Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Adult Meeting: Overview of 1 John

Hooray! We are starting our series on 1 John, that epistle that has long flummoxed me with its lorsor-ness and OTT terms of endearment.
Singapore Bible College Organ
Here are the notes from the overview that Chris Chia gave on 1 John at tonight's ARPC Adult Meeting:
1. 1 John: Major Themes
a. Who, what and why?


Who are the main characters in this epistle?
John: John was most likely the same John who wrote the Gospel of John. Many commentaries may be unhelpful when they spend too much time discussing who this John was instead of focussing on the contents of the epistle. But we take it on internal evidence that the John who wrote the epistles also wrote the Gospel.

Recipients: They were the Christians in house churches.

Cessasionists/Separatists: They were leading the churches astray and had separated from the churches.

God: The most important party. He is spoken of as God the Father, God the Son (Jesus Christ) and God the Spirit. John repeatedly appeals to God, God's character and God's purposes as the reason for right belief and right behaviour as God's people.

Why does John write this letter?
  1. John writes to make his joy complete (1:4). As a Christian and as a pastor, his joy is somewhat dependent on his fellow Christians and his flock and their Christian health. Christianity is a team effort. There is no such thing as solitary Christianity (unlike life in a Buddist temple or in a monastry when worshippers can worship alone without bothering about anyone else).
  2. John writes so that the recipients of his letter will not sin (2:1). It is to give them a proper understanding of proper behaviour and sin. We may understand overt sins but he is writing about covert sins - sin that we are not aware of as sins.
  3. John writes to give true Christian confidence, true Christian assurance, that they have eternal life, that there will be victory over sin and over death. People who are hale and hearty do not usually ask questions about death. We gather here and in DGs, not in a mechanical way, not because it is part of the ARPC church programme but because we have Christian confidence and true assurance.
So John writes as a shepherd and a true pastor to protect his beloved children from the mistaken marks of spirituality. Coming from pagan backgrounds, we all have different mistaken marks of spirituality. He also writes for a polemic reason - to counter the seductive false doctrines and the divisiveness of the separatist group. We may come from churches in which divisiveness is the church air. We may take it for granted that it is what church is about. But divisiveness impacts our members. When there is a split, when there is backstabbing, when there is hurt, people will walk very tenderly thereafter, very tentatively.

b. Tests: Three?
Robert Law popularised the view that there are 3 tests in 1 John:

  1. Truth of the doctrine test: what we believe about Jesus Christ matters. The truth does not allow for free-thinking in God's church. It is wrong to say,"Oh, as long as you believe anything sincerely, it's ok."
  2. Moral/obedience test: how does biblical truth show up in obedience in your life? Is the Lord Jesus Christ part of your life or are you part of the risen life of Jesus Christ? Think carefully before you answer. Soya sauce and MSG can be part of your life. It's not too difficult to add Jesus Christ to your little pantheon, because in the end, everything continues to rotate around you as the centre. But if you are part of the risen life of Jesus Christ, then all your decisions are subject to him and all aspects of your life will be in submission to him. Disobedience is hypocrisy.
  3. Social/love test: what does obedience to Christ look like? In his commentary, David Jackman wrote that at the end of his life, John had become so frail and weak that he could no longer preach and he would have to be carried into the congregation at Ephesus and content himself with a word of exhortation. "Little children," he would always say,"love one another." And when his hearers grew tired of this message and asked him why he so frequently repeated it, he responded,"Because it is the Lord's command and if this is all you do, it is enough."

    At the end of his life, John summarised tests 1-3 as "love one another". Most tests are to exclude people, from admission, from membership, from citizenship. But this test is to include people into the church of God.

    (John Stott had the view that there was a fourth test: the test of anointing. Whether you had been anointed with this Spirit.)
c. Tests: Or...
Actually, there is only one test. If we understand the truth, if we pass the truth test, then we pass the rest of the tests, because we cannot have the truth without right living and love for one another.

2. A Structure?
There is no structure (in the way we commonly understand it) to the epistle. The chapter numberings and headings are put in for our ease of study but in the original Greek, there was nothing of that sort. John sounds like a bit of a nag. He employs rather a rather circular, circuitous Hebrew style. It doesn't have the logical flow of Paul but ideas and concepts get repeated and fleshed out throughout the letter.

We can possibly attempt a loose structure below but strict adherence would be unhelpful:
Chapter 1: conditions to Christian fellowship - God is light, walk in the light.
Chapter 2: barriers to Christian fellowship - the world and the anti-Christ.
Chapter 3 and 4: characteristics of Christian fellowship - God is love, walk in love.
Chapter 5: consequences of Christian fellowship - if we have true fellowship, we pray for each other and bring back the brother who is falling away.

3. What if we did not have 1 John?
Singapore Bible College ChairsThen we wouldn't have one of the boldest, most confident epistles. 1 John is a no-holds-barred letter: if you have the truth, don't let anyone take away your assurance.

When you come to this Adult Meeting or to service or to your DG, it is an outworking of these 3/4 tests. Are we friendly to people we don't know? Do we greet each other? Do the DG leaders arrive on time to arrange the chairs? Do the DG members arrive with a heart willing to serve?

3 Comments:

At September 22, 2006 4:23 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd bet John's Epistle sounds better in French!

 
At September 27, 2006 5:43 pm , Blogger Darrell said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At September 27, 2006 5:45 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...

did you have a picture of pastor chris's new dye hair??

 

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