2. Jesus in the beginning

Short Meditations in John 1:  2. Jesus in the beginning

Jn 1:2 He was with God in the beginning.

The person of Jesus Christ is critical to the Christian Faith. He is what it is all about. In verse 1 John had spoken of the word being there at the beginning of all things, the word who was God and yet who was distinct from God. Twice he now says that he was “with God”. When one person is ‘with’ another, there is an indication of two individuals existing side by side, if you like. They are separate and distinct, and yet in Jesus’ case they are one being.

Struggling with this concept, the early Church Fathers came together at Nicea in AD325 and agreed, “We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father.”  Years later the church leaders in the Athanasian Creed declared, “He is God of the substance of the Father begotten before the worlds, and He is man of the substance of His mother born in the world; perfect God, perfect man subsisting of a reasoning soul and human flesh; equal to the Father as touching His Godhead, inferior to the Father as touching His Manhood.”

As they struggled with the idea that Jesus was God they came again and again to declare he IS God and yet he comes from God and is distinct as a personality, but he was there right before the beginning of anything that we know of as existence today. The apostle Paul declared, He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.” (Col 1:15 – see also 2 Cor 4:4) The writer to the Hebrews wrote, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being.” (Heb 1:3)

The apostle John himself, emphasised in his first letter this fact of Jesus existing from the beginning: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched–this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us.” (1 Jn 1:1,2)

Why is this important? It is because it marks out Jesus Christ as unique among all other figures, because uniquely he is God and yet is distinct from God and was with God from the beginning of all things. This alone makes him worthy to carry the sins for all humanity, as only God could.

40. Practical Love

Meditations in 1 John : 40 : Practical Love

1 John  3:16,17   This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?

You sometimes hear silly complaints about the Christian faith that it is ‘pie in the sky’ or that it is of no earthly use to anyone. Communists make great play on caring for all classes but it is an enforced (and unreal) caring that is a poor copy by the enemy of the Christian faith. Our verses above lay the axe to the lie of the Christian faith being impractical and it all starts with love.

There can be much debate about what love is but you have to come to the Bible to find any real meaning. If you belong to the school of “no God, world just a chance accident, material is all there is”, then love is just an odd jumbling of the molecules in the body, something that somehow in millions of years has become a genetic oddity. But John challenges the world and says, “You want to know what love is all about? Then look at Jesus Christ! He, the perfect, sinless Son of God laid down his life for us very imperfect sinners, so that our sin could dealt with in such a way that justice is satisfied, and we can be forgiven and even brought into a living relationship with God Himself. This is a demonstration of what love is all about.” This brings me to conclude that real, genuine love is ‘selfless, sacrificial, unrestricted good-will towards all others’. Watch a mother’s feelings towards her small child: selfless, sacrificial, unrestricted good-will towards her child. See a young man who has fallen head over heels in love with a young woman: selfless, sacrificial, unrestricted good-will towards her!

And the model for that love is Jesus. But it doesn’t just stop in describing Jesus’ love for us, because we have now joined his family and we are becoming like him and so “we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.”   If he is like that, our goal is to be like that because we are becoming like him. But what does that actually mean, this laying down our lives for one another? Is that just a nice religious platitude? No, John doesn’t allow us to make it that; for him it has very practical outworkings: If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?  To lay down you life for another means you put others first.  The apostle Paul writes, “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Phil 2:4)

It has been this outlook that has stirred Christians through the ages to stand up for others, to care for the weak and the poor or as one writer put it speaking about the activity of the Church down through the ages, it was known for its care of widows and orphans, its alms houses, hospitals, foundling homes, schools, shelters, relief organizations, soup kitchens, medical missions, charitable aid societies and so on.”  Yes, down through the ages it has been the church that has worked into society providing the things that today the Welfare State tends to provide. When there was no Welfare State, when no one particularly cared for the needy, it was the Church who stepped forward, expressing the love of Jesus to his world.

But let’s apply this to our own church group, for it must have very practical outworkings right on our doorstep otherwise it is mere words. If there are people who come in with real physical or financial needs, how do we look at them? Do we leave it to the ‘church administration’ to do something or does compassion move us to provide when we see need? Of course it is very easy to say, “Well here in the Western world there is no real need because the State provides for the really needy.” Is that always so? Are there people in your congregation who cannot do things they would like to do, because of lack of funds, things you can do because you do have the funds? What does love say?

Are there opportunities just waiting there, for us to bless young people who would love to enter some particular career but don’t feel they can afford it?  Is there someone yearning to set up a small business but just don’t have the funds to do it? Yes, we not have the chronically poor with us, but we may have those not so well off as us whose lives are restricted because of that, restricted in ways that we could deal with. The difficulty here is getting people to open up and share such needs or desires, and that only comes about in a loving, caring, accepting and compassionate community of God’s people, where each one feels sufficiently secure in the love of those around them, that they feel they can open up and be honest. There is the real challenge.

But the big challenge to all of us is to make love real, not just something we talk about: Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” (v.18) The apostle Paul in 1 Cor 13 says we might have various spiritual gifts but if we don’t have love we are just like a noisy gong. John goes further than that and challenges us to ensure we don’t just talk about love, but make sure that our actions reflect love and flow from love, and that we are thus being truthful. If we say we have love but don’t show it through our actions we are not telling and living the truth. Beware!

12. Obedience

Meditations in 1 John : 12 :  Obedience

1 John  2:3,4   We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him.

In some parts of what appears the Church, it seems that Christian faith is more like a nice social club where we turn up a few times a week and go through various rituals but which have little relevance to the rest of our lives. “Going to church” is just one box in the variety of boxes that make up our lives, and one box does not affect the other boxes. In other words we compartmentalise our lives so the ‘religious’ box does not affect or influence the other ‘boxes’ of business or society or family, or whatever else it is.

Yet this ‘style’ of Christianity is about as far as you can get from Jesus and the New Testament’s teaching. Using the analogy above, what has happened is that, if our encounter with Christ has been genuine, a genuine repentance and surrender to God, then it is like all the boxes of the parts of our lives have been put in one big box and that big box determines, directs and decides all that happens in the smaller boxes. They are now all influenced by the bigger box.

For John obedience is the key issue and it will come up again in his letter. Watch a person’s life and hear of their conversion and then watch and see what happens. If that person’s life starts changing and clearly takes on a new Christ-like nature, where the individual is now clearly following the New Testament teaching and is being filled with love and goodness, and is doing what they are learning are Christ’s instructions, then we will know that what has happened to this person is genuine.

However, watch another person who makes a profession of conversion and we see no changes taking place, then we are being given grounds to suggest, as John does, that this person neither tells the truth about what they have done nor has the truth living within them. Where there is an absence of visible love and goodness growing in this person’s life, then we have every reason to doubt that anything meaningful has taken place in their life, despite whatever they may say.

The individual may claim to be a Christian, but if that simply means they have a high moral outlook on life, that’s not what it is all about. To tie this down we have to go back to their originating experience when they say they became a Christian. If they say they have been a Christian all their life, they are deceived. A person becomes a Christian at some specific point of time. It may indeed be in childhood and that little person may have invited Jesus to be their friend, and that may have been a genuine experience but what invariably happens is, as they grow up, sometime in their teens they have a fresh encounter with God with a fresh, deeper, more meaningful experience of Christ.

But whenever it is, it will be a specific experience. I can accept that for some people it will be a crisis moment and they can clearly identify the moment, and for others it is a growing awareness whereby there is a gradual coming to repentance and surrender, but repentance and surrender there must always be for a genuine conversion where someone encounters God and receives the Holy Spirit.

There is the significant issue: when a person comes to Christ, he imparts his Spirit so that the Holy Spirit indwells us (1 Cor 3:16 & 6:19). He does this when he sees we come to a place of genuine repentance and surrender and he sees we are committed to be obedient to him. The apostle Peter spoke of, the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.” (Acts 5:32) Thus there are two things that will bring about the change we referred to earlier, possibly over simplistically, as bringing love and goodness visibly into our lives. Yes, there are lots of other things, a desire to read the Bible, a desire to pray, a desire to be with God’s people and a desire to share what has happened with others. All of these things are part of the ‘visible package’ that is this new life and they will be seen in varying degrees of clarity,  but the overall characteristics of love and goodness are THE two primary things that start to be observed in this new life and they are both expressions of obedience.

A disciple was a person who followed a Master, to receive teaching and guidance but they were not a disciple if they did not then obey or put into practice the teaching of the Master. Thus in the famous ‘Great Commission’ Jesus instructed, “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Mt 28:19,20). To be a disciple meant you obeyed Jesus’ teaching. No obedience = no disciple. It IS as simple as that!