what John “the elder” and beloved apostle of our Lord might say to us now from 1 John 2:3-11

We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands. Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.

Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning. This old command is the message you have heard. Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and in you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining.

Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness. Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble. But anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness. They do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them.

1 John 2:3-11

Here’s how we can be sure that we know God in the right way: Keep his commandments.

If someone claims, “I know him well!” but doesn’t keep his commandments, he’s obviously a liar. His life doesn’t match his words. But the one who keeps God’s word is the person in whom we see God’s mature love. This is the only way to be sure we’re in God. Anyone who claims to be intimate with God ought to live the same kind of life Jesus lived.

My dear friends, I’m not writing anything new here. This is the oldest commandment in the book, and you’ve known it from day one. It’s always been implicit in the Message you’ve heard. On the other hand, perhaps it is new, freshly minted as it is in both Christ and you—the darkness fading away and the True Light already blazing!

Anyone who claims to live in God’s light and hates a brother or sister is still in the dark. It’s the person who loves brother and sister who dwells in God’s light and doesn’t block the light from others. But whoever hates is still in the dark, stumbles around in the dark, doesn’t know which end is up, blinded by the darkness.

1 John 2:3-11; MSG

John today might tell us that we need to get back to basics and live there. What is most basic about us and others around us in Jesus is not our political stance, as important as that is in terms of God’s kingdom and grace present in Christ. What’s most basic for us is our fellowship of love together in God the Father and in Jesus Christ. Nothing else matters in comparison.

When we make something else so basic and important that it divides us from other believers, and even alienates us from other people, that’s a sure sign that we’re off track. And when we actually descend into hatred of others, even those we consider enemies, we’re not obeying the clear commandment of our Lord to love them.

And if our lives don’t have the mark of Jesus on them, if we’re not living like Jesus did, then we need to ask ourselves and above all ask God what’s wrong. To live like Jesus is to be concerned about living in the light of God’s kingdom and grace present in Jesus. We measure our lives by King Jesus and his kingdom, and nothing else.

If anything gets in the way of any of this, we can be sure it’s darkness.

Something of what John might say to us today from this passage.

Jesus is with us. are we with him?

“I am the Real Vine and my Father is the Farmer. He cuts off every branch of me that doesn’t bear grapes. And every branch that is grape-bearing he prunes back so it will bear even more. You are already pruned back by the message I have spoken.

“Live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you. In the same way that a branch can’t bear grapes by itself but only by being joined to the vine, you can’t bear fruit unless you are joined with me.

“I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you’re joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can’t produce a thing. Anyone who separates from me is deadwood, gathered up and thrown on the bonfire. But if you make yourselves at home with me and my words are at home in you, you can be sure that whatever you ask will be listened to and acted upon. This is how my Father shows who he is—when you produce grapes, when you mature as my disciples.

“I’ve loved you the way my Father has loved me. Make yourselves at home in my love. If you keep my commands, you’ll remain intimately at home in my love. That’s what I’ve done—kept my Father’s commands and made myself at home in his love.

“I’ve told you these things for a purpose: that my joy might be your joy, and your joy wholly mature. This is my command: Love one another the way I loved you. This is the very best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends. You are my friends when you do the things I command you. I’m no longer calling you servants because servants don’t understand what their master is thinking and planning. No, I’ve named you friends because I’ve let you in on everything I’ve heard from the Father.

“You didn’t choose me, remember; I chose you, and put you in the world to bear fruit, fruit that won’t spoil. As fruit bearers, whatever you ask the Father in relation to me, he gives you.

“But remember the root command: Love one another.”

John 15:1-17; MSG

Christ’s words to his disciples echo to us today. We often want to do much for our Lord, even out of love, so we give it our best effort and inevitably fall short. It seems here that Jesus is telling us that a first priority is to be at home in organic, intimate relationship with him. I really like how Eugene Peterson puts it. And this is both an individual and communal endeavor. Jesus talks about individual branches which bear no fruit, but is talking to his disciples as branches on the same plant, who are to love each other.

I think oftentimes God lets us have success, but then the well dries up because we have something more to learn, at least better. This is a lesson from our Lord he gave his disciples in the Upper Room Discourse the night before his crucifixion. It was and we can say is something close to our Lord’s heart, something he practiced in relation with the Father, and wants us to practice in relation with him.

Too often we tend to downplay relationships in our emphasis for doing, getting the job done. I know that all too well in my many years it turned out to be, in factory work. At this late time for me, I’m learning more the importance of relationships, working with people whose ethnic practice is much more relational and communal, even though they work quite hard as well.

It’s not like what we do doesn’t matter, and won’t help in God’s good grace. But it’s more like a little bit from our communion with Christ will go much farther, and be much more potent than all our efforts all day.

So it seems like first things first, we need to focus on our union and communion, indeed on our relationship with Christ. Of course it’s only in and through him that we have that relationship at all, through his life, death and resurrection, and by the Spirit through his ascension.

If we’re at an impasse, maybe we just need to stop dead in our tracks. And seek to draw near to God. Jesus already makes his home in us. We’re to make our home in him. So maybe for us for a time it won’t be a matter of doing, but just trying to settle into our friendship with him, loving each other, as he taught us. Knowing that the fruit, good things will inevitably come out of that. But learning to settle in and be settled in that.

reaching out to the Lord’s commands

I reach out for your commands, which I love,
that I may meditate on your decrees.

Psalm 119:48

I love the idea here of reaching out to God’s commands out of love for them. When you read Psalm 119 as a whole, it’s a mix between a commitment to full obedience and the realization that the psalmist falls short. And you can find dependence on God and God’s mercy and grace in it.

How do we reach out to God’s commands? I think we as followers of Jesus should start with Jesus’s commands and go from there. We have to go to the gospel accounts: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and a good place to start is Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount. We have to be committed to meditation on them, to get them into our heart and bones, to aspire to them, and to begin to live them out.

There has to be the passion present that this indeed is what we want to do. We have to be wannabes before those things can take root and become a part of who we truly are. The above line suggests that we reach out so that we might meditate. We have to be aware of God’s will for us before we can begin to live in that will.

For us now in and through Jesus.

 

paying attention to God’s commands

Blessed are those whose ways are blameless,
who walk according to the law of the LORD.
Blessed are those who keep his statutes
and seek him with all their heart—
they do no wrong
but follow his ways.
You have laid down precepts
that are to be fully obeyed.
Oh, that my ways were steadfast
in obeying your decrees!
Then I would not be put to shame
when I consider all your commands.
I will praise you with an upright heart
as I learn your righteous laws.
I will obey your decrees;
do not utterly forsake me.

Psalm 119:1-8

It seems hard and almost old fashioned, at least open to question nowadays, the necessity or even importance of keeping God’s commands. For one thing we live in a relatively Bible illiterate day, when it seems like year after year, people who attend Bible teaching churches know the Bible’s content less and less. At least that has been the case. And we live during a day when there’s a major cultural shift arguably accompanied with a hermeneutical shift, how Christians interpret the Bible. With the obvious changes from the Old (or First) Testament to the New (or Second, we could say Final) Testament such as found in Leviticus, for example the prohibition of sowing two different fabrics together to make clothes no longer being in effect comes the protests that sexual mores have now been changed as well. The idea that sexual relations are confined to a woman and man who are married is considered odd and a thing of the past, almost taboo at least among many in their practice.

Among Christians who fall prey to none of that, there can be such an emphasis on grace, that keeping God’s commands is nearly beside the point. Impossible since that is considered falling under the law, which is only meant to indicate that we’re sinners, incapable of keeping the law. With others it might be a decided shift in emphasis due to priorities which determine more what we’re to do and not do than Scripture itself. It’s almost like Scripture is present to help achieve what is considered most important, often referring to priorities in one’s personal life, or from the political sphere.

May I just suggest that I think all of us Christians and churches ought to stop, back up, and go to square one. We need to return to the plain words of Scripture, of course read faithfully and in light of God’s revelation given to us in Scripture of Christ. We might be surprised at just how traditional it might come across. Not the air of today’s “brave new world” but the fulfillment of the old creation in the new creation in Jesus as spelled out in the Final “New” Testament itself. Something to which we should aspire, even as with the psalmist we lament in not arriving to perfection in this life. In and through Jesus.

on the eleventh day of Christmas: God’s love our joy

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.

John 15:9-17

God’s love has been poured out on the world in the life of a little baby boy. The light of God’s love is thus made known, and the joy that comes with that. We who live in this love in and through Jesus, also live in God’s joy. To have that joy remain in us and be complete, we need to live in God’s love, in and through Jesus. We do so by keeping our Lord’s commands. And the command we’re to keep is to love each other, even as he loved us, laying down his life for us. Then we will live in his love and know his joy.

Almighty God,
in the birth of your Son
you have poured on us the new light of your incarnate Word,
and shown us the fullness of your love:
help us to walk in his light and dwell in his love
that we may know the fullness of his joy;
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
Amen.

Book of Common Prayer

 

provisional grace

I’m not sure if a term like “provisional grace” hits the nail on the head very well in regard to what I want to say, but I think there is a sense in which we can obey the commands of God, including the command to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Of course none of us does that day in and day out, though I might surmise that in moments of time, or in some act, prompted by the Spirit, we might indeed fulfill that. And I would also surmise that we don’t always have to have mixed motives in doing so, in fact in something prompted by the Spirit (and we live in the Spirit as those in Jesus) I’m not sure why there has to be mixed motives at all. Except for the doctrine that we are sinners through and through and that nothing at all that we do cannot be without the taint of sin. I would want to challenge that in regard to those in the new creation in Jesus.

A good prayer, regularly prayed is the acknowledgement of how we have not loved God with all our hearts or our neighbor as ourselves. We can then ask God to search our hearts to bring to light any sin, and then pronounce the good news that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Yes, we need to acknowledge that we do sin and therefore we are sinners. Both in what we do and fail to do.

We need also to remember that there is victory for us in Christ in how we live. Yes, we are set free from the law of sin and death, but what does that mean? Certainly to walk in newness of life or in the immediate context, to fulfill the requirement of the law by the Spirit.

Provisional grace might be something like the idea that God accepts our imperfect obedience even with mixed motives. As humans living with the baggage we carry from living in this world, and as those who will not arrive to complete likeness to Jesus in this life, we won’t keep the commands of God as Jesus kept them, strictly speaking. And yet the Spirit helps us obey and grow in that obedience, so that our love for God and for neighbor should be more and more like Jesus, as we grow in grace. Of course in community. And it is indeed the Spirit of Jesus who lives in us.

God helps us love him and our neighbor purely, even if that love needs to mature and expand, according to where we are at. And so a newborn in Christ could well be as delightful to God in a sense, as one who has developed a close walk with God and is near the end of their journey in this life.

Keeping God’s and Christ’s commands is something that seems to be expected of God’s people in scripture. Not simply as a means of helping them see they are sinners and therefore receiving God’s grace in their confession of sin. The commands are something we actually are to do, and to grow in, as those who by grace are among the pure heart, in and through Jesus.

the righteousness Jesus requires

Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

I have recently been struck by the righteousness Jesus requires to enter the kingdom of heaven, the kingdom of God, especially as expounded in the Sermon on the Mount. It is a righteousness in terms of a changed life, no less. And it is a righteousness lived out in community before the world, indeed as a witness to the world.

Of course it is not our own righteousness in the sense that it comes from ourselves. But it becomes our own righteousness as a gift from God, in following Christ. Not that we are ever righteous in ourselves, our righteousness is always and forever in Christ. But it is a righteousness in terms of life lived. And specifically from the passage quoted above, in obeying Jesus’ commands.

We need to spend time, considerable time in the Sermon on the Mount. Prayerfully meditating on it. It is an eye opener, but not in a comfortable way. And yet in the very way we need, in a way which can get us on track in God’s will in Jesus, perhaps better put: going and growing in that direction. It is in terms of obedience to Jesus’ commands. Of course we are not looking at sinless perfection here. But neither are we looking at excuses why we can’t keep Jesus’ commands. The Sermon on the Mount is not given  so that we find out how sinful we are (though on one level, it is), so that we simply come to Christ for forgiveness of sin with no intent to obey it. It is not something out of our league, in Christ. It is part and parcel of what it means to be a follower of Christ, how we as his followers are to live in this world, indeed, how we are to be the salt of the earth, and the light of the world.

And so let’s take a good, prolonged look at the sermon (not necessarily on this blog, I’m referring to us individually and together). As we seek to be Jesus’ followers together in and for the world.

obedience better than sacrifice

Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices
    as much as in obeying the Lord?
To obey is better than sacrifice,
    and to heed is better than the fat of rams.

There are important, helpful spiritual disciplines for us, learned from tradition which is rooted in scripture. Solitude, silence, chanting scripture, praying the Jesus prayer as well as the Lord’s prayer, etc., etc. There are all kinds of things we do as Christians: attending church, giving regularly to the church and God’s work in the world, reading the Bible and praying, witnessing to others of our faith in Christ and the gospel. But what good are all these things if on something or other we’re holding out and not obeying the Lord?

Culture can help us sidestep obeying Jesus and his commands. It is not fashionable, for example, to turn the other cheek when we are struck, to bless those who curse us, and pray for those who despise us. Even Christians advocate carrying or owning guns, though they do so as only a last resort to stop an evildoer bent on violence. But Jesus’ way, counterituitive and countercultural as it is, is to take the way of the cross always, no matter what. That is the only way for the follower of Jesus.

Any expression of the Christian faith which does not make much of obedience and specifically of obeying the commands of Christ falls short of carrying out God’s will in Jesus. I’m afraid a cultural expression of the faith has made this not only possible, but easy, in fact hard not to do, the norm.

One other example: Christ commands us to be reconciled to our brother or sister before we worship in presenting an offering to God:

Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.

It doesn’t matter if we like them or not. We are to be reconciled, period. We are so accustomed not to obeying all the commands of Jesus that I doubt that a majority of Christians are even aware of this command of our Lord.

And so let’s forget about any grandiose ideas we have in serving God. Rather let’s humbly give ourselves to obedience out of love in response to God’s love in Jesus, together for the world.

loving your enemies

Jesus tells us, indeed commands us to love our enemies. This is a hard saying, one of Jesus’ hard sayings. It is especially hard, when a friend, even a brother or sister in Jesus breaks relationship with you and refuses reconciliation, contrary again to the command of Christ.

I’ve heard over and over again that to love one’s enemies is supernatural. It certainly is beyond us sinners. But in Jesus and as followers of Jesus we have an entirely new life, and are to have a new orientation. But we have imbibed the culture and attitude of the world on this, I’m afraid. It is tit for tat, a power play to take care of evil, just as the world does it.

No, in our following of Jesus, loving our enemies should become more and more a natural part of who we are. We do it, and more and more we do it in the same love in which we live, the love of God in Jesus by the Spirit.

There is no need to say, “I am not at that place. I can’t obey this or that command of Christ. I need to pray and ask God for grace to do so.” One may need to say that at a certain point, and particularly the last part is good, praying for grace. But forgiving and loving even our enemies should become a natural part of who we are in Jesus.

This doesn’t mean that we will arrive on this point (or any other) in this life, because we may indeed stumble or struggle in our attitude toward others. But living out the gospel should be part and parcel of who we are in Jesus, and living out that gospel involves forgiving those who have wronged us. It is the way of the cross, the way of forgiveness and reconciliation, the way of Jesus. Together with others in Jesus, for the world.