eluding our idols: 20 questions on 1 John 1.1-4 & 5.21

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This coming Sunday (Dec. 7) at 9:00 a.m., some of our adult classes at MoSt Church start the winter class quarter and will focus on a study of John’s letters entitled Eluding Our Idols. This study’s schedule, in the class I’ll lead (the combined 20/20 and builder-boomer class), looks like this:

1.1-4; 5.21  –  Dec. 7, 2014
1.5-2.6  –  Dec. 14
2.7-11; 3.13-24  –  Dec. 21
2.12-17  –  Dec. 28
2.18-27; 4.1-6  –  Jan. 4, 2015
2.28-3.12  –  Jan. 11
4.7-16a  –  Jan. 18
4.16b-5.5  –  Jan. 25
5.6-21  –  Feb. 1
2 John  –  Feb. 8
3 John  –  Feb. 15
summation (or catch-up)  –  Feb. 22, 2015

To start this study, we’ll reflect on two texts that stand like bookends to John’s first letter: 1 John 1.1-4 and 5.21. Two statements in these texts will powerfully shape our whole study of 1 John (and for that matter, all three of John’s letters). Those statements are “Our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ” (1.3b) and “Little children, guard yourselves from idols!” (5.21)

To help you get ready for this encounter with God’s word and our discussion of it, following is: (1) the text of 1 John 1.1-4 and 5.21 and (2) twenty questions and exercises go along with this reading. Catch this word from God’s Spirit and be challenged!

receiving this word in our mind

We announce to you what existed from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have seen and our hands handled, about the word of life. The life was revealed, and we have seen, and we testify and announce to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us. What we have seen and heard, we also announce it to you so that you can have fellowship with us. Our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our joy can be complete. (1 John 1.1-4 CEB)

Little children, guard yourselves from idols! (1 John 5.21 CEB)

wrestling with this word with our mind

1. What does an “idol” look like today in the 21st century United States? What are some of the most common idols in our society today?

2. What are some idols to which you have found yourself strongly allured or have even served … or still sometimes serve?

3. This text (1.1-4) sounds like it was written by an eyewitness. How important is it to you that the person making these statements was a literal eyewitness of Christ? Why?

4. The apostle John is commonly understood to be the author of the letter we know as 1 John. What are some of the accounts recorded in the Gospel of John that come to your mind as to what John heard, saw with his own eyes, or touched?

5. Which is more real for you: things you’ve experienced with one or more of your “five senses” or things you experience beyond the realm of those five? Make a list of some matters that are real to you that you have never seen, heard, touched, tasted, or smelled.

6. Was it easier for someone who had actually seen, heard, and touched Jesus to believe? Is it easier or more difficult for us today to believe Jesus, not having literally seen, heard, or touched him? Why?

7. Read and reflect on John 1.1-5. What connects do you sense between it and 1 John 1.1-4?

8. What, or who, is this “word of life” in 1 John 1.1b? How do you know?

9. The Greek word translated “announce” (“proclaim” or “declare”) in 1 John 1.2-3 is the word anangello. What does word this word remind you of and why?

10. What, or who, is this “eternal” in 1 John 1.2 that has been revealed to us? Does the “life” mentioned in vs. 2a and the “life” mentioned in vs. 2b refer to the same thing or person or do they refer to different matters? Explain.

11. What does it mean, in this context, to have “fellowship” (1.3)?

12. Is it possible to have fellowship with the Father, but not his Son, or vice-versa? (vs. 3b) Explain. Why might a God-seeker even want to have fellowship with one, but not the other?

13. In vs. 3b, Jesus is specifically referred to as God’s “Son” and as the “Christ.” What does it mean for Jesus to be God’s “son?” What does it mean for Jesus to be “Christ?”

14. There is a question as to the exact wording of the original text of 1 John 1.4. The text could read “We write these things so that our joy can be complete” or it could read “We write these things so that your joy can be complete.” How does this small difference (“our” vs. “your”) shift your understanding of what John is saying here, or does it?

15. How might the joy of the author and the original audience not have been “complete” if it (1 John) had not been literally “written” down (vs. 4)? That is, what does the author fear could happen had he not penned this letter?

16. In vs. 4, the author of 1 John says that it is “these things” that makes for complete joy. He is thinking very specifically and apparently “these things” compose something like the greatest elements of Christian faith. Enumerate what all the author specifically has in mind in vs. 1-4 that makes up “these things.”

17. Consider vs. 4. What does complete joy in Christ look like? What is it about?

18. The Greek word translated “guard” (or “keep”) in 1 John 5.21 rarely appears in the writings of John. He used it on only three other occasions, all of them appearing in his Gospel and always on the lips of our Lord Jesus. Read the other passages in which this word (phylasso) appears: John 12.25,47; 17.12.

19. “Little children” (5.21). John was writing to adults, just like you and me. Why would he use this sort of phraseology? In what ways are you a “little child?”

20. What exactly must a Christian do to guard themselves from allowing anything to take God’s place in their life (i.e. – idolatry)? How are you coming along with your guard duty?

links: this went thru my mind

 

Americanism, exceptionalism, idolatry, nationalism & the U.S.: Huckabee and the Heresy of Americanism [required reading]

“Americanism is a heresy; in certain respects it is simply idolatrous. Jesus, not James Madison, brought in the ‘new order of the ages.’”

Church attendance & church statistics: Stop Taking Attendance

“In every church that I have ever visited or served there has been an emphasis on the number of people that attend the morning worship services. After years in the ministry, I have come to the conclusion that the church needs to stop taking attendance — immediately.”

Free will & God: God Does Not Always Get What He Wants

“… God does not always get what he wants for he gave people free will. God created us with the capacity to receive and reflect his love back to him and to each other as well as toward the animal kingdom and the earth. But because we’re talking about love, God couldn’t pre-program us to cooperate with God’s plan. We have the capacity to thwart God’s will, within limits. And when we do, it breaks God’s heart.”

ISIS: A 13-Year-Old Witness to ISIS’ Beheadings, Crucifixion in Syria

“‘[They told me] if you prevent Mohammed from coming to the camp, we will cut off your head,’ his father …”

Time & work: Who’s in the Office? – The American Workday In One Graph

“… the government conducts an annual study called the that tracks how people spend their days.”

links: this went thru my mind

 

Beggars, the poor & the marginalized: Beggars in Mark

“The stories that end this chapter are about beggars, people who in desperate need. They are angry with life or with Satan, but not with Jesus. Life has not followed the rules with them—it has treated them and those they love unfairly—and they are not particularly concerned that Jesus doesn’t always color within the lines. In fact, they are quite hopeful that (with those they love) Jesus can stretch outside of normal boundaries and accomplish something beyond the ordinary.”

Bible reading: How the World’s Top 10 Countries Search the Bible Differently

“Two of the four ‘implications of the search for truth’ noted in the study: Are pastors and missionaries preaching too much from Paul? Too little from the Old Testament?”

Idolatry: If Daniel 3 Were Written Today

“Beloved countrymen, we don’t need to give you an answer to this question. If the God we serve exists, then He can sustain us in the event we are being marginalized, cast aside, and silenced, and He can rescue us from craving approval from the rest of our society. But even if He does not protect us from your penalties and fines, we want you as a society to know that we will not serve your gods or celebrate the gold statue you set up.”

Ministry: Just What Does a Minister Do Anyway?

“I don’t suppose there is an easier target for criticism or maybe jokestering than that of a minister.”

Parenting: 7 Ways Parents Injure a Child — Without Even Knowing It

“… looking back, I can see some of these we were guilty of doing — and I remain thankful for God’s grace in spite of me.”

Racism & reconciliation: Ok, White Folks, Here’s How You Can Really Help! [required reading]

“Young man we appreciate your support and energy but really the best thing you can do for our movement is to go back to your churches, families, communities and friends and share the truth you have heard today.  It is the education of your own race, which will be the biggest catalyst for change in reconciling all races and bringing the kingdom value of racial unity and harmony into existence.”

my special reading & study in 2014

 

In recent years I’ve adopted the habit of annually identifying a specific subject to which I’ll devote myself in some special study. As I read on the matter, I do so with two questions foremost in my mind: (1) what does Scripture have to say about this? and (2) what perspectives and actions ought a Christian take in light of what Scripture says? It’s been a very good habit for me; I wish I had started such many years ago. I commend such a habit to everyone.

The topic I selected this year was violence. Perhaps you’ve noticed my posts on Saturdays of links to some of my reading each week on such. This coming Saturday’s post of links on violence will be the last in that series this year. As to books, through the course of this year I’ve found some by Justin Bronson Barringer, Lee Camp, Shane Claiborne, Stanley Hauerwas, Philip Jenkins, Preston Sprinkle, Craig M. Watts, John Howard Yoder, and Tripp York to be particularly helpful. If I was limited to only one book on this subject to own and read, I would choose A Faith Not Worth Fighting For edited by Tripp York and Justin Bronson Barringer. If I was looking for a book to give to someone as a gift, I’d choose either York and Barringer’s work, or Lee Camp’s challenging piece Who is My Enemy? I consider both of these books to be simply superb. Would that every Christian would read them both!

In the coming year, I’m going to change things up quite a bit, primarily by focusing on three subjects for nine months of the year (I’ll take a month off in the summer, as well November and December). As to subjects, I’ll study (1) worship & idolatry [Jan.-Mar.], (2) the environment & ecology [Apr.-June], and (3) preaching & ministry [Aug.-Oct].

And where shall I begin my reading in regard to worship and idolatry? I’ve decided my first steps will be reading Ron Highfield’s book entitled Great is the Lord: Theology for the Praise of God and G.K. Beale’s work entitled We Become What We Worship: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry.

links: this went thru my mind

 

Affordable Care Act, health care system & medicine: Obamacare: The Rest of the Story

“This is the 90 percent of the story that doesn’t make the headlines. … they are transforming medicine from the treatment of disease to the treatment of patients — and ultimately the treatment of populations.”

Attitude, mind clutter & thinking: The Single Principle You Need to Clean Out the Mind Clutter for Good [required reading]

“We should start choosing our thoughts like we choose our clothes for the day. … We have chosen to give away the physical clutter that piles up in our spaces in exchange for serenity, for simplicity, and for a richer life. But what about non-physical clutter that fills up our minds and fogs our vision every day, every second even? Why can’t we apply the same principle to our thoughts, which could benefit a thousand fold from a little clean-up in their dusty attic?”

Calvin & Calvinism: Where Calvin Went Wrong

“… Calvin’s view of sovereignty so overwhelmed his theology that he ends up denying the capacity of humans to choose to believe.”

Christian college education & crisis of faith: The Christian College and the Crisis of Faith–and Why That Might be a Good Thing

“Many young people have an immature faith. Schools do not do them a service by helping them embrace this faith via dubious apologetics. Examination should always precede entrenchment.”

Church, God, idolatry & worship: Am I Just Now Beginning to Worship God? [required reading]

“When first converted I thought true worship was because of two facts: we did church right and we didn’t do it wrong.  That seemed to be both the message and the conclusion. … Our worship has failed to reach God for so many moments because we have stopped to worship the created rather than the Creator.”

Churches of Christ & the Restoration Movement: Why the Restoration Movement Needs a Gospel Revival [required reading]

“… biblically speaking, gospel is largely about us. It’s public. It’s as much about the restoration of the world as it is about the restoration of my soul.”

Facebook & privacy: How to Stay Private Now That Anyone Can Find You on Facebook

“You can control the audience of your updates, photos, or bio information if you don’t want strangers seeing your information.”

Generosity & giving: Generosity Is Its Own Reward

“… the relation between generous spending and happiness holds around the world, even in countries as impoverished as India and Uganda.”

Marriage: Things My Wife Does I Take for Granted

“How many things does she do that I take for granted? … Men, what do you take for granted that your wife does?”

Parenting: Random Bedtimes Breed Bad Behavior In Kids

“Parents learn the hard way that late bedtimes make for cranky kids the next day. But inconsistent bedtimes may have a greater effect on children’s behavior, a study says.”

Tipping & wages: Why You Should Tip 25%

“The shameful state of the salaries of restaurant workers, who often earn a poverty-level $2.13 an hour before gratuities, is a topic … But while politicians argue about the minimum wage and lobbyists push to keep workers’ salaries artificially low, I have an unconventional recipe for righting this obvious wrong: Tip more.”