3 John – Hospitality

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We often talk about those who have the gift of hospitality as being those who can put on a good dinner party or those who like to have people over to their house.  Certainly, there is an element of truth to this notion and there are many who are gifted with a welcoming spirit and an open home.  However, Scripture challenges our this notion, pointing out that if hospitality means only welcoming those we know, those we like, and those who believe the same way that we do, it falls short of the true meaning of hospitality.

Here John commends his friend Gaius because of his faithful work and love toward those he does not know.  These people are, apparently, Christians but are strangers to Gaius.  However, Gaius continues on in what he is doing for the sake of the Gospel and receives a commendation from Paul for it.

This is contrasted with the actions of Diotrephes who always wants to be first, the very opposite of hospitality.  John, here, is echoing Jesus’ teachings to His disciples, talking about servant leadership and humility rather than boastful, proud talk.  Such actions are not hospitable and are, in essence, wounding the message of the Gospel.

As is always true, the example that we follow is that of Jesus Christ.  Paul speaks to the humility and hospitality of Jesus in the book of Colossians:

Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing    by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.

And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.



2 John – Walk in Love

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Though 2 John is the shortest book in the Bible,  it is no less important because of the message that it carries.  The author, presumably the Apostle John, continues in the theme he carries throughout his writings, to show and live out the love of God daily.  John says that he is not giving them a “new command,” but rather is reiterating the one that Jesus gave to His disciples: love one another.  When we walk in love, we are walking with God and are obeying the commandments that God has given to us.  This is, as Jesus points out, the essence of the whole Law.

What is interesting here, and at other points in 1 John as well, is what it means for those who claim to be Christians to not love each other.  John says that they are “a deceiver and the antichrist.”  This may seem a bit extreme as we often think about the “antichrist” as being a person who will appear in the end times to openly oppose God and actively persecute Christians.  Views like this have been perpetuated in today’s culture by books like the “Left Behind” series and other “end times” type books.

Yet the way that John uses the term “antichrist” is one that references the work of the devil on a daily basis, not an evil figurehead.  In fact, if we were to follow this line of thinking, it makes sense that Satan is the antichrist, the one who opposes God in the world and that those who deny Jesus, those who do not love God or show God’s love for others participate in the work of Satan, the antichrist.

In the same way that those who love as God first loved them are in Christ and participating in the salvation and redemption of the world, following God’s lead and Lordship, so too are those who do not, participate in the Devil’s campaign against God and His work in the world.



1 John 5 – Overcome

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Several times throughout this writing, John has talked about overcoming the world.  Whenever he says this, though, it doesn’t come in the context of us opposing the world through our own strength.  The victory that we have is and always will be in Jesus Christ alone. Our victory is founded in His victory over sin and death and, like we are raised with Him, we will also dwell with Him when He returns.

While this may seem a somewhat obvious reality for us, far too often we forget the primary place this needs to hold in our lives.  We like to claim that Jesus is Lord, but then we look to our government to protect us and provide for us.  Christians in the U.S. have created lobbying groups and other governmental entities to further advance a political agenda, rather than following the Gospel message to love those around us.  We try to overcome the world politically when the words of Scripture clearly point to Jesus Christ dwelling in us as the only way this could happen.

We worry and fret about the loss of religious freedom in this country, thinking that if we can’t gather on Sunday mornings all will be lost.  Our government makes decisions that are contrary to what we see as morally right, “Christian principles” that we read out of Scripture and are surprised.  None of this, the moral decline or the repressing of the Gospel should be surprising, though.  Christ Himself said that we shouldn’t be surprised by this but to take heart because they hated Him before they hated us.

He also reassures us, “Take heart for I have overcome the world.”  John writes that when Christ dwells in us, we have a strength greater than the world’s power and we too can not only resist the temptations of this world but overcome them by “the blood of the lamb and the word of our testimony” as John will testify to in the book of revelation.



1 John 4 – Don't Deny

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John continues to talk about love in this chapter, something that we could never really say enough about.  God’s love, shown by Him and reflected in us is such a vital part of who we are in Christ and how we come to be just that.  John’s words on this could go on forever.

He also briefly talks here about the ability to recognize the Spirit of God in those around us.  This is also an important thing for us to think about especially in the current culture that would seek to offer us “pseudo-Christian” teachings that do not necessarily jive with Scripture.  How can we know that these things are “of God”?  John points out that any teaching that claims to be Christian in nature, any teaching or spirit that claims to be of the Bible, will first and foremost acknowledge the Incarnation of Jesus Christ.

What does this mean?  For starters, it means that it will be in line with Jesus, His life, death, resurrection, and teaching.  In other words: It will match up with “The Word” as John refers to Him as.  Jesus Himself is the Word of God made flesh, the fulfillment of all that Scripture says.  Therefore, any and all teachings that are of God will acknowledge Jesus as Lord first and foremost.

There are a number of religious groups that claim the “Christian” title but don’t do this.  Their messages sound good, their church buildings look spectacular, and their message is often well disguised to motivate and uplift their listeners.  However, it is not of God.

Once again, John is warning his readers that they need to be clear on who and what they are loving.  Messages that are meant to make us feel good but don’t acknowledge Jesus as Lord (or our sin for that matter) are ultimately self-serving and betrays us to the sin of idolatry of self.



1 John 3 – What Great Love!

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John continues his emphasis on love, now turning to the love that God has shown us in Jesus Christ.  Whereas in chapter two, John was giving direction on who and how to love, as well as where not to place our love, now he shows the example of perfect love that comes only from God.

God’s infinite love is beyond amazing.  Far too often we talk about it in a limited fashion, referencing it simply to the forgiveness or sins, or God not getting mad at us when we don’t live the way He calls us to.  Both of those are true statements but fail to get anywhere close to the far-reaching depth of God’s love.

Through the love of God shown in Jesus Christ, we aren’t just given a free pass, God actually adopts us as His own, calling us His children and, as Scripture says, making us heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ.  Our old self, the sinful dirty part of us, is put to death, washed away, and completely covered Jesus Christ, whom God sees when He looks at us.

There is very intentional imagery being used here because it gets at the importance and intimacy of the relationship that develops here as well.  God is the loving Father who lavishes love on His Son and on us as those who are marked with His Son’s blood.

In response to this, John writes, we should love one another.  When he says this, he is using the same form of the word “love,” meaning that our love for each other should be modeled after God’s love for us.  This is supposed to be the foundation for our relationships with each other in the Christian community and with all of those we come in contact with.

It is enough to say that we fail at this often.  But John also offers a reminder and an encouragement that we have hope in God, that He is greater than our sins, and both forgives us and works to build into us and shape us more into the image of His Son.



1 John 2 – Loving the Other

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Echoing Jesus’ words and directives to love, John writes here encouraging his readers to show love to each other.  He even goes so far as to say that those who don’t love their brother, a word which we could exchange readily with the word “neighbor”, do not have Christ in them.  While this may not seem like a dramatic statement, but when we look at these words in combination with chapter one, John is essentially saying that those who don’t love others are the same as those walking in darkness, they have not encountered God.

Indeed, John writes in his Gospel that Jesus says the world will know we are His disciples by our love.  This comes in sharp contrast to how many Christian denominations act today, defining themselves not by the love that they show to those around them, but by the high towers of theology they have built for themselves.  Far too often, our “doctrines” and “theology” create an interpretation of Scripture that divides rather than bids of to love.

There is, however, a limit to the love that we are to show as well.  While loving our neighbor is an essential part of the Christian life, loving the world is not.  In fact, loving the world actually brings the same determination as those who do not love at all: they do not have Christ in them.

Loving the world means loving the things of this world more that God.  John lists these things as bring primarily related to lust and pride, out of which I’m sure we could track most of the common sins of our lives.

Finally, John talks very intentionally about what it means to deny Jesus.  For John this might have been a very personal thing for him to say, remembering Peter’s denial of Jesus and recording the reinstatement of Peter in his Gospel.  He encourages his readers to remain faithful, reminding them that their calling and anointing comes from God alone and cannot be changed, even by their own actions.  This is an important reminder of Christian identity, something that has implications to everyone who believes.



1 John 1 – Life and Light

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The Apostle John opens His Gospel talking about the incarnation of Christ as the theological foundation that supports the rest of his book.  He says there, of Jesus, “In Him was life, and that light was the light of mankind.”

John opens his first letter, though not in letter format, with the very same themes.  Jesus is the incarnation of God in human flesh and He, being the very Word of God, brought with and in Him life.  The life that Jesus brought, that He offers to us, is also the invitation to have fellowship with God, to be in a relationship with Him.

He then continues into a practical application of what this means as we live into this in the life of faith.  Once again, John uses the contrast of light and darkness to describe those who follow Christ, the light of the world, and those who don’t.

There is a very important theological principle that is hidden in this first chapter.  We often talk about the Gospel message and the “Good News” of Jesus Christ as being all about grace and being saved from our sins and this is entirely true.  Yet to be saved from anything, there needs to be an acknowledgment of the need for saving.  In John’s words here, if we say that we are without sin, we are deceiving ourselves and we continue to walk in darkness.

In Jesus Christ, God brings light, life, and salvation into the world, redeeming and restoring our ability to live in relationship with Him.  Jesus is the only way that this could happen; there is no way we can save ourselves.  So, while we rightly emphasize the grace of God, the only way that this grace is important is because of the sin we find ourselves in.  John says that if claim that we have not sinned, we make a liar out of God.  In reality, we know full well of our depravity and when we acknowledge that, as uncomfortable as it may be, we can embrace the saving grace of Jesus Christ and live true life, in true light and freedom.



Introduction to the Letters of John

Though the Apostle John is widely believed to be and accepted as the author of the author of the letters in the Bible that bear his name, he is never directly identified in them as Paul and Peter are in their letters.  This has, in the past, led to speculation about who it was that actually wrote these letters.  Both second and third John begin by identifying the author as “the elder” while first John doesn’t even take the form of the letter.

The question of authorship throughout the Bible is an academic and intellectual argument that, while of secondary importance, does not change the nature of the book or its purpose, function, or place within God’s Word.  We believe that, as Scripture was canonized (the process by which books of Scripture were chosen to be in what we know as the Bible), the Holy Spirit was active in working in the lives and decisions that were made, regardless of who actually authored the book.  God’s truth, revealed in the Words of the Bible, does not depend on who wrote it, and the veracity (truthfulness) of Scripture is not at stake because of this either.  In fact, it was a rather common practice for those who learned from, studied under, and followed leaders to write in their name during, and especially after their lives.

There is plenty of “internal evidence” to support the authorship of the Apostle John here as well.  These three letters contain a great deal of similar language to that of the Gospel of John.  When we look at a number of the themes that are covered, even how John opens His first letter beginning with the incarnation like He does in His Gospel, it is pretty clear that if the Apostle John didn’t write it, someone, who followed Him closely and learned from him, definitely did.



Day 359: 2 John, 3 John, and Jude; The Final Epistles

Each of the last three Epistles that we read today has a bit of a different theme.  The two epistles that are credited to John are written by the same person that wrote the first epistle of John, and then there is Jude.  Some think that Jude, who claims to be the brother of James, who would have been the half brother of Jesus and perhaps the same James that wrote the book of James.  It is also possible that Jude was Judas, who is mentioned in Luke 6:16 as one of the disciples of Jesus who was the “son of James.”  This is not Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed Jesus, but the lesser known Judas who was also a disciple of Jesus.

2 John:

The main theme of 2 John revolves around relationships with one another. John, drawing from Jesus teachings in the Gospel of John, talks about loving one another and loving God.  He points out that this isn’t a new commandment that is being given, but simply an extension of what they already know and believe.  John records Jesus’ talking about love in John 15, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”  What is love?  Loving God is walking according to His commandments for our lives.  What is God’s commandment for our lives?  Remember… Shema!!  We are called to love God and love our neighbor!  This is really what it all boils down to, this is what Jesus teaches, and as believers this is what we are called to.

To go along with this, John talks about being aware of false teachers.  I think it is interesting that he says that those that come to them without “this teaching” which has to do with loving by following God, should be rejected by them.  Could it really be that easy?  Could it be that we have a Church have maybe made the whole message of God, the incarnation of Christ, and all of our theology and doctrine into a much more complicated message than it needs to be?  Could it be that, as John said, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”  John writes at another point, “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.”  All of this is revolving around the same thing, the love of God for us and our love for Him!

3 John:

John’s third letter was written in much the same manner as his second letter.  Keeping in mind that John’s writings are always revolving around the same themes.  Here he is talking about how the faith community should be accepting outsiders.  In these days it was likely that there were many people that were coming in and out of the communities as they traveled around.  It was also likely that there were some that would have tried to take advantage of that in many different ways.  If these folks are anything like I am, or perhaps we are today, we tend to be wary of those who come as new folks in our communities.  Often times we tend to act nice but ask questions that are “tests” to make sure they will fit in with us.  John says that we should be accepting of those that come into our communities especially for those that are travelers.  In what we do and how we treat them, the name of Jesus will be spread for the better or the worse.  Of course there will be those that are bad, evil, wrong-doers and they could damage the community, yet if we are showing love to them and love to each other they will either have nothing bad to say about us, or be won over by the love of Christ.  Friends, we should aspire to this at all times.

Jude:

Finally, we come to the book of Jude.  In many ways, the book of Jude is a review of what we have already read in 2 Peter chapter 2.  Many people believe that the second chapter of second Peter was actually an adaptation of the letter that Jude wrote.  I suppose it could be the other way around, but based on the writing style, it seems as those Jude was rushed while Peter elaborates on what Jude said.  As we transition into the last book of the Bible, and begin to see a greater perspective of the “false teachers” in the world and the greater battle between God and evil, the words of Jude ring loud and clear.  There are many people in the world that are lost in lives of sin, giving themselves over to the desires of the flesh.  Sadly, there are many who would even be considered leaders in that, guiding others into a life of sin.  As was mentioned in 2 Peter, we need to be careful not only of those people, but of those from within the Church that preach a Gospel other than of Jesus Christ crucified.

Jude writes to conclude his letter, “But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ.  They said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.”  It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit.  But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit,  keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.22 And have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.

 Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.”  (arguably this is the greatest doxology in the Bible).



Day 358: 1 John 1-5; That You May Know

As we come to the final epistles of the New Testament, we take a look at the letters that are attributed to the Apostle John.  Once again, it is not entirely known as to whether or not it was indeed the Apostle John, the writer of the Gospel of John, that wrote these letters, or if it was someone within the Johannine community, probably one of John’s disciples, that was writing to those that were in the “Johannine ” churches.  In similar fashion to our denominations today, the churches of the first century had some distinctive features that made them different from each other.  Churches that were started by John may have looked a little different than those that were started by Paul.  It wasn’t as if anything was wrong with one or the other, but it was likely that their worship styles were different and perhaps even some of the teaching emphasis was different as well.  John even makes mention of some of these differences in his first letter here, saying that some of the teachings of Paul were difficult to understand.  It could be that that Johannine churches were composed more of poor and uneducated people rather than of more educated, potentially upper class people that might have made up some of the more Pauline churches.  This would make sense, in some ways, as John himself was a fisherman by trade, where Paul was a religious leader and a Roman citizen.  Fishermen tended to be poorer, where the religious leaders often came from families that were religious leaders and were fairly well off.  In this sense, Paul talks in more of a “high church theology” where John is relating to “less educated” community.

Remember, when we were in the Gospel of John, that His writing was quite simple in nature, not using a lot of difficult grammar, large words, or grand theological concepts.  He does, however write in a way that can be understood easily on the surface but also can be deep and theologically rich.  John is a master of words.

Remember too, in the Gospel of John, that John the Apostle does a great deal of playing with themes, especially with the theme of light and darkness.  It is this theme, in fact, that makes the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, which will happen tomorrow (at the time of this writing), when the light entered into the world, a light that shines in the darkness and that the darkness cannot overcome.  It is one of the first themes that John brings up here in his letter as well.

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.  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.

Again, remember that John’s Gospel, as well as the letters attributed to John, deal with some specific heresies that had arisen in the church.  Like Peter and Paul, John is encouraging the members of his community, and of the churches throughout the world to keep the faith, to hold fast to the Word of God and not listen to these false teachers.  One of the main heresies that he is teaching against is that of Gnosticism, a group of people that had very different beliefs about the work of Jesus, the nature of the psychical and the spiritual, and the notion that there was some sort of “special knowledge” that people needed to be saved, something that was found in places other that Scripture.  John is writing so that his readers, the believers in his communities and in the church would know Jesus is truly the savior and that there isn’t anything special that they have to do.  John 20 gives an end to the Gospel that gives an explanation to this effect.  All we need is Christ, to believe in His name, and in that we will have life, true life in Him.

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book;  but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

John concludes this letter in much the same manner:

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.  And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.  And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.