67. Idols?

Meditations in 1 John : 67 : Idols?worship, 

1 John  5:21    Dear children, keep yourselves from idols

Of all the apparently strange ways to conclude a letter, this appears the most strange. It is short, abrupt and apparently right out of the blue – no warning of it at all! So why should John finish with such a command?

The answer is given by a quote from a Christian historian I recently came across when he wrote about the early church: “Though the Christianity of the first several centuries was merely one among many mystery religions — it differed from all other devotions in requiring of its adherents a loyalty not only devout but exclusive. The votaries of Dionysus, Cybele and Attis, Isis and Osiris, Sabazius, Mithras, or any of the other pagan savior deities were not obliged to derogate or deny the power or holiness of other gods, or to remain totally aloof from their rites or temples; they merely acquired a new, perhaps dominant, but in no sense solitary, god or goddess to adore. Only the Christian mystery demanded of the convert an absolute commitment to one God and a denial of all others.”

Within that quote he names a number of ‘gods’ or objects of worship that were commonly worshipped in the world of the early centuries of the Christian Church, through ‘religions’ that competed in the superstitious mind of the day. The writer of that quote was conveying the fact that all these religions and gods existed and happily existed alongside each other and were quite happy if you worshipped a whole variety of them. That was until you came to Christianity which stood out in the world’s ‘faiths’ as demanding allegiance to it and to the One True God alone.

This takes its roots right back into the early history of Israel when the Lord gave them the Ten Commandments (never rescinded or replaced) which included: You shall have no other gods besides me. You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them.” (Ex 20:3-5). For a simple answer to the question, “Why were these commands included?” we need only look at the verses we’ve just previously considered which included, “that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true–even in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God.” (1 Jn 5:20). In other words, only the One we find revealed in the Bible is God and there are no others. Idols are merely man-made false representations of ‘gods’ that don’t exist.

Often the writings of the prophets focused on this. Isaiah wrote: “Bring in your idols to tell us what is going to happen. Tell us what the former things were, so that we may consider them and know their final outcome. Or declare to us the things to come, tell us what the future holds, so we may know that you are gods. Do something, whether good or bad, so that we will be dismayed and filled with fear. But you are less than nothing.” (Isa 41:22-24). That is just one of a number of instances in the prophetic writings that derides idols and gods. They don’t exist except as a figment of your imagination, is the message of the prophets, so stop wasting your time making idols and worshipping things that don’t exist. Instead worship the One True God.

But still, in the world of John’s day they worshipped idols and superstition ran rife. The thing about an idol was that you could see it and it acted as a focus of your worship and was thus a great temptation. “Dear children, keep yourselves from idols,”  was John’s last call to his scattered flock.

Does such a call have any relevance to us today?  Well if we consider ‘an idol’ in more general terms, the answer has got to be yes. An idol is anything or anyone we esteem and lift up in our estimation and which has influence on us and which we allow to direct us (and that we ultimately ‘worship’.). Thus materialistic affluence and the pursuit thereof is clearly an idol of many. Ambition, the desire to achieve great things for oneself regardless of what it takes, is another. Superstars or ‘celebrities’ may be genuine idols for the more gullible. An idol thus becomes anything which detracts from God, and that competes with God for His lordship. It is anything that you put before the Lord and in that sense there may be many things in the modern world that compete.  Thus John’s call is still valid today.

To slightly change the words of the last line of that quote I used earlier, Only the Christian faith demands of the convert an absolute commitment to one God and a denial of all others.  That is just as true today as it was two thousand years ago. And the reason? It’s what John has been talking about throughout his letter: we have knowledge of One who is supreme and unique and He has revealed Himself to us through His Son, Jesus Christ, and through him we have a salvation which can be gained through no other means, so don’t look elsewhere. As the psalmist wrote for his day, Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.” (Psa 20:7) THAT is wisdom and it is the wisdom that comes through John’s letter again and again. May we hold firmly to it!  Amen?  Amen!

66. He who is True

Meditations in 1 John : 66 : He who is True

1 John  5:20    We know also 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–even in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.

Every now and then in Scripture gems stand out, verses or phrases or words that leap out with great significance. Our verse above is one such hidden gem, tucked away at the end of this letter where it is probably missed by most. All around the world, world religions strive to make sense of their understanding of the unseen world. Through the centuries of human history, communities have wondered about and then worshipped ‘gods’, the conclusions of their superstitious wonderings. Were there ‘powers’, personal powers that influenced the world?  Today we struggle to understand the powers of El Nina or El Nino in the Pacific Ocean but still don’t understand the causes. One God, many gods, an impersonal force, or no God or gods? What is true? What is real? Who or what is there, or is there nobody? Such have been the questions throughout human history.

And then Jesus Christ came into the environment of Israel in history, an environment that already had history with Jehovah, the One Creator God, a God to be worshipped through the means of sacrifices, a God at a distance, a God who knew everything and was all powerful and everywhere. In a whole variety of ways – words and works – Jesus declared himself to be the Son of God, THE unique, one and only Son of God. We look at his words, we look at his works and we look at his life, death and resurrection and we marvel and wonder, and those who have not got such strong personal prejudices as to be blinded, see and realise that this is true. This one person was who he said he was.

John’s starting point here is, “We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding.”  We have knowledge – that which we just spoke about above – and that knowledge brings us understanding; yes this the Son of God, yes this is a true reflection of God, God showing Himself to us in ways that we can understand and cope with. This is like me taking a part of me and turning it into an ant to communicate with ants. That, of course, is impossible, but God is God and can do all things, and so He’s come in human form, the form of a man, and lived and spoken and acted into our world to show us the sort of being that He is. To our total surprise He is completely for us: “News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed, and he healed them.” (Mt 4:24)  He didn’t write them off, he didn’t reject them, he didn’t chastise them for living such godless lives that they got sick and demon possessed – he healed them!

Now within this gem of a verse comes a gem in its own right: “so that we may know him who is true.”  Remember what we pondered on earlier, about mankind’s seeking for what or who is true?  Jesus is true, Jesus is real. Most of us put on a face, we pretend to be something but Jesus was exactly who you see in the Scriptures, the unique, loving Son of God. Do you remember Jesus’ description of Nathaniel: “Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false.” (Jn 1:47)  Likewise there was nothing false in Jesus. He was not pretending to be someone or something that he wasn’t. When we look at Jesus in the Gospels we see the unique Son of God, exactly as he is.

And then John makes it even more clear: “And we are in him who is true–even in his Son Jesus Christ.” So when he said before, “we may know him who is true,” we might have been confused about the ‘him’ because, we might have reasoned, surely there is only one who is absolutely true – God.  I’m speaking about Jesus, John says to remove any doubt and then comes his climax, the climax of this letter, the climax of the whole Bible even: “He is the true God and eternal life.” 

Wow! Absolutely no doubts there. He, Jesus, is the true God. Take it in word by word:

  • THE true God, i.e. the one and only One.
  • The TRUE God.  You need have no doubts about Him; there is nothing false or pretend in Him.
  • The true GOD.  THIS IS God, the one and only Creator God, the all-knowing, all-powerful One, who is loving, compassionate, forgiving, the One who is for us.

This is who Jesus is! He’s not merely a carpenter of Nazareth. He’s not merely a good teacher. He’s not merely a miracle worker. He is the Son of God, He is God!  That is the climax of the Biblical revelation!  He is God and He has come to us to redeem us from our sins. Hallelujah!