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.

sum of the sermon – love is a battlefield: being strong in the Lord (4)

In the ancient world as described in Scripture, it was a common thing for rulers or kings to erect an image or statute of themselves in the distant realms of their domain. Rather than merely feeding the ruler’s vanity, these images served important purposes. They were erected to remind the people there, most of whom would never see him in the flesh, who it was who provided for them and protected them. The image reflected his likeness and depicted some of the qualities that he not only saw himself embodying, but those who wished to see imitated by his people (i.e. – confidence, strength, looking to the future, etc.).

This image/statue – an obvious, constant, physical combination of reminder and reflection – stood out to all who encountered it as a representation of the ruler/king. He was not to be forgotten and his representation was statement of his “presence” over, and among, his people. He had expectations for them to live up to – and he to them – and these expectations were rock-solid, like the image/statute itself. His rule concerned things important to his people’s well-being and his people were to support him well in the way they represented him with all their actions.

And so, when the story of how the living God made humankind and set them in the midst of his creation, it is revealing to see God use this very same language of imagery. Literally.

“… God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1.27)

God made humans as a representation of himself. Being a reflection of the Creator’s character and abilities, their role in creation was to function as reminders of the Creator and his ongoing work; though we do not see him, he is here. Humans were to represent the Creator and Sustainer God well in their dealings with all that is creation, as well as in their dealings with each other.

We know the story, though, don’t we? Quite personally! We did the unthinkable – we rebelled against our God and in so doing, we defaced his image in us. As we filled creation with violence and selfishness, our ways did little to remind people of the only good and benevolent God. Since our ways did not reflect his ways, our representation of him was warped and twisted; we gave people the wrong impression of what God is like.

But, good and merciful God came into our midst and, rather than wiping us out, he came to rescue us from ourselves. In doing so, he, in effect, delivered us and created a new humanity – a new representation of himself – through the work of his Son, our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.

What an awesome God!

And so, this is where we stand today. We who follow Christ today are the new humanity, created in Christ to represent God afresh to all of creation. This work of his in us as humans is more wondrous than his first work, for we know our reflection of him now represents his redemptive work of grace and mercy on a whole new scale.

To be sure, it’s still a battle. Our false expectations all too often remain with us. As does our temptation. And on ears hard-of-hearing, his instruction comes. But, in Christ Jesus – as Christians – we set our face to the task at hand – to belong to our God and to represent our God like never before. We are determined to do so, and enabled to do so, in our spirit and ways:

As … God’s picked representatives of the new humanity, purified and beloved of God himself, be merciful in action, kindly in heart, humble in mind. (Colossians 3.12 J.B. Phillips)

As he spoke us into being in the beginning – and afresh in Christ – we pray that our very words reflect God’s good character and timing:

Pray that I’ll know what to say and have the courage to say it at the right time, telling the mystery to one and all, the Message that I … am responsible for getting out. (Ephesians 6.19)

For we now know who and what we are in Christ – as one of God’s special messengers to us put it succinctly:

… we are ambassadors who represent Christ. (2 Cor. 5.20a)

And this we shall not forget again – nor shall we let the world fail to see – Christ living in us.

So go, and be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power!

Amen!

LIFE group guide: love is a battlefield – being strong in the Lord (4)

NOTE: Following is the discussion guide we’ll use tomorrow (Sept. 14) in our LIFE groups at MoSt Church. This guide will enable your follow-up of my sermon that morning. To find previous group discussion guides, look under the category title “LIFE group guides” and you’ll find an archive of previous issues.

Reason

Stated in a single sentence, this is the purpose of this morning’s sermon.

To explore the meaning of, preparation for, and engagement in spiritual warfare.

Revelation

These Scriptures form some of the foundation of this sermon.

• Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.” So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1.26-27 NLT)

• … from this point on we won’t recognize people by human standards. Even though we used to know Christ by human standards, that isn’t how we know him now. So then, if anyone is in Christ, that person is part of the new creation. The old things have gone away, and look, new things have arrived! All of these new things are from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and who gave us the ministry of reconciliation. In other words, God was reconciling the world to himself through Christ, by not counting people’s sins against them. He has trusted us with this message of reconciliation. So we are ambassadors who represent Christ. God is negotiating with you through us. We beg you as Christ’s representatives, “Be reconciled to God!” God caused the one who didn’t know sin to be sin for our sake so that through him we could become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5.16-21 CEB)

• Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood … And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should. (Ephesians 6.10-12,18-20 NRSV)

• As, therefore, God’s picked representatives of the new humanity, purified and beloved of God himself, be merciful in action, kindly in heart, humble in mind. Accept life, and be most patient and tolerant with one another, always ready to forgive if you have a difference with anyone. Forgive as freely as the Lord has forgiven you. And, above everything else, be truly loving, for love is the golden chain of all the virtues.  (Colossians 3.12-14 J.B. Phillips)

Relation

Use one of the following icebreaker questions to prime the pump, to help the conversation begin. Choose one to discuss.

1. Pull out some cash or currency. Who’s likeness is depicted on it? How exactly did they represent our nation?

2. Have you served as an official representative of a group/organization? Tell us about the experience.

Research

These exercises/questions are meant to help us grapple with the Scripture(s) related to this sermon.

1. Compare 2 Corinthians 5.16-20 and Ephesians 6.10-18. How can a Christian be an “ambassador” and a “soldier?”

2. Compare the wording of Colossians 3.12a in several English translations with the Phillips edition above.

Reflection

These questions assist our sharing what we sense God’s Spirit is doing with us in our encounter with God’s word.

1. As a Christian, you are an ambassador representing King Jesus. How does that make you feel?

2. What does being Christ’s ambassador , his representative, have to do with spiritual warfare?

3. What does an “ambassador” seek to accomplish? What abilities and skills suit an ambassador well?

4. As the personal messenger (ambassador) of King Jesus, what is the message we carry and deliver?

5. “What we are when we aren’t consciously trying to represent Christ might influence most of all.” How?

Response

These ideas/suggestions are for your use beyond the group meeting; to aid in living out today’s message in the coming days.

1. Consider well the message of Christ you can share with someone who is yet to believe. Write it down so it can be said in 20 seconds.

2. Pursue God’s peace in your life. Do this for the sake of others, so that you can share the Prince of Peace.

sum of the sermon – love is a battlefield: be strong in the Lord (3)

 

This is the essence of my sermon this morning.

Read Scripture. Often.

Not merely to read, but to hear God. Not merely to hear God, but to trust him. Not merely to trust him, but to do in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ. Not merely to do in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, but to love God and others with the love his Spirit has poured into your heart. Not merely to love God and others with the love his Spirit has poured into your heart, but to revel in the hope you have in Christ your Lord. Not merely to revel in the hope you have in Christ your Lord, but to place your life in his hands and find your peace in him. Not merely to place your life in his hands and find your peace in him, but to know God and love him all the more.

Meditate on Scripture. Constantly.

sum of the sermon – love is a battlefield: be strong in the Lord (2)

 

“Well now way back in the Bible, temptations always come along. There’s always somebody tempting, somebody into doing something they know is wrong. Well they tempt you, man, with silver, and they tempt you, sir, with gold. And they tempt you with the pleasures, that the flesh does surely hold. They say Eve tempted Adam with an apple, but man I ain’t going for that. I’m goin’ for the …”

Perhaps you recognize those lyrics. They make up the middle verse of the song Pink Cadillac by Bruce Springstein.

Or maybe you recognize those lyrics because that’s the song you sing every day. Every day you’re goin’ for the ________ (you fill in the blank).

This is part of being human, a fallen being, isn’t it? No responsible person gets a pass. We all are tempted in many ways and at many times. Sometimes blatantly; sometimes with subtlety. But, as Christians we know, no matter in what form it comes to us, we’re called to:

… be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. (Eph. 6.10)

We know what our Lord expects of us regarding temptation. His special messenger to us, James, puts it concisely and with some serious motivation for us:

Blessed is anyone who endures temptation. Such a one has stood the test and will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. (James 1.12)

The question now, of course, is how to resist temptation. How to be strong in the Lord by turning away from darkness and toward light, toward him.

James doesn’t leave us wondering. He laid out a captured copy of our Enemy’s battle plans against us and spread it out on the table for us to see. Here they are … with his word of warning to us at the end:

… one is tempted by one’s own desire, being lured and enticed by it; then, when that desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and that sin, when it is fully grown, gives birth to death. Do not be deceived, my beloved. (James 1.14-16)

We need to take a good, hard look at what’s being said here. If we’ll do so, we’ll find a great deal of help for us to be “strong in the Lord” in our resistance of the darkness that would have its way with us.

Do not be deceived. Keep a good look out. And as you do so …

Look within. That is, take note of what you desire. Just because you desire something doesn’t mean it’s a good thing. What is it you desire to think, say. or do? Why do you desire this? Desire isn’t temptation, and neither desire or being tempted is sin, but we know sin starts with both. Desire coupled with temptation just might not be a green light to go for it, but a flashing warning sign that says: “Bridge Out! Dead End.” So look within and then pray honestly to our Father regarding your desires.

ook ahead. Have you got so caught up with seeing only what’s right in front of your hood ornament that you can’t see down the road? Think seriously about where your desire could lead you. Could it lead you to a place you never would have dreamed of going and would never have wanted to visit? Choices and decisions made in the moment can have huge consequences, consequences that could domino and pile up on you. So, determine to take the long view and allow that to help guide you in the here and now.

And by all means, look beside you, for beside you is Jesus Christ.

… I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age. (Matt. 28.20)

Remember he’s right here with you. He knows your desires. He know what is tempting you. He knows the suffering temptation can cause within you. And he’s here to help you to be strong.

Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. (Heb. 2.18)

Go now. Go “be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.”

LIFE group discussion guide: love is a battlefield – being strong in the Lord (2)

 

NOTE: Following is the discussion guide we’ll use tomorrow (Aug. 31) in our LIFE groups at MoSt Church. This guide will enable your follow-up of my sermon that morning. To find previous group discussion guides, look under the category title “LIFE group guides” and you’ll find an archive of previous issues.

Reason

Stated in a single sentence, this is the purpose of this morning’s sermon.

To explore the meaning of, preparation for, and engagement in spiritual warfare.

Revelation

These Scriptures form some of the foundation of this sermon.

• … Spirit pushed Jesus out into the wild. For forty wilderness days and nights he was tested by Satan. Wild animals were his companions, and angels took care of him. (Mark 1.12-13 The Message)

• Jesus … full of the Holy Spirit, and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness. There he was tempted for forty days by the devil. He ate nothing during those days and afterward Jesus was starving. The devil said to him, “Since you are God’s Son, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus replied, “It’s written, People won’t live only by bread.” [Deut. 8.3]

Next the devil led him to a high place and showed him in a single instant all the kingdoms of the world. The devil said, “I will give you this whole domain and the glory of all these kingdoms. It’s been entrusted to me and I can give it to anyone I want. Therefore, if you will worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered, “It’s written, You will worship the Lord your God and serve only him.”[Deut. 6.13]

The devil brought him into Jerusalem and stood him at the highest point of the temple. He said to him, “Since you are God’s Son, throw yourself down from here; for it’s written: He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you and they will take you up in their hands so that you won’t hit your foot on a stone.” [Psalm 91.11-12] Jesus answered, “It’s been said, Don’t test the Lord your God.” [Deut. 6.16] After finishing every temptation, the devil departed from him until the next opportunity. (Luke 4.1-13 CEB)

• Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. (Hebrews 2.18 NIV)

• … one is tempted by one’s own desire, being lured and enticed by it; then, when that desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and that sin, when it is fully grown, gives birth to death. Do not be deceived, my beloved. (James 1.14-16 NRSV)

Relation

Use one of the following icebreaker questions to prime the pump, to help the conversation begin. Choose one to discuss.

1. Which “tempts” you more: chocolate or vanilla?

2. Name a book, movie, or song that speaks of temptation?

Research

These exercises/questions are meant to help us grapple with the Scripture(s) related to this sermon.

1. There are three accounts of Jesus’ temptation (Matt. 4.1-11; Mk. 1.1-12; Lk. 4.1-13). Differences?

2. Read Hebrews 4.14-16. How does this passage relate to the texts above?

Reflection

These questions assist our sharing what we sense God’s Spirit is doing with us in our encounter with God’s word.

1. Is there a difference between being “tested” and being “tempted,” a trial and a temptation?

2. What exactly is “temptation” and what makes it so hard to resist?

3. Scripture says Jesus never sinned. But, what if he had sinned; could he still save us? Explain.

4. One confides in you as to their need to resist a big temptation. How do you respond/advise?

Response

These ideas/suggestions are for your use beyond the group meeting; to aid in living out today’s message in the coming days.

1. Think of temptations you have, by God’s grace, fended off. Note what enabled the victory.

2. Set up a daily smartphone reminder to prompt you to pray about a specific temptation.

sum of the sermon – love is a battlefield: be strong in the Lord

 

Most of you have probably seen the videos that have gone viral of late of people accepting “The Ice Bucket Challenge.” It’s a gimmick to raise awareness of – and funds for – the fight against Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also known to a previous generation as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

I accepted the challenge – dump a bucket of ice water on yourself – and I’ve set aside a contribution to the ALS Association. I challenge you to do the same (at alsa.org).

But this morning I challenge you to consider what it means to “be strong in the Lord.” For that is precisely what each of us here is called to become. “Strong in the Lord.”

Just what does that phrase say to you? What image does it conjure up in your head?

Let’s ask the person who first used it: an apostle of God. His name was Paul. And when Paul thought about “being strong in the Lord” his mind instantly went to an image of war. (Eph. 6.10 NRSV) It’s an image of a soldier fully equipped to do battle with the enemy. (Eph. 6.11 NRSV)

Being “strong in the Lord” is deadly serious business; it’s a battlefield!

In that sort of scenario, you are, if nothing else, fully-focused. There are things you just don’t do (like carry things you don’t need). And there things you do no matter what (you “behave appropriately”). cf. Rom. 13.12b-13a NRSV. For it goes without saying: it’s a matter of life and death.

Now let me ask you: how do you picture yourself when it comes to being “strong in the Lord;” when it comes to your engagement in spiritual warfare?

I can’t see your answer, but I can relate to you what I sometimes hear.

“I want to be strong in the Lord, but I’m just not feeling it. I want to be spiritual and I start out doing well, but I seem to quickly fizzle out. What am I doing wrong?”

Does that sound like you? What it looks like is hand-to-hand combat and the battlefield is your mind. God has put his Spirit in us to permeate our mind and work out his will in this world. However, our enemy, Satan, opposes God and us. His plan of attach is to reverse God’s intended nature of things by using the world and its ways to impact us sensually, taking control of our mind and dominating our spirit. The contested ground, the ground where the battle will be either won or lost, is in our mind.

Through the years I’ve had occasion to talk with combat-hardened veterans of military service. Sometimes I’ve asked them what being truly ready for battle is all about. More often than not they do something like this (“tapping their head”) and say something like “keeping your head in the game.”

One time, I had a young veteran – one of the current generation raised on video games like Call of Duty – look me right in the eye and say:

“They lied to me. There’s nothing quick, easy, or fun about killing a man.”

I’ll leave it to you to sort all of that. Including what all that young man must have wrestled with (and still does).

But I think what he said nailed it. It comes down to what we’re thinking and our expectations. Make no mistake about it: our part in the battle – the fulfillment of our duty to God – will be won or lost in our head.

“What am I doing wrong?,” you ask.

It’s likely the way you think about things. Or more precisely, the way you don’t think about your expectations.

How many of us have been duped by the Devil to think our maturity in Christ can, and will, come quickly? How many of us live under Satan’s deception that being a Christian is supposed to come relatively easily? How many of us have been deluded to believe – and diluted in our faith – to suppose that life in God must be fun?

I tell you the reality of it is more like the difference between the look in the eyes of the fresh, new recruit who has never “seen the elephant” and the eyes of the battle-hardened veteran who has seen it all … again, and again, and again.

I challenge you: name one thing that’s solid and central about Christian faith that happens “quickly.” There’s nothing there. It takes time. A lot of time. A lifetime.

Precious little – if anything – about believing, truly trusting God, is “easy.” Faith is “the proof of what we don’t see.” (cf. Heb. 11.1b CEB) What, pray tell, is easy about that?

And “fun?” While joy is certainly part of the fruit that God’s Spirit grows in/on us, that word was never intended to carry the full freight load of what it means to follow after God and his will. If so, someone forgot to tell our Lord, our mentor, our model, the Man of Sorrows. No, strong Christians make use of all the colors in the box, not just happy yellow. They can, and do, “weep with those who weep” and they can, and do, grieve over their sins.

“What are you doing wrong?” It’s likely a matter of the battle going on in your mind. You have a set of assumptions and expectations that have no place on the battlefield, and you’re in the Army now, mister; get your mind right!

Put on the full armor of God! Every day the sun comes up is a day there is an enemy at the gates and evil in the air. (Eph. 6.13 NRSV) Gear up with faith in God, hope in Christ, and love by the Spirit. (1 Thes. 5.8 NRSV) Your life – and the lives those around you – depend on it. And march into battle with the assurance that Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, will see us through to our destiny with him, in him and for him. (1 Thes. 5.9 NRSV)

Who today will take up the challenge? Who will get their mind right by turning a deaf ear to the Devil’s propaganda? Step right into the ranks of the legions who call Jesus “Lord.”