Saturday, May 23, 2015

SPIRITUAL VIBRANCY (Fellowship of the People)

TITLE: SPIRITUAL VIBRANCY (Fellowship of the People)
SCRIPTURE: 1 John 2:9-11
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: May 22nd, 2015

"9Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness. 10Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble. 11But anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness. They do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them." (1 John 2:9-11)

Spiritual Vibrancy #2:
Fellowship of the People
Last week, I wrote about the spiritual vibrancy of the Church that centers around the preaching of the Word. This week, I want to continue with the reflection on spiritual vibrancy by looking at the response to the preaching of the Word. If there is no response, the preaching will be in vain. If there is a response, not only will the people in the community be blessed, the Church will also be blessed. This week is Part Two of the Spiritual Vibrancy series.

In an talk show hosted by Anderson Cooper of CNN, famed marital expert Dr John Gottmann was asked about what was the #1 issue that couples fight about. He replied with a witty word: "Nothing."

The answer was hilarious but also spot on.

Most of the time, couples fight about nothing. This "nothing" is not about nothing happening but nothing significant enough to warrant the fight in the first place. I think this applies for people in Christian communities all over the world. The apostle John was spot on too when it comes to enforcing this truth of love and grace with one another. If any of us claim to be in the light, there must be no hatred of one's brothers and sisters. If not, we are still in the dark. There is no confusion. It is either we live in the light or we live in the dark. It is either we learn to love our brothers and sisters or we don't. There is no halfway relationships in the kingdom of God. We may not embrace one another totally in terms of our emotional connections, but we are still called to love one another as in the Lord.

A) The Claims

If we claim that we love, we are expected to demonstrate at least three attributes, all of which are laid down by John in this letter. Using the ESV translation, there are three uses of "whoever says."

1) 1 John 2:4 - (The "I Know Him" claim)
"Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him," (1 John 2:4, ESV)
2) 1 John 2:6 (The "I Abide in Him" claim)
"Whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked." (1 John 2:6, ESV)
3) 1 John 2:9 (The "In the Light" claim)
"Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness." (1 John 2:9, ESV)

Three times the Apostle John mentions "whoever says" as a way to shine light at how believers can claim one thing but fail to do the same. The first claim is about one's personal knowledge of God. John is quite curt in saying that knowledge and the keeping of the commandments are one and the same thing. There is no true claim without the obedience. The disciple has to show cause that his knowledge of God is legitimate. Like a student taking his examinations. It is one thing to claim that one knows his stuff. It is yet another to be tested on his claims. Here, we are reminded that knowing and keeping the commandments are the same side of the coin.

The claim of "abiding in Him" is a call to walking the way that Jesus walked. It is also a call to prove our obedience. This call to abide in Christ is similar to John 15's symbolism of the vine and the branches.
"I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing." (John 15:5, ESV)

Bearing fruit is not a self-managed or personal goal. It is Christ's doing and working all along. Our call is not about bearing fruit. It is about abiding in Christ that Christ will bear fruit, and if necessary, through us. John uses the third unit to home in on the significance of our claims. If we say we are in the light, prove in through our love for our brothers and sisters. This is perhaps the key point in John's letter. He is concerned about the fellowship of the believers that is threatened from within the community. There is no greater threat than disunity and ill will. All three claims, to know, to abide, and to live are all centered about the same theme: Reflecting Christ.

If we say we know Christ, we reflect this through our keeping of the commandments. If we say we abide in Christ, we will walk the same way Jesus walked. If we say we are in the light, we would obey Jesus' commandment, walk the way Jesus walked, and live in the light of love. This is about loving one another, just as Christ loved us. It comes back to God's love.

B) The Contrast

The use of the light and dark symbolism is reminiscent of John's gospel, where Jesus is the Light of the world (John 9:5), and that the darkness has not overcome the light (John 1:5). It is either we love our fellow believers or we don't. John's language is strong. The opposite of love is hate. Our Western culture tends to provide shades of both love and hate. Sometimes it is called indifference. Other times, it is a type of distancing ourselves from people so that we can excuse ourselves from standing in an either/or love-hate camp. John would have none of that. If we claim to be in the light, the fruit is love. If we are in the dark, the fruit is hatred. It is a tragedy when church members live together in an environment of indifference.

This contrast of light and dark is equated to love and hate.

In 1 John 2:10, we read that "10Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble." It is the loving that marks the living in the light. Nothing in it makes them stumble. The word "stumble" is "skandalon," a Greek word that refers to causes of sin. By not loving one another, we are agents of causing people to sin, including ourselves.

In Matthew 18:7, we read about the seriousness of such sins.
"Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks (skandalon)! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks (skandalon) come; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block (skandalon) comes!" (Matthew 18:7, NASB)
The Greek word "skandalon" is also where the word "scandal" derives its use. It is a kind of snare, an offense that defies logic. All it takes is one scandalous event and the whole program would be affected. Just today, I read about the sudden turn of events on one popular family docu-drama called, "19 Kids and Counting." It was revealed in a report that one of the stars of the huge family had previously molested several girls. some of them his own family members, when he was a teenager. A highly popular show since it was started in 2008, the television network, TLC has decided to stop reruns of the show and "yanked" the show "off the air." This revelation is the scandal that puts an end to the show which can very well be "19 Kids and No Longer Counting." The Duggar family belonged to the Independent Baptists and are staunch Christians. Unfortunately, with the scandal, the whole family name and marketability are forever tarnished. All it takes is one scandal and the rest is history.

C) The Commandment

The intriguing thing about 1 John 2:7-9 is the strange way John is talking about the commandment. It is an old one, yet there is something new. On and on, we note the word "commands" being thrown about as if it is a whip to get us in line. Are we not mature enough already to obey on our own accord? Are we not saved by grace to know what to do? Why can't John treat us like mature adults who know what to do, who abide in Christ, and who live in the light?

The trouble is this. We are saved by grace, but we are also tarnished by sin. While Jesus' death on the cross had paid the price for our sins, we are still living in this world and we are called to persevere in the light. The reason why we are commanded is simply because on our own, we would fall away. On our own, we would fail to bear fruit. On our own, we lose the connection to the Giver of life. Like a rechargeable battery, we would feel fully charged up at the start. Eventually, we will need to be recharged again. Being connected to Christ means we will always be at optimal charge.

The commandment is old in the sense that it has been mentioned way back in the Old Testament.

"You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD. " (Lev 19:18, ESV)

This command to love has been given to Israel in the Old Testament, and John simply repeats this to us. At the same time, this commandment is new in the sense that for those who had never really comprehended the significance of the commandment in the first place, it could very well be a "new" revelation, an "Aha!" moment.

A Simplified Linear
Spiritual Progress Model
In our spiritual journey, broadly speaking, we move along four levels. The first is "Huh?" which causes us to pause for reflection. It is that glimpse or encounter with Christ. It stops us in our original tracks. It gets our attention. We get curious. The second is "Mmmm," that results in a gradual turnaround, that maybe, we ought to walk that path, or to let the thought linger on. The search is only beginning to pick up speed. We are on to something. While there are still some doubts about the faith, there is an increasing willingness to deal with such doubts in the light of faith. We do not seek the world for answers. Rather, we seek more of the Word.  The third is "Aha!" which is that spiritual revelation of something really exciting. This is also known as spiritual enlightenment. Barnabas Piper's book talks about this quite well. In "Help My Unbelief," the son of the famous John Piper describes his aha moment:
"If you’re like me, the phrase “read your Bible” almost triggers a gag reflex because of how often it has been thrown at you as a quick fix to a problem or commanded to you as the way to “get right with God.” It wasn’t until I recognized that reading my Bible was really hearing from God that it became rich and meaningful to me. In a relationship we enjoy hearing from those we love and we are energized and helped by them, even if what they have to say is a hard word for us. We love to converse, exchange texts or emails, and spend time with loved ones. That is Scripture, God’s correspondence and conversation with us. It is our way to spend time with Him." (Barnabas Piper, Help My Unbelief, Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2015) 

After this, our final stage is "Wow!" which leads to worship.

Life is more circular than liner
Before we move on, let me add that the "huh?"-"mmmm,"-"aha!"-"Wow!" seems like a linear progression. Life is seldom like that. On a teaching level, it is helpful. On a living level, things may be more complicated. This is why I find the letter of John so authentic as far as human living is concerned. The letter of John, like life, is not linear but circular. Just considering 1 John 1 and 2, we see several circular emphases. The words "the beginning" was first mentioned in 1 John 1:1, repeated in 1 John 2:7, 13, and 14. The words, light and darkness are continually mentioned over and over again (1 John 1:5-6; and 1 John 2:8-11). The words "I write to you" are mentioned even more, with each time applied to children, to fathers, and to young men. This tells us that love is not a linear process. It is old in the sense that it is a commandment revealed since the beginning. It is new in the sense that love has to be renewed each time. It is like lovers affirming one another their love on a regular basis. Life is circular, which is partly why there is a popular cliche that says, "History repeats itself." The hope for the Christian is that while our spiritual moments are spiraling, it is spiraling upward toward Christ. It is along the path of spiritual perfection. It is what it means to abide in Christ, that we are continually transformed into the likeness of Christ.

May we learn to love one another as Christ loved us. We learn to love not because we have said the sinners' prayer or done our daily devotions. We love only because we have Christ in us. For apart from Christ, we can do nothing.

THOUGHT: "One of our deepest human longings is to be in communion with God, whose love is revealed to us and embodied in Christ, who in turn loves each of us to the very core of our being. This is matched by our profound yearning to love and be loved, to live in mutual love with our neighbor, which is actually a reflection of God's love for us. Thus our first calling is to dwell in the love of God." (Gordon T. Smith, Called to be Saints, Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2014, p129)


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