1 John 2:12-29
Do you ever get a song stuck in your head? Some people call it an ear worm. Maybe it’s a jingle from a commercial. Maybe it’s a secular song or a bit of a classical piece. Happens all the time to me! And most of my ear worms are hymns. (Not too surprising, eh?) This week, as I read and prayed over the scripture that we’ve just heard read, I actually had two ear worms: Abide with Me and Blessed Assurance. Abide with Me made sense, since the word “abide” appears five times in our lesson. Blessed Assurance, well I wasn’t so sure where that came from. But as I studied this scripture, I began to get some clarity on that, too. More on that later.
When reading this passage, we get a glimpse into the community to whom John was writing – just a glimpse. And what seems to be happening is that some folks are stirring up doubt in the community, specifically doubt about who Jesus is and his relationship to the Father. They seem to be stirring up doubt about Jesus being the Christ. And these are not people who have just shown up. John says that they “went out from us.” In other words, it seems that these folks have been and are members of the community. Perhaps they would even call themselves believers, or followers of the Way. But John says that by what they are doing and saying, these folks have shown that they do not belong to the community.
Sometimes it takes a crisis for us to clarify who we are. Sometimes it takes a challenge to our beliefs for us to clarify whose we are.
The folks in John’s Beloved Community were facing such a time of crisis and challenge. We don’t know for sure, but it seems likely that their sense of unity has been called into question. It also seems likely that they were wondering what was true and what was not.
Into their confusion, John writes,
I write to you, children, because you know the Father… I write to you, young people, because you are strong and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one… I write to you not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and you know that no lie comes from the truth.”
Imagine how hearing those words would feel to this group of confused and doubting people!
Into their confusion, John brings calm. He tells them that what they have believed from the beginning is the truth; that the anointing they have received from Jesus in baptism abides with them; and that they can have confidence on the last day.
By the way, it was at about this point in my reflections that it became clear to me why Blessed Assurance had come into my heart.
A word about the term Antichrist: John is using it in a quite literal way, to describe those who are anti-Christ. Scholars I read suggested that there is no evidence for any metaphysical or eschatological reading of that word. The antichrists were people who denied Christ.
PJ and I have called this book an instruction manual for our life in Christ (we may each have used a slightly different term), and that is exactly what it is. So, I wonder, what lesson or lessons might we find in this reading? The first seems to be the following: “Do not love the world or the things of the world.” This seems pretty straightforward. But maybe it’s not. I mean, isn’t the world created by God? So, aren’t we supposed to love it? To care for it?
Well, yes. This world, created by God, needs and deserves our love and our care. But if we look at the next verse, we may get a better picture of what John means when he asks his community – and us – not to love the world. Specifically, John refers to these things that are in the world: the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, and the pride in riches. So, it seems that this is not about care for our planet (or about loving the world in that sense) but rather about behavior. It’s about abiding in Christ and not in the worldly things. It’s about behaving in the ways that Christ would behave. It’s about abiding in love and in truth rather than in lies and in selfishness.
Our behavior reveals our identity. Where we abide will demonstrate who we are. It will demonstrate whose we are. Where we abide will manifest itself in daily living.
Oh, here comes another song into my head – I’ll just do the chorus: “And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love. Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.”
So, lesson number one was about not loving the world. And as we looked at that, we actually wandered into lesson number two: Abide in Christ, and its corollary, If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you will abide in the Son and in the Father. So, it seems that there is one lesson here: Abide in Christ.
This lesson is for us as well. Whatever confusion or doubt may come; whatever forces may try to tell us lies about who we are and whose we are; whatever may come, we can be assured that Jesus abides in us and that we abide in him. And when we walk in the light of Christ’s glory, people will know that we are Christians by our love.