Monday, July 15, 2013
Weaving together God’s covenant love with our faith and action
1 John 5:1-5
Everyone who believes…everyone who loves the Father… everyone born of God overcomes…
THIS is where John begins to draw together the detailed teaching in the earlier part of his letter. His objective in writing this was to set out the hallmarks of the true disciples, in contrast to the many adherents of notional faith, mixed beliefs or uncertain allegiance – especially those who were caught up in a perversion of the faith, gnosticism, which owed more to Greek thought than to the gospel.
What has that to do with us? Think of all the various churchgoers you know. Some will be showing signs of being on fire for God. I heard it described in a C of E church recently as having a ‘zeal for the gospel’ – slightly quaint language, and as if this was kind of good but not quite ‘normal’. There are plenty who have heard something of the challenge of the gospel – believe in Jesus, submit to His lordship, love God, love each other, love those who are still far away – and accommodated it to the ‘normal’ life they know, which is about being a consumer, having choices, getting on and achieving some significance and putting the occasional Sunday morning into the mix to give it a slightly holy flavour.
So this teaching comes to us in a slightly different way. We don’t get wound up about gnostics and we accept the many flavours of Christianity, from conservative to liberal, and strictly religious to free in the Spirit (and possibly a bit wacky at times), quite uncritically. A bit too uncritically, of ourselves.
But John says: “This is… This is how we know… everyone who believes… everyone born of God…who is it that overcomes…”. He is applying three tests. Perhaps we would see it as marks, rather than tests. What are the marks of someone who is truly born again, Spirit empowered and intentionally walking with God?
Earlier in the letter, in chapter 2, he talked about obedience, love and belief; in chapter 3 obedience and love; and in chapter 4 belief and love.
Here he emphasises all three: belief and faith (verses 1, 4 and 5); love (verses 1, 2 and 3) and the need to obey or carry out God’s commands (verses 2 and 3).
Faith, love, and putting it into practice with a willing heart. Here he doesn’t examine each one, as before, but shows these three threads to be closely woven as a fabric with a special character, rather than being seen as individual strands.
We looked at this in a slightly unfamiliar way in the recent study of covenant – how God speaks to us and relates to us in the language and ethos of covenant, both the ancient covenants and the New Covenant, a better covenant established in Jesus, which we find every time we go back to the Cross.
This is Jewish thinking, but we are brought up and steeped in Greek logical thinking after hundreds of years of enlightenment. So we have to try to ‘change gear’. This is one of the reasons that third-world dwellers e.g. in Africa and Asia or even the Amazon basin, seem to ‘get’ this new life in Jesus more easily. The evangelist Reinhard Bonnke sets up meetings in large wide open sites in Africa and literally a hundreds of thousands of people travel in – and stand, and receive. Huge numbers are demonstrably healed, the demonised set free (very real in a culture where witch doctors and curses are prevalent) and salvations abound. I have attended the same evangelist’s meetings in the UK and seen the same anointing and heard the same delivery, but the responses, although present, have been much more… shall we say, muted.
If we can get a feel for this special fabric, saturated with our love for God and His love for us, giving us love for others, and making him so real that we want to live our lives for Him and with Him, we really will start to “overcome the world”, something that John repeats three times. The world we know is selfish, harsh and messed up with poverty and pornography and substance addictions, depression and low self-esteem, road rage and aggression from family breakdown, neighbours that don’t talk and even church congregations of people harbouring unhealed hurts who don’t behave any differently to people outside.
We have looked in the shop window at the different coloured threads – faith, love and practice – but not always bought the special fabric and learned to work with it. But in truth, as we face up to the ugliness of our world and cover it with this beautiful fabric that Jesus has given us to wear – the sozo work of God begins, healing happens and transformation is seen.
Yes, it’s is a big call, but once we see how this fabric is woven and get it, we have powerful means.