eluding our idols: twenty questions on 1 John 5.6-21

This coming Sunday (Feb. 1) at 9:00 a.m. some of our adult classes at MoSt Church will continue in a study entitled Eluding Our Idols. It’s a close look at what’s commonly known as John’s letters (1, 2 & 3 John). To help you get ready for this encounter with Scripture and our discussion of it, you’ll find the following here: (a) the text of 1 John 5.6-21 and (b) twenty questions and exercises to go along with this reading.

receiving the word

6 This is the one who came by water and blood: Jesus Christ. Not by water only but by water and blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. 7 The three are testifying— 8 the Spirit, the water, and the blood—and the three are united in agreement. 9 If we receive human testimony, God’s testimony is greater, because this is what God testified: he has testified about his Son. 10 The one who believes in God’s Son has the testimony within; the one who doesn’t believe God has made God a liar, because that one has not believed the testimony that God gave about his Son. 11 And this is the testimony: God gave eternal life to us, and this life is in his Son. 12 The one who has the Son has life. The one who doesn’t have God’s Son does not have life.

13 I write these things to you who believe in the name of God’s Son so that you can know that you have eternal life. 14 This is the confidence that we have in our relationship with God: If we ask for anything in agreement with his will, he listens to us. 15 If we know that he listens to whatever we ask, we know that we have received what we asked from him. 16 If anyone sees a brother or sister committing a sin that does not result in death, they should pray, and God will give life to them—that is, to those who commit sins that don’t result in death. There is a sin that results in death—I’m not saying that you should pray about that. 17 Every unrighteous action is sin, but there is a sin that does not result in death.

18 We know that everyone born from God does not sin, but the ones born from God guard themselves, and the evil one cannot touch them. 19 We know we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one. 20 We know that God’s Son has come and has given us understanding to know the one who is true. We are in the one who is true by being in his Son, Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life. 21 Little children, guard yourselves from idols! (1 John 5.6-21 CEB)

wrestling with this word

1. Circle every occurrence of “know” in this text, and so, make a list of what we Christians “know.”

2. Underscore the statements in this text that are most startling to you. What are they?

3. How is it Jesus Christ “came by [both] water and blood?” (vs. 6) Why is this important?

4. “ …the Spirit, the water, and the blood … are united in agreement.” (vs. 8) About what?

5. How do the words of vs. 6-12 chastise the group that left and encourage those who remained?

6. It’s all about having the Son in your life (vs. 12). So, who “has the Son?” Who doesn’t? (vs. 6-12)

7. John says disciples can know they have eternal life. (vs. 13) What is “eternal life?”

8. What does vs. 14 tell us about God’s character and ways?

9. Is John saying (vs. 15) believers always get what they ask for from God? What does he mean?

10. John describes prayer life (vs. 14-16a) with words like these: confidence, relationship, God will give, received. What four words or phrases would you choose to describe your prayer experience?

11. Is in some way the forgiveness of others by God dependent on our prayers for them (vs. 16)?

12. We pray for the spiritual health of others (vs. 16). You pray most for physical or spiritual health?

13. “… there is a sin that does not result in death.” (vs. 17b) Say what? Splain that.

14. All who are born of God are expected to actively distance themselves from sinning (vs. 18a). How?

15. Can Satan “touch” disciples who don’t keep their “guard” up? (vs. 18b) In context: how to guard?

16. Which statement can you most quickly and readily affirm: you’re “from God” or “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one?” (vs. 19) Why? Can you affirm both?

17. Gnaw on the affirmations of, and the encouragement within, vs. 20. What does this do for you?

18. “This is the true God and eternal life.” (vs. 20b) What is the “this?”

19. Brainstorm a list of some of the “idols” John dealt with in this letter, 1 John. (vs. 21)

20. Tell us about one thing this study of 1 John has underscored in your mind or done for your ways.

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

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?

it went thru my mind

Archaeology. Ah, spring! More sun, growing grass, singing birds, blooming flowers … and the annual parade of hoaxes and supposed “discoveries” related to Christian faith. If you heard that some of the nails used in the crucifixion of Jesus have been recently found, you ought to read Robert Cargill’s piece entitled no, simcha, you didn’t find the ‘nails of the cross’ of christ.

China. Barring something unforeseen, over two hundred will gather at MoSt Church tomorrow, openly worship God, and probably not even think of such as a privilege, but as a right. We’d all do well to follow what’s going down in China, pause, and pray.

Civil War. The American Civil War began one hundred and fifty years ago this past Tuesday. Most of you know of my interest in, and research of, the Civil War in years past. In fact, you’ll see some of the fruit of that labor in regular posts on Tuesdays here on my site in the coming weeks. If you read nothing else that I link to today, read Ben Witherington’s simply outstanding post A Son of the South – 150 Years On.

Drinking. How have you been talking about Charlie Sheen? David Briggs’ piece The Double-Edged Sword of Religion and Alcoholism will make you think. Thank you, Doug Williams, for making me aware of this great article.

God & tragedy. I really enjoy reading Ted Gossard‘s writing. Every week I wind up bookmarking something he’s written. His piece entitled Does God Cause Everything? is something you ought to read. Why? Because what we think about God matters and we’re all theologians.

Idols. In our adult Bible classes just a few weeks ago at MoSt we looked at the second of the Ten Commandments (“you shall not make an idol”). Jared Wilson’s post entitled How to Identify Your Idols is a brief, supremely practical follow-up to that study.

Music. “Oh, be careful little ears what you hear.” Matt Dabbs’ post America’s Top 5 Songs – Better Find Out What Your Kids are Listening To sounds just like a sermon I preached … back in the ’80’s. Some things never change … for the better.

Non-retaliation. As a bit of a visual to go with my sermon this Sunday morning (Toward a Life of Blessing), watch this video (“Cleaning the Cobra Pit“). As Christ-followers, we are like the one cleaning the cobra pit. We’re to take our stand among those loaded with venom and serve them, doing them good. Retaliation is the way of death. “… you must not oppose those who want to hurt you. … love your enemies … just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone …” (Matt. 5:39,44,48)

War, pacifism, & Churches of Christ. If I told you that Churches of Christ in the U.S. were at one time a largely pacifist people, would you laugh? Yes, that’s probably how few know about this portion of the history of my church heritage and it was not that long ago (within my father’s lifetime). If you’re a member of Churches of Christ, three of  Timothy Archer‘s posts this week would be of interest to you along this line: (a) Moral Legacy of War, (b) The Decline of Pacifism in Churches of Christ, and (c) The Decline of Pacifism in Churches of Christ: Cordell Christian College. Tim frequently broaches this subject so you’ll probably want to watch his great site for more to come, particularly as you think about our upcoming study of the sixth of the Ten Commandments (“you shall not kill”).

Just for fun. I confess, I was a Doctor Who fan back in the ’70’s and ’80s, but have missed seeing it since its return in 2005. Who is Doctor Who? Well, if I have to explain, you need not read further, but if you too are a fan, you’ll appreciate The Only Doctor Who Infographic You Will Need. I ought to get the theme song as a ring tone for my phone. Now, if they’ll ever just put that Tardis USB hub into a half-price sale …

you shall not make an idol

If you’re a part of a Sunday morning adult Bible class at MoSt Church, you’re surely preparing your heart and mind in reading, study, reflection, and prayer for our focus this coming Sunday (Mar. 27) on the second of the Ten Commandments (“you shall not make an idol” – Ex. 20:4-6; Deut. 5:8-10). With that in mind, let me to steer you toward some “good stuff” for you to consider.

Jason’s Hood’s fine article entitled Idolatry, the Gospel, and the Imitation of God appeared in Christianity Today just today. I believe you’ll find it helpful for consideration of application of the second commandment today.

No doubt you’d also enjoy and benefit from Dan DeWitt’s brief, simple series of posts recalling J.B. Phillips’ classic work Your God is Too Small. Here are the links to that series: Your God is Too Small (intro), Absolute PerfectionGrand Old ManMeek & MildParental Hangover, and Resident Policeman.

Finally, following are a variety of questions from which I’ll choose a few to use in the 20/20 class. Some of these are of my own creation and some I have robbed from the likes of Atchley and Shelly.

How would you feel if your mate or best friend made a sculpture of what they wished you look like, instead of the real you, and then spend all their time gazing at the sculpture and ignoring you?

What would you say are the first and last examples of idolatry mentioned in the Bible? What specifically are those idols? Do you believe they are still around and actively worshiped by many today or are they long since passe? Explain?

What Old Testament accounts or quotes come to mind when you think of the subject of idolatry? What New Testament accounts or quotes do you recall in regard to idolatry?

What is the difference between the first commandment (“no other gods before me”) and the second commandment (“you shall not make an idol”)?

Notice how the first commandment regards our not being distracted by other gods and the second commandment concerns our not developing them. Rather than eliminating God (or gods) from our lives completely, we humans tend to worship someone or something. Why do you think this is so?

God once said, “I am a jealous God” (Ex. 20:5a; Deut. 5:9a). He hasn’t changed. In fact, this is specific the reason (‘for”) we are to never bow down to or worship an idol. What is the meaning of this phrase “I am a jealous God?” How is it a good thing that the living God is “jealous?”

How and why is it that the breaking of this second commandment (as well as the avoidance of breaking it) greatly affects future generations? (Ex. 20:5-6; Deut. 5:9b-10)?

Aside from the fact that God said “don’t do it,” what is it exactly that makes idolatry sin? From which Scriptures does your answer come?

J.B. Phillips once wrote a book entitled Your God is Too Small. How is idolatry an attempt to shrink God?

“Insecurity is usually the soil in which idolatry grows best.” Do you agree or disagree with this statement? Why?

Idolatry often consists of either making a means into an end or substituting a thing for a person (i.e. – valuing something[s] over someone[s]). Such even happens often within Christ’s church. Can you name some examples?

How can you know when something becomes an idol in your life?

It has been said that the most common idols for men in their 20’s is sex, for men in their 30’s money, for men in their 40’s food, and then the cycle starts all over again. Whether you think this observation is hysterical or spot-on, what might the cycle be for women in their 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, etc.?

Do you believe the genders are tempted to construct different idols? That is to say, what are some idols women tend to make and what are some idols men tend to build? How do you account for these similarities or differences? Does any particular Scriptures come to your mind in this regard? How do the opposite genders in the room react to your observations?

What can we learn about God’s image by looking at Jesus? What can we learn about our image by looking at Jesus?

What would you say are some modern attempts to mix idolatry and the worship of God? What potential “golden calves” threaten to steal our allegiance from the true God today?

“When it comes to the relatively important things in life (basic values and behavior concerning wealth, power, prestige, justice, security, peace, work, time, and so on), most Christians are indistinguishable from the world. Still, Christians know that they should be different from the world in some way – otherwise, what would Christianity mean at all? So, in an effort to establish some kind of Christian distinctiveness, attention and concern is focused on the trivial (which, by its very nature, does not require us to make difficult changes in our lives). In the end, it is okay to be entirely captive to the idols of mass – consumerism as long as we don’t watch R-rated movies; perfectly acceptable to spend our entire lives pursuing a cozy, suburban affluence as long as we don’t mow our lawn on Sundays; just fine to live life completely indifferent to systemic, mass-starvation around the world as long as we don’t drink beer. We, like the Pharisees, ‘strain out a gnat and swallow a camel’ (Matthew 23:24).” – Christian Smith. How do you react to this quote? Do you see any relation to it and the the subject at hand, namely, idolatry? Explain.

Anything or anyone can become an idol, even very good things such as the Bible itself (bibliolatry). Can you name some examples of how you have seen the cross of Christ made into an idol? A particular religious practice? A leader? Etc.

Have you ever confused love for your particular church with love for God? How are they the same? How are they different?

What do you hear Christians today say about God that you do not think first century Christians would have said?

How does your church, as the body of Christ, reveal the true God to the world? Are there ways you think it communicates some form of false image of God or idolatry? Explain.

When you think of idolatry in regard to other religions (i.e. – Hinduism, Shintoism, etc.),what comes to mind? Now, imagine you were a member of one of those religions looking at Christianity. What might you then imagine as common idols within Christianity today? Explain.

How do you try to keep God “in his place” in your life? Describe three ways that you try to manipulate God for your own purposes.

“Who you worship determines who you are.” Who would your neighbors say you are by watching your home life? What/whom do they see you worshiping?

Do you ever find yourself trying to put God into a neat package you can define and manage? Why do we sometimes do this?

How do you try to limit and control God? What borders and boundaries have you most commonly put on him?

What idols need to be confronted in your own life? How will you confront them, destroy them, and when?

What are some practical steps we can take today to guard our hearts against the pursuit of idolatry?

“Dear children, be on guard against all clever facsimiles.” (1 John 5:21, The Message)