“Are You Up to the Test?” was a sermon preached by Pastor John Valentine on the weekend of June 13, 2021 — the Third Sunday of Pentecost. It is based upon the text of 1 John 2:1-11, as part of our sermon series on 1 John that run from June 6 through August 1.
“Are You Up to the Test?”
Pentecost 3 (NL3) John B. Valentine
1 John 2:1-11 June 13, 2021
“ARE YOU UP TO THE TEST?”
Any “test-lovers” out there? Like trivia tests and the like?
Here’s a fairly easy test for you:
• In what month do Germans celebrate Oktoberfest? September.
• And in what month do Russians celebrate the October Revolution? November.
• And which country would you go to if you wanted to purchase a real Panama hat? Ecuador.
Then again ... not ALL tests are ‘easy’ as that one!!
In fact ... I read an article a while back that posed what were presented as “legitimate final exams” for particular professions.
The one for medical students read thusly: You have been provided with a razor blade, a piece of gauze, a needle and thread, and a bottle of Scotch. Remove your appendix. Do not suture until your work has been inspected by the professor. You have fifteen minutes.
And the one for engineering students like so: The disassembled parts of a high powered rifle have been placed in a box on your desk. You will find an instruction manual printed in Swahili. In ten minutes, a hungry Bengal tiger will be admitted into the test room. Take whatever action you feel appropriate, and be prepared to justify your decision.
You get the point? I dare not ask what such a “final exam” for seminary students might look like ... but I suspect it has something to do with a pandemic!
Truth be told ... tests are a part of life. Driver’s tests ... eye-tests ... COVID tests .......
Some of us don’t like tests at all ...
And some of us may like them up to a point ...
But NONE of us really like them when they get TOO serious.
But what we’ve got here in this morning in 1st John ... chapter two ... is a test.
Not a “pass/fail” test that determines whether or not you are “good” or “good enough” ...
But an “assessment instrument” ... as it were ... to help you honestly assess where you’re at in terms of your own Christian discipleship.
+ + + + +
Now ... before we get to looking at what that test is like ... I need to speak a word of caution.
You may only .... ONLY ... ever use this test as a tool for SELF-assessment.
You may NOT weaponize this test and use it against ANYBODY else.
• Not anyone in your house ...
• Not anyone in your family ...
• Not the neighbor across the street ...
• Not that politician whom you already don’t find very appealing anyway.
After all ... Jesus DID once say something about “taking the log out of your own eye before you attempt to take the sliver out of the eye of your neighbor.”
Christians ... and the Christian community historically ... have always gotten sideways of the Gospel when we try to determine who is “good” or “good enough” ... so don’t go there!
But DO use this test as its was intended by John when he first wrote it down ...
As a tool ... a resource ... for self-examination.
Kind of like the way you might use the bathroom mirror to look at yourself and make an honest assessment of where you’re at and what perchance might need a little attention.
+ + + + +
Now the first part of the test ... as it were ... is found in these words:
“Now by this we may be sure that we know him, if we obey his commandments. Whoever says, ‘I have come to know him,’ but does not obey his commandments, is a liar, and in such a person the truth does not exist; but whoever obeys his word, truly in this person the love of God has reached perfection.”
Section one of the test is the “obedience test”.
You ever think about the word “obedience” any more?
Apparently ... most people ... and even most Christians ... don’t!
I happened to look in hymnal from the early 20th century the other day ...
And found a whole section of that hymnal devoted to “Christian obedience” ...
But in newer hymnals ... the words “obedience” and/or “obey” have even been dropped from the index entirely!
It’s gone from “obedience” being understood as a primary aspect of Christian faithfulness to “obedience” not even being part of the conversation.
Fact of the matter is ... when most of us hear the words “obedience” and “obey” these days ... we think it only applies to dogs ...
And the trendiest pet training websites have even dropped the words “obedience”, “obedient” and “obey” altogether!!
You see ... we don’t like talk about “obedience” because being obedient to something or someone else means bending our will to theirs ... no?
We’re so enamored of free-will and toleration and ‘doing your own thing’ that we’re quickly losing the capacity to talk about ... much less think about ... ‘obeying’ God’s commandments and/or ‘obeying’ the Lord our God.
But where does that leave us as regards our ability to pray “Thy will be done” with any sense of integrity???
Like it or not ... folks ... John says that “Test Number One” is the ‘Obedience Test’ ...
As in ... “To what extent are we willing to bend our wills to the will and the Word of the Creator of heaven and earth?”
Not just once ... but day after day after day.
+ + + + +
“Test Number Two” is the ‘Walk Test’.
It’s the test that begins with these words:
“By this we may be sure that we are in him: whoever says, ‘I abide in him’ ought to walk just as he walked. Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you have had from the beginning; the old commandment is the word that you have heard.”
We might think of this as the “faith in action” test.
The “Can we walk the walk?” thing.
Anybody bought a car ... or at least gone shopping for a car ... lately?
Gone out and “kicked some tires” ... as it were?
Not that I’m going to be buying a new car any time soon ...
But I was reading an article in Consumer Reports the other day about HOW to shop for a car ...
and one of the things that it stressed is how the FIRST thing you want to do when you go shopping for a new car is to take a test drive ... a LOT of test drives ... rigorous test drives.
And then it went on to comment about how many people actually buy new cars really without taking much of a test drive at all ,... and how disappointed they often end up on account of it.
Now I KNOW that YOU are all smarter than that ...
That you would ALL and ALWAYS do the “test drive” thing ...
But just as we would ask of a vehicle ... “How does it actually drive?”
God would ask of us the question ... “How do you actually walk?”
Does our life as actually lived line up with the values of the cross and the empty tomb?
“Whoever says, ‘I abide in him’” ... John notes ... “ought to walk just as he walked.”
+ + + + +
And then ... finally ... John lays out the “love test”.
As in: “Whoever says, ‘I am in the light', while hating a brother or sister, is still in the darkness. Whoever loves a brother or sister lives in the light, and in such a person there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates another believer is in the darkness, walks in the darkness, and does not know the way to go, because the darkness has brought on blindness.”
Now it may well seem to us that John is being a bit extremist with his language about love or hate and light or darkness.
I suspect most of us would rather see things in shades of gray on this one.
Sure ... most of us can think of a few people we really love ...
Our family ... our spouse ... our kids ... a few friends.
And likewise ... we may be able to name a few people we really dislike ...
And then there’s everybody else ... whom we see as kind of neutral.
Truth be told ... at least for me ... there’s a whole bunch of people in this world I treat pretty indifferently ... certainly not hated per se ... but not particularly loved.
But John doesn’t seem to leave that option open for us ... for he seems to categorize passive neutrality toward other Christians as a kind of hatred toward them.
I don’t much like the sound of that in my ears ... but I’d have to admit that there’s a certain truth to it.
I mean ...
• How many people have been driven out of the Christian community by hatred they’ve experienced from other Christians?
• How many church fights have made people reject the faith of the church entirely?
• How many people are out there in our community who would say “Oh, I love God, for sure. It’s the church I can’t stand”??
As Frederick Buechner once wrote:
“The love for equals is a human thing ... of friend for friend, brother for brother. It is to love what is loving and lovely. The world smiles.
“The love for the less fortunate is a beautiful thing ... the love for those who suffer, for those who are poor, the sick, the failures, the unlovely. This is compassion, and it touches the heart of the world.
“The love for the more fortunate is a rare thing ... to love those who succeed where we fail, to rejoice without envy with those who rejoice, the love of the poor for the rich, of the black man for the white man. The world is bewildered by its saints.
“And then there is the love for the enemy ... love for the one who does not love you but mocks, threatens, and inflicts pain. The tortured's love for the torturer.
“This is God’s love. That is the love that conquers the World.”
+ + + + +
That’s the test ... folks. The whole of it. There’s:
• The ‘Obedience Test’ part ... and
• The ‘Walk Test’ part ... and
• The ‘Love Test’ part ...
Which leads me to wonder ..... “Are you going to study for the exam?”