Tuesday, August 9, 2011

1st John: Guard the Goal

sermon notes from the Vineyard Church of Milan 08/07/2011

3By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. 4 The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; 5 but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: 6 the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.

7Beloved, I am not writing a new commandment to you, but an old commandment which you have had from the beginning; the old commandment is the word which you have heard. 8 On the other hand, I am writing a new commandment to you, which is true in Him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true Light is already shining. 9 The one who says he is in the Light and yet hates his brother is in the darkness until now. 10 The one who loves his brother abides in the Light and there is no cause for stumbling in him. 11But the one who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes.

1 John 2:1-11 NASB

We will spend a couple of weeks in this passage, just getting our feet wet today.

Chose this translation (New American Standard Bible) over the one in your seats because it’s a little more word for word faithful to the original Greek in which these words were first written, and with respect to one key word in particular, preserves an important nuance. The word that the NASB keeps that I want to highlight today is “keep.” It shows up 3 times in the first paragraph, always connected to Jesus’ commandments.

“Keep” comes from the Greek word “tereo” [tay-reh-o]. It means to attend to carefully, to take care of, to guard.

Like in the movies when someone finally catches someone important, and they give someone a gun and say, keep an eye on him. Don’t let him escape. And you know the plot is going to turn on whether or not this person with the gun is going to be able to stay vigilant and guard them effectively or not. Will they get distracted? Fall asleep? Succumb to the charms of the prisoner?

Or like when the baby gets dropped off with the bachelor by the desperate single mom on the run, with instructions to take care of the baby. And you know the plot is going to hinge on how carefully this bachelor can attend to this baby, how well he can take care of it. Will he know what do when she cries? Will he know how to change the diaper, what kind of food to give it, how to talk to it, get it to sleep, on and on and on.

Or maybe like a goalie.

[volunteer to guard the aisle throughout the sermon; don’t let anything get past!...]

This idea of keeping, of attending to carefully, of taking care of, of guarding Jesus’ commandments is central to what the author of 1st John wants this outpost of Jesus’ followers to do. If you want to know God, if you want to be filled with truth, if you want his love to be made perfect in you, if you want to be deeply connected to Jesus like a branch is to a vine, you’ve got to tereo / keep / guard his commandments.

So hold that thought, and we’ll come back to it a little later.

This is the kind of passage that, when you first read it, makes you want to say, “Yes!” followed by, “Um, what exactly is that all about?”

Ever have a conversation with someone where you felt like you were with them all the way along, nodding your head in agreement, etc. and then you get to the end and you say, wait a minute, what exactly were you talking about this whole time?

[Ronni and the Collie…]

This passage is a little like that. It doesn’t get specific until verse 9, does it?

Maybe we hear verse 3, and we nod because we insert our own understanding of commandments that indicate that we know Jesus, an understanding that makes the best sense to us.

And same with verse 4. We know what makes people liars, empty of truth.

And in verse 5 we’ve got a pretty good idea of what word we are supposed to keep to demonstrate that God’s love is perfected in us.

And in verse 6 we’ve got ideas about how we are supposed to walk like Jesus’ walked.

But then in verses 7 & 8, things get a little muddy and our minds are scrambling to keep up, to keep it all coherent. Not new, old? Not old, new? Huh?

And then, all of sudden, the author of 1st John seems to change gears, throws a wrench in the works. You say you’re in the light, but you hate your brother? You’re really in darkness. But love your brother, and you are living in Light and walking tall. Seriously, if you hate your brother, you are blind and confused.

It makes us a do a double take on everything we read before. Which commandments were you talking about at the beginning? Did they have something to do with love and hate? What word was I supposed to keep? What manner of walking is required of me to abide in God? What command is not new but very old and new at the same time, true in Jesus and true in us?

It would almost be helpful to be a brand new Christian reading the bible for the first time. Because then you’d be asking these questions immediately, making no assumptions, and you’d get to verses 9-11 and recognize, aha! verses 9-11 give you the interpretive key to everything that comes before.

Aha! The author is saying that loving and not hating is related to true knowledge of God. That hating and not loving goes against what it means be intimate with truth. That loving and not hating is what happens when God’s love is made complete in someone. That to be connected to Jesus is to be loving people the way Jesus loved people. That loving and not hating isn’t a new idea; it’s something God’s been saying for a long, long time – from the beginning, really, in a thousand different ways. But it’s also something that seems completely fresh and new because of what we can now see clearly in and through Jesus, and that the world can see in and through us in a brand new way.

Remember, 1st John is written to a community of Jesus’ followers shaped by the account of the life and ministry of Jesus contained in the gospel of John, and 1st John serves as a commentary on that gospel.

Look at John’s gospel, chapter 13. This is what Jesus says at the last supper before he is arrested and taken away to be crucified. Shortly after he has washed the disciples’ feet for them.

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.

John 13:34

And then, later that same night:

9“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14You are my friends if you do what I command. 15I no longer call you servants, because servants do not know their master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17This is my command: Love each other.

John 15:9-17

Now 1st John 2 begins to come together, doesn’t it?

By this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments to love each other. 3 By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments to love one another. 4 The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments to love one another as he has loved us, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; 5 but whoever keeps His word to love each other, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: 6 the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to wash others’ dirty feet and lay down his life for his friends in the same manner as Jesus washed our dirty feet and laid down his life for us.

I can anticipate one common objection to this reading of the text.

And that is that it is just a little too vague, and therefore a little too easy. After all, what does it really mean to love one another? Couldn’t people just say, chill man, I love everybody. It’s all good. I’ll just live and let love. Love, love, love everywhere. Cool. I mean, after all, the Dude abides, right?

In response to that objection, allow me to quote my dad.

“Love is the most ruthlessly demanding thing.”

If we think loving one another is too vague, and potentially the easy way out, it’s either because we misunderstand love, or because we haven’t thought enough about the ruthless demands of love.

Look at what love demanded of Jesus. Letting go of his seat on the throne of heaven. Inhabiting skin and bones. Having parents. Fickle, thick-headed, headstrong, disloyal friends. Persecution. Death.

Ask Mother Teresa about the demands of love. Ask the parent of a child with a disability. Heck, ask the parent of a child in travel sports. Ask the child of a parent with a degenerative illness. Heck, ask the child of a parent with a new computer or trying to use facebook for the first time. Ask a missionary living far from home. Ask a married couple trying to make things work in the aftermath of alcoholism or infidelity or the death of child. Ask anyone trying to forgive someone who has hurt them deeply.

You set out on the way of love, and love will demand everything of you in the end. Your heart, your mind, your soul, and your strength.


Demands trusting the good news.

Demands not embracing anger.

Demands forgiveness.

Demands generosity.

Demands a willingness to endure pain, discomfort.

Demands waiting and patience.

Demands growth.

Demands ever increasing definition of “us” or “family.”

Demands depending on God for strength and help.

Demands listening to the Holy Spirit for what now and how.

Demands refraining from judgment.

Demands our time,

our money,

our energies,

the whole of our lives.

It’s not so much about perfect fidelity; it’s about carefully attending / guarding the command to love one another. To love your neighbor as yourself. To love your enemy.

Not letting the command slip away, or be forgotten, or silenced, or ignored, or lost in the shuffle of other important things.

Looking at the command, always keeping it in view, living with it as a daily companion. Always listening to it, letting it speak to you, interrupt you. Making your life revolve around it.

[ask a few questions of the “goalie” about his/her experience guarding the aisle…]

Guarding Jesus’ command to love one another allows it to continue making demands on you.

Because otherwise, we will abandon it and substitute other things for it. Things that are less demanding. Like a religion of rules, for example. Do this and this and this and this, and as long as you do those things and not these things, you’re good and can go about your life.

But if we guard Jesus’ command to love one another, we will know God. Our lives will tell fewer and fewer lies about who God is and who we are, and we will become true image bearers again, as Jesus is. The truth will be in us. The love of God will be made complete. We will abide in the vine. We will be a Vineyard church.

Practical Tips:

1. Invite Love’s demands. Invite love to make a demand on you this week. Every morning, a simple prayer. Jesus, I want to know what love demands of me today. Every night, a simple reflection. What demand did love put in front of me today?

2. Make this passage specific. Read this passage once a day, substituting specific people in the appropriate places, starting with those closest to you on day one, and further out each day. For example, on Monday: “By this we know we have come to know Jesus, by guarding his commands to love Ronni and Colin and Elle and Micah. The one who says, I have come to know Jesus, but does not guard his commands to love Ronni and Colin and Elle and Micah is a liar, and the truth is not in him….” Then Tuesday, maybe Mom and Dad and Maja and Amy and Judy and Grace. Then Wednesday maybe my friends. Then maybe others in the church. Then maybe other pastors or colleagues. Then maybe my neighbors. And so on. Until I’ve included the people in Texas, and China, and Russia, and Iraq, and Ghana, and Turkey, and Jordan, and Columbus, Ohio.

3. Confess a breach. This command is under constant attack in our lives, from every angle and with every weapon. If we aren’t vigilant in guarding the Lord’s command to love one another (and sometimes, even when we are but our best efforts are good enough), our hearts will grow cold towards certain people, or maybe even hot with hate, and we will cease to listen to the demands of love toward them. They may be close (a friend, a spouse, a child, a parent) or more distant (a co-worker, a boss, an old acquaintance, someone else in the church who you just don’t care for, for one reason or another, an enemy, certain kinds of strangers – democrats, republicans, rich people, poor people, gays, teenagers, foreign car drivers, buckeye fans). Simply name them out loud before God (and if you’re brave enough, a trusted friend) and recite this passage, but putting that person’s name in the appropriate places: “By this we know we have come to know Jesus, by guarding his commands to love Bob. The one who says, I have come to know Jesus, but does not guard his commands to love Bob is a liar, and the truth is not in him….”

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