By Simon ManchesterSunday 3 Mar 2019Christian Growth with Simon ManchesterFaithReading Time: 19 minutes
We’re going to try to cover the 21 verses in the New Testament Letter, the No.1 Letter written by John, the disciple. What I really want to do this morning is I want to see its usefulness. I am assuming that this Letter was written to be helpful, that it was not written so that it would sit in a Bible and come out every 10 years and kind of confuse us and then go back again.
I am assuming that it was written to be helpful. You know those sort of stories like the story of the American Soldier who is found wandering the streets, an old man, and they find that he has one valuable thing on him and that’s a piece of paper with Abraham Lincoln’s name on it. That is his treasure. But when they read the piece of paper, they discover that it is the signed pension from Abraham Lincoln and that piece of paper which has been folded up and tucked away was actually meant to be practical provision, feeding, everything he needed for every day. And it’s very similar with Scripture. It’s possible to tuck it away, fold it away and miss the fact that it’s really meant to feed us and equip us and help us on a daily basis.
I hope that 1 John will not be put away but that you will look at it again and again because it deals with such remarkably important things.
Eternal Life and its Fruits
John says “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ” and that’s got to be the bulk of people here this morning,” is born of God”. You are born of God if you believe that Jesus is the Christ. Here you are this morning, and you have got a human life which is ticking away and the reason that you have a human life because it goes back to birth – you were born of your parents. If you have eternal life, which is a more significant life, it goes back to another birth; it goes back to being born of God.
So your parents initiated your natural birth – you didn’t plan to come here, you didn’t ask to come here, your parents initiated that and God initiates your new birth into eternal life because He is behind your belief. So don’t think to yourself one day I believe and then suddenly I was born again, but the bible says when God works a new birth in you, you come to the point of being drawn to Christ and putting your faith in Him.
So that’s how John puts it you see. If you believe Jesus is the Christ, it’s because you have been born of God. And all through this Letter as we have been following it on these Sunday mornings, we have been seeing John set out the signs of having eternal life. Just as a doctor would check a person for human life, breathing, pulse, blood pressure, so John is checking people for eternal life, and his three tests are (as you know) love of doctrine, love for the believers and godliness. And of course none of us looks at those three tests, and we say ‘we’ve got them all sewn up – I’m perfectly doctrinally pure – I absolutely love people and I am totally godly’. None of us gets to that conclusion but we recognise that God has begun something in us, a new life in us, so doctrine is meaningful, the believers are special, and godliness is significant and important.
Here in these first 5 verses of chapter 5, he comes to the fruits again, and he says if you’ve been born of God and you have got eternal life (verse 1) you believe.
- Verse 1 – you believe – doctrine is important to you
- Verse 2 – you love – love for the people of God, love to God is important to you
- Verse 3 – godliness – you seek to obey his commands.
So he is coming to the end of the Letter, and he pulls all the threads together, and the emphasis at the end of his Letter is – you are very privileged.
God has done something in you which has changed you, and it’s not just a short term change – it’s an eternal change, and in the present, He’s given you some evidence, some encouragement that there is a new life at work in you.
Now even, says John, when we keep the commands (verses 3-5) they don’t burden us, they don’t crush us, in a sense they free us, and the reason for that is because our faith is in Christ and He is the great overcomer, he helps us to overcome.
Someone has said that faith is like taking hold of the rope that is tied to a speedboat while you are on your skis. You take hold of the rope by faith, this speedboat takes you across what may be fairly rocky water (that’s a strange picture – bumpy water), and you will find yourself being taken, carried, and led because you have taken hold.
So John comes near the end of his Letter as I say – he wants the readers to recognise that their faith in Christ goes back to the kindness of God, the mercy of God and its fruits are a brand new life which causes you to love the truth, love the believers and be committed to godliness.
Do you see therefore that the Christian life is not man-made, is not a human system. I don’t exactly know what unbelieving neighbours around your house think that you are doing this morning or what they think the local church is all about, but my guess is that they could explain it humanly, i.e. they would like to explain it humanely.
They would say ‘there’s my neighbour – he/she is heading off to church – this is kind of one of their activities – I go to the gym – they go to the church – they sit and pretend they are really good and somebody up the front tells them to be a little better, and they then have a cup of coffee, and they all go home, and they like that’.
And so there is the unbeliever attempting to explain the Christian life in completely human terms. I want to say to you – that’s impossible. It’s impossible for the unbeliever to fathom Christianity because Christianity is supernatural; it’s a work of God. It’s miraculous – eyes have been opened – ears have been opened – a heart has been changed – you’ve been reborn into eternal life. And many things may, therefore, come at you but God is going to keep you – it’s eternal. You may feel as though your faith every now and again is coming to the end but God is going to make sure your faith is not coming to the end.
The second thing we notice from this very wonderful piece of teaching is that the new birth which is before your belief or behind your belief means that God has obviously initiated something for you. He has planned something for you. He set his love on you. He’s got a purpose for you for this world. He’s got a purpose for you for the next world. The purpose of this world may involve trouble. It will also involve much joy but there will be an unbelievable blessing to follow and the more you take him at his Word, the more you’ll see that he is faithful.
And because this morning you may have many burdens on your mind and heart, in fact you may almost find it impossible to concentrate because there are things on your mind and heart which are weighing so heavily, it’s possible this morning you are feeling extremely sad, or you are feeling for some reason, strangely lonely or there is some grief which is affecting you, there is an ache in your own heart, or perhaps you feel some resentment about the lot you have been given.
You feel as though you are a little trapped and you are slightly envious of other people. Your path is a difficult one, and you would prefer to be on another path, you can see another path, and you’d like to take it but it’s just not possible – and that’s why you see you need to introduce the truths of 1 John 5 to the ideas which are occupying your brain. Somehow you have to take the truths of 1 John 5 that God has chosen you and given you new birth into eternal life, and therefore he must love you, and he must have purposes for you, and he must know what he’s doing and you introduce that to the idea which is in your head which is so sad and the great truth of God’s love for you and his purposes for you influences that sadness and changes the perspective.
The third thing which we see in these wonderful summary verses is that John is obviously telling us very crucial things. He’s not telling us forgettable things. He’s not writing a letter which we could put into the D-Grade Scripture box because he says there is nothing as important in the whole universe as having fellowship with God. If there’s one thing that really matters while you get to walk through this world for 70-80 years is that you would have fellowship with God because in the end, everything and everyone else is going to disappear and your relationship with God is the one thing which will go over into the next world.
And John doesn’t just want you to have fellowship with God as a fact, as a difficult fact, he wants you to have fellowship with God, as a joyful fact. That’s why he says at the beginning “I write this so that your joy, our joy, will be complete”.
Jonathon Edwards taught again and again and again that when we put our faith in Jesus, it glories God, but when we appreciate him, he’s even more glorified. It’s one thing you see to be orthodox – ‘Yes I believe’ – that pleases God but to recognise how great he is and how gracious he is – that greatly glorified him.
So 1 John has told us that our fellowship is with God and it comes through Jesus, and if we have small views of Jesus or diminished views of Jesus, we will miss God.
If I might put it like this – if Jesus is the ‘bus’ that takes you to God and he is the ‘bus’ which is No.777, and you catch bus No. 776 – you won’t go to God. The bus of Jesus is the complete picture of Jesus. And that’s why we therefore know, says John that we are in a fight, we are in a doctrinal fight. The world has a much-diminished view of Jesus, the church often has a much-diminished view of Jesus – we need to fight for the truth. And we also need to work at our fellowship because if relationships horizontally are bad, relationship vertically is affected. And we also need to work on our godliness because it’s impossible to walk in the dark and pretend that you are in the light and it’s impossible to walk two roads, and it’s impossible to live a compromised life and has joyful fellowship with God. So if you are asking why is 1 John useful, it tells us about the most important person in the world with whom we can have fellowship, and that has got to be worth grasping.
Eternal Life and its Focus
The second section this morning – Eternal Life and its Focus – verses 6-12 – if you look at verse 11 “This is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son; he who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life”.
It couldn’t be simpler, C.S. Lewis says in one of his letters that when a man is standing out in the midday sun, and the sun is directly above him, he casts the smallest shadow and he goes on in the letter to say that when a man or a woman stands faithfully, as faithfully as they can under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, they don’t have a rivalry for glory. He is everything.
John in this section of 1 John is wanting to show that Jesus is the focus of everything. Everything points to him. And this is again so important for us to know because we know that the non-Christian leaves Christ out of their thinking. If you were to ask a non-Christian, ‘why will you one day go to heaven?’ they will start to talk about almost anything but Christ.
If a non-Christian ever stops thinking about just the here and now and starts to think about things spiritual – you know they will think about religion or ritual or spirituality or ecology or yoga or something that’s got nothing to do with Jesus. But when God works on you and your eyes are opened, you’ll find yourself standing in front of Mt Everest, who is Jesus, and you can’t work out how you ever missed him before, and you can’t work out how another person can miss the greatness of Jesus.
One of the things that grips me and keeps me coming back again and again when I’m tempted in a moment of foolishness to just give up the Christian life – one of the things that bring me back is the greatness of the person of Jesus in the New Testament. As I read about him, I realise that no human could have made him up. He’s not a creation. He’s presented as the Creator. He’s beyond creating.
John, you see, wants us to know that everything points to him. Look at verse 6 – this very difficult verse – “This is the one who came by water and blood – Jesus Christ. He didn’t come by water only, but water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies because the Spirit is the truth.”
Now this is a phrase which hugely entertains Commentaries, and there are many, many thoughts, and just for your interest, one of the theories is that this is a reference to when Jesus was stabbed on the cross and water, and blood flowed out of him. And other people say that this is the two sacraments, Baptism and Communion. But most people would think that this is probably a reference to Jesus beginning his ministry in his baptism in water and finishing his earthly ministry at the cross in blood.
In other words, what John is saying is – this is Jesus who began and finished his ministry. He started, and he achieved it. He did not step out of it. He went right through with it. He is the complete Messiah. I know some people in discussing these things can quote certain heresies around the 1st or 2nd Century which may or may not explain what John is actually grappling with. I am always wary of this because it seems to me that if you have to read secondary sources to understand the Scriptures, what happens to the people who don’t have access to the secondary sources. It seems to me that the Bible is pretty plain on its own. And I don’t think there is any difficulty in recognising as we read these verses that what John is simply saying is that Jesus didn’t just start his ministry, he went right through with it. He completed what he had come to do. So we must therefore not fall for a diminished view of Jesus – if you do fall for a diminished view of Jesus, and it’s straightforward to do, it will, of course, dishonour him, and it will fail you.
Wesby says in his Commentary – a little comic verse – Farewell to Jimmy Brown, Poor Jimmy is no more. For what he thought was H2O Was H2SO4 And I presume what that means is that if you think sincerely in the wrong direction, it will be dangerous, not fatal and if you think sincerely about Jesus, as many do, in the wrong view of Jesus, a changed, distorted, diminished, reduced view of Jesus, it would be dangerous – we need the full Biblical portrait. And to believe the whole truth of Christ, God helps us. The Holy Spirit (v 6) inwardly persuades us. The Holy Spirit inwardly (see verse 10) the testimony is in his heart, the Holy Spirit helps us to take Jesus seriously. The Holy Spirit, who caused the portrait of Jesus in the Bible to be done, helps the believer to grapple and grasp the portrait of Jesus in the Bible. And that’s why we need to continually grapple with and absorb the full Biblical portrait of Jesus. This is an even greater testimony, says John, than human testimony. It’s one thing, isn’t it, to have a person say ‘Jesus is great’ – it’s another thing to have the Holy Spirit inwardly persuade you – Yes He’s the One.
When we are in Christ as we heard in our message to children, we find that we have eternal life. When, as it were, step by faith into Christ, just like Noah and his family stepped into the Ark of the Old Testament, we find that we have eternal life. We step into Christ by faith, and all God’s riches and all God’s blessings come to us.
I don’t know if you are keeping up with 21st Century pirating which is taking place on the seven seas, pretty well every week of every month of every year but I gather from what I was reading that in the 20th Century a lot of pirates get on board certain ships and then lose the bid to take over the ship. And the captain and the crew managed to overcome the pirates who have stepped on to take over. It’s no point, apparently to hang on to these pirates and take them home to court and justice or whatever it is because almost none of them get prosecuted. Something like 1 out of 10 gets properly prosecuted. And so what captains and crews are doing with pirates who step on and try to take over their ship is that they simply take these defeated pirates and instead of asking them to ‘walk the plank’ as they would have done in the old days, they put them into a little inflated raft and they basically just push them out into the middle of the ocean where almost all of them disappear. No navigational equipment, no food, and no drink – this is the equivalent in the 21st Century and pretty true to human nature of getting rid of your pirates. We didn’t shoot them, we didn’t push them off the side, we put them into a little inflatable boat, and we just sent them away!
Now contrast what God does with the opposition to his own Kingdom. We foolishly attempt to oppose him and rebel him again and what does he do? First of all he changes our inclination, changes our constitution, changes our heart, welcomes us into the very centre of his purposes, puts us as it were in the middle of his ship, and although the trip may be a slow and difficult one, he plans to take us as his people, his new people, all the way home. It’s a remarkable shift, isn’t it? And it all takes place in Christ. Therefore if you are confused about the Christian life, find out everything about Jesus and when you have found out everything about Jesus, put your trust in him, and you have everything that God intends to give to anybody.
Eternal life and its Fellowship
Now the last little section – Verse 13 – “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so you may know that you have eternal life”. Verse 14 – “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us”.
Now this last section (verses 13-21) really has one great aim in mind, and that is to tell you that your fellowship with God is such a privilege you cannot keep it to yourself. It spills out. You are being reminded in verse 13 that you have eternal life – that’s very wonderful. You are being reminded in verse 14 that you can approach God because you are in fellowship with God and you are able to talk with him, and that’s very wonderful, and he hears us (verse 15), and that’s very wonderful and as we begin to talk to him, we can’t stop being concerned (verse 16) for brothers and sisters.
Now just before we go to that section, it is important isn’t it, to know that if you have a real fellowship with God, it’s probably going to show itself in prayer? I know prayer is difficult – I don’t want to give you a big beat-up on quantity or time or heroics about the subject of prayer, but I think it is fair to say that if a person has got eternal life, they will find themselves unavoidably talking to God. And ideally, you won’t talk to God with little rote prayers.
Can you imagine going up to the members of your family and only saying ‘learned poems’ to them – odd! You won’t just be quoting God formulaic – I learned this when I was a child prayer – you’ll find yourself talking like an adult to God. And I think you should ask yourself the question (as I should ask myself the question) ‘do you know what it is like to have a proper conversation with God’?
Instead of just saying quickly “The Lord’s Prayer” although that may be appropriate – do you know what it is to make time and to sit and have a conversation with God? Because that is going to be the most crucial, most relational part of the fellowship with God. And as you have this conversation with God; it will be impossible for you to now to be interested in brothers and sisters. You won’t just be able to talk about yourself. When you see a brother or sister who is in trouble, physical, especially spiritual, you’ll want to speak to your Heavenly Father about them.
If they are drifting into sin, if they are committing sin, if they are hardening, if they are wandering away, if they are playing with sin, part of you will want to pray to God for that brother or sister because of course you are aware of the importance of fellowship with God, and you are aware of course of the dangers of losing fellowship with God. Now in this section John draws attention to a sin which doesn’t lead to death which I presume is a normal sin and there is the sin that leads to death, and again this completely rattles the commentators, and there is a whole lot of theories about what this ‘sin that leads to death’ could be. Is it suicide? Is it the sin against the Holy Spirit? And I don’t think it is necessary actually to pin down and perfect our solution this morning.
I think what we should do is take a big New Testament perspective which basically says that if it is still possible to pray for a brother who is in trouble, pray for the brother. If they’ve gone, if they’ve gone off into death, well prayer is over. You can only give thanks for them. But if there is still time to pray for someone, pray for them. Because there is a real spiritual battle going on, we are able (verse 18) to be confident that God will keep a person from sin and keep bringing them back (that’s why we are so grateful aren’t we as Christians) that we wander, God brings us back,we wander again so stupidly,he teaches us the foolishness of the sin,we come back to him,we wander and he brings us back – God is so gracious to us, and he keeps us (verse 18) from the evil one.
The world, of course, is in the grip of the evil one (verse 19), but we have been brought (verse 20) to recognise the Son of God has come, has died for us so that we might be forgiven and adopted and have eternal life and therefore we are wonderfully privileged. Then this final appeal(Verse 21) “Dear children, keep yourselves from idols”.Why does he finish the Letter like that? Because the very opposite of God is an idol and the very opposite of fellowship with God is stupidity with an idol. The God who is able to give you and me all necessary and wonderful things is so totally different from the idol who presents well and then hopelessly fails us. And that’s why the book-ends of the Letter are clever because John begins by saying ‘I want you to have joyful fellowship with God’ and to do that you’ll need to get rid of idols. Well, I want to finish by just taking you back to that little story of the man walking the streets with a piece of paper in his pocket and Abraham Lincoln’s name on it. Because it is perfectly true that Scripture may be wasted, it may be hidden away, it may not be doing what it should be doing and could be doing but there is something more serious than missing out on Scripture’s benefit, and that is missing out on the God of Scripture’s fellowship. There is something worse than losing the blessing of your Bible, and that is to lose the blessing of fellowship with God.
It is so easy for us, isn’t it, that as we go through this world fellowship with God is difficult. Everything else is easy, and therefore I will do what is easy, and then we discover that fellowship with God is more distant and vague and mist-like and everything else is so tangible although dissatisfying. John is urging us in this wonderful Letter to put aside the things which are going to wreck your fellowship with God and do anything you can to enjoy fellowship with God because that will lead you to the joys that no earthly idol can possibly provide. And as you enjoy fellowship with God and things clarify in your mind and heart, you will find that almost everything in the world will fall into place. Show me the person who is walking in joyful fellowship with God, and I’ll show you the person who is not being easily tricked by all the things which are going to in the end delude and fail. That’s what John is calling us to – joyful fellowship with God which means putting away anything which is a fake and a substitute and a mistake.
Let’s pray, Our Heavenly Father, we thank you for this part of your word this morning. We ask that you would, in your goodness and power, help us because our hearts go back all the time and we ask that in the power of your Spirit and in the wisdom of your word, you would help us to seek you, to draw near to you, to find that you draw near to us and to find that in you is more joy than all the sin of the world. We pray that as we seek to walk with you in the light, that you would give us discernment in the face of error, that you would give us love in the face of tension. We pray that you would also give us godliness in the face of compromise. We pray for our Father that we would have the privilege, of being in the midst of a world that is marked by idols, to know you in joyful fellowship. We ask it in Jesus’ Name – Amen