December 17, 2016
Scripture and Commentary, December 18-24
2 Peter 1
The exceeding value of faith is shown in the very first verse of Second Peter. He calls it, “precious faith,” and indicates that it is to be valued above all things in this earth. Faith is the means by which we receive the things of God. By faith, we receive Christ as Lord and Saviour. By faith we receive the forgiveness of sins. By faith. we walk with Christ in this life. By faith we see our Heavenly home. Truly faith is more precious than all the worldly trinkets we chase so tirelessly and display so proudly.
Biblical faith is described in verses 2-9. It is the act of believing, but also includes what we believe, and it includes being shaped by what we believe. Thus, faith shapes our personalities, and guides our actions. It forms virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, and Godliness in us. Therefore, what we believe about God is as important as believing in Him. What we believe about Him shapes the kind of person we are now and will be in five years. Peter is saying a person whose faith does not form virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience and Godliness in him is blind (9). His faith is defective. It is dead faith (Jas 2:26), and it will not get you into Heaven. Real faith seeks, rather than lacks these things (11), and those whose faith moves them to seek such things are the ones who make their election sure. “If ye do these things, ye shall never fail” (10).
Peter sees his approaching death (13). What will be his legacy to the Church? He is mentioned often in the Gospels, so his name and deeds will be remembered as long as people read or hear the Bible. But his legacy is not that he walked on water with Christ, or denied Him at His trial. His legacy to the Church is the Gospel of Christ, which he preached faithfully, lived daily, and died for gladly. His desire is to put the Church in continual remembrance of the things of Christ. Remembrance means more than memorisation. It means to "hold in remembrance" in such a manner that our connection to Christ by grace through faith will always be a part of who and what we are. It means to keep the connection alive, and to allow it to influence and direct our present and our future.
2 Pet. 2
2 Peter 2
Have you ever thought of yourself as merchandise? Merchandise is something to be bought and sold for the enrichment of the merchant and the buyer. In much of the transactions of the world, we, the "consumers" are the real merchandise, constantly bought and sold by various interests who make our resources their own in the transaction. We are also often used as merchandise in the spiritual realm, where false prophets and teachers seek to buy and profit from our loyalty with easier and more popular "gospels" than the Gospel of Jesus Christ (3). Sadly, people gladly "sell their souls" for the false security of heresy and error. But the Gospel of Christ is truth. Peter offers no cunningly devised fable (1:16). He saw the majesty of Christ; he knew the truth of His Words. It is of what he saw as an eyewitness that he desires to put us in remembrance (1:16-21). The price of following false teachers is terrible. Even angels that sin are cast down to hell (3:4-10). Let us read these words in reverence, asking God to keep us in His truth.
How subtle are the ways of false teachers who deny the Gospel of Christ, of which the Apostles are eyewitnesses and commissioned by Christ to proclaim. Like the tempter of Eden they distort to word of God with swelling words of vanity, and allure through the lusts of the flesh. Promising liberty they are servants of corruption. If such people troubled the Church in the days when the Apostles were yet on earth, how much more can we expect to see them in our day of radical hatred of tradition and authority? But their enticing words give false hope. They are wells without water, and the soul that tries to drink from them will die.
2 Pet. 3
2 Peter 3
The Second Coming of Christ is certain. The question is not will, but when He will return. For the Lord is not slack concerning His promises (9). The day of the Lord will come, and, in His own time, He will melt away this creation like wax (10), and burn the things of it. Like a thief in the night, His return will come unexpectedly to those deep in the slumber of sin. It will catch them by surprise and destroy them. Those in Christ will not be surprised. We are watching, even longing for His coming. For us He comes not as a thief to kill and destroy, but as the Bridegroom to carry His beloved Church to His mansion in Heaven. Though it is highly unlikely that any of us will see the return of the Lord in our physical lifetime, it is certain that we will see the putting off of our earthly tabernacle (2 Pet. 1:14), and that will be the end of the world for us.
Peter is bringing his letter to a close. He writes about the new heavens and the new earth (12), but these are only briefly mentioned. His few remaining lines are more concerned with the question of verse 11, "what manner of persons ought ye to be?” His answer is in two basic parts. First, beware of being led away with error (17). Second' grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Christ (18). In the first place he warns us to do all in our power to remove ourselves from the influence and teaching of those who compromise the teachings of Scripture. In the second place he tells us to do whatever is necessary to place ourselves under the teaching and influence of those who faithfully proclaim the things of Christ.
1 John 1
1 John 1
It is around the year 85 A.D. Jerusalem has been destroyed by the Romans, as John predicted in Revelation 6-11. The great tribulation of Revelation 2:10 is in full force, and Christians around the Roman Empire have died in it, including Paul and Peter. The aged Apostle John has survived his imprisonment on Patmos, and now lives in Ephesus, from which he exercises Apostolic oversight of the Church in Asia Minor. Despite his efforts, the Church is heavily influenced by false teachers claiming to have more and better knowledge of Christ than John and the Apostles have. Their false gospels have three central themes.
First, they say, God never really became a man. To them, Jesus of Nazareth was a mere human man, who, at His baptism, was infused with the spirit of a God known as Christ. Christ left Jesus at the crucifixion. He returned to Heaven, where He lives with other Gods, especially the Father and the Holy Spirit.
Second, morality has no affect on your relationship with God. Instead of being offended by your wicked deeds, they believe God is completely indifferent to them. He doesn’t care what you do, “as long as you don’t hurt anyone.” He just wants to give you a way to enhance your personal peace, and find unity with Him.
Third, personal peace, and unity with God are achieved through religious experiences, not through faith. Such experiences can range from emotion-centered “worship” to speaking in tongues, healings, and prophetic utterances. Emotional/psychological manipulation is used to create and enhance these experiences, which are often supplemented with drugs and alcohol. Such “worship” may degenerate into drunken orgies. Having such experiences, they say, is the essence of being a “Christian.”
John addresses the false gospels in the letter we know as First John. His letter will be sent to all of the congregations that make up the Church in Asia Minor, including those named in Revelation 2:20-3:22.
John begins at the beginning. “That which was from the beginning” (1), refers to the faith given by Christ to the Apostles. John is saying he and the other Apostles have the true and original Gospel, and the false teachers have false gospels. John, and the Apostles, know they have the original Gospel because they received it from Christ Himself. They were eyewitnesses to the life, teaching, death, and resurrection of Christ. The false teachers claim to have gained their gospels through vision and prophecies, but the Apostles received the true Gospel from Christ. Thus, John can say, “That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you” (3). “This then is the message which we have heard of Him [Christ], and declare unto you” (5).
We might summarise and paraphrase John’s point as: I was there in the beginning. I saw Christ’s miracles. I heard His sermons. I heard His private teachings to the other Apostles. I heard His teaching after the resurrection. I, with the other Apostles, was commissioned by Him to make disciples of all nations. I saw Him ascend to Heaven. I was there at Pentecost. I have been with the other Apostles since the beginning, and all of the Apostles agree about the message and Gospel Christ intends His Church to proclaim.
The false teachers cannot make such claims. They base their gospels on feelings, and dreams, and visions, and prophesies, which John clearly shows are not from God. Therefore, John is calling the Church to make a rational decision. Will you believe a person who was with Christ, or will you believe a person whose message of Christ comes from dreams and visions induced by drugs and alcohol?
The false teachers say morality has no affect on your relationship with God. In their view, sin, as a moral issue, is a figment of your imagination because God does not care what you do. Therefore, repentance, holy living, and even the need for atonement are unnecessary.
John disagrees. To him, God is light without darkness (5), meaning, perfect goodness from which God never, ever wavers. Therefore, those who desire fellowship with Him, must walk in light (goodness) with Him (6, 7). Thus, according to the Bible, fellowship, or, unity, with God, is much more than a feeling or a religious experience. It is a transformation of your entire being, which results in your coming out of the darkness of immorality and into the light of God’s righteousness. Those who claim to have fellowship with God, yet remain unchanged in their sinful ways, lie to others and themselves (6). Those who say they have no sin, either because they do not believe anything is sin, or because they believe they have achieved unity with God through religious experiences, deceive themselves (8). Furthermore, those who claim sinlessness, yet believe and live in such open and obvious opposition to the Gospel as proclaimed by the Apostles, make God a liar (10). They contradict His word, which is the same as saying God lies. Those who confess their sins are forgiven and they are the ones who have real fellowship with God. Their fellowship is not based on feelings and experiences, it is based on the atonement for sin purchased by God in Christ on the cross.
To confess sin is to recognise it as sin, and as something that makes you unfit for unity and fellowship with God. It is to recognise that your sin actually makes you worthy of banishment from God’s presence, and punishment for your evil. It is to agree with God that this is so, and to cry out to God for forgive your sins, and allow you to have fellowship with Him in spite of them. God is faithful to forgive the sins of those who confess. He is just to forgive them because Christ bore your sins in His own flesh and blood, and suffered their penalty of death, by dying on the cross. Therefore, in the cross, mercy and justice meet.
1 Jn. 2
1 John 2
The true Christian is devoted to developing a life-stye of Godliness. His desire is to be like God, and to make righteousness the natural course of his life. Rather than reveling in sin, and calling it righteousness, the true Christian desires to “sin not” (1). John, therefore advises the Church of Asia Minor to avoid sin. He is warning Christians to stay away from the false teachers’ congregations and sermons. Do not adopt their ideas or their ways. Instead, obey the commandments of God. Willingly rejoice in righteousness,
A Christian is naturally progressing toward his goal of righteousness (Phil. 3:14). But he is not without sin, yet. Every day he is in hand-to-hand combat with evil (Eph. 6:12), and sometimes, it wins (Rom 7:18-25). Be not dismayed. You have an advocate with God (1). You have someone to plead your case before the Judgement Throne of God. Jesus Christ, the Righteous will defend you. He will not attempt to say you have not sinned. He will not attempt to say your sin is good and natural, therefore, not worthy of condemnation. He freely admits your guilt and your worthiness of punishment. But, He presents His own suffering as the payment for your sins. He presents Himself as the propitiation (2) for your sins, meaning, He has satisfied the Father’s justice by dying for your sins on the cross. Therefore, you are not condemned for your sins. You are free to go.
His propitiation is for the sins of the whole world (2). This does not mean all will be forgiven and go to Heaven. It means His forgiveness is for anyone who calls upon Him in Biblical faith. “Whosoever will, may come.”
How can we know we are real Christians. How can we know whether we are following true or false teachers? You can tell by what you believe. If you believe as the Apostles teach, you may be a true Christian. If you believe what the false teachers teach, you are definitely not a true Christian. In later verses, John will write about the necessity of right doctrine as an indicator of true Christianity. In 2:3 he writes about the necessity of right living. He makes the essential point that you cannot be a true Christian without making a continuing, sincere effort to live a Godly, righteous, and sober life, to the glory of God.
Godly living means keeping His commandments (3, 4). The false teachers have discarded the commandments of God. They say Biblical morality is restrictive and oppressive to the natural impulses and happiness of humanity. They preach that those who believe in Biblical morality are bigoted haters of mankind. John says, “He that saith, I know Him [God], and keepeth not His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.”
It is those who keep His commandments who love God. In this way, their love of God is perfected (5). Many, then, and now, say the commandments of God have been replaced by the law of love. But how is love expressed in real life? It must be more than a mere emotion. It must be something that is done, not just felt. John’s point is that you do not love a person from whom you steal, to whom you lie, with whom you fornicate, or whose goods you covet. In other words, you do not love a person if you treat him in a way that is contrary to the law of God. Love is perfected, or approaches the way God loves, only when it moves beyond feelings and intentions into actions. Rather than deceiving, you speak the truth in love. Rather than stealing, you promote the financial freedom and property rights of others. Rather than coveting another’s goods, you work to earn your own, and thankfully enjoy what God gives to you, while actively promoting his right to enjoy his goods.
In the same way, you do not love God if you intentionally break His commandments and ignore His word. Children who love their parents obey their parents. People who love God obey God. Our love for God is perfected as we keep His commandments.
Verse 6, using the analogy of walking, teaches us that true Christians conduct themselves as God conducts Himself. Our thoughts, words, language, and manners will be in accordance with the will and nature of God. We will act like Jesus acts.
The commandment to love is, at the same time, the old commandment of the law, and the new commandment of the Gospel of Christ (7-8). John shows how the law of love applies to human relationships saying “he that hateth his brother is in darkness.”
Why do the false teachers say there is no sin? Isn’t it because they want to indulge the lusts of the flesh and the eyes (16), yet still be “saved”? Aren’t they trying to have God and the momentary indulgence of sin, at the same time? In short, aren’t they simply trying to justify their sins by saying they are not sins? After telling true Christians our sins are forgiven, John exhorts us not to attempt to justify our sins the way the false teachers do. They love the world. They love the things of the world. They love the lusts of the flesh, and they are desperately seeking a way to cling to them, and still go to Heaven. But John says, “Love not the world” (15-17). Its lusts are not of the Father, and you cannot live for them and God at the same time.
John goes on to say those who preach that it is possible to serve the lusts of the flesh, and God, are of the anti-christ (18). Many of them once seemed to be Christians. They were part of the congregation. They professed the Christian faith. “[T]hey went out from us, but they were not of us.” They were never really part of the true Church. They were never really true Christians. If they had been, they would still be with us.
John turns to the importance of right doctrine. He says those who deny that Jesus is the Christ are liars, and anti-christ (21-23). If we remember that the false teachers claim Jesus of Nazareth was a mere mortal man, temporarily indwelt by the Christ, we begin to understand the meaning of these words. The false teachers are denying that God the Son, the word who was with God and who was God (Jn. 1:1) became flesh and came into the world to give eternal life to people (Jn. 1:10, 1:12, 1:14). They claim God did not bear your sins on the cross. Instead, He let a man die there, and his death accomplished nothing for us. Only the experiences they offer give peace and unity with God. So, the false teachers’ doctrines deny that Jesus is the Christ. John calls their doctrine lies and anti-christ.
He closes the chapter with an appeal to abide in Christ. This means to abide in the true Church, established by Christ through the Apostles. And to abide in the true faith, the one given to the Church by Christ through the Apostles,
Ecclesiastes 1, Mk. 7:23-37
Ecc. 2, 1 Jn. 3
1 John 3
Based on the love of God shown in the sacrifice of Christ, which results in our adoption into the family of God (1, 2), true Christians purify themselves (3). This means they attempt to live pure and holy lives, rather than live for the gratification of sinful lusts. The false teachers say such gratification is good and should be enjoyed. The true Christian keeps his desires under control, not allowing them to lead him into sin.
According to the false teachers, the law of God is evil because it prohibits pleasure and happiness. According to John, who learned from Christ, the law of God is good. Transgression of the law is sin (4). Christ came into the world to take away sin (5). He came into the world to forgive those who accept forgiveness. He also came to move us out of sin into Godliness. In these ways, He takes away sin.
John has already established that breaking God’s law is sin (4). In verse 8 he begins to show that sin is of the devil, and those who commit and approve of sin are also of the devil. These verses (8-10) have caused much consternation, therefore it is imperative that we understand their real meaning. John does not mean real Christians never sin after their conversion. He does not even mean it is possible for a Christian to live without sin after conversion. He is not saying Christians will not experience daily failures, even though they strive to live in Godliness. Even the Apostle Paul admitted to having sin in his life (Rom 7:13-25), and who among us would claim to be more righteous and Godly than Paul? Thus, verses 9 and 10 refer to a life-style of Godliness, not sinless perfection. When John writes of those who commit sin, he does not refer to Christians’ failures. He refers to the false teachers, and their followers, who deny that anything is sin, and, therefore wallow like hogs in all manner of wickedness. People who are truly born of God (Jn. 3:16) do not do that. Those who do, are not born of God. By their life-style, the true status of a person is revealed. The Godly do Godliness. The wicked do wickedness (10).
John moves to explain Christian love as the real expression of true faith in everyday life (11-24). Cain is given as an example of hate, and it is implied that the world, including the false teachers, is like Cain in its hatred of the Church. Remember that the Church is in the midst of tribulation when John writes this epistle. The world’s persecution of innocent Christians, who desire to be loyal citizens of their respective cities, and good Romans, is wicked and unjust, just like Cain’s murder of Abel.
Unlike the world, Christians love. Their love is not mere emotion. It is a mind set that moves us to action. It acts to relieve the needs of other Christians, but it also extends to the world at large. Early Christians were noted for taking in widows and orphans and homeless people. John reminds us that God’s commandment is to believe in Him, and love one another. Those who keep His commandment are the ones who dwell in Him. Those who do not keep His commandments do not dwell in Him, no matter how numerous, or how enraptured their religious experiences may be.
1 Jn. 4
1 John 4
Right living and right believing are the two foundational tests of Biblical Christian faith. Major deviations from orthodox doctrine and practice are serious enough to call into question the validity of the faith of a person or a Church. John has been addressing right living, now he begins to address right believing. He warns that not every spirit that claims to know, and/or teach Christ, is true. Many, perhaps even most, are false. Therefore, Christians need to know how to tell one from the other. John says their doctrine will tell you. To confess that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh (2) or to say, “Jesus is the Son of God” (15), is to profess the entire scope of orthodox Christian doctrine, and to repudiate the entire scope of heretical theology espoused by the false teachers.
The false teachers reject the deity of Christ, which is the heart of the Christian faith. If Christ is not God, His death has no effect on our relationship to God, because, for God to forgive our sin, He must bear its cost in Himself. The same is true in human relationships, and, if someone harms you, you must bear the anger and hurt of his transgression, or you must require it of him in the form of punishment and restitution. You cannot transfer your personal cost of forgiveness to another. Neither can God. So, Christ had to be God with us. He had to be Man and God. He had to be sinless. He had to die. He had to rise from the dead, and He had to return to the Father. To affirm your belief in Him as the Son of God, or as Christ come in the flesh, is to affirm all of these truths about Him. The false teachers could not affirm this, therefore, they could not affirm any part of the true Christian faith.
Testing the spirit, then, is a test of doctrinal orthodoxy. John urges the Church to test those who wish to be members, and especially those who want to be teachers and clergy, for doctrinal orthodoxy. If they cannot affirm it, they are not Christians.