing, truth speaking, eternally reigning seed.

 

| Permalink
Notes on 1 John – 3:7-8

Little children, let no one deceive you.

The implication, of course, is that there are those who will try to deceive you. It is a frustrating reality that we cannot trust whatever whoever says to us regarding the gospel and the Christian life. John was aware of this, as were Paul, Peter, and Jesus. Indeed, even in the Old Testament we find those nefarious prophets who saw giving the people a “word from God” as a lucrative venture and pursued it as such.

Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. 

True righteousness (both being declared righteous and acting righteously) only comes through the Holy Spirit working in us to unite us to Christ an enable us walk in light of the redemption purchased by Christ. Anyone whose life has this pattern of righteousness is in Christ. We must be careful, John is not undoing the doctrine of justification by grace through faith in Christ. Rather, John is dealing with the necessary and exclusive results of that justification.

Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil,

The flip side to the coin is that those whose lives are patterned by sin are of the devil. In John 8, John records a skirmish between Jesus and some of the religious folks of the day. When they question who Jesus’ Father is, implying that Mary was promiscuous and Jesus was a bastard, Jesus responds, “Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:43-44, ESV). In our present verse, John is making the same point as Jesus. You are like the one you are of.

for the devil has been sinning from the beginning.

This is what Satan, that great snake, does. He sins. He rebels against God, to whom he owes all allegiance, and he leads others to do the same. We first see his activity in Genesis 3, which begins, “Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made” (Genesis 3:1, ESV). This, of course, was not his first act of rebellion, but it is what we read of first in Scripture. Later, God said to Cain, following Cain’s murderous temper-tantrum, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. It’s desire is for you, but you must rule over it” (Genesis 4:6-7, ESV). Peter encouraged his readers, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8, ESV). In the wake of Satan’s path is sin and destruction; therefore, in the wake of the path of those who are of Satan (that is not of Christ) is sin and destruction. Non-believers may couch their ways in many words of love, tolerance, open-mindedness, and understanding and couch the ways of Christians in many terms of hypocrisy, bigotry, hate, and simple-mindedness, but we all walk in the ways of the one we serve (knowingly or unknowingly, purposefully or inadvertently) – and our labels don’t change reality. [Note: This does not imply that every person who claims the name of Christ is walking in perfect integrity with the Word of God. There are many in our land who, like many of the religious people of Jesus' day, have claimed that precious name simply for the social advantages and perspectives it offers and nothing more.]

The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.

Jesus is the Son of God. Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil. Do you see the contrast of the work of the Devil and Jesus? Satan came to bring rebellion, fostering the discord between God and man; Jesus came to destroy his work, bringing the reconciliation of man to God. With the resurrection of Jesus, Satan lost his grip on this world. While he still holds sway, William Gurnall reminds us of three realities of Satan’s rule: first, “Satan’s empire is bounded by time;” second, “Satan’s empire is confined to place;” and third, “The subjects of Satan’s empire are stinted” (Gurnall, W., The Christian in Complete Armour). Jesus has gained victory for all who are found in him by faith, and while the victory seems only partially applied now, the victory will, in due time, be established with certainty to the farthest reaches of creation.

| Permalink
Notes on 1 John – 3:6

No one who abides in him keeps on sinning;

Wait, what? Is John serious? Yes. He is, but he might not mean what you think. Remember, John has already written, “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1, ESV). John is clear that Christians should not sin, and that our sinning as Christians does not exempt Jesus from being our advocate. Why is he now saying if we abide in him we won’t keep on sinning? We must keep two points in mind.

First, to abide in Jesus is to find your life in him. To abide in Christ is to have Jesus as the one who is sustaining and strengthening you. John uses the same abide language in John 15 when he is recording the teaching of Jesus regarding the vine and the branches. If we were to see a healthy branch attached to a healthy grape vine, we would not look for blackberries on the branch, we would look for grapes because the branch is attached to a grape vine. If we found blackberries we would say there is a significant problem. Likewise, if we see someone attached to Jesus for life we should not look for sin but sinlessness and life because they are attached to the one who is life and in whom there is no sin. Therefore, we must understand that John is talking about what flows from the vine to the branches, not the other way around. Sometimes we freak out and recoil at the idea of personal holiness because we are processing our life not as if we are a branch attached to a life giving vine but as if we are the vine itself and therefore responsible for producing life in ourselves.

Second, grammar matters. The phrase, “keeps on sinning,” is synonymous with “practices lawlessness” (v4) and “makes a practice of sinning” (v8). Each of these phrases is a present, active verb or participle form pointing to ongoing, repeated, continual action – a pattern of life. The idea is not that there are no failures, no sins, at all along the way; rather, the idea is that there is not habitual and willful failure and sinning even in the face of being called to repentance.

When we keep these two points in mind – that fruit flows from the vine to the branches abiding in said vine and that the grammar points to ongoing, habitual patterns – we can see why John said in 2:1 we shouldn’t sin, but if we do there is an advocate and in 3:6 we won’t keep sinning if we abide in Christ.

no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him.

From the notes above, John’s point in this clause should be clear. To see and know Christ, that is to abide in him, is to see and know the sinless one who came “to take away sins.” If we say we are abiding in the sinless One who appeared specifically to take away sins and we are continuing in our sins, we are saying that Jesus is ineffective, incompetent, or both. Just as we asked yesterday, “What do we expect from a fallen world?” so we must ask today, “What do we expect from a risen Savior?”

| Permalink
On Beheadings, Church Shootings, Rebel Flags, The Moral Failures of Public Christians, SCOTUS decisions, Boy Scouts, Espys, Prison Breaks, Planned Parenthood Videos, Vitriol (secular and ecclesiastical), Spinelessness (secular and ecclesiastical), Extreme Weather Patterns, Androgynous Deer, Nuclear Weapons…

What exactly did we expect? I ask, because I keep hearing from Christians, “I can’t believe this is happening!” Sure, some of it is an expression of grief over sin, but more and more of it is sounding like complete and utter shock that we actually live in a fallen world, a world opposed to God and his law, a world ravaged by the effects of sin. My goal is not to be a pessimistic, I-told-you-so, believer in total depravity. Rather, my goal is to get us to really ask, “What did we expect?”

What we expect of this world is intimately tied to what we expect from Jesus. If we don’t expect sin and brokenness around every corner, both in the Church and the world, then what exactly do we think Jesus came to do? Perhaps we are so content to hold Jesus up as simply an example to be followed rather than to proclaim him as the King of all creation who appeared for the express purpose of taking away sin because we have refused to see things as they actually are. We live in a fallen world, but it is not a world without hope; it is a world with a Savior, unless of course Jesus is merely a good moral teacher.

| Permalink