John’s Love Letters, Part 3: Fellowship

If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. -1 John 1:6-10 ESV

At first glance, it seems that there is almost a contradiction. John is telling us that we shouldn’t walk in the darkness and say that we are in the light because if we do, we make ourselves liars and the truth is not in us. However, if we say we’ve not sinned, we make God a liar and His Word isn’t in us. Most of our modern interpretations of this passage imply that when we ‘walk in the light’ we never sin, but for those of us that are realistic, we know sometimes we slip and fall.

Walking in the light is our sanctification. It is a continual process of repentance and growing in love and grace as the Holy Spirit empowers are lives for service in the Lord’s work.

This is why John tells us that He is faithful and just to forgive us of our sins. Jesus knows that imperfect human beings are incapable of being perfect. William Barclay offers some insight into what John means here.

“John is laying down the blunt truth that the man who says one thing with his lips and another thing with his life is a liar. He is not thinking of the man who tries his hardest and yet often fails. “A man,” said H. G. Wells, “may be a very bad musician, and may yet be passionately in love with music”; and a man may be very conscious of his failures and yet be passionately in love with Christ and the way of Christ. John is thinking of the man who makes the highest possible claims to knowledge, to intellectual eminence and to spirituality, and who yet allows himself things which he well knows are forbidden. The man who professes to love Christ and deliberately disobeys him, is guilty of a lie.” – William Barclay

As we have fellowship with Him, it strengthens and empowers our fellowship with others. Sin is antisocial. It separates us from God and as a result, separates us from others. Let’s walk in repentance and fellowship and be ever fighting in the war against sin in our lives.

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John’s Love Letters, Part 2: God is Light

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. -1 John 1:5 ESV

God is light.

This simple statement is gospel for those in darkness.

If you’re in darkness and you’ve never seen light, then you would have no idea what darkness was or even that you lived in darkness. It’s not until the light comes in and actually shows you what darkness is or even the evil things that the darkness is hiding from you do you realize that there is even something other than darkness.

One commentator writes the following,

“It is the property of light to discover all things; and it is perfectly pure and incapable of pollution: when therefore it is said, that “God is light,” we must understand it as designating… Light is perhaps the only thing which is incapable of being polluted; and therefore is peculiarly fit to represent the immaculate purity of God.” – Charles Simeon’s Horae Homileticae

I heard a theologian make an analogy very similar to this one,

When you’re in a completely dark room, you might find something that feels soft and cuddly. You’re convinced it’s harmless. How can something this soft and loveable be this bad, right? But then, one day, someone comes to the door of that room and invites you to come out from the room. You decline on the grounds that you want to stay in the room and cuddle with this thing you’ve found in the dark, but then the person inviting you out of the room opens the door, and shines a light inside the room revealing the thing to which you’ve been clinging to was the leg of a humongous spider knitting it’s web of destruction for you. All this time the darkness was hiding from you the thing that could’ve killed you.

This is what God does for us. He sheds light on our sin.

Still there are those that have not seen their sin for the death that it is. For them, their end is destruction, misery, and judgment. Only God can shine the revealing light of Christ upon their hearts.

Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. -John 3:18 ESV

We sometimes wonder if our darkness is too dark for God. We never consciously think that or even say it, but we live out that thought by running away from God because of our sin rather than running to God asking Him to take it from us.

The first part of John 3:18 tells us that whoever believes in Him is not condemned. So what must you believe? Simply believe that He is light and that He exposes and rescues from darkness.

Run to Jesus and repent.

“If from the lips of Jesus thou dost never drink sweet honey—if thou art not like the bee, which [sips] sweet luscious liquor from the Rose of Sharon, then out of the selfsame mouth there shall go forth against thee a two-edged sword; and that mouth from which the righteous draw their bread, shall be to thee the mouth of destruction and the cause of thine ill.” – Charles Spurgeon

John’s Love Letters, Part 1: For Your Joy

“Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10: 17). And so in the first place the apostles heard the Word of life, and thus were able to apprehend Him.” – F.B. Hole

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we 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. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. -1 John 1:1-4 ESV

 As we read the beginning of this letter we learn something about John. John is after our joy. That’s what he wants. He wants to complete our joy. He’s not just focused on his joy, and he’s not just focused on our joy, but he’s focused on our joy and his joy corporately. His joy is found in writing us this letter, and it is implied that our joy will be found in reading it.

Now, there is a difference between joy and happiness. Happiness fluctuates like a fair weather friend. Joy is a constant rock in times of sorrow that aids us and comforts us through the fiercest of storms. John desires that we know this kind of joy and he’s persistent that the thing he’s writing about cannot only bring us joy, but can make our joy complete.

So, what’s he writing about? In verse 1, John says, “…we have heard…we have seen with our eyes…we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life.”

A Plymouth Brethren theologian from the 19th Century offers these words concerning this particular passage.

“By the fact of His becoming flesh He placed Himself within the reach of three out of the five senses or faculties with which man is endowed. He could be heard, seen and felt. Hearing comes first, for in our fallen condition it is to that faculty that God specially addresses Himself. “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10: 17). And so in the first place the apostles heard the Word of life, and thus were able to apprehend Him.

But then they also saw Him with their eyes, and even “looked upon,” or “contemplated” Him. There had been in earlier days fleeting manifestations of this great Person as “the Angel of the Lord,” only then it was impossible to contemplate Him for He was seen but for a moment. Now, come in flesh, all was different. The apostles spent years with Him, and could scrutinize Him with attention. They gazed at Him long and earnestly, even though they did not properly understand all that they observed until they had received the gift of the Holy Ghost.

Also they came into physical contact with Him. Their hands actually handled Him. This guaranteed that He was no mere Spirit manifestation. He was amongst them in a real human body of flesh and blood. After His resurrection He sojourned among them in His risen body of flesh and bones, and we may remember how He specifically enjoined them to handle Him and see He was not a Spirit after His resurrection.

All this establishes then beyond a doubt that there had been this real manifestation of eternal life before them.” – F.B. Hole

John is describing to us his testimony of the risen savior, Jesus. John had an intimate knowledge of who Jesus is. Matthew and Luke start their gospels with the beginning of Jesus’ earthly life, and Mark starts his gospel with the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. It’s interesting to note that John makes shows us that Jesus has no origin, but always been.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. -John 1:1-3 ESV

 John shows us in his Gospel that God became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14). This holy, untouchable, unseeable, magnificent God became lowly flesh because He was on a mission to bring us the ultimate joy, Himself. He knew that only He could fill the vacancy in our souls. Jesus is the only one that can fill the God-sized hole in our hearts.

In the words to ‘O Holy Night,’ the hymn writer says, “Long lay the world, in sin and error pining, till He appeared and the soul felt its worth!” Only Jesus can bring that feeling, the feeling of joy made complete.

Paul’s Thanksgiving, My Frustration, And God’s Work of Salvation

Paul is communicating that those who partake in grace have hope that God will continue His work in them by His grace and His lovingkindness toward His elect.

“I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”  -Philippians 1:3-11 ESV

 Can I just say something? I never really liked reading Philippians all that much. The reason is this, in Philippians, Paul doesn’t tell the Church at Philippi anything that they’re doing wrong. He just expresses his thanks for them, gives them a huge pat on the back and tells them that God will provide all their needs for them.

In a way, this is foreign to me. Very few people have ever talked to me just to tell me that they were proud of me and that they were thankful for me. I was always getting chewed out for something I did or said. I was always messing up something so I almost avoided the whole book altogether. That’s part of the reason I couldn’t finish my devotional series over Philippians 3.

I mean, really, let’s look at this. Philippians 1:6 gives us hope for our salvation, but then he follows it up with verse 7, “It is right for me to feel this way about you all…”

Wow! They’re doing something to make Paul confident about the completion of their salvation. I’ve never had say that about me. In fact, in some cases, I’ve had the exact opposite experiences. People have told me that this “Christian thing is just a phase and I’ll grow out of it.”

So, for a long time, I read Philippians 1:7 like a child who was being told my parents to be more like my harder-working,better-behaving brother. It was so frustrating. I didn’t want to be told to be more like my brother every time I read the Bible so I almost avoided the book of Philippians.

But then, I learned John Piper’s arcing method which I’ll include a link to at the bottom of the page. I began looking at Philippians with a different perspective when I got to 1:7. Let’s look at it.

It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.” -Philippians 1:7 ESV

 So, let’s break this down.

  1. It is right for me to feel this way about you all
  2. Because I hold you in my heart
  3. For you are all partakers with me of grace.

If we just take the first two clauses, then we could easily read it the same way that I’d been reading it for a long time. We would fall in the trap of thinking that the Philippians are just super Christians and we’ll never match up, but look at the third clause.

“…for you are all partakers of grace with me.”

So, let’s look at verse 7 backwards just to see how this flow of logic plays out.

“You are partakers of grace with, and as a result of that grace partaking, I hold you in my heart and because of that I’m sure that God who began a good work in you will continue it and complete it at the day of Christ Jesus.”

Paul is communicating that those who partake in grace have hope that God will continue His work in them by His grace and His lovingkindness toward His elect.

Resources:

http://www.biblearc.com/

http://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/what-is-arcing-and-why-is-it-important

http://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/do-you-use-arcing-when-you-study-the-narrative-passages-of-the-bible

Unified in Christ: The Rice Haggard Story

“I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.” 
– 1 Corinthians 1:10 (ESV)


In the late 1700’s there was young man by the name of Rice Haggard that had answered the call to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. Ordained into the ministry by Bishop Francis Asbury, Rice Haggard had all the qualifications to be a big name in the early days of the Wesleyan movement. However, he gave up all of that because he wanted something greater for the body of Christ. He wanted unity. He didn’t want to be known by a denominational name or the name over the church door, he wanted to be known simply as a Christian. He later left the Wesleyan movement over this issue and had a great part in the Christian movement in north central Kentucky around the Cumberland County area. I think we can take a look at the life of Rice Haggard and learn from the zeal of this great man of God. I don’t suggest that we leave our churches and go be a part of a Church of Christ or Christian movement, but I do think we should actively pursue fellowship with our brothers and sisters across denominational borders and learn and grow with one another as God empowers us to do so. Be blessed today as you pray about how to live out unity with other believers! 

Present(s) In the World

“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
– Matthew 5:13-16 (ESV)

“Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.” – Ephesians 5:6-11 (ESV)

“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” – 1 John 2:15-17 (ESV)

“The principle by which we live is not “how can I avoid contact with the world so as to be separate from it?” Rather, it is “how can I live in the world yet be free from its influence and by my life actually expose its contagion?” …As the light of the world, we shine in its darkness; as the salt of the earth, we preserve only if we are present in it.” 
– Sinclair B. Ferguson, Guidelines For Separation (Article in Tabletalk, June 2014, pg. 17)

As I think about these passages of Scripture and the Sinclair Ferguson quote, I’m reminded of a Jewish sect called The Essenes. The Essenes weren’t talked about much in the New Testament because they chose to live monastic lives in the wilderness because they wanted to remain separate from the world and not be stained by the culture. The Essenes were reported to be some of the most honest, studious, morally upright, and God-fearing people the world had ever known, but they eventually died out because they refused to live within a culture of people outside themselves.

As Christians, I think we can be guilty of the same thing. Let’s think about small churches that have 10-15 active members all over the age of 70. More than likely, that church won’t be around for too much longer. More than likely, it’s because somewhere along the way, the church decided it was better to live outside the culture than to live in it.

Let me clarify some things. We just read in 1st John 2 that we shouldn’t love world or the things in the world, but Jesus tells us that we are lights in the world in Matthew 5. Are these contradictory statements? No. As a matter of fact these passages of Scripture present us with a powerful truth. We are in the world, but not of it. We cannot be lights in the culture of the world if we refuse to live outside of it. That’s why I have my weekly Bible study at Hastings. It’s a coffee shop and a bookstore. It’s the epicenter of culture in our town. All different kinds of people walk in there of different religions, ethnicities, and walks of life. I have my Bible study there because the gospel is for all people of any background.

As Christians we cannot deny that we are in the world. It does us no good to try to live outside of the world while we’re here. However, we are not present in the world, but we are also presents in the world. As Christians, we are gifts to world because we have something that they need, the gospel. As we live out the gospel, we show the light of Christ and the light of Christ exposes the works of darkness in the world as Paul tells us in Ephesians 5 and shows the world that there is a better way.

Today, pray about how you can be a light in the world.

Treasuring God’s Word

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“How can a young person stay on the path of purity? By living according to your word. I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands. I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. Praise be to you, Lord; teach me your decrees. With my lips I recount all the laws that come from your mouth. I rejoice in following your statutes as one rejoices in great riches. I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways. I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word.”
– Psalm 119:9-16 (NIV)

 
The Bible in the picture that I used is my own Bible and after 3 1/2 years of owning and using this Bible, I’ve decided that it’s time to retire it. I’ve preached many a sermon with it over the last few years and now, laden with duct tape, highlights, underlines, and post it notes, it will now have a special place in my top dresser drawer. I will confess though that as much as I’ve read the Bible, I’ve not always applied it to my heart like I should, and I can promise you that if I had applied God’s word to life all the times that I should have my life would’ve gone a lot easier and possibly would have turned out much differently.
David starts out this part of Psalm 119 by asking a legitimate question. “How can a young person stay on the path of purity?” The answer is by treasuring God’s word. Treasuring God’s word is not just reading it, but living it. James tells us,
“But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.” – James 1:22-25 (ESV)
 
Did you catch that last part? James actually tells us we will be blessed by applying the word of God! He’s not talking about necessarily material blessings, but he’s talking about an inner sense of peace. The word blessing in the Bible means happiness. James is telling us that if we apply God’s word to our heart then in the end, we’ll be satisfied with living by God’s prescribed order.
Today, pray about how God would have you apply His word to your life and ask Him to put people in your path that you can share His word with.