Discussion Summary of I John 4

When asked how the group would “test the spirits,” we came up with a pretty good list such as “Know the Word,” observe the actions of others, search the heart of a person, examine what is said “critically,” pray for discernment, and ask questions. M gave a great example of how the thoughts in our head could be “tested” by simply saying the prayer, “Jesus is Lord, and I place these thoughts under that authority.” If the thoughts are from God, they remain, but if not, they tend to flee in the face of this confession of Christ’s lordship. M also shared a good acrostic for FEAR: False Evidence Appearing Real.

Again, John delves into the importance of Jesus is God in the flesh in verse two. This is so important because of the testimony of Christ, being “just like us” while on earth and what gave his sacrifice such power.

Who have the believers in Christ overcome? False prophets and unbelievers, yes, but even moreso, the “spirit of anti-Christ.” This can be found in a variety of forms and this is part of our battle: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” [Ephesians 6:12] We must speak truth through love. Remember love the greatest power in the universe is married to truth.

The “Spirit of God is greater than the one who is in the world” through his roles as creator, victor, lover, and savior. He is the one who extends forgiveness and restoration, truth and faith and hope. He is eternal. I talked a bit extra about this idea that each one of these words typifies that “one who is within” and if He is greater than everything else and He is WITHIN, then we have that too. We have that creativity and victory. We have His love. We have the ability to forgive and restore and to speak truth and to hold onto faith and hope. And we are greater than what the “world” can throw at us.

When we talked about the “essence” of God’s nature being love and how that would affect us, A spoke poignantly about the truth she discovered: when one goes through a season in which there is an absence of God’s love, peace and wholeness, then a return into that place, is the most amazing feeling ever. She learned about the power of God’s love by experiencing the absence of it. God’s nature gives us the ability to deal with challenges, to cope with difficulties in a way we never could be fore, a desire to interact with others in a more positive way, to be less self-absorbed, to experience joy.

What prevents us then from loving one another? The list is well known, like pride, selfishness, fear, rejection, harm, vulnerability, time, distance, and simply choosing to “love conditionally” instead.

Will we ever be “made complete” in Christ Jesus in this life? We don’t think so. It is part of our journey to move closer and closer to Jesus, to be like Christ, to operate in the world differently, to love freely, to live in unity, to abide in His love.

I asked a bit of a trick question when I asked if Jesus’s role as Savior or Rescuer was working out, was he successful? The only answer can be “yes.” AN said there are three ways in which Jesus is rescuer, at our own personal deaths, at the end of time and in our daily lives as we encounter troubles. It is important to know that you actually need a rescuer. Those who are in fog that way will find it more difficult to find Christ.

Perfect love drives out fear because it takes up more room in the heart. As we experience more and more of the Christ within, fear has no place there. As trust grows, there is no need to fear because we trust the outcome of every situation. We are safe. This is the idea, but few of us could say we walk in such freedom.

Lastly, I passed out post-its and asked each person to write a name (or two) down of people who have, historically, been difficult to love (for whatever reason). I then collected the notes, shuffled them up and each person took one or two names. The purpose? The class would covenant to pray for the “unlovely” one on behalf of a sister or brother. We would spend a week, holding this difficult person up to the throne of Christ as a help to the one learning to love. The goal for this week is that we could discover, what would be the one step… the first action … in extending love. Just one action. Just one.

Reviewing Our Belief

1. In verses 5:1-4, John lays out several over arching truths that he has touched on throughout the previous chapters. What are they?
2. Tell me again, why isn’t Jesus’s yoke burdensome? (5:3b)
3. Sometimes we are not victorious because we are passive or have a defeatist mentality. How would that hinder our ability to become victorious? (verses 5:4-5)
4. What does coming by water and blood mean to you? (vs 6) How does the Spirit testify ? (vs 7-10)
5. Is God’s promise of “eternal life” a motivator for you? Why or Why not? (vs 11-13) The verb “have” or “has” in verse 12 in Greek is echō which means “to stand in a close relationship to someone, have, have as” (like having a father, having a wife, having a child). What might this add to your understanding of eternal life? Can a person be sure that he/she is going to heaven?
6. What does it look like to come before God in prayer with confidence (boldness)? Are there any conditions? (vs 14-15)
7. Can we know God’s will? How? Is it important?
8. What is the “sin that leads to death?” (vs 16-17; also see Numbers 15:27-31) Should we pray for that one?
9. Look at all three “we know” statements in verses 18, 19 & 20. Change the “we” to “I” – can you speak these statements with personal confidence? Why or why not?
10. The last verse of I John 5 has puzzled many. What is an idol? Are there idols in your life? Can you see how an idol could erode everything we have learned from I John? (vs 21)

Discussion on I John 3:11-24

We talked about the many paradoxes of the Christian life. For me, these paradoxes continue to challenge. One of the most prevalent is the concept put forth in verse 14, that we are moving from “death to life” versus moving from “life to death.” Death is the dark time of our souls. But there are also “small deaths” along the way. The small deaths are still part of the sanctification of our souls, our journey to light (and life). The Christian Way is all about change (within and without).

We then moved into an animated conversation about “righteous anger” (story of Cain & Abel). Is there such a thing? We know that unchecked anger can become bitterness and from bitterness and unforgiveness comes hatred. That emotional path is never good. And yet, we know many stories of God’s righteous anger and even Jesus, who toppled the “money-changers” in the temple, had righteous anger. Can’t believers have the same?

In the end, we agreed that we would not be very good at purely righteous anger. Being human, our tendency would be to nurture that anger and allow it greater power within. However, if we could take that anger, birthed in some kind of evil or inequity, and channeled it into righteous action, then anger would transform. We would be protected from anger’s negative effects and move into becoming change agents for God.

But we must also beware of judging others and saying we can have righteous anger toward others because they break the law. Don’t we also break the law? It is not for us to say one sin is greater than another. Law breaking is law breaking until it moves into lawlessness (willful, consistent law breaking).

We then discussed “sacrificial love.” And I couldn’t help asking, what is the difference between regular love and sacrificial love? Should there be a difference? Finally, it seemed that there is a distinctness. Sacrificial love carries a greater cost to self. We leave our comfort zone when we move into the realm of sacrificial love. This is not an easy arena because, so often, in this type of love, there is great potential for abuse. That is, the one loving sacrificially, may actually become an emotional door mat. But we don’t believe this is God’s intent. Sacrificial love does not mean “losing self.” Jesus knew exactly what he was doing. His suffering was expected. He laid down his life intentionally.

We really stretched ourselves here as we considered all of those difficult verses like “turning the other cheek” and “giving our tunic in addition to our cloaks” [Luke 6:29] and laying down our lives for another. There are people examples who have embraced true sacrificial loving and living. They have given up everything, vowing lives of poverty and casting aside selfish ambitions. But we confessed, we struggle with these. We know in our heads and hearts what might be the better way but our contemporary lifestyle and culture has a powerful hold, to one degree or another.

There is only one thing to face it authentically: confess the truth, and go from there. In the meantime, we can work the basics: care for widows, orphans, and those in prison. That’s a mandate we cannot ignore. The rest will come incrementally.

Our class time was running short after this intense conversation about the sacrificial life. Briefly, we discussed the final questions about verse 20 (” . . . God is greater than our hearts”) asking if this is a phrase of comfort or challenge. We decided it’s both. Mostly comfort, but then, in the face of sin, our knowing God would speak into our hearts (conscience) to draw us away (knowing us better than we know ourselves).

And lastly, it is upon us to obey God in two important areas: love the Lord our God with heart, soul & mind; and our neighbor as ourselves. If we work these two arenas, then there will be confession and forgiveness automatically. The prayers will come from the heart. But, what about the prayers that appear unanswered: prayers for healing and life when illness and death threaten ourselves and our loved ones? Again, there are no easy answers.

My personal belief is that we continue to pray and place before God the desires of our heart until those desires change. And along the way, we must remember, that all prayer is answered but not always to our personal satisfaction. God is efficient. There is no action, no change, no death, no life, no illness, when it is covered in prayer that it isn’t also used of God. That is our hope which cannot be seen. That is where faith grows through loss, pain, and sorrow. That is where a new seed is planted.

Remember the paradox: death into life.

Discussion of I John 3:3 – 3:15

We began our discussion with a great discussion about HOPE. What does hope look like and how is it different from faith? We talked about the future-ness of hope and, unlike faith which feels like it is more in the now, hope depends on something that trust will happen. Hope is change. Sometimes, we undermine our hope because of our fear of change. Hope has expectations, but it should not include our own definition/description of the outcome. Our hope must be in Christ alone, not in “healing” per se or whatever it is that we dream for our future. Hope lives in the light and flourishes.

Other aspects that build hope or readiness (as in the parable of the wise & foolish virgins in Matthew 25:1-13), risk (as in the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30), and action (as in the parable of the sheep & goats in Matthew 25:31-46).

We then discussed the differences between lawlessness and “breaking the law.” It’s a small difference but the point for me is that lawlessness is ongoing willful breaking of the law to the point when the law is no longer relevant versus the “breaking of a law” on occasion or with knowledge of sin and eventual confession & repentance. We must recognize sin before we can confess it.

But, if we do know about sin and Jesus came/died to “take away our sin,” why are we still sinning? Many reasons: denial, willfulness, lack of motivation, childishness, fear, to name a few. This is all part of the process and ultimately sanctification.

There was some serious heart searching as we wrestled with 3:6, 8-10. It is so easy to allow the voice of condemnation to wash over us and to allow Satan to beat us up with these words. “You’re not a child of God, you still sin, you aren’t worthy, etc.” But I don’t believe Jesus uses this voice. All I can say is that “while we sin” we are opening the door to relationship with evil. And in those moments, we are stepping away from the safety of the Father. However, because God is loving and kind and forgiving, the light can shine in that place as we confess. Again and again and again. And our hope (remember hope?) is that the times between darkness and light become shorter as we are strengthened within by the presence of the Holy Spirit.

That is God’s see within us that is growing a tree of righteousness — sometimes slower, sometimes faster. Our hidden sins are being brought to the light. Our flaws being repaired. Our roots grow deeper, our branches grow stronger. How can we know how we are doing? An inner compass… pointing to True North.

As we live and grow and become more like Christ, the pressures from without (the world) actually may become more stronger. Right living points up the other other. But, if our actions are indiscernible from others who do not know the Christ, there is no “tension.”

We know that love is described in I Cor 13:4-8 … but it’s such a long “punch list.” It feels overwhelming. How do I keep in mind to be “patient” today (in love) and then kind while I am not envying, boasting, or acting prideful. Oh, and don’t forget, no rudeness today and stop being so self-engaged and downright angry or keeping a long list of grievances.

And yet, we know that we know that we know… love is probably THE most powerful force in the universe. Can we try it? Can we love someone this week and make a difference?

We will finish the third chapter, beginning with Question 3 based on I John 3:15

We will then start on I John 4 and finish these questions next week.

God’s Love

1. In John’s time, fighting the issue of “Christology” (was Jesus God in the flesh from his inception), a follower just had to ask the “teacher” if he believed that Jesus was the Christ in the flesh. That answer would reveal all. But this may not suffice in our age. How would you “test the spirits?” Any examples of heresy discovered or sensed? (4:1)

2. Why is belief that Jesus was/is God in the flesh important? (4:2)

3. John says that we have overcome “them.” Who and how? (4:4)

4. In what way is the “spirit of God greater than the one who is in the world?” How do we reflect (or not) this truth in our daily lives? (4:4)

5. How does love being the essence of God’s nature affect us? Can a non-believer be affected by God’s love? How or in what way? (4:8)

6. Love one another. What hinders us? (4:7, 11)

7. To be “made complete” in Greek is “teleioō” which means, literally, “to overcome or supplant an imperfect state of things by one that is free from objection, to bring to an end, to bring to its goal/accomplishment, to be made perfect.” What would God’s love “completed” in us look like? Sound like? Feel like? (4:12, 17)

8. In verse 4:14, it says the Father sent His Son to be the Savior [Rescuer] of the World. Is that working out? Why or Why not?

9. Why does “perfect love drive out fear?” (verse 4:18)

10. What would loving someone . . . someone you do not love today . . . look like? What would you do first?

Discussion Questions for I John 3:11-24

1. We are to love one another: NOT like Cain toward Abel. Why is this story used to describe the negative side of loving one another? What emotions and feelings are represented and why?
2. What is love? (Note the paradox of moving from death to life and the other way around.) Also see John 5:24.
3. If, without love, there is death and hate=death, what kind of death is John really talking about? How do we resurrect this situation?
4. How does anger morph into hatred? Is there such a thing as “righteous anger?”
5. What is sacrificial love? What are some examples of this kind of love? Will we be taken advantage of when we love like this? Why or why not?
6. In I John 3:20b, he says, “. . . God is greater than our hearts.” What does this mean? Is it comfort or challenge?
7. What is the relationship between obedience and answered prayer? Is this about “earning” God’s favor or something else?
8. Does the Holy Spirit live within you? How do you know?

Discussion of I John 2:24 – 3:2

What a powerful time in the Lord. We shared in so many different ways and I am grateful for everyone’s willingness to be transparent and really talk about some of the hard things. May we all remember how important it is to pray for one another.

Because our discussions are quite vibrant, we do not always make it through the questions. That’s OK with me! This evening we started back at vs 2:24 and discussed the true meaning of “abiding in Christ.” What does that look like? What does it mean to us individually? We understand it means, literally, to remain or to dwell or to rest in. But do we? It is so important to understand the importance of our grafted-in position “in Christ.” But this too, is a mystery. Since we can’t be “in” the physical body of Christ, this is a spiritual condition, a unity of soul.

We also discussed how sin and self-interest could bring us to times of separation or detachment from the vine (John 15:5). But, thanks be to God, despite our ability to detach, God is able to re-attach us when we confess along the way. His grace is sufficient.

Some of these times of “detachment” from the vine or the “body of Christ” are times when we can be taken advantage of. These are times when we can be “duped” and led astray even further by false teachers. As they say, the best way to protect against getting a “cold” is to stay healthy. So it is with recognizing false teaching. The best way to know truth is to continue to abide.

It is in the place of abiding that we are able to hear God’s voice, where we are instructed, where the source of all “actions” are “works” must be centered, and where confession and forgiveness live together.

I confessed to the group, when I am challenged by others about anomalies in scripture or asked “why” one person dies while another lives or challenged with “the people who never hear about Christ… ” etc. My answer is simple: it’s a mystery. There is great mystery and paradox in the faith walk. All we can do is abide.

We then talked about the returning Jesus and the one who returns will not be the “gentle Shepherd,” but the King of Kings. Some people may be ashamed by their sin, their willfulness, and their denial. But as we have talked about all along, Jesus is all light. God is all light. And the when the Light comes, the darkness flees. Are we still anticipating his coming? Really? What are we doing in the light of his promise? The best answer: abide!

And lastly, we talked a great deal about being “children of God.” What makes us children? What is God telling us about our relationship to God? Shouldn’t we experience the sense of comfort and safety that a child feels with his/her parents? Plus we are promised to be “like him.” When we are adopted into the vine, we become like Jesus. We are born again!

I was so glad to be able to absolutely clarify that anyone (and everyone) who accepts the Messiah as the direct sacrifice for sins (those things that separate us from God), we are grafted in and as soon as we are grafted in, we are becoming new. We are re-born.

Being “born again” is not about singing praise songs or being “on fire” for God or anything like that. Being born again is the shortcut terminology for adoption. And when we see Jesus again, because of our new relationship with Christ, we will “see him as he is” and we will be like him.

Jesus is different now than he was while he was on earth. He is the same: he is different. (After the resurrection, he may have looked human, but he could also walk through walls, and move through time and space). Hallelujah!

1. Why would someone be uncertain and ashamed upon Jesus’s return? If Jesus returned today, right now, what would you feel. (How does daily confession fit into this question?)
2. How are we “children of God?” Is this related to being Born Again? How? What does it mean to “be like Jesus when he appears?” (vs 3:2)
3. How does our hope in Christ bring purification? What does hope look like? (vs 3:3) See parables in Matthew 24 & 25: Wise and Faithful Servant; Wise and Foolish Virgins; Parable of the Talents; Sheep & Goats. Are you ready?
4. What is our part in the purification process?
5. What differentiation is there between lawlessness and breaking the law? What is sin in this context? Does attitude make a difference?
6. If Jesus came to “take away our sin,” and we have accepted Jesus as our savior, why are we still sinning? Are we of the devil? (vs eight)
7. What is “God’s seed” in verse 9? What is the role of God’s seed to keep us from habitual sin?
8. How would you define the word sanctification?

Our discussion of I John 1:7 – I John 2:23

Picking up where we left off the week before, we talked about the difference between the “old” commandment in vs 2:7 and the new commandment. In reality, they are the same, they focus on love: loving God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and your neighbor as yourself. Jesus compressed the entire law into these two, saying they were the foundation. John emphasizes the same.

We discussed the idea of these two laws being used as a “creed” much like the Apostles’ creed and I referenced a book called the Jesus Creed by Scot McKnight. Our discussion also took us on a trip back to the ten commandments and Shabbat prayers.

One of the most important things to remember is that God is unchanging. Now that we are on the “other side” of the Christ time, the new commandment is only different because we are changed. We are able to love now in a way that we could not before the Holy Spirit indwelled us.

But then we are still challenged as Jesus’s followers were challenged: who is my neighbor. We tend to forget the power of the “Samaritan” story if we don’t consider replacing the Samaritan persona with someone of equal disdain in our own culture: a terrorist, a gang member, a prostitute.

We hate so easily, as the group mentioned. Hate blinds us and we are unable to others clearly. Hate prevents us from forgiving others as well as receiving forgiveness. The tragedy of hate is that both the receiver of hate suffers as well as the one who hates . . . we actually become “hate” itself when we hate.

Martin Luther wrote, “See to it that he who hurts you does not cause you to become evil like him . . . for he is the victor who changes another man to become like himself while he himself remains unchanged.”

In verses 2:12-14, John identifies three groups of people and specific encouragement for each one. We agreed that these appear to be figurative groups or levels of spiritual maturity. So “little children” would be new believers who would need, above all, confidence in the forgiveness of their sins and trust in their new relation with God, as benevolent Father. For “young men,” they might be the enthusiastic, exuberant believers who are on fire for God but also can get off track or become easily discouraged. John offers them encouragement as they remember how they have already overcome evil and that God’s word is a living thing inside them which will keep them strong to continue to overcome. And lastly, the “fathers” are the mature believers who carry with them great knowledge of God and the walk of faith, the implication being that they should use what they have learned to help others.

We discussed the difference between “not loving the world” and “For God so loved the world…” In essence the point is that we must view the world from God’s perspective and love as He loves. We are not to love the “things of this world,” that is the man-made things. All that God has made is good and should be cherished and cared for.

We had a lively discussion about the anti-Christ and the spirit of anti-Christ. “Anti-Christ” in Greek, can be translated as “adversary of the Messiah.” And so, in the verses of I John 2:18-23, we believe he is talking about that spiritual adversary moreso than an individual that is referenced in Daniel (9:27), I Thess 2:3-4, and the book of Revelation (13:1, 4, 7, 8). Ultimately, anyone who denies that Jesus is the Christ (the anointed one) is speaking out of the anti-Christ spirit.

And lastly, we discussed the idea of anointing. Whether it is the anointing of oil that was used historically to set apart a person for a particular task (I Samuel 16:12-13; Luke 3:22; Luke 4:18; Acts 10:38; John 15:26; Exodus 29:21; Exodus 40:9; and Exodus 40:15) to name a few, there is also the anointing of the Holy Spirit which imparts more power to act on behalf of God. The word Messiah means “covered in oil.” Although plain oil can be used for anointing, often there is a fragrance (similar to the one used in Exodus 31:11). Each fragrance had meaning.

In conclusion, I anointed and prayed for each person in class, that they would have the power to do what must be done next, to make a key decision, to pursue their heart’s desire.

Next week we will finish questions 3 & 4 about abiding and being duped in addition to the new questions above.

Questions for Week 3.

1. What or who is the antichrist? What is the spirit of antichrist? Difference?
2. What does it mean to be anointed? What does it do for the person being anointed? What does that look like? Feel like? How does it manifest? Is it still for our time? Why or why not?
a. A few references of interest: I Samuel 16:12-13; Luke 3:22; Luke 4:18; Acts 10:38; John 15:26
b. More references: Exodus 29:21; Ex 40:9; Ex 40:15;
c. What is the anointing oil? Why do we use it today (if at all)?
3. What does it mean to abide in Christ? What is the opposite of abiding? (What do each look like?)
4. Have you ever been duped and found yourself in a situation that was not healthy? Do you fear false teaching? How can that be avoided?

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