As a missionary and pastor, passages like 1 John 2:20-27 and John 16:12-14 have always demanded a significant time of personal reflection. There really are two reasons for this. One is that I have preached verse by verse through John and am currently working through 1 John, and secondly, I have seen first hand the devastating consequences to those who misapply Scripture to their own destruction. We have all heard the statement “Practice makes perfect.” Really, this statement does not take into account the nature of the practice in which one is engaged. Practice does make permanent, but that permanent may in the long term prove to be detrimental to the person in training if his practice has firmly established detrimental habits. We all approach the Bible with certain biases and blind spots that often cloud the meaning of the text. Our culture, family situations, local church background, friends, fear, and pride all play a role in this subtle blurring of what should be very clear. Many times, our understanding of a passage like these two passages is not really built on careful observation of context and the author’s intent, but rather it is rooted in the status quo, what we have always heard. If we read the passage 5 times or we read the passage 100 times, our faulty understanding is never brought into question; rather it becomes more firmly rooted in our minds. This is why Paul commanded Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:15 to be a diligent workman,“rightly dividing the word of truth.” Peter warned Christians in 2 Peter 3:16 to be careful of false teachers who are “unlearned and unstable” and “wrest” “the other Scriptures, unto their own destruction.” We also see in Hebrews 5:13-14, we are warned that spiritually immature people are “unskillful in the word of righteousness” while those who are spiritually mature “by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.”
Rightly dividing the Word of Truth, is something that we grow in as we mature in the faith, and as we learn to establish good study habits that dig into the correct understanding of what “Paul or John” meant. It is not until we meet someone who rocks the boat for us that we for the first time carefully observe the text and understand it correctly. That person can come in many forms. It may be a person to whom we are trying to minister. It may be someone who flatly opposes our position. Who it is or the circumstances surrounding that confrontation are irrelevant. What really matters is that we step back, put aside our biases, and examine the details of the passage so the correct understanding can tear down our presuppositions. I want to invite you to look at these two passages more carefully, and consider the implications of your current position. Consider the following questions, and then let’s take them one by one:
- Are John’s statements in verse 20 “ye know all things” and his statement in verse 27 “ye need not that any man teach you…” meant to be understood as universal statements without limitation?
- What is the specific situation that John is addressing in this epistle?
- How does this specific situation limit the scope of what John is saying?
- How does the rest of Scripture relate to this statement?
- How should we apply John’s statement?
When we consider the last post, we were reminded how easy it is to twist words when the whole conversation has not been considered. Each part serves a particular aspect under-girding the writer’s main point, so I want us to begin our study of 1 John in that place, John’s main point. John writes in verses 1-4 “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life…That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full.”
What captures your attention in the opening of John’s letter? Three thoughts come to my mind. First, John’s words in the opening of this epistle draw our attention to the opening words of two other books in the Bible, the gospel of John and Genesis. Notice the similarities between “That which was from the beginning…the Word of life…”, “In the beginning was the Word…”, and “in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…” All three passages emphasize the eternality of the central figure in these books, God. In Genesis, the central figure is Yahweh the Creator. In John’s gospel, the central figure is the Word, the Creator, and in 1 John again, we find the Word of Life. Secondly, John’s words draw our attention to the physical reality of the incarnation of Christ. He says: “that which we have heard, our hands have handled, and that which we have seen and heard we declare unto you…” John is writing as a witness of physical events that he personally experienced, and then he is going to relate those events to the spiritual well-being of his church congregation. Apart from the incarnation of Christ, there could be no eternal life. Thirdly, John is going to emphasize his main point for writing the epistle. He says “That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us…And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full.” John’s purpose can be summarized generally with the following statement: John wrote the his epistle confronting false teaching concerning the person of Christ and the nature of the Christian life, because he wanted these Christians to have a vibrant Christian experience as they walk in fellowship with God. God wants you to have a vibrant Christian experience as you walk in fellowship with Him, as well; therefore He preserved these words for your growth as a Christian. In our next post, I would like to dig a little deeper into John’s purpose, a vibrant Christian experience.
Imagine for a monument that you are a young person who has taken the potentially life changing step to run for public office in your local community. After formally announcing your candidacy, you are approached by a member of a popular local media outlet soliciting your first formal interview. Being young and inexperienced, you thrill at the opportunity to get your name and views out to the public, and after completing the interview, you eagerly anticipate its publication. Finally, the day comes that the interview is published. You pick up the paper and begin absorbing the article, but to your dismay, you meet an article that is far less flattering toward your views than you anticipated. You cringe in several location, where the author twisted your words, and presented them in a way that misrepresented your views. Every quote was verbatim, however not every quote accurately portrayed what you said in the interview. You quickly learned the hard lesson, that your words can be easily twisted and presented in a way that is quite contrary to your original intention.
As a pastor, it is both my passion and sacred duty to labor to “rightly divide” the word of truth for God’s people. Pastoral labors are not strictly academic; however, living and working in the midst of God’s people provide countless reminders of the devastating consequences of embracing false teaching to whatever degree we meet it. Ideas have consequences, and the degree to which we embrace right ideas will directly manifest itself in the blessings we experience in our daily Christian walk. To the contrary, wrong ides also have varying degrees of negative consequences. It was this passion that drove the Apostle John to pen a series of simple yet practical epistles to his beloved church family at Ephesus. Over last few months in our church here in Cape Coast, we have been studying the first of these epistles. Week after week, my hearts has been stirred by the pastoral love of John for his church family, and his desire to confront wrong thinking. It is my desire to share with you some of the highlights of our time spent in this epistle. Our next post will discuss the primary situation facing the church, and John’s approach to correcting this great problem in the church.