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First John

The Core of Christian Character

1 John 4:13-21

Teddy Roosevelt described his successor, William Howard Taft, as a man who "means well - feebly." Many Christians are like that today. The want to do what is right, but for a variety of reasons - mostly related to fear - they don't. In this brief section, John tells us the secret of Christian character -- courage.

God in Us

(1 John 4:13-16 NIV) We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. {14} And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. {15} If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. {16} And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.

The Holy Spirit

Many Christians ask, "How do I know that I really have the Holy Spirit in me? How do I know that it's not all a sham?" There are a number of evidences:

Do you hear the voice of conscience convicting you of sin? That's the major role of the Holy Spirit - to convict the world of sin and judgment.

He also reminds of the things Jesus said. Do you hear the words of the Scripture as He speaks? (Which is one reason we encourage you to read the Scripture!)

A third evidence is this: we understand what the Scripture says. Do you remember as a beginner Christian that so much of the Bible was incomprehensible to you? And now?

Finally, there is the outward evidence - the fruit of the Spirit.

Testimony

For those of us who like our evidence in hard nosed form, there is that indication of the Spirit also.

The incredible mass of manuscript evidence which supports the Bible.

The prophetic record, over 1500 years long.

Visible yet today, there is the continuous testimony of the church - see what Jesus has done for me.

The Acknowledgement

The word used here for "acknowledge" ("confess" in other translations) means "to assent, to acknowledge and to covenant." In other word, acknowledgement or confession is not something done solely in word, but in action.

So here's a test case. Try it for yourself! If this is the truth, it should work like the truth - and you should see the results in your life.

Those who do try discover something: the internal, personal evidence of the Holy Spirit grows greatly as you testify/acknowledge/confess.

"Know and rely on…"

Trust - or as said here, "rely on" - is the active verb for the noun faith. Therefore, if we are to have this faith, we cannot have it only in the intellectual sense - we must put it into practice.

"Yes," you say, "but …. I'm afraid." It's a reasonable reaction. But as the saying goes, "No guts, no glory." If you know Him, you will rely on Him - and will do as He commands.

Love Casts Out Fear

(1 John 4:17-19 NIV) In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. {18} There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. {19} We love because he first loved us.

The Nature of Courage

Let us first be clear on the nature of courage:

Ignorance is not courage - even willful ignorance. Just because you live with an unexploded bomb in your house does not mean you are courageous. You could be ignorant. You could also be crazy.

Bravado is not courage. The strutting talk of teenage boys has no place in the world of men. Bravado is simply hot air trying to convince yourself of the courage you don't really have.

Courage is looking fear in the face and doing what you are supposed to do anyway. Courage admits fear, by definition. Courage is the conquest of fear.

What Are You Afraid Of?

So, just what is it that you are afraid of? Here are a few common examples:

Ridicule. Whether it's the fear of being laughed at or the fear of being
"found out," we are afraid that others might not like us and accept us.

Suffering. Some of us are not enthusiasts for pain; bodily suffering arouses no smiles. That's normal. Most of us do not relish the idea of dying. That's one kind of suffering. Another kind of suffering is emotional: that our friends and family break apart from us, for example.

Financial. Most of us are convinced we just don't make enough money - and have so little to spare, and therefore fear the consequences of this. Many have suffered financially, and have personal experience in privation.

The future. One of our great fears is the future - we can see so many things which might go wrong, forgetting that they all can't go wrong. We fear what we cannot control.

Love casts out fear

Let's take these fears one by one:

Ridicule

Look, just whom do you serve? Christ, or the world? If my competitor thinks I do a lousy job, that's his opinion. If my boss does, it's entirely another matter.

With whom do you associate? Perhaps you are ridiculed because you're spending too much time in the bar and not enough in church.

If you love them enough, do you care what other people think? If your son were sent to prison, would you visit him or ignore him?

When I first joined this church I mentioned that my wife and I frequently visited a prisoner who had once been a member of our class. The wife of one of our elders heard this and flounced off saying, "I can't believe anyone who is a Christian could possibly be in prison!" Respectability is the counterfeit of righteousness. Seek respectability and never be ridiculed; seek righteousness and never be condemned.

Suffering

Did you really think you'd get through life without it? Everyone suffers; indeed, Christ promises it to his followers. The real question is, "what kind of suffering - and for what reasons."

Does not God use suffering to shape you? Are you so recalcitrant that you are unwilling to let God forge you into his perfect tool?

Does he not promise to reward you a hundred fold in the life to come?

Finally, there is this: would you willingly suffer for your child? Your brother or sister? He is asking you to extend that love to all, as He has extended his love to you.

Financial

Do you happen to recall who owns the cattle on a thousand hills? Is he not also the awesome God who told you that he will care for you, oh you of little faith?

Is this not really a matter of Lordship? If you are not master of your money, then your money is master of you. And Jesus is not.

Finally, are you generous to those you love? Perhaps the issue is not your greed but the limits of the circle of those whom you love.

The Future

As one of our older hymns puts it, "I know who holds the future - and I know who holds my hand." He who commands the present, created the past and controls the future loves you.

If you do his will, would he not care for you? Or do you think he is a God who is not truly love?

Our fears are just that: fears. Conquer them with God's method: love.

Proof in the Pudding

(1 John 4:20-21 NIV) If anyone says, "I love God," yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. {21} And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.

So I know that the Holy Spirit is in me. So I know that love casts out fear. How do I know if I'm getting it right?

Mouth versus Action

This is a pretty obvious point. What do you think of a hypocrite? Not much, I suspect. God is pretty fair about this: he will use the yardstick you proclaim about hypocrites to judge you. Remember what Christ thought of the Pharisees? Hmmmm.

Seen and Unseen

John now points out something for us: it's easier to love the "seen" than the "unseen." Think about it this way: suppose you hear a news story about some small children - say, seven years old or so - who are being confined in a sweat shop and forced to work 16 hour days. That arouses some anger - but then suppose the sweat shop is in your town. Suppose you know the owner. Think how much more outraged you would be!

That's just it: we find our sympathies flowing much more easily for those whom we see. Now turn this around: what examples of this love have we seen?

We have seen the supreme example of Christ on the Cross.

We have the example of others in the church, living and dead - a great cloud of witnesses.

So both our charity and our anger are greatly increased by our seeing a personal, up close example. Which brings us to the question: what do others see in your example?

Commandment

God understands your fears; they are not unusual at all. For that reason God has given us the commandment. Commandment eases uncertainty and doubt. After all, if I am doing what God has clearly stated to be his will, will He not look with favor upon me? "What" always drives out "What If."

Courage is found in command. Soldiers understand this; as the Scripture says, who responds to the uncertain trumpet? But God has blown the trumpet with the strongest of notes. Like the soldier in the confusion of combat, we need to listen to the voice of command cutting through the noise of battle.

Blackjack Pershing put it this way: "Send me soldiers who can shoot and salute." In other words, it is not sufficient for a Christian to know his way around the Bible, to attend Bible class and so on. It is necessary, but not sufficient. To that must be added obedience. When our Lord gives a command, we should follow it. We should not just render our excuses.

Fear God - and let his love drive out fear.

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