1 John Part 3

How old are you? Ever thought about that from a spiritual perspective? As we move further into 1 John 2 he outlines different ways to understand our spiritual age. There is the expression, ‘Age is inevitable, maturity is optional.’ The clear implication is that in both natural and spiritual life we don’t simply mature through the passage of time, there is something we need to do – we need to intentionally pursue maturity. It is a bit like exercise. I was at the gym one time and wanted to use a piece of equipment. I asked the young lady about to use it how long she would be. She told me she would be a while, she was, in fact she was over half an hour. However she reaped almost no benefit from the equipment because she spent almost the entire time standing and talking with someone and about 2 minutes using the equipment. I see a lot of this in those who struggle with exercise, they embrace the concept but engage very little in the practice and lament the lack of results.

So, back to spiritual growth. What does John have to teach us. In chapter 2 John uses four different terms that speak to our relationship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Two terms speak of children and the others of fathers (mothers as well) and young men (young women as well). With the references to children a key distinction is lost in the translation from Greek to English and easily leads to a lack of clarity, or to us missing the point of what John is teaching. So, let’s look at the text as in most translations the distinction is lost and John does make a distinction many times in this short book.

1  My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. 2  And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world. 1 John 2:1-2 (NKJV)

John is here continuing his opening exhortation. He started his letter by saying he wanted us to have fellowship and now he also shows us that out of fellowship we can walk in victory over sin. However before touching on that he refers to his readers, and by extension us, as ‘little children.’ This reference is not one of maturity, it is an expression of affection. The word and meaning are below.

τεκνίον teknion noun Little child.

Word Studies: The word teknion is used nine times in the New Testament, seven of those occurrences in 1 John. It is a late and somewhat rare usage, and the term is actually a nursery term meaning “little child.” It does not occur in the Septuagint or early Christian literature outside the New Testament.

Its usage in the New Testament occurs in the vocative plural. It is used as a special endearing term by both Jesus and the apostles as they address their spiritual children (Oepke, “pais,” Kittel, 5:637).

The Complete Biblical Library Greek-English Dictionary – Sigma-Omega.

So the phrase ‘little children’ could for the sake of clarity be translated as ‘dear children’ since it is a term of affection rather than an identifier of maturity. In using it John is affectionately addressing believers of all ages and stages of maturity. For example my son is almost 23 and a lot of people refer to him as Mike, I still use his full name Michael because of the meaning it carries for me. When my children were both young I had terms of affection I used that changed over time but always expressed my heart because of my relationship to them.

This affectionate term or variants is used in the following verses in 1 John. 2:1, 12, 28, 3:7, 10, 18, 4:4, 5:2, 21. The other term is used in 2:13 and 18.

παιδίον paidion noun Infant, little or young child.

In the New Testament paidion is used in a number of ways…An interesting usage of this family aspect is seen in 1 John 2:13 where paidion is used to address the youngest believers in the family of God. In that usage it is to be distinguished from teknia (see 4891), the term John used to address all his readers (1 John 2:1,12,28). Here paidion seems to emphasize the fact that a child is a learner, one who needs guidance, while teknia stresses the fact that the child was born into the family.

Paidion can also be used to address believers who are deficient in spiritual understanding. In 1 Corinthians 14:20 Paul exhorted the Christians at Corinth not to be childish in understanding. Instead they were to grow up and exhibit mature spiritual intellects. They needed to become spiritual adults, that is, mature.

The Complete Biblical Library Greek-English Dictionary – Pi-Rho.

So John has a term of affection he uses to refer to all believers and a term that speaks to our level of maturity. It is helpful to read 1 John in this light. In my next post I will delve further into this and more of what John has to share with us. For now the question remains. How old are we?

1 John Part 2

Below is the beginning of 1 John.

1  That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life – 2  the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us – 3  that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. 4  And these things we write to you that your joy may be full. 1 John 1:1-4 (NKJV)

What is John’s point in these first 4 verses as he begins? Think of this expression, “A man with an experience has no mercy for a man with an argument.” This is analogous to “Seeing is believing,” which I suspect is rooted in Thomas statement that he would not believe Jesus had risen unless he saw him himself and handled him. The point being that someone who has an actual experience is not easily swayed by arguments. John had that. In 1:1-4 he establishes the foundation and goal of our faith. Our foundation is fellowship (intimate communion) with the Father and Son, John says Jesus was real, He was flesh and blood. He begins this little book by refuting the Gnostic idea that the material or body did not matter. The foundation of the gospel message is Jesus incarnation, it matters! John boldly declares that he knew Jesus, he saw Him and touched Him.

John goes on to tell us that Jesus coming to us in the flesh was the manifestation of the eternal life that was with the Father, came from the Father and was revealed to us. Even though Jesus was revealed in flesh in time, He was ‘from the beginning.’ John asserts that understanding this is the foundation of fellowship among one another as Christians and with the Father and Son. The fruit of this should be joy in our lives. The implication here is that no matter how we may protest, if we refuse to believe Jesus came in the flesh and is God in the flesh we have no real fellowship with either one another or the Godhead. There are two implications here. One is that John clearly refutes the false theology of Gnosticism and affirms the historic Christian faith. The other, which is very important for us today, is that ‘fellowship’ is something more than just a group of Christians spending time together, the byproduct of true Christian fellowship is inner joy outwardly manifest. The implication – if we are lacking in joy we are lacking in genuine fellowship. Are we experiencing or entering into genuine Christian fellowship?

The next question – are we walking in the light?

5  This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. 6  If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 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 Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. 1 John 1:1-10 (NKJV)

John then builds on the idea of fellowship being connected with joy to also connecting fellowship to light. We can understand joy through observation – how do we understand light? Below are a few of the many relevant scriptures that tell us something about the light of His presence. I have emphasized the focus on light.

6  For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 2 Corinthians 4:6 (NKJV) 1  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2  He was in the beginning with God. 3  All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. 4  In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5  And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. John 1:1-5 (NKJV)

12  Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.” John 8:12 (NKJV) 16  who alone has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see, to whom be honor and everlasting power. Amen. 1 Timothy 6:16 (NKJV)

These verses explain Paul’s heart cry.

17  that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, 18  the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, Ephesians 1:17-18 (NKJV)

Enlightened understanding and hearts draw us deeper into fellowship with the Trinity and one another. It is walking in the light that leads us into right relationships with one another. When we enter into the divine passion and relationship within the Trinity we have something to impart to others. The goal is right relationships that are established by our commitment to truth. To walk in the light we need to obey the truth of scripture through the grace supplied by the Spirit. We walk in the light by walking in Jesus character, walking into righteousness, which means that without focusing on it we are also walking away from sin. In practical terms this means that if we become angry with someone we need to respond based on the truth of scripture and look to the Spirit for the grace/strength to walk in love in relation to that individual. If there needs to be forgiveness or restitution He is the source of our strength.

We see in 1:5-7 that Jesus walked in the light by abiding in the Father. We walk in the light by abiding in Jesus. There is no darkness in our Father so we know that anytime we respond to a situation in our flesh, and manifest darkness rather than light, we are at that moment out of fellowship with our Father. John here attacks the false foundation of much of Gnostic teaching about the role of the body, he states very clearly that we cannot claim to walk with the Living God and consciously choose to practice sin with our body.

This chapter closes by John providing some very important teaching about sin in the lives of Christians.

8  If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10  If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us. 1 John 1:8-10 (NKJV)

An important distinction here is the separation of seeing sin as who we are ‘sinners saved by grace’ versus sin as something we can do, saints who still have a propensity toward sin residing within us. It is important to differentiate between sin as something we can do rather than something we are. If we have been born again Jesus righteousness is both within and upon us. Once we have been born again the remedy for sin is repentance that leads to forgiveness and cleansing from unrighteousness. This means that if our heart is right at any given moment then at that moment we are pure (righteous) before the Lord. Jesus desire is that this is how we live, immediately dealing with any sin as it arises because He has made provision for it.

1 John Introduction

A couple of decades ago I taught and wrote a commentary on 1 John. I think it is a key book of the bible around the topic of spiritual growth and maturity. I find the teaching here on how to grow beyond the new birth to maturity some of the most significant in the New Testament, all in a little 5 chapter book that can easily be read in one sitting, about 5 pages in most bibles. To that end I have decided to revisit and revise what I did because I think I have grown spiritually in those two decades and I know some of my understanding of 1 John has grown as well.

Background and Issues

How do we understand what John wrote? We know he wrote in the 1st Century AD, the first decades of the birth and growth of Christianity. We also know that we are reading one side of a dialogue. John was addressing an issue his readers were familiar with, we need to infer what that was from what we know of the context and history of the time in which John wrote. In a sense we are trying to listen in on the other side of the conversation.

We do not know for certain what false teaching John was refuting when he wrote this letter but it is clear that it was some form of Gnosticism. If you read 1 John and the information below on Gnosticism it is evident that John was responding to issues the Gnostics were creating within the church. The Gnostics were a false sect within the church whose name came from the Greek word for knowledge or knowing, and it is used frequently in the New Testament. Below is a Greek dictionary meaning of the word and its connection to Gnosticism. Bear in mind while reading this that Gnosticism was not a codified set of beliefs that had a statement of faith like the Baptists, Methodists or Pentecostals. There were generally held beliefs and practices.

γνῶσις gnōsis noun – Knowledge, science, doctrine, wisdom.

Word Studies:

The most important term for “knowledge” in the New Testament is the noun gnōsis, “knowledge, insight, learning, recognition, familiarity.” Closely linked to the noun is the verb ginōskō (1091), “to know, learn, experience.” The noun compound epignōsis (1907) and the verb epiginōskō (1906) may often have the same definition; however, they often stand for a more specific kind of knowledge. Also closely resembling ginōskō/gnōsis is the verb oida (3471), “to know, learn, understand, experience.”

While it is not necessary to present an exhaustive treatment of the teachings and philosophy of gnosticism, a few main concepts are quite important—in particular, the Gnostic concept referred to as “the soul’s tragic history.” According to this myth, each soul is of divine origin. However, as a result of a pre-cosmic fall in the spirit world, the soul was deported to the material world where it is chained to the body. “Material” is seen as hostile toward God and is viewed as a plague and an intolerable burden for the soul of man. Closely connected to this concept is Greek philosophy’s contempt for the physical or material nature of man.

According to Gnostic thought, salvation of the soul consists of being freed from the physical in order to return to its divine source. The cosmos in gnosticism was not created by God but by inferior deities or demons. Only with the help of gnōsis, a mysterious, higher knowledge, can the soul possibly find its way back to God and to a purely spiritual existence.

These concepts were so carefully worked out that Gnostics could speak of a direct spiritual transformation of the individual. Gnōsis was seen as a divine power which flowed into a person and resulted in immortality. The one who obtained gnosis was in a sense given a part in the divine nature: through mystical visions the person was changed into “God.”

With an understanding of these beliefs it is easy to see why Gnostics became so arrogant. They felt themselves to be the only ones who knew God, and they alone would not go the way of the corrupted, sinful cosmos which was doomed for destruction. Nevertheless, regardless of the nature of the gnōsis, the Gnostic system represented a system of self-saving and self-exaltation – a salvation by works program.

The Gnostics considered the physical body as inferior to the spiritual dimension of man. This attitude formed the rationale for those espousing an immoral life-style. Morality was not designed by God but by the cosmic powers; these powers controlled mankind, holding men hostage to their desires. Two opposite strains of teaching developed from this basic anti-material stance: with some it led to a strict asceticism; others followed its path to unbridled license. Both expressions were merely outgrowths of the same anti-materialistic attitude of Gnostic systems in general.

Complete Biblical Library Greek-English Dictionary, The – The Complete Biblical Library Greek-English Dictionary – Alpha-Gamma.

I will begin going through 1 John in my next post but urge you to read 1 John in light of what I have shared about Gnostic teaching, it will lay a foundation to apply the truth John has left for us. As we go through this I pray what Paul prayed, “17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you (us) the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, Ephesians 1:17 (NKJV)

The Place of Peace

Have you ever tried to live up to a name? What about the name Christian? How are we as the church doing at representing, or more accurately, re-presenting Jesus to the world around us? Do we live differently in the areas of morality, kindness, gentleness? Do our lives release peace when there is confusion or trouble around us? If not they can, in fact that is how we are called to live. Paul described us as living epistles, living letters for others to read.

2  You are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read by all men; 2 Corinthians 3:2 (NKJV)

So, if we are called to be a living letters for others to read, it makes sense to be well written! How do we do that? One way is recognizing that keeping our hearts focused on Jesus produces better fruit, a better letter for others to read. In fact Isaiah described a major benefit that Paul later reinforced.

3  You will keep him in perfect peace, Whose mind is stayed on You, Because he trusts in You. 4  Trust in the LORD forever, For in YAH, the LORD, is everlasting strength. Isaiah 26:3-4 (NKJV)

8  Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy – meditate on these things. 9  The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you. Philippians 4:8-9 (NKJV)

Isaiah said we could have perfect peace if our minds were stayed on Yahweh. Sounds like a great deal but how does it work in practice? It is interesting that mindfulness is receiving a lot of press these days ranging from the fields of social work and psychology to the medical field. All touting the benefits of mindfulness. Coming from Buddhism is it an acceptable practice for Christians, or do we have something better? I don’t doubt both the psychological and physical benefits of mindful meditation. Yet, do we have something we are not accessing?

In recent years the 200th anniversary of the Lewis and Clark expedition was celebrated in the United States. All of the details are not important. Part of what is important is that their task was to map out territory that the US Government had purchased from France. I heard Ray Hughes speak on this in a sermon and he made a very interesting point and application. The task of Lewis and Clark was to go and discover what had already been purchased. In a similar manner he suggested we as the church needed to discover what Jesus has already purchased.

What is of interest to me is that I think we have either by default or design given up things Jesus purchased for us, the reality of His tangible presence with and within is one of those things. A few years ago I taught a university course of MacEwan that looked at different world religions. I inherited the course text from the previous instructor. What I found interesting was that while the text covered both eastern and western religions it described both Judaism and Christianity as western religions. While they may have become that in practice, in origin they are both Middle Eastern and rooted in a culture very different than ours. So my question, in the process of becoming ‘western’ did we lose things Jesus purchased?

To answer my question let us look at what Isaiah taught, bearing in mind he taught this during the Old Testament period when the Holy Spirit was not in people and they were not born again as is available under the new covenant. So, let’s dig into what Isaiah had to say.

3  You will keep him in perfect peace, Whose mind is stayed on You, Because he trusts in You. 4  Trust in the LORD forever, For in YAH, the LORD, is everlasting strength. Isaiah 26:3-4 (NKJV)

This verse highlights three things.

  • Perfect peace
  • This peace comes from a mind stayed/fixed on Yahweh
  • It comes because it is an expression of trust or faith in Yahweh

This verse does not tell us that we can have peace because everything is calm around us. In fact Isaiah’s point to the nation of Israel was that they, and by extension we, could have this perfect peace in the midst of Yahweh’s judgments on the nation. So what does the word ‘mind’ refer to in this context? The Hebrew word below refers to the literal or figurative forming of something.

(yatsar); a form; figurative conception (i.e. purpose) :- frame, thing framed, imagination, mind, work. Strong’s Talking Greek & Hebrew Dictionary.

The meanings connected to this study are below.

The remaining uses of the word describe the way a thought is formed in the mind, often translated “imagination,” “device” or “purpose.” Genesis 6:5 describes the moral pollution of the world before the flood by saying that “every intent of the thoughts of [the human] heart was only evil continually.” Compare the similar phrasing in Gen. 8:21. Moses used the same word to describe the tendency of the Israelites to develop yearnings for other gods (Deut. 31:21). In a more positive note, David exhorted his son Solomon to serve God with his whole heart, because the Lord understands every inner intention of the mind (1 Chr. 28:9). David later prayed that God would preserve the integrity of Israel’s inner thoughts (1 Chr. 29:18).

The final use of the word is a description of the trusting state of mind, “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee” (Isa. 26:3).

Complete Biblical Library Hebrew-English Dictionary – The Complete Biblical Library Hebrew-English Dictionary – Heth-Yodh.

So the reference is really to our ability to form something in our mind. Of interest to me is that while I don’t often look at commentaries, I did when researching this passage. The commentary below made the same connection between Isaiah and Paul, both writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

Only those who have trusted Jesus Christ will enter into the city, and because they believe, they have peace (Rom. 5:1). The Hebrew word for “peace” (shalom) means much more than a cessation of war. It includes blessings such as wholeness, health, quietness of soul, preservation, and completeness. “What is your peace?” is the way Jews often greet one another, and Isaiah’s reply would be, “My peace is from the Lord, for I trust wholly in him!” Paul’s counsel in Philippians 4:6-9 is based on Isaiah 26:3.

Bible Exposition Commentary (BE Series) – Old Testament – The Bible Exposition Commentary – The Prophets.

Another commentary had this to say.

26:3 We can never avoid strife in the world around us, but when we fix our thoughts on God, we can know perfect peace even in turmoil. As we focus our mind on God and his Word, we become steady and stable. Supported by God’s unchanging love and mighty power, we are not shaken by the surrounding chaos (see Philippians 4:7). Do you want peace? Keep your thoughts on God and your trust in him.

Life Application Study Bible.

So we know that peace, shalom, refers to the presence of something and we can form the intention to focus on Yahweh to abide in this peace. The phrase ‘perfect peace’ in Isaiah is really ‘shalom, shalom.’ The Hebrew way of emphasis.

If we look at both the Old and New Testaments they are filled with stories and images. As we read and reflect pictures come to mind. Jesus used stories to fill His hearers’ minds with images they could relate to. In exhorting us to keep our minds fixed on Yahweh Isaiah extolled His attributes since there was no ‘image’ of Him. So one way of keeping our minds stayed on Yahweh is to reflect on His attributes throughout the day. For us in the New Testament period we can train our minds to become conscious of Jesus presence with and within us and use a tool such as the images in 23 Psalm to reflect on His character and attributes.

So back to what we lost and mindfulness. The practice as I understand it is developing a habit of being more ‘in the moment’ and more passively becoming aware of what is happening around us in a somewhat non-attached way to events and outcomes. Buddhism after all teaches that attachment to things is the problem and that the physical world is an illusion we need to free ourselves from. A biblical focus is the exact opposite. We are to be active rather than passive and deeply engaged in and caring about this life as it serves as the training ground to step from time into eternity. That being said I believe we can be actively ‘mindful’ in way that allows us to live at peace in the midst of turmoil. I believe the value of mindfulness comes not from becoming detached but from becoming reflective. I think the slower pace and lack of constant ‘hurry’ in the culture of the New and Old Testaments lent itself more to this and I think we have largely lost this as the church. In our culture we seem to no longer know how to discipline and train our minds to be at rest, in peace.

My own experience is that when in addition to spending daily time in the scriptures and prayer I also find committed moments and develop a general practice of keeping my mind stayed on Jesus I am more conscious of His presence and His presence is more evident in me. I am at peace. Practically this means intentionally slowing down and seeking to use my mind to pay attention to my spirit and His ever present presence in me, continually drawing my inner attention back to Him. This affects me both psychologically and physically. I think it is a practice we can all pursue and benefit from. Even as I pause when writing this and focus on Jesus presence I have a physical and emotional reaction to Him with me, why would I not pursue more of His presence!

I think many of our songs express this desire. For example,

Open the eyes of my heart Lord, I want to see You, I want to see You .

Or the lines from an old Vineyard song,

You are here and I behold Your beauty, Your glory fills this place. Calm my heart to hear You, cause my eyes to see You. Your presence here is the answer, to the longing of my heart.

Learning to live in His presence now is the answer to the longing of our hearts and He is here now.