17 July 2011
We've been working our way through the book of 1 John. What do you remember up to this point?
Two Sundays ago we looked at two tests or indicators that demonstrate the state of our fellowship with God. Who can tell me what they are? (obedience and love)
Soon we're going to look at a third indicator -- but in 1 John 2:12-17 the apostle digresses momentarily from his argument so he can encourage his readers. I think he realizes that he's come across quite strongly in the preceding section and he wants to make sure that we are not discouraged. John is saying here "So your test scores are a bit on the weak side... Maybe you don't score as high in love and obedience as you think you should. Well listen closely..."
Starting at vs. 12 --
12 I am writing to you who are God's children
because your sins have been forgiven through Jesus.
13 I am writing to you who are mature in the faith
because you know Christ, who existed from the beginning.
I am writing to you who are young in the faith
because you have won your battle with the evil one.
14 I have written to you who are God's children
because you know the Father.
I have written to you who are mature in the faith
because you know Christ, who existed from the beginning.
I have written to you who are young in the faith
because you are strong.
God’s word lives in your hearts,
and you have won your battle with the evil one.
John is saying: Be encouraged. Whether you're a child in the faith or an old man there is cause for encouragement in the work of Christ and in the fact that you are experiencing victories over the devil.
HEY YOU, ordinary Christian -- you know Christ, you have a strong faith, his word or will abides in you, and thus you got da devil on da run. Or more properly as he says in vs. 14 “You have won your battle with the evil one.”
Yet the mention of the "evil one" here, seems to throw the apostle back into the cautioning mode. "Beware!" John is like a pendulum – swinging back and forth.
Oh, you're doing such a good job in walking with Christ. You're defeating the devil. And then in vs. 15 he swings back to cautioning his readers.
“Do not love this world nor the things it offers you...”
Well wait a minute here -- this sounds rather peculiar. When you think about it – it doesn't really seem to make much sense. Correct me if I'm wrong but isn't it the false teachers -- John's opponents -- who are trying to not love the world?
Remember, they're the ones who say that there are two sides to life the material and the spiritual. And in their system your goal in life should be to divorce yourself from the material world -- to get so caught up in the spiritual that the physical material realm becomes moot... irrelevant...unimportant.
When I was doing campus ministry at ASU I once had a conversation with a student who had joined a group called THE WAY INTERNATIONAL. And I remember him telling me that since he was forgiven by Christ that the forgiveness extended in such a way that he could do whatever he wanted in the physical side of life -- he could sin as much as he wanted and it didn't matter. The victory had been won spiritually and that's what really counted.
I suspect that he and his cronies were modern equivalents to what John was dealing with in the last decade of the first century. They are all people who have little regard for the physical side of life. It's unimportant to them. So in a certain limited sense they don't love it.
Then, if you really start thinking about all this, vs. 15, which says, “Do not love this world” seems even more baffling especially when you remember that in the third chapter of the gospel John it says: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.."
And by the way, John uses the same Greek words in here in chapter 2 as are used in John 3:16 – agape or love and cosmos or world.
A little bunny trail here. In the ancient Greek language there were no quotation marks so it is not always clear where quotations begin and end. In John 3:16 is it Jesus saying, "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son...." or is it John, the Gospel writer, commenting on what Jesus has just done and said? It's not so clear whether Jesus is saying this or John. Either way, the point stands.
How is it in one place we’re told to not love the world and in another place we’re told about how much God loves the world. So, I’m wondering what your thoughts are on that. What do you think?
The clarification which follows in vss. 16-17, I think will show you that even though he uses the same words, he's not really talking exactly about the same thing.
Nor is John is aligning himself with the false teachers who are indifferent to the world. They were so indifferent to it that they were easily sucked into it -- which seems to be John's point.
The world of which John speaks in 1 John 2 is the world which vacuums people into it's corrupt system of operation. In John 3:16 the apostle is talking about us as the victims of that system -- that's why he can use the same word. Think of it this way: "For God so loved the victims of the world system that he gave his only son."
He's talking about people -- all people -- about humanity in it's desperate and fallen state. But in 1 John 2 he is talking about that which leads us to our desperation. The world system which we are to avoid loving at all cost is really the world system.
He's not even talking about some kind of political plot -- by the Nazi's, commies, the radical Muslims, or Luminati. He's talking about a world system that transcends individual movements because it is the system of the evil one -- of which John mentions in vss. 13 and 14.
Let me put it another way, the world system, of which John speaks in John 2, is everything that is hostile or contrary to Christ and what he's doing in the world. And in case we're still missing the point John gives us in vs. 16, three pretty comprehensive examples of the world as he sees it:
THE BIG THREE -- That's what I call them. I learned that in skit at camp. THE BIG THREE.
The first characteristic of the world that he identifies is THE CRAVING FOR PHYSICAL PLEASURE.
1 John 2:16 -- “For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure...” The CEB has it: “the craving for whatever the body feels...”
Some translations render it “desire of the flesh.” The flesh isn't a reference to the physical body, per se
but to the corruption of it. What do you think he is talking about? What is the craving or desire of the flesh?
Of course, our first inclination is to identify the “craving for physical pleasure” with sexual sin -- which is correct. But it's more than that. It's anything that has to do with a sensual orientation -- where sensuality of any sort is allowed to take control or define life. Gluttony, materialism, love of pleasure and luxury, stinginess... These are the lenses through which we see everything.
The NLT renders vs. 16 – “For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure...” This is slavery to pleasure and comfortable living -- a slavery which pretty much defines our culture. We are an entertainment and pleasure oriented culture. The right to be entertained and amused is a given.
You see, the thing about desires of the flesh is that by nature they are always looking for something new and stimulating -- titillating... whether on TV or the internet or through travel. I know!
Several summers ago we visited the Amish community of Shipshewana, Indiana. All of these people in out-dated clothes driving around in horse-drawn buggies -- trying to ignore us tourists who come to see if they're for real.
It's wonderful camping out at night and hearing the clip-clop of the horses as they go down a nearby road and cross the bridge. There is something soothing about it.
Well, at least part of the Amish rationale for the television, radio, and electricity free existence they've chosen for themselves is to resist the cultural drive toward the desire of the flesh... the drive for new and more comfortable... new and more entertaining... new and more enticing.
And while I consider them strange and less than consistent in how they apply their rationale – I do admire them. For at least they've drawn the line somewhere. At least they are trying to resist the world -- which is more than what most of us are doing. We don't even question the things which drive us -- the desire for new cars and electronic toys.
We know we can't have it all but we gladly take what we can get without even questioning what attracts us to them. Well that is the desire of the flesh -- the craving for physical pleasure.
Secondly, Johns says of the world, there is THE DESIRE OF THE EYES.
Vs. 16 -- “For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see...”
This is the sin of covetousness and concern over appearances. The desire to keep up with the Jones. But more so to flaunt your success at doing so. The desire of the eyes is preoccupation with status,
reputation, social position, academic level, image, glamour. Sometimes subtle -- sometimes not.
Sometimes it's manifest in the number of HONOR STUDENT BUMPER stickers that we slap on the back of our cars.
To have a prestigious university sticker on the car window almost makes up for the fact that it's a Chrysler and not a BMW.
A couple of weeks ago after breakfast one of the guys was remarking about someone who lived in a total dump of a house but had the hottest car.
Of course, other people have big fancy houses but can’t afford furniture or the air conditioning.
You get the point -- the desire of the eyes -- the desire for appearance is manifest in numerous and varied ways. -- as is the PRIDE OF RICHES -- the third of the BIG THREE characteristics of the world.
This is kind of a tricky characteristic to translate in verse 16.
- The NLT calls it “Pride in our possessions”
- The NAS has this as “the boastful pride of life.”
- NIV: "the boasting of what he has and does"
- CEB is perhaps the best I’ve seen: “the arrogant pride in one’s possessions”
- An alazon is a person who stands at the dock and boasts of the number of ships he has out at sea.
- He ostentatiously sends a messenger to a bank where he has only a dollar on deposit.
- He talks of his powerful friends -- and details for anyone who'll listen his charitable and social contributions.
- He lives in a rental house (which is fine), but talks like he owns it and of how he is going to buy an even bigger house to go with his lavish style of entertaining.
It is not rightful pride over the fact that you've done your best and you are doing well. It is pride that seeks to prove your superiority over everyone else and which is so desirous of doing so, that it is willing to fudge a little or even a lot to make the point.
Why would someone feel compelled to such behavior? Well, it's the pleasure and pressure of trying to compete in the world – the pressure of trying to be someone in a system which only gives points to those who prove themselves. All of the big three are naturally a part of competing in the world system -- they're not uncommon.
We encounter braggarts in most every office and classroom. We are tempted at most every commercial break to feed the desires of the eyes. And our entire culture from Body Beautiful to Starbucks encourages us to overindulge our hedonistic desires. It is just a part of living in the world –- and that's John's point. These are a part of the world system.
But we aren't to let them control or define us, says John. Rather we're to let the things which come from God define how we live our lives.
FELLOWSHIP WITH GOD IS A MATTER OF LETTING THAT WHICH COMES FROM HIM RATHER THAN THE WORLD SYSTEM DEFINE HOW WE LIVE. (main point)
There is a certain irony in this whole matter. John's opponents were claiming to be so spiritual that they left the material physical world in the dust. But John is saying -- in their so called "indifference" to it -- they were actually being sucked into it. The more they denied any alignment with the world the more they are, by their lies, a part of it. The more they deny their sin the more they sin.
That's just the deceptive way of the world system -- a system which true believers disavow for two reasons.
Two reasons to avoid manifestations of the world:
1. THEIR SOURCE
vs. 16 again -- “For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world.”
The forementioned manifestations of the world system – the big three, have their originals somewhere other than in God. And if they are other than in God why do we want to mess with them?
I used to know some guys who rebuilt VW bugs as a hobby -- and they'd use nothing but stock parts in their cars -- original Bosch parts. Their goal was to have the most complete VW bug possible and when they sold their cars they made big bucks because they had become classics.
I, too, had a VW bug. But I was too cheap to use original parts. I always got these cheap imitations made in Brazil. Consequently my car was a beater. And when it finally died I think we got something like $300 bucks for it.
The source of what we put into our lives helps define the value of who we are. How can we say that pleasing God is the #1 priority in our lives -- we’re living for him – being in fellowship with him – and then going about and at the same time installing a bunch of cheap imitation parts?
Parts which have nothing to do with him – which don't really meet the manufacturer's specifications -- and which eventually turn us into beaters. Accept no substitutes for the real thing – says John --
especially the Big three -- to do so is to devalue yourself.
The second reason for rejecting the manifestations of the world is their OBSOLESCENCE.
In spite of initial appearances they are old fashioned. They are a part of a bygone era.
1 John 2:17 – “And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever.”
How many of you when you moved into your new homes went down to the store and bought a rotary phone? No, that would be absurd – just as absurd as letting the big three outmoded characteristics drive your life. They belong to another era – the pre-cross era – which is passing away. Sure there are still manifestations of the old era -- dangerously so. Just as there are a few rotary phones in use.
But the era to which these things belong is dead --closed at Easter. And eventually they will all disappear from the face of the earth. But those who do the will of God live forever. Eternal energizer bunnies – they just go on and on -- Never ending. Never outdated. Never ceasing.
With which era and which source are you aligning your life? Are you in fellowship with God or are you in fellowship with the world? This is what it all boils down to doesn't it? You can't have it both ways.
I’m reminded a story – a parable which Christine Fleming Heffner told.
There was a certain politician known for his ability to keep the admiration (and the votes) of the people on the both sides of any question. He'd made a career of well-timed fence sitting. One summer he joined a party of sight-seers at the Grand Canyon. And while they stood there looking our over that beautiful wonder -- an argument developed.
One tourist claimed that the view from the north rim was more spectacular and the other tourist argued that the south rim was more fabulous.
The politician's friend turned to him as they overheard the argument -- he pointed to the canyon and said: "I'd like to see you straddle that."
The world is full of people who try to make a life out of straddling fences. Even the churches are full of them– people who try to have the best of both worlds, who try to be at home in the world and at the same time at ease in Christianity.
They don't totally reject Jesus but they don't wholly accept him either. They want to love God for all that they've heard he's done for them. But they would also love the world system for all that it appears to offer.
They admire Jesus very much but they won't fully surrender to him. They would straddle the fence between fellowship with God and fellowship with the world and its way of looking at life.
The trouble is -- there isn't any fence. There is just a canyon.
Let's pray: Take a short time to simply listen for God speaking to your heart. Assume that he has something to say to you about your life. Listen for the soft but sometimes harsh voice of his Holy Spirit.
God -- for too long we have failed to take you and your exclusivity seriously. We've tried to play both ends against each other to come out with the best deal for ourselves. We've been trying to play you -- to be in charge and to pick from the smorgasbord which best pleases us at any given moment. Sometimes it is beneficial to appear as your devout followers and other times it seems beneficial to appear as just another ordinary person in the world.
Deep inside, though, we know that there are boundaries to such attempts and that we're trying to stretch an impossible chasm. This is why we would choose now to mark this day as the day when we decide that we're going to be serious about fellowship with you and about rejecting the world system. From this day forward we, and I say this speaking for all of us who would make such a commitment, want to live for fellowship with you. For you alone are worthy -- the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus demonstrate that -- and to you alone we look for the strength and energy needed to love you and not the world. To you alone we look. Amen.