Wisdom

What do you know? (1 John 5:13)

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What do you know? Not just what do you know about, but what can you be utterly sure about?

In South Africa, we are at the start of the academic year. We have thousands of people clamouring to get enrolled in schools and tertiary education facilities so that they can know more, get educated.

Some people know a whole lot about things that are pretty trivial to most. Like how to make perfectly square watermelons! Or what the weather will be in 6-7 days time in Outer Mongolia…

The apostle John wants those he is writing to, and by extension wants you and I to know something of significance. John wants us to know, to be assured that we have eternal life in Jesus Christ if we have believed in Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins.

And so he has written this whole letter of 1 John with this express purpose in mind;

“I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13)

‘These things’ refers to the whole letter, not just the sentences preceding it. John is saying in effect that the entire letter has for this purpose, that these believers might know not some obscure trivial thing, but that they might know that they have eternal life.

This is knowledge worth knowing! To be assured that you have been forgiven and released from your moral debt before God forever is a pretty big deal.

When a child or a person in my care is feeling the gripping hold of fear in some situation or another, my desire as a Father is to alleviate the fear, to neutralise it and to bring peace.

However, it is not always loving to assure someone. After all, to assure the drunken person that they can drive if they are careful is unloving in the extreme. And to falsely assure someone of their eternal destiny in heaven who does not have eternal life because they haven’t as yet trusted in Jesus – is the epitome of an absence of love.

On the other hand, to see someone wilting under the weight of anxiety because they are not assured that they have been forgiven of their sin is equally bad.

The apostle John is passionate about believers knowing that they have been forgiven, accepted and loved by King Jesus. Knowing that they have believed in Jesus and put their trust in Jesus, and knowing that Jesus is entirely trustworthy – he doesn’t want them to doubt for another minute or ever doubt again. He wants them to know that they have eternal life because of their faith in Jesus.

Have you believed in Jesus for the forgiveness of all of your sins? Because if you know that you have believed, Scripture wants you to know that you have eternal life. It’s secure, unchangeable, impossible to overturn – it’s yours, you can rest assured!

Why does this matter?

  • God, your Father, wants you to live in the good of what Jesus bought for you with His precious life, death & resurrection.
  • God, your Father, wants your life to be characterised by hope, joy and peace not robbed by anxious worry!
  • Knowing that you already have eternal life frees you from striving – you are a recipient of God’s grace, and so rest and worship and thanks are the only appropriate response.
  • God, your Father, wants you to look ahead to death and life after death with utter confidence knowing whom you have believed and knowing that He will never disappoint you just like God never let down our fathers in the faith (Psalm 22:4-5)

The apostle John was the last surviving eye-witness of Jesus. He knew the ONE whom he had believed in; he had first-hand experience; he was certain.

And John wants the same for you and I. What do you know? Know this, that He who has trusted their lives to Jesus will be saved and will live with God forever and ever.

Exercise:

Go back through the letter for all the indicators John has mentioned (1 John 2:3, 3:10, 3:19, 3:24, 4:7, 4:13, 4:15, 5:13) that help us to know we are truly saved, truly God’s children.  Pray and ask the Holy Spirit to help you to know your eternal state before God!

Gullible? (1 John 4:1-6)

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Gullibility is a liability! Not everything that ‘sounds’ spiritual or deep is Godly or helpful. We live in an age of information overload, the access to options or alternate thought positions has never been easier.  

Therefore being able to discern right from wrong, good from evil is an important life skill. The apostle John writes warning believers affectionately; “Beloved, do not believe every spirit” (1 John 4:1) or as the NLT puts it; “Dear friends, do not believe everyone who claims to speak by the Spirit.”

In our day in the name of God, church leaders are sadly often in the news for telling those who follow them to perform all manner of crazy acts, claiming this is what God wants or torturing Scripture to say that what they are teaching is what Scripture commands!

Discernment, therefore, is a vital aspect of faith for all Christ-followers. But how does one discern orthodoxy from heresy?

1. Listen to God’s Holy Spirit!

 God’s Holy Spirit will always make much of Jesus, who He is and what He has done for us. So listen to the content and the focus of someone’s teaching and if Jesus is not the BIG IDEA, if anyone, anything is, then tune out! Remember that;

  • The Holy Spirit will teach us and will remind us of everything Jesus said. (John 14:26)
  • The Holy Spirit will testify about Jesus (John 15:26)
  • The Holy Spirit will guide you into all truth (John 16:13)
  • The Holy Spirit will bring glory to Jesus (John 16:14)

Hearing from the Holy Spirit is not for some elite group of Christians. Adam and Eve used to walk and talk with God in the Garden. Now that you have been reconciled to God through Jesus, you too can walk and talk every day with God. This is your joy and your privilege as a believer!  

Try this: As you read, or listen to anything/anyone – ask the Holy Spirit to confirm in your Spirit whether this is helpful or unhelpful in your spiritual walk.

2. Use the Weapon of Scripture

One of the primary ways God has put on display His will for our lives is in Holy Scripture. The more you read and internalise Scripture, the better equipped you will be to discern spiritual nonsense from the good stuff.  

So, if some teaching doesn’t line up with Scripture – toss it out! Our LORD did this when He was tested in the desert by the devil, and yet Jesus resisted him, Jesus exposed the falsehood through quoting Scripture to the enemy.

So read your Bible daily, commit to that discipline, and it will protect you in ways you cannot begin to imagine. Internalise Scripture, memorise Scripture – doing so is that arming yourself with the sword of the Spirit, taking the sword out of its sheath to protect yourself from enemy attacks (Ephesians 6:17).

3. Be in intentional Christian Community

Being on your own, isolated with your thoughts, leaves one vulnerable to false teaching and potentially being persuaded or lead astray. The people John was writing to had a relationship with the apostle John, and that relationship helped them to remain strong in the face of false teaching as they could ask John for his opinion. 

Who are you in intentional Christian Community with? Is the Bible and listening to the Holy Spirit a key aspect of that friendship? In Reconciliation Road Church we urge every believer to be in a TRIO or a COMMUNITY GROUP or to be in both if possible. Why? Because Community protects one, keeps us from the pain of being diverted from the path God has for us.  

Do you have an intentional Christian Community? If not, take a step and reach out to some other people.

May we, may you be fortified against gullibility. May you obey the Holy Spirit daily, devote yourself to Scripture daily and may you have an authentic and intentional Christian Community around you to protect you from dangerous spiritual gullibility.

Who is Jesus? (1 John 2:18-29)

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Jesus Christ is not just the hinge of history, separating all of history into before and after His birth. Who you understand Jesus Christ to be is what separates Christianity from every other faith.

The apostle John writing in 1 John 2:18-29 is fortifying the church from false teachings that were threatening to undermine the apostolic doctrines of the church regarding who Jesus was.  

John makes some quite clear statements that draw a line between what is Christian and what is ‘against God’ (antichrist).

“Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son.” (1 John 2:22)

John, as usual, is making stark contrasts. Those he is writing to know ‘the truth’ (vs21) while the person who denies Jesus’ divinity is ‘the liar.’ Such a person is not just wrong but anti-God, against God.

John is saying that; “everything depends on what a person believes about Jesus Christ. If an individual does not believe that Jesus of Nazareth was and is the Christ, God’s own Son, sent from the Father, then he is (literally) against Christ.” (David Jackman)

More than this, we see from vs23 that the Trinity is not divisible. The Father, the Son and the Spirit can not be separated, to deny the Son is to deny the Father and conversely accepting the Son causes one to be in a state of right relationship with the Father also! 

Who is Jesus Christ? This is essentially the BIG QUESTION that every person on the planet has to answer, and it is also the most important test, that sorts out all religious teaching we may hear.

John confirms that the teaching about Jesus from the very beginning has not changed (vs24-25). It will not change, does not need updating but believing in the Gospel truth about Jesus comes with an amazing promise – eternal life.

So, remain in Jesus. Stand firm against all notions that divert from the truth portrayed in the Gospels about Jesus. Remain, believing in Jesus Christ so that when He appears in glory, you’ll be excited to see Him and not shrinking back because you diverted from the truth (vs26-28).

In closing, the church wrestled with false teaching about who Jesus was for nearly three hundred years after this letter was written by John. Which is not surprising since the enemy must have tried everything in his power to derail God’s church.

Finally, in 451AD the Fathers of the church from the known world agreed on this long but important statement of faith/creed about who Jesus is for us as Christ Followers. This statement has never been updated and has never needed to be nor will it never need to be;

Chalcedonian Creed from the Council of Chalcedon 451

“We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach men to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a reasonable [rational] soul and body; consubstantial [co-essential] with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the Manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin; begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, according to the Manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten, God the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ; as the prophets from the beginning [have declared] concerning Him, and the Lord Jesus Christ Himself has taught us, and the Creed of the holy Fathers has handed down to us.”

Chew on that for a while, marvel at Jesus and worship Him!

Two Ways (1 John 2:15-17)

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As Christ Followers, what should our relationship to the world be? Such an important question for every Christ Follower to consider.

Over the centuries, there have been many varying responses to this question. Some believing that they are at risk of being contaminated have tried to remove themselves from contact with the world. Others have reached out to the world and so immersed themselves in it that they have risked accommodating themselves to it.

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. (1 John 2:15)

Reading 1 John 2:15 & John 3:16 side by side, one can get easily confused. Which is it? Are we to love the world or not?

To unravel this, we need to consider the variations of meaning Scripture has for the Greek word ‘kosmos’ -translated as ‘world’ in English.

‘Kosmos’ can mean;

  1. All that is created and sustained by God, or 
  2. All of humankind (the apex of God’s creation) or 
  3. The ‘organized system of human civilization and activity which is opposed to God and alienated from him. It represents everything that prevents man from loving, and therefore obeying, his creator.’ (David Jackman)

John has been using stark contrasts so far in the letter, light and darkness (1 John 1:5&2:9), truth and lies (1 John 1:6&2:4), love for God and love for the ways of the world (1 John 2:15).  

In vs15 John is forcibly urging Christ-followers to see that love for God and love for the world’s ways are mutually exclusive. They are like light and darkness.

But, in what way is the system of the world anti-God or dangerous for us? John goes on to elaborate;

‘For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world.’ 

John highlights three aspects of the fallen worldly system and correspondingly the devil’s strategy against us;

  1. The desires of the flesh.  Physical appetites themselves are not evil since many like thirst are God-given and essential for human life. However, our natural desires have been distorted and exaggerated in fallen humankind so that we crave a level of self-indulgent satisfaction that can lead us to ignore God’s commandments and wander into uncontrolled excess. Unrestrained desires have an insatiable appetite that can lead someone off-course from the path of following God. Desires are natural, are God-given, but we are not to be lead slavishly by our desires. ‘John is concerned that we should realize that we cannot love the Father and live that way.’ (David Jackman)
  2. The desires of the eyes. Desire often starts with seeing something desirable. This reminds me of the original sin in the garden… ‘When Eve saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise’ (Genesis 3:6) Much of the world’s marketing runs on this operating system – selling us a desirable image and enticing action. John knows that our eyes can and do get us into trouble.
  3. Pride in our achievements and possessions (NLT). This worldliness can easily slip into our lifestyles and thinking under the radar, undetected. The world we live in loves to celebrate achievements! From ticker-tape parades for rugby world champions to endless prize-givings at every education institution. The problem is not in the achievement or possession itself – but rather in what a person hopes these things will do for them. To look to our achievements or possessions as things that define who we are or to hope that they will open doors of acceptance or feeling like we belong – is worldly and does not come from the Father. Our identity, belonging, and purpose are ultimately only found in a relationship with Jesus alone, which leads John to the final thought in our passage for today.

The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever. (vs17)

John concludes, reminding us that not only are the world’s attractions, not God’s way for us, they ultimately fail to satisfy us, and they are fleeting.

We need to be more eternally minded; we are wise if we think long and not short! The person who focuses on God and God’s ways, God’s commandments not the ways of the world ends up fulfilling the will of God which is good for us for eternity and will bless us not just in the short term but bless us eternally.

Although following God’s ways and doing God’s will sometimes involve saying ‘NO’ to some desirable thing, in light of eternity it is not Scripture’s view to see such as a sacrifice but rather a wise investment.

So John challenges us to make Godly decisions about the way we are living today. Do not love the world and its ways, love the Father. We face these little decisions daily, but John challenges us to keep loving the Father and to follow His ways, not the way of the world in all things. ‘For the world and those who live for it will pass away, but the Father and his obedient children will live forever.’ (David Jackman)

So what is our relationship with the world to be?  

We are to love people, as God loved people going to extreme lengths to share His love with them (John 3:16).  

However, we are also to be extremely careful of the tempting and corrupting influence of the world’s ways, wisdom and systems which are anti-God and dangerous for us from the perspective of eternity (1 John 2:15-17).

For consideration:

  1. Look through the three aspects of the world’s ways that John highlights and ask God the Holy Spirit to speak to you about any of these which you need to address
  2. ‘Love for God is the ultimate antidote for sin’ – how does loving God more fortify you against sin?
  3. Are you truly living with an eternal perspective?  How would having a clearer eternal perspective help you in daily decisions?

Two Ways (Hosea 14:9)

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This one verse at the end of the whole book sums up the book and our response to it. There are two paths before every one of us; God’s way and the way that Israel took which the prophet has been at pains to describe.

Scripture frequently contrasts the way of the wise and that of the fool or the righteous person’s way, and the ungodly person’s way. Everyone chooses a way; it is unavoidable.

The question is, what will you choose?

Hosea 14:9 brings the book to a conclusion forcing the reader to consider their own personal response. Much of the book has been written to the collective of Israel, but now the focus is undeniably personal.

The wise person will take to heart, will understand the themes and emphases of the book; they will listen and obey God and choose to walk in God’s ways.

On the contrary, the foolish person will continue to stumble in their sinful ways, disregarding God’s commandments, His appeals of love and His repeated invitation to repent.

We all choose continually. What will you choose? Which path are you on right now and will you stay on that path?

These are the questions. Will you learn from Israel’s mistakes? Will you respond to the love of God that graciously woos us back time and time again or will you harden your heart and close your ears as the Israelites did?

I urge you to continuously keep in step with God by obeying the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:16-25) & allowing Scripture to lead and direct you (Psalm 119:105).

Ask God to keep your heart soft and your spiritual ears open. Because the ‘paths of the LORD are true and right, and righteous people live by walking in them’ (Hosea 14:9 in the NLT).

Bless you
GARETH

Futile & Faithful (Hosea 12:1-13)

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Futile. Empty. Unfulfilling. Mad.

To live as if God is not God – is futile, empty & unfulfilling. It is like trying to be filled up in your stomach on the wind. Eating the wind, taking great gulps of air, will never fulfil the need for nutrition that your body has (vs1).

Rejecting God, putting your trust in self or anything other than God is like chasing after the wind as if it could be caught (vs1).

It makes no sense to reject God. It’s not rational; instead, it’s entirely irrational – like trying to feed on or catch the wind.

By reaching out to Assyria and Egypt, making covenants with them for protection, faithless Israel has been like a person futilely feeding on the wind or chasing it.

And so God has an indictment against both Israel and Judah (vs2). Neither of them has been faithful to God and His covenant with them but have rather rejected God and made covenants with Assyria & Egypt, which will prove futile.

They, Israel, are acting just like their ancestor Jacob (Hosea 12:2-5) who was habitually deceitful as he tricked his father and robbed his brother of his birthright (see Genesis 25-27).

Yet God was gracious to Jacob, and so God promised to bless Jacob with the same covenant promise that was given to Abraham (Genesis 28:10-22). More than this, when Jacob wrestled with God and asked God to bless him, God did, and at that moment renamed him ‘Israel’ (Genesis 32:22-32).

And so God will be gracious to Israel as He was to Jacob if only they would return to God and hold fast to love and justice (Hosea 12:6) rather than ‘multiply falsehood and violence’ (Hosea 12:1).

Israel became wealthy but did so through corrupt means and so has walked away from God’s ways. Therefore, God will humble them, reduce them back to a state of living in tents and humble accommodation (Hosea 12:7-8).

God laments that He sent prophets to Israel, God gave visions and parables to the prophets appealing to Israel to stop, to see their sin and to repent (Hosea 12:10). God is so gracious, so forbearing to keep speaking when we are wayward.

God was gracious to Jacob, blessed him with a wife and children as He had promised He would (Hosea 12:12). God was then faithful again to His promise to Jacob by bringing the twelve tribes bearing the names of his twelve sons out of Egypt hundreds of years later through Moses the prophet (Hosea 12:13).

Israel’s actions have been futile, faithless, and yet in recounting the checkered story of Jacob’s, God shows Israel that He is faithful to His promises, He is gracious in spite of us.

What does this mean for you and I today?

  • It is utterly futile to put your trust in anything or anyone other than God Himself.
  • Learn from Israel’s history, determine not to repeat their errors in trusting in Assyria & Egypt.
  • Know that God is faithful to His promises, and know that He has promised never to leave and never to forsake us (Hebrews 13:5b), and because of that, determine to trust God!
  • And so, with God’s help, hold fast to love and justice and continually wait for your God regardless of what you are facing (Hosea 12:6).
  • In so doing you’ll avoid futility & you’ll be faithful.

The Danger of Closed Ears (Hosea 5:1-15)

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Hosea Chapter 5 reads like a charge sheet or the pronouncement of the judge of the misdemeanours committed in a court proceeding against Israel/Ephraim (the Northern Kingdom).

The priests, the royal family & the leaders of Israel have led Israel into a snare/trap with their idol worship and their ‘deep slaughter’ (vs2 in ESV might refer to child sacrifice see 2 Kings 17:17).

Israel was so thoroughly gone, so far from God that reconciliation at that point seemed impossible; “Your deeds won’t let you return to your God. You are a prostitute through and through, and you do not know the Lord” (vs4 in NLT).

They might go and seek God to make sacrifices with their livestock, but they will not find God for ‘he has withdrawn from them’ (vs6). Nothing is more terrifying than this! That God removes Himself from us, that He won’t reply any more to our calls. That is the very definition of hell – existence without God, without the possibility of God, listening, without God willing to respond to our cries for mercy, grace or help. Hell, CS Lewis said was a monument to human freedom – people want nothing to do with God and so that is what God eventually gives them.

The leaders of Israel are full of dishonesty, corruption & injustice like those who move their neighbour’s landmarks (stealing land from people) (vs10 in ESV).

And because of all of this the day of judgment is coming, war is coming, and Israel will be reduced to a pile of rubble (vs 9 in NLT), ‘The people of Israel will be crushed and broken by my judgment because they are determined to worship idols.’ (vs11 in NLT). 

When Israel realised the terrible moth-eaten state of her clothes, when they saw that destructive rot had set in to eat away their wooden things (vs12) – they called out for help.

But they did not call out in repentance to God the only One who could truly help them. Rather they sought political & military alliances with surrounding nations to secure protection. They paid money to Assyria (2 Kings 15:19) to buy protection – but these nations, these men can’t help Israel (vs13)! 

We are like this sometimes aren’t we? We have made some mess of our lives, wandered from God, and when we realise our predicament we don’t repent and turn back to God the only One who can truly help us, we make a plan, seek wisdom, solace or solutions from those around us. And yet we know, God is the One we need. Christ Follower, don’t be like Israel was.

Foreign nations will not be able to stop what God has determined. Israel and even later Judah too are going to be punished by God (vs14). God is going to ‘tear them to pieces’ and ‘carry them off’ like a lion does it’s prey (vs15). Israel will be judged, punished and taken off into exile for God has finally declared; ‘enough!’ (see 2 Kings 17). 

And yet even this terrible day that awaits Israel is not the end of the story;

Then I will return to my place until they admit their guilt and turn to me. For as soon as trouble comes, they will earnestly search for me.” (vs15 in NLT)

God is anticipating that judgement will produce repentance in the future and a change of heart and a longing for God again. There is a flicker of hope still as God vs15 hints at God’s desire for this to be restorative justice that will re-unite His people to Him in the future.

What does this mean for you and I today?

  • Remember that God is slow to anger and abounding in mercy. This judgement of God on Israel was a long time in coming (approximately 200yrs and the reign of 13 kings).
  • God had spoken over and over and over again to Israel through the prophets (2 Kings 17:13-14); however, they would not listen but rather were stubborn in their idolatry and unbelief.
  • Decide today not to be like Israel was! Decide today to listen to the soft inner promptings of the Holy Spirit, the whispers of God through your own Bible reading and listening to Bible-based preaching, listen and repent, turn back to God when He whispers to you. Because if you don’t listen to the private whispers, God will eventually raise the volume and what was private will become more and more public.
  • What’s God been trying to whisper to you about that you’ve maybe been shutting your ears too? Speak to God now, repent now, return to Him the only One who can truly help.