Contrasts

Title: Contrasts

Text: 1 John 2:7-11

Time: August 14th, 2011

 

At this point the Apostle John is an old man. He’s one of the original disciples selected by Jesus to carry the gospel to the ends of the earth, but he’s probably the only disciple of the original twelve left. The two most famous Christian leaders, Peter and Paul, are also probably gone by now, and John himself is nearing the end of his life. It’s probably around the end of the 1st Century, maybe 85 A.D. or so, that John is writing. He’s about all that’s left of the original leaders of the Christian church. So naturally, he’s highly esteemed among all Christians, everywhere. His advanced age also gives him added authority. He’s trying to impart his knowledge and wisdom about the Christian faith to others who will carry on now and after he’s gone. So he’s very direct, very forceful and very clear about what he says. In the Gospel of John, he’s more subtle and theological. He spends more time in that Gospel developing spiritual themes and ideas. In the Book of Revelation, John communicates grand, sweeping ideas based on visions he’s received from the Lord. In his letters, like the one we are examining today, he writes in short, practical words of wisdom, given for practical purposes. He changes topics quickly, or whenever he feels it’s important to cover something that comes to mind. That’s why I’m spending time on each different topic that comes up – because I want to hear and understand and communicate the wisdom of this beloved apostle to all of us here and now in the modern world. God is speaking through the Apostle John. Will we hear his message and obey it? Today’s message that John communicates is one of contrasts – between the old and the new, between darkness and light, between hate and love. We’ve already dealt with a number of different and difficult topics in just the past few weeks, things like sin and salvation, themes that really requires a lot more explanation. But we’re doing our best to keep up with John the Apostle as he leads us along a path that he feels is necessary for our spiritual health. One of the benefits of teaching the Bible verse-by-verse is that it leads us rather than us leading it. In other words, if we do the typical topical method of teaching, it is we who select the topic and we who select the verses that relate to our topic, and then we teach what we want to hear from verses we have selected. But when we learn verse-by-verse, it’s really God who selects the topic from the verse that comes up next in line. In this way we learn things we don’t already know from topics we haven’t selected for ourselves. We trust that God is leading us because we aren’t leading ourselves in whatever topics we uncover as we go through the Bible. So with that in mind, let’s dig into this next verse and see what God is trying to say to us today. 1 John 2:7-11, “Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning. This old command is the message you have heard. Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining. Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him.”

 

First, there’s the old and the new. 1 John 2:7-8, “Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning. This old command is the message you have heard. Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining.” What is this old and new command of which John is speaking? It is none other than the command to love. He says that he’s not teaching anything new to Christians about their need to love – love God and love their fellow man. This is true. Jesus taught his disciples to love. In fact, John the Apostle himself records in his Gospel the words of Jesus teaching about love. For example, there’s John 15:12, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” Love is one of the main themes of the Gospel of John. But the command to love is older than the New Testament; it’s found in the Old Testament as well. Leviticus 19:18 says, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” So the theme of love is an old command found in the Old Testament and the New Testament. If John is writing towards the end of his life in the year A.D. 85, then Christians have been hearing the message of the love of God and the love of man for many years and a few generations as well. But the Apostle wants to come back to it again and not so much teach something new as to reach back to the old familiar teaching and renew it or make it relevant for the changing times. That’s the goal of the Christian church today as well. It’s always a challenge to make relevant older teachings, because people think they’ve heard it enough or they think they know it so well already that they don’t need to listen or pay attention any more. But that’s not true. We may know the Bible’s teachings about love – love for God and love for other people – but that’s not enough. We need to apply these teachings and actually live our lives in love today. That’s the challenge. That was the challenge for the Apostle John, and that’s the challenge for the Christian church today – to make plain and relevant the great old truths of the Christian faith for today’s age. What does it mean to love God and love other people today? How is this command to love especially difficult today? How can we encourage one another to really love God and love others in our church, our family, our community, our nation and our world? That’s the challenge we face as Christians. God’s command to love is certainly not new, but it’s certainly a new challenge to love today. For example, because there is so much cultural, religious and ethnic diversity today, how do I love my neighbor today? How do we love those with whom we have very little in common? How do we love people who we strongly disagree with? See the challenge? It’s both an old and a new challenge. Are you up to the challenge? Are you constantly renewing your love for God and for others? Or are you still stuck in a time warp of the past, or worse, failing to love to the degree you did years ago? Like they say, if you aren’t moving forward, you’re moving backwards. Do you love God more today than yesterday? Do you love others better today than in the past? Let’s make it our goal to improve in being loving people. If God is love as the Bible says, then his people, Christians, must be loving people.

 

Second, there’s the darkness and the light. 1 John 2:8-9, “. . . The darkness is passing and the true light is already shining. Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness.” One of the major themes of the Apostle in both the Gospel of John and the Letters of John is light and darkness. He teaches that God is light and in him is no darkness, 1 John 1:5. We are taught to walk in the light as he is in the light, 1 John 1:7. I was recently camping on the West Coast of Michigan in Manistee. On a bright, sunny day there I was thinking and talking to my dad about how nature symbolizes many aspects of the biblical truths we know as Christians. For example, the trees we can easily imagine are worshiping God with their branches raised to the sky in what looks like praise. When we look up into the sky, that’s a symbol of heaven, and the bright sun is a symbol of God. My dad mentioned that it’s pretty easy to understand why pagans in their ignorance used to worship the sun as God, because it’s such an important and obvious choice when looking around for something to give thanks. The native South American Indians used to worship the sun as God. Even the relatively civilized pagan Constantine, before he became a Christian convert and before he made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire, was attracted to the sun as a symbol for God. So it’s easy to understand the imagery of light and darkness. God is light and we must walk in the light of God’s light in order to fellowship with God and each other. The light of God and God’s Word began to dawn with the Jews as they spread the biblical truths throughout the known world for centuries before Christ. But the clouds really parted when Jesus Christ came. John 1:4, 9 says, “In him (Jesus) was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood (or overcome) it. . . . The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.” And what a great light it was when Jesus Christ came two thousand years ago. The world, not just the Middle East, but the whole world, was totally changed. The light of Christianity has spread around the entire world today, spreading the gospel and truth from God to almost everyone. Imagine where the world would be without the light of Christ’s gospel. Talk about a Dark Age? We can speak about “a” Dark Age as an historical time period, because that isn’t the normal state, but if it weren’t for the life of Jesus, the whole world would be in darkness today and that would be the normal state! Missionaries speak of bringing the light of God to those who are darkness, those who’ve never heard the gospel of Jesus Christ, but today, we are living in an increasingly new Dark Age where people have forgotten the gospel. It’s even possible today to claim to be in the light, claim to be Christian, all the while living in darkness! That’s because we’ve drifted away from the source of Light, God, and gotten distracted by all the interesting and appealing things on earth. We need to return to the light of Christ and walk in the light in order to see where we are going and not stumble around as blind people. Are you walking in the light of Christ today? Draw near to the Light of God and you’ll not have to stumble your way through life in the darkness of sin and confusion. Our world is a mess of confusion and chaos today. Why walk around in darkness when we can walk in the light of God?

 

Third, there’s hatred and love. 1 John 2:10-11, “Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him.” Last month I was listening to an audio book by a professor at Wheaton College, my old school, about the topic, The Civil War and the Bible.” What do these two things have to do with each other, the Bible and the Civil War? Well, each side thought they were following the Bible and fighting for the true cause. But what struck me about the Civil War was how Christians in the United States fought each other, killed each other and nearly destroyed each other because they couldn’t settle the issue of slavery. It was time of darkness for our country because you had Christian versus Christian. The same thing happened again during World Wars I and II. During the last World War, German Lutheran Christians were fighting British and American Christians. Yes, I realize that it was a political war not a religious war, but there can be no doubt that it was a great time of darkness for all humanity. The Apostle John says that whoever hates his brother is in darkness and walks in darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him. That is what happens when people can’t get along, especially during a time of war. Now I’m not saying that it’s possible to avoid war in every instance; we live in a sinful, fallen world. Sometimes war is necessary. But the Devil smiles whenever people get to the place where they resort to violence, because violence begets more violence and hatred. The Middle East, for example, is full of hatred between the Jews and the Arabs. Is there a lack of love in the Middle East between Jews and Arabs? No doubt. But it’s not just in the Middle East that people lack love, it’s all over the world, and it’s here in the United States. It’s in Michigan, it’s in Jackson, it’s in our communities and families. It’s always a challenge for us to walk in the light and walk in love. It’s always easier and tempting to give way to our old sinful, selfish flesh and build up resentment and hatred towards others. Prejudice and racism are built on sinful, carnal hatred. We have a few bad experiences with members of a certain ethnic group and suddenly we are resenting and hating an entire population – that’s prejudism. Or in politics today, it’s easy to hate our opponents. We lose an election, things start to go in directions we don’t want them to go, and suddenly it’s easy to resent and hate individuals and groups. It’s easy to start building up hate in our hearts for our enemies. But what did Jesus teach? “Love your enemies, do good to those who persecute you.” You can’t do that in the flesh. You need the love of God to give you the power to love your enemies.

 

But it’s not just our enemies we need to learn to love; it’s our friends and family members also. Why is the divorce rate at 50%? Because men and women, married couples, can’t get along with one another. Because man and wife can’t forgive and love one another. Sure, the marriage ceremony talks about love for a lifetime, but “the devil is in the details,” as they say, and from the looks of things, the devil really is in the details in respect to marriages, because they so often end in divorce. Walking in the light and loving one another isn’t something that comes natural to us because we are fallen, sinful creatures. The Bible teaches that when Adam and Eve fell into sin, we all fell, because they represented us in some spiritual way. They passed down to us their fallen, sinful state so that our default position is sin and selfishness. You don’t have to teach a child to be selfish and sinful, but you do have to teach it how to be good, true and right. That’s because of our original sin nature. Now, that means in order to love as we ought, we have to turn to God for help and resist the urge to do what comes naturally, which is to be selfish and hate and act unloving towards others. We have to resist the urge to bitterness. We must say “No” to the impulse to resentment. Now the only way we can do this is to walk in the light of God, which means, we must draw close to God and he will draw close to us, as the Apostle James says. That means, we must take advantage of all of what the theologians call “the means of grace,” or in other words, the Christian spiritual disciplines and practices that draw us closer to God. Prayer is one of the most important means of grace, but also Bible study is another. Regular church attendance puts us in the right environment to grow in grace and walk in the light of God. There’s just no automatic, sure fire solution for the problem of sin and selfishness in our lives. Jesus Christ went to the cross to die in our place to free us from the penalty of sin and to save our souls to heaven. Through Christ we have access to God the Father and to the light of heaven, but we have to walk in that light in order to avoid stumbling and bumbling our way through this life. If you are a Christian let me ask you this question, “Are you walking in the light, that is, the light of God and God’s Word?” Are you following what you know already? Are you loving the way you already know is the way of love from God? There’s nothing new here, just like the Apostle John says, this is old stuff, but unless we walk in it new every day it counts for nothing. Are you walking in the light? Are you loving God and other people? That’s our challenge for today.

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