I am working on my message for Sunday while on a flight down to Pensacola, Florida, to see my friend Ryan graduate from Flight School (WOOT! WOOT! RYAN!). Particularly, my focus is on the first few verses of 1 John 5, where John sets up another one of his fascinating non-western syllogisms.
John’s Main Thoughts
In essence, John has three sets of thoughts that he shares with us, his audience. They set the stage for his developing ideas of love, manifestation, and the spiritual presence of God. Later in the chapter, John will explore the nature of this spiritual presence, but for now, he assumes it is there and real.
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God.
Everyone who loves the Father has been born of God
We love God’s children when we love God and obey his commandments.
Because God’s love is keeping his commandments.
God’s commandments are not burdensome
BECAUSE those born of God have overcome the world.
BECAUSE overcoming the world comes from believing that Jesus is the Son of God.
All of this is frustratingly circular because John is exceptionally good at not being modern (which makes sense since he died 1600 years before the Enlightenment). John is not trying to prove an idea. He is trying to embody an experience – something spiritual and emotional.
What we perceive as circular is actually a spiral of understanding. John looks inside himself and asks, “How do I know/experience/feel my relationship with God?” And as he pointed out in chapter 4, John experiences God’s presence in his relationships with others, the love experienced among the followers of Jesus. God inhabits or abides there, His Spirit is present.
He connects the experience of belief with loving God, loving God with keeping his commandments, and keeping his commandments to victory over the world, and victory to belief. He does not separate the various elements because they all work together. We do not experience thoughts, ideas or beliefs in chronological order. They gel in a way that defies human language and syllogism.
The Son Metaphor
Just a side note.
John continually revisits this idea of the believer being born of God, a motif that he picks up from his gospel. Jesus is seen as the only begotten, in other words the only Son who truly shares in the Father’s essence, but he is never perceived as the only Son. In fact, the sonship of the believer is inherent in EVERYTHING John writes – his gospel and his epistles.
Sonship does not require biological connection. It is one of the things that John borrows from the Roman culture. Sons could be born to a Father anytime he chose. Other sons would be joined to the Father through the begotten Son, if the Father so chose.
John keeps going, but his arguments are primarily about some ideas that are easy to grasp – namely the interaction of God and Jesus in these love relationships. Because of time, I am not planning to preach on those verses. But John does leave us with one final shot – his refrain is based on the statement: “We know.”
- We know that everyone who has born of God does not keep sinning
- We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one
- We know that God’s Son has come and has given us understanding
And knowing these things helps us to know one more thing – we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. And thus, we have eternal life.
John intends this statement to be exclusive. He meant for it to differentiate true followers of Jesus from pretty much everyone elsse in the world. Far from being “normal”, we are rendered different by our faith and our actions.
In our modern culture of tolerance, it is very easy to forget that the way of Jesus is exclusive. It is not exclusionary, which means that Christ does not want certain groups of people in the church; but it is exclusive meaning that it has certain beliefs that limit its membership.