On this Thanksgiving Sunday it seems appropriate to reflect on how to express our gratitude to God for all His love and manifold blessings in our lives, no matter what our circumstances may be. Truth is, He promised to be there in midst of all our struggles and challenges.
Most of us recognize that there that there are basically two kinds of people in this world: Optimists and pessimists – one tends to see the glass half full, the other sees the same glass as half empty. I have found that optimists are generally more fun to be with than pessimists… They tend to be “can do” people. They see possibilities, while pessimists only see problems. Being an optimist does not mean that you live in a dream-world or that you lack realism. But, no doubt, our outlook on life can make a big difference to our actions and even to our general sense of well-being.
According to the Bible, there are basically two kinds of people in this world: “saved people” (i.e., those who accepted the finished work of Jesus at Calvary) and “lost people” (those who either never heard or deliberately reject the message of the Cross). But Paul seems to refer to yet a third class in his letter to the Corinthian church (1 Cor. 2:14 – 3:3) where he indicates that there are also what he calls “worldly” or “carnal Christians” (lit.: ‘fleshly’ Gk: ‘sarkoi’, derived from the Gk: ‘sarx’ = flesh). He makes it very clear that they are an anomaly and that theirs is not an acceptable state in which to live our lives, i.e., professing to be true Christians, but living like practical atheists!
Let me give you a little context to my message today. Among my favorite portions of God’s Word are the Epistles of John, the “Apostle of Love”. In the prologue to his first letter, John states that the purpose of his writing is “so that our joy may be complete.” (1 Jn. 1:4). Today’s text is found in the middle of the second chapter of this letter (1 Jn. 2:13-17). You will notice that this short text is composed of two distinct parts:
- Part 1: Reasons for Writing: describing the victorious Christian community (vs. 12-14), addressing three groups of family members: children, young men and fathers, probably simply following the Jewish customs of the day which would not be very popular in our post-modern society. John reminds them of the benefits of their faith relationship to Jesus Christ, despite their challenging surroundings.
- Part 2: A Warning about the World: exhorting this faithful community of believers not to love the world but to continue in God’s will, despite the lies and false teaching to which they may have been exposed – Satan is the ultimate liar, who always seeks to distort, discourage, divert and destroy (vs. 15-17).
The Truth about our New Reality in Christ: What We Have and Are (vs. 12-14)
Remember, that John indicated earlier a new reality which is true of believers, no matter what the circumstances of life may be: “Yet am writing you a new command, which is true in Him and in you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining.” (1 Jn. 2:8) – This certainly is a note of optimism! We would do well to remember this truth, when worried about our political and social climate.
Now, John picks up on this theme again, pointing to all the positive benefits of the Christian life, i.e., specific reasons for gratitude and thanksgiving:
- Considering the Biblical text:
“I am writing to you, little children, since your sins have been forgiven on account of His name.
I am writing to you, fathers, because you have come to know the one who is from the beginning.
I am writing to you, young men, because you have conquered the evil one.”
- Who is being addressed? – (and what does this mean?)
It has been suggested that the three groups – “children, fathers, young men” – may stand for different levels of Christian maturity / experience within the faith community; although the Elder, could legitimately address the entire community as “my dear children”.
Note: Please note that what is said of each group does not appear to be specifically age related, but could apply to all. Perhaps, this is merely a stylistic device that sets forth several truths about spiritual victory of the whole Christian community. The age categories may also reflect various levels of spiritual maturity.
- What is at the heart of these statements? – Privileged position – reason for gratitude!
John points out some obvious benefits of belonging to God’s family, the fellowship of the redeemed. Because of their faith in Jesus Christ, the following (and much more) is true of each of them, as it is of us:
- Forgiveness of Sins: “… your sins have been forgiven on account of His name.” (12)
- True Knowledge of God: “… you have known Him who is from the beginning” (13a)
- Victorious Spiritual Power: “… you have conquered the evil one.” (13b)
- Back to the Biblical text: (for emphasis sake, he repeats the accomplished fact)
“I have written to you, children, because you have come to know the Father.
I have written to you, fathers, because you have come to know the one who is from the beginning.
I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, God’s Word remains in you, and you have conquered the evil one.” (vs. 14)
Note: Although it is not really a poem, it is rendered in poetic format – it is probably set apart as such in your English Bible – in style. There are two distinct strophes, as well as some repetition, typical of poetry. Let’s look at this a little more in detail:
Note: While we tend to focus mostly on the blessings and benefits of affluence and prosperity on Thanksgiving, today, let us consider our spiritual heritage in Christ.
These benefits are available to all of us by faith in Jesus Christ. And because of His victory on the cross of Calvary, we can claim the same as a present reality for our lives, regardless of previous background and position. This is Good News!
The Paradox of Our Relationship to the World: “Do not love the world!” (vs. 15-17)
- The love of the world and the love of the Father are mutually exclusive!
We have here a strange dissonance in John’s writing.
- On one hand, every Sunday School scholar will remember only too well the central theme of the Gospel according to John:
“God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16 KJV) You probably memorized that in the KJV.
- On the other hand, these believers are warned:
“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (1 Jn 2:15 CSB)
How do we reconcile these two verses, which seem to carry a very different message about love and the world? Has God changed His mind? Is this a contradiction? Or do we look elsewhere for an answer to the apparent dilemma?
- First, let’s try to understand what is meant by “the world” (Gk: ‘kosmos’):
In general usage, this world means the whole material universe, planet earth, and/or the totality of human inhabitants. However, in John’s Gospel and Epistles, the same ‘kosmos’ seems to refer primarily to fallen humanity, hostile to God, and desperately in need of redemption.
- Secondly, let’s also understand the differences in the way “love” is used:
– God’s love for the world speaks of redemptive love (self-sacrifice of Jesus).
– God’s love implies transforming power through the Good News of the Gospel.
– God’s love results in individuals being called out/gifted with new life in Christ!
On the other hand, believers are warned not to bestow or waste ‘agape’ love on the world or worldly things, because:
– Love for the world equates lustful desire to participate in evil (worldly activities).
– Love for the world and its allurements implies desire to conform (blend in).
– Love for the world implies being absorbed into the world, rather than transform.
NB: Clearly, the implication is that we should love the world in the same way as God, i.e., be willing to risk interacting with the world and going everywhere in order to share the glorious Gospel of Christ – “so that by all means we might save some.” It also means that we must be willing to change, in order to meet the felt needs of seekers, rather than insisting on our own comfort through status quo!
- As long as we are in this life, believers face a three-fold sin problem (1. Jn. 2:16):
“For everything in the world – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride in one’s possession – is not from the Father, but is from the world.” (1 Jn. 2:16) – Or, as the KJV translated it: “The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life…”
We may want to pick this up some other time, but it certainly seems to represent the very opposite of “walking as Jesus did”…
- His focus was on pleasing His Father,
- Seeking and saving the lost, and
- Healing the sick… His focus was on others, not on Himself!
One final thought. John makes it very clear that there is no future in this world! All that we crave and strive for is transitory – temporary! What a contrast to the “forever life” God promises us in Christ and guaranties us in His Spirit:
- Ultimately, only what’s done for Christ will last:
“And the world and its lust is passing away, but the one who does the will of God remains (lives) forever.” (1 Jn. 2:17)
- Today, as we celebrate Thanksgiving, let us determine to focus on…
- The real values,
- The abiding treasures,
- The eternal life which are ours in Christ!
- How will my life look differently? What would have to change?
If you need a few moments to think and pray about this at the end of our service, please come to the front and sit quietly in prayer – if you need help, some of our elders are willing to join you…