Monday, December 22, 2014

3 John


There are a few things that strike me in reading 3 John. First off, this and 2 John are much more like real letters than the other letters of the New Testament which are, in some cases, much more like theological statements or sermons. 3 John covers a variety of topics in a short span just as we would if we were writing a letter to a friend today.

We do not know who Gaius was any more than we can be certain who John the Elder was. However, that does not keep us from benefitting from the contents of this letter.

The first thing that strikes me is the statement: “I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, just as it is well with your soul.” If someone prayed for your physical health to match your spiritual health, would you be in good shape, or on the point of death? This is an important factor to consider. Many people today spend much more time focused on improving their physical health while many focus little if at all on improving their spiritual health. Both are important. We need to care for our bodies and our souls. However, between the two, I think soul health should take priority over body health.

Secondly, John the Elder says, “I have no greater joy than this, to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” John was speaking of his spiritual children. This raises the question: do we have spiritual children, that is, people whom we have led to faith in Christ. If not, perhaps we need to pray for such an opportunity to lead someone to faith. Sometimes we do not know, until many years afterwards, the critical spiritual role we have played in someone’s life. However, if we are planting the seeds of God’s Word then we can count on the fact that those seeds are going to bear fruit by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Of course, John’s words also apply to our biological children. Nothing could give me greater joy than to know that my physical children are walking in the truth of the Lord. Again, all I can do is plant the seed, and water it, and pray for it to grow. Once, we have done the first two steps, for most of our lives the best thing we can do for our children is to pray for their spiritual growth.

Thirdly, John encourages the recipient of this letter to show hospitality to missionaries. Without such hospitality, the Early Church would not have survived, for of course they had no buildings or institutions to support missionaries. This raises the question of whether we are doing the same in our day, for it is no less important today. Many missionaries would not survive without the financial and prayerful support, and the hospitality of other believers. I know that personally I cannot do much financially to support other missionaries for Christ. But what little I can, I do with joy.


Finally, I like the fact that John says, “I have much to write to you, but I would rather not write with pen and ink; instead I hope to see you soon, and we will talk together face to face.” In our high tech age we need face-to-face ministry more than ever before. A high tech age can be a low touch time. But we all need physical touch to survive. We need personal face-to-face ministry. To whom might you and I offer personal, face-to-face encouragement this week?

Sunday, December 21, 2014

2 John


In the opening verse, the author of this letter names himself as “John the Elder”. Some scholars think that this letter, along with 1 John, the Gospel of John, 3 John, and Revelation, were all written by the Apostle John, the disciple of Jesus, and one of the sons of Zebedee. Other scholars tend to think that 2 John, and maybe all of the above-mentioned books, were written by one or more of a group of disciples that grew up around the Apostle John. This group is often referred to as the Johannine community.

Whatever the truth may be about the authorship of this letter, the Early Church thought it important enough to include this brief bit of correspondence in the canon of the New Testament. The question is: why? Why include this letter when it repeats, however briefly, some of the same themes as those which appear in 1 John, themes like truth and love? I think part of the answer may be conveyed in the following story….

A mutual friend used to work on the staff of Fourth Presbyterian Church in Bethesda, Maryland when Richard C. Halverson was the senior pastor. Halverson was a friend of my father and a great preacher as well as a great man. After his service in Bethesda, Halverson became the Chaplain of the United States Senate. However, my friend who worked on the staff at Fourth Pres once recounted to me the story of Halverson preaching the best sermon he had ever heard on the subject of love. The congregation at Fourth Pres raved about it every day the following week. The strange thing was that when Halverson began his sermon the next Sunday, my friend thought it sounded unusually like his sermon of the previous week. As the sermon went on, my friend realized that Halverson was preaching the exact same sermon, word for word, just as he had delivered it the week before. The congregation sat through the entire message, wrapped in an awkward silence. Afterwards, my friend got up the gumption to ask Halverson: “Why in the world did you preach the exact same sermon all over again?” Halverson’s brief response was: “As soon as they start living it, I will stop preaching it.”


Whoa! “Love one another.” It is a simple message, but a hard one to live out. Perhaps that is why the Early Church thought it important to include John’s repeat of 1 John that is contained in 2 John.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

1 John


Earlier this year, Barnabas Books published my book on 1 John. Here is part of the introduction….

Dr. Leo Buscaglia, who for many years taught a class at the University of Southern California entitled “Love 1A” once said, “Love is life. And if you miss love, you miss life.”

I believe that is true. If this was the last book that I ever wrote, the most important thing I could write about is love. That consideration is, in fact, what determined my writing … not that I expect to die tomorrow. It is just that I realized I have never written a book about the most important subject in the world.

So as I sat down to think about love, as a Christian, I naturally wondered: What book of the Bible talks most about love?

Do you know the answer?

The word “love” appears some 551 times in the Bible. 319 of those times are in the Old Testament. 144 of those are in the Psalms; that is almost one mention of love per psalm. Therefore, if we were looking for the book of the Bible that talks most about love it would be the Psalms.

The New Testament mentions love 232 times. 103 of those are in the letters of Paul. Of course, 1 Corinthians 13 is known as the Love Chapter in the Bible. However, if we were looking for one book of the New Testament that talks more about love than any other, it would be the First Letter of John. 1 John uses the word love 35 times. That is quite a lot for five chapters.

The Bible is sometimes called God’s love letter to humanity. In some sense, I imagine that is true. However, I think if we were looking for one particular letter of love in the Bible, it would have to be 1 John.

Now, I have to state a caveat right at the beginning. 1 John is not like most other letters in the New Testament. It is not addressed to a specific group of people. It does not begin with “Dear So and So” and it does not end with “Yours sincerely, John.” What is called the first letter of John is really more like a sermon or a meditation. David Jackman describes 1 John as being like a spiral staircase. He writes,

As you climb the central staircase in a large palace or a stately home, you see the same objects or paintings from a different angle, often with a new appreciation of their beauty. It is rather like that with the great truths John is concerned to state and revisit in the letter. The view gets more wonderful as you climb and the heavenly light shines more and more clearly until you reach the top.[i]

Who created this wonderful spiral staircase and when was it created? This is one of only two letters in the New Testament (the other one being Hebrews) that does not provide the author’s name. However, the opening verses of 1 John seem to suggest that the author heard, saw, and even touched Jesus of Nazareth. 
Furthermore, there are many similarities in language and topics between 1 John and the Gospel of John. Finally, it was the unanimous opinion of the Early Church that 1 John was written by John, the disciple of Jesus. The most important attestation to this came from Irenaeus who was a disciple of Polycarp who in turn was a disciple of John.

However, modern scholars have, for a number of reasons, suggested that 1 John was written by a disciple of John the Evangelist, rather than by John himself. It seems likely that a group of disciples gathered around John the Evangelist, possibly in Ephesus, and that one or more of these disciples was responsible for collecting and editing what John wrote about Jesus in his Gospel. Thus, we have two endings to the Gospel of John: one in chapter 20 and another, added by one of John’s disciples, consisting of the whole of chapter 21. It seems likely that one or more of these disciples of John also collected the meditations we have in 1 John.

In either case, whether 1 John was written by John the Evangelist or by one or more of his disciples, scholars are agreed that 1 John was most likely written toward the very end of the first century, around AD 90 or perhaps as late as 100, probably from Ephesus in Asia Minor. The conservative, evangelical scholar, Donald Guthrie, once wrote about 1 John,

In one sense the authorship is not the most important issue, for the exegesis of the letter is not greatly affected by our conclusions regarding authorship.[ii]



[i] Jackman, David, The Message of John’s Letters, Downer’s Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1988, p. 18.
[ii] Guthrie, Donald, New Testament Introduction, Downer’s Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1970, p. 864.

Friday, December 19, 2014

2 Peter


2 Peter is a fascinating book, both for its content and for its place in the canon of the New Testament. Since you can read the content for yourself, I thought I might share something today about the place of 2 Peter in the canon. Here is what one of my favorite Bible commentators, William Barclay, had to say about it….

For long it [2 Peter] was regarded with doubt and with something very like misgiving. There is no trace of it until after A.D. 200. It is not included in the Muratorian Canon of A.D. 170 which was the first official list of New Testament books. It did not exist in the Old Latin Version of the Scriptures; nor in the New Testament of the early Syrian Church.

The great scholars of Alexandria either did not know it or were doubtful about it. Clement of Alexandria, who wrote oulines of the books of Scripture, does not appear to have included Second Peter. Origen says that Peter left behind one epistle which is generally acknowledged; “perhaps also a second, for it is a disputed question.” Didymus commented on it, but concluded his work by saying: “It must not be forgotten that this letter is spurious; it may be read in public; but it is not part of the canon of Scripture.”

Eusebius, the great scholar of Caesarea, who made a careful investigation of the Christian literature of his day, comes to the conclusion: “Of Peter, one Epistle, which is called his former Epistle, is acknowledged by all; of this the ancient presbyters have made frequent use in their writings as indisputably genuine; but that which is circulated as his second Epistle we have received to be not canonical although, since it appeared to be useful to many, it has been diligently read with the other Scriptures.”

It was not until well into the fourth century that Second Peter came to rest in the canon of the New Testament.

THE OBJECTIONS

It is well-nigh the universal judgment of scholars, both ancient and modern, that Peter is not the author of Second Peter. Even John Calvin regarded it as impossible that Peter could have spoken of Paul as Second Peter speaks of him (3:15,16), although he was willing to believe that someone else wrote the letter at Peter’s request. What, then, are the arguments against Peter’s authorship?

1.     There is the extreme slowness, and even reluctance, of the early church to accept it….
2.     The contents make it difficult to believe that it is Peter’s….
3.     It is wholly different in character and style from First Peter….
4.     Certain things within Second Peter point well-nigh irresistibly to a late date….

IN PETER’S NAME

How, then, did it become attached to the name of Peter? The answer is that it was deliberately attached. This may seem to us a strange proceeding but in the ancient world this was common practice. Plato’s letters were written not by Plato but by a disciple in the master’s name. The Jews repeatedly used this method of writing. Between the Old and the New Testament, books were written under the names of Solomon, Isaiah, Moses, Baruch, Ezra, Enoch and many another. And in New Testament times there is a whole literature around the name of Peter—The Gospel of Peter, The Preaching of Peter, The Apocalypse of Peter….

There is nothing either unusual or discreditable in a book being issued under the name of Peter although Peter did not write it. The writer in humility was putting the message which the Holy Spirit had given him into the mouth of Peter because he felt his on name was unworthy to appear upon the book.


And there Barclay makes the most important point. We must always remember that simply because a book in the New Testament was not written by an apostle that does not mean that God cannot speak to us through it.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

1 Peter

The Liberation of St. Peter from prison by an angel
Giovannis Lanfranco

Max Lucado wrote a delightful children’s story a number of years ago entitled: You Are Special. It is the story of the Wemmicks who are small wooden people carved by a woodworker named Eli. Every day, the Wemmicks give each other stickers according to what they think of each other. They give golden star stickers if they like what they see and gray dot stickers if they don’t care for what they see. Punchinello is a Wemmick who has only gray dots. However, one day he meets another Wemmick named Lucia who has no dots and no stars because none of the stickers stick to her. When Punchinello asks Lucia why the stickers don’t stick to her, she tells him it is because she goes to see Eli every day. Thus, Punchinello goes to see his creator, Eli. Eli welcomes Punchinello warmly and tells Punchinello that he shouldn’t care what the other Wemmicks think of him. “Who are they to give stars or dots?” Eli asks. “They’re Wemmicks just like you. What they think doesn’t matter, Punchinello. All that matters is what I think. And I think you are pretty special . . . because you’re mine.” Eli goes on to tell Punchinello: “The stickers only stick if they matter to you. The more you trust my love, the less you care about their stickers . . . For now, just come to see me every day and let me remind you how much I care . . . You are special because I made you. And I don’t make mistakes.”

Spending time with our maker everyday makes a difference; it helps us to remember who we are in Christ. It gives us hope in a hopeless world. That’s what Peter’s first letter is all about.

I have preached on this letter a number of times since it is so filled with hope—something we cannot live without. Here is an outline of its contents….

1 Peter 1:1-2............Your Identity in Christ
1 Peter 1:3-12..........Ten Reasons to Praise God
1 Peter 1:13-16........Become a Holy Copy-Cat
1 Peter 1:17-21........Live in Holy Reverence
1 Peter 1:22-2:3.......Live Out a Life of Love
1 Peter 2:4-10..........Coming to the Rock
1 Peter 2:11-12........How to Live Like E. T.
1 Peter 2:13-17........How to Deal with the Government
1 Peter 2:18-25........How to Deal with Your Boss
1 Peter 3:1-7............Hope for Marriage
1 Peter 3:8-12..........A Summary of Christian Living
1 Peter 3:13-17........How to Handle Suffering
1 Peter 3:18-22........Christ, Our Hope in Suffering
1 Peter 4:1-6............Your Response to Christ’s Suffering
1 Peter 4:7-11..........How to Prepare for Christ’s Coming
1 Peter 4:12-19........How to Handle Suffering (Part 2)
1 Peter 5:1-4............How to Be an Effective Leader
1 Peter 5:5-7............How to Be an Effective Follower
1 Peter 5:8-11..........How to Deal with the Devil
1 Peter 5:12-14........How to Face the Future


If you would like to listen to any of these sermons, click here: http://willvaus.com/1_peter

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

James


This book, according to the very first verse, is written by “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ”. Some scholars have thought this book was written by James, the brother of Jesus, but we really do not know, for the author never tells us. It is obviously addressed to Jewish readers: “To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion.”

James is another one of those books in the Bible that reminds us that the Bible is a library, a collection, of very different types of books all thrown together. Allow me to point out just a few features of this unique book….

James is called a letter, but it is not really like the letters of Paul. It is not even a sermon. Rather, this book is like the Jewish wisdom literature. James lacks doctrine per se. It is filled, on the other hand, with practical exhortation, encouragement, command. It is a difficult book to outline because it seems to have very little pattern to it. It seemingly moves from one topic to another by free association. The book mentions Jesus twice but does not really tell us much about him. The book would be 99.99% the same if it never mentioned Jesus at all.

Then there is the seeming conflict between what James says about the relation of faith and works and what Paul says. Paul says we are justified by faith apart from works. James says we are justified by works. This seeming conflict is probably the main reason why Martin Luther referred to James as a right strawy epistle. Now, in defense of Paul and James it should be noted that both are probably using forms of the word “to justify” in different ways. We are all familiar with various levels of meaning to different words. Paul seems to be using “justify” to mean: “to declare righteous”. James seems to be using the word in such a way as to mean: “to demonstrate righteousness”.

I like the way C. S. Lewis resolves this seeming discrepancy….

Christians have often disputed as to whether what leads the Christian home is good actions, or Faith in Christ. I have no right really to speak on such a difficult question, but it does seem to me like asking which blade in a pair of scissors is most necessary. A serious moral effort is the only thing that will bring you to the point where you throw up the sponge. Faith in Christ is the only thing to save you from despair at that point: and out of that Faith in Him good actions must inevitably come. (Mere Christianity)

If you want to learn more about Lewis’ views on faith and works, allow me to recommend my book, Mere Theology, which you can obtain here: Amazon


And if you would like to listen to a sermon I preached recently on James, you may click here: James 5:11

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Hebrews 9-13


The writer to the Hebrews' final word of encouragement is the most important of all: grace to meet our every need. “Grace be with you all.”

Grace has been a very important theme of this letter. In Hebrews 2:9, our author says that Jesus “suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.” In Hebrews 4:16 he says, “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” In Hebrews 10:29, this writer warns us against insulting “the Spirit of grace” and in 12:15 he cautions, “See to it that no one misses the grace of God …” In 12:28 he says, “Let us be thankful,” or literally, “let us hold on to grace”. Finally, we read our author’s encouragement that it is better to be “strengthened by grace” than by ceremonial foods (Hebrews 13:9).

Throughout this letter, we have seen that living the Christian life can be very challenging. However, thankfully, we are not left to rely on our own power. Grace …

God’s
Riches
At
Christ’s
Expense

God’s unmerited favor in Jesus Christ is for all! God’s grace in Christ is for you, it’s for me, it’s for every person who has ever lived, is alive now, or will ever live on planet earth. “Grace be with you all.” What a note of hope to end on!

Some time ago I read some of the works of the so-called Apostolic Fathers, that is some of the writings of the early church that followed the New Testament. Sadly, in some cases, these early Christian writings tended to emphasize works more than grace. Reading these writings of the early church reminded me once again that GRACE is the hallmark of the Christian life.

May it be the identifying mark of your life as well! There may be no more important last word in the whole world.

Anne Morrow Lindbergh once wrote these words in her lovely book, Gift from the Sea,

“I want first of all ... to be at peace with myself. I want a singleness of eye, a purity of intention, a central core to my life that will enable me to carry out these obligations and activities as well as I can. I want, in fact—to borrow the language of the saints—to live ‘in grace’ as much of the time as possible. I am not using this term in a strictly theological sense. By grace I mean an inner harmony, essentially spiritual, which can be translated into outward harmony. I am seeking perhaps what Socrates asked for in the prayer from the Phaedrus, when he said, ‘May the outward and inward man be one.’ I would like to achieve a state of inner spiritual grace from which I could function and give as I was meant to in the eye of God.”


That state is called grace, and it is the gift of God through his Son Jesus Christ. Receive that gift afresh today; live in it, and share it with all whom you meet.

If you would like to listen to the entire sermon, of which this is an excerpt, or if you would like to listen to any of my messages from Hebrews, you may click here: Hebrews.