I am excited about the beginning of our summer study of John’s letters. For this week, please read 1 John 1. John is writing to a congregation that had recently suffered a split. We are not certain what occurred. Reading between the lines, the break happened based somewhat on theology and somewhat on personality.
In the way of the world (and throughout the practice of law), in any dispute, our side wants to establish the moral high ground. As an attorney, my job is to make a cogent argument that begins with an accusation against the other side and builds a case based upon the facts, circumstances, inferences, and recognized authority. I want to be on the side of all that is good, right, just, and holy and place the other side in the wrong. The goal is to set forth the reasons why I and my side are morally and divinely superior to the other. In the Late Unpleasantness in our Church, both sides have engaged in such tactics. I know this because I have been on both sides.
John begins in a different place with his argument.
John opens his discourse by proclaiming that God is light and truth and that we are called to walk in this light and truth. John calls his audience to be on the side of all that is good, right, just, and holy. However, John begins his argument by reminding his congregation that they are sinful and have fallen short of the glory of God. They have strayed from the light and are in constant need of Christ’s forgiveness and reconciliation. John does not place his people in a morally and divinely superior position to the “other.” Rather, he calls on them to see and recognize their own failings. Throughout this first discourse, John uses the present continual verb tense. He is not saying that we have sinned in the past, but, that we continue to do so.
In mediating a dispute in the church in Philippi, Paul writes: “Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourself.” (Phil 2:5-11). For John, the same principle applies. He urges his audience to walk in the light which is God so that they can have true fellowship. The prerequisite to our walking in the light is our recognition of our sinful nature and our continued need for repentance. It is this theme that will form the foundation for the remainder of John’s letter.
Tim Keller writes: “You can only stay bitter toward someone if you feel superior, if you feel that you would never do anything like they did. Those who won’t forgive show they have not accepted the fact of their own sinfulness.” This is where John begins. His audience must understand their own sinfulness so that they can release the bitterness towards the other and forgive them as Christ forgives. They must release any feeling of moral superiority so that they can walk in the light in perfect fellowship with one another.
Dinner tonight is at 6:30. The menu is Indian. Please RSVP. Discussion at 7:30. Ending with Compline. Please bring a friend.
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.1 John 1:8-9