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That God…This Life

(This was a message that I preached at CrossRoads of Arlington on 10/10/10.  If you wish, you can listen to it here.)

Today, we start a new series, one more typical of what we do at CrossRoads, wherein we go through a book of the bible verse by verse.  Our series will concentrate on 1st John, 2nd John, 3rd John, and Jude, starting with 1st John.

Before we look at 1:1, I think it will be helpful to know a little more about the book and the context in which it was written, so that we might understand it even better.  So just a bit of information.

Who wrote this book? Most people attribute this book to John, son of Zebedee, brother of James, one of the 12 disciples, the same person who wrote the gospel of John, 2nd & 3rd John as well as Revelation.

When was this book written? Again, most scholars place the date of writing between the years 85-95 AD.

Now, let’s put this in perspective with John’s life.  He was one of Jesus’ 12 disciples with Jesus during the years 30-33 AD, and although we don’t know John’s precise age, most think he was between the age of 18-30.  But let’s say, he was in his early 20’s.  After the resurrection of Jesus, we see John as one of the leaders of the church in the book of Acts.  Church history scholars tell us that in the 60’s John moved to the region of Ephesus to oversee the churches in that region.  There, John composed the Gospel of John, probably sometime between the years 70-80 AD, which would make him between the age of 60-70.

A few years later, while still living in Ephesus, John composed the letter now known as 1st John in the years 85-95 AD, which would make John between the age of 75-85.  When he wrote these words, they are from the perspective of a man who has been following Jesus Christ for at least 55 years.

How is this book written, stylistically speaking? It is a letter, although it is not addressed to anyone in particular, so most think it was intended for the churches in the region of Ephesus.  In reading 1st John, it helps to think of it like a song, a song with two choruses, with one chorus being “God is light,” and the other chorus being “God is love.”  After John introduces the “chorus,” he then has different stanzas about that chorus.  “Since God is light, then we should..”, and “Since God is light, then we should..”

We have the who, the when, the where, and the how, but what about the why?

Why did John write this letter? In 5.13, John tells us his reason for writing this letter, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.”

In essence, John has distilled in this letter what it means, what it looks like, when a man or a woman is following Jesus Christ.  As he nears the end of his life, John puts down in writing what he knows about Jesus Christ, and he can do so with special authority because he was there right next to Jesus.

In John’s day, and in the region of Ephesus where John lived, the church was experiencing some difficulties.  A couple of religious movements had taken the language and symbols of Christianity to create their own religion, which were confusing people as well as pulling them away from following Jesus Christ.

John clarifies what it means for a person to be a follower of Christ so that there will be no confusion.   John wanted them, and he wants us, to know that “that God cares about this life, about our lives, about every single aspect of our lives.”

Let’s now take a look at 1 John 1:1, where John begins.

1.  That God

Starting in 1.1. “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—”

John was there.

But, why does John say “that?”  Why “that?”

Let’s compare this beginning with the Prologue in John’s Gospel, starting in 1:1, “ 1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was with God in the beginning.  3Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4In him was life, and that life was the light of men.”

In his gospel, John talks of He, Him, and Whom, but in his letter, he talks of “that which.”  Why?

One reason might be purpose.  In the gospel account, John’s purpose is for people to know Jesus Christ.  In John 20:30, “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples which are not recorded in this book.  But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”  In the gospel, he wants people to know about Jesus.

He may also want to show something of God’s nature.  In that big picture of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, there is no separation.  They are one, which is the opposite of what some of these competing religions in Ephesus were teaching.  They were teaching that Jesus was not always God, that the divine presence of God descended on him and ascended from him at various times.  John says not true.

Another reason might be to paint a bigger picture of God.  Whereas in the gospel, John wrote about this Jesus, this God who became a man and all that he did, like turn water into wine, heal the sick, raise a man from the dead, be crucified, and then came back to life, who transformed John’s life, now he wants to paint the picture bigger.

He wants to help them and us to understand that our interaction with God encompasses more than we might think.  The bigger picture of God is God the Father, God the Creator, God the Provider, God the Protector, the Son Jesus Himself, and the Holy Spirit which resides in every believer guiding and instructing.  All that.  “That total experience”- that whole totality of the Godhead which has so greatly transformed his life- that whole God/Jesus/Holy Spirit.  That big picture.

So he writes, ““1That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.”

This God, who revealed Himself to us in Jesus, who continues to express Himself through the Holy Spirit.

“2The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. 3We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard,

John’s point is that this is not an idea or a philosophy, this is real, and he not only emphasizes again that he has seen and heard Jesus, but for the third time, John says we proclaim this.  He wants to pass along what he has experienced.  Why?

“so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. 4We write this to make our joy complete.”

That God cares about this life, about our lives, and that God desires to have a connection with us in this life.   The word he uses to describe the connection we have with that God is the word we usually translate as “fellowship.”

Fellowship is a word, a good word, but one that for some people, if you’ve been around churches awhile might have other connotations.  If you’re in high school, fellowship might mean pizza, and if you’re an adult, it might mean “potluck dinners.”  Both are good, but John had something else in mind.

The Message uses the phrase “a shared life,” which is a closer representation of what John is trying to express.  When we become a follower of Jesus Christ, we now can “share life” with God.

Not only do we “share life” with God, but we can now “share life” with other followers of Christ as well.  Now, how we “share life” is going to look different for each of us because we’re all made differently and we’re all at different stages.  For some, to “share life” is going to mean being here at a weekend gathering, singing with other people, and listening to a message.  We are sharing this experience with one another.  For others, it might mean being in a group with other people, where we are listening and speaking about our interactions with God to one another.  We are learning from one another, and we are praying for one another.  For others, “sharing life” might mean helping others in some capacity.

When we find “that God” as John describes it, when we find Jesus, we’re no longer on our own.  That God cares about this life.  He’s not so big that he doesn’t care.

Whatever he does to make us aware of His reality, truth, grace, love, or freedom, the message is this:  Tomorrow does not have to be like today.  This afternoon does not have to be like this morning.  Today does not have to be like yesterday.

And as John wrote, this is the message we proclaim to you.

2.  This life

Picking up in verse 5,  “This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you:
God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.”

The Bible is full of references using this symbolism of God as light.  When they do so, the writers are saying that God symbolizes truth, righteousness, and a way of hope as compared to sin, evil, and hopelessness.

We see this symbol across all types of biblical writing.

In the psalms, psalm 27.1 “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear?”

In the prophets, Micah 7:8-9, “Do not gloat over me, my enemy!  Though I have fallen, I will rise.  Though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light.  Because I have sinned, I will bear the Lord’s wrath, until he pleads my case and establishes my right.  He will bring me out into the light.  I will see his righteousness.”

And John used this symbolism in his gospel, 1:4-5, speaking of Jesus, “In him was life, and that life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.”

In 8:12, “When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

And in 12:35-36, “Then Jesus told them, “You are going to have the light just a little while longer.  Walk while you have the light before darkness overtakes you.  The man who walks in the dark does not know where he is going.  Put your trust in the light while you have it, so that you may become sons of light.”

And here in 1st John, “This is the message we proclaim to you, God is light, in him there is no darkness at all.”

This is one of John’s themes in this letter, his chorus, and now John is going to give us 3 stanzas of this song.  Each stanza begins with a negative statement, “If we claim” and then John counters that with a positive statement, “but if”

Each of these “if we claim” statements were misconceptions and distortions of Christianity that had been systematized in popular philosophies and religions known as gnosticism or docetism.  We may or may not know what these are, but what we will find is that even though people might not formally practice these religions today, they still have roots in our culture.  These roots, these distortions, are actually disruptions of the human nature.  We may not practice or adhere to gnosticism, but we might find ourselves practicing a form of it.

Gnostics believed in a separation of the spiritual from the material.  For them, all that mattered is what you knew or what you believed.  Therefore, you were not held accountable for what you did, because what you did took place in the material, and the material was irrelevant.

Jesus, as John had seen and heard, taught that God sees it all as one- what you think and believe, what you feel, and what you do.  Jewish religious people, as confronted by Jesus, might have done the right thing, but they hated doing it.  Gnostics knew what the right thing to do was, but they didn’t do it.  Each tried to justify themselves, just as we still do today.  Jesus says, it’s all wrapped into one and you can’t separate one from another.

What the Jewish religious leaders were doing in Jesus’ day, and what the Gnostics were doing in John’s day, and what we still do today is compartmentalizing.  We separate this from that, and that from this, and we’re doing okay by this, and that doesn’t matter.  We say that doesn’t count against me.

Let’s take a look at what John has to say, beginning In verse 6, “If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth.”

Now, as you’ve been noticing, I’m wearing a Texas Rangers jersey.  I live in Arlington, Texas, I am a fan of the Texas Rangers, I’ve been to a few games this year, and I’m happy about the playoffs.  If you were to see me wearing this jersey, you would say, he is a fan of the Texas Rangers.

However, if you saw me wearing this jersey, and this NY Yankee cap, what would you say?  Would you believe me when I said I was a fan of the Rangers?  What if I said I was a fan of the Yankees?  You would call me a liar.

As John wrote for us, “if we claim to have fellowship with him (point to jersey), yet walk in the darkness (point to cap), we lie and do not live by the truth.”

You can’t have both.  It’s either one or the other.

At this point, we could get bogged down while I list off 6 things that demonstrate a person in walking in the darkness.  Most people might tense up as the 6 things were listed off.  Some might get angry because their thing was listed and it’s not as bad as number 4, and others would breath a sigh of relief when their thing wasn’t listed.  They might think, whew, “see it’s not that bad, because the minister didn’t mention it.”  And once again, like the people John is writing to, we would be compartmentalizing.

To walk in darkness is to go against God in any part of our lives.

But, we are not stuck there, because with God, there is always good news, and the good news is in verse 7, “7But 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, purifies us from all sin.”

Just as we read earlier in psalms, in Micah, and the words of Jesus, God is the light, and He is our way out.  Jesus Christ purifies us from ALL sin.  ALL sin.

John moves on to the 2nd and 3rd claims that people were making, beginning in verse 8, “8If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.  9If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.  10If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.  1My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. 2He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.”

To go back to our analogy of the jersey and the cap.  I wear this Texas Rangers jersey and say I’m a fan of the Texas Rangers.  Yes, I have this cap on, but it means nothing.  The fact that it has a NY Yankee insignia is meaningless.  You’re making too much of a big deal out of it.  I needed a cap to keep my head protected from the elements.  You’ve got it all wrong.  I am a Texas Rangers fan.

“If we claim to be without sin”

We have this unique ability to separate.  I have that thing, that ugly part of me, hostility, addiction, jealously, a relationship with a person that never goes right, I have that thing.  That thing might only rear its ugly head on occasion.  I look at myself and see a good person.  Yeah, there’s that thing, but it’s not me.  I separate that thing from myself.  I compartmentalize it.  I minimize it.

It doesn’t matter if it’s a feeling or if it’s an action.  It doesn’t matter, if it’s happening daily or bi-annually, we see ourselves and dismiss that thing.  “It’s not the real me, and therefore it doesn’t count.”

“If we claim to be without sin”

Have you ever known someone who can never admit their wrong?  They have never admitted that they’ve made a mistake.  A boss?  A parent?  A friend?  A spouse?  When that person is in a situation where they have obviously done something wrong, but refuse to admit it, or when they refuse to ever admit that they’ve hurt, offended, or even forgotten anything, then your relationship with that person is fractured.  Essentially, what that person is doing is calling you a liar.

“If we claimed we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar.”

Why is John making a big deal out of this?  Why can’t John understand that none of us are perfect, we all have those little imperfections, we’re doing the best we can, and just let it go?  Why is this a big deal?

Here’s my gym bag that I take with me when I go to the gym to work out in the mornings.  It’s got all these different compartments so the sweaty clothes don’t touch the electronics who don’t touch the shower sandals who don’t touch the clean stuff.  Everybody stays in their own compartment.

I will go to the gym, work out, clean up, and stick the sweaty, stinky clothes in this separate compartment.  I then zip it up, out of sight, and toss it in the back seat, where it bakes all day.  When I get home, I toss the bag near the stairs, and I might remember to take it upstairs.  The next day, I wake up, put on new gym clothes, put new clean clothes in the clean clothes compartment and go work out.  After working out, I open the sweaty clothes compartment to find an awful, ridiculous, horrendous stench, because there are the sweaty clothes from the day or week before.  The longer they reside in that compartment, the worse they stink.

When we take that stuff, those attitudes, those feelings, those actions, those beliefs, and we compartmentalize them in our life, thinking, “it’s not a big deal.  It’s not who I am.”  When we do so, we are setting ourselves up for one major stinkfest, and it will come out.  In fact, that compartment will eventually lead to a fracturing of our lives.

This is why John is addressing the issue immediately in his letter.  Don’t buy into the lie that you can compartmentalize things in your life, that you can separate them, and that they don’t matter.  They do.  If you try to hide them or ignore, they will eventually wreak havoc on you.

Separation leads to stink.

Three times, John has warned us about the lies we buy into and the lies we live.  And three times, John shows us the help we need.

In verse 7 “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, purifies us from all sin.”

In verse 9 ”If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

In chapter 2:1, “But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. 2He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.”

And, John is careful to point out, this was not for a select few, not for those just in the know, but for the whole world.  When you look through the gospels, you see that Jesus made himself known to all people:  to men, women, and children; to the rich and the poor, to the healthy and the sick, to the religious and the irreligious, to everyone.   Jesus’ death and resurrection was for everyone.

Conclusion

As John began, he started with the word “that” to paint a big picture of God:  God the Creator, God the Father, God the Provider, the God who became flesh in Jesus Christ, the God who sacrificed himself for His creation, the God who raised Himself from the dead for his creation, the God who infuses His spirit into each of those who believe and follow him- That God cares about this life.

“That God warns us against these compartments we are creating within our lives- the ones that we ignore- the ones that smell, the ones that cause fractures and disruptions in our relationship with that God but also withine ourselves and our relationships with others.  That God enters our world and says, “it doesn’t have to be that way.”

That God sacrificed himself for us in this life, so that we can have different tomorrows than today.  So that this afternoon can be different than this morning, and that today can be different from yesterday.

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Categories: Speaking
  1. Michael Hedgpeth
    October 11, 2010 at 4:03 am

    Excellent sermon, Chris. One of your best!

  2. October 11, 2010 at 4:46 am

    I agree! Great message. I just read it again after hearing it on Sunday and was so blessed by it. Thanks!!

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