Back in the days before electricity, there was this tightfisted, miserly old farmer. One day, he was scolding his hired man for always carrying a lighted lantern when going to see his girlfriend. This miserly old farmer said to him, “Why, back in my days when I went courting, I never carried one of them lanterns. I always went in the dark!” “Yes,” said the hired man, and he smiled and said, “but look what you got, look whom you married!” Light is very important.
The theme for Point Community this year is LIGHT: Living In God’s Holy Truth. Against the backdrop of the darkness of our world and society, Christians are called by God to shine His light. All the more so as the return of Jesus approaches. But there are challenges in shining for Jesus. So today, as we continue our sermon series in the book of 1 John, I want to examine 3 challenges in shining for Jesus and 3 encouragements and exhortations that will help us to do so.
I want to do a short recap by doing an overview on the epistle of 1 John (especially for those who missed the past 3 sermons). One of the main themes of 1 John has to do with this question, “How do we know we are truly Christians?” And the answer in 1 John is in 3 tests. What are the 3 tests?
- The Doctrinal Test (Do you believe Jesus is the Son of God?)
- The Moral Test (Do you obey God’s commandments?)
- The Love Test (Do you love God’s people?)
In our passage today in 1 John 3:11-4:6, all of these elements will come up. But my focus today is 3 challenges we face if we want to shine for God and how we are to overcome them. I call it the ‘Triple-H’ challenge (after the wrestler nicknamed Triple-H!)
- In the midst of hatred, we are called to love. (1 John 3:11-18)
- In the midst of heart accusation, we are called to be confident in God. (1 John 3:19-24)
- In the midst of heresy, we are called to hold fast to Truth. (1 John 4:1-6)
1. In the midst of hatred, we are called to love. (1 John 3:11-18)
1John 3:11 For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another; 12 not as Cain, who was of the evil one and slew his brother. And for what reason did he slay him? Because his deeds were evil, and his brother’s were righteous.
1John 3:13 Do not be surprised, brethren, if the world hates you. 14 We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death. 15 Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. 16 We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. 17 But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.
There are two ways of life described here in these verses: the way of the world and the way of the Christian, and the contrast cannot be more stark. The way of the world is the way of hate, the way of the Christian is the way of love. More than that, the world hates us. 1John 3:13 “Do not be surprised, brethren, if the world hates you.” Simply because we are Christians and there is a clash of values.
The most recent example is the controversy over Focus On The Family’s “It’s (UN)Complicated” relationship course. So it was held at HCJC and one student took exception to it and wrote an open letter on Facebook addressed to her principal, attacking what she perceived as bigotry and an insidious attempt at promoting rape culture and/or a religious view of relationships. Now, Pastor Ben and I have been trained to run this particular course. And I was like, ‘There’s no way that the content could ever been misconstrued to that extent!’ So it seems obvious to me that this lady who complained has a bone to pick with Christianity. Not only that, there was a groundswell of many angry commentators who sided with her. Not surprising. The world hates Christians.
Our Bible passage today mentions the example of Cain. Cain and Abel were brothers, born to Adam and Eve. They both offered sacrifices to God. Abel’s sacrifice to God was accepted, Cain’s was not. And in anger, Cain murdered his brother. Abel didn’t do anything wrong, in fact, he was pleasing to God. As Christians, we can actually be hated by the world for doing right. Let’s be clear. It’s ok if we we are hated for being righteous, not for being an ass.
The world is a place of hate. The church should be a place of love. Point Community should be a community of love. A place of refuge. A place to belong. We can’t find true love in the world. We should be able to find it in church. In fact, we must. One of the sadder news that I read this week was that of Jennifer Knapp.
Jennifer Knapp was formerly a Christian Contemporary Musician. She’s best known for her debut album “Kansas”, and two of her albums were nominated for the Grammy Awards. She was a well known and well liked Christian musician. But she recently released a book entitled “Facing the Music”, which is her memoir. In the book, Jennifer details tells the story of her painful childhood (parents separation, being moved from one family to another), her passion for music, her journey in Christianity, her career in Christian Contemporary Music, and her journey “coming out” as gay (lesbian).
There are many story lines that run through her life. One of the most intriguing about Jennifer’s rise in music and her subsequent immersion into the world of Christianity is that she never truly belongs to a local church. Her conversion happens in college when she is participating in a campus group, and before college is over, she’s already on the music scene, leading worship at camps and playing concerts.
This is how she describes her experience of Christian community, “For years, I’d adopted the ‘where two or more are gathered’ idea of church, where a strong beer and long buzzy night of hashing out my faith experience with friends in a bar was much more rewarding than feeling like a Sunday morning disappointment.” Friends, that is NOT church. Hanging out at a bar, talking about our faith experience, is not true Christian community.
We must plant our roots in a loving, biblically growing community where the Word is preached, the sacraments are practiced (baptism/communion), where we can find support, prayer and mutual accountability. A place where we serve God and one another. That’s the means by which God ordains for us to grow as Christians! It is not optional. It is crucial. More than that, this community exists not merely for ourselves but we must seek to draw others into this community. This community exists to show the world what true love, Christ’s love is like. We cannot afford to be inward looking. We must look outwards.
But the training ground is here. How can we possibly love strangers/non-Christians if we can’t even love family (of God)? Love one another. And the key to doing so is found in 1 John 3:16 “We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” Surrender. Sacrifice. Jesus is our example. In the Garden of Gethsame, Jesus prayed… “Not My will, but Yours be done”. We are called to love one another and sometimes it takes a spirit of surrender of our wills to God, a dying to our own preferences, our own rights, our pride. It takes sacrifice. And John is very practical here. Although he paints the highest ideal, being willing to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters in Christ, he starts with something very practical. Something each of us can do. Like being generous. With material goods.
1 John 3:17 But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.
We can also be generous in other areas as well, with our words, our time etc.
One final point, love is the fruit of the Spirit. To grow in love necessarily means growing in our walk with God. We can love only to the extent we allow the Spirit of God to work in our hearts and lives. Galatians 5:22, 23 may be familiar to you. “22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”
Notice it doesn’t say fruits of the Spirit, but fruit of the Spirit. Why? Because each of the terms following love is actually describing what love is. Love is full of joy. Love is peaceable. Love is patient. Love is kind. Love celebrates goodness. Love is faithful. Love is gentle. Love practices self-control. The fruit of the Spirit is love. I think the following poem sums it up beautifully. It’s written by a missionary doctor who served in Rwanda, the late Dr. Kenneth Moynagh.
Joy is Love exulting and Peace is Love at rest;
Patience, Love enduring in every trial and test.
Gentleness, Love yielding to all that is not sin.
Goodness, Love in actions that flow from Christ within.
Faith is Love’s eyes opened the living Christ to see;
Meekness, Love not fighting, but bowed at Calvary.
Temperance, Love in harness and under Christ’s control,
For Christ is Love, in person—and Love, Christ in the soul.
~ Dr Kenneth Moynagh (missionary doctor in Rwanda)
We grow in Christ, we are empowered by the Spirit, we love one another.
2. In the midst of heart accusation, we are called to be confident in God. (1 John 3:19-24)
1 John 3:19 We will know by this that we are of the truth, and will assure our heart before Him 20 in whatever our heart condemns us; for God is greater than our heart and knows all things. 21 Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; 22 and whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do the things that are pleasing in His sight. 23 This is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us. 24 The one who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. We know by this that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.
How many of you have done something you regret before? Me? Too many times to count. When we think of the times we have hurt our brothers/sisters in Christ, or the times when we have not loved them as we ought… especially in the light of our call to love one another, we might be tempted to feel condemned. Or it could be other sins. Pornography/Masturbation/Lust. Anger. Greed. Pride. Unforgiveness. We feel guilty. We feel unworthy. Our heart condemns us.
But this is NOT what God intends for us to feel… condemnation. God convicts us of sin, He never condemns us. Years ago, when I graduated from the university, I became a full-time staff with a para-church organisation, “Campus Crusade for Christ”. It was my dream job, I felt as if I could do that for the rest of my life. But there were areas in my life that were not pleasing to the Lord and they surfaced. In the end, my superiors decided that the best thing ahead for me was to leave the ministry. I was devastated.
And I felt condemned. During that period, I remember reading scripture after scripture of God’s men: kings like David and Solomon who sinned and after their sin, their lives never reached the heights of the past. I felt exactly the same. I felt as if my life was over. Just downhill from then on. The sin was too much to overcome. That feeling went on for months.
Sometime later, I attended a men’s breakthrough weekend with my home church. The first night was a plenary session where my pastors and leaders shared very openly about their own struggles. They encouraged us to confess ours sins, to receive God’s forgiveness and to be set free from bondage. Despite that, I was still wrestling with guilt and failure. During ministry time I prayed so hard, “God, please send me a pastor to pray for me, just so I know You forgive me.” But no pastor came.
So I went back to my room. I was praying and crying out to God, when I heard Him speak to me. It wasn’t an audible voice. More like a prompting in my heart. But it was as clear as if He were speaking audibly to me. God said 2 words to me, “Remember Peter.” And in an instant, I felt the forgiveness and cleansing and healing of the Lord wash over me. Peter. The disciple who denied Jesus 3 times. The same Peter that Jesus forgave and restored. The Peter who went on to become one of the key pillars in the early church.
God spoke to me, forgave me, cleansed me and restored me. It was a moment I still remember clearly. I was so happy, but I was also very tired. So instead of jumping around with joy, I just rolled around in my bed. Like literally. Young people, God does not want us to live in condemnation. Guilt. Shame. We are not to run away from God. We are to run to Him, confess our sins, receive His forgiveness, cleansing and restoration.
This is a truth that we need to be reminded of constantly. By and large, in the Anglican church (conservative, traditional), the temptation is there to beat ourselves up over sin. Sometimes we become overly introspective (inwards looking). But we are to look to God, to the Cross of Jesus, to the forgiveness available to us. Our confidence is in God. And this confidence also spills into the arena of prayer.
1 John 3:22 “whatever we ask we receive from Him”. How many of you have had this experience in prayer? Whatever you ask God, you receive from Him. If you say yes, I want to talk to you after service and find out your secret. So what does this verse mean? Obviously it cannot mean God answers every prayer of His children by giving them what they ask for. And that’s a very good thing. Because if not, I wouldn’t be married to my wife right now. Somewhere in the past, there have been girls to whom I’ve asked God, “God, please make her my wife”. And thank God He didn’t answer those prayers.
1 John 3:22 has some qualifications attached to it right? “whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do the things that are pleasing in His sight.” Now, at first glance, this doesn’t sound like the gospel. This doesn’t sound like good news. It sounds very legalistic. IF you keep God’s commandments and please Him, THEN He will answer your prayers. Sounds like barter trade. Does God work like that? No. Absolutely not. So what does this verse mean? First thing to say is these are NOT conditions for answered prayer. If you do this, then God does this. So what does this verse mean?
Well, this is not a sermon on prayer (there’s a lot to be said about prayer), but bottom-line is this: If we are walking closely with God, and we know and delight in His will, we will pray His will and He will answer those prayers. If you pray according to God’s will, it will be for your good and for His glory. God will always answer those prayers. Now, let me say a few more things about prayer very briefly.
- Prayer is for every day life. We should pray about all things, because God’s interested in every aspect of our lives. (When I was preparing to get married, I was looking around for a wedding car. I’ve always dreamed about having a BMW for a wedding car. My neighbour at that time, Uncle Eric, had two cars: a new Volvo and a Nissan Cefiro. One day we were talking and he asked me, “Aaron, would you like to borrow my Volvo for your wedding car?” And I was like, “Uncle Eric, actually, Catherine and I prefer the Cefiro. Could we borrow that instead?” He replied, “Oh, but I’m selling that away already. I’m buying a new BMW 5 series. Would you like to borrow that?” Wow. God answers prayer! Even something as trivial as a wedding car.)
- Prayer should result in thanksgiving and testimony. We should remember to thank God for all He has provided for us, and all He has given us. Answered prayer is also opportunity for telling others about God! Prayer shouldn’t be only about meeting our own needs, our own wants.
- Prayer is less often about changing circumstances or other people, rather it’s more often about changing us. ‘God, please get me out of this situation! God please change him or change her!’ Actually, the prayer God delights most in answering? ‘God, please change me. Please give me patience. Please help me love the unlovable. Please bless me, so that I can be a blessing to others. God please make me more like Jesus.’ These are the prayers God delights to answer.
- Prayer is most importantly about God’s kingdom work. Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. God delights to answer prayers for salvation. For people to come to know and believe in Jesus. So this we must pray often and intensely for peoples’ salvations, because God hears and answers these kinds of prayers.
Let me sum up. We are to be confident in God. We shouldn’t live in condemnation. We should draw close to God in prayer.
3. In the midst of heresy, we are called to hold fast to Truth. (1 John 4:1-6)
1John 4:1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world. 4 You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world. 5 They are from the world; therefore they speak as from the world, and the world listens to them. 6 We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.
Heresy is false teaching about Jesus Christ and about Christianity. Here’s the bad news. “Many false prophets have gone out into the world.” 1 John 4:1. It’s bad enough that we have to deal with atheism, godlessness in our society and world. It’s bad enough that we have to deal with false religions and their claims. But what makes it worse is there are false prophets and false teachers who claim to be Christians and yet mislead people with lies and half-truths.
Young people, do not believe every person who comes to you and says, “The Lord told me…” (that you are supposed to marry me). Do not believe every supposed miracle worker even though they may seem to have produced marvellous feats of healing. Be aware of New Age teaching (which is actually nothing new, just old heresy). Be aware of mixing the truths of the gospel with religious superstition (astrology, horoscopes etc). Brothers and sisters, do not believe every spirit, test the spirits.
A couple of ways in which you discern truth from error:
- Does it contradict the teachings of the Bible? If it does, it’s not from the Lord. God never contradicts His Word. It follows that you better know the Bible well!
- Does the message encourage you to worship God or does it lead to idolatry? God’s will should never lead you to walk further from Him rather than nearer Him. (e.g., unequally yoked relationships between Christian and non-Christian.)
How many of you study Chemistry? What’s a litmus test? A test for chemical acidity or basicity using litmus paper. That’s a literal litmus test. It has another meaning, it also describes a crucial test using a single issue or factor as the basis for judgment. Is there a litmus test for finding out false prophets? Probably not. But there is ONE very important test: Who is Jesus?
1 John 4:2-3 “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world.”
The Person of Jesus is absolutely central to the Christian faith. Everything stands or falls with who you believe Jesus is. Jesus is not merely a prophet even though other religions may consider Him so. Jesus is not merely a good man or religious teacher as many atheists (people who don’t believe in the existence of God) think He is. There are even those who do not believe in the existence of the historical Jesus; they believe He is a myth or legend. And all these people are wrong.
Jesus as revealed in the Scriptures is God Incarnate, God who took on human flesh and dwelt among us… Fully God and fully man: He actually, physically walked on our earth some 2000 years ago. He led a sinless life (the life we should have lived), He died a sinner’s death (the death we should have died), being crucified on the cross at Calvary. He was buried in a tomb, but was raised to life 3 days later. He ascended to the right hand of the Father, where He now reigns and rules. He will return to judge the living and the dead, bringing salvation to all who trust in Him, and judging all those who don’t. This is who Jesus is. This is whom we believe.
And any belief or teaching that contradicts or comes in the way of Jesus being our only Saviour and our only Lord is heresy. I return to the example of Jennifer Knapp. I don’t mean to condemn her, but her journey is illustrative of the dangers of not taking Jesus as He is. God. Lord. Jennifer never really embraces Jesus as the only way to salvation. Her personal story is not one of repentance and faith, but she was seeking to be at peace with herself; dealing with her past hurts, imperfections and inner strife. When the grinding pace of touring and recording gets to her, leaving her weary emotionally and physically, she just walks away from it all. It’s not a surprise.
Young people, Jesus Christ is either Lord of all, or He’s not Lord at all. It’s time to stop playing games (literally, if you’re playing computer games), but it’s time to stop playing games with God. It’s time to take your faith seriously. Don’t come to church to warm a seat, warm the pews. God doesn’t need you to come and make up numbers. He wants you to live for His kingdom and glory. To be involved in winning souls to the Lord and discipling them. If Jesus is who He says He is, then He’s inviting us to surrender our small ambitions to Him, and live for a greater cause.
Here’s the encouragement, we are on the winning side. 1 John 4:4-6 “You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world. 5 They are from the world; therefore they speak as from the world, and the world listens to them. 6 We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.”
We are on the winning side because we are on Jesus’ side. The false teachers, the false prophets, they will ultimately perish. But we who know Jesus, we win in the end. Jesus has already won the Ultimate victory at the cross of Calvary where He defeated the powers of Satan, sin, darkness. And now, He is in us and He is working through us to establish His kingdom. When we share the gospel, all whom God has chosen to believe will listen to us. And when Jesus returns, the fullness of His kingdom and victory will be established. People from every nation, tribe, tongue will worship the Lamb of God, Jesus. So let us hold fast to the Truth, let us hold fast to Jesus.
In conclusion, there are 3 obstacles facing us today as we seek to shine for Jesus: hatred, heart accusation and heresy. And we are to overcome them by loving one another, having confidence in God and holding fast to Truth. In this way, we can be God’s light and live lives that shine for God! [Let’s pray]