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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.

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Summary of our discussion on I John 1.

I’m not sure I can capture everything we covered in our first class discussion. For me, it was tremendously invigorating and filled with lots of good ideas and viewpoints from everyone. Hopefully, class participants will add what I have forgotten!

We spent a lot of time talking about beginnings. John begins this book, “That which was from the beginning, . . . ” which is very similar to how he begins his gospel. There is the true beginning, when it was only God (in all of his myriad forms); there is the beginning that happened when Jesus was born and God came to be among us humans; and, then, we discover later, there is the beginning of new life (a new age) on earth when Jesus sacrifices himself on the cross. We are still in this time. And finally, there is our own beginning in the class itself. We are looking for change, for insight, for understanding.

John wrote with authority because he was an eyewitness. A type of authority is given to us to tell our own stories of being touched by the Christ. We forget that this is the key to our witness: what we ourselves have experienced cannot be taken away. Someone can say that they don’t believe in Jesus, but they cannot break apart one’s own eyewitness of Jesus’s work in our lives. Also, remember, our roles as a witness also gives us the authority to proclaim the meaning and significance of those events in our lives. We have the authority to interpret our own experiences.

Jesus is the Word of Life… the logos, the mouthpiece for God. The word went from being abstract in the Old Testament to concrete in Jesus.

Fellowship is at the heart of John’s message because love is there. Koinōnia (close association involving mutual interests and sharing, association, communion, fellowship, and close relationships) is demonstrated through the relationship that Jesus (on Earth) had with the Father. We are invited to have koinōnia with the Christ. Walking in the light is being in koinōnia. If we are in koinōnia with Jesus, we should also be in fellowship with one another. If there is a breakdown in either area, we are actually moving toward darkness.

There are opponents to koinōnia like pride, jealousy, lying, gossip, etc. (in other words, sin).

In most of our churches, we are not in koinōnia. Most of our church relationships are surface relationships. We do not expose our true selves. We may fear rejection. It’s a risk to be transparent.

Is Christianity black and white? If it is true that all that is “white” or “light” is Christ Jesus, then it makes sense that all that “black” or “dark” or evil is embodied in Satan. Everything in between is us. We are all in the gray areas … some lighter shades as we move toward the light and some darker as we are either sucked back into the darkness of sin or willfully turning away from the light.

All sin is black whether it’s murder or gossip or betrayal or gluttony. Like the spots on a dalmatian dog, it attaches to us. We must take care that we don’t look at the sins of others as though they are worse then our own. We are all capable of great harm and evil.

If we are in the darkness, we must want to move into the light. We have to come to grips with the reality of where we are. We must be transparent with ourselves. Denial or self-deceit will keep us in the dark. We must acknowledge our own sins (our secrets). We may have to come to the “end of ourselves” before we realize what we need. We may need someone to walk along to help us turn around.

The best way to begin the journey is confession (I John 1:9). The Greek for confess is homologeō which means “to say the same thing.” God knows our sin and is waiting for us to acknowledge and profess what is already known. This is part of the cleansing.

And as a result, God extends forgiveness: freely.