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.