Series: Life in the Beloved
That We May Know Him
November 26, 2023 | Peter Rowan
Passage: 1 John 5:1-21
John ends his little letter of 1 John by going back to what he has been saying all along. It may seem odd to end with "Little children, keep yourself from idols," but in that phrase we see the love that he has constantly shared and the theme that he has returned to again and again. Don't give up the faith! Don't buy the philosophy of your day. Don't give up on what you heard from the beginning. Don't buy the other offers of love and life from the would-be saviors around you. There is one God and one God alone and he has revealed himself in the incarnation, life, death and resurrection of Jesus - in the water, the blood and the Spirit.
Let me begin, before I pray, by saying that I did not expect to preach all of 1 John 5 in one sermon. There is enough here for a good many sermons, but I had planned to preach this in two sermons and then I got COVID a few weeks back and so I’m going to take this chapter all together. I don’t think that will work against was the Spirit wants to teach us from John, but it’s more than we tend to take on in one sermon. Anyway, let’s pray.
Yesterday Michigan beat Ohio State. 30 to 24. 110,615 people were at the game!
Beaver Statium, is State College - the second largest stadium, hold 106,572. If you are wondering, Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge is number 5 at 102,321.
Amazon’s largest fulfillment center in the U.S., located in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee, is a massive 3.6 million square feet in size. It has 5 stories of automated warehouse facilities and 80,000 square feet of offices. This facility dwarfs the average Amazon fulfillment center, which is typically around 800,000 square feet. There are 17 fulfillment centers here in PA. The latest one, on the way down to York is 1.2 million square feet.
A football field is 57,600 square feet.
Americans spent 12.2 billion dollars on Halloween. In 2021 Americans spent 886 Billion on Christmas. 5.6 Billion was spent last year on Thanksgiving. Is it any wonder why Thanksgiving seems to be crowded out by Halloween and Christmas?
A study done recently showed hat People tapped, swiped and clicked a whopping 2,617 times each day, on average. For the heaviest users—the top 10%—average interactions doubled to 5,427 touches a day. Per year, that’s nearly 1 million touches on average—and 2 million for the less restrained among us.
Get this, Ligonier Ministries does an annual survey that they call “The State of Theology”. One of their statements every year that you are to answer true or false to was this: Jesus was a great teacher, but he was not God. 43% of respondents agreed with this statement. 57% disagreed. But who were the respondents? The respondents were people that said they were evangelical Christians. 43% of people who claimed to be evangelical Christians in the US said that they agreed with the statement “Jesus was a great teacher, but he was not God.”
So what about 1 John chapter 5. What in world do statistics about stadiums and Amazon centers and cell phone usage and theology have to do with 1 John 5. Well, quite simply the main point of the book is the main point of this chapter.
Do not be led away from the true God. Do not be led away from the true God and how he has revealed himself. Don’t bow to the substitutes!
John ends his book in kind of an odd way. He says this in the last verse: “Little Children, keep yourselves from idols.” Really, that’s how you end it? Paul ends Galatians “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen.” John ends 1 John: “Keep yourself from idols!” Ha! Imagine, you come over to my house for dinner, we sit, we talk, we maybe play a game, and as you are leaving, we all walk you to the front door. Then, after we have maybe given hugs and said, “Thank you for coming” and all of those goodbyes, we say, “Keep yourself from idols!” Maybe you are playing a baseball game. It’s the end. The final pitch has been thrown and the final player is out. Then, the teams line up to give each other hi-fives and they walk by one another and say “Good game, good game” and “keep yourself from idols!”
But what a word we need to hear! Keep yourself from idols. Don’t be led away from the true God! Don’t buy the god-substitutes.
Alright, two god-substitutes offered up here: A substitute love and a substitute life
A Substitute Love
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. 2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments.
Many of you were here last week when we look at the second half of chapter 4. and in those 15 verse alone, John used the word love 27 times. Now he keeps going. He was intent there that we love one another. As I said, the nature of God is love, the history of God is love and the ongoing presence of God with us is love and flowing out from each of those is the command that we imitate this God who is love by loving one another.
But I want to suggest to you here that he extends this discourse on love because he knows that there is a great temptation to love other gods. We have seen these realities of God’s loving nature, he loving acts in his history and his loving presence with us and yet, we think that his commandments are burdensome and something else will fulfill us. We are all tempted to love something else with the idea that that something else will somehow bring greater fulfillment, ease our life, and give us greater joy.
Think of this. In Medieval times, pre-renaissance, pre-industrial revolution, the center of the town was the church. And often the largest church - the cathedral or central church for a given area - was right there at the center of the town with it’s towering spires. It was often the largest building. Of course, there were many other smaller churches around, but it said something very significant about what mattered that the church was there at the center and it was the largest and tallest building. It said something about what oriented them, what centered them.
The fact is, that most of us find our orientation in life, our sense of direction - how we spend our time, how we spend out money, what we give our attention to - on the big buildings of our day. Amazon’s latest 1.2 million square foot fulfillment center in York County. Cumberland county already has two fulfillment centers! 2,617 a day we touch our phones!! A 30 second commercial during the Super Bowl last year cost 7 million dollars!
Jesus tells us in Matthew 6
22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, 23 but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!
And Immediately after he says:
24 “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.
Because, as he tells us immediately before he talks about our eyes: Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Why do we spend all of this time watching and looking and spending and buying and desiring? Why? I would simply suggest to you that we are looking God, we are looking for love. And we think there in those likes on Instagram, those laughing icons on a Facebook post, those new jeans, that new experience and all of the rest that we will find fulfillment, find joy, find satisfaction, find what our hearts are all longing for - find love.
But they don’t. And so we keep tapping, we keep scrolling, we keep watching, we keep buying.
They are substitutes. They are fake.
It may be true that when you come to the true God, when you come to the living God, that he asks a great deal of you. It is true. He tells you to follow his commandments. He tells you to take up your cross and die. But he also tells you that in dying you will live and be born to eternal life. He tells you that as you come to him you will find that his yoke is easy and his burden is light. He tells you that at the heart of his commandments is love, if fact, Jesus tells us that all of the law and the prophets are summed up in this: to love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and to love your neighbor as yourself.
I read this quote from N T Wright to you last week, but let me read it again:
Left to myself, the god I want is a god who will give me what I want. He—or more likely it—will be a projection of my desires. At the grosser level, this will lead me to one of the more obvious pagan gods or goddesses, who offer their devotees money, or sex, or power… All idols started out life as the god somebody wanted.
At a more sophisticated level, the god I want will be a god who lives up to my intellectual expectations…I want this god because he, or it, will underwrite my intellectual arrogance. He will boost my sense of being a refined modern thinker. The net result is that I become god; and this god I’ve made becomes my puppet. Nobody falls down on their face before the god they wanted. Nobody trembles at the word of a home-made god. Nobody goes out with fire in their belly to heal the sick, to clothe the naked, to teach the ignorant, to feed the hungry, because of the god they wanted. They are more likely to stay at home with their feet up.
Can such a god really be God? - N. T. Wright, For All God’s Worth
And the answer is NO! Keep yourself from idols! Don’t buy the substitutes for Love!
God is love. And God is the only answer for your deepest desires for love.
Now, we aren’t just tempted towards substitutes for love, but also substitutes for life.
A Substitute Life
Now, of course, the question is, where do you find life? Or, we could also ask, what is true life?
Now, we’ve seen how this was a question for John and his audience. It was a common question at that time. The thought then was that true life isn’t found in the constraints of a body and quite a lot comes out of that. One thing was that it really didn’t matter too much what you did with your body. True life isn’t found in the physical anyway, so do what you want. Go to the brothel if that is your desire. Sleep with who will and when you want. Eat whatever you want. None of it really matters. And it also meant that God doesn’t take on flesh and dwell among us. He doesn’t enter into our life. He may be a good moral teacher, but he isn’t God, the true God.
But listen to John.
6 This is he who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. 7 For there are three that testify: 8 the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree. 9 If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son.
What? what’s all of this water and blood stuff? Well, it is, of course, a reference to Jesus baptism - where he associates fully with the plight of humankind and there the father speaks over him while the Spirit descends like a dove - “This is my son, in whom I am well pleased”! And the blood stuff? Well, it is, of course, a reference to the cross. What John is saying is that you think that there is life outside of this God who gives himself by taking on flesh and truly dying on a cross, but there is no life outside of this!
You see, you could maybe say that the love substitute is the secular substitute and the life substitute could be the religious substitute. Some say, find your life in what you have and other say find your life in giving up of all of the fleshly stuff, whether it be physical or in the belief of a God like Jesus. And John says all of that is idol stuff. And, little children, keep yourselves from idols. Don’t believe these lies.
If you want real love, go to the Lord. If you want to find what real life is, go to the Lord. Give up on the lies, give up on the idea that living in darkness will bring you fulfillment. Do away with the life of sin.
Or, as verse 11 and 12 say: 11 And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.
Alright, I’ll try to wrap up just like John is trying to wrap up.
He’s writing these things out of love and with a desire that you have a real life. All of us struggle with this. In fact what we do with desire, with dis-ease, is what true spirituality is all about. Our loves, our longing for life, is what it is all about. And so the strain that we all feel in this life is natural, the desire that we have for the good gifts that God gives us in this life are natural, but those desires that dis-ease, will never satisfy. They will not.
John says this: I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life. (v. 13)
You already have it. If you have Jesus, you have all you need. You can get off the rat-race. You can stop your scrolling. You can truncate that Christmas wish-list. You can give up on the idea that you will find love and life once you have the new home or the new wife or the the car. You can give up on running after idols, i.e. sinning.
And then he basically ends with a call to prayer. He knows we can’t do this on our own. Just like true love and true life are found in God alone, so our giving up of our idols and putting them at the foot of the cross can only be done by the work of God. So he says pray. Ask according to his will. And pray for one another. Pray for one another. Pray that we collectively will not fall pray to the idols of our day, pray that we together will hold fast to Jesus.
Brothers and Sisters, what a word for us at this time. I mean, we are on this Sunday where many Christians focus on Jesus as the true King, Christ the King Sunday. And right when we are about to celebrate Advent, a time when we prepare in repentance and hopeful expectation for his coming.
Keep yourself from idols. Christ alone is King. Repent of your sin. Turn to him. Turn to him and find what you most long for, love and life. Amen.
The book of 1 John is a letter from the last remaining apostle to group of house churches he oversees near Ephesus. It is a message of encouragement to saints who have grown weary with the unbelief of those around them. John writes to them and us as one who has known and been known by Jesus - and has found Jesus to be full of light, kindness and love.