passage of the day: John 3:16-21

This really is such an amazing passage, there is so much here to take in:

John 3:16-21:

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.

While I think there can be a few different ways to go with this passage, I like to look at it from the perspective of the missio dei.  I think it has much to contribute to how we know and understand the mission of God.  In fact, I like to look at a lot of the Bible as a whole in the light of salvation history and missio dei.  I don’t own the book but I know Howard Marshall in his NT Theology talks about how New Testament Theology is missionary theology.   I think he is exactly right!  And I think the whole thrust of John’s letters is missional through and through.  Sure there is Christology and other issues but I would say the overall theme of the book is a missional one – it is seen in God giving his only Son, that everyone who believes in his name may not perish but have eternal life.  

What is the missional focus?  God so loved the world he gave his one and only Son.  He sent him not to condemn, but to save.

I think the missional focus of the Fourth Gospel can be supported by the Letters of John.  First John tells us, 

1 John 4:9 God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him.

1 John 4:10 In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.

1 John 4:14 And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world.

So i think there is strong support for the missional elements of John (and I am sure the rest of the Gospels too).  It amazes me really.  Hebrews 3:1, too calls Jesus “the apostle and high priest of our confession.”   An Apostle is a missionary, one sent on the behalf of another to accomplish some purpose.  In the case of Jesus is was not to condemn the world, but to save it and see that all have a chance at eternal life.
This missional focus of John I think should be reflected in the mission of the church – that we go out not to condemn but to save.  Those who listen and believe on the name of his one and only son, they shall have eternal life and condemnation will not be on them.  To those who chose not to listen, they will be condemned already, and why?  This is the judgement, the verdict… Jesus has come into the world and those who like that will be drawn to him.  Those who don’t will resist and run to the darkness.
Would those who try to resist eventually be overcome because “light wins?”  Light always wins out over the darkness.  Jesus and his mission will be accomplished because like leven in the dough, the light will spread and the darkness will be overcome by the light (Christ).
Lots of interesting possibilities there!  It’s wonderful really.  🙂


1 John and the Missio Dei

As I was reading through 1 John it was good to be reminded by the Apostle of love himself why God sent his son into the world. Consider the following:

2:1-2 My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father – Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

3:8 The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.

3:16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.

4:9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.

4:10 This love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

4:14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.

This is interesting to me because it seems that when there is talk of what is “the gospel,” i.e., the good news, we seem to dance all around the real issue, what is the heart of the matter as to why Jesus came into the world.

I realize too this is not an exhaustive biblical theology explicating the “missio dei,” or the mission of God in this world. At the same time however, I think careful scrutiny can show that the Apostle John, himself a Jew and a citizen of Israel, gets right to the heart of the matter: Jesus came to save us from our sins.

I understand the King Jesus Gospel encompases far more than just the cross of Christ but my concern is that in the quest to define and explain “the gospel,” the centrality of the cross is losing its rightful place as the core central front and center element of the gospel. I worry it is becoming an “at risk” issue, a footnote, a happenstance, a parenthetical comment, just another item on the list of reasons God sent his Son into the world.

Here, in 1 John, we see the heart of the matter, and in many ways “What Saint John Really Said.” 🙂 What is the heart of the matter? Jesus Christ came to save sinners.

Why do we have to dance around this core issue? When we make the cross of Christ a sidebar or footnote, a happenstance, we empty the cross of its power. And that is a dangerous thing. We must be careful not to put in the background what the Scriptures themselves put out front and center.

But I can hear it now, “Brian, you make much ado about nothing. You are arguing a strawman. The cross is not front and center, Jesus Christ is front and center. Yes, he died on he cross and rose again and in so doing saved us from our sins and that is important but there is so much more wrapped up in the gospel than just that! There is the inbreaking of the Kingdom, the grand victorious announcement that the King has come to bring his Kingdom and that Jesus is indeed Israel’s Messiah!”

Ah yes, to which I would reply, these truths, these grand redemptive narrative truths, would not be possible were it not for the work of Christ on the Cross.

Blessings!  Feel free to let me know your reactions to my comments.

on loving God and loving people

I’ll be honest I have long thought this statement (love God; love people) to be a bit cliche-ish and ambiguous.  I mean, I know where it comes from it just seems to be ambiguous because in our day and age it is often a challenge to know what “love” even means anymore – what it looks like or how it works.

I think it is better to explain these sorts of things instead of just throwing them out there like some sort of catch phrase or slogan.  So, with that I’ll give it a try.  This phrase Love God and Love People comes from Jesus’ summation of the greatest commandment noted in the Gospel of Mark:

Mark 12: 29-31: “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

In being asked what is the greatest commandment – Jesus says the greatest commandment is the Shema (Deut 6:5ff) – the command that you shall love God.  How do we do this?

I believe that while love has elements of affection towards another, when it comes to loving God, we demonstrate our love for God primarily through our obedience to him – meaning obedience to his commandments, requirements, and direction for our lives, both as individuals and as a community of faith.  For example, 1 John 5:3 tells us:

This is love for God: to obey his commands.

John then reminds us that God commands are not burdensome – and this is true.  They are not burdensome because God is the one who enables us to carry them out, through the power of the Holy Spirit whom he has given us.  In some ways, the Shema is the center of Torah or the Hebrew Bible; but really it is the center of a life based on the Torah, or, God’s direction for our lives, which is based on his written Word.

But Jesus didn’t leave it there – he chose to take it one step further and insist that out of our love for God we must love our neighbor.   That in essence love for God is seen in and through our love and acceptance of others.  Really, we are not able to love others unless we first have a love for God – because as it says in 1 John 4:7-8:

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.

Additionally, there is 1 John 4:21:

And he has given us this command: Whoever loveGod must also love his brother.

So we can see from here that the ability to love comes from God because the one who loves has born of God – in fact, if one is not a loving and accepting person it might be fair to wonder where that person is with the Lord, if they have been  born again – I know we cannot judge but generally speaking when a person is born of God, born from above, they should for all intents purposes be a generally loving person.

I also want to point out that one cannot say he or she loves God and yet not demonstrate love and acceptance towards others.  This is a false notion of what it means to love God – love for others and loving one another flows out and through our love for God – otherwise it is not a real godly love.  Note 1 John 4:20:

If we say we love God yet hate a brother or sister, we are liars. For if we do not love a fellow believer, whom we have seen, we cannot love God, whom we have not seen.

Now of course, there are lots of seemingly loving and accepting people in the world – but the difference is that the one who is born of God also confesses Jesus Christ as the Son of God and that he has indeed come in the flesh – this person will freely confess Jesus the Messiah.  That is the primary difference – the role of Jesus in one’s heart and life.

One last thing.  Here is another reason we should show love and acceptance towards one another.  In Romans 15:7 Paul exhorts us:

Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.

So every believer born of God, needs to be accepting of one another.  Why?  Because Jesus has accepted us.   If Jesus has accepted us, who are we to reject others who love God and belong to him?

In summation then, to love God and love others isn’t just a slogan or a catch phrase, it is a biblical command.

The purpose of a commentary

There are lots of different views out there on the use of commentaries in the study of the Bible.  Some are for them, others are against them.  Some see them as a potential waste of time (Mark Dever for example advised young pastors not to waste too much time reading through a commentary but rather just spend time focusing on the text, etc – I can see his point and understand he is not against them per se but wants young preachers spending more time mulling over the text than fingering through a commentary (that in the end may or may not be all that helpful)), others see them as useful tools meant to complement biblical study. 

My personal view is that referring to a commentary should come after one has spent time working over a biblical text (diagramming the passage, doing word studies, reading background material, etc) on one’s own first.  Then, if there are any questions remaining then one may refer to a commentary to gleen any added insights.

So, then what is the larger purpose of a commentary?  Here is a statement in the first chapter of John Painter’s commentary 1,2, and 3 John in the Sacra Pagina Series.  He writes:

The aim of this chapter is to situate the commentary in relation to other scholarship.  Scholars always build on the work of those who have traveled the path before them.  In what follows it should become clear that this commentary is critically dependent on earlier work.  It builds on an important tradition of Johannine scholarship and it is helpful for the reader to know this and to recognize the way this tradition has developed.  A history of scholarship illuminates the way in which problems and issues dealt with in this commentary came to be recognized.  This book builds on the tradition of interpretation found in the works of Theodor Haring, Robert Law, Alan E. Brooke and, more recently, C.H. Dodd (1946) and Rudolf Shnackenburg (1953).  Raymond E. Brown (1982) has also worked out of this tradition and developed his own line of interpretation.  The commentary also outlines the variety of ways the Epistles  have been read and points the way to future trends in scholarship.  (pg 1)

When I read this, I though “this is really good!  Why haven’t I seen comments like this in other commentatries before?”  The rest of his chapter then goes on to explain the history of interpretation of the Letters of John and how the tradition of interpretation has developed.  This kind of background information is amazingly helpful when engaing the letters themselves.  It helps to see why some think one way or another about a verse or passage of the letters. 

So that is the purpose of a commentary: to explain history of interpretation and to contribute to the ongoing converstaion regarding the Scripture at hand, and to point the way to the future.   At least, this is what a good commentary will do.

Two themes of 1 John

As I’ve mentioned in the past I am working through the Letters of John with our congregation, or, those who come on Sundays.  We are up to chapter 4 and will be covering 1-6 this week.   We took off four weeks for Advent and focused on preparing our hearts for the coming of the Lord.  But now that that is over, I wanted to do a review sermon to get people caught up to where we left off on 1 John before getting back into it.  Well, I have been reading it quite a bit and have also been browsing various commentaries to get other perspectives through the Amazon reader feature.  For myself, I made a discovery (something that’s always been there, and someone else probably already noted; I rarely come up with things all on my own) in meditating on 1 John and putting together some things I have been reading and thinking about.

I am finding there are two major themes that could effectively serve as hinges on which the teachings of 1 John hang.  I also figured these two themes could serve as balances on a scale since the first theme is in 1 John 1:5 and the second theme is in 1 John 4:16b (also noted in verse 8).   These to themes together provide the balance for living a life in proper relationship to God and to one another in Christian community.

The first is, as noted in 1 John 1:5, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.  This truth comes up early in John’s letter.  Light and darkness in the Johannine corpus have to do with truth and falsehood, life and death, reality and deception, purity and impurity, etc.  John here is communicating a very significant truth about God: that he is pure light, life, truth, and reality.   This statement stands in stark contrast to what can be said about John’s opponents the false teachers who were in every sense, impure, full of falsehood, and deceptive.  Their way is the way of death.

John’s letter then flows from this theme and focuses on ethical living in the light of fact that God is light.  So he admonishes his readers to “walk in the light” of God.  God is light, live accordingly.  Stop living a sinful life and start living in the light of God.

The second theme is, as noted in 1 John 4:16b, which is at the other end of John’s letter, that God is love.  That God is love means he is the source and the origin of love.  It is not something to which he adheres, but rather it is the essence of his existence and being: God is love.  Therefore, love comes from God and anyone who claims to “know God,” loves God and loves other people.  Why?  Because God is love.  The ultimate display of this truth is that God sent his one and only Son into the world to give his life on the cross for the sins of humanity (1 John 4:9-10), that human beings may be reconciled to God.  This ties into John’s ethical teaching related to God as light.  Verse 11 reads, “Beloved, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”    Then, there is the second part of 1 John 4:16: “God is love.  Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.”

This proceeds the love section of 1 John – because God is love, those who know God should love one another.  God loved us by giving his Son to the world.  For us then, love is that act of self sacrifice to put another person in a place of importance above the self.  Love is a kind of selflessness.  Basically you are giving another person the place of priority; you’re putting them in front of you.  In certain instances you, your needs or interest don’t matter, the other person does.  Your own interests get laid aside for the interest of another.  This is also called service – when you serve another person you are loving them.  Jesus said that he came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mk 10:45).

This again is in stark contrast to the character of the false teachers.  They did not love.  In fact, they were loveless and selfish.  They had their own agenda and didn’t care one ounce about others.   They may have claimed to know God but they did not in any way love God or love one another.   They did not walk in the light or live in love.

So, as John admonished his readers to “walk in the light” he also admonishes them to “live in love.”

These are the two themes that serve to balance the scales of the Christian life: God is light and God is love.

So the life we are to live in proper relationship to God and one another is to walk in the light and live in love.

New BECNT on 1-3 John

Gosh, this is one commentary on 1 John I would like to have now considering I am determined to preach/teach through this book in our church.  It doesn’t come out until November…

An Excerpt:

Robert Yarbrough, coauthor of the leading New Testament survey text Encountering the New Testament, here offers a historical and theological commentary on the Johannine Epistles. The commentary explores the relationship between John’s Epistles and Jesus’s work and teaching, interacts with recent commentaries, reviews the history of interpretation, and seeks to relate these findings to global Christianity. Yarbrough looks at the Johannine Epistles from several perspectives–sociological, historical, and theological. The result is a guide that clearly and meaningfully brings 1-3 John to life for contemporary readers.

An Endorsement:

“By attempting to read 1-3 John in a fresh way, uncoerced by (though not uninformed by) scholarly tradition, Yarbrough offers a helpful and often different perspective on the Johannine Epistles, some of the most interpretively complex material in the New Testament. I find especially helpful his illuminating engagement with the history of interpretation, his careful attention to textual questions, and his quite insightful appeal to the language of the Greek version of the Old Testament (the background John and his audience shared).”–Craig S. Keener, professor of New Testament, Palmer Seminary