Saturday, April 25, 2015

To Gaius - 3 John 1-8

"The elder to the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth. Beloved, I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers. For I was very glad when brethren came and testified to your truth, that is, how you are walking in truth. I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth. Beloved, you are acting faithfully in whatever you accomplish for the brethren, and especially when they are strangers; and they have testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God. For they went out for the sake of the Name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles. Therefore we ought to support such men, so that we may be fellow workers with the truth." (3 John 1-8)
This short epistle is a letter between John and his beloved Gaius, John often refers to himself in his letters as "The elder." The Greek word he uses is the same word we render as "Presbyter." However, it seem that John does not use this word in connection with the ecclesiastical office that it has come to represent, but simply in reference to his position of honor as one who has lived long in has walked a lifetime with the Lord. We could just as easily read his opening remarks as, "From John, the old man in Christ" or "From one who has lived his whole life with Christ." Today we hear terms like Elder or Presbyter and we think of authority, but the early church heard them in terms of honor not authority. John was worthy of honor both because of his age and his years with their Lord.

Gaius was a man who prospered in his soul. He lived his life according to the truth. He not only confessed the truth but his actions kept pace with his words. Furthermore, he not only loved God but also loved people and he was quick to help those in need. In loving others, Paul commands us to "Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality." (Romans 12:10-13) Hospitality is important to God and Gaius was one who practiced it well, even to strangers. He often cared for those who were passing through in their work for the Gospel and, in so doing, his name was know outside the local church as one who loved and showed hospitality to others. John prays for him that, even as he was prospering in his soul, that he would prosper in his outward man as well. The Greek word for prosper means to "help on the road" and can imply succeeding in business. John was praying that God would help his friend "on the road", both spiritually and physically.

Finally, John encourages us to support those who have gone forth to the work of the Gospel, not taking anything from the gentiles; literally, from the nations; not depending upon the support of those they went to work among. There are many ways we work for the truth of God; some go, some care and show hospitality, and some provide the means, but they all are co-labors with the truth. We must learn to do our part and to do it with our whole heats that all may come to hear of the truth and that the truth may have an impact through the whole world. We must all find our part in the truth.

David Robison

Friday, April 24, 2015

I miss you - 2 John 12-13

"Though I have many things to write to you, I do not want to do so with paper and ink; but I hope to come to you and speak face to face, so that your joy may be made full. The children of your chosen sister greet you." (2 John 12-13)
While being a simple closing to his letter, there are several things we can glean from his words.

First is the importance of the human touch. Increasingly we live in an electronic age where much of our communications is done without any direct contact with the other person. Even this blog is a form of that. I communicate with most of my readers whom I've never met and whom I will most likely never meet. Texts, e-mails, and instant messages, while promising to make us a connected society, have, in many ways, made us more alone and isolated than before. The very thing that connects us also isolates us from personal contact. Sometimes we must put down the technology and actually have a conversation with someone face-to-face.

Secondly, some things are best done in person. Our technology has made it easier and quicker to communicate with each other, but it has not made it any easier to understand each other, in fact, in someways, it has made it worse. It is almost impossible to read someone's emotions when reading an e-mail. A text conveys no sense of body language or expression. Such mediums of communications can easily lead to misunderstandings and false assumptions. Sometimes it's best to communicate in person where the other person can see your face, hear your emotion, and be reassured of your love for them.

Thirdly, John was not one to meddle. While there were things he wanted to say, he felt no compulsion to say them. There was no burning passion to say all he had to say and to fix all there had to be fixed. Yes, somethings needed to be said, but they could wait until the time and situation was right. He could love them without feeling the need to meddle in their lives.

Lastly, John's authority in the church was not only apostolic but also relational. He could have command them to do what they needed to do but he didn't trade in authority but rather relationships. When the time was right, and he was with them, he could tell them what they needed to hear and he was confident in their obedience, not because of his authority, but because of their relationship and mutual love one for another.

The church is nothing without relationships, or, as Paul put it, without love, we are nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:3) There is more I could say about the church, but maybe the next time we are together.

David Robison

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

New Commentary - 1st John

I've added a new commentary of 1st John to the commentary tab on my blog. John's main message in all his writings is that we should love one another. John experienced the love of God in a deep, lasting, and transformative way. That love lead him to love others with the same love by which he was loved. Being saved, we are called into communion with God and with His church. However, without learning the love John speaks of, our live together as a church will be difficult at best. Let us learn afresh want it means to love each other as God has loved us.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Going too far - 2 John 9-11

"Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting; for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds." (2 John 9-11)
It is one thing to be wrong, it's another to be wandering in error. I suppose that if we took the time to examine our beliefs relative to one another we would find many areas where we disagree; areas in which one of us, if not both, are wrong. However, to take our error and to build upon it a theology that departs from the doctrines of Christ is a pathway to destruction for ourselves and our hearers. This is why Paul warns Timothy, "Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you." (1 Timothy 4:16) We may disagree with each other regarding what Jesus said and taught, but to depart from His teaching ensures our error and eventual condemnation before God.

There is safety in the Gospel message we have received. Jude refers to "the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints" (Jude 3) and that we "know all things once for all." (Jude 5) This does not mean that there is nothing more to learn and understand about God. However, it does mean that our search should be within the message already given rather than searching elsewhere for more knowledge and/or another revelation. I think this is what John means by "going too far." Some, not content with the message they have received, try to build upon it with "new" revelation until their new system of religion bears little resemblance to the message preached by Jesus and His apostles. Their search for something greater lead them astray. Their "new" revelation has set them outside the bounds of faith and into heresy. Whatever new knowledge and understanding we believe to have received from the Lord must fit inside the parameters of the message already given lest, we too, "go too far."

John warns of receiving such people into our company. Those who seek to draw people after themselves, to draw people after their own brand of teaching, seek to draw people away from Christ and from His church. They may claim enlightenment and to know to the path to holiness and to God, but it is a path that leads away from, not near to, God.

There was a certain heretic in the early church named Marion who taught many things contrary to the message of Christ. When Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, had a chance meeting with him in Rome, he walked past him refusing to acknowledge him. "And Polycarp himself replied to Marcion, who met him on one occasion, and said, 'Dost thou know me?' 'I do know thee, the first-born of Satan.'" (Irenaeus, Against Heresy, Book III, chapter 3)  I do not suggest that this should become our normal greeting for people in the marketplace, "You are the first-born of Satan!" but the early church took this warning of John seriously and understood the those who sought to compromise the church were the enemies of the church and sought her harm not her good. We should be wary of such people and keep ourselves clean of their company.

David Robison

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Many antichrists - 2 John 7-8

"For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist. Watch yourselves, that you do not lose what we have accomplished, but that you may receive a full reward." (2 John 7-8)
For John, the antichrist was not some end-time figure, nor a single person, but a spirit that indwelt many why would come and oppose the teachings and work of Christ. John describes that, in his day, many, not a few, antichrists had already appeared; those who sought to undue the teachings and commands of the Apostles as they followed and taught the things Jesus had taught and commanded them. That many anitchrists should have appeared should not have surprised us. For even Jesus said, "See to it that no one misleads you. Many will come in My name, saying, 'I am He!' and will mislead many." (Mark 13:5-6) Furthermore, Jesus also warned us saying, "So if they say to you, 'Behold, He is in the wilderness,' do not go out, or, 'Behold, He is in the inner rooms,' do not believe them." (Matthew 24:26)

Just as in John's day, we should not be surprised to find many antichrists alive and well in our world today. John writes that we should guard ourselves against them and not succumb to their deception. John understood that the Christian life is not about starting well but finishing well. Many start out with great joy and appear as brilliant starts as they sprint ahead of the rest of us only later to burn out and fall away back into the darkness. The Christian walk is not a sprint but a long-distance endurance race where we must be continually strengthened on the truth and teachings of Christ. Many may come offering shortcuts or easier paths to what we wish for our lives but it is the life of the Spirit that produces true fruit in our lives; true fruit that remains. John's hope is that we would continue steady until the end; building upon what we learned and growing in strength from victory to victory till one day we stand before our King and are invited into eternal dwellings with Him in heaven. That having started well we would finish well. Paul put it this way, "Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?" (Galatians 3:3) On the contrary, we should start in the Spirit and end in the Spirit.

One of the key ways to identify these antichrists is to recognize them as deceivers. The Greek word for deceiver means a wanderer or roamer; one who wonders about with no true direction or purpose. You can identify an antichrist by the serpentine path they take in wandering away from the truth. The truth of God is a straight line that starts with God and runs through Adam, Abraham, David, Jesus, the Apostles, the church, us, and then finally ends back with God (with many interleaving connection points omitted for brevity sake). Those who seek to lead you in a path that deviates from this history, seek to lead you away from the truth. We should be wary of those who bring some new doctrine or revelation that has not appeared previously in God's revealed history of redemption. We should reject those who bring a teaching that counters or descents from that of Jesus and His apostles. Anything or anyone who would seek to lead us astray from the historical truth and teaching of God, His prophets, and His apostles is fulfilling the office of antichrist. Let them follow their own crooked path while we follow the straight path of Christ. "I will make them walk by streams of waters, on a straight path in which they will not stumble; for I am a father to Israel." (Jeremiah 31:9)

David Robison

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Found walking in truth - 2 John 4-6

"I was very glad to find some of your children walking in truth, just as we have received commandment to do from the Father. Now I ask you, lady, not as though I were writing to you a new commandment, but the one which we have had from the beginning, that we love one another. And this is love, that we walk according to His commandments. This is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, that you should walk in it." (2 John 4-6)
It is interesting to note that John speaks to the "lady," not the elders, not the pastor, and not the leaders, rather he speaks directly to the church in general. The church was not seen as an extension of the pastor (because they did not have pastors as we have them today) nor was it ruled and controlled from above, requiring John to address the top before he could address those beneath them. The church was the church and John addressed its members directly.

What delighted John was that, in his travels, he found some from the church who were living the life they professed. The were walking in truth; not living one way in church and another in the world, but living a consistent life where every life should find them. The Christian life is more than just worshiping good, listening to the preacher good, and looking good to others at church, it is about a changed life; a life that has come into conformity to the image and nature of Christ; a life that has come into conformance with truth and the one who is the truth. All sin and debauchery is of a lie for it lies against the one who created us and how we were created to live. When we live godly lives we are living "naturally," living as we were created to live. When we sin, we are living "unnaturally," living against our God-given nature that was created in holiness and meant for righteousness. To live according to the truth is to live life fully and in abundance.

The consistent message of John, in all his letters, is that we should love one another. Love is the fulfillment of the Law. When we love one another, we are reflecting the nature and character of God for "God is love." (1 John 4:8) However, love is more than a feeling; it is more than affection and a disposition towards wishing others good. Love requires actions and deeds. Solomon said, "Better is open rebuke than love that is concealed." (Proverbs 27:5) If love is not shown in deeds and actions then it is of little value to the one we claim to love. So how do we walk in love towards one another? Obedience! Obedience to God's commandments. When we conform our lives to the commandments of God, when we allow His word to dictate our actions rather than our own will and desire, then not only will we be expressing love for God but we will also be expressing the love towards other people. When we keep the commandments we love God and love other people.

The benefit of the commandments is that they teach us practical ways to love one another: don't lie, be slow to anger, and forgive one another, just for a few examples. The commandments are not arbitrary standards for obtaining to an arbitrary sense of righteousness, they express the actions that communicate love for God and love for one another. God commands these things of us, not to try us or to test our resolve, but to show us how we ought to live and love one another. To obey the commandments is to walk in love and to walk in love is to obey the commandments. The next time you read of God's commandments, think of them in terms of acts of love and you might gain a different perspective on God and what He commands.

David Robison

Monday, April 13, 2015

To the chosen lady - 2 John 1-3

"The elder to the chosen lady and her children, whom I love in truth; and not only I, but also all who know the truth, for the sake of the truth which abides in us and will be with us forever: Grace, mercy and peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love." (2 John 1-3)
John writes as "the elder" using the particular Greek word which is often transliterated as presbyter. Oversight in the early churches was given into the hands of elders who had both wisdom and a depth of the Spirit to guide, protect, and govern the church. Later on, the term "presbyter" would come to be synonymous with the church office it represented, but at this point in the church, the word "presbyter" still retained its original meaning as an elderly person. John wrote with weight, not from a position of authority as a presbyter, but from a position of influence as and elder who could be trusted and depended on. When my grandfather was alive, he was the patriarch of a family of almost one hundred souls. At one point he informed us that he was fasting and praying for all of us because be believed that a special time of testing was coming upon our family. He wrote as the elder of our family and we respected and received his encouragement, not because he held some office as presbyter over the family, but because he was the elder of the family and God had placed within him wisdom and experience that we all respected, needed, and wanted in our lives. In much the same way, John is addressing the church in his letter.

It is also interesting to note that John was writing to a specific church and not the church universal. At the end of the letter he closes with, "your chosen sister greet you." (2 John 13) At such an early date in Christian history, while there was a universal brotherhood of believers, there was not yet a church universal. The forces urging the creation of one universal church with a universal and ultimate head were still many centuries away from achieving their goal. In the end, such efforts would leave the Body of Christ severely divided and at enmity with one another. Nearly two thousand years latter, these divisions still remain in the Body of Christ; separating believers from believers.

Finally, we see that the early believers saw themselves unified in what ever place they existed as one corporate bride of Christ. While they existed as individuals, they saw themselves as a whole. They were more than members of some club. They were more than citizens of a common society. They were together one Body of Christ and one unified expression of Christ to the world and to each others. Much of their since of unity came from their acknowledgement of a common birth. They had together one Father in heaven and were born of the same mother on Earth. Polycarp, a disciple of John, wrote, "And when [Paul was] absent from you, he wrote you a letter, which, if you carefully study, you will find to be the means of building you up in that faith which has been given you, and which, being followed by hope, and preceded by love towards God, and Christ, and our neighbour, 'is the mother of us all.'" (Polycarp, Letter to the Philippians, Chapter 3) Later, when a friend of Justin Martyr was being examined by the Perfect of Rome he said, "Christ is our true father, and faith in Him is our mother." (The Martyrdom of Justin Martyr, Chapter 3) The early church was united by their common Father in heaven and their common faith through which they were born anew. A few hundred years later, they would begin speaking of the church as their mother and, a few centuries later, of Mary as the exulted mother, but for now they were united in God and in a common faith.

The early church was a church with little structure, few rules, and great power. We have now become a church of rigid structures, many rules, and little power. It remains to be seen if we have fallen to the depths where we can no longer ascend to our former glory, power, and greatness. However, either way, perhaps it's time that we rethink church as we have come to know it.

David Robison

Saturday, April 11, 2015

This is eternal life - 1 John 5:19-21

"And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding so that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life. Little children, guard yourselves from idols." (1 John 5:20-21)
Jesus came for many reasons. One of them being to enlighten our minds and, most specifically, here in the Greek, our intellect, that we might know God. It's not that we did not know God before, for the reality of His existence was evident all around us. It's not that His word was unknown to us before, for it had been written and passed down for centuries and millenniums previous. It was that the truth of Him and the understanding of His word was hidden until a time of revealing. A time which had come to maturity with the coming of Christ.

To Isaiah God said, "The entire vision will be to you like the words of a sealed book, which when they give it to the one who is literate, saying, 'Please read this,' he will say, 'I cannot, for it is sealed.'" (Isaiah 29:11) To Daniel He said,, "Go your way, Daniel, for these words are concealed and sealed up until the end time." (Daniel 12:9) And when Jesus taught He said, "Therefore I speak to them in parables; because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand." (Matthew 13:13) However, after His resurrection, all things changed and He set out to enlighten our hearts and to give us an understanding that we might know and understand both Him and His truth, On the road to Emmaus Jesus talked with two of His disciples. "Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures." (Luke 24:27) Then later with the rest of His disciples, it is written that, "He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures." (Luke 24:45) Later, when John was receiving his revelation in heaven, he was weeping for none was found worthy to break open the seals and reveal what was written until, "one of the elders said to me, 'Stop weeping; behold, the Lion that is from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals.'" (Revelation 5:5)

Jesus came to open our minds and our intellects that we might know and understand God. Not only that we might know who God is but that we might also understand who we are in Him and who we are to Him. When we believe in Jesus, we are in Jesus and, when we are in Jesus, we are in God and, when we are in God, we are in Him who is true. We all want to give our lives to something that is true. If we understand that life is short and that we have so precious little time on this Earth, shouldn't we seek to give our lives to something that matters? What a horrible state for someone to live their life for something that is false or of no consequence; to waste their life on what does not matter at all. Worse than that, to find that in squandering this life we have actually forfeited the life to come. We have lived for the temporary at the expense of the eternal. All that is true and all that is eternal is found in God. To live our lives for what matters and for what lasts forever is to live our live in Christ, for He is the truth and he is eternal life.

John ends his letter with a simple command, "guard yourselves from idols." This command seems almost out of place or placed there as an after thought. However, if we understand that we are in the one who is truth and who is eternal life, why would we resort to idols? Paul, saw in many cases, the reality of people turning form idols. Speaking of those who witnessed the conversion of the Thessalonians, he wrote, "For they themselves report about us what kind of a reception we had with you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come." (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10) Seeing what a glorious salvation we have received, and having received knowledge and understanding from God, what more use do we have for idols? God is enough! Keep yourselves from idols!

David Robison

Friday, April 10, 2015

Born to not sin - 1 John 5:18-19

"We know that no one who is born of God sins; but He who was born of God keeps him, and the evil one does not touch him. We know that we are of God, and that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one." (1 John 5:18-19)
At first blush, this verse is also difficult to understand and to accept. I know that I have been born of God yet, from time-to-time, I still sin. So how can John say that those born of God do not sin? Fortunately, we only have to look back a little way in John's letter to understand what he is saying. John previously said, "No one who is born of God practices sin." (1 John 3:9) John is not saying that, once having been born again we will never stumble in sin, rather he is saying that those who have been born again have laid aside the practice and habit of sin. Temptation may over take us but we no longer sin as a mater of course, habit, or practice.

This change is what is often most immediately apparent to those around us upon our conversion. Peter expresses this same sentiment when he said, "Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God. For the time already past is sufficient for you to have carried out the desire of the Gentiles, having pursued a course of sensuality, lusts, drunkenness, carousing, drinking parties and abominable idolatries. In all this, they are surprised that you do not run with them into the same excesses of dissipation, and they malign you." (1 Peter 4:1-4) Those who have been united with Christ in His death and resurrection have "suffered in the flesh" and as such have "ceased from sin." They no longer live their lives for the fleeting pleasure of sin but for the eternal pleasures that come from a life lived for God. They no longer live for their own will and pleasure but for the will and pleasure of God.

The reason we can live apart form sin is because of Christ. Darby translates this verse, "he that has been begotten of God keeps himself," (1 John 5:18 Darby) but I believe the above translation to be more accurate, especially when John is comparing the one who keeps us from the one who tempts us. This world lines under the dominion of the evil one. However, we have now chosen new loyalties. However, for a while, must remain and live in his realm even though our allegiances are somewhere else. Before He died, Jesus prayed, "I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world." (John 17:15-16) Having now ascended, He now keeps us by His power and grace. Our hope of righteousness is no longer in ourselves but in the One who is more than able to keep us.

The evil one can try, but he can no longer assert his dominion over us. Jesus said of Satan, "the ruler of the world is coming, and he has nothing in Me." (John 14:30) The same can be said of us. As we have died to this world so has those things in our lives that Satan once laid claim to. There remains in us nothing that is his. We have been set free. We may be in his kingdom, but we are no longer under his dominion. Thanks be to God!

David Robison

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Sins not unto death - 1 John 5:16-17

"If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask and God will for him give life to those who commit sin not leading to death. There is a sin leading to death; I do not say that he should make request for this. All unrighteousness is sin, and there is a sin not leading to death." (1 John 5:16-17)
This is a difficult verse to properly understand and to apply to our lives today. It's hard for us, or at least for me, to understand what kinds of sins John is talking about and our role in praying for them or not praying for them. It is tempting to think that John is speaking of the "unforgivable sin," where Jesus said, "Truly I say to you, all sins shall be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they utter;  but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin." (Mark 3:28-29) However, of the four Gospels, John omits these remarks of Jesus. It is hard to imagine that John would have refereed back to something he had never written. It is my opinion that this is not what John is referring to here,

The scriptures are clear as to the consequences of sin. God, speaking of how the son should not be held accountable for his father's offenses, says, "The soul who sins will die." (Ezekiel 18:4) Also, Paul reminds us of the price we pay for sin, saying, "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 6:23) So, if the penalty for sin is death, then how can there be a sin not leading to death?

James reminds us that "we all stumble in many ways," (James 3:2)  yet the promise of God is that, "When he falls, he will not be hurled headlong, because the Lord is the One who holds his hand." (Psalm 37:24) Furthermore, God, knowing that even the righteous will stumble and fall at times, says, "For a righteous man falls seven times, and rises again, but the wicked stumble in time of calamity." (Proverbs 24:16) We all, from time-to-time, stumble in our faith and revert to unrighteousness in our words and deeds. We forget our salvation and our deliverance from our former ways and former allegiances and belie the truth that we have been born again and translated into a Kingdom of light. We sin the sins of the past rather than living in the righteousness of the present. At times like these we need to be washed. It's not that we have lost our previous salvation, but we have been soiled by the world and our propensity to continue to live according to its ways. When Jesus washed His disciples feet, He said, "He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean... You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you." (John 13:10, 15:3)

At times like these, whether in our own lives or in the life of someone else, we ought to pray or them and God will restore them and keep them in life abundant. God has given us the privilege of interceding on their behalf, to appropriate life for those who have stumbled into unrighteousness; to receive life from God for them on their behalf. However, when some have chosen a deliberate path of sin and have turned their backs on their faith, their restoration requires more than our prayers. While we should pray for their restoration, the life the seek will never be theirs until they return and make it right before God. Where in one case we might intercede for the stumbler to obtain from God, these must come to God themselves and intercede for their own sin and unrighteousness that they may be restored to forgiveness and fellowship with God. These have chosen a path leading to death and only an encounter with God will save them. While we pray for them, our prayers are not for pardon but for salvation; it's not for the continuation in life but the salvation from death.

David Robison