Character of God 1 – 1 John 1, (Matt 18:21-35)
There are two things that puzzle me:
What are wasps for? And what is lettuce for?
Wasps – I discover, are pollinators and consumers of garden bugs we probably don’t want. Lettuce – I don’t know. It’s a good way of taking balsamic vinegar! And at 96% water maybe it’s just a drink in itself.
An easier question is what is 1 John for?
And what does it tell us about God?
In a confused society, it tells us God is from the beginning of all things.
In a pluralistic society, that God is light.
In a relativistic society, that God is truth.
In a lost society, that God knows our way.
In every society, that God has given us life eternal in Christ.
It’s a good book; and it’s a short one.
And in chap 1 I’d like us to explore something of what it tells us of the God we can know for ourselves in Christ.
A word about its authorship, its links and its message
1 John doesn’t name its author but, having much in common with the gospel of John, the church has always accepted that John wrote it.
It is written with the wisdom and authority of one who has been ‘around the bazaars’, now bringing teaching, encouragement and warning to Christians at the close of the 1st C AD.
He may have written from Ephesus, modern Turkey, where he is thought to have spent later life.
Preacher and commentator, David Jackman, has said of 1 John: There is a deceptive simplicity about John’s style. So often the simplest vocabulary is combined with the most profound theology. Ideas that on the surface appear easy to grasp are shown on further investigation to possess ever increasing depth.
So look out! This book could change your life.
1 John has clear links with other books of the Bible – most obviously Genesis, the gospel of John and Revelation.
John begins this letter:
We declare to you what was from the beginning . . .
It’s a flying start which pulls no punches, reaching back to the beginning of all things when God initiated the universe – the very beginning. And John justifies this astonishing claim, referring to God as word of life, saying:
We know what we are talking about. We have seen this word of life, we have heard it, we have touched it, and it has touched and changed us.
C.f. Genesis opens, In the beginning God . . .
John’s gospel opens, In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word
Revelation 1:8, I am the beginning and the end, says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.
1 John opens, We declare to you what was from the beginning.
So the links and the purpose are clear. The letter is speaking about God himself, inseparable from the Word, the word of life, life eternal which John says was with the Father and has been revealed to us in Jesus.
Straight away in 1 John we learn that God is a good God, a giving God and a gracious God who in Jesus:
- has shown himself
- has given himself
- has brought us a new, full experience of life
- has lifted our sense of purpose and hope beyond our present existence onto a scale of eternity
John doesn’t want the growing church to be short-changed. He doesn’t want them to settle for a comfy faith limited by their own imagination.
This is not ‘God in a box’. John’s message is from the transcendent God who is from the beginning. And this God is also immanent, one in whom we live and move and have our being.
God is far and He is near.
John’s confident and unequivocal opening brings a message about God – We declare to you . . .
What’s the message?
1 It’s about God’s gift. 2 It’s about God’ nature.
1 It’s about God’s gift,
the word of life, who has come to us in Jesus.
And, says John, it’s our first-hand experience that makes us believe who Jesus is as we’ve heard his teaching, seen his extraordinary miracles and acts of healing, and spent public and private time with him. We’ve touched him, watched his self-sacrifice and rising from the dead, we have personal experience of who He is and what He can do.
John adds, 1:3-4: We’re telling you of our first-hand experience of Christ, the word of life, so you may share our conviction and hope; and that we may be even more thrilled as we share knowing him together!
Friends, their record is a foundation for our faith too, encouraging us to step out in trust and grow in our experience of Christ by his Spirit. Their experience is important evidence for us.
2 The message is about God’s nature
‘God is light’ 1:5 (later, ‘God is love’ 4:8)
Seeing the light is an expression that has often been used to describe Christian conversion – notably the apostle Paul, who, meeting the risen Christ on the road to Damascus, described seeing a blinding light. He saw the light; he accepted Christ.
Darkness and light are compared and contrasted by John in this letter and in his gospel.
1:5 God is light and in him is no darkness at all.
Both parts of this sentence are instructive. We understand better what light is when we are told that darkness has no part in it. There is then no darkness in God; he is purely light.
1:6 challenges cheap faith and compromise.
If we say we have fellowship with God while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true.
This is one of those simple, but far reaching, statements which causes us, who deal in shades of grey as well as black and white, to search our lives and our motives. Whatever they may have been or are, we are challenged to recognise that we fall short of Jesus who said:
I am the light of the world,
and of whom John wrote in his gospel as
the true light who enlightens every person.
Jesus added, Those who follow me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.
The problem with belonging to a fallen race is that it is uncomfortable being compared with Christ, the living embodiment of a pure and holy God who lives in unapproachable light. Jesus saw the problem, saying, Light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. All who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed.
In the recent Caribbean storms, the authorities tried to guard evacuated homes at risk of burglary. In Miami looters raced police to damaged shops.
Remember too Peter, having taken an amazing catch of fish at Jesus’ direction, saying,
Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!
Thank God that he does not compromise.
And thank God that, though he is pure light,
In Christ he is also forgiving and accepting.
1 John 1:8-9,
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, God who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
= make us clean from every kind of wrong.
As Christians we are learning to live with Christ who is the light; and to live more openly in the light. For in John’s own words, v7,
If we walk in the light as God himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin.
John tells us:
- In a confused society God is from the beginning.
- In a pluralistic society, God is light.
- In a relativistic society, God is truth.
- In a lost society, God knows the way.
- In every society, God offers us life eternal in Christ.
1 John will show us how.