This morning we are going to wrap up our series on First John and as we do, I remind you of some of the glorious affirmations we have heard along the way. God is light, and in God there is no darkness at all. Whoever loves a brother or sister lives in the light. See what love our Divine Parent has lavished on us that we should be called children of God. Let us not love in word or speech but with actions and in truth. God is love and those who abide in love abide in God and God abides in them. Complete love drives out fear. Those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also. ... Remember that this sermon letter was written for a community that had been divided by false doctrine and so the author is reminding them of foundational truths: God is love. This love is perfectly revealed in the sacrifice of Jesus, who was the eternal word made actual human flesh. God's love for us and our love for God is perfected in and among us when we sacrificially love one another. And everything else is icing. And now in chapter five the author tells us what happens when we live with those truths as our foundation. What's in it for us?
Scripture Reading 1 John 5:1-5,19-21 from the NIV
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God….
We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one. We know also 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 by being in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.
This is the Word of God for all people. Thanks be to God.
Did you hear it? Did you hear what's in it for us? It's verse 4: Everyone who is born of God overcomes the world; our faith is the victory that conquers the world. That's quite a promise, isn't it? So let's unpack it, because it's all there.
What does it mean to be born of God? According to verse 1 it means that we believe Jesus is the Christ. This is a key thing for First John. Whatever the false doctrine was, it had something to do with denying the humanity of Jesus, so John affirms over and over that the human Jesus was also the divine Christ. The description "born of God" fits right in with all the family language John uses: God described as Father, fellow Christians as brothers and sisters. Our spiritual origins are rooted in this particular revelation of God, and just like any healthy family, there are responsibilities that come along with being part of this one.
As children in God's family, we are responsible for obeying God's commands. As we discussed last week, this obedience isn't fueled by fear of punishment; it's fueled by love. We want to demonstrate our love for God and the only way to do that is through obedience. Now stay with me because most grown-ups don't like the idea of obeying anyone (although we are usually fine with the idea of someone else obeying us). Obedience sounds <big sigh, drop shoulders, roll eyes> It's hard for us to connect obedience with something we WANT to do. Usually obedience means doing something even though we didn't want to, like we are being forced.
But we know God doesn't force us. We always get to choose. Here's where I suspect the obedience comes in: God's command is to love one another, but we don't actually always want to do THAT. Honestly, right? In those moments, when we DON'T want to be loving, and we choose to do it anyway, THAT is obedience that demonstrates our love for God. We don't have to be afraid of that moment because look what the text says: God's commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that overcomes the world: our faith.
Victory, overcoming and conquering are all the same root word. This is the promise: We are overcomers. Through our faith, which is our active trust in God's character, we have conquered the world. Please understand: conquering the world does not mean defeating other people. The book of Ephesians chapter 6 says that our battle is not against flesh and blood but against the powers of this present darkness and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Whatever form you think evil takes and where ever you think it comes from is not the issue. Anyone who is paying attention can see the evil in this world. And we who profess that Jesus is Lord are called to stand against this evil in all it's forms.
The "world" was created by God and is loved by God. Jesus came to save the world. But the world is also the realm that is not currently in line with God's purposes. First John chapter 2 poetically describes what is in the world as desires of the flesh and desires of the eyes and empty boasting about material possessions. Our trust in God is the victory over this world's obsessive grasping, victory over placing our trust in STUFF, victory over judging only by what we can see.
This victory comes to us through our big brother Jesus. In the gospel of John chapter 16 Jesus says, "In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
Romans chapter 12 encourages us, "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."
Some of us are uncomfortable with militant, fighting images for Christians. And I agree that we should never see ourselves in a battle against other people. But the image of combat is totally appropriate when we think about fighting evil. Because it's HARD, and it feels personal. And we know that while we can make a lot of progress with more money and new policies, what's really wrong in the world is not only intellectual. It's also spiritual. It's not that we don't know how to stop abusing this planet. It's that we don't really want to stop. So we fight on two fronts: in the natural and in the spiritual (however you think of spiritual). Our verses this morning give us strength for this battle. Those who follow Christ overcome the world. Our faith is the victory.
The apostle Paul understood this. The book of Romans chapter 8 says, "What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. What shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,
neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
And THAT, my dear siblings is what we celebrate when we come to this table. Here we remember and declare again that Jesus has already been victorious over the worst evil. Through his sacrificial love, he shares that victory with everyone who wants it. As we participate in this ritual, we open ourselves to an experience of God's love and victory. Because, beloved, as our ancestors in the faith have declared for hundreds of years, This is the joyful feast of the people of God. Where people of all genders, all ages, and all races — every type of BODY — come from the east and the west, from the north and the south, and gather around Christ’s victorious table.