Sermon on 1 John 2: 15 – 29 IREF-Delft, 23 March 2014 (Second part) Niek Tramper
Fight the good fight.
The apostle John has encouraged us by showing that there are different seasons in Christian life. He addresses children, young people and fathers/mothers in faith. It can be spring, but also winter during our spiritual journey and we should know how the Lord uses the seasons to make us more mature in Christ and to help us bear more fruit. We always need to learn. Now he adds more about one of the most important aspects of our walk with Christ: the spiritual battle. On many places in Scripture you will find the metaphor of a battle or being a soldier for persevering in Christian faith. There are two kinds of battle fields: the one dealing with the world and the other dealing with the church.
Love not the world (vs. 15 – 17)
The world in John’s letters
It is possible in Christian life tat we give up learning: when we become disinterested or lukewarm. When loving the world takes over the love of God. Johns started with encouragements. He reminded us to what God has given us through faith, how we stay strong in the Lord. Now he wants to prepare us for battle. He gives a warning. ‘Do not love the world’.
What does he mean when he says: ‘world’? In original Greek you read: kosmos, what means: jewellery. Now the world is not simply God’s ‘kosmos’ (the beauty of creation) but also what men added to that nature in using it and exploiting it for their own sustenance, for work, art, science and social needs, in short: by shaping their cultural history. In every culture there are signs of the beauty and goodness of God. Christians should acknowledge that, highlight these positive signs and cooperate with people of other faith to promote them. But in every culture there are also clear signs that oppose Gods goodness and frustrate His plans with this world. We have to discern what is reflecting God’s goodness and truth in our culture and what not.
John cannot mean the world as God created it, because He saw that it was good. He must mean the world as it has come under the dominion of evil (cf. 1 John 5: 19). That’s clear from the following verses because he speaks about the ‘cravings of sinful man’, ‘the lust of eyes’ and ‘the boasting of what he has and does’. When Johns wants to describe the reality of the world around, he emphasizes the world as it falls short of the glory and beauty of God. It is the world in its fallen and sinful state, subjected to the influence of Satan and evil thinking.
A ‘worldy’ worldview
Verse 16 (literary: ‘the lust of flesh, the lust of eyes, the pride of life’) indicates a worldview that ignores the living God and doesn’t want Him to be the source of life. ‘Lust’ is a dominant affection or desire, that may lead to the abuse of something which is right or legitimate in itself. The apostle Paul says in 1 Cor. 7 (vs. 31): ‘We should use the world, not abuse it’. We shouldn’t use it in the way that finally we are governed or controlled by it. For example ‘lust of flesh’ refers to a possessive sensuality when we only live for food, or for sex or for work. ‘Lust of eyes’: what is appealing to us in an unhealthy way. Advertisements in Western culture usually show what appeal most to human desires. It can be all kinds of possessions or a job or a career. If you work hard to be known as an influential person, the lust of your eyes is ‘immortal fame’. Very likely that it will betray you sooner or later!
The ‘pride of life’ means to boast on something that gives you meaning or importance such as: birth, family, company, wealth, fame, nation, and much more. People secretly or openly show an attitude of feeling superior over other people or people groups. It can affect the Christian church as well when it begins to acknowledge the position and honour of people rather than the place and honour of God. The living God is jealous of his honour. When we worship something or somebody else next to Him, we make it a god. We expect salvation from it. In our thinking or feeling it begins to replace the God of life. This is what the bible calls idolatry.
Let me just mention the popular therapy of ‘mindfulness’. Mindfulness as such is a good attitude, like calmness, concentration and humility. Many connect these values with the teaching of Buddhism. Actually there is a strong influence in the West from Buddhist thinking manifesting itself in psychological therapies. People sometimes expect a lot from these therapies. They expect nothing less than salvation from them, but they don’t have in mind that they become hopelessly self-centred. They go astray.
Personal exhortation to fight in the right way
Dear brothers and sisters, let us search our heart and life, and pray God to show us the corners of our desire, lust and pride, whether we begin to feed idols. Let us search in every aspect of this world that is important for us, whether we are so attached to it, that it should bring us salvation and we have forgotten the apostolic word that this world and its shape fades away.
Let us realize and pray our God that he really fixes it in our hearts that whoever does the will of God will stay forever. God’s will is the ‘chief end of man’. The Westminster Catechism beautifully states it like this: to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.
Be aware of the dangers from inside (vs. 18 – 29).
The last hour
In this part John warns the church to be watchful against the dangers from the inside. He says: ’it is the last hour’. The last hour reminds the Christians about the ‘last days’, the days before the Lord comes back. It is nearly twelve hours, the hour of the return of the king. Jesus has said that in the last days many false prophets will appear. John says that this moment has arrived already. They present themselves as teachers of the church, they come from within the church, but they have separated from it and showed that they don’t love the church. So the apostle’s conclusion is that they didn’t belong to the church at all (vs. 18 and 19).
Who are they? Johns calls them ‘antichrists’. It means that they belong to a movement (or certain movements) where the leaders take a more important position comparing to Christ. They put themselves in the place of the Messiah. Their followers should obey them first before they obey Jesus. By doing this, they oppose Christ. They say that they are representatives of Him, but actually they put themselves in the front. They lack a humble and listening attitude. They deny Christ because they don’t want to submit themselves to Him. John refers to so called Gnostic teachers, who claimed a deep insight in the ‘Logos’. They argued that Christ is an ‘eternal principle’ manifest in the universe and in people. That He is the little fire in us that we should feed and let its sanctifying work do in us. They said that this ‘high’ Christ never could be the same as the ’low’ Jesus of Nazareth. The Gnostics formed their own ‘holy clubs’ and isolated them from the church.
Probably it doesn’t sound very unfamiliar to us. If you know a little bit about New Age thinking and anthroposophy, you might find the same kind of thinking. Gnosticism is not dead, although it changed its clothes. Last century anthroposophy (based on the teaching of a German, Rudolph Steiner, who mixed the Gospel with a lot of his own thoughts) became popular, also among Christians. Some time ago I heard a girl who was educated in the Christian church saying what these Gnostic say: ‘Christ is glorious eternal principle that fills both my life and the universe.’ She explained that she got completely tired of the ‘Sunday school type of Jesus’ and she became enthusiastic about the Gnostic Christ as a young student.
Discerning false teachers
We may say that ‘the last hour’ is an extended hour. Today we are still in the last hour, even after nearly two thousand years…(in God’s eyes it is a couple of days – 2 Peter 3: 8-10). Many heretic teachers and prophets go around both on the Internet and in the cities and streets on every continent. How do we recognize them?
* They find themselves more important than Christ
* They replace and adjust the apostolic word. In my opinion Mohammed, Joseph Smith and Rudolph Steiner are good examples of it.
* They separate from the church, making their own groups, orgnaizing their own meetings.
* They claim a special spiritual insight, a ‘higher’ knowledge.
* They focus on specialist topics that usually is neglected in the church, like the return of Christ, the Millennium, final judgement, the Logos as mediator of creation, the place of Israel etc.
How can you be sure about what is wrong and right?
How do I know that I am on the right track? How can we be so sure that they are wrong and that we are right? Never we can say that we are better people. A Christian may not consider him/herself a better person than somebody else. We are sinners and we all need God’s grace. But the question is whether or not we serve the truth. John indicates that there is a great sign of being in the truth: the anointment of the Holy One. (vs. 21 and 27). John speaks here about the special assurance given by the Holy Spirit. In the Old Testament times prophets, priests and kings were anointed when they started their office. In the New Testament the children of God are called anointed ones. They are prophets, priests and kings because of Christ who is the true Prophet, the only Priest and the eternal King. It is the Spirit of the holy One, Christ Himself, who teaches us abut the truth. That’s why Johns says: ‘continue in Him, stay in Him and in His Word’ (vs. 29). If you are in Christ, you also share the anointing of Him, and the Spirit of Christ will reveal the truth to you. (Compare 1 Cor. 2:14, 15: ‘the man without the Spirit of God doesn’t understand the things of God.’). It is not a sort of inner light, it is the Spirit who connects us with Christ and with His word. A second prove that we are following the truth is: that we do what is right (just as Christ was righteous). So the life of Christ is lived out in us in being workers of righteousness, serving the brothers and the sisters and seeking the good for everybody.
Dear brothers/sisters the leads us to two final exhortations from this passage:
- Stay in Christ and stay in his Word. Let not one day pass without giving yourself to Christ and his Word. He will give you the understanding and discernment through his Spirit that you need in the sea of religions, sects and streams of today.
- Stay close to the church that is his body, because in this body, the fellowship of saints, He wants to reveal his truth and his love. That is what we need to be able to live and that is what we need to be able to die.
May the Lord help us all from day to day and let his Name be glorified in us. Amen.