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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.

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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.

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?

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?

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?

Summary of our Discussion I John 2:1-6

John refers to the listeners of his words as “dear children” or “beloved.” Why? Because he loves them and his relationship with them is close and loving. Everything John has to say to the hearers of his writings is written out of love and concern for their (and our) well being. Can we remember of think of a time when we have had such a loving, mentoring relationship?

John writes as the artist and not like the teacher Paul. John’s way of teaching is circular or spiral and he repeats his theme often, adding small tidbits along the way. John’s message is patient.

Of course, John’s desire is that none of his own would sin and yet he knows that they will. We will too. And because of this, it is so important that we look to our Advocate (parakletos – the one who walks beside) Jesus who will speak on our behalf. We must be honest with Jesus in order to appropriate the power of his sacrifice for us. Christ’s love does not waver, whether we sin or not.

Christ’s sacrifice, the ultimate sacrifice, of his own life for our lives was done for us as individuals, but also for everyone in the world. What is it we have to do? We must acknowledge this transaction; we must understand the power of this sacrifice so we can truly embed it into our beings. The forgiveness, the atoning blood of Jesus, is always available. (It’s like winning the lottery. We can have the winning ticket but it is worthless unless we turn it in for the cash. The ticket must be used, otherwise, it’s just a piece of paper, an idea with no power.)

In Old Testament times, sacrifice was a symbolic act (an ancient drama) by using the blood of animals to demonstrate a deeper truth. Christ’s sacrifice was the “ultimate battle when Christ disarms the power of sin and death.” [Mastering the New Testament: 1,2,3 John & Revelation by Earl F. Palmer] Jesus is not a victim like the animals. he chose to give up His life. His blood, like those of the animals, is on the mercy seat. We must grab hold.

Once we accept the atonement for our sins (our mistakes, our secrets, our choices), nothing can be the same for us. We are in relationship with Christ … but the quality of that relationship is up to us to nourish. He is walking with us (advocating for us) but we must also walk with Him.

There are two tests of an authentic Christian journey (I John 1:9 & 2:3): Confession and Obedience. These two form a circle: confess, obey, confess, obey, confess, obey. We talked at length about this chicken/egg concept. Ultimately, what are we obeying? How do we obey commandments if we don’t know what they are. And although I understand the logic of this, I also believe there is the mystery of experiencing the “next step” at the point of confession (and forgiveness). The commandments come out of relationship. As we enter into koinonia with Jesus (and others), we learn and grow. I am looking for obedience by choice (not fear). I am interested in obeying the “yes’s” and not the “no’s” or the “do-nots.”

His sacrifice and atonement gives us freedom.

1. Why does John refer to his listeners as “dear children?” Does it make a difference?
2. If Christ has atoned for the sins of the world, why must we be “saved?” Doesn’t that sacrifice count with or without our participation?
3. What does sacrifice look like? How does it work?
4. What are the two tests of an authentic Christian journey (see I John 1:9 and 2:3)
5. To what is John referring when he speaks of the old commandment and the new commandment in verse 2:7?
6. How does hate blind us? How do we get out of the darkness? Is there such a thing as “twilight walking” vs. walking in the light or walking in darkness?
7. In I John 2:6, there are three groups identified… why? What do these mean? And what is John offering to the those groups?
8. How do we understand the difference between I John 2:15 (“Do not love the world…”) with John 3:16 (“For God so loved the world…”)
9. How does loving the world keep us away from a loving Father, specifically? What are some of the symptoms?

Philippians 2:1-11
Earlier in the week, I asked everyone, by email, to take a survey I created based on the first two verses of chapter two. Primarily, the reason to take this survey was to think about the descriptive words Paul gives the Philippians … “if” they are indeed “united with Christ.” And doesn’t “united with Christ” also feel very similar to “to live IS Christ.” They are the same idea.

So, what are those words: encouragement, comfort, fellowship, tenderness & compassion are specifically mentioned in the NIV, but class members added strength, joy, affection, mercy, sympathy, and humility. All of these are a “measuring stick” of sorts for unity with Christ. Do we experience these attributes? Do we practice them? It is in my mind that “the degree to which we can claim these words and walk them out is the degree to which we can experience unity with Christ … and thereby, unity with the Body.

When Paul says that their practice of these words would make his joy complete, he is sharing with them how much he cares about their progress… their practice is proof or confirmation that his teaching wa meaningful and significant. He wants them to be ready for the next step!

As we discussed the concept of like-mindedness, there were several good discussion points: one person called it agreeing with the center… or another said that the goal is the same. In essence, we all understood that there may not be agreement on the details, but the core truth is the same. It is not and should not be an excuse for creating “automatons” or practicing “group think” [like the novel, 1984]. Another way of thinking of like-mindedness is harmony in music. To sing or play instruments, we don’t all have to play the melody … in fact, the melody becomes richer when others are singing parts. We even sang a bit as a group: “Jesus, Jesus… let me tell you how I feel. You have given me your Spirit, I love you so.”

I then described to them the story of the “long handled spoons” … I actually found a more succinct version of it on the Internet. It goes like this:

Long Handled Spoon

Long Handled Spoon
[Author Unknown]
A man spoke with the Lord about heaven and hell. The Lord said to the man, “Come, I will show you hell.”

They entered a room where a group of people sat around a huge pot of stew. Everyone was famished, desperate and starving. Each held a spoon that reached the pot, but each spoon had a handle so much longer than their own arm that it could not be used to get the stew into their own mouths. The suffering was terrible.

Come, now I will show you heaven,” the Lord said after a while. They entered another room, identical to the first — the pot of stew, the group of people, the same long-handled spoons. But there everyone was happy and well-nourished. “I don’t understand,” said the man. “Why are they happy here when they were miserable in the other room and everything was the same?”

The Lord smiled, “Ah, it is simple,” he said. “Here they have learned to feed each other.”

This is what we must learn here on earth… and not wait until heaven. This is about being like-minded and all the other words as well. This is about unity and community!

But the primary destroyer of unity (and community) is “selfish ambition.” It only takes one person to destroy a community. In the church today, it still happens, but it looks like territorialism. This is the opposite of harmony. This is discordant. Individualism is strong. It’s actually one of the attributes of the early Americans who forged this country. Is it so bad? It is if the individual isn’t rooted in a higher truth.

On the flip side is humility… but not “doormat humility” which is not humility at all. That’s a false modesty; that’s a victim mentality. That is not what Paul is recommending at all. True humility is focused on God and on others. It places the attention on the strengths and virtues of others. Its ROOT is love. I heard another definition of humility while I was at a Leadership seminar and the speaker said that humlility also requires a realistic understanding of self… it’s being at peace with yourself. Of course, this is also crucial to love, really.

Lastly, we addressed verses 6-11, which are sometimes referred to as a “hymn to Christ.” Scholars actually disagree as to whether or not it is or isn’t a hymn, but I don’t think that’s critical to our current study or understanding. The key to these verses is that they are Paul’s way of giving us the “ultimate example” of everything we discussed in session: Christ is the perfect example of humility.

In the 4th Century AD, in the time of Constantine, there were two bishops with divergent ideas about the divinity of Christ Jesus. One, Alexander, believed that Jesus “was” from the beginning, equal in divinity with God and always existed (based on John 1:1-2). Another bishop, Arius, believed that Jesus was of lesser divinity until he completed the task given to him by God and only then was he fully exalted. Arius did not believe that Jesus always existed. What’s particularly interesting to me is that two modern day groups still follow this understanding of Arius: Jehovah’s Witnesses & LDS. That’s interesting. But, to complete this history lesson, Constantine got all the bishops of that time together and they met at the Council of Nicea and he basically told them: don’t come out until you come to an agreement. In the end, they produced a document that is still used today: The Nicene Creed. And yes, they followed the lead of Bishop Alexander.

Christ’s example, then, of humility is that he willingly became a man (that might compare to one of us agreeing to be an insect) and did not claim any extraordinary powers but came as a servant to mankind, and died as God, the Father, asked him. And only after his complete surrender, his complete humiliation, was he raised up and exalted. This is the extreme version of what we are told over and over through the New Testament: Matthew 18:4, 23:12; Lluke 14:11; Luke 18:14; James 4:10; and I Peter 5:6.

Reach out this week in humility with a long spoon of selflessness.

This is actually a “pre-post” to my regular class notes because I wanted to address a question that came up in class while we were discussing the idea of “saints” being “set apart and holy” and therefore, “sacred.” We talked about the difference it would make if we really treated our brothers and sisters in Christ (not to mention our own family members) as “sacred.” How different would our interactions be?

But then, does that mean we would treat non-believers differently?

This morning, as I prayed about this, the Lord clearly reminded me of the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin. (Luke 15) We are instructed to seek out that lost one with great diligence and once found, to rejoice! And so, it seems that our treatment of unbelievers is actually similar … not sacred, per se, but very important, still fragile, still unique in God’s eyes, still valuable.

Consider this idea as you go about your daily tasks.

And may your love abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight (to both the believers and unbelievers) that you may know what is best…

You are each in my prayers this day. ib