Passage for meditation

I John 1:1-2, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;).”

Questions for reflection:

  1. How had John heard, seen, and handled the Word of life?
  2. How was the Word of life manifested before men?
  3. How could John show it to the church he was writing to?
  4. Has the Word of life been manifested to you?
  5. How can you bear witness of eternal life to those you interact with each day?

Living Incarnationally

I want to begin this morning by asking a question: have you ever seen theology?  If someone were to ask you what it looked like, could you tell them.  For most the answer would be “no.”   If we can’t see your theology, then it needs changing.  This was a problem in the church to which John was writing. 

The setting is Ephaesus, where church history says he oversaw the church.  It is “the last time” or last hour (2:18), meaning the time just before the coming of Christ in judgment.  John said the “world is passing away” (literal interpretation). 

  • And these people were facing trials from false teachers who had crept into the church, just as Paul predicted they would.
  • There is good evidence to suggest John’s adversary is one, Cerinthus, who was who combined elements of the Jewish ceremonial law with Gnosticism.  Douglas Wilson says that it was “characterized by two great features—the necessary impurity of matter and the supremacy of knowledge.” 
  • This led to them teaching that Jesus was fully God but not fully man (because matter is evil).  This could have two possible consequences: one is they could have said that they should reject all the pleasures of the world because it is just that—enjoyable. 
  • But the heretics here took a different approach.  They taught that since only the spiritual is important what they did in the flesh didn’t matter.  Therefore they could live sinful lives. 
  • Many of the church had remained faithful but they needed guidance from the apostle.
  • How do you exhort and encourage a congregation that has been through this?

His message is to live an incarnational life. 

  • What does that mean?  Putting into practice the doctrine we proclaim.
  • It means turning the world’s method of operation inside out and living for the glory of God, from the way we worship to the way we put on our shoes. 
  • It becomes very easy to hear what I’ve just said and respond with, “That sounds good.”  But that’s not nearly enough—to agree with statements of doctrine is only part of spirituality.  That’s why I asked you what theology looked like. 
  • If every doctrine we profess doesn’t have some practical outworking, we have fallen into the Gnostic trap of thinking that holding the right propositions are enough. 
  • Those Gnostics are the opposite of incarnational.  They believed that all that mattered was what was in your head.  We can do the same thing. 
  • This book takes one of the greatest doctrines of all time (Jesus’ incarnation) and calls the church to apply it against a heresy that had made its way into the body.  We must do the same today.
  • How do we do apply it?  Not by mentally agreeing with it but living it out.

What is the greatest example of this?  Jesus Christ Himself. 

  • John doesn’t begin with the usual greetings that we expect from Paul and others.  He immediately breaks in by speaking of, “That which was from the beginning…”  John does something quite creative with the vocabulary. 
  • When you look at verse 1, do you notice something odd about the first word, “that.”  Not, “Him who was from the beginning,” but, “that which was from the beginning…of the Word of life.”  He uses a neuter pronoun (that) rather than a masculine pronoun.
  • Certainly we know who John is speaking of.  The object of the sentence “the word of life” is masculine.  But his pronouns don’t agree.  Some would say, “It doesn’t matter.”  But it does. 
  • Verses 1-3 are one sentence.  The “that” in verse 3 is the same “that” in verse 1.  The sentence structure points to it referring to the same thing.  There is an argument among theologians about whether it is referring to Jesus or the gospel, because in verse 3 John says “that which we have seen and heard declare we unto you.”  If it was only referring to Jesus, John’s writing is illogical. 
  • There is a key to this opening riddle; when we unlock it we discover John’s first shot across the bow at Cerinthus’.  The answer is, to paraphrase Gordon Clark in his commentary on I John, Jesus is the gospel incarnate. 
  • This hearkens back to the opening lines of John’s gospel, in the beginning was the word, and the word was with God and the word was God.  Then in verse 14 of John 1, the word became flesh.  Jesus is the good news, the eternal covenant faithfulness of God, in the flesh.
  • This is an opening line against the beliefs of Cerinthus, who taught that matter was evil and higher spiritual (unseen) things were good.     

Why did John write this epistle?

  • To increase fellowship – 1:3
    • He says clearly that he wrote to increase their fellowship.
    • The earliest display that we don’t live what we proclaim is when we lose fellowship with our brothers and sisters in the body.
    • That fellowship is based on fellowship with God Himself.  And fellowship with God is shown by our fellowship with one another.
  • That the joy of the church would be increased – 1:4
    • When the children of God are being the body of Christ, the result is joy within the members. 
    • When our religion becomes a set of statements, there is nothing for joy to feed on. 
    • Mental assent to a teaching changes nothing (James 2:19)
  • That they would be victorious over sin – 1:9, 2:1, 3:5
    • There is no place in the Christian life for walking in sin.  It’s wrong and we are to forsake it.
    • But it’s easy to become discouraged with we sin.  We can even (as I have done) curse our flesh.  But your flesh was made by God.  He will one day resurrect your flesh.
    • We work to excuse ourselves by chalking up our sin to our weak flesh (Gnosticism: body=bad, spirit=good).  But that isn’t the biblical answer to it.  John says to go confess our sin and go to Christ our advocate.  Don’t give yourself a pass by blaming your flesh.  Take it to God and trust his work on your behalf.
  • Because the light of Christ was beginning to shine – 2:7-8.
    • John calls attention several times to the point in history in which they live.  Again he said it was the last time and that antichrists were on the scene.  John calls to mind Jesus words about those who would attempt to lead them astray in this way.
    • But he writes them that they may know how they are to walk apart from the Jewish ceremonial law that was being taught by some.  They needed to be reminded of how they were to live once the darkness of the old system has passed away.
  • To call attention to the false teaching taking place – 2:21-26, 4:1-3
    • It is important to recognize error that would creep into the church.  John is no stranger to error and he calls the mind of the people to the error that was spreading and how to recognize it in their midst.
    • And not only how to recognize it but how to walk apart from it.  We are so bombarded by false teaching that even though we recognize it, we can adopt its application without knowing it.  
  • To give an objective standard for assurance of eternal life – 5:13
    • The standards we use are usually quite subjective, feelings, thoughts, etc.  But John says at the end that he has written that they can know (apply a standard) they have eternal life. 
    • What is it?  If they walk in fellowship with one another; they confess Jesus’ incarnation, and they don’t walk in sin. 

Family Economics

I’ve been meaning to add Kevin Swanson to the list of preachers you need to hear.  He applies all of God’s Word in his preaching and his radio show.  I was excited when I heard about the conference his group (Generations with Vision) held recently in Colorado.  The topic was “family economics” and it looked super.  It combines two areas which the public has long believed divorced from each other, despite the fact that the Greek work from which we derive the term economics (oikonomia)  meant the “management of a household”.  If you want to know how your family can bring economics under captivity to the Lordship of Christ, order the entire conference here.

Living in the community of Christ

When you hear us talk about the kingdom expanding, it is easy to picture the kingdom as a blob: some kind of spiritual, formless structure that envelops all it comes in contact with.  It is not an abstract mass of Christians unknown to each other.  Rather the Kingdom of Christ is made up of thousands of Messianic communities.  And that is what I want us to focus on tonight: our vision for the church as community.  What would you do if someone came in your house when you were watching TV, pulled the plug on it, and told you and your family to leave you home and follow him?  Most of us would balk, but that is what Jesus has done.  He invaded our lives without us asking and changed our allegiance.  He brought us into His community and commanded us to live unto Him. 

But it is hard to communicate what community is in modern times.  We live in neighborhoods and suburbs and don’t have community.  We have no need to know our neighbors apart from kindness.  That being said, the community of Christ looks more like a medieval village, with each family playing an important role in the life of the village.  Each member would have a specific role to play: a cobbler, farmers, a blacksmith, etc.  If one of them failed in his role, the entire village suffered Paul calls us a body (I Corinthians 12:12-14 For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many.) Each part plays a different role, but we are united together by Christ.  We should rejoice in this, but we are prisoners of modernity and it’s sinful step-child – individualism.  Our country prides itself on (more…)