47. Dear Children

Meditations in 1 John : 47 : Dear Children

1 John  4:4   You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.

There is often a danger in Christian circles, especially among younger Christians for fear to creep in, and especially when the talk is of the enemy or of enemy warfare or of opposition and persecution. It is very easy to get an unbalanced picture which Satan then plays on to create fear within us which them immobilises us.  John started off what we have as chapter 4 with warnings about wrong spirits and antichrists. He’s going to say some more about them in a moment but for this verse he establishes our base or our foundation, the thing which should hold us steady in the face of any wrong thoughts.

But it’s another one of those what seem almost gentle times when he addresses us as “dear children” and it seems he does it because he feels particularly protective over us in some particular way and feels we are precious to him. We said before that there are nine times in this letter that he addresses us like this.

In the first he saw us as newly created, unblemished believers and feeling protective over us, he didn’t want us to fall into sin:My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin” (2:1)

In the second one he felt protective over us because he didn’t want us to fall into condemnation again: “I write to you, dear children, because your sins have been forgiven.” (2:12)

In the third one who feels we are precious because we are children of God and we need reminding of the wonder of our relationship with God: “I write to you, dear children, because you have known the Father.” (2:13)

In the fourth one he feels protective towards us because we are living in an enemy occupied hostile environment and he wants us to be aware of the deception all around us that we need to reject: “Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming.” (2:18)

In the fifth one he shares his fear for us, that we might get led astray by the enemy so that when Jesus returns we won’t be in the place we should be in, and he wants to protect us against that happening: “And now, dear children, continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming.” (2:28)

In the sixth one he simply expresses his protective concern in the most simple of ways, as a follow on to what he has said earlier about those around us in this world who the enemy will seek to use to lead us astray: “Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray.” (3:7)

In the seventh one he recognizes that a form of deception is to speak words but not live the life and he wants to protect us against that: “Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” (3:18)

In the eighth one, he sees us as standing out from the crowd in the world, those who have resisted the lies of the enemy and who now live as children of God who have overcome the work of the enemy by rejecting the world around us and all their ways: “You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them,” (4:4)

In the ninth and final one, the very last words of this letter is care, concern and sense of protection reaches its peak as he recognizes that the world is divided into two camps, those who believe in and follow God, and those who reject the idea of God and in an effort to appear religious but hold onto control, worship anything other than God: “Dear children, keep yourselves from idols. (5:21) Idols represent anything which takes the place of God and John’s strong pastoral heart reaches out to warn us against letting this happen.

In every case in these nine examples throughout this letter, John the pastor is exercising his care and concern for his flock, and by that we mean anyone who might read or hear his letter being read out. His concern is for the whole church, not just that expression in one place. As a pastor he is concerned for every Christian and each one of these instances show us what he thinks about us – precious children of God, set free from sin, set free from guilt and condemnation, standing as lights in a dark, deceived world, resisting the lies of the enemy, and remaining true until the return of Jesus. Is that how we see one another?  Are we there for one another to stand alongside one another in supporting and encouraging one another and strengthening one another to remain strong and true in the face of the ways of the world and the lies of the enemy? May it be so!

10. Jesus the Intercessor

Meditations in 1 John : 10 :  Jesus the Intercessor

1 John  2:1   My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense–Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.

We have made reference to this verse before but it is so significant that we need to look at it in more depth now.   As a pastor for quite a number of years, it has always worried me, the lack of assurance that so many Christians have. It may be accentuated when they hear the challenges of the crusading atheists of the twenty first century, together with an unsympathetic media, but it arises, I am convinced, in people who have not been well taught.

The particular lack of assurance that comes to mind in the light of this verse is that very simple assurance that God is for you. Now to some this may appear stupid having to say this, but the reality is that there are many Christians who, when the way gets difficult for whatever reason (illness, negative circumstances etc. etc.), start to question what God thinks about them. They are suddenly unsure about His intentions towards them. It may be when you have been praying your heart out for something and no answer comes. It may be when everything suddenly goes pear-shaped. It is natural, it is human, at such times to question and even David the psalmist did it (again and again). It simply means we have to grab hold of the truth and let it bring us back into a place of reassurance.

Around the New Testament there are various such assurances. For our purpose the first one is here in this verse. John tells us that when we blow it, Jesus is speaking up for us to the Father. Note this: he does NOT sit there and moan about how useless we have turned out to be, but he speaks to the Father “in our defense” In a previous meditation I said, I imagine him turning to the Father and saying, “Father, I died for them. Please send the Spirit to draw them back to us, send Him to draw them back into that daily relationship with us, for I have done my part by dying for them, so their sins are dealt with.”

When the apostle Paul was writing to the Galatians, he said, “if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently.” (Gal 6:1). That is God’s intention that we be restored. He is for us – even when we blow it.

To the Romans Paul asked a rhetorical question: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom 8:31) His clear implication, his starting point, is that God IS for us! Then he comes up with an incredible piece of logic: “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (v.32)  You want to know how God is FOR us? He didn’t spare His own Son in bringing salvation to us. Now, as the outworking of that salvation, He just gives and gives and gives. Paul goes on about how God has justified us (v.33) and how Jesus is interceding for us (v.34) – just like John says – so that nothing but nothing but nothing can separate us from God’s love. THAT is how much He is for us!

Paul is telling us the same things that John told us in his Gospel: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned.” (Jn 3:16-18) How can we think that God is not for us when He sent Jesus to die for us and has given us eternal life?  And what is that eternal life? It is life in His Spirit who He has given to us, who indwells us. You can’t get much more committed than that – putting part of yourself into those who previously had been your enemies!!!!

So when we get it wrong, don’t think that God writes you off; He doesn’t!   When you blow it, don’t think God’s big hand of correction is coming to smash you down; it isn’t. When you have fallen and are in the dust, don’t think you are all alone: you’re not! When any of these things happen, Jesus is there interceding with the Father on our behalf to send resources to restore us. Why? Because he loves us and has given his life for us!

You want to know what He feels about you as part of His church? Listen to Paul, recorded by Luke in Acts: “Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.” (Acts 20:28) There he’s only saying what we’ve read elsewhere but he’s put it in such a way that it triggers a further thought. Suppose, ladies, your husband went out to buy you a very special ring and, in the process of getting it, ended up being killed? How would you think about that ring?  I suspect it would be incredibly precious to you. You could never look at it without thinking of your dead husband. Yes, you will no doubt regret that he gave his life to get it for you, but now you have it, it will be incredibly precious to you. Don’t you think Jesus must feel the same way when he looks at us? “I gave my life to get you to this point!”

Wow! Gemstones are precious because they are rare and costly. Do you not think that God feels we are precious to Him, having gone to all the trouble He’s gone to, to save us?  Is He going to give up on us now, just because we fell over our feet? No way! He’s going to continue to do what He’s always done – everything He can to ensure we come through and finish the race.

That’s just the conviction that Paul had: “I always pray with joy ….. being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Phil 1:4-6) I’m going to carry on praying for each of you, says Paul, because I’m convinced it is God’s will that He is for you and is going to keep on being for you until He’s able to complete it on the last day when He winds everything up. Until then, though, He’s for you and will keep on being for you!  He’s not a quitter! So get up out of the dirt, dust yourself down, confess to Him that you blew it, receive His forgiveness and His love and get on with life again. There’s lots more good stuff to come!

2. Precious Faith

Meditations in 2 Peter : 2 :  A Precious Faith

2 Pet  1:1b  To those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours:

This is a letter written by Peter for Christians. That is a summary of the second part of this first verse. His first letter had been written to the Christians scattered over the area we callAsia Minor, but this present one has a broader, more general audience. In identifying the recipients he speaks first about the work of God and then, second, about the people who are the result of God’s work.

Sometimes when we see the word ‘righteousness’ in Scripture we get confused and complicated because it is not a word we use in everyday life. In its simplest form it means ‘a right way of living or acting that is in accord with God’s perfect design’. We forget that God is the Creator and that He has designed the world to bless us His creatures. When He finished making it He declared that it was “very good” (Gen 1:31). Because “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8,16) everything God does is an expression of love and is good. The Fall may have spoilt the world but that has not changed God, He is still love and He still works to bring good to the world because He IS love and will always be love because He is unchanging. Righteousness is simply living in accord with God’s design.

Now of course God Himself is perfect and so when Peter speaks about the “righteousness of our God” he is simply saying, “the right actions of our God” because God’s actions are ALWAYS right. But actually Peter isn’t talking about God generally or of the Father; he is referring to Jesus: God and Savior Jesus Christ”.  He is not referring to two persons but two aspects of Jesus.  He is both God and he is Saviour.  God is his nature and Saviour was his task or role.  Of course Peter himself had referred to Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Mt 16:16) Thomas similarly had declared, “My Lord and my God!” (Jn 20:28) and the concept of Jesus’ deity often crops up in Paul’s writings, e.g. Col 2:9, but it is worth noting that these early believers were quite clear about who it was they had encountered – God in the flesh.

So it is God, who in the form of His Son, Jesus Christ, has brought about a harvest of believers. Just think about it, if Jesus had never come we would not have had all that revelation about God’s love and there would have been no path of salvation through Jesus. But he has and so as a result there were those with transformed lives who were able to testify to his coming and what he had done.

On the Day of Pentecost the apostle Peter summarised it: Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.” (Acts 2:22-24) Jesus himself, recorded by Matthew, had declared what those ‘miracles, wonders and signs’ were: “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.” (Mt 11:5) The apostle John put it in more general, almost philosophical terms, “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) There is this ‘precious faith’ declared: God has come to this earth in human form and done wonderful things and people were blessed.

But for the bigger work, it was John the Baptist who first declared it: “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (Jn 1:29) Prior to that, some thirty years before that, Joseph had had a dream in which an angel had declared about Jesus, “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” (Mt 1:21) At the Last Supper Jesus had said, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Mt 26:28) Later Peter was to testify to Cornelius, the first Gentile recorded as receiving the Gospel, “All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” (Acts10:43)

But Peter describes this faith as being ‘precious’.    J.R.R.Tolkien stamped this word in our consciousness with his character Gollum in The Lord of the Rings, who spoke of the ring as ‘his precious’.   Precious means ‘of great value, held very dear, very special to us’.  From the verses we’ve considered above, we can see the value of this ‘precious faith’.  It is the truth, it is history declared to us, and it is life changing.  It is the Good News about Jesus that brings forgiveness of sins and reconciliation to God for us. It is what has transformed men and women throughout the past two thousand years, some of the earliest of whom were being addressed by Peter in this letter. How wonderful! If you have lost the sense of how this wonderful faith is precious, go back over the above notes and take in the verses quoted there, and then rejoice!

22. Stumbling

Meditations in 1 Peter : 22:  A Stone that causes stumbling

1 Pet 2:5 For in Scripture it says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone

The correlation between the Old and New Testaments is often quite strange. Sometimes the New Testament writers take the Old Testament writings as they are to confirm what is happening in the present is from God, and sometimes they slightly adapt those writings. There are no firm rules. Sometimes they don’t bother to justify themselves with Old Testament writings, and sometimes they do. This is one of those latter times for Peter packs together three quotes from the Old Testament that refer prophetically to Jesus.

(v.6)See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” (from Isa 28:16) This first part reiterates that Jesus was a stone of God’s choosing, to act as a cornerstone who would become a secure ground of trust.  He continues to quote (v.7): “Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe, “The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone” (from Psa 118:22) Now, says the psalmist, this stone will create two different responses. First of all there will be those who believe in him and to them he will be precious. We said in a previous meditation that precious means ‘of great value, held very dearly, very special to us’. That is how Jesus is to us who have believed on him and see him as our Saviour.

But then there are all those other people who do not believe in him. First of all these people rejected him. It’s not merely a case of them not noticing him; they actively reject him because he doesn’t allow for any midway position; you either believe in him and receive him, or you don’t believe in him and you reject him. Yet, says the psalmist, their rejection doesn’t alter the outcome for he has become the capstone or top stone of the building. God wasn’t put off by the rejection of men but instead made use of it to bring about the redemption of the world.

Yet there is a further prophetic word that comes from Isaiah: “and, “A stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.” (Isa 8:14) and in case we are not sure what that means, Peter adds his own footnote: “They stumble because they disobey the message–which is also what they were destined for.” Before hearing about Jesus, men may be in blissful ignorance but once they have heard about him they either receive or reject him and if they don’t receive him then from then on they are struggling against the truth, they will be stumbling through life with a guilty conscience, because that is how God has made us. We may try and suppress it with loud denunciations of the truth, but deep down God will be telling us that it is the truth and our pride will be constantly warring against that.

If we stub our toe on a stone there is the initial pain but after a while it is like a dull ache that we hardly notice but is still there. This is how it is with people who have heard about Jesus and have rejected him and ultimately they will fall. People will fall deeper into sin, deeper under Satan’s influence, deeper into the deceptive and destructive ways of the world, deeper into despair, deeper into failure and eventually they will fall before God in heaven, and eventually fall into the abyss which is another way of saying into eternal isolation outside of the presence of God. The direct cause of their stumbling is because they reject the message and live outside of God’s will and blessing. From then on they are actually opposing God’s will and cannot, therefore, be on the receiving end of His blessing.

No wonder they are stumbling! Infront of all the heavenly onlookers they have made their choice and are living in a second-best environment. They lack God’s strength and God’s wisdom in their lives and it is no wonder that they get it wrong and stumble and stagger throughout life. Even the greatest of figures with the greatest of achievements will, when they stand before God in the courts of heaven, see that despite all of His help they still fell short of what He had on His heart for them and they will see that in a multitude of ways they will have stumbled. Why? Because they have not believed and are therefore in opposition to the truth and in opposition to God’s will.

What about those closing words of Peter,which is also what they were destined for.” Imagine there is a fork in life, the path ahead splits in two. The sign post on one says, “Believing in Jesus and letting God lead you” and the sign post on the other says “Rejecting Jesus and relying upon your own self”. One person believes in Jesus and takes the left fork. The other hears of Jesus and rejects what they hear and take the right fork (there is no political connotations to these directions!). From above as we watch them we see the Christian weathering the storms of life with God’s grace and guidance. The unbeliever stumbles and falls and pushes himself up a number of times. The two paths come together again to a meeting point and a further fork. The Christian follows the same path and follows Jesus still. The unbeliever rejects for a second time the possibility put before him. And so they continue through life. There are numerous occasions when choices are presented but they both stay on course. The believer remains faithful and the unbeliever hardens his heart. Suddenly both the paths run out and the believer finds himself in the most wonderful of places while the unbeliever falls over a cliff to destruction. It is an imperfect picture but it does convey what is happening. Once the unbeliever has chosen unbelief he is destined to destruction. He will have choices along the way and some do turn but most do not. The end is determined by the path chosen. There is a salutary warning here!

20. The Living Stone

Meditations in 1 Peter : 20 :  The Living Stone

1 Pet 2:4     As you come to him, the living Stone–rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him

Stone is an amazing building material; it is a natural material. In one of the earlier phases of my life I had a lot to do with the construction industry and I have had cause to look at various sorts of stone that is used for both structural and aesthetic uses. I have seen stone cleaned so that the original wonder has been restored and brought out from under decades of grime. I have seen marbles and granites polished up like glass. I have seen stone shaped into beautiful patterns or pictures. Stone is perhaps one of our oldest building materials (after wood) and certainly one that lasts. Stone has been used to build castles and cathedrals as well as lowly homes and not so lowly homes.

Peter is now going to use the analogy of stone for both Jesus and for us. Why does he do that? He does it because as we shall soon see there are a number of prophetic Scriptures that refer to Jesus, using the analogy of stone. But this analogy of stone isn’t really about stone as such, but about a specific stone or a stone that has been chosen for a specific use – a cornerstone or capstone. Now both of those uses are very specific uses with very specific meanings.

A cornerstone was the first stone that may even have been a foundation stone, but was the stone from which the rest of the building was set out. Because of its shape and position, the line of the walls and the verticality of the walls were judged or set out in line with this one first stone. Jesus is thus the baseline from which the rest of the church is designed. He is its starting point and he is the one against whom everything about us is checked. We are to be exactly in line with him. We are not to go off doing our own thing with our own nature or own characteristics but we are to do everything in line with him and take on his nature and his characteristics. Everything in the church should flow from him. I wonder how real that is?

But then there was a capstone which tended to be the final stone used in an arch that fitted at the top of the arch which held it in position. Jesus is thus our security, the one who holds us in position in the building called the church. It is also the topmost stone of a structure, and so Jesus is to be the one to whom the rest of us look up to, exalted above the rest – the Lord.

The apostle Paul wrote, Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” (Eph 2:19-22)  We’ll no doubt come back to that again in the future but for the moment let’s simply note that here Paul refers to the church as God’s household, a building, a temple and a dwelling in which God lives, with Jesus being its chief cornerstone.

But Peter refers to Jesus as a “living stone” and so this isn’t a static or inanimate role that Jesus has, he is conveying life to the building, he is interacting with the building and he ensures that we, the other stones (as we shall see in the next meditation) also have and convey life. This stone, as we shall see was “rejected by men”. The cause of his death was the rejection by the Jewish authorities and the Jewish people, and the Roman authorities (representing the Gentile world). They didn’t like who he was, what he was and what he said and so they rejected him and killed him. Yet he was the Anointed One, the One “chosen by God”. We may not have been able to see it but that is the truth. The Father chose the Son to perform the task of revealing Him and redeeming the world.

But there is yet a further description: “precious to him.” J.R.R.Tolkien stamped this word in our consciousness with his character Gollum in The Lord of the Rings, who spoke of the ring as ‘his precious’. Precious means ‘of great value, held very dearly, very special to us’.  Jesus is very dear to the Father and that awareness should make us wonder even more at the Father’s love for us that He should give the Son for us: “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son. (Jn 3:16)  How incredible that God should feel so strongly for His Son and yet be willing to sacrifice him at the hands of foolish and sinful mankind, to save that same mankind!!!

Thus from this verse we see that Jesus is the one from whom the whole building of the church is built, and the one who holds it together, the one who is Lord over it. We rejected him when God had chosen him. He was and is very precious to the Father which makes the wonder of their love for us even more incredible. Hold on to these things. Think on them, meditate on them, and rejoice in them.