Friday, July 27, 2007

First John

I have always found it interesting that the Apostle John never used his own name when he wrote his account of the life of Jesus. He never used his own name when he wrote three short letters much later. (First, Second, and Third John.)

(He did use his own name in the Book of The Revelation - three times in the first chapter, and once in the last. It’s a pretty long story, but when John put his name own name in The Book of the Revelation, it actually caused some to argue that John didn’t write it. The canonization of The Book of the Revelation is a pretty interesting story. We may talk about it some.)

Of more importance to today, however, is that while John didn’t use his own name, several times he calls himself “the one that Jesus loved” (John 13:3 for example). It’s an amazing thought that John was so impacted by Jesus that he, in some sense, lost his identity as “John, brother of James, son of Zebedee” and thought of himself as “beloved of Jesus.” John was consumed by the love Jesus had for him. It became his identity, his passion, his emphasis, his joy, his strength…. his concept of himself was rooted in his relationship to Jesus. I wonder how I would approach my day differently if I thought of myself less as “Steve” and more as “one loved by Jesus.”

With that background, let’s start looking at the book of First John. It starts with a very long, very complex sentence. The sentence starts with a series of dependent clauses. “That which we have seen” etc. The verb in the sentence does not show up until verse 3. In the NKJV the verb is in the phrase “we declare.” John’s big starting point is as follows. (The text is in bold italics, my comments are in plain text.)

That which was from the beginning, - A first description of something not yet named
which we have heard, - A second description of something not yet named
which we have seen with our eyes, - A third description of something not yet named
which we have looked upon, - A fourth description of something not yet named
and our hands have handled, - A fifth description of something not yet named
concerning the Word of life – The "something" is named, but not very clearly
(the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us) - A parenthetical clause that finally defines the “something” to which all those clauses referred. This parenthetical clause also explains a presumed objections… how is it possible that “they” could have seen, heard, looked upon, and handled that which was “from the beginning.” i.e. eternal. The answer is that the Word was eternal with the Father, but it was also manifested to us.
that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, - There is the subject verb and object of the sentence.
that you also may have fellowship with us; John actually gives several reasons for writing this book, this is the first of those.
and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. John reinforces the fact that his identity is completely wrapped up in his fellowship with Jesus Christ, and that this fellowship is available to us.

John’s opening sentence is “declaring” or “proclaiming” the facts that the same Jesus that was seen, heard, and touched by so many is eternal God. His reason for that focus is so that his readers can join in fellowship with those eye-witnesses and in fact with God Himself.

As I was studying this, the thought that struck me was about John. He did not see himself most accurately, fully, and completely, as “a son of thunder,” or as “one of the inner three,” or as “the brother of James,” not even as “John.” His must complete understanding of himself was “the one loved by Jesus.” That one, the one loved by Jesus, had one singular passion, revealed in these opening verses…. To declare to others that Jesus is the eternal Word of the Father. Because he was “loved by Jesus,” he was passionate about declaring the truth of Jesus to others, so that they too could know His love.

I wonder why so many modern Christians are so passive about declaring truth to others. I wonder how our evangelism would change if we saw ourselves not as “Americans,” or “Alabamians,” or “conservative protestants,” or even as “Christians,” but rather, we saw ourselves most clearly, and most fundamentally as “I am the one that Jesus loves.”

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Holy Spirit - Wine

Now that’s a topic that’s likely to spark a debate. A few things to be clear:

- Drunkenness is never appropriate for a believer.
- But total abstinence is not Biblically required of a believer except in three instances.

o If you take the priesthood of believers to a literal extreme that OT priests were not allowed to drink. (Leviticus 10:9) See the last bullet, however.
o You have taken a special vow (such as Nazarite) not to drink.
o Your drinking would cause other believers to stumble. (Romans 14:21)

- The disciples drank wine (At Cana, and in Luke 5:29-33)
- Jesus drank (Luke 7:31-34). Jesus basically said “John the Baptist didn’t drink and you didn’t believe him because you said that was too weird, I do drink and you don’t believe me because of it, you’ll find some reason to turn down God’s message no matter how it comes.”
- Early church elders could drink in moderation (I Timothy 3:8, and I Timothy 5:23 where Paul instructed Timothy to mix a bit of wine in his water because Timothy was prone to illness, and Ephesian water was prone to parasites.)

Throughout Scripture, wine symbolizes a strong, emotional experience of joy. (There are 4 passages that talk about the deceitful “joy” that comes in the course of sinful passions “Their wine is the venom of serpents.” Even in those passages, wine still symbolizes passionate enjoyment. With those exceptions, wine symbolizes not only joy, but joy that comes from God’s blessing.)

The Psalmist says that Joy coming from God is better than joy coming from wine (Ps. 4:7)

Overall, wine is symbolic of God’s blessings and the Joy that comes from being in right relationship with Him. Unless wine is consumed in excess, then it symbolizes foolishness, and indulgence.

Wine was used as a drink offering. The drink offering, the daily burnt offering, and the meal offering, all speak of the Joy of being daily in right relationship with the God. A drink offering was NEVER to be given with a sin offering. The joy that comes in sin offerings is too muted by the price that was paid.

The Holy Spirit is linked with wine in three primary ways.
1. The Holy Spirit is the source of Joy.(Galatians 5:22)
2. When the Apostles were filled and overcome with the Spirit at Pentecost, they were at first accused of being drunk.
3. Ephesians 5:18 says “Do not be drunk with wine, wherein is excess, but be filled by the Holy Spirit.” That command doesn’t even make sense, unless there are some strong similarities between the two.

The Message version puts it this way Ephesians 5:11-20 “It's a scandal when people waste their lives on things they must do in the darkness where no one will see. Rip the cover off those frauds and see how attractive they look in the light of Christ. Wake up from your sleep, Climb out of your coffins; Christ will show you the light! So watch your step. Use your head. Make the most of every chance you get. These are desperate times! Don't live carelessly, unthinkingly. Make sure you understand what the Master wants. Don't drink too much wine. That cheapens your life. Drink the Spirit of God, huge draughts of him. Sing hymns instead of drinking songs! Sing songs from your heart to Christ. Sing praises over everything, any excuse for a song to God the Father in the name of our Master, Jesus Christ.”

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Holy Spirit - Water

We noted that the Hebrew and Greek words for Spirit literally mean "wind." I enjoyed our time, and felt like we learned a lot about the Spirit through the
illustration of the wind.

The scripture often associates and or contrasts the Holy Spirit and water.

The first appearance of the Holy Spirit (Genesis 1) says that He "moved (or hovered) upon the face of the waters."

John the Baptist taught "I baptize you with water, but when the Promised One comes, He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit, and with fire."

As Jesus was coming up out of the water the Holy Spirit appeared to John (in the likeness of a dove).

Jesus told Nicodemus "Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God."

Perhaps the most clear connection between the Holy Spirit and water is in John 7, Jesus yelled loudly in the crowded temple "If anyone is thirsty, he should come to Me and drink! The one who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, will have streams of living water flow from deep within him." John then adds this explanation "He said this about the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were going to receive, for the Spirit had not yet been received, because Jesus had not yet been glorified."

This same disciple, many years later wrote (I John 5) "Jesus Christ--He is the One who came by water and blood; not by water only, but by water and by blood. And the Spirit is the One who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water, and the blood--and these three are in agreement.”

In Hebrew culture, water was often associated with ritual cleanings. The tabernacle had a copper "laver" at which the priests were required to wash their hands and feet before sacrificing anything on the altar. Ritual baths for purification in "Miqvah" were very common before the time of Christ. Water symbolized the washing away of filth and uncleanness. With that background, Titus 3:5 says "He saved us-- not by works of righteousness that we had done, but according to His mercy, through the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit."

The Holy Spirit has some clear associations and contrasts with water. A few things seem clear.
* The Spirit is involved in cleansing us from sin.
* The Spirit is involved in some activities that come after cleansing.

John 16 "Nevertheless, I am telling you the truth. It is for your benefit that I go away, because if I don't go away the Counselor will not come to you.
If I go, I will send Him to you. When He comes, He will convict the world about sin, righteousness, and judgment: about sin, because they do not believe in Me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will no longer see Me; and about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged."

Our discussion Sunday will start with a question...
"What can we learn about the Holy Spirit from the comparison and contrast between His work and water?"