Thursday, June 1, 2023

The Theme of 1 John

Does anyone else enjoy Bojangle's? Ah, coffee and a sausage biscuit. The food of heaven.

At any rate, this morning I reread 1 John in preparation for teaching about that book in my Greek class this morning. 

John's theme here is based on two attributes of God (and only two):

  • God is light (that is, God is truth)
  • God is love (that is, God is selfless)

If you care to read it, my power point goes into greater detail. 

The main thing I wish to say to my students today is that John is not talking about a purely academic knowledge of God in 1 John, as if we could get a degree in "God." That is not the kind of knowledge he is talking about. John is talking about the personal knowledge of God -- the possibility of coming to know him in a personal and intimate way for ourselves. Jesus himself said that this is the meaning of eternal life. "Eternal life is that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent." This means that we human beings are not fully human if we don't know God. The human being is a person made by God, like God, and for God, so that he may spend time and eternity with God. 

The second thing I wish to make clear today is that these two attributes are supremely practical ones. I'm very anxious to have my students see that the Bible is essentially a practical book. The Bible doesn't answer many of our philosophical questions because, as I said, the Bible is a severely practical book. What strikes me as I meditate on the book of 1 John is that although John affirms that God is both light and love, he doesn't explore those affirmations. Instead, he makes his affirmations the ground of an appeal to his readers to practice truth and to love one another. He asks, in essence:

"What earthly good is it to proclaim that God is truth unless we are committed to putting the truth into practice? And what earthly good is it to proclaim that God is love if we are not committed to loving one another?"

So if we claim to know God, we should exbibit the love of the God we claim to know. If we are truly born of God, then we will manifest the nature of the God who has begotten us again. The logic of what John is saying is impeccable. The love of God is the love that stoops and sacrifices, it's the love that took Christ to the cross, it's the love of our enemies. That kind of love is possible only to those who've born of God and to whom he has imparted some of his very own nature. 

I dare to say that this love -- this obedience to the Lord's commandment to love one another -- is THE hallmark of genuine Christianity. Whoever does not love like that does not know God, however much they may claim to, however orthodox they may be in their theology, however religious they may appear to be. It's a very solemn statement. How can we preach the gospel of God's love if we do not look like what we're talking about? The entire world craves this kind of love. It's crying out for love. I know I do. People are hungry for love. 

Years ago a Fuller prof wrote a book called Deceived

It was an investigation into the Jonestown tragedy -- that mass suicide of a thousand of Jim Jones's followers in the jungles of Guyana. The author wanted to investigate the cause of this appalling event. How could it happen? As he talked to former members of that cult, this is what he found:

"Jim Jones's victims were from our churches, but they didn't find love there. In the Jones cult, they found the love and care they were looking for."

When I was young, my mother was almost persuaded to become a Jehovah's Witness. Oh, it was not because of their theology. It was because of the way they treated her and her children by bringing us food and other necessities of life. I have no doubt that this is one reason this cult is so popular in the Islands, where people find it so hard to make it financially and are often dependent on the care of others.

Before class ends today, I will ask my students to repeat the following pledge after me. For what good does it do to read and translate the book of 1 John if we do not obey its teaching? Here is our pledge. Perhaps you will want to recite it as well:

  • I will do my best
  • as God enables me
  • to make my church
  • a more loving community
  • to our members
  • and to the strangers in our midst.

So I end this post on that note. If the apostle John were here, he would say, "Beloved, let us love one another. Not just so that we may attract outsiders to the fellowship, so that they might see the invisible God in our love, but because God IS love and because he has loved us in Christ. So that if we do not love one another, our claim to know God is just a hollow mockery."