Reading 1 John

I am thankful for our study of 1 John and gladly admit my understanding of 1 John was greatly changed and shaped by studying this book. Before our study, it always seemed as if John was just presenting many tests for you to see if you are really a true Christian or just someone who is professing to be one.  I thought John was almost condemning his audience for not being perfect because of his black and white approach.  I couldn’t figure out why John was so harsh to these believers he was writing too, and I couldn’t understand how this book encouraged the audience he was writing to.  If you’ve read 1 John and had similar thoughts then I’m glad you are reading this blog post.

What a shallow and incomplete understanding of this wonderful letter I had.  Not only was I missing the entire tone of the letter, but I was missing John’s focus as well.  Before we can get to the heart of the letter it is important to look at both the context and background of the letter.

John, the author of this letter, was a disciple of Jesus and saw the risen Christ.  He was between the ages of 20 and 30 when he was discipled by Jesus back in 30-33AD.  This letter was written between 85-95AD, which means that John wrote this letter as a much older man, between 70 and 80 years old, and it had been many years since Jesus’ death and resurrection.

The audience of this letter was the believers at the churches of Ephesus and Corinth.  John was a spiritual father to these believers as he was a leader for their churches.  John is held in high regard by these believers and cares for them deeply as well.  John lovingly addresses his audience as “little children” repeatedly in the letter.  This is not a derogatory term or John claiming to be superior to his readers, but rather highlights his close relationship and love for them.

Now that we know John’s relationship to his audience we ought to look at the purpose and focus of the letter.  John’s main focus is to assure his audience of their salvation.

1 John 5:13 – “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.”

Why would John write a letter to assure these believers?  What happened that prompted John to write this letter to believers he had taught for years and knew well?  We find the reason why John assured these believers in chapter 2.  There were individuals who once were part of the church that decided to abandon the truth for other teaching.

1 John 2:19 – “They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us.”

As some individuals left the church it led to others doubting if what they really believed was the truth and wondering if they had been deceived all this time.  John wrote this letter to address these believers and to assure them of their salvation.  Likewise, when we see how John assures his audience they believe the truth it also assures us of our salvation.

 

How does John assure believers of their salvation and that they believe the truth?

First, John points out that he was an eyewitness of Jesus when he was on earth and the words John shared are what he heard directly from Christ.  John is not making up the gospel he shared and points out that we share in the same fellowship with God and with His Son Jesus Christ that John does, even though we were not a witness of Christ while he was on earth.

1 John 1:3 “What we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us, and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.”

Second, John assures his audience while discussing sin and confession of sin.  John knows that believers still sin, and reminds them that Jesus is our advocate with the Father when we sin.  We ought to confess our sins and receive forgiveness because Jesus paid the price for our sins, so that they would no longer separate us from God.  We know God will forgive us, what an amazing truth and comfort this is for believers.

1 John 2:1 “And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins.”

Third, John discusses the evidence in a professing believer’s life that they are a true believer.  This evidence includes obedience to God’s commandments, loving fellow believers, and not loving the world.  The way John discusses this evidence could be incorrectly understood as tests that one either passes of fails.  One could think John said there is no room for error or making a mistake, and if one sins then they are not a true believer.

As seen above John discussed that Jesus is our advocate, and in 1:9-10 John says “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and just to forgive us our sins and to cleans us from all unrighteousness”.   Once I correctly understood John’s tone and love for these believers it is clear he is not condemning them for their failures.  Our faith and obedience to the word is important, but John makes it clear we do not earn our salvation by works, as we still confess our sins and receive forgiveness from God.

Forth, John acknowledges that his audience is facing antichrists, and states “Even now many antichrists have appeared; from this we know that it is the last hour” (1 John 2:18).  There are even antichrists now and during John’s time as well as he says “Who is the liar, but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ?”  Christ means anointed in Greek, as Jesus was anointed to the specific office of saving sinners through his death and resurrection.

This provides assurance for his audience in light of the fact that people are abandoning the teaching of the gospel that John shared with them.   It does not mean we do not know the truth.  Our faith can be strong and we can trust that what John shared are the truths that Jesus taught. John also says “Every spirit that does not confess that Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world.  (1 John 3:2-3). John assures his audience that their faith ought not to be shaken in light of the fact that others have abandoned what John shared with them.   John is comforting his audience as they could have doubted their faith and wondering if they had been deceived all this time, since some had left their churches.

Fifth, John assures his readers on the basis that God himself has testified that Jesus is the Son of God, as seen in chapter 5. At Jesus’ baptism God testified that Jesus is his Son (Matt 3:17).  On the cross God testified that Jesus is the Son of God, as seen in the supernatural events of the earthquake, the darkness, and the veil of the temple being torn in two (Matt 27: 45-51).  These were supernatural occurrences and evidence of God testifying to the truth that Jesus is the Son of God.

 

After reading this letter there are such amazing truths that John delights to remind his audience of, especially during a time when they could have had doubts about their faith and if what John taught them was the truth.  We can know God and can be reconciled to Him because Christ paid the price for our sins, that we may receive salvation instead of condemnation.  Let us be amazed at the assurance we have from God that no matter what our circumstances are the gospel is the truth.  God revealed himself and his love for us in his Word, and now we are able to praise and worship Him in response.

Eph 1:5-6 “In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, which he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.”

 

Finally, I encourage you to read the entire letter, and to see how John’s tone of assurance is present throughout the entire letter.  These are some of the amazing truths and promises of all true believers:

1 John 2:12 – “Because your sins have been forgiven you for His name’s sake

1 John 2:13 – “You have overcome the evil one”

1 John 2:13 – “You know the Father”

1 John 2:14 – “the word of God abides in you”

1 John 2:20 – ”You have an anointing from the Holy One”

1 John 2:21 – “I have no written to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it”

1 John 3:1  – “That we would be called children of God, and such we are.”

1 John 3:2  – “We know that when he appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is”

1 John 3:24 – “By the Spirit whom He has given us”

1 John 4:4 – “Because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world”

1 John 4:10 “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins”

1 John 5:20 – “And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding so that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true; in His Son Jesus Christ.”

 

 

 

 

2014 Winter Retreat

This weekend 1/24 – 1/27 most of RGC will be in Pine Valley for a church retreat on the topic of “Sanctification & Holiness.” While sadly, you cannot register for this retreat anymore, we wanted to remind you that church will be a lot smaller on Sunday 1/26. Still, Pastor Chris will be back and have a sermon prepared so still come out to church as normal!

Also, because we are leaving Friday afternoon, there will be no Flock Groups.

Suffering for Christ

“Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, for which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me.”

(2 Timothy 1:8-12 ESV)

This was the passage that I recently had the privilege of preaching on for RGC’s LEAD ministry for the men in the church. I thought it would be good to summarize some of the key points from the sermon and share them with the rest of the church.

Suffering

Upon the initial reading of 2 Timothy 1:8-12, it becomes apparent that the main theme of the passage is suffering for the sake of the gospel. In our day and age, the topic of suffering on behalf of Christ and for the gospel is something that we don’t talk about too often. Or when we do talk about suffering, we might be talking about things that happen to us that make us grieve, such as a death in the family, or illness, or other difficult circumstances in our lives that we call “trials.” To be sure, these trials are legitimate topics for us as Christians to talk about and to encourage one another about. These experiences are real and legitimate instances of suffering in our lives that we are called to respond to in faith. But what we see in this passage is something a little different. In 2 Timothy 1:8-12, we see three components of Paul’s instructions to Timothy regarding suffering: the exhortation, the essence, and the example.

Context

But before we jump into the main passage, we must consider its textual and historical context. Second Timothy was written by the apostle Paul while he was imprisoned in Rome. It was addressed to his spiritual son Timothy, who was the pastor at the church in Ephesus. Paul wanted to encourage Timothy in his ministry, as he saw his own ministry and life on earth coming to a close. As we read through the opening verses of 2 Timothy, we can really see and feel Paul’s affections for Timothy, how he cared for Timothy and how Timothy cared for him as well. Paul says that he longs to see Timothy, that he may be filled with joy.

The historical context in which Paul wrote the letter is also significant. By the time Paul wrote 2 Timothy, the persecution of Christians had begun under the rule of the Roman Emperor Nero. Christians were getting arrested, beaten, tortured and even killed for their faith and for preaching the gospel. Ephesus, where Timothy was located, wasn’t immune to all the persecution that was taking place, so there were reasons for Paul to desire to encourage Timothy and to exhort him as his spiritual father figure.

1. The Exhortation

In verse 8, Paul’s exhorts Timothy in two ways: “Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God…” First, Paul exhorts Timothy not to be ashamed of the gospel or of Paul. Typically, to be ashamed means to be shy or embarrassed. But in the context of this passage, it goes beyond just the emotional aspect. What Paul is referring to here is not only feeling embarrassed, but allowing that embarrassment and shame to cripple us into inaction.

Given the historical context (as mentioned above), Timothy may have felt fear, embarrassment, and shame creep into his soul as he witnessed all those who were being persecuted for their ministry. He may even have been tempted to dissociate himself from Paul, as he was but a lowly prisoner, in chains. This is why Paul exhorts Timothy not to be ashamed. Paul recognized that Timothy’s timidity could be detrimental to the effectiveness of his ministry and charged him to be bold.

Paul’s second exhortation to Timothy is for him to share in suffering for the gospel. As mentioned above, the kind of suffering that Paul refers to here differs from what we are used to. Here, Paul is talking about actively obeying God’s will when you know fully well that it may bring you physical, mental, or even spiritual, pain or distress. To Timothy, this meant that he was to continue to teach, preach, and live out the gospel as the pastor of the Ephesian church, even as his physical wellbeing and life were being threatened in the midst of the persecutions. There was no doubt in Timothy’s mind what Paul was calling him to; there was no sense of sugarcoating or watering down from Paul. The Lord can use us in truly great ways when we are willing to obey Him even in the face of immense suffering.

2. The Essence

Second component of Paul’s instruction to Timothy is the essence, found in verses 9 and 10:

“9 who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, 10 and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel…”

The essence found here is God’s grace. God’s grace is the essential component in our experience of suffering for the gospel; without it, we would have neither any motivation to suffer nor the source of strength to endure.

In this section, Paul reminds Timothy of the grace of God that was given to him. By His grace, Jesus Christ was given to us so that He would die on the cross as a sacrifice on our behalf. It is by God’s glorious grace that He saved Timothy. Paul calls Christ the manifestation of God’s grace in verse 10 because on the one hand, we have God’s desire to save mankind. That is His nature; He didn’t create us just to see us be condemned to suffer eternally in hell. But on the other hand, we have God’s wrath toward sinners, His perfect and righteous judgment toward those who oppose Him. And those two things are seemingly irreconcilable. Our sinfulness, and thus God’s righteous wrath, stands in the way of our salvation.

But Christ is the key piece to this puzzle that completes God’s plan of salvation. His sacrifice on the cross was the perfect payment on behalf of us sinners, so that the gift of salvation we receive would not only be possible, but completely free. This is what it means for Christ to be the manifestation of God’s grace. Christ completed the crucial work that was needed in order for us to be saved. Because of Him, we have the free gift of eternal life.

So how does all of this relate to suffering? To sum it up, to be saved means that we have received grace from God, through Jesus Christ, and that grace is the essence that motivates and strengthens us in the face of suffering. In light of the glorious truth that is the gospel, we understand that God so loved us that He saved us, giving us His Son as a sacrifice. As we place our faith upon Christ, we not only trust Him for forgiveness but also follow after Him as our gracious Lord who leads us. Our understanding of God’s love as well as our faith in Christ leads us to live obediently to God, with the hope that our lives may be glorifying to Him. We are compelled and convicted to obey His commands even when we know it would entail trials and suffering because we can look to Christ, our hope of eternal life (this is what the phrase “by the power of God” refers to in verse 8).

3. The Example

Lastly, in verses 11 and 12, Paul gives us the example of suffering from his own life.

“11 For which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, 12 which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me.”

We know that Paul suffered greatly due to his ministry of preaching the gospel. In 2 Corinthians 11:24-29, Paul describes how he was beaten, stoned, shipwrecked, and in constant danger. Further, he was imprisoned at least twice and ultimately martyred for his faith. Paul was in no way unacquainted with suffering. Yet he declares to Timothy that he is not ashamed and that his confidence is in God alone. Paul knew that even if people could take his earthly life, God would protect his heavenly inheritance of eternal life. At the end of verse 12, the ESV footnote tells us that the same phrase can also be translated as “what I have entrusted to Him”. That is how NASB translates it, and I do believe it makes more sense that way. Paul has faith that God will protect his life, which he has entrusted to Him. Not in the earthly sense, but in the eternal sense. He knew he would never lose his salvation, even if he were to lose his life on earth. The gospel was at the center of Paul’s heart and ministry, and it’s what fueled him to preach and suffer for Christ. As he says in Romans 8:18, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” To him, no suffering or trials was great enough in comparison to the grace that was given to him and was still to be revealed to him in heaven.

Application

As I was preparing for this sermon, I myself was convicted and challenged to obey God’s command for me to suffer for the gospel. We know that we are blessed to be living in this country, where our right to profess and practice our faith is pretty well protected. But this doesn’t mean that this command by Paul to suffer for the gospel is irrelevant to us. We are all called to suffer for the gospel, even if the degree to which we suffer might be different.

For some of us, it might mean obeying God’s call to go on missions, to the parts of the world where persecution still takes place. For others it might mean obeying the great commission in school or in the workplace and facing hostility and opposition. Or some of us might be convicted to give to the church and give to missions organizations and give for the cause of the gospel until it hurts. I’m not necessarily advocating that all of us would get up and go on long-term missions or go sell all of our possessions. Obedience to God does not necessarily mean choosing the most radical option we can think of. But as we truly ground our lives on the glorious gospel and entrust our lives to God to use us for His kingdom, who knows what He’ll call us to do? The bottom line is, it’s not about the degree to which we suffer, but whether or not we’re obeying the call to share in suffering for Christ.

 

From Arizona to Honduras

Last summer, we had a few members from our church attend short-term missions. We thought it would be exciting to hear from a member of our church as he recounts his time from attending two short-term missionary journeys. The first to Arizona and the second to Honduras. I hope you’ll find the recap to be exciting and challenging.

From: Raymond Lu

Arizona

Religious Background: A lot of missionaries from different religious sects come to these reservations. Most of the locals have a surface level knowledge of Christianity where they group Mormonism, Catholicism, and Christianity as all the same.

What we did: The main event that we held was a children’s VBS for five days. The children are raised very sheltered when young. Because of this, most of the kids were very energetic and wild. For the youth (7th–12th), we ran a basketball camp as well as a VBS. Our regular schedule consisted of waking up, doing door-to-door evangelism while inviting kids to attend our VBS, setting up for VBS and then VBS, and then debriefing the day.

What I learned: Throughout the week in Arizona, it is disappointing to admit that I was very pessimistic. I was in charge of the games, and on a few occasions I would ask the children what they learned during the day. Most of the time, I would get blank stares. I had a lot of fun but I was really questioning whether we were really teaching the kids or not. It was a matter of fruitfulness and faithfulness where I was so focused on the fruit rather than trusting in the sovereignty of God. And this all changed the very last night I was there. I was able to talk to one of the older adults and he was telling me his testimony. He told me how his son went to a VBS and couldn’t stop talking about God and how he learned about God through his son. Many times, I know that I can doubt children and their ability to understand their own faith. I know during that week especially, I doubted God’s ability to change a heart no matter how young he/she is. And all I could do was plant a seed hoping that it would grow.

Honduras

What we did: We focused on medical checkups, optometry, and pharmacy. Throughout the week, I split my time between the optometry team and the pharmaceutical team. Every day we ran a “clinic” where the nearby villages would come and seek medical attention. The doctors did most of the evangelizing as they needed the translators the most but when there were translators that were free we had opportunities to speak with the people in line. Each day we would spend about 6 hours in a village running our clinics. On occasion, we would also distribute water to a local neighborhood. We also visited two orphanages and played with the kids.

What I learned: I met a missionary couple, David and Lydia, who are in charge of an orphanage in Honduras. David shared his testimony about how he gave up a comfortable lifestyle in the states to go to Honduras. He started from nothing in Honduras to where he is now, an orphanage that has grown to more than 500 kids. After we heard the testimony we played with the kids that lived in the orphanage. As we were playing, David came driving in a tractor. All the kids stopped playing with us, dropped everything, wriggled out of our arms, and cried out “PAPI!” or daddy. They rushed to him to receive a simple hug. Behind the hugs were a lifetime of sacrifice and submission to God. I saw how God had used David to touch the lives of all these orphans and teach them about God. Before we arrived, he told us that he came here so that he could show the orphans in Honduras that somebody still loved them and it is clear that he didn’t mean love from himself or Lydia but rather God. The 970 acres of land that he received when he was only paying for 10, the growth of his orphanage from 5 to 500 children, and the happiness of all the children I met there all gave witness to his faith in Christ.

The Joy of Jesus Christ

When thinking of missions and missionaries, I often think about how much I would have to give up, whether just a week or longer, to go to places like these where clean water is a luxury. When looking at David, I couldn’t help but smile and marvel at how much he was blessed in this country. I saw that he found his joy in Christ where in it, he traded everything he had in America for a hug.

Let me ask: what do you find your joy in? I’m not saying that your joy in Christ will lead you to some far off country where you will do missions when in fact it could lead you to your workplace, your school or even your friends and share the grace and mercy of the Gospel.

Do you treasure God so highly that you find all your worth and value in knowing and understanding Christ.? What better way to understand Christ than to strive to be like Christ in all your endeavors! All that Jesus commands, whether it be in Matthew 22:37–40 or Matthew 28:19–20, is to help us become more like Him as well as knowing our joy is in God. It is a serious matter to share the Gospel with others because salvation is at stake. He gave us the job to (1) glorify Him in the spreading of His Word and (2) glorify Him by becoming more like Christ and understanding Him more intimately.

Book Review: “Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands” by Paul David Tripp

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We can never forget the Gospel when someone comes seeking us out for advice. What we offer them and what they are willing to accept tells us much about the desires of our hearts. If we are professing Christians our counsel ought to be grounded in the Gospel, and in Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands, this is where Paul David Tripp begins in talking about personal ministry.

 As sinners, we have a natural bent to turn away from the Creator to serve the creation. We turn away from hope in a Person to hope in systems, ideas, people, or possessions. Real Hope stares us in the face, but we do not see him.

The first six chapters serve to define the relationship we have with God as his creation, how our sinful nature affects our relationship with him, and how God has restored us.

We need God’s perspective to interpret the facts of our existence. We were created to be worshipers.

In our sinfulness we have replaced God’s perspective with all other faulty substitutes, and it has left us blind and unable to find rest. Offering advice for coping or changing circumstances will not last, because it never addresses the real problem of our sin. Without an understanding of what our sin is, and ultimately why we need redemption through Christ, the changes we hope to see in our lives will not come. But there is hope in knowing Christ and repenting of sin. Tripp tells us that we are in need of heart change that comes through the Holy Spirit, shaping us in Christ’s image so we can act in submission to God.

We can read this book with the intent of helping people, but we would be missing the point if we do not first acknowledge that we are far from perfect and are constantly in need of God providing us with his wisdom. It would be easy to skim through the book and hit the charts and appendices for the practical, but this book is more than just about identifying the needs of others. This is about seeing the same needs in ourselves. The extended title of this book is Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands:  People in the Need of Change Helping People in Need of Change, not only reminding us that our pursuit of sanctification is ongoing, but that God chooses to use us, as imperfect as we are, to be part of the heart changing process in the lives of others. In every chapter we are both counselor and counselee. If we are to help anyone we are to first humble ourselves before God and ask for his help.

Tripp also has anecdotes and illustrations that characterize God’s commandment as less of a business and more of a service, but what I appreciate is Tripp utilizing Scripture to spur us towards the high calling of loving our neighbors. Chapter after chapter, Tripp connects the themes of Scripture showing how to embrace God’s purpose for us as Christ’s bride. This book will not replace our need for the written Word, yet this supplement can aid us in better understanding each other and meeting our needs.  When reading through Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands, I noted in Tripp’s counseling anecdotes he refrains from giving happily-ever-after conclusions. He will tell you that we never “arrive” at spiritual maturity here on Earth. Sanctification is a continual and daily process, and until the Lord calls us home perfection is still a future we should run towards.

Personal ministry is not a business of fixing people nor can we aspire to cure ourselves of sin without God, but what we are called to do is nurture the relationships God has given to us and lovingly direct each other and ourselves to the Cross. For however long God deems for us to share in a season with another believer, God gives us the privilege to watch and bear witness to the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit through our relationships by the Word. There is a hope and a call for us to work out our salvation today; and we need to be striving for it; we need to be helping others strive for it. Though we are only empowered to help others in their walk, never walking for them nor causing the heart change that conforms them to the image of our Redeemer, we get the see God make his awesome name known, declaring himself as faithful through the acts of his sovereign hands.

I was quite eager to put this book into use after I finished. It was just that as I saw the opportunity to nurture the relationships God has given me and tried to apply the data-gathering Tripp prescribed, I realized my experiences were unlike those that Tripp shared in this book. Though he talks about how counseling is not always done in a formal capacity, saying that most is done informally, his personal excerpts could only come from a pastor counseling his flock. We won’t always have unambiguous relationships. Sometimes what will be most obvious is that nobody wants to be counseled. It is not easy to have an eternal kingdom perspective for ourselves and for others, but there is so much more than the temporal trappings of this world.

It would be worth your time to read this book.

The bottom line is that you cannot have a relationship without being a person of influence. You give and receive counsel every day. It is not a task confined to paid professionals; it is woven into the fabric of human relationships. The problem is that we don’t often recognize the powerful impact of those everyday encounters.

So the question is, are you directing them towards God?

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