1 John 5:13-21 – We Know

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. This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.

If you see any brother or sister commit a sin that does not lead to death, you should pray, and God will give them life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that you should pray about that. All wrongdoing is sin, and there is sin that does not lead to death.

We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the One who was born of God keeps them safe, and the evil one cannot harm them. We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one. We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true by being in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.

Dear children, keep yourselves from idols. (New International Version)

In a world of constant change, the need for people to experience meaning and stability in their lives is more pronounced than ever. 

COVID-19 currently grips the world in a terrible reality of disease, death, and disruption. Just when we think there might be a light at the end of the tunnel, new strains of the virus arise. Meanwhile, life goes on with all it’s typical changes, losses, and devastating natural disasters.

There are people wondering if they will have a job tomorrow – or if they will ever get called back to one. Many parents are anxious about what kind of world their kids will have when they become adults. Others feel adrift in a fast-paced society, glutted with so much news and information that they have little sense of what is real or true. Discouragement and/or depression may seem to never end.

Whenever there are uncertainties all around us, it’s necessary to return to the knowable, to hang our hat on some solid bedrock certainties we are convinced are always there. That’s why the Apostle John wrote his letter, to remind the church of the known and the knowable:

  • “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.”
  • “If we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.
  • “We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin.”
  • “We know that we are children of God.”
  • “We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true.” 

In English, we have only one word for “know.” Yet, in the ancient Greek of the New Testament there are two different words for “know.” Throughout today’s lesson, the Apostle consistently uses one of those words, then shifts to another at the end. 

All of the “knows” John used refer to an objective knowledge – an information-based understanding which anyone could discover, learn, or know. Then, the Apostle switched to a different word at the end – to know him (Christ) who is true. That particular word has to do with a subjective or experiential knowledge. In other words, it is an inner witness and knowing of objective knowledge.

In American society, we frame the distinction between the two words by saying we need to know something in our heart (subjective knowledge) and not only in our head (objective knowledge).

Cerebral understanding, combined with heartfelt experience, results in a new confidence in prayer, a new attitude toward the world, and a new awareness of God. These are the impact of knowing Jesus Christ, and him crucified, risen, ascended, and coming again.

Knowing God takes both the head and the heart. Only being concerned for sound doctrine creates theological eggheads who dispassionately connect with God and others as if they were merely brains on a stick figure. Conversely, only being concerned for how religion makes us feel causes a kind of spiritual schizophrenia which is unstable and constantly seeks for a new or better experience in worship.

Love and obedience are the sacred pathways to personal and corporate knowledge and peace. Whenever the supreme ethic of love takes place in the believer’s life, through receiving it from God and giving it to others, it brings a sense of divine assurance in a sea of worldly uncertainty. 

Security in God will always outdo the insecurities of life.

Loving God, I know that you listen to me. I pray your love and assurance will fill me to such a place that I have peace amidst the vicissitudes of this life. May I rest in Jesus Christ through the work of your Holy Spirit. Amen.

2 Peter 1:2-15 – We Have Everything We Need

May grace and peace be yours in abundance in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.

His divine power has given us everything needed for life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Thus, he has given us, through these things, his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of lust and may become participants of the divine nature. For this very reason, you must make every effort to support your faith with goodness, and goodness with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness, and godliness with mutual affection, and mutual affection with love. For if these things are yours and are increasing among you, they keep you from being ineffective and unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For anyone who lacks these things is short-sighted and blind and is forgetful of the cleansing of past sins. Therefore, brothers and sisters, be all the more eager to confirm your call and election, for if you do this, you will never stumble. For in this way, entry into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be richly provided for you.

Therefore, I intend to keep on reminding you of these things, though you know them already and are established in the truth that has come to you. I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to refresh your memory, since I know that my death will come soon, as indeed our Lord Jesus Christ has made clear to me. And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things. (New Revised Standard Version)

One of the greatest deceptions which befall humanity is the lie that we aren’t enough – that somehow we lack something in our core personhood. Another great deception is that God is holding out on us – that we’ve gotten the short end of things.

It is my hope and prayer that today’s New Testament lesson puts a stake through the heart of those twin deceiving vampires. Erroneous beliefs only suck the life out of us. Instead, we must imbibe deeply of sound theology which enables us to live robustly in this old fallen world.

The Lord is my shepherd;
   I have all that I need.

Psalm 23:1, NLT

We have everything we need to grow in grace. God’s provision for us is total and complete. By grace, we can discern between truth and error; endure hostility, hardship, even persecution; live with patience as we await the new heaven and new earth; and face anything in this present life with confidence and hope because we’ve been equipped for it all.

Core to all this provision is the very life of Christ. Jesus is the source of the power and grace needed to live this incredible life. The same resurrection power which raised Christ from the grave is available and provided to us.

Believers are not in some weird holding pattern, like a plane circling the airport waiting to land, twiddling our thumbs until Christ returns. No! This present life is to be fully engaged with the tools given us of faith, hope, and love. And those spiritual implements are sufficient to walk with boldness through the valley of the shadow of death.

It continually must be borne in mind that we are to take up the gifts given us and use them in our present sojourn on this earth. Let us put significant energy into our faith development through knowing our call to holiness; and knowing Christ Jesus our Lord, his power and suffering.

Carefully and confidently using our faith, we are to fully participate in God’s divine power through the qualities of:

  • Goodness. Cultivation of moral excellence is both helpful and needed in all our relationships. Goodness is like a seed planted. We need to give it proper amounts of water and sun and keep the weeds away.
  • Knowledge. There are two words in the ancient Greek for knowledge: one is a reference to acquiring information; and the other refers to actively using the information provided. The Apostle Peter uses the latter – an experiential knowledge which is wise, discerning, and discreet.
  • Self-Control. This is the ability to get a grip on yourself, to avoid controlling others and focus on all things within your own control. Ultimate control belongs to God; and we are called to self-control.
  • Endurance. To see the big picture, to look ahead and keep your eye on the goal, is the lived practice of endurance or perseverance. Everyone has patience. It’s rather a matter of whether we will tap into it, or not.
  • Godliness. The heart of godliness is awareness of self, others, and God – rightly relating to them all with wholeness and integrity.
  • Mutual Affection. Basic human kindness is imperative between two people, especially with fellow believers.
  • Love. This is the Christian’s consummate virtue. Whereas affection is to be mutual, love can always be done whether someone loves us back, or not. Genuine love can be directed at the unlovely, even enemies.

We are to be effective and productive in adding divine virtues to our lives. It’s not a matter of more but better.

Even a smidge of faith can move a mountain.

A kernel of goodness can produce a harvest of righteousness.

A little bit of knowledge can be turned into love.

Small self-control can develop into immense self-control.

Keeping our head up for a few seconds can help us see the goal and endure to the end.

One insight can create a cascade of godliness.

A single act of kindness can change a life forever.

Love, no matter how big or small, can change the world.

We possess all these qualities and are in want of nothing. We are enough because Christ is enough.

Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen. – A Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi

On Knowing Christ

Pietà by Elisabeth Frink

The ancient Philippian church had lost sight of their purpose, of what is the primary reason for their being in existence. Simply put, they needed to unify around what is the central and most valuable core of Christianity: knowing Jesus Christ. For the Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Church at Philippi, Jesus was so valuable that he literally gave up everything to become a Christian and follow Jesus. (Philippians 3:4-14)

It was no little thing that Paul did, converting in such a completely life-altering way to Christ. Paul had everything going for him. He was the up and coming star in Judaism. Paul had the Jewish pedigree, the intelligence, the personality, and the drive to become one of the greatest Pharisees of all time. And yet he forsook it all to pursue and know Christ. 

It might be hard for us to imagine just how significant Paul’s turn around was. On a much smaller scale, it would be like Green Bay Packer quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, at the height of his career, leaving football altogether to become a missionary to some remote place few people have ever heard of. Most might likely think he lost his marbles and was throwing away (pun intended) something valuable and important. So, it was with Paul.  Everyone thought he was nuts for becoming a Christian.

However, this would be to misunderstand what is really of greatest value. There are plenty of people in our society telling us what we need. With all the noisy rhetoric, from political pundits to commercial marketers, the person and work of Jesus can easily get lost in an ocean of competing voices. On a practical level, it can be far too easy to simply toss Christian discipleship on the smorgasbord of good ideas we get handed each day. Jesus might get misplaced and forgotten on our plate of life because of the mass of other food that is piled alongside him.

World Communion Sunday (always the first Sunday in October each year) reminds Christians that Jesus is our surpassing greatness, the highest and most worthy asset we possess. When we come to the Lord’s Table, there is nothing else to feast upon except Jesus, and Jesus alone. In the act of receiving the common elements of bread and cup, we proclaim that we need no one else and no other thing to make us happy in this life. Jesus is enough for us. What is more, we stand united with our brothers and sisters in Christ throughout the world in a common purpose and value of knowing Jesus Christ, and him crucified.

The Elements of Holy Communion by Jacques Iselin

The core value and heart of Christianity is a faith and love relationship with Jesus, to know him. This was the heartfelt cry of the Apostle Paul, and it was so meaningful to him that he gave up everything to pursue Christ and follow Jesus.  If we ever strip Christianity of this core value and stray from knowing Christ, the vacuum will be quickly filled with all kinds of other stuff, like the sheer duty of perfunctory prayers, clean living, and dispassionate robotic service. 

Paul longed to know Christ better. There are two words in the Greek language for “know.” One word refers to information; the other refers to an experiential knowledge – and that is the word Paul used with the Philippians. He deeply desired an intimate experience of Jesus. And Paul craved this so much that literally everything, when compared to Jesus, was “rubbish” to him. 

In the ancient world there were no landfills and dumps – the street served as the place people threw their garbage. The trash then got trampled into the ground, along with the generous amounts of animal dung. That is how Paul thought of even the best things in life as compared to knowing Jesus. 

There is no comparison between a freshly grilled T-bone steak and microwaved liverwurst. There is no comparison between a billion dollars and a penny. There is no comparison between the Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears (sorry Chi-Town). And there is no comparison between Jesus and anyone or anything else, no matter whom or what it is. 

Saint Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, in the fifth century, described life apart from Jesus as “disordered love.” By that he meant we pursue whatever our affections are set upon. One might love family, friends, job, and hobbies, yet if Jesus is absent or must compete for our affections in the middle of those things, then it is a disordered love. The solution, for Augustine, is to rightly order our love by having Jesus as the premier object of our affection. The New Testament frames it this way: Repent and believe the gospel.

To have “disordered love” is a nicer way of saying “spiritual adultery.” Using this metaphor, the appropriate response is to return to our first love. “You have forsaken your first love,” said Jesus to the church in Ephesus.  “Remember the height from which you have fallen!  Repent and do the things you did at first” (Revelation 2:4-5). 

Christianity is not some religion in which we strike a deal with God to go to heaven if we accept Jesus. Rather, Christianity centers all of life in the person and work of Jesus. The Lord is a jealous God, feeling slighted when Christians moonlight with the world at night while acknowledging Jesus during the day.

Specifically, Paul wanted to know the power of Christ’s resurrection. He yearned to experience a supernatural change from the inside-out – to be a new person in Christ. Paul did not simply turn over a new leaf; he did a dramatic 180 degree turn and went hard after Jesus. A desire and/or decision to know Christ is to be more than a milquetoast “I’ll try to do better.” Christianity, at its core, is dying to self and being reborn in Jesus with new life.

Furthermore, Paul wanted to know Christ and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings. Paul ached to know Jesus so much that he embraced suffering, just as his Lord did. Paul was not some spiritual masochist; he rightly recognized that spiritual growth and intimacy with Jesus largely comes from the harsh realities of life’s trials and difficulties, as faith is stretched.  We would not know Christ the healer if we were not broken; Christ the provider if we were not in want; and, Jesus Christ and him crucified unless we were aware of sin in the world along with our own personal sin.

Each time a Christian approaches the Lord’s Table, they set aside competing voices and forsake rival gods to have Jesus. For us who believe, let the ingesting of the elements be an act of fellowship with God. May we, along with Paul, Augustine, and all past saints desire to have Jesus completely take over our lives because he is so valuable to us. We never need to be perfect to partake of bread and cup. Instead, we only need to strive toward what is ahead and decide that today we will press on toward the higher goal of knowing Christ.

Proverbs 4:1-9

            “My advice is useful, so don’t turn away… Be wise and learn common sense.”  Wisdom is personified in proverbs as a sage counselor for whom we must pay careful attention to listen and heed.  Wisdom in the Old Testament is the practical application of knowledge and understanding.  It is the ability to take the knowledge of God and use it in everyday life in a way that leads to human flourishing.
 
            Thus, there are really two important aspects to wisdom.  First, the individual must possess some body of knowledge.  We cannot employ knowledge that we do not even possess.  So, it is absolutely imperative for us to seek understanding, to strive to see life from God’s perspective, and to put ourselves in other people’s shoes.  We must become readers, listeners, and devoted learners because without books, the ability to hear well, and the humble posture of discovery, we will never realize wisdom.
 
            Second, the individual must use knowledge in order to act, to live well.  Knowledge by itself, apart from relevant use, only produces puffed-up pride.  The reason for accumulating understanding is to use it for the benefit of others in love.  We have quite enough preening peacocks in this world with snappy opinions and answers for every earthly problem.  This world needs much less of them, and more of those who seek the humility that comes from biblical wisdom.  As the Apostle James once put it, we must be doers of the Word and not hearers only.
 
            When wisdom is realized, there is learning through both head and hands.  The book of Proverbs is perhaps the best place to begin constructing a life of wisdom.  Reading a chapter a day for one month will get you through the entire book.  Make a wise plan to carefully go through Proverbs sometime this spring or summer.  You will be very glad you did.
 

 

            Wise God, I love wisdom.  I desire it more than money, fame, or power.  Help me to use biblical common sense and learn the ways of Jesus through the enablement of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.