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First John

Fellowship with Christ

1 John 2:3-14

In much of the structure of this work we can see Hebrew poetry - that which rhymes in thought. We may see it today as repetition; John would have seen this repetition as lyric rhapsody.

Fellowship with Christ

(1 John 2:3-6 NIV) We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. {4} The man who says, "I know him," but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. {5} But if anyone obeys his word, God's love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: {6} Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.

To know Him

In French there are two verbs which can be translated "to know." The first, connaitre, from which we get our word reconnaissance, means to be acquainted with. The second, savoir, from which we get savoir-faire (literally, to know how to do) and its diminutive "savvy," means to know deeply. The Greek preserves this distinction as well. The word used here means "to know by experience." So this is a deep knowledge of Jesus Christ.

Note the logic here. This tells us how it is that we are certain that we know Christ - because we obey his commands. That's not the same thing as saying that a legalistic obedience to his commands will cause us to know Christ. We must not confuse the cause with the effect.

If not

It is obvious, then, that if the effect of truly knowing Christ is obedience, the lack of that effect is that you don't know Christ. If you claim you do, and yet don't obey Him, then you're lying. First to yourself, then to the others around you, and finally go God. It's easy to deceive ourselves; more difficult to deceive others and impossible to deceive God. This, it seems, is not going to work.

What may not be so obvious is the echo of the word "liar." "The truth is not in Him." There is something quite deep in that - for if you do not do what He commands, the Truth is not in you - for Jesus is the way, the truth and the life.

God's love

What does John mean by "God's love?" Here are three thoughts:

It could mean "God's kind of love" - the kind of love (agape) that God shows to us.

It could mean "God's love for us" - for how can God's love be truly completed if there is some barrier between Him and us? And what barrier is there, but sin?

It could mean "Our love for God" - which is perfected in our obedience.

More than that, it could mean all three of these things. Indeed, at their root, we might ask if they are really three, or one? Those who experience the love of God might see these three things as a distinction without a difference.

Truly made complete

The word for complete that is used here can also be translated "finished." It carries with it the sense of something which has been made complete and ready for a particular task. "Ready to rock and roll." For God's love is not given without a purpose - that we might know him better.

Walk as Jesus did

The principle of Christian living is always the imitation of Christ, or, as our children would put it today, "What would Jesus do?" But how did Jesus "walk?" Look back at our last lesson and you will see the principle: complete dependence upon God the Father.

Would you like the test of such a walk? "By their fruits you shall know them." Look at your life. If you are "abiding in the vine" - walking in Christ - your life will produce the same kind of fruit that his life produced. You don't see rocks growing on grape vines.

Old and New

There is a feeling among younger Christians that the Old Testament is of no particular value - and very difficult to understand. It is not so; as our Lord put it,

(Mat 13:52 NIV) He said to them, "Therefore every teacher of the law who has been instructed about the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old."

We shall see the treasures old and new here.

(1 John 2:7-10 NIV) Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning. This old command is the message you have heard. {8} Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining. {9} Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. {10} Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble.

The commandment - old and new

Christians are sometimes surprised to find how often our Lord quoted directly from the Old Testament. The Apostle most closely associated with love may have had one of those quotations in mind:

(Lev 19:18 NIV) "'Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.

It is fascinating how often such bold pronouncements end with "I am the LORD." It is as if God was saying, this commandment is so tied up with me as to be a part of my character - so imitate it.

We can see the "old" in such; how then can such an old thing be seen as new?

First, it is ever new in every new Christian. These Ephesians to whom John was probably writing were new in the eyes of the world, and the world would have seen them as a new thing. Each new Christian becomes a witness of the new thing - the love of Christ.

It is new because the world was seeing the darkness passing - the darkness of idolatry and pagan worship fading before the light of the Cross.

It is new because Christ is lifted up - and if he is lifted up, he will draw all to him. He is the true light, now shining in the world.

The test: your brother

John gives us again the practical test of whether or not you are in the light: your attitude and actions towards your brothers and sisters. He phrases this as "being in the light."

This could be in the moral sense - as light represents righteousness and darkness evil.

It could also be in the sense of wisdom - one who is in the light knows what to do; one who is not is puzzled.

Have you seen this before? Someone who is fumbling around, sure that he is in the right - but not sure of how to handle the situation? Relying on his own wisdom, he appears inconsistent and even irrational. Such men are easy prey to the moral judo of this world. If you can't see where you're going, any guide will do.

Whoever loves his brother

The opposite case is clearly seen as well. If you are in the light,

You have cleansing from sin - as light represents righteousness.

You have fellowship with God - the only true guide.

Is it not the case that the one who loves his brother does not vary in his behavior, but consistently knows what he is doing?

The process of maturity

So how do I get to that state of being in the light? Slowly.

(1 John 2:12-14 NIV) I write to you, dear children, because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name. {13} I write to you, fathers, because you have known him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I write to you, dear children, because you have known the Father. {14} I write to you, fathers, because you have known him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God lives in you, and you have overcome the evil one.

Children

Nobody starts out full grown - not physically, not spiritually. There are stages in growth. The first stage is childhood. John uses two words for this:

In the first section, he uses a word for "little children"-the NIV alone mistranslates this - which means "infants." For Christians such as these, he reminds them that their sins are forgiven. They are part of the family of God just as much as a newborn grandson would be part of mine.

In the next section, he uses a word which we might use for grade school age children. These children are then those old enough to be taught. And what are they taught? To know the Father. These are the ones under instruction.

Young Men

(A note to all the feminists out there: the Greek does not have the politically correct words needed to satisfy you. I consider that accuracy of translation should be more important than political correctness. The implications are not limited to males; please make the adjustment).

It is first to be noted that the young men have "overcome" - they have been successful in their struggle with sin. This carries with it three important implications:

First, we must recognize it as a struggle - you do not "overcome" something which puts up no resistance.

Your fellowship with God is a sign of your success in this struggle.

But - this is not the end of growth. Not yet.

The results of growing in this stage are indeed wonderful:

You become strong. No longer tossed about, you have been strengthened by the hand of God, shown in your own struggles. Your hand in His, you have conquered.

The "word" is in you. This has two meanings. First, that by study and listening, the word of God - the Scriptures - have been planted in your heart. You've heard - and heeded - what God has to say. Next, the Living Word - Christ Himself - is in you. These two grow together.

You have overcome the evil one. Is there anything so sweet as victory, especially victory over a formidable opponent? No longer will you be beset with a sin you just can't seem to get over. It shows in your basic attitude towards others: you've changed from hatred and manipulation to love.

Fathers

This is the truly mature Christian. John uses a curious phrasing here: "You have known him who is from the beginning." We must remember that the name of God is "I AM" - the self-existent and eternal one. It is by this name that he introduces himself to Moses. To know him that well is to indeed be on very intimate terms with him. This sometimes gives rise to what appears to be a contradiction:

First, you enjoy the sweet company of others who are so mature, for all of you have the same fellowship in common.

But the fellowship you have with God is so strong that you need no other; you can withdraw from the fellowship of the world.

You are called a "father." That means not that you are necessarily old in the physical sense, but that you have spiritual offspring - those who listen to you and learn from you. Whether a teacher in the formal sense, or just one who knows the Lord deeply, others see, learn - and grow.

One last thought: John repeats this thought twice. To the children and young men he gives more than one thought, but to the fathers he gives only this one. Why?

Perhaps, like Pharaoh's dream that Joseph interpreted, it is repeated so that you understand that God has firmly decided it.

Perhaps it's all that you need. "Only thyself, Lord, only thyself," as Aquinas put it.

Grow, then, Christian - grow until the time when you know that you are a father of the church, firmly grounded in fellowship with Christ - seeking only Him.

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