Life is a response
John’s second letter is written to a local congregation (‘the elect lady and her children’ – the bride of Christ). The apostle has been encouraged to have come across some of the congregation who are ‘walking in truth’ as God wants of us (2 John 4).
The Christian life is often depicted as a journey – a path that is to be walked out. Although salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone, this does not result in inactivity. Movement, even intentional effort is implied by the word picture John and other writers of Scripture used for the Christian life.
John uses ‘walk’ three times in this short section each time, indicating that progress and intentional effort in a certain direction are expected of believers.
It is a great encouragement to know that all believers in Jesus are on the same road/journey. We might be at different points along the way, but we share the same road!
Roads have borders that define the road’s edge; in this instance, it is the commandments of God define the roadway that God has laid out for us to journey along. We are to be those who ‘walk according to His commandments’ (2 John 6), commandments which have not changed since the beginning but commandments which we ‘should walk in’ (2 John 6).
It is safe to summarise the two borders of the Christian road as love for God (1 John 5:2-3 & Matthew 22:37) and love for people (2 John 5 & 1 John 3:11).
In 2 John 8, the apostle shares wisdom for the journey with these believers and with ourselves;
“Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward.” (2 John 8)
This one verse is richly dense with meaning! In it, we find assurance and warning and encouragement.
1. Warning! ‘We are to watch ourselves.’
Don’t go off the path; don’t get distracted or diverted by the schemes of the enemy. Obeying God’s commandments & listening to the Holy Spirit will keep you on the road. We have a responsibility to do this ourselves, but we are helped greatly if we have others around us who can spot if we are veering towards the edge of the path. It’s your responsibility to watch yourself, but it is wise to enlist the help of some brothers or sisters who will love you enough to keep watch too.
2. Warning! ‘So that we do not lose what we have worked for.’
There are serious consequences if one does not adhere to the first warning. You can lose something; you can have regret even as a believer. But what can you lose?
The apostle says that we can loose ‘what we have worked for’. And what have we worked for? Well, we know that we haven’t worked for our salvation! Jesus did the heavy lifting, not us; Jesus did what could not do. So what is in focus here is not us losing salvation which was given to us not by works but by grace alone so that no person can boast (Ephesians 2:4-8)!
In what way have we ‘worked’? Well, we have worked out the impact of our salvation (Philippians 2:12-13), we have worked harder than anyone in response to the grace of God in us (2 Corinthians 15:10). We worked in that we have responded to God’s free gift in giving us salvation. We have worked in that we should ‘work for’ our reward…
3. Encouragement: ‘But may win a full reward.’
This is what God’s desire for us, to give us our full reward that He always intended to give us. God is so good; He saves us not on the basis or our work/merit but purely by grace. Then God inspires us, works in us by the Spirit (Philippians 2:12-13) changing us at the level of our desires so that we now want to do His will and obey His commandments. And then God plans to reward us for walking the road He has laid out for us – incredible!
If you have believed in Jesus, your salvation is secure, guaranteed! But whether or not you will ‘walk God’s road’ obeying the Holy Spirit’s promptings and God’s commands is not guaranteed. And so, the possibility exists that some of your reward that God wanted to give you may be lost, that we by our lack of response, our lack of working and walking God’s ways may lose some of what He had always intended to give to us – rewards.
John doesn’t want this for the believers he is writing to, and God doesn’t want it for you either. So take heed of the warning, watch yourselves and ask others to watch you too. Invite people into your life who can speak with a loving honesty and who in turn will be blessed if you do the same for them.
In the preceding verses (vs1-6), John has made it clear that false teaching is invariably linked in part to erroneous teaching about who Jesus is and what He came to do.
Then starting in vs7, the apostle John contrasts false teaching with authentic godly life that results from right teaching and right believing.
Those who have accepted the Gospel, those who have been loved and accepted by God, in turn, love others with the same type of love with which they have been loved (vs7).
The connection between love for God and love for people is so strong that the apostle writes that anyone who doesn’t love other people can’t truly love God!
The Gospel doesn’t leave us unchanged; it doesn’t just cause our sins to be forgiven; the Gospel melts our hearts and changes our lives and our relationships.
True faith in Jesus Christ has to have an outworking. The overwhelming characteristic John highlights is love – because ‘God is love’ (vs8). Therefore, we will love if we are truly God’s children (‘born of God’ vs7) because God is love.
I can’t see it, but people tell me that my children look like me. The resemblance is there physiologically and in terms of things like temperament and personality. They share some of my DNA, and they grew up in close proximity and relationship. Similarly, the apostle John’s argument is that we who have truly been supernaturally born of God will resemble God because we have God’s DNA in us (1 John 3:9)!
True faith is not the attainment of knowledge, or experience but demonstrates itself as being true in God-like self-giving love.
And this is how we know what real love is – that God gave of Himself in sending His only Son into the world to save us (vs9). Love doesn’t start with us (‘I love God’); rather love was initiated by God when God loved us and sent His Son Jesus to be the propitiation for our sins (vs10)!
Brother or sister, we did not initiate reconciliation with God. We didn’t take the first step in love towards God. While we still sinners, still against God, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). Salvation is all God’s initiative; God has loved the unlovely and made us lovely and able to love others.
So, let you and I who have believed in Jesus love one another with the same love with which we have been loved – and as we do, God’s tangible presence will be experienced amongst us.
- Who are you finding hard to love right now? Ask the Holy Spirit to speak to you about this person and your present struggle. What is the Holy Spirit speaking to you? And what ought you to do now?
- Look back on your spiritual journey of faith in Jesus – how have you changed when it comes to love for others? Be encouraged. We all mess up, but as you look back you will see progress. Now ask the Holy Spirit to make you more and more like your heavenly Father.
Do you like torches? I do, always have been fascinated by how this small device can illuminate a path or space. Go into any camping shop, and you’ll agree by the array of choice of torches and lights that others share my interest in a good bright torch. Light displaces darkness, and something in us really likes that.
A dim light might be insufficient to light up a whole room, and so conditions can exist in which darkness and light seem to cohabit. However, even with just one light bulb, most average-sized rooms are lit up, and darkness flees.
Not to mention how every morning the Sun rises in blazing glory banishing the night across an entire swathe of the globe north to south all at once. Light displaces darkness; darkness cannot exist in the presence of light. There is no struggle, just darkness receding when the light appears.
John says, God is light (vs5) – a light on another magnitude entirely! John doesn’t say God is like light or like the Sun, rather light is God’s essence, His very nature. And because God is greater than my torch or a light bulb, greater than the Sun in all its brilliance, because of the greatness of God’s light – there is no darkness in God at all (vs5).
Describing God as ‘light’, is John’s way of explaining that God is entirely and utterly holy, sinless, blameless, pure.
All of which leads us to vs6. The apostle John says to you and I – that just like darkness can not cohabit with light of any significance, so too you and I can not claim to be ‘following Jesus’ or ‘walking with God’ if we lie and do not practice the truth if we are living a life of sin and compromise (darkness).
Light dispels darkness, so if we are living a lifestyle of sin and darkness, then the truth is we are not walking with God, we are far off from the brilliance of His light.
I urge you at the start of this year to reconsider your lifestyle, your patterns of behaviour and thoughts your rhythms and habits. It’s all too common to find believers in Jesus who claim to be following Jesus, and yet their lives reveal the truth.
The apostle John sounds a warning, that it is ridiculous to claim to walk with God and yet to live as though God’s moral commands and imperatives are optional or unimportant.
But John knows the human condition and John knows the Gospel. No one can claim to have no sin in them – not one (vs8). According to Tim Keller the Gospel is that;
‘We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we dared to believe, yet at the very same time, we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.’ – Tim Keller
So we have a problem. God is holy, and we are not – we need a Saviour! God is light, and in Him, there is no darkness at all, and darkness and light cannot cohabit, and we are dark in our sinfulness! So what are we to do?
Enter the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
‘The blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin’ (vs7). Which then makes it possible for us to ‘confess our sins’ (vs9) trusting that God will respond to our confession and our trust in Jesus’ saving work and will forgive us of our sins and to make us clean, holy, pure, light (vs9). And so because of this work of Jesus, we can have fellowship with God who is holy. What a Saviour!
What darkness is there in your life at present? What sin are you involved in? Don’t lie that what you are doing is not sin and don’t grovel either that you have sinned. Rather confess, acknowledge to God your sin and ask Jesus to forgive you of your sin and to make you clean again. Then walk free of it, live in the light, makes changes to your life pattern and walk with God thanking Him always for this amazing gift of forgiveness because of the cross of Christ.
Consider this, who is God faithful too in vs9 when it says; ‘he (God) is faithful’?
You could think God is faithful to you because you confessed your sin and trusted in Jesus to be forgiven. However, I believe John is saying that God is faithful and just to Jesus. How so?
Because God’s righteous, holy wrath was satiated by Jesus’ sacrifice of Himself on the cross in our place for our sin (1 John 2:1-2), it would be unjust for God to punish us for sins Jesus paid for already!
So, God is faithful to Jesus, honours Jesus’ substitutionary sacrifice for us every time we ask for forgiveness. Next time you need forgiveness, worship Jesus for making forgiveness possible and thank God the Father for being faithful and just to Jesus – which makes your forgiveness possible and glorifies Jesus again and again.
‘My little children’ – says John (1 John 2:1). He urges them to not sin but knows that they will at times sin, and so assures them that we have one who argues our case on our behalf in the heavenly realms – Jesus our advocate, Jesus the righteous (2:2), Jesus the one who took the penalty of our sin away (2:3). What assurance, what good news!
How now shall we live in response?
Don’t deny that you do struggle with sin & don’t continue living in sin. Aim to live free of sin (2:1), aim to keep Jesus moral commands (2:3-4), aim to follow the counsel of His Word (2:5), make your goal to follow Him in the way that you live (2:6), and confess your sins when you do sin and receive His forgiveness (1:9).
[This month in our church’s Bible Reading Plan we are reading the letters of the apostle John – 1-3 John]
Happy New Year! May your year be filled with the presence & power of Jesus in your everyday life. May you listen to Him and His promptings by His Spirit and through His word, so that you may glorify Him with your every moment and advance His kingdom rule and reign while you can.
Last night I was asked by a friend; ‘What’s the plan for our church (www.recroadchurch.co.za) for 2020?’
I have pondered that question many times, and I always come back to the same answer essentially…
Which brings me to the focus of our devotions in January – the final letters from the apostle John to the believers (1 John, 2 John & 3 John).
The historian Jerome tells us that when the aged and last surviving apostle (John) had become so weak that he could no longer preach, he used to be carried into the congregation at Ephesus. Weak and unable to contribute much to the assembly of believers, John would then content himself with bringing but a single short word of exhortation each time.
‘Little children,’ he would always say, ‘love one another.’
When his hearers grew tired of this message and asked him why he so frequently repeated it, he would respond,
‘Because it is the Lord’s command, and if this is all you do, it is enough…’ (David Jackman, The Message of John’s Letters)
As the last of the apostles of Christ who was an eyewitness of the events we read about in the gospels, John would have had exceptional authority, and these letters of 1-3 John were probably the last Scripture written.
The apostle John wrote his letters from the pagan city of Ephesus in a time when the authentic Gospel was under attack from false Gnostic teachings.
These teachings claimed special knowledge that leading their proponents to deny the reality of Christ’s incarnation, atoning death and bodily resurrection, and with that to redefine sin and redirect Christian behaviour! (David Jackman, The Message of John’s Letters)
The errors of John’s day, which challenged the church, were a result of accommodation of the Christian faith to the prevailing ideas of the secular culture – and a resultant loss of the Gospel.
Every generation has to face up to this same challenge – holding on to faithfulness and relevance. Every generation needs to choose to either stand and lovingly confront or to be conformed to the culture of its day. The danger is no different for us today.
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life – 2 the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us – 3 that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4 And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. (1 John 1:1-4)
John begins his letter wasting no time in establishing his core foundational belief – who Jesus is.
- Jesus is the eternal God (‘from the beginning’ vs1). This opening line reminds one of Genesis 1:1 and John 1:1 (look them up).
- Jesus, as God, took on flesh, became a man. John testifies that he knew personally. He heard Jesus speak, and He saw Jesus, He touched Jesus’ real body (vs1-2).
- This is John’s eyewitness testimony! Jesus Christ is and was God incarnate, divine & human (vs2).
John starts his letter with this focus on the divinity and humanity of Jesus because most theological error starts with an undermining of who Jesus is and what Jesus did for us in his incarnation, life, death & resurrection.
Every person on the planet will ultimately have to answer two questions and these two questions are answered in John’s letters we will be reading; ‘Who is Jesus?’ & ‘What does this mean for how I live my life?’
CS Lewis famously said of Jesus;
A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on the level with a man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon, or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. – CS Lewis
So what do you believe? Who is Jesus? Is He God incarnate? Is He LORD of your life? Does the pattern of your life, do your life rhythms and choices reflect what you say you believe?
As we will see again and again in John’s letters, loving Jesus is connected to loving people. When we love Jesus and seek to obey His leading in our lives, we will end up loving people too!
So, do you want to be happy in 2020? John wanted those who read his letter to have their joy made complete (vs4). Joy is a stated purpose in his writing to them. Joy is a hallmark of Christ’s kingdom (Rom 14:17) and yet needs to be fought for sometimes and is only found in a life-giving relationship with Jesus Christ as your LORD, obeying His word and His Spirit.
Back to my friend’s question about 2020… In Mark’s gospel it’s recorded that a person asked Jesus;
28… “Which commandment is the most important of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:28-31)
So let’s make that our goal in 2020. To love God more deeply, to obey Him more fully so that we will, in turn, love people more clearly.
Old Testament prophecies are a little like onions in that they often have layers of meaning. They meant something in that day to those people; they often prefigure Jesus the Messiah in some way, they often have direct application in our lives in the present and sometimes they have an as yet unfulfilled future relevance too.
Hosea 6:1-3 is one of those portions of OT prophecy that from our perspective in redemption history suddenly takes on a fuller meaning.
“Come let us return to the LORD” – vs1
God’s repeated call to His people is that they would reach this point, that they would come to their senses and would return to the ONE who had covenanted to love them. Here the prophet includes himself and appeals to Israel to join him in returning to the LORD.
The good news of the Gospel is this – is it not? God has openly displayed His love for us; God has made it possible for us to have our sins forgiven so that we could return to Him and be reconciled through faith in Jesus Christ and His finished work on the cross.
Have you sinned? Confess your sin and then return to God through Jesus Christ, your Saviour King.
‘For he has torn us, that he may heal us…’ (vs1)
God has punished Israel’s sin, purifying Israel so that healing could come to them. God justly struck them down, but God will bind them up…
Israel was punished for their sin; they were struck down; some were killed; they were exiled.
We too deserve the wrath of God against our sin, our compromise and rebellion against God. And yet God doesn’t strike us!
No. God allowed Jesus’ back to be torn by whips, ripped open by the rough wood of the cross. God allowed Jesus to be killed in our place for our sin. This all happened to Jesus so that it won’t happen to us, to those who put their trust in Jesus. Jesus was struck, we get bound up, healed by His finished work on Calvary.
“On the third day…” (vs2)
The prophet announced to Israel that although their sin was about to be punished, it would not last forever and they would be revived. Hosea and the people of his day could not have known what all was contained in these words of the prophet.
But we know the story. We know that Jesus died but ‘after two days’ (vs2), ‘on the third day’ (vs2) God raised Jesus up just like Hosea prophecied!
Jesus was struck for our iniquities, but He rose again victorious. Not even death could hold him down and because Jesus rose again from the dead we too who believe in Him have His resurrection life in us.
This all happened so that; ‘we may live before Him.’ (vs3). This is the Gospel, hidden in the pages of OT prophecy. Jesus took on Himself the punishment that was ours and rose again victorious on the third day SO THAT we might be forgiven of our sin, cleansed from all our unrighteousness and be reconciled back to right relationship with our Holy God.
We are a ‘third day people’. We have hope because Jesus died and rose again on the third day. It was foretold about 740yrs before Jesus Christ – this was God’s gracious plan all along.
‘Let us know; let us press on to know the LORD’ (vs3)
All that Jesus did for us is worth nothing unless we take hold of the opportunity God has given us and press on, press in to know the LORD.
Jesus has removed every obstacle, removed the sin that separated us from God (Isaiah 59:2); there is no reason why we ought to be far off from God. We can know Him.
But will we? Will we remain far off or will we press on to know God intimately, deeply?
About 28years ago, my Father in law was once asked by my friend who had recently given his life to Jesus on a youth camp; ‘Jeff, pray that I would know God better.’
To this, Jeff replied; ‘I can’t pray that!’
My friend (and I) were horrified at his seemingly unloving response. Then he said words that I have never forgotten; ‘I can’t pray that you would know God better, that’s up to you. But I can, and I will pray that you will WANT to know God better.’ And so he did, and now that friend leads one of the most significant churches in Cape Town South Africa.
Do you know Jesus? Let us press on to know the LORD! The more we know, the more we will love and worship Him.
How long was Gomer waywardly unfaithful to Hosea? We don’t know exactly, but it was long enough to have conceived and weaned two children – so presumably a minimum of 4-5yrs!
All that time, Hosea must have cycled through the whole exhausting range of conflicted emotions. Then God spoke to the prophet; “And the LORD said to me, “Go again, love a woman who is loved by another man and is an adulteress, even as the LORD loves the children of Israel, though they turn to other gods and loves cakes of raisins.” (Hosea 3:1)
This woman who is not named, who is not even called Hosea’s wife she is so estranged relationally from him (see Hosea 2:2), is still rightfully understood to be his wife Gomer for this is the dominant illustration of the book.
And yet God commands Hosea to love her again. Since this is what God does to us, His people, loves us even when we are unlovely.
Hosea obediently goes and buys his wife back from some form of slavery or bondage she has gotten herself into. The fact that Gomer had to be purchased back reveals the desperate situation she has sunk into. No detail is given as to how she got into this situation but for Hosea to reconcile her back to him would cost him the guiltless one.
Forgiveness always precedes true reconciliation, and forgiveness always costs the one who was wronged.
Hosea’s having to pay a ransom price to be able to be reconciled with his wife foreshadows what it cost God to be reconciled back to right relationship with us wayward sinners (Rom. 5:6–11).
God was going to purify Israel through exile in a foreign land – a time when they would have no king of their own. In exile, they would be removed from what had become their everyday idolatry so prevalent in the Northern Kingdom during the years preceding this. (Hosea 3:4)
But after that appointed time, Israel would; ‘return and devote themselves again to the LORD their God and to David’s descendant, their king’ (Hosea 3:5 in NLT). God would reconcile them to Himself after this time of exile. The wayward tribes of the Northern Kingdom who had been in rebellion against God’s appointed line of kings will have to return to be included in the covenant promises to David’s line and the ultimate King of kings who will come from that line – King Jesus!
What does this mean for us today?
- God is patient, merciful and forgiving!
- God loved us and still loves us even when we are unlovely & ungodly.
- God wants a real relationship, a loving, committed relationship with us, and because of that God paid the ransom price by sending Jesus the Son to die on the cross in our place for our sin SO THAT we could be freed from the penalty of our slavery to sin and be reconciled back to right relationship with God.
- What a love story! What a King, what a Saviour. Worship and love Him with all you have for He is worthy.
Unity, harmony and love within the family of God (the Church) is not just a nice to have but essential!
Jesus said it like this; ‘by this will all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’ (John 13:35).
When Paul thought of the Philippian believers and thought of what would make his joy in them complete (vs2) he urged them to do three things;
to agree, to be of one mind
to have the same love
to be harmonious (‘in full accord’) with one another
As believers, a family of faith, a gospel-community, Scripture urges us to be united in our thinking. Disunity of thought brings uncertainty in relationships and damages trust and the vulnerability that trust thrives on. But is such unity even possible?
Yes, it is! Unity is possible for those who have been included and encouraged in Christ. Unity is possible for those who are living in the power of the Holy Spirit. Unity is possible for those who have all experienced God’s love poured out into their hearts (vs2).
Unity without these shared experiences would be impossible, but within a gospel-community, it is possible; otherwise, Scripture would not command it.
More than this, gospel-communities are to be harmonious according to vs2. The Greek word translated ‘being in full accord’ (ESV) can also be translated ‘harmonious’.
Harmony is not the same as unity. By way of example, an orchestra is not an orchestra unless there is unity in diversity, not uniformity. Both unity and diversity are essential for there to be harmony. An orchestra’s beauty is its harmony of diverse instruments united one piece of music. It is having one conductor arranging their unique contributions in such a way that each contributes their unique sound, thus creating a beautiful harmony.
Gospel communities, likewise, are to be united but not uniform. They have a diversity of personality & gift but are united around one desire – to bring glory to Jesus Christ and to serve His mission in the world.
This was a passion in the heart of the apostle Paul, and thus, he makes this appeal to the Philippian believers urging them to be united and harmonious.
So what hinders unity and harmony? Its things like selfish ambition, pride (conceit). Such things ruin relationships and damage people and gospel-community.
Therefore, in the Church, let’s be those who humbly consider others more significant than ourselves. Let’s prefer others, be one another’s greatest fans and be very slow to posture or put ourselves forward (vs3).
Let’s also ensure that we are not selfishly looking after our interests but that we are considerate of the interests and needs of others seeking to serve others always (vs4).
What could possibly motivate us to act in these ways? There is only ONE; His name is Jesus! The single mind that we are all to have (vs2) is that we are all to have the mind of Jesus (vs5). We are to follow His example as He did not live selfishly or proudly but in humility, He came to serve you and me. Jesus, although He was God, emptied Himself taking the form of a servant (vs7), and humbled Himself to the point of death, death on a cross (vs8) for us!
He is our example; He is our motivation. He is the one we worship and live out our whole lives as a response.
Unity, love and harmony matter. But they are only possible when a gospel-community together fix their eyes on Jesus our great Saviour and example and live out their lives with one another as a response to Him.
- Ask God if there is any way you have been contributing to disunity in your gospel-community (Church)? Is there any way you have been acting selfishly, ambitiously or proudly? If the Holy Spirit shows you anything, then repent now of such things.
- Meditate again on what Jesus did for you (Philippians 2:5-11). What do you feel God is showing you about Jesus? What is God showing you that might need to change in your life?
- Ask the Holy Spirit to make you more and more ‘other-aware’, looking out not just for your interests but also the interests of others.