1 John 2: 12 – 14 Sermon in IREF-Delft, 23 March 2014 (First part) Niek Tramper
Seasons in Christian Life: Discerning seasons in your (Christian) life
Dear brothers and sisters,
Do you agree that we go through different stages or ‘seasons’ after we have become a Christian? For some of you this might sound familiar, but for others it might bring questions, because you ask: what does it mean to become a Christian? Maybe you don’t consider yourself a Christian and you are still puzzled about Christian faith. Anyhow thanks for being here and for listening to the explanation of the Word of God and I hope and pray that you all benefit from it, in whatever position you are now. Please don’t hesitate to come with your questions after the service,
The apostle John is very concerned about the church that he had to leave because he was expelled from the region by the Roman authorities and banished toward the island of Patmos. This church is probably the one in Ephesus that he served for a long period. Now he writes them as a father. Indeed he was their spiritual father and in this letter you sense his thoughts and his heart: ‘I write to you dear children…’
Support for young Christians
Now there is a special need for helping young Christians to understand ‘seasons’ in their life. Let me illustrate this shortly from my own life. In the second your of my university study the experience of God’s forgiveness and the work of Jesus in his suffering and death made a deep impression on me and changed my life in a way that I could not imagine before that time. I also experienced a new and unexpected love for the people around me, whether they were Christians or not. It was as if a new stream of life began to flow in my life. But after half a year doubts came. Sometimes there was a seduction to fall back to old egoistic patterns, sometimes a feeling of loneliness and depression tried to capture me. I experienced all this as attacks from Satan and from my ‘old self’ that seemingly was not dead completely. With the help of more mature Christians I had to discover the nature of the ‘good fight’ (Ephesians 6), and to learn to put on the full armour of God. Later during my study time I discovered a big gap between my daily walk with Christ and doing my study (in biology). Actually my faith and my research work were two separate worlds. With the help of others I began to discover that Christ also wanted to be Lord in my field of study. This gave me courage to face questions of faith and science and to learn that a committed Christian can be an honest scientific researcher. Or say it more positive: that Christian faith opens your eyes for reality and encourages you to be a better and more enthusiastic researcher.
So in Christian life you know there is sometimes a spring season with new life, enthusiasm in the Lord, there is also fall season with trials and temptations, there can be a wintertime of doubt and depression, like the prophet Elijah experienced after he as threatened by the pagan queen Isebel. There can be summer of maturity, seeing the fruits of Christ’s lordship in several aspects of your life. That is what He wants: to prepare us for his Lordship in all aspects of our life. Or to say it with the metaphor of the house: that He has been given access to every room in our ‘life-house’, not only the big room with the nice furniture, but also in the garret of our thinking and in the basement where our emotions are located.
Children, young people and fathers (or mothers) in faith
Now we can read verses 12 – 14 as two parallel passages: the one from verse 12 – 13b and the other from verse 13 c – 14:
‘ I write you, children’ (12) ‘ I write you, children’ (13c)
your sins are forgiven you have known the Father
‘I write you, fathers’ (13a) ‘I write you, fathers’ (14a)
you have known him who is you have known him who is
from the beginning from the beginning
‘I write to you, young men’ (13b) ‘I write to you, young men’ (14b)
you have overcome the evil one you are strong and the word of God
lives in you, and you have overcome the evil one
The apostle is very sensitive and pastoral and addresses the believers in the different stages of their journey with God. And over the shoulders of the early church believers, he looks at us here and encourages us:
* If you are a ‘seeker’,
or if you just started to walk with the Lord. It is so important that you believe and that you know that your sins are forgiven, that you once ‘missed the mark that God put for you life’, but that He is your goal and you joy. That you know why Jesus had to suffer and to die on the cross, that the cross is a sign of life for you? That you also may know God as a Father, not some distant God up there, but a Father who cares for you and will guide you to His eternal destination. ‘ All who have come in faith to him, he gave them the right to become children of God.’
* If you are ‘on the way’ as a Christian,
but you are still young in faith. You consider yourself a teenager or a young adult in faith. Recognize the attacks of Satan! In this period in particular he wants to discourage you and throw a lot of doubts in your mind. He has several arrows on his bow. He can use:
1. Depression, loneliness and all kinds of frustrating experiences in your study and in your family. He likes you to bring on a place where you feel yourself as a victim of others of the circumstances etc. I am nearly sure that many of us experience such difficulties regularly.
2. Difficulties in relationships, stirring up in us all kinds of emotions so that a love affair starts to capture us instead of making us free to love somebody else. He also might use jealousy: this can be a very strong and also very destructive emotion.
3. He can bother us with all kind of questions about Gods power and goodness. If science has searched through the depths of the cell and of the atoms and through the vastness of the universe, how can you continue to believe in a God who created this all? If He is almighty why He allows so much suffering in his creation? Etc.
4. One of his best strategies is that he might occupy you with al lot of concerns for life, to realize your ambitions, to let you offer everything for your career etc.
You may knew the rather famous book of the English author and literature professor C.S. Lewis, called ‘The Screwtape Letters’. It is fantastic description, a sort of allegory about what is going on in the mind of the devil, how the officers of the devils’ army can do their work at best.
But what the apostle says is very encouraging: you have overcome the Evil One, you are strong, the Word of God lives in you. That is the secret of strength. You hide in the Word, you find your shelter in it and it keeps your heart and minds concentrated on the truth. Or say it the other way round. When the Word abides in you: it keeps you away from idolatry (i.e. making something or somebody in your life more important than God.) Young Christians, you can withstand the Evil One by feeding yourself with the daily bread of God’s Word. By reading it attentively and praying over it to hear your Master’s voice!
* If you may consider yourself as a father (or mother) in faith.
You already have gone through the hardships of Christian life, but like Abraham or like Moses, you have learned to trust the Lord on your long journey with Him. The apostle encourages you: ‘Keep your thankfulness that you have learned to know Him who is from the beginning. You may know Him as the Source of all life. You know Jesus not only as your Saviour, but also as the Word through which everything came into existence, as the Head of everything in the universe (Col. 1: 15-17). That He sustains the work of his hands, and that there is no little corner in the universe of which the Lord doesn’t say: ‘It is mine’.
The hardships of becoming mature and the help of Christ
Dear brothers and sisters, we all need to learn in order to grow. And we cannot grow if we don’t recognize the stages in life with their potential, if we don’t go through the hardships of it. Abraham needed to learn it on his long way to Canaan, Moses spent two times forty years in the desert and he needed to learn a lot of patience. The apostle Paul seemed to have been in the desert 13 years -after his conversion- before he started his missionary ministry. So when you are in a difficult period, a desert period, do not give up, do not despond. The Lord is preparing you for a new stage in life. He wants you to bear more fruit and he uses the sun of his affirmation: you are a child adopted because of Christ, his Son, and He will never abandon you. He also uses the knife of pruning in wintertime, to cut off from you what cannot bring fruit, to take out of your hands what you cannot keep, in order to find what you cannot loose.
And why shouldn’t you give up? Because we a have great ‘pacesetter’, Jesus Christ (Hebr. 12: 1-3). He endured the cross, scorning its shame because of the joy set before Him. His life went through a very difficult and seemingly fruitless period, as He became the least of all people, less then a servant. He suffered on the cross and was abandoned by everybody. He even cried to his Father ‘why have you forsaken Me?’ But He knew the joy that was set for Him, to go through all the suffering and pain and to appear in the glory of his Father. Not with empty hands but with those whom He has rescued from sin and lostness. That was his joy! He is a beautiful example. We should follow Him on the track as the author of the Hebrews letter says (Hebr. 12:1). But He is much more than that. He is the author and perfector of our faith. By his work we may be sure that we will arrive. He will reach our goal because He paid the price. He opened the way. So let us run with perseverance and hope the race marked out for us. For the glory of Jesus our Lord, Amen.