You Shall Know the Lord

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Hosea 2

2 Say to your brothers, “You are my people,” and to your sisters, “You have received mercy.” “Plead with your mother, plead—for she is not my wife, and I am not her husband—that she put away her whoring from her face, and her adultery from between her breasts; lest I strip her naked and make her as in the day she was born, and make her like a wilderness, and make her like a parched land, and kill her with thirst. Upon her children also I will have no mercy, because they are children of whoredom. 5 For their mother has played the whore; she who conceived them has acted shamefully. For she said, ‘I will go after my lovers, who give me my bread and my water, my wool and my flax, my oil and my drink.’

Hosea 2:1-5

Hosea chapter 2 contains Hosea’s address to the Israelites using his own experience in the legal process of an offended husband as an image of God’s plan to deal with Israel.

God had a legal obligation, just as Hosea did, to act upon the unfaithfulness done against them. The Israelites had broken their covenant with God. They had turned to idols and called them lord. They worshipped gifts and blessings given by a false god. Now, God had every right to turn away from them and take back all that the Israelites had ungratefully forgotten. Hosea urges the people to repent, for God had made it clear that he would not sit idle on the sins of the Israelites. God is a husband not only wronged but injured by his betrothed pursuit of other lovers (gods), just like Hosea. Hosea doesn’t warn them because God is about to pour out just wrath and punishment. God’s goal is redemption. A husband who truly loves his wife will go to any measure to have his love return to him. This was a pain and pursuit that Hosea knew personally and was warning the people of what great lengths God is about to go through if they did not repent. God will do what he has to to make himself known to his people.

Therefore I will hedge up her way with thorns, and I will build a wall against her, so that she cannot find her paths. She shall pursue her lovers but not overtake them and she shall seek them but shall not find them. Then she shall say, ‘I will go and return to my first husband, for it was better for me then than now.’ And she did not know that it was I who gave her the grain, the wine, and the oil, and who lavished on her silver and gold, which they used for Baal.
Hosea 2:6-8

In response to their lust, God put a hedge around his people to prevent from straying and spark return. Without being able to find her lovers, the wayward wife returns to her first love. In vs. 8 it says that the wife (Israel) did not know that all of the gifts that they had used for Baal had been given to them by their God. His intentions for breaking them off from seeking their idols is to get them to know God again as their provider. The one who truly loves them.

Therefore I will take back my grain in its time, and my wine in its season, and I will take away my wool and my flax, which were to cover her nakedness. 10 Now I will uncover her lewdness in the sight of her lovers, and no one shall rescue her out of my hand. 11 And I will put an end to all her mirth, her feasts, her new moons, her Sabbaths, and all her appointed feasts. 12 And I will lay waste her vines and her fig trees, of which she said, ‘These are my wages, which my lovers have given me.’ I will make them a forest, and the beasts of the field shall devour them. 13 And I will punish her for the feast days of the Baals when she burned offerings to them
and adorned herself with her ring and jewelry, and went after her lovers and forgot me, declares the Lord.
Hosea 2:9-13

In response to blind stubbornness, God will take away the blessings he once bestowed. Blessings were not a means to an end here, but a sign and measure of their relational standing. In v. 14 it says that the punishment served for the fact that the Israelites held celebrations and offered sacrifices to the Baals and forgot the Lord. When God took back all of that which he bestowed on them, then the fruitlessness of their false god lovers would be exposed. No longer could they receive God’s goodness while paying tribute to a deity because it served their fleshly desires. They would soon find that they could never be truly satisfied by idols.

14 “Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her. 15 And there I will give her her vineyards and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope. And there she shall answer as in the days of her youth, as at the time when she came out of the land of Egypt.
Hosea 2:14-15

In response to Israel’s adultery, God will allure and woo his people back to him, revealing that his plan was always for redemption.

The people had begun to worship the blessings over the giver. They did not love God, they loved all that he could give them. And now what they wanted was to find a new lord (Baal) to give them the things of their flesh.

God is not just punishing them out of spite. Though he is righteously angry and jealous, he has a purpose to the consequences he sets for the Israelites. He will strip them bare of all that he gave them and block them from running to their other idols. He will bare their nakedness so they can face the shame of their sin.

The Israelites needed to remember who their God was. He was not the blessings. He was their God, their Lord, and love.

He had every right, as Hosea, to punish the Israelites for their adultery. But his goal was to win back their hearts. In the wilderness they were forced to rely on the Lord and draw close to him. The reference Hosea makes to the wilderness was one of endearment. He is saying, remember the time when I was your only God, when you looked to me for provision and deliverance and satisfaction. In the wilderness, the Israelites knew God and remembered him in worship.

God’s ultimate goal for us is to know him. And we must realize that there is nothing else that we can run to for satisfaction.

16 “And in that day, declares the Lord, you will call me ‘My Husband,’ and no longer will you call me ‘My Baal.’ 17 For I will remove the names of the Baals from her mouth, and they shall be remembered by name no more. 18 And I will make for them a covenant on that day with the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the creeping things of the ground. And I will abolish the bow, the sword, and war from the land, and I will make you lie down in safety. 19 And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. 20 I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the Lord.
Hosea 2:16-20

To know the Lord is not to simply know him, it is to belong to him. God doesn’t want nor need our acknowledgement, he wants to be with us. God wanted to bring the Israelites back to a time of wilderness because that was when they drew close to the Lord. It was easy to see the goodness and tenderness of the Lord, when their surroundings were so hostile. But now, other gods were seducing the Lord’s people with false promises and blessings. They could never fulfill the way he does and in his jealousy and anger, he revealed the idols for what they were and in the process revealed the adulteress hearts of the Israelites.

Even when the Israelites deserved it, God was merciful because his utmost desire is to be with us, for us to know the Lord.  

This is why God sent Jesus, his Son. We could never fulfill the terms of the covenant with God. That’s the point of Hosea. It gives us an up close picture of what heartache it brings God to have us reject him for idols, to sin against him. He is not just offended by our sin but injured by it. It directly affects him, just as a man like Hosea, who was cheated on by his wayward wife.

We have broken the heart of God, who has given us everything. We deserved wrath and yet, he sent us Jesus. He is our mediator. In v. 19-20 Hosea points to a hopeful future of redemption. They could look forward to the day where they will be betrothed to God forever IN righteousness, justice, steadfast love, mercy, and faithfulness. Jesus came to fulfill our covenant on our behalf. He is the only one who could be all those things for us. In him, we are the perfect bride for Christ. The bow of sin was broken through Jesus’ death and resurrection. For he became our sin and was broken on the cross and raised to new life in victory over it.

God desires for us to know him, to be with him. And through Jesus we can.

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also.From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

John 14:6-7

Children of the Living God

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Hosea 1

10 Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or numbered. And in the place where it was said to them, “You are not my people,” it shall be said to them, “Children of the living God.” 11 And the children of Judah and the children of Israel shall be gathered together, and they shall appoint for themselves one head. And they shall go up from the land, for great shall be the day of Jezreel.

Hosea 1:10-11

The book of Hosea is a prophetic book, written by the prophet Hosea to the northern kingdom of Israel right before it fell to Assyria around 722 bc, during the reign of one of Israel’s worst kings, Jeraboam II. The book consists mostly of poetry and uses the life of Hosea as a metaphor for the relationship between God and his people. Just as Hosea’s wife was foretold to be unfaithful to him, so the Israelites had been unfaithful to their God.

In the latter days of the 8th century, the nation of Israel had been split into two kingdoms, Northern Israel or as referred in Hosea, Ephraim, and Judah. Hosea’s prophecy mostly concerns Ephraim. The northern kingdom was under constant fear of conquest and exile from Assyria (which would eventually come to pass). Political instability was a great motivator in their temptation to serve other gods and put their trust in surrounding political leaders such as Assyria and Egypt. Baalism was a largely accepted religion in which the Israelites worshiped Baal, the God of agriculture, conforming to practices that included sexual rituals, drunkenness, human sacrifice, mutilation, and incest.

The word of the Lord that came to Hosea, the son of Beeri, in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, and in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel. When the Lord first spoke through Hosea, the Lord said to Hosea, “Go, take to yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the Lord.” So he went and took Gomer, the daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son.

Hosea 1:1-3

In the first chapter it says that the word of the Lord came to Hosea, announcing that he is a recipient of a prophetic message. God commands him to take a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for God’s people had committed great whoredom and forsook the Lord. Hosea’s marriage serves as a metaphor for how God viewed Israel’s sins of idolatry. By chasing after other gods they were committing adultery in their hearts. After Hosea’s marriage to Gomer, the chapter says that she bears him a son and God tells him to name the child Jezreel.

And the Lord said to him, “Call his name Jezreel, for in just a little while I will punish the house of Jehu for the blood of Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel. And on that day I will break the bow of Israel in the Valley of Jezreel.”
She conceived again and bore a daughter. And the Lord said to him, “Call her name No Mercy, for I will no more have mercy on the house of Israel, to forgive them at all. But I will have mercy on the house of Judah, and I will save them by the Lord their God. I will not save them by bow or by sword or by war or by horses or by horsemen.”
When she had weaned No Mercy, she conceived and bore a son. And the Lord said, “Call his name Not My People, for you are not my people, and I am not your God.”

Hosea 1:4-9

 

Jezreel was the site of Jehu’s massacre of the house of Ahab and Ahaziah. God says that it is to be the place of Israel’s military defeat. The phrase “house of Jehu” is used as another name for house of Israel because during Jehu’s reign, though he had destroyed the house of the evil Ahab, Baalism had become prominent in Israel during this time. Jeraboam II was the fourth king of the dynasty begun by Jehu in 841 bc.  “The blood of Jezreel” refers to 1 kings 21 where Ahab, who promoted Baalism as the nationnal religion of Israel, permitted the murder of Naboth, a man loyal to the lord, in order to seize the vineyard in Jezreel.

When God promises to break the bow of Israel in v. 5 he is declaring his judgement of Israel’s sin of idolatry and the defeat of Baalism at the same place where Baal had seemingly triumphed over the Lord. Breaking a soldier’s bow was a sign of defeat.

The next two children conceived are not specifically said to be born of Hosea, alluding to the possibility that they are not of Hosea but were born in adultery. God tells Hosea to name the second child, a daughter, Lo-Ruhamah or No Mercy. The third child, a son, was to be called Lo-Ammi which means Not my People. The naming of Hosea’s children displayed the relationship God had with his people. Hosea’s marriage represented the sin that Israel committed against God. The children’s names represented God’s response to Israel’s sin. They were now stained by their sin and as a consequence God would be placing his judgement on them.

The book of Hosea presents us with a wonderful image of how sin has relational consequences. Israel is like a promiscuous wife and an illegitimate child. God had made covenant with Israel, bringing them into loving relationship him and knowing him. He brought them in as children who inherited the blessing of having their God as their Father. Israel not only broke the first of the Ten Commandments by rejecting him and pursuing false gods, but they broke their covenant with him.

In our sin we do the same. The relationship God had with Israel shows us the kind of relationship we all have with God outside of Jesus Christ. We are the promiscuous wife and the illegitimate children. We reject his heart for us and pursue ourselves and the world. But Jesus offers us access to a new covenant. One that cannot be broken the way the Israel’s did with theirs because it is accomplished by his blood and righteousness.

The promise of Hosea is not that we can learn from Israel’s mistakes and do better. The reality is that we are exactly like the Israelites, never trusting in God the way that we are supposed to and loving other things before and over him. This Old Testament book of prophecy points to the hope of Jesus. At the end of the chapter, God says, YET the number of children of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea and they shall be called Children of the living God. The two kingdoms will be united together under one head, they will go up from the land and great shall be the day of Jezreel.

Where sin was judged, there shall be redemption for God’s people. There is hope. Though Israel had sinned God says that it is still his plan to redeem them. How would he do this? In v. 7 God says that he will have mercy on the house of Judah and save them, but not by conventional military means. In other words, God would save them by allowing them to be destroyed by their enemy. After their conquest and exile they would finally turn back to God.

How does God redeem us from our sin and save us from the consequences of wrath and death? Through Jesus. The bow of sin was broken when Jesus took on the cross. At the cross the world’s sin was placed on Christ. At the same place where our sin was judged, we also find our redemption. Israel’s exile and punishment represent our spiritual exile in sin. Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection achieved what neither we nor the Israelites could ever do, live up to our covenant with God. His is the new covenant, the head under whom we can finally be united with God making us children of the living God. Jesus takes our feeble attempts at being what God wants us to be, faithful, fruitful, obedient and did it for us. When we fail we can look to him and know that we have no fear of death and wrath because he has redeemed us. We can follow him because we know that he is the path to true righteousness and reconciliation.

 

 

Growing in Faith, Obedience, and Love

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1 John 5

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

1 John 5:1-5

In the last chapter of 1 John 5, John concludes by bringing together all that he has spoken of in regards to love and obedience and emphasizes the core of all these things being faith. John has stressed that Christians are to walk in the light, deny the darkness of the world, being obedient to the life and standards that God has called us to. He highlights that the proof and fruit of obedience and right living is love, especially love of our brothers. We must be born of God, so hidden in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ that we, by consequence, become his children who naturally bear the loving image and character of the Father.

From the beginning of the chapter, John exposes the fact that there are forces opposing our revelation and potential for spiritual growth. False teachings that come from the world and the devil deceive us with subtle lies that say that enlightenment and our ability to live righteously can be produced by ourselves. They encourage to idolize the human heart and strength, drawing us not nearer but farther from truth and power of God. But John gives the true revelation that these things are only found and accomplished in God. Belief in Christ is the evidence of being born in God, which in turn stirs in our hearts for the love of God and our brothers. And what does this love look like? The obedience of God’s commandments, which John says are not burdensome. Without God, his commandments to love and be obedient are an impossibly daunting task. But the key element that he brings into the final closing of this letter is the faith that is required to accomplish the life of love and obedience God calls us to.

This is he who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree. If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son. 10 Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son. 11 And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.

1 John 5:6-12

Faith in Christ is our only means by which we can overcome the world; our flesh and the temptations of Satan. In his introduction, John used the testimony of the disciples to present the gospel. They proclaimed the Christ that they had witnessed with their own eyes, the eternal life that they now, out of the joy of their own salvation, share with John’s audience. Now, in his conclusion, John points to the greater testimony. It is not by man that faith comes but by the revelation of Jesus by the Spirit. The water- Jesus’ baptism that revealed his righteous standing with the Father, the blood- Jesus’ crucifixion that took on the punishment and wrath that the world deserved, and the Spirit- who works in the hearts of believers to convict of sin and reveal Christ’s saving love. If we are apt to believe the testimony of men- other believers- we should be far more willing to accept the greater testimony of God.

And what is the point of all of this? That we are to look at Jesus and believe in who God is and what he has done and thus live righteous lives, love God for loving us, and love others? This all sounds like great advice for times when I struggle with momentary spiritual growth. But there is a sobering and vital purpose for John’s letter. In his introduction he says that life was made manifest (in Jesus) and now they testify and proclaim it so that others can share in eternal life. Rich and fruitful discipleship and Christian living comes from the understanding of our eternal reality.

13 I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life. 14 And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.

1 John 5:13-15

In his conclusion he emphasizes the purpose of the letter: that they may know that they have eternal life. We have eternal life in Jesus Christ! John is not just saying that we should grow in faith, love, and obedience just for the sake of growth. He is presenting the gospel of Jesus, so that his audience can be freed from the burden of the world and self-righteousness, and the lies the enemy tells. God offers us eternal life not because he wants to bribe us into holy living but because he is a God of love. He loves us and sent his Son for us to live righteously in our place, dying for our sin and rising to grant us every good gift. We can go to God with confidence, knowing that Christ is our advocate and that he wants to give us righteousness as a gift. There is eternal significance in sin. There is eternal significance in spiritual Growth. The gift of Jesus Christ is not a temporal fix but an eternal solution. In our momentary lives, we can be eternally satisfied. And this makes all the difference in the value and hope of how John says God calls us to live. The promise of God is to know him and in knowing him we have eternal life because he is the eternal life.

Let us run to him who has made a way to know the true God of eternal life and leads us to grow in faith, obedience, and love in Jesus Christ. Let us flee from all that causes us to stray from the truth of the gospel.

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. He is the true God and eternal life. 21 Little children, keep yourselves from idols.

1 John 5:20-21

 

Love that Casts Out Fear

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1 John 4
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.

1 John 4:1-6

In 1 John 4, John provides clarity and a type of litmus test to help his readers fully grasp the realities involved in living a life in light and darkness/in Christ and in the world. The struggles of living a godly life are not merely temporal or material, they are spiritual. John makes the distinction between worldly and godly motivations by saying that we must test the spirits that drive our desires and actions. John has just finished his  statements in the previous chapter that focused on how loving our brother is the utmost consequence of Christ abiding in us and vice versa. Now, he says that there is more to consider when deciding on whether or not we are truly living lives that are pleasing to God. It is not only enough to love our brothers but we must also test the motivation and substance of  that love.

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.
13 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16 So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.

1 John 4:7-16

And here is the standard by which we must measure our works of love: Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit reveals to us Christ, who is the manifestation and source of true love. Any teaching or motivation outside of Jesus is false and does not come from God but from the world and is of the antichrist. Why does John feel the need to make this distinction? The original audience was heavily tempted by opposing teachings of the gospel, especially Gnosticism- a teaching focused on detachment from the material world. He stresses the importance of understanding that love is not merely an abstract concept but is tangibly found in Jesus Christ. Without this measure, we can be easily deceived because the lies that the world tells about love are enticing to our flesh. Worldly love is egocentric and moves us to rely on ourselves and our own understanding on how to love and live good lives. But we must use the measure of  truth as our standard. John encourages that we need not fear the world’s schemes and lies. We are able to overcome because we belong to the one who has overcome the world by true love. These measures do not make it harder for us to discern spirits, but easier because we will know that when a particular teaching is from the world it is because it will deny (by word and deed) the truth and revelation of who Jesus Christ is.

17 By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. 19 We love because he first loved us.

1John 4:17-19

The true motivation behind worldly love and righteous living is fear. Fear in terms of God’s wrath and punishment. Most religions, and sometimes even among Christians, often function by the motivation of fear. Churches must be wary of teaching that our motivation to satisfy God’s commands stems from our understanding of the consequences of sin and disobedience. We cannot simply behave a particular way in order to avoid suffering or punishment.

John says that love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgement. It is a daunting thing to go before the Holy God of the Universe. When we are faced with approaching God, our unholiness is made ever more clear. We are unrighteous and unable to approach God without fear of his rejection, punishment, and just wrath. John says that there is no fear in love. If God is love, then why are we often motivated to follow his commands because of fear? It is because we forget Christ. John makes mention in this chapter of Jesus’ humanity and his deity. It is important to remember that Jesus was both human and God. He understands our weakness and was the only person able to overcome it because he is God. God’s love was perfected with us because we are the recipients of it. The world will try to tell you that love is an emotional substance or abstract construct but God is love and he displayed that love for us on the cross. True love casts out fear because if we abide in Christ there is no fear of judgement. He took on wrath for us. He cleanses us from unrighteousness so that we can have confidence before God in judgement, knowing that Jesus is our savior and our advocate.

When Jesus resurrected from the grave, the power of the Holy Spirit was displayed as death was conquered. Wrath is satisfied and death conquered in Jesus and that revelation and power is provided to us by the Spirit. We don’t have to try to love or live godly lives by our own strength, which will prove futile eventually. We can follow God’s commands by the power and strength that he freely provides to us as a gift. The more that we know that Jesus is our Savior, we can rest assured that it is by his Spirit that we are able to live in the way that is pleasing to God. Our motivation is not fear but love. The more we know the true, sacrificial love of Jesus, the more we are able to love others. Not as a prerequisite to faith but as a consequence.

20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.

1 John 4:20-21

 

Love that Is Pleasing to the Father

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1 John 3

16 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 17 But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.

1 John 3:16-18

In 1 John chapter 3, John continues with his examples of righteous vs. worldly living. In the previous chapters he describes this dichotomy as walking in the light instead of the darkness or loving and abiding in God instead of loving and abiding in the world. In chapter 3, John  reveals to his audience that there is evidential fruit in being children of God, just as there are in the previous examples of walking in the light and abiding in God.

Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God. 10 By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.

1 John 3:7-10

John stresses that he does not want his readers to be deceived, for they were constantly bombarded with false doctrines such as Gnosticism (which teaches abstinence from the material world). John’s teaching on the avoidance of the world had nothing to do with using the world’s goods or being amongst worldly people. It was about sin. He did not want anyone to be confused that true Christianity meant simply adhering to a way of living. Being a child of God does not mean recognizing authority and therefore doing what you are told. It means that you bear the image of the Father. At creation, humanity was made in the image of God and at the fall, that image was tainted by sin. Christ came, bearing all that the Father was, being the true image of God and reconciled us as image bearers. In Christ, we no longer are the tainted image but the restored one.

Therefore, if we have been born of God and are his true children, we will look like God. Anyone who makes a practice of sinning cannot be born of God, who is without sin and unrighteousness. By process of elimination, you can see that it is evident that those who do not reflect the characteristics of God are children of the devil, who sinned from the beginning, becoming an enemy of God.

John points out at the end of verse 10 that the summarizing difference between children of God and those of the devil is whether or not they love their brother.

11 For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. 12 We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. 13 Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you. 14 We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. 15 Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.

1 John 3:11-15

The new commandment that Jesus gave did not replace the  old but completed it, that we are to love one another as Christ had loved us. In the Gospel of John, Jesus says that by living out the commandment to love one another, all will know that they are his disciples.  John brings up the story of Cain and Abel and says that Cain murdered his brother because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. Therefore, he tells his audience that you should not be surprised when the world hates you. The command is to love our brothers, not the world. Not the kind of love that is by word or talk but by truth and deed. Does this mean that we are called to love only those within the church and not outside? No, because the world is not a word used to describe the people or things outside of the church. He refers to our flesh, worldliness and characteristics outside of God and to the giving of ourselves to these things.

The pure evidence of being a child of God is how we love each other. John seems to assume that it is easier for the Christian to aim to please the world with their actions rather than God. Why? Because it appeals to our flesh. It is easier to be selfish, self-righteous, greedy, unloving, prideful, and unkind. And they work in us in ways that we often do not realize. The righteousness of God is harder to achieve. It calls for suffering and a standard of living that is impossible to attain or sustain on our own.

The reason why loving one another is a sign that we are children of God is because it directly reflects the kind of love God has for us. If we bear the fruit of that love, it is a sure sign that we abide in Christ. We confidently come before him knowing that we are saved and changed by his gracious, sacrificial love.

Even when our hearts condemn us to sin, we know that God is greater than our hearts. It is only through Jesus that we can love and live to please God. As our hearts are changed by his love, we are finally able to obey his commandments. Not only that, we desire the things that he desires for us. He is a good Father, who desires to give us good things. And this is evident in the fact that he not only gave us his Son, who laid his life down for our sake, but he also gave us his Spirit who reveals to us the love of Christ and by who’s power we may abide in him.

19 By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him;20 for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. 21 Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; 22 and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. 23 And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 24 Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God  in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.

1 John  3:19-24

Christ our Advocate

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1 John 2

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him:whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.

1 John  2:1-6

First John chapter 2 continues with John’s teaching on light and darkness. He begins by explaining even further that the reason he is writing these things is so that they (the church in context) may not sin. BUT if anyone does sin, they have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. John confirms that his discourse on the  idea that true Christians walk in the light and have no darkness in them is not a statement that means that Christians never sin. His whole point is that true Christians are to have a specific source for that light and any other source is a lie.

Jesus is a propitiation for our sin and not only for ours but for the sins of the whole world. The word propitiation here means, “a sacrifice that bears God’s wrath and turns it to favor.” Does this statement that John makes mean that Jesus’ death has saved the entire world? Obviously not. The main theme thus far has been that there are two camps: light and dark. Those in Christ and those who are not. Jesus’ death provides a way for all to be saved from the wrath of God. But John makes it clear that not everyone walks in the light of Christ. He goes on to give reasons for why he is writing this message to them. He addresses the little children, young men, and fathers, stressing that this message and reminder is universal. It is for everyone in all stages of spiritual maturity to hear.

15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. 17 And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.

1 John 2:15-17

John goes on to expound on light and darkness in practical terms: if Christ is the light, then the darkness is the world. He says that they should not love the world or the things in the world and explains that those things are the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life. This is not just a matter of staying away from worldly people or things. Our fleshly desires are not things we can separate from so easily. John is uncovering that the problem with light and darkness is not a matter of morality, it’s a matter of love and devotion. Our behavior and lifestyles are motivated by what we love and are devoted to. So, is the answer to try harder to love and devote our lives to God? No, even trying to love God on our own strength is just self-righteousness. The problem of loving God is not a matter of what we do but where we abide.

John brings up warnings against antichrists because they were people who denied that Jesus was the Christ, denying both the Son and the Father. There were threats of deception of people in the church causing some to stray from the gospel. John explains that those who fell prey to these false teachings did so because they didn’t abide in Christ. He stresses that in order to abide in Christ, the gospel of Christ must abide in them also.

Knowing Jesus is the key to abiding and therefore loving him. Jesus is our righteous advocate. He became the propitiation for our sins, taking on the wrath that we deserved. Being our advocate does not only mean that he took our punishment for us, he also achieved what we couldn’t through the resurrection. In Christ we are spared and also receive the promise of God for eternal life. John tells his audience that if what they heard from the beginning, this gospel message, abides in them, then they will also abide in Christ. Later in his letter, John states that we love because he first loved us. It is only the love of Christ that compels us to love him in return and through him we are able to walk in the manner he desires for us.

Letting the message of Christ our advocate abide in us draws us to abide in Christ. Our pride that hinders us from the light is broken and the fruit of righteous living is produced. We cannot stand confidently in the world or our own flesh. When our hearts are changed because of the God who loved us so much that he gave his Son for us at his own great expense, our lives are changed also. Because of this we are not afraid of God’s judgement because Christ stands in our place.

28 And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming. 29 If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him.

1 John 2:28-29

 

Why it is Difficult to Walk in the Light

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1 John 1

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.

1 John 1:5-7

In the book of 1 John, John writes a prologue which is similar to his other letters and his gospel. He talks about the revelation of Jesus, who was the word of life from the beginning and has now been made manifest to them. He states his purpose for his letter, to share the Gospel of Christ that the disciples had received. He goes on to say that this message proclaims that God is light; a central theme to his Gospel that says that Jesus is the true light coming into the world.

John is encouraging his audience to walk in the light of Christ. Christians were constantly bombarded with competing doctrines and lifestyles that drew them away from a life devoted to God. Walking in the light instead of darkness was not a metaphor for them to make good choices and stay away from the dark and tainted world. Rather, it was a metaphor for God’s truth and holiness. If God is light, then he exposes darkness and has the power to destroy it.

John makes a good argument for why we should embrace this gospel message. God is light, he is pure and good. Walking in the light means that we have  redeemed fellowship with God and each other, all of our sins being cleansed by his blood. Why, then do we so often fail to live out this message?

We have a constant struggle with our pride. John gives us the two ways that we can falsely walk in the light:

  1. “If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. “ This directly echoes James’ statement that faith without works is dead. Walking in God’s light means that we are not only in his truth but his holiness. We can say that we believe and know his Word, but we are not truly God’s children if we do not bear the character of God. We are not true followers of Christ if we are not becoming more like him by the power of the Spirit.
  2. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. The second way we falsely walk in the light is by covering our sin with our own, filthy, self-righteousness. Walking in the light means that we are not only in his holiness but his truth. We can try our best to live righteously and do good things, but if we cannot admit to our sin then we are not truly walking in the light of the gospel.

So, how do we walk in the light correctly? John says that we deceive ourselves. Like Adam and Eve, we often point the finger for our sin and disobedience. We look to the world and Satan to blame for sin. But the gospel doesn’t point to these things. The light doesn’t expose them as the culprit for sin. It exposes our own hearts. That is why it is so difficult to embrace the gospel. The first part of the message says that we are the darkness and we have no part in fellowship with God. It shows us how much we deserve to be exiled from his presence and how much we deserve his wrath. That is not a message that is easy to embrace. But thankfully, that is not the whole of the message.

There are two answers that John gives for the ways we can walk falsely in the light:

1. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.

2. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

God gave us Jesus to reveal our sin to us – show us the truth. Part of that truth is that we are sinners, but the other part is that he is our Savior. By his truth we can painfully see our unrighteousness. Through his blood, we are made holy. The truth hurts and it is painful to deal with sin, but God wants to reveal his Son to us so that we may have fellowship with him and each other.

Ultimately, it is our own pride that hinders us from the gospel. In order to truly walk in the light, the light must shine upon us, exposing every dark deed in our hearts. Only then can we see how much we need Jesus and call upon him to cleanse us so that we may join him in righteousness.

This was the heart cry of the disciples who had been changed by Jesus. They wanted everyone to be free from their sin and share in the life that they had found in Christ.

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.

1 John 1:1-4

In Any and Every Circumstance

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Philippians 4

10 I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. 11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

Philippians 4:10-13

In Philippians 4 Paul gives his final exhortations and encouragements to the Philippian church. At its core his letter has been a reminder for them to rejoice in the Lord in the midst of suffering and temptation. The Philippian church was well known for their spiritual success, which makes sense as to why Paul related their situations so often to his own. At the heart of the letter was a call for joy, humility, and commitment to the gospel. He constantly exhorts them to follow in his footsteps which was truly a call to follow Christ.

In the fourth segment of his letter Paul again uses himself as an example of what he is calling the Philippians to. He acknowledges that they have already showed spiritual maturity by acting like Timothy and others he mentioned in previous chapters in caring for other believers. They have been faithful in providing for Paul’s needs. But while he rejoices in God’s provision for him by way of the church, he notes that he was never truly in need. Paul has learned how to be content in whatever situation. He has learned the secret of being needy, that he can do all things through the strength of Jesus Christ.

He didn’t note this in his letter in order to reject needing support from other Christians, but to highlight the fact that the true source for all of our needs is Jesus. This also was not a statement that God gives provision and strength for our own agendas and plans. The central mission of the church is the sharing of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and Paul wants to stress that the core of who they are and all of their actions are motivated and powered by that mission. It is not simply for Paul’s sake that they give provisions, it is for the sake of the gospel. And it is not by their own will to provide but God has provided for Paul through them for his own will and purposes.

17 Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit. 18 I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.19 And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. 20 To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.

Philippians 4:17-20

Their gifts and supplication is part of their worship and offering to God. Paul not only rejoices because he has received something for them, but because their self-less giving is a sign of their spiritual maturity. Paul assures that God will provide for them just as he has provided for Paul- not by worldly riches but by his riches in glory in Jesus Christ.

How can we have the same faith for God’s provision?

Paul claims that he has learned the secret to contentment. Throughout  his letter to the Philippians he stresses a lifestyle of self-abandonment and reliance on Jesus Christ.  It has been a message of rejoicing amidst certain suffering, denying ourselves for the sake of others, and placing our identity, purpose, and hope in Jesus Christ. Paul used himself over and over again as an example of these things but only because he was following in the steps of Jesus. And just like Jesus he didn’t look to any other source for physical provision than God. He knew that the secret to being content in this life was knowing that, spiritually, we have been well provided for. When we focus our lives on the eternal things, God’s purposes and plans for the world and that the war over sin and death has been won through Jesus, we can have full confidence that he provides for everything that we need. In any and every circumstances we can have faith because the God of peace is with us. He has not forsaken us and we have all we need in Him.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:4-7

 

 

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Our Confidence in Christ

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Philippians 3

If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee;as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law,blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Philippians 3:4b-11

In Philippians chapter 3, Paul calls for the church to rejoice in the Lord. He continues on by warning them of the Judaizers (Jews that taught that Christians had to adhere to Jewish law in order to be saved) that were teaching them that they had to be circumcised. Paul argues that the church is the circumcision who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh. Why is this such an important point to be made by Paul? He elaborates by talking about his own experience of being the ‘perfect’ Jew, a Hebrew of Hebrews. He knows what it means to have confidence in his own worldly gain and in light of the gospel everything he was, was now counted as a loss. This becomes more than a mere point being made about laws and rules but about identity, purpose, and hope.

In the world, who we are is so heavily defined by what we can accomplish. Paul was a prime example of worldly success, having been a Pharisee. He was a keeper of the law and religion and a respected citizen. He was defined by his own righteousness. But true righteousness only comes through faith in Christ by the Spirit. Anything outside of Jesus Christ was meaningless. The success, the honor, the wealth, was all temporal but in Christ there was so much to be gained eternally. What is to be gained in Christ, Paul stresses, is simply knowing him. He has gained Christ himself and in gaining Christ, he has been found in Him. His identity is known in Jesus.

Receiving this new identity in Christ means sharing in everything that Jesus had achieved for us; his righteousness, inheritance, the power of his resurrection, even his suffering and death. All these things were considered the ultimate gain to Paul. This new identity also meant new purpose: that we would be more like Christ. His identity also becomes our purpose.

Paul makes it a point to say that he is not perfect in his calling to attain the things of Christ, but he presses on because Christ has made him his own. His new purpose that sprouts from his new identity ultimately gives him hope. And all these things are grounded in Jesus Christ.

When we put our confidence in Christ, instead of our own flesh or the world, we have a new identity, secured in Jesus Christ. We are made righteous, children of God. This new identity also gives our lives new meaning and purpose. We are to strive in the things of God through the power of the Holy Spirit. God’s plan for our lives are not to be seen through the world’s temporal lens but hold significant, eternal value. Our purpose in Christ grants us hope. There is meaning for every struggle. There is a prize at the end of the race. Our hope is not only in Jesus, it is Jesus. He is the only one we can put our confidence and hope in.

20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.

Philippians 3:20-4:1

Serve Others Like Christ

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Philippians 2

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:1-11

In Philippians chapter 2 Paul calls the Philippian church  to serve one another in humility. This selfless service comes from their one-mindless in Christ through the Spirit. In Christ they have the ability to serve like Christ, who though being God, became human  and humbled himself to the cross for our sake. In his humility, he was exalted so that we could live out the same humility and obedience through him, also being exalted in his name.

At first glance, this passage could simply reveal to us an example of humility. In our own understanding we can take this and say that service means giving all that we have and obeying those who ask anything of us, even to the point of death.

Even Paul tells the Philipppians later in the chapter that he would be glad to be poured out like a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of their faith. He uses Timothy, whom he says is genuinely concerned for their welfare like no one else, and Epaphroditus, who nearly died for the work in Christ on the behalf of Paul.

So, are we simply to serve others by giving our all to the point of death? 

I think that in order to understand this call to serve we need to look at how Jesus serves and how Paul and the others he mentioned serve in light of their devotion to Christ. How did Jesus serve not only the world, but us as individuals? The greatest gift we could ever receive is that of Christ and the greatest service that has ever been done is Jesus’ work on the cross for us. These we have received by means of the gospel through the Holy Spirit. If we read carefully, Paul is not saying to serve others just because Jesus served to the point of death. He’s saying that what Christ did is the substance of our service. Christ’s death wasn’t an attribute of his service, it was his service. Every miracle he performed and blessing he bestowed served as a foreshadow of his ultimate future service and gift. So, when Paul serves to the point of death, he means that he serves the gospel to the point of death.

22 But you know Timothy’s proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel.

Philippians 2:22

Even when he mentions Timothy’s service he says that he has served with him in the gospel.

As we think of how we are to serve others we have to look to Christ’s example. We are not humbling ourselves to each other but humbling ourselves to God who gives us the power to count others more significant than ourselves. That means that we think about the interests of others before our own. What is the best interest of others? To know Christ. The Bible stresses that we use our physical means, if we are able, to give to the poor and needy. But ultimately, the greatest gift you can give and the greatest service you can perform is sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ.

This is how we can accomplish Paul’s call to the Philippians today to shine as lights in the world. We are lights that do not point to ourselves or shine on our own works of service. But we ourselves are being shined on by the light of Christ because we are holding fast to the word of life. We are pointing to Jesus who has served the gospel to us through his own life, death on the cross, and resurrection.

 

 

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