Who is ‘Us?’

Please read 1 John 2:18-27 in your Bible.

Mirror Image_v07 (1)Image by James Best, (C) 2020, https://www.behance.net/gallery/90621713/Sermon-Illustrations-2020

      Today we celebrate our voluntary association with churches across our nation in a denomination called “American Baptists.”  Next Sunday we’ll do the same for our association with other American Baptist churches across the Dakotas.

The key word there is “voluntary.”  Baptists historically emphasize the freedom of each local church while at the same time recognize the practicality of working together to get more done.  Put another way, we value independence but practice interdependence.

Occasionally, the tension between those competing themes makes problems.  But as families are supposed to do, we solve our problems and remain in relationship.  Issues are rarely solved neatly or easily, but we work at resolution so we can remain in communion with each other.

We ask ourselves, “Is it worth the effort?”  One clue to an answer: over the last couple generations of American church life, the other six major Protestant denominations have lost followers at a horrific rate.  Alone among the “Seven Sisters” of the American Protestant churches, American Baptists have grown slightly over that time.  I would explain that as being the result of the evangelical and conservative churches like our own remaining in biblical truth and insisting the denomination do the same.  The boundary of any group is a definition of who they are and who they are not.  Today we’ll examine what John taught about the identity of true believers and the necessity of remaining in fellowship.

Denominational life is like family life; benefits accrue only to those who stay in relationship.

  1. Who we are not.

We are not ANTICHRISTS (18).  The term “antichrist” appears only in John’s letters.  In this verse He used it in both plural and singular forms. This tells me that “antichrist” is a movement of opposition, not just a single notorious individual.

According to verse nineteen the ANTICHRISTS were at one time in the church, but at no time did they really belong there.  The church is for Jesus’ followers, not Jesus’ detractors.  They are “against Christ” in the sense that they denied the truth about Jesus and taught falsehood instead.  In the Greek, the prefix translated “anti” also meant “in place of, against, and opposed to.”  The false teachers were not neutral on the subject of Jesus being the Christ; they were strong deniers of it.

John warned the fact that such individuals were present indicated they were in the LAST HOUR.  Jesus taught that prior to His Second Coming there will be an increase of persecution, of opposition to the truth.  The LAST DAYS precede the end of history and the world as we know it.  God will replace this sin-stained creation with a new heaven and earth.  This is the culmination of His plan, established before the creation of the universe.  Though two thousand years of history makes the LAST HOUR sound less immediate, the phrase refers to the time between Jesus’ Ascension and His Second Coming.  We are still in the LAST HOUR.

We are not quitters (19).  John’s reasoning seems rather circular: “We know we they were never Jesus people because they left us.  If they had belonged to Christ, they would never have left.”  However, his point is simply that “actions speak louder than words.”  No matter how pious they may have sounded or seemed their real intentions were betrayed when they walked out on the church.

By way of contrast, John used the word REMAIN five times in this passage.  Instead of leaving the church as the ANTICHRISTS had done, the true followers distinguished themselves by remaining.  The same Greek word is used extensively in John 15, in Jesus’ illustration of the VINE and the BRANCHES.  There He taught every good thing is possible to those who REMAIN in relationship with Jesus.  No good thing is possible apart from that close relationship.

We don’t lie about Jesus (22-23).  A specific falsehood these false teachers were purveying was the denial that JESUS IS THE CHRIST.  They tried to convince people that Jesus was not the Messiah; not God the Son.  True faith affirms the dual nature of Jesus Christ; He is both God and man.  To deny one or the other is an incomplete and false teaching.

This is a fundamental truth is implied in His name.  “Jesus” is our Savior’s given name and symbolizes the human side of His nature.  He was born a human being and existed in history, interacting with other human beings.  “Christ” is not His last name, it is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word “messiah.”  This title symbolizes His divine nature.

We will not be lead astray (26). The two main subjects of John’s letters are truth and love.  In relationships, it is difficult to preserve both, but that is what God calls us to do.  John revealed that a purpose for his writing was to warn the people about false teachers in their midst.  They operated in neither truth nor love.  Instead, their purpose was to lead the people ASTRAY; away from the truth.  Whatever their motive, the false teachers knew the church folk would be easier to manipulate if they didn’t know the truth.

We don’t need to know how to argue with persons trying to persuade us to a contrary view, but we do need to keep our focus on Christ and simply refuse to be moved away from the faith we have received (JUST AS IT HAS TAUGHT YOU, REMAIN IN HIM).

  1. Who we are.

We are anointed (20+27).  “Anointing” is the biblical-era practice of applying oil to the body.  It was commonly done as an act of hospitality and for healing.  Less commonly, anointing had the purpose of ceremonially setting a person or object apart for God’s purpose.  For example, kings and priests were anointed for service; temple furnishings were anointed before being used.

John used anointing as a symbol of the “set-apart” status of Jesus followers.  We have received an ANOINTING FROM THE HOLY SPIRIT (20). Because they had received Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, true followers are set apart to a divine purpose; to uphold truth and love. This is only possible because the Holy Spirit resides in us.

We know the truth (20-21, 27).  An important outcome of this anointing is knowledge of the truth.  The Holy Spirit grants every believer two important things: first, the illumination of Scripture.  The Holy Spirit enables every follower of Jesus the ability to read the word of God with understanding.  The Spirit enables us to apply what we’ve read and will bring it to mind when we need to recall what it said.

Second, Holy Spirit gives discernment.  As we live the life, the Holy Spirit enables believers to know the difference between good and evil.  When we can’t put a finger on how we know, we know because the Spirit told us.  God does not require us to have “blind faith” – just the opposite – we are to study the word, test it, learn what it says, and stay steady in the faith we have received (27).

The truth remains in us (24-25). God promises that His word and the Holy Spirit will REMAIN in the ones who REMAIN in Him.  Contrary to what our culture teaches, truth is not dependent on each person’s viewpoint.  It is not for us to make up a faith that suits us.  It is our job to receive the truth as defined by the Bible and the church, and make it our own by increasing our understanding of it.  By doing this, we receive the reward promised to those who REMAIN: ETERNAL LIFE.

Denominational life is like family life; benefits accrue only to those who stay in relationship.

There is a late-night talk show host whose name I won’t mention because I don’t like Jimmy Fallon’s politics.  One thing he does almost weekly is get the American public to do his work for him by tweeting responses to a topic he has chosen.  Here are some funny replies to #dumbestfamilyfights.

#1 = “My sister once screamed at me for an entire car ride because I was looking out her window.  To this day my whole family will randomly yell, ‘DON’T LOOK OUT MY WINDOW!’ at each other.”

#2 = “The day the clocks turned back for daylight savings time.  Members of my family kept arguing about what time we should feed the cat so she wouldn’t be confused.”

#3 – “My brothers often argue with each other on who is the ugly one between them both… They’re identical twins.”

#4 = “I jokingly asked my family: ‘How many of each type of animal did Moses take aboard the Ark?’  My Grandma says; 2.

“When I tried to tell her it was Noah, not Moses, she said I was wrong and stormed out of the room!  Dad says, ‘We don’t talk religion at the dinner table!’”

#5 = “For years, my dad has sworn he needs glasses, but my mom says he’s just ‘not trying hard enough.’”

RESOURCES:

Message #545

https://www.nbc.com/the-tonight-show/photos/hashtag-gallery-dumbestfamilyfight/3420957

Seven Modern Maladies and God’s Solutions (7 of 7)

Greed & Generosity

Greed is a vice as it places a greater value on things than God or people.  Generosity does the opposite.

If you are 50 year of age or older, you know this guy:

howell

“Thurston Howell III” from the TV show “Gilligan’s Island.”  The opening credits call him “the millionaire.”  In one episode Howell’s wife Lovey explains that during the Great Depression the Howell family suffered great loss going from being billionaires to being mere millionaires.  Though they were allegedly only going on a “three hour cruise,” the Howells brought several suitcases of clothes and money.  This makes me think they were really on the lam from debt collectors!

In 2013 Forbes magazine published a Fictional Top Fifteen list of the wealthiest fictional characters.  Thurston Howell III came in fifth overall, behind Santa Claus, Richie Rich Jr., Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks, and Scrooge McDuck.  Pretty heavy hitters there!

Both the Howells were pampered rich people who bragged about their possessions, wealth, and connections to the rich and famous.  Neither of them offered to work on daily chores or help with rescue plans, despite their alleged eagerness to return to civilization.

As a symbol for the deadly sin of GREED, Mr. Howell is the obvious choice.  Veteran actor Jim Backus hammed his way through the role, achieving a surprising range of emotions, including a child-like need to sleep with a teddy bear imaginatively named “Teddy.”  Backus so successfully affected a character of East Coast wealth and privilege that we have a hard time thinking of any other character as the stereotypical “millionaire.”  In fact, during the 2012 presidential campaign Mitt Romney was compared to Thurston Howell III as the epitome of a wealthy Easterner, out of touch with reality and the common American.

Jim Backus died in 1989, his last screen credit being the voice of Howell on “Gilligan’s Planet,” an animated spinoff of “Gilligan’s Island.”

  1. The vicious vice of greed (1 John 2:15-7).

Usually we think of GREED as being a love of money, an unquenchable desire for more.  Today we’ll expand our definition to include love of worldly things when we love anything or anyone more than God.  In fact, that’s the also the definition of idolatry!

John taught that love of the world and love of God are mutually exclusive.  In abundant clarity, the Spirit revealed through John the trials we can face.

What we love reveals a lot about us (15).  Here are the contrasting orientations.  Love of self and love of worldly things go hand in hand.  Love of God and love for others is manifest in an attitude that discounts worldly things, using them to bring joy to others and self.

John identified a “Big Three” set of attitudes that betray love of worldly things (16).

First, the CRAVINGS OF SINFUL MAN.  The phrase SINFUL MAN is translated as FLESH in other versions.  The CRAVINGS are SINFUL because they come from the sin nature and lead to sin.  As sin, these CRAVINGS separate us from God and from one another.  This is GREED in the form of exalting self so much that God and others don’t matter.

Second, the LUST OF THE EYES.  LUST can also be translated as “covets” or “envys.”  It is a sin that is not limited to sexuality; it covers everything in this world that we can desire passionately.  It is the life of an addict; so self-centered that one is unaware that their passion is not normal or healthy, but is consuming them.  This is GREED in the form of acquiring, hoarding, or using things.

Third, he BOASTING OF WHAT HE HAS AND DOES.  This is a “KIA” person.  No, I don’t mean “Killed In Action,” instead this acronym means “KNOW IT ALL.” This is the kind of person who can’t stop telling you about their brainstorms, their kid’s honors, and what they bought on sale!  This is a life dominated by the latest thing, having the “prettiest” or the “greatest.”  It is chasing after achievement to make you feel better about yourself; a vain effort to justify your misdeeds and even your existence.  This is GREED in the form of reputation; focusing on what other people think about you.

Worldly things are not worthy of our love because they do not last forever: THE WORLD AND ITS DESIRES ALL PASS AWAY (17). Either at death or at the second coming, this world is going to cease for every one of us.  On a personal scale and also on a universal scale, all that glitters and all that is gold will one day be no more. There are other reasons not to love the world.  Satisfy a worldly urge and the urge will soon return.  Worldly things do not provide lasting satisfaction.  Satisfying a worldly urge will not benefit your spiritual life; worldly honors will not make you more spiritually mature.  God is eternal; things are temporary.  It makes no sense to invest ourselves in the stuff that won’t last. Instead, here’s where we should be putting our time and energy: THE MAN WHO DOES THE WILL OF GOD LIVES FOREVER.

  1. The vital virtue of generosity (1 Timothy 6:17-19).

Paul condemned the LOVE OF MONEY so thoroughly in vs. 6-10 that someone might think it impossible to be RICH and heaven-bound.  Here Paul instructs rich people how to live in a godly way that prepares them for heaven.  That fact disproves any notion that the RICH are automatically excluded.

The RICH person’s “don’t do” list.

First, don’t be ARROGANT (17).  I want to interpret ARROGANT to mean “self-sufficient.”  Paul is commanding Timothy’s people to rely on God, not on their wealth or any other worldly thing.  Both self-sufficiency and outright arrogance are subtle and frequent temptations for people who have a lot of stuff.

Second, don’t put your HOPE IN WEALTH (17).  Why not?  Because it’s so UNCERTAIN.  The word UNCERTAIN notes that worldly things are likely to disappoint us; they will disappear when needed most.  For example, money can buy insurance and medical care, but you can’t buy health or recovery from illness.  Proverbs 23:4-5 makes a point I believe all of us have experienced at least once: DO NOT WEAR YOURSELF OUT TO GET RICH; HAVE THE WISDOM TO SHOW RESTRAINT.  CAST BUT A GLANCE AT RICHES AND THEY ARE GONE, FOR THEY WILL SURELY SPROUT WINGS AND FLY OFF TO THE SKY LIKE AN EAGLE.  Time flies; it seems money does too.

Worldly things are unworthy of our love for all these reasons.  What is certain is God’s love and He is the only

Next, we read the RICH person’s “to do” list.

First, put your HOPE IN GOD (17).  Why?  For one thing, it is God who RICHLY PROVIDES US WITH EVERYTHING.  RICHLY means God has been generous with us; we must be generous with one another.  Notice the word EVERYTHING; we need to be reminded that neither we nor the bank really “own” anything.  All of it is owned by God and put in our hands to use for His glory.  His purpose in this provision is FOR OUR ENJOYMENT.  Worldly things are never to be the center of our affections, but they are given for us to enjoy.  Joy is at the center of the life of godly people.

Second, do GOOD (18).  GOOD is best defined as “godly.”  Morally good things are in line with the revealed will and character of God.

Third, become RICH IN GOOD DEEDS (18).  Worldly ambition is to become rich in worldly things; to possess much.   Godly ambition is to do good as often as possible.  Accumulating good deeds for their own sake is not the point; that would merely be pride.  Instead, Scripture describes three God-approved motives:

Love for God; gratitude for what He’s done.

Love for others; a desire to serve and connect them with God.

Love for self; the accumulation of heavenly rewards.

Fourth, be GENEROUS (18).  God has loved us unconditionally; we ought to love each other unconditionally.  God has generously provided for us all things needed to survive and to enjoy life.  We must be similarly generous with each other.  If we thought of ourselves as a pipe, and not a pool, it would help.  We tend to see ourselves as pools; God gives and raises the level of stuff we accumulate.  That’s not biblical.  More appropriately, we are pipes or conduits through which God’s gracious gifts flow from us to others.

Fifth, SHARE with others (18).  This word is translated “distribute” in the King James’ Version.  Take the wealth entrusted to us and distribute it among the needy and good causes.  No hoarding.  If you don’t have much money, share your time.  If you don’t have much time, share your table.  Scale is never a reason for not sharing; typically the poorest people are the most likely to SHARE, the wealthiest the most likely to hoard.

Whether we consider ourselves rich or poor or something else, we are to use worldly wealth to gain eternal rewards.  Paul wrote, LAY UP TREASURE FOR THEMSELVES AS A FIRM FOUNDATION FOR THE COMING AGE and TAKE HOLD OF THE LIFE THAT IS TRULY LIFE (19).  Do you need to a reminder you can’t take any of this stuff with you past death?  If so, here’s your reminder (v. 7): FOR WE BROUGHT NOTHING INTO THE WORLD, AND WE CAN TAKE NOTHING OUT OF IT. It may help to think of worldly things as things we can expend to “invest” in heaven, looking forward to receiving a “dividend” when we stand before Jesus Christ.

If you are younger than 50, you know all about:

linkedIn

LinkedIn, a website that is designed to help people fulfill their business ambitions.  The site was launched in 2002 to help employers and job seekers network and find one another to facilitate employment.

This website serves us as a symbol of GREED because it is all about worldly ambition, climbing the corporate ladder, being a success in purely worldly terms.  In fact, the founder of LinkedIn, Reid Hoffman, made that connection himself in an interview last year.

I joined LinkedIn five years ago as a means of searching for a job.  Now I use it to publish my messages on the Internet and stay in touch with friends and associates.  LinkedIn has a great deal of influence on our culture; it is the 34th most popular website world wide, with with 500 million members in 200 countries as of a year ago.  In 2016, Microsoft acquired LinkedIn for 26.4 billion dollars.

If you’ve been paying attention, you know that we’ve covered seven deadly sins and there were seven castaways on Gilligan’s Island.  We picked on the Skipper twice but haven’t talked about Gilligan at all.  You may be wondering what role the character of Gilligan is supposed to play in this series of messages.  What deadly sin is Gilligan supposed to symbolize?  Let’s stop and think about it:

– Gilligan is responsible for marooning them on the island.

– His clumsiness and ineptitude foils all their escape plans.

– He wears red in every episode.

– It is HIS island.

Isn’t it obvious?  Gilligan is a symbol of the THE DEVIL!

– The devil deceived Eve and is responsible for marooning us in this world of sin.

– The devil will always foil “escape plans” that depend on any kind of worldly resource.

– The devil, however, doesn’t always wear red; he’s more subtle than that.  The Bible says he can appear as an angel of light (see 2 Corinthians 11:14).

– This world is HIS “island.”  In John 12:31, Jesus called him THE RULER OF THIS WORLD.  2 Corinthians 4:4 calls Satan THE GOD OF THIS AGE.  Ephesians 2:2 depicts him as THE PRINCE OF THE POWER OF THE AIR.

I heard something recently from a radio preacher that struck me as quite profound.  He said that the devil is incapable of creating anything new.   There is no good thing in him.  So he must invade the good to borrow from it or copy it.  This means that the seven deadly sins are all corrupted versions of seven vital virtues.  Let’s resolve to NOT give the devil his “due” or anything else.  Let us practice the virtues and dump all seven of the deadly sins.

 

RESOURCES:

Wikipedia.

Zondervan Bible Commentary

Thru the Bible, McGee

What’s Love Got to do With It?

(Please read 1 John 3:11-20 in your Bible.  I quote from the NIV.)

God has given us all we need to love one another.

A mild-mannered man was tired of being bossed around by his wife so he went to a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist said he needed to build his self-esteem, and so gave him a book on assertiveness, which he read on the way home.

He had finished the book by the time he reached his house.  The man stormed into the house and walked up to his wife.  Pointing a finger in her face, he said, “From now on, I want you to know that I am the man of this house, and my word is law! I want you to prepare me a gourmet meal tonight, and when I’m finished eating my meal, I expect a sumptuous dessert afterward. Then, after dinner, you’re going to draw me my bath so I can relax. And when I’m finished with my bath, guess who’s going to dress me and comb my hair?”

“The funeral director,” said his wife.

This is obviously not what God had in mind when he called us to love one another.  Neither of the married people in this joke serve as an example of godly love, do they?

<Retrieved from http://www.cleanjoke.com/humor/Male-Assertiveness.html on 1/22/15.>

  1. Love has been God’s message all along. (11)

THE MESSAGE YOU HAVE HEARD FROM THE BEGINNING has already been used four times.  The writer – who identifies himself as “the Elder” – is writing to churches that have been split over doctrines introduced by false teachers.  Part of pulling them back to together is pulling them back to the truth already revealed.

This is not a matter of “old vs. new” as is so often the case in churches, but a matter of “true vs. false.”  It is one case where the traditional and original were also the right things.  That is not always the case.

Also, LOVE is the thing that will heal the rupture.  That is why he wrote YOU SHOULD LOVE ONE ANOTHER.  Love forgives, unites and restores.  It creates and mends and grows relationships.  To mend the churches, it was necessary to get doctrines right and confront the false teachers, but it was necessary to first LOVE ONE ANOTHER.

  1. Love keeps us from repeating Cain’s sin. (12)

It turns out sibling rivalry is as old as siblings!  The first two children of Adam & Eve were sons Cain and Abel.  Problems flared up when God accepted Abel’s offering but not Cain’s.  Cain was jealous and murdered his brother.

The Elder offers Cain as an example of what happens when we have no love in our hearts.  He explained why the first murder occurred:

– Cain BELONGED TO THE EVIL ONE.

– HIS OWN ACTIONS WERE EVIL AND HIS BROTHER’S WERE RIGHTEOUS.

We can call Cain a “negative example;” someone who’s actions we are NOT to duplicate.  One point made over and over in these letters is that claims to love God and/or one another are proven or disproven by our actions.  While we may never hate someone to the degree that we murder them (by the way, the word MURDER here has unusually strong emotional content, referring to a graphically violent, gory death), to hate is the moral equivalent of that kind of murder.  (See Matthew 5:21-22.)

  1. We must love because we need each other. (13)

The ferocity of anger and hatred in the world can be a SURPRISE to someone who has the love of God in their heart and has not experienced that depth of negative emotion (Cain’s murderous level of hatred).  The other way they might’ve been surprised was to find that behind a façade of love, behind hypocritical teaching, there existed such hatred.

The Elder wrote to help them avoid surprise – being caught unaware – so that they might be prepared and not deceived.  Jesus taught that FALSE PROPHETS can be recognized by their BAD FRUIT (see Matthew 7:15-19).  If the WORLD hates us, then we clearly need to rely on one another to survive with our faith intact.

  1. Love promotes life. (14)

Every use of the word WE in v. 14 is intended as a reference to the Church and stands in contrast to THE WORLD mentioned in v. 13.

– WE KNOW, but according to 3:1, THE WORLD DOES NOT KNOW.

– WE LOVE OUR BROTHERS, but according to 3:13, THE WORLD hates them.

– WE HAVE PASSED ON FROM DEATH TO LIFE, but those who do not love remain in DEATH.

Every believer wants to be assured they are saved.  Verse 14 offers one source of assurance: LOVE for other believers gives evidence to a true, saving faith.

  1. Lacking love leads to death. (15)

On the opposite side, hatred and the lack of love are symptoms of ungodliness that ends in eternal death.  This, in spite of all outward appearances, is the truth: ANYONE WHO HATES HIS BROTHER IS A MURDERER; he is as guilty as Cain.

The outcome of an unloving life is hell, not heaven: NO MURDERER HAS ETERNAL LIFE IN HIM.  This is an oft-repeated theme of the letters of John: A lack of love betrays a heart that is not true to God.  A lack of love makes clear to man what was already clear to God: the faith is false.

Dr. Tom Johnson commented on this verse: “[The false teachers] are not Christians, and, in the author’s view, they never were (2:19).” (Dr. Thomas F. Johnson, New International Biblical Commentary, 1, 2, and 3 John, Hendrickson Publishers, 1993, p. 83.)

  1. Following Jesus requires loving others. (16)

This verse gives us the ultimate example of love: JESUS CHRIST LAID DOWN HIS LIFE FOR US.  LAID DOWN = stresses that Jesus gave His life willingly, just as He said in John 10:17-18.  This was the most unselfish act in all of human history; the most undeserved death ever known.

It is the example true believers follow: WE OUGHT TO LAY DOWN OUR LIVES FOR OUR BROTHERS.  Obviously, giving up your life is the biggest sacrifice any of us can offer.  But we follow Jesus’ example in the thousands of small decisions we make every week; the instant decisions to sacrifice self-interest and our “rights” for the sake of someone else.  Following Jesus’ example in the ordinary moments of life is not easy; evil influences and bad habits tend to get in the way.  But it is true love.

  1. Love is demonstrated, not just declared. (17-18)

The Elder advances his argument by offering a “What if…” situation: “What if a rich person sees and needy brother and does nothing to help him?  Is that love?”  The Greek word for MATERIAL POSSESSIONS literally means, “the life of the world.”  The man in this hypothetical situation has the means to help.  The Greek word for SEES could also be translated as “stares” or “gazes.”  He knows beyond a shadow of a doubt all need exists. The rich person literally has no excuse for not helping.  It is simply his choice to be pitiless.  What that tiny decision reveals is a loveless character, a life centered on self, not Jesus.

In verse 18 he expands on the example with a principle.  Love is expressed in WORDS and TONGUE, but not in those things only.  That’s just lip service.  True love is expressed in ACTIONS and TRUTH.

– By ACTIONS he means acts of sacrifice voluntarily, graciously, and happily undertaken.

– By TRUTH he means acts that are in conformity with what God has revealed as His will and for the spiritual maturity of the other person(s).

  1. Love is comforting as it proves our faith. (19-20)

In verse 14 we got assurance of salvation and here we have it again; love is how we know our faith is true: WE KNOW THAT WE BELONG TO THE TRUTH AND HOW WE SET OUR HEARTS AT REST IN HIS PRESENCE.  Dr. Tom Johnson wrote, “Assurance is not a matter of convincing ourselves or of thinking positively; it is knowing the truth before God, or with God as our witness!”  (Johnson, p. 88, emphasis his.)

Whether its false guilt sent by the enemy or guilt we ought to feel because we’ve done wrong, we can put that guilt away WHENEVER OUR HEARTS CONDEMN US.  We do this by looking at the general direction of our lives, the way our character is developing.  We tend to get hung up on the little things, so God redirects our focus to the big picture.

We can trust God to know the truth.  He is GREATER THAN OUR HEARTS, so when we despair, He knows better.  When we feel like a failure, He knows our true situation.  This is true and God is trustworthy because HE KNOWS EVERYTHING.  When we trust Him with our lives, we can be assured of our safety. Loving people can be assured of their salvation and agree with the Apostle Paul; THERE IS THEREFORE NO CONDEMNATION FOR THOSE WHO ARE IN CHRIST JESUS (Romans 8:1).  Only those who are pretending to love need to feel any fear about God’s perfect knowledge of their hearts.

            (Newser) – “In 2013, Smithsonian told a fascinating story: the tale of a family of six who lived deep in the Siberian wilderness for 40 years with zero contact from other humans—and no awareness of WWII—until geologists found them in 1978. Now, the last surviving member of that family has emerged from the wilderness using an emergency satellite phone to ask for help with leg pain. Agafia Lykova, 70, was airlifted to a hospital in Tashtagol.

“The youngest of four, Lykova was born in 1945 to parents who were Old Believers, a sect that broke from the Russian Orthodox church in the 17th century. Her father, Karp, fled with his wife and then two children in 1936, and they built an existence two-weeks’ trek from the nearest hamlet, using what little was available—mushrooms, potatoes, a spinning wheel they’d lugged all the way there.

“Geologists stumbled upon the family’s outpost when Lykova was in her 30s, and people began to send provisions she’d never seen, such as bread and milk. While she has chosen not to relocate—‘It’s scary out there; you can’t breathe,’ she’s said of the pollution, which she experienced when touring the nation a few years after her discovery—she doesn’t resent outside contact. ‘I don’t know if we would have survived [without it],’ she said in a 2013 interview. ‘We were running out of tools and food. I no longer had any scarves.’ In hard times she survived on tree bark and reportedly ate her own shoes, and her mother, Akulina, starved to death in 1961 to allow her children to live. Lykova has been alone since her father died in 1988. She’s expected to stay in the hospital for roughly a week, having suffered from cartilage deterioration.”

<Retrieved from http://www.newser.com/story/219092/woman-isolated-for-decades-in-siberia- emerges.html?utm_source=8at8&utm_medium=email&utm_content=2908299&utm_campaign=20160118 on 1/22/15.>

Though we sometimes choose to live Lykova even though we’re surrounded by people, God has certainly not called us to live in that kind of isolation.  Instead, He’s calling us to do the hard work of living in community, being the kind of people who demonstrate the love of Jesus in ordinary ways in all our days.

“What’s in Your Wallet?”

(Please read Jeremiah 9:23-26.)

Samuel L. Jackson want’s to know, “What’s in Your Wallet?”  You can tell a lot about a person by what’s in their wallet, but what’s in their hearts is what really counts.  What’s needed in our hearts is the humility to forsake self-sufficiency and instead embrace dependence on God.

MESSAGE: Self-sufficiency is one of the biggest roadblocks to a godly life.

CONTEXT: The previous 21 verses of the chapter have been spent in pronouncing woe upon Jerusalem, similar to what we heard Jesus doing a couple weeks ago.  So this set of four verses sounds a little out of place, but t point is that in desperate days we’ve an even greater need to rely on God.

COMMENT:

  1. Do not rely on any worldly thing (23, 25-26).

Why we should not rely on worldly things.

– They will not ward off trouble or tragedy.

– Trusting in worldly things is a subtle idolatry.

– It pleases God if we rely on Him & trust Him.

– The problem with all forms of worldly self-sufficiency is that they can blind us to our need for God.  In that blindness, we fail to seek God & are thereby not saved.

– The world honors its scholars, athletes, warriors, and wealthy, but their assets will not save them.

Jeremiah gives four examples of worldly things that have been proven untrustworthy.

Do not rely on your WISDOM (v. 23).  Man’s wisdom is not God’s wisdom – not even close (see Psalms 111:10; Proverbs 1:67; 9:10).  We have a tendency to self-deception and can be deceived by others – only God is always true.

Do not rely on your STRENGTH (v. 23).  Neither physical might nor any other form of worldly power will have the spiritual and moral strength that God’s righteousness endows. Worldly STRENGTH will fail us.

Do not rely on your RICHES (v. 23).  Jesus told us that only treasure kept in heaven is safe from thievery and decay – all kinds of loss (see Matthew 6:19-21).       Jesus pointed out how hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven (see Matthew 19:23-24).

Do not rely on your religious credentials (vs. 25-26).  In the Old Testament, circumcision was the ultimate religion credential.  It was the physical sign that distinguished men of God from everyone else.

But Jeremiah dismissed any notion of privilege based on circumcision: “I WILL PUNISH THOSE WHO ARE CIRCUMCISED ONLY IN THE FLESH.”  While it is stated in the Old Testament, the people often missed the fact that keeping the Law was not about the letter of the Law as much as it was changing the heart.  So being circumcised only in THE FLESH was a way of describing the kind of hypocrisy that can occur with people who observe only the letter of the Law.  The Apostle Paul dealt with this same issue in Romans 2:25-29 and also observed that true circumcision is a matter of the heart, done by the Holy Spirit. This is a recurring them in Jeremiah:

– 4:4 calls Judah to circumcise their hearts.

– 6:10 condemns “uncircumcised ears” that fail to listen to the LORD’s commands.

The only thing all the nations listed in v. 25 have in common is that they are going to be punished by the LORD.  (It’s easy to dismiss others as irreligious, but to truly seek God is not.)  So, in spite of the spiritual advantages God gave them, in spite of all the grace He had shown them, His people continued to trust in their worldly wisdom, strength, and riches instead of God.  Ironically, this is when God’s gifts become perverted into idols.  What He gives to empower godliness can sometimes become substitutes for Him.  When we worship the gifts and not the Giver, we sin.

As an alternative to worldly priorities, God wants us to value the following – this order:

– Dependence on God.

– Interdependence on each other.

– Independence and self-support.

In our culture we often have these backwards, don’t we?

  1. Rely on the Lord alone (24).

The LORD is the only one worth boasting about.  Our highest good is relationship with God.  Understanding Him is an intellectual experience.  Knowing Him is a spiritual, emotional, and moral experience.  From this primary relationship flows true wisdom, power, wealth, and religious relevance.

The life of faith is a matter of knowing what delights Him and DOING IT.  This is one way to demonstrate a real faith-relationship with God.  Jeremiah offers three virtues that characterize a life in which God delights:

– KINDNESS.  This Hebrew word is hard to translate into English.  It refers to an inner attitude good will to people whether it’s expected or deserved.  “Steadfast love” is an alternative translation.  It is the kind of love God has shown to us, the example He has set and we are to follow.  This is GRACE – the single most important way to demonstrate love.

– JUSTICE.  This is a far-reaching term; it describes a society where good people are protected from evil people so that they are free to continue to do good.  One of the sins condemned by the prophets is the oppression of the poor.  God rejects all forms of injustice as a violation of His will.  Those who are blessed in worldly things need to be careful to use their wealth to lift up those not as endowed in worldly things.  For examples, see how Hosea 5:4; 6:3; 8:2 called the people to know God and His justice.  See Micah 6:8 and 7:18 to find activities that please God.

– RIGHTEOUSNESS.  Similar to justice, this term describes a culture in which doing the right thing is the predominant, normal, expected behavior.  As with all God’s standards, the bar of behavior is set at its highest.  “Righteousness” involves doing the right thing at the right time in the right way.  God sets His standards impossibly high to force us to rely on Him.

– We rely on His forgiveness when we fail.

– We rely on His Spirit to succeed.

– All of our life experiences are supposed to direct our attention to Him and deepen our relationship with Him.

Self-sufficiency is one of the biggest roadblocks to a godly life.

Do not rely on your WISDOM (23).

THE PROBLEM: People who are intellectually self-sufficient insist on forms of evidence they can verify with their five senses.  Whether well-educated or not, they take God’s gift of intelligence and turn it into an idol.  They proudly believe they’ve got it all figured out.

THE SOLUTION: The remedy for intellectual self-sufficiency begins with 1CT 3:18-20 = DO NOT DECEIVE YOURSELVES.  IF ANY ONE OF YOU THINKS HE IS WISE BY THE STANDARDS OF THIS AGE, HE SHOULD BECOME A “FOOL” SO THAT HE MAY BECOME WISE.  FOR THE WISDOM OF THIS WORLD IS FOOLISHNESS IN GOD’S SIGHT.  AS IT IS WRITTEN: “HE CATCHES THE WISE IN THEIR CRAFTINESS” AND AGAIN, “THE LORD KNOWS THAT THE THOUGHTS OF THE WISE ARE FUTILE.”

The remedy continues by a reliance on the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  This individual grows in faith by trusting the subjective, intuitive guidance of the Spirit and experiences divine wisdom as they respond immediately.

Do not rely on your STRENGTH (23).

THE PROBLEM: This kind of self-sufficiency represents all the resources that an individual has WITHIN themselves.  This power may take the form of their physical, political, economical, egotistical, or circumstantial power.  They exert their will over others based on the prideful notion they have the right to do so.  “Might makes right” leads to sin.

THE SOLUTION: The remedy for strength self-sufficiency  starts with PSS 20:7-8 = SOME TRUST IN CHARIOTS AND SOME IN HORSES, BUT WE TRUST IN THE NAME OF THE LORD OUR GOD.  THEY ARE BROUGHT TO THEIR KNEES AND FALL, BUT WE RISE UP AND STAND FIRM.

The remedy deepens as the individual pays more attention to the Giver than the gifts.  They need to do the hard work of being more responsive and less reliant on their own plans.  They need to purposely seek ways to worship God and serve people that are outside their usual powers.

Do not rely on your RICHES (23).

THE PROBLEM: Money is not the problem; it’s the LOVE OF MONEY.  RICHES represents all the resources we have OUTSIDE of self.  These are the things we own that we think we’ve earned or somehow deserve.  They can easily become a point of pride and an idol.  Money is one example.

THE SOLUTION: The remedy for this kind of self-sufficiency starts with LKE 12:13-21, the Parable of the Rich Fool.  In this parable, Jesus tells of a man blessed with wealth whose sole concern is making more wealth.  “BUT GOD SAID TO HIM, ‘YOU FOOL!  THIS VERY NIGHT YOUR LIFE WILL BE DEMANDED FROM YOU.  THEN WHO WILL GET WHAT YOU HAVE PREPARED FOR YOURSELF?”

The remedy continues when we take a spiritual view of things; increasingly seeing the world as God does.  For example, “Savers” need to stop relying on money in the bank for their sense of security.  It’s better to trust in God than in the FDIC.  On the other hand, “Spenders” need to stop relying on material things to bring them joy.  Give less time to your toys and more time to your relationship with God and the people around you!

Do not rely on your religious credentials (25-26).

THE PROBLEM: This kind of self-sufficiency is based on the notion that religious acts can earn salvation or authority.  You’ve heard people suppose they’re good enough to get into heaven.  You’ve heard people recite their good works in church and/or community.  Each are equally false.  True good works begin with a heart of love for god and people and have no such strings attached.

THE SOLUTION: The remedy starts with having the attitude shown by Isaiah when he encountered the glory of God in the temple.  He said, “WOE TO ME!  I AM RUINED!  FOR I AM A MAN OF UNCLEAN LIPS, AND I LIVE AMONG A PEOPLE OF UNCLEAN LIPS, AND MY EYES HAVE SEEN THE KING, THE LORD ALMIGHTY,” (ISH 6:6).  The Lord, in response, cleansed the prophet of his sins, preparing him for divine service.

The remedy deepens when our focus is on the Lord and not on ourselves and when our motive is love and heavenly riches, not worldly gain.  We practice the three virtues characterize a life in which God delights: KINDNESS, JUSTICE, and RIGHTEOUSNESS.

Jesus Christ: The Exalted Servant

Driving through Texas, a New Yorker collided with a truck carrying a horse. A few months later he tried to collect damages for his injuries. “How can you now claim to have all these injuries?” asked the insurance company’s lawyer. “According to the police report, at the time you said you were not hurt.” “Look,” replied the New Yorker. “I was lying on the road in a lot of pain, and I heard someone say the horse had a broken leg. The net thing I know this Texas Ranger pulls out his gun and shoots the horse. Then he turns to me and asks, ‘Are you okay?'”

(Reader’s Digest, July, 1994, p. 64.)

Sometimes we have a good reason for being in denial about our suffering.  Most of the time, however, we need to learn to follow the example of the Suffering Servant who embraced what He had to suffer, fouynd victory over it, and passed that victory on to us.

  1. The Servant’s suffering would lead to victory (Isaiah 53:9-12).

The first prophecy (v. 9) is physical in nature & involves His burial.

– HE WAS ASSIGNED A GRAVE WITH THE WICKED. This means that those who would kill the Suffering Servant would not be content with His death but conspired to discredit and dishonor Him as well. The practice in Jesus’ day was to throw the bodies of crucified criminals into the garbage pit outside the city of Jerusalem.  That place was called Gehenna and served Jesus as an illustration of what hell is like.  A fire always burned and bodies were abandoned to burn, decay, and/or chewed up by scavengers.  It was a GRAVE only in the sense of a place where a body was left.  To have one’s remains deposited there was a great dishonor among the Jews.  Worse, had Jesus’ body been left there, we would have lost our major piece of evidence to prove His resurrection; the empty tomb.

– AND WITH THE RICH IN HIS DEATH. In spite of their grave assignment, God would not allow His Servant to be dishonored, so He provided for a more suitable resting place.  A rich man’s tomb was more like a columbarium than a grave like we’re used to.  Either a cave or hand-hewn hole in a rock wall was made.  The body was kept and allowed to decay.  Finally, the bones were bleached and placed in a box which was then kept in a niche in the wall of the tomb.  In this way, a single tomb held several remains.

– THOUGH HE HAD DONE NO VIOLENCE, NOR WAS ANY DECEIT IN HIS MOUTH.  This is the reason He deserved an honorable burial.  Though He was treated as a criminal, He was an innocent man in both deed and word and deserved an honorable burial.

The second prophecy (vs. 10-11) is spiritual in nature & involves His provision of salvation.

– To reinforce the point about the Servant’s innocence, Isaiah makes it clear that the Servant’s suffering was THE LORD’S WILL, not a punishment for sin.  The LORD willed it because His suffering became the means by which salvation was made possible.

– To CRUSH someone and cause them to SUFFER is not normally considered to be a good thing, but good came from it; the forgiveness of our sins.  BY HIS KNOWLEDGE MY RIGHTEOUS SERVANT WILL JUSTIFY MANY: in Hebrew, this is a play on words; “my righteous servant will make many righteous.”

– Note, MANY, but not all.  We are not Universalists.  The offer of salvation is made to all people but only those who accept it by faith will be made righteous/justified.

– HE WILL BEAR THEIR INIQUITIES.   The terrible irony is that the only perfect man would be counted as the worst sinner because He accepted the guilt for our sins. BEAR means to carry a heavy burden.  It is in the future tense to show that it will be effective for all time.

– BECAUSE HE POURED OUT HIS LIFE UNTO DEATH was fulfilled in Jesus’ death on the cross.

– He WAS NUMBERED WITH THE TRANSGRESSORS.  Remember Jesus was crucified between two criminals.

– HE BORE THE SIN OF MANY.  Jesus took our guilt and shame on the cross.  It was crucified there and no longer holds any power over us.

– HE MADE INTERCESSION FOR THE TRANSGRESSORS.  The outcome of the cross is to intercede for sinners, to enable us to be forgiven

The third prophecy (vs. 10-12) is spiritual in nature & involves His exaltation.

– Ecclesiastes 6:3 lists four signs of God’s blessing = A MAN MAY HAVE A HUNDRED CHILDREN AND LIVE MANY YEARS; YET NO MATTER HOW LONG HE LIVES, IF HE CANNOT ENJOY HIS PROSPERITY  AND DOES NOT RECEIVE A PROPER BURIAL, I SAY THAT A STILLBORN CHILD IS BETTER OFF THAN HE.  Did you hear all four?  All of these are promised the Servant.

– Many children.

– Long life.

– Prosperity.

– A proper burial.

Notice how worldly these things are.  The Jews were fixed on the here and now.  In fact, the Hebrew language has no formal future tense for its verbs!

– In answer to v. 8’s question, WHO CAN SPEAK OF HIS DESCENDANTS?, v. 10 tells us HE WILL SEE HIS OFFSPRING AND PROLONG HIS DAYS.  Of course, in Jesus’ case, His descendants were spiritual, not physical.  (In Mark 3:34-35, Jesus identified the person who does God’s will as His family.)  What’s interesting is that from this point on, Isaiah no longer wrote about the SERVANT of the Lord (singular); he wrote about SERVANTS of the Lord (plural). This shows how the Servant had JUSTIFIED MANY and thereby produced many representatives of Himself.  Having a long life and yet dying as a sacrifice wounds elf-contradictory.  So clearly what’s intended here is not a long life in this world, but one in heaven.

– THE WILL OF THE LORD WILL PROSPER IN HIS HAND.  Our faith gives us a simple and practical view on life; things work out to fulfill God’s plan.  Faithless folk see things working out randomly; life is meaninglessness because when death comes, it is over.  God’s plans will be accomplished.

– HE WILL SEE THE LIGHT OF LIFE AND BE SATISFIED.

– I WILL GIVE HIM A PORTION AMONG THE GREAT.

– HE WILL DIVIDE THE SPOILS WITH THE STRONG.  SPOILS being what the conquering army takes from the conquered.  Jesus defeated sin, Satan, and death, and took human lives from them as His SPOILS.

  1. Fulfillment: The Servant was buried in a rich man’s tomb (Matthew 27:57-61).

The fulfillment of some of Isaiah’s prophecies came about as a result of the choices Jesus made (i.e., He read from the scroll of Isaiah in the synagogue in Nazareth – see 3/2/15).  But most of the fulfillments – including this one – were entirely beyond Jesus’ choice or control.

CONTEXT – Matthew provides us with more information about the burial of Jesus than any of the other four Gospels.  As we noted earlier, Jesus’ burial in a tomb is the single most important piece of evidence to prove the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Also, only Matthew mentions that Joseph of Arimathea was rich.  However, the fact that the tomb is new and the amount of spices used (John) would’ve been dead give-aways of wealth to Matthew’s first century readers.  Matthew is intent on showing that Jesus’ burial completely fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah 53.

COMMENT.

The Jewish leaders had brought Jesus to the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate under several charges, one of which was treason.  It is important that Pilate did not find Jesus guilty of treason, because no one was ever allowed to claim the body of a traitor for burial.  Their bodies were disposed of in the garbage dump as a final act of disgrace.

The site of the tomb was a former stone quarry.  Picture the quartzite quarry on the west side of town.  The path cut into the rock leading down into the quarry gave access to the stone walls into which the tombs were cut.

Mourning was not allowed for persons executed as enemies of the Roman Empire.  Also, the lateness of the hour – the Sabbath would begin at sundown – kept Jesus’ followers and family (including the women mentioned in v. 61) from observing the burial with any kind of ceremony.  Still, they gave far more respect to Jesus’ body than the Romans would have.

  1. Fulfillment: The Servant was exalted (Romans 8:34).

CONTEXT: Offering one of the most encouraging words in all of Scripture, Paul goes to great lengths to reassure the faithful that nothing can deter the will of God from being enacted and nothing can separate us from the love of God.  Vs. 33-35 pose a set of three rhetorical questions and answers, all a variation of “Who cares who opposes us?  God supports us!”

WHO IS HE THAT CONDEMNS? CHRIST JESUS, WHO DIED – MORE THAN THAT, WHO WAS RAISED TO LIFE – IS AT THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD AND IS ALSO INTERCEDING FOR US.

COMMENT: Contrast this four-part hope with the four-part hope we read in Ecclesiastes 6:3.  You’ll notice Paul’s list is bereft of worldly things and exclusively centered on God.

– Jesus gave up His life as a sacrifice and thereby secured the forgiveness of our sins.

– He was raised to life and is able to give eternal life to all who trust Him.

– He went from the lowest place and apparently the most cursed to the highest place of all.

– The purpose behind His exaltation is to intercede on our behalf.  This makes salvation continue to be operative in us even in this present moment.

We’ve seen in detail how the Lord’s Servant suffered.  But we’ve also seen how His suffering lifted us from slavery to sin to being children of God.  Suffering is not something we like to experience, but it is the most successful way in which we learn and grow and mature, especially spiritually.  For your edification, I’ve assembled some quotations that give us reason to pause and consider the value of suffering for our spirituality.

Once when Bob Hope received a major award he responded, “I don’t deserve this, but then I have arthritis and I don’t deserve that either.”

Someone asked C.S. Lewis, “Why do the righteous suffer?” “Why not?” he replied. “They’re the only ones who can take it.”

“Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.”

Helen Keller quoted in: Barbara Rowes, The book of Quotes, Dutton.

“A clay pot sitting in the sun will always be a clay pot. It has  to go through the white heat of the furnace to become porcelain.”  Mildred Witte Struven, in Bits and Pieces, September 19, 1991, p. 6.

Those who know the path to God, can find it in the dark. Maclaren.

Suffering teaches us patience. These words were found penned on the wall of a prison cell in Europe: “I believe in love even when I don’t feel it. I believe in God even when He is silent.” Billy Graham, Till Armageddon.

No Foolin’

(Read 1 John 2:18-27.)

Given the propensity for deception and especially self-deception that is part of our human nature, it is an especially important discipline to be self-aware and searching for the truth. The most appropriate place to start is the Bible, the self-disclosure of God.

The truth was one of the chief concerns of the Elder, the writer of the New Testament book of First John. That letter gives warnings about falsehood and promises blessings to those who abide in the truth. Prepare to get motivated.

The folly of the flock-foolers.

The flock-foolers are the “antichrists.” The writer (we will call him either “John” or the “Elder”) identified the antichrists in three ways.

First, notice in verse 18 John uses both singular and plural forms of “antichrist.” This shows the “antichrist” is a movement, not an individual. It is a cultural force of godlessness that opposes the truth and believers who hold to it. We should also observe that the word is not “antichurch;” the flock-foolers positioned themselves within the Church in order to deceive the faithful.

They started within, intent on beginning a divisive movement, then lead people out. The fact that they were once in the Church did not prove a thing, but the fact that they left the church laid their real motives open for all to see. They definitively revealed their true identity: “they were not of us.” What we see here is hypocrisy at its worst, for these people didn’t aim at vanity, they aimed at deception. They were frauds in order to steal from the Church.

Verse 22 identifies the chief error, the most damning falsehood of the flock-foolers; they deny the truth about Jesus Christ. In denying that Jesus is the Christ, they are saying that He is not the Messiah, not God the Son. This is not the kind of faith that will save anyone because it is untrue. The most basic facts about Jesus are:

  • He is fully God and fully man (except without sin).

  • He is the final sacrifice for sin; the only means by which we can be saved.

  • He is coming to earth again. When He appears in the clouds, a series of events are set in motion that will bring about the end of this age, this creation, and replace it with a new creation, both heaven and earth.

The Greek word that gets translated as “anti” can mean “in place of,” “against,” or “opposed to.” These flock-foolers were attempting to substitute a false Jesus for the real one.

Their presence is a sign that the Second Coming will soon occur. As the Elder wrote in verse eighteen, “Children it is the last hour…we know that it is the last hour.” What Jesus taught all along is that one of the signs of the end of the age would be an increase in anti-godliness. Those who hold to the truth should expect to meet increasing rejection and persecution as the end of this age draws near.

The forces of spiritual evil will surely know this too and they will not just give up without a fight. Therefore, opposition to God and His people will increase as the clock winds down.

No matter what they claim, their real purpose is deceit (see verse 26). Their motive is that someone who has rejected the truth is more easily manipulated. It’s easier to sell someone a counterfeit if they don’t know what the real thing looks like. If our focus is on Jesus, our confidence will be based on the truth, not our circumstances or our feelings.

The members of the flock who aren’t fooled.

The folk in the flock who aren’t fooled are the “anointed.” What is “anointing?” The application of oil to the body. Anointing was practiced commonly as an act of hospitality or for healing. A dab of scented olive oil was applied to the scalp of guests to ease the weariness of travel and to honor them. Oil was applied to wounds. According to James 5:14, the sick were to be anointed with oil and receive prayer to be healed. It served medicinal and spiritual purposes.

Anointing was less commonly used to sanctify an object for use in the temple or a priest or king for their special duties & status. The application of oil showed that the person or object was being set apart from everyday uses to be used for God’s special purpose. They had a specific function in His plan.

The faithful have been anointed by God, not on behalf of God; this is new. The new anointing is spiritual in nature, not physical.

This anointing is accomplished through the Holy Spirit. The presence of the Spirit in the believer gives us discernment – the ability to tell the difference between good and evil, truth and falsehood. There’s no foolin’ a true believer (hence the title of this message). One measure of spiritual maturity is the sense to know the difference.

The Elder has written to reassure the church that they are the ones who are in the truth, not those who have left. V. 21 explains that he wrote not because they were ignorant of these facts, but to encourage them with a reminder. We all know how tempting it can be to give up on the truth when the pressure’s on. The false teachers had caused a lot of havoc in the church, hurt feelings and confusion because the sounded so persuasive. John is trying to strike a chord of reason to break the persuasive, coercive power of falsehood.

He wrote, “no lie is of the truth.” On the face of it, that seems perfectly obvious, doesn’t it? But he’s writing to draw a definite line between the legitimate flock and the false ones. There is no middle ground here, the contrast is as stark as light and darkness. No matter how persuasive they may be, the essential nature of the false teachers, their followers, and their beliefs is false.

The anointing changes us; “his anointing teaches you about everything” (v. 27).

  • It results in them knowing the truth.

  • It requires them to speak the truth.

  • It enables them to “abide” in God.

  • It motivates them to remain loyal to God.

What the Elder is communicating in this passage is that it is the “anointing” that marks the difference between the faithful folk and those who have fled. Those who have the anointing recognize the false teaching for what it is and have stayed in the Church; they have remained faithful. Those who do not have the anointing were duped by the falsehood and have left the Church; they were unfaithful all along.

Most importantly, this anointing is the real thing; it “is true, and is no lie” (v. 27).

The folk who aren’t fooled abide in Christ. “Abide” occurs five times in this passage.

Those who are truly saved are loyal to Christ, but their loyalty is defined by the Word. So, verse 24 says “Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you…” This is contrary to our culture that favors individualism to such a degree that faith effectively becomes “believe what you will,” “make it up for yourself,” or “create it as you go.” Biblically, the ideal is that you receive the faith that was first handed to the Apostles by our Lord Jesus Christ. You received that faith from your parents and will, in turn, pass it on to your children. This isn’t a blind faith – investigate it, study it, test it – make it your own as well. But don’t start with nothing and end up with something less. Start with the faith that has been handed down, “what you have heard from the beginning.”

There are two promises made to those who abide in Jesus Christ. The first: those who abide with Jesus by faith, He will abide with them; “If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son & in the Father.” (v. 24) It’s true that we are saved by our relationship with God. But it’s also true that relationship is not a “user-defined.” We have received the Word of God and the traditions of the Church and these are to form the basis of our faith. We don’t make up our relationship with God. He’s already informed us who He is and how we relate to Him. Our abiding is meant to withstand the temptations and adversity of life as well as the cultural pressure to conform to the world’s standards.

The focus of the second promise is on life after death. In v. 25 we’re told that God has promised eternal life to those who abide in the truth.

It’s important to critically examine the notion that truth is merely in the eye of the beholder because it is that assumption that isolates us. When we make ourselves god, we’ve created a false “bubble universe” where we’re completely alone. When we find out we’re a prisoner there and not god after all, then perhaps we’ll be motivated to join a community of faith, accept the word of truth, and begin on the foundation of traditional faith.