Monday, August 18, 2014

Being Wise with Our Words

Part 2 of Wise Steps, a series on Proverbs

Text: Proverbs 18:21a

You can listen to this sermon here.

Death and life are in the power of the tongue (Prov. 18:21a).

The Power of Our Words

According to Ray Ortlund, the book of Proverbs “has more to say about our words than anything else it addresses in our lives—more than money, sex, or family.” [1]

When I was a kid, I used to say, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never harm me.” But is there anyone who has never been harmed by words? We shouldn’t underestimate the power of our words. Proverbs 18:21 says, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.”

Our words have the power to do great good or great evil, so we must be wise with our words. 

In the book of James, the tongue is compared to a small spark, and James writes, “How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!” (James 3:5).

The Sin of Gossip

Sometimes people think that a sin like gossip is a “little sin,” but it destroys churches. The book of Proverbs addresses the sin of gossip. “Whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends” (Prov. 17:9; cf. 16:28). “The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels; they go down into the inner parts of the body” (Prov. 18:8). “An evildoer listens to wicked lips, and a liar gives ear to a mischievous tongue” (Prov. 17:4). “Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets; therefore do not associate with a simple babbler” (Prov. 20:19).

How would you answer the following question: Will a gossiper go to heaven? Jesus said, “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, [2] and by your words you will be condemned” (Matt. 12:36-37). This is true because “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (v. 34). The apostle Paul states that “revilers” (“slanderers,” NIV) will not “inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 6:10; cf. Rom. 1:29-30).

Think Before You Speak

How many times have you said to yourself, “I shouldn’t have said what I said”? And how many times have you said to yourself, “I should have said something”? How can we be wiser with our words? We need to think before we speak. “The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things” (Prov. 15:28). Before we speak, we should ask ourselves three questions.

1. Is this the right thing to say? 

We should remember the advice of Proverbs 10:19: “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent” (cf. 21:23). But this doesn’t mean we should always remain quiet. Proverbs 16:24 says, “Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.” Instead of gossiping about others, we should encourage others with our words. “Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad” (Prov. 12:25). What we say should be beneficial to others: “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Eph. 4:29). 

2. Is this the right time to say it? 

Sometimes we are guilty of speaking when we shouldn’t. Other times we are guilty of not speaking when we should (e.g., sharing the gospel). Proverbs 15:23 says, “To make an apt answer is a joy to a man, and a word in season, how good it is!” (cf. 25:11). Sometimes saying a good thing can be a bad thing if the timing is wrong: “Whoever blesses his neighbor with a loud voice, rising early in the morning, will be counted as cursing” (Prov. 27:14).

3. Is this the right way to say it?

It’s better to say nothing than to say the right thing the wrong way. Proverbs 15:1 says, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” We are to speak the truth, but we are to speak “the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15). If you can’t speak the truth in love, don’t speak.

The Wise Words of Jesus

The book of Proverbs should not be seen as merely a book about good morals. We should view it as a way to follow the wise steps of Jesus. He has given us an example “so that [we] may follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:21). Jesus was the embodiment of wisdom. When he spoke, he always spoke wise words. The people of Nazareth “marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth” (Luke 4:22; cf. John 7:46). Sometimes the words of Jesus were very strong (e.g., “You hypocrites!”, Matt. 15:7).

Jesus knew when to speak and when not to speak. The apostle Peter writes, “He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten” (1 Peter 2:22-23). Imagine how difficult it was for Jesus to remain silent. But he remained silent because there was something more important than defending himself: dying for our salvation. He put others before himself, so he didn’t speak. If we always put others before ourselves, how would our words change?

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Foundation of Wisdom

Part 1 of Wise Steps, a series on Proverbs

Text: Proverbs 1:7

You can listen to this sermon here.

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction (Prov. 1:7). 

A Strategy Guide for Life

Back in 1990, Nintendo released Super Mario Bros. 3. If you ever come across a list of the greatest video games of all time, Super Mario Bros. 3 will probably be on that list.

During the summer of 1990, the company that makes Popsicles had a contest. You could collect Popsicle points and earn prizes. (The points were printed on the Popsicle sticks.) One of the prizes was a copy of Super Mario Bros. 3. I remember my brother collecting Popsicle points that summer. (We must have eaten a lot of Popsicles!) Near the end of summer, he finally had collected enough points for the video game. He put all of his Popsicle sticks into an envelope and mailed them to the company.

As he anxiously waited for his game to arrive in the mail, my brother bought a strategy guide for Super Mario Bros. 3. I'm sure the more he read the guide, the more excited he got to play the game. Finally, something from the Popsicle company arrived in the mail. He opened it up, but there was no game. All of the copies of Super Mario Bros. 3 had already been given out. My brother had a strategy guide, but no game.

The book of Proverbs is sort of like a strategy guide for life. Of course, life is more difficult than a video game. But the book of Proverbs can help us make wise life decisions.

What Is Wisdom?

What is wisdom? There is a difference between having knowledge and having wisdom. There are many smart people who are also very foolish. In the age of the internet, knowledge is abundant, but wisdom is rare.

Wisdom is the ability to make good decisions based on knowledge. 

It could be said that wisdom is skillful living. The book of James is often call the NT’s wisdom book. James 1:22 says, “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only.” Having knowledge (hearing) without also having wisdom (doing) is not living skillfully.

Gaining Wisdom 

Proverbs 1:7 says, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge.” Knowledge and wisdom are closely connected in Proverbs. We pursue knowledge so that we can have wisdom. Psalm 111:10 says, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom.”

Bruce Waltke writes that the “fear of the LORD” is “the key to Proverbs.” [1]  What is “the fear of the LORD”? It’s not being afraid of God. The fear of the LORD has been described as “worshipping submission,” [2]  “reverent obedience,” [3] and “affectionate reverence.” [4] The fear of the LORD consists of both reverence for God and love for God, and it leads to obedience. Job 28:28 says, “Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to turn away from evil is understanding.”

Wisdom begins with an affectionate reverence for God. 

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge.” The fear of the LORD is like a foundation. When you build a house, you begin with the foundation. But you never stop needing the foundation.

Why should we have an affectionate reverence for God? The gospel stirs us to not only revere God, but also love him. When we revere and love God, we desire to obey his commands. The book of Proverbs provides wisdom for obeying God’s commands.

Valuing Wisdom 

Proverbs 1:7 also says, “Fools despise wisdom and instruction.” Why should we choose the path of God’s wisdom? 1.

1. Living wisely is the best way to live. 

Consider how better (not necessarily easier) our lives would be if we (and others) always followed the wisdom of God. According to Proverbs, it’s wise to work hard: “He who gathers in summer is a prudent son, but he who sleeps in harvest is a son who brings shame” (Prov. 10:5). It’s wise to be humble: “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom” (Prov. 11:2). It’s wise to listen to others: “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice” (Prov. 12:15). It’s wise to speak kind words: “There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing” (Prov. 12:18).

2. Living wisely makes us resemble Christ. 

Luke 2:40 tells us that Jesus became “filled with wisdom” (cf. 2:52). Solomon was wise, but Jesus declared that he was “greater than Solomon” (Luke 11:31; cf. Matt. 12:42). Jesus is “the very incarnation of wisdom.” [5] (Many scholars believe that the personification of wisdom in Proverbs 8 is a description of Jesus.) Jesus was also a teacher of wisdom.

Proverbs 4:9 says that wisdom “will bestow on you a beautiful crown.” “Wisdom is the grace of Christ beautifying our daily lives.” [6] When our lives resemble the beauty of Christ’s character, we become effective witnesses for the gospel.

Life Isn't a Video Game

All of us make foolish decisions. Not all of our steps are wise. And, unlike a video game, life doesn’t have a restart button.

Proverbs gives us wisdom for our relationships, work, wealth, and words. We can’t change the past. But hopefully our study of Proverbs will help us take wise steps.

[1] Bruce K. Waltke, The Book of Proverbs: Chapters 1-15, 100.
[2] Derek Kidner, The Proverbs: An Introduction and Commentary, 59.
[3] David A. Hubbard, The Preacher’s Commentary: Proverbs, 48.
[4] Charles Bridges, Proverbs, 17.
[5] Tremper Longman, Proverbs, 67.
[6] Raymond C. Ortlund Jr., Proverbs: Wisdom that Works, 17.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

How Can Prayer Be Less Frustrating?

Part 12 of Authentic, a series on 1 John

Text: 1 John 5:14-21

You can listen to this sermon here.

And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him (vv. 14-15). 

Frustration with Prayer

After I preached this sermon on prayer, someone in my church told me that they had a frustrating experience with prayer the day before. They went to church thinking, "I hope today the sermon is on unanswered prayer."

Sometimes the biblical promises about prayer can cause us frustration because they don’t match up with our experience. One of these prayer promises is found in 1 John 5:14-15: “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.” How can prayer be less frustrating?

Four Realities of Prayer

There isn’t an easy formula for prayer. When we pray, we should remember four realities of prayer.

1. When we pray, we should remember that it’s normal to be frustrated with prayer. 

There are many biblical examples of people who were frustrated with prayer. One of these people was the prophet Habakkuk. The book of Habakkuk begins with the prophet complaining to God about unanswered prayer: “O LORD, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you, ‘Violence!’ and you will not save?” (Hab. 1:2). Sometimes it’s encouraging to discover that other people struggle like us. (We’re not happy about the struggles of others, but we are happy to know we’re not abnormal.)

2. When we pray, we should remember that we’re approaching a loving Father. 

Throughout 1 John, John has emphasized that believers are God’s children (“born of God”). In 3:1, he wrote, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” God is a Father who loves his children more than we can imagine. Because we know God loves us, we can have “confidence” (v. 14) when we pray.

When we approach God in prayer, we are approaching a Father who wants what is best for us. Jesus said, “Which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him” (Matt. 7:9-11). Sometimes God’s children ask him for stones and serpents, and God says, “No.” Sometimes God grants his children’s requests for bread and fish, but he says, “Wait.” Sometimes God’s children ask for bread and fish, but God says, “I have something else planned for you” (e.g., Paul’s request in 2 Cor. 12:7-10).

3. When we pray, we should remember that prayer really does work. 

Sometimes, when something good happens, we think, “Maybe that was going to happen whether or not I prayed.” But prayer is not a waste of time. It’s possible that when we pray we can “have the requests that we have asked of him” (v. 15). Of course, this doesn’t mean that we can make God do things he doesn’t want to do.

4. When we pray, we should remember that prayer isn’t all about us. 

Prayer is about getting God’s will done, not ours (“if we ask anything according to his will,” v. 14). We should also prayer for the needs of others, not just our own needs (see v. 16).

Monday, July 14, 2014

How Can I Be Sure That I Have Eternal Life?

Part 11 of Authentic, a series on 1 John

Text: 1 John 5:6-13

You can listen to this sermon here.

And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life (vv. 11-12).

What's Most Important? 

What do you have planned for the rest of your summer? A summer vacation? A home improvement project? Weekends at the cottage?

In the busyness of life, we sometimes forget about what is most important. There is nothing more important than having eternal life. How can I be sure that I have eternal life?

A Perplexing Passage

To what do “the water and the blood” refer (v. 6)? Gary Burge writes that “First John 5:6 is perhaps the most perplexing verse in all of the Johannine letters” (Letters of John, 201).  The most common interpretation is that “the water” refers to the baptism of Jesus, and “the blood” refers to his crucifixion. Since John’s opponents apparently didn’t agree with him on “the blood” (“not by the water only, but by the water and the blood”), it could be that they were de-emphasizing the cross.

Why does the KJV contain a statement about the Trinity (v. 7) that is not found in modern translations? The KJV reads, “For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.” Most Greek manuscripts don’t include these words, and undoubtedly they were not in John’s original letter.

Having Eternal Life

“And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life” (v. 11). Eternal life is not something we receive when we die; it’s a present possession. “Gave” is in the past tense. John is writing to people who already have eternal life. Also, eternal life is more than a quantity of life; it’s a quality of life. Jesus said that he came to earth so that people could “have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).

Of the 136 occurrences of “life” (zoe) in the NT, 66 of them are found in John’s writings. To have eternal life is to pass “out of death into life” (3:14; cf. John 5:24). To have eternal life is to “not perish” (John 3:16; 10:28). To have eternal life is to avoid “the wrath of God” (John 3:36). To have eternal life is to “never be thirsty again” (John 4:14; cf. 6:35). To have eternal life is to “not come into judgment” (John 5:24; cf. v. 29). To have eternal life is to be raised up on the last day (John 6:40, 54). To have eternal life is to “not walk in darkness,” but “have the light of life” (John 8:12). To have eternal life is to live after death (John 11:25). To have eternal life is to know the one true God and Jesus Christ whom he sent (John 17:3).

How can we be sure that we have eternal life?

1. If you have eternal life, your faith is in Jesus. 

“And this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life” (vv. 11-12). To “have” Jesus is to have him abiding in you. When you have something, it does its thing for you (John Piper, "He Who Has the Son Has Life"). For example, if you have a car, it does its thing for you: gives you transportation. If you have Jesus, he does his thing for you: gives you eternal life.

Jesus abides in those who believe in him (v. 13). We must do more have beliefs about Jesus; we must have believe in him. In other words, we must trust in him. If you are going on a trip, you must trust in your car. Some cars aren’t reliable, but Jesus is always reliable. When we trust in what he has done for us through his death and resurrection, we have the Son and eternal life.

2. If you have eternal life, your desires have been changed. 

“I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life” (v. 13). Throughout 1 John, John has been writing that people who have eternal life have a desire to obey God and love others. We don’t earn eternal life by obeying and loving, but our desire to obey and love is a sign that we have eternal life.

Make Sure 

We’re told to make sure we do certain things (e.g., brush your teeth, get a good education, save for retirement).

But we must make sure that we have eternal life. And also make sure we do what we can so that others also receive eternal life. Nothing is more important than having eternal life.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

What Is Faith?

Part 10 of Authentic, a series on 1 John

Text: 1 John 5:1-5

You can listen to this sermon here.

Who is he that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? (v. 5).

Mocking Faith 

If you’re someone who regularly uses Facebook or Twitter, you’ve probably come across several anti-Christian memes. Someone I follow on Twitter has created a fake atheist Twitter account. The account has over 400 followers. All he does is tweet silly anti-religion memes. For example: "Faith: Pretending to know things you don’t know." "Give me an 'F.' Give me an 'A.' Give me an 'I.' Give me a 'T.' Give me an 'H.' What have you got? No evidence!" "Science adjusts its views based on what’s observed. Faith is denial of observation so that belief can be preserved."

Are Christians foolish for having faith? No. Usually, when Christian faith is mocked, the person doing the mocking doesn’t understand what Christian faith really is. What is faith?

Real Faith

John writes that every person who has been born of God “believes” (vv. 1, 5). Faith is essential to the Christian life.

1. Faith is well-founded belief. 

A “well-founded” belief is “based on good reasoning, information, or judgment.” Christians believe that “Jesus is the Christ” (v. 1) and that “Jesus is the Son of God” (v. 5). John wrote his Gospel so that people would make these affirmations about Jesus: “Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30-31).

What caused John to believe? It was the resurrection of Jesus. John says that he found the tomb empty except for the cloths that had been wrapped around Jesus dead body: “Then the other disciple [John]…went in [the tomb], and he saw and believed” (John 20:8). John also claims that the risen Jesus appeared to John and the other disciples (John 20:19-20).

The majority of scholars (including non-Christian scholars) accept the following facts: (1) Jesus died; (2) Jesus’ tomb was empty; and (3) Jesus’ followers (e.g., John) sincerely believed that they had seen the risen Jesus. Christians believe that the best explanation of the facts is that Jesus really did rise from the dead.

2. Faith is life-altering belief.

Faith is more than merely “believing the right things” (i.e., being theologically correct). Faith in the gospel is something that changes our lives. When we believe that “God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him” (4:9), we can’t help but love God. And when we love God, we seek to please him. “This is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome” (v. 3). (Those who have faith in Christ also have been given the Holy Spirit, and “the fruit of the Spirit is love,” Gal. 5:22.)

In 2:15, John wrote, “Love not the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” To “love the world” is to have the values of the world (i.e., to live for what the world is living for). To the world, God’s commandments are burdensome. The world isn’t interested in doing God’s will. But, John writes, “Everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith” (v. 4). Jesus said, “What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” (Matt. 16:26).

Thursday, July 3, 2014

How Can I Have More Love for Others?

Part 9 of Authentic, a series on 1 John

Text: 1 John 4:7-21

You can listen to this sermon here.

Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another (v. 11).

Inspiration Needed

Is there a project that's been on your to-do list for a long time? Many times, there are things we should do that we lack inspiration to do. Loving others (i.e., giving of ourselves to help others) is something we know Christians should do. John writes, “Beloved, let us love one another” (v. 7).

Love is not an option for a follower of Jesus. Jesus himself said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). 

Our default setting is self-centeredness. We’re naturally more concerned with how other people can help us than how we can help other people. How can we have more love for others?

God’s love provides the inspiration to love others. 

God's Love Revealed 

John writes that “love is from God” (v. 7). If we want to know what love really is, we should look at what God has done for us. Verses 10 begins with the words “In this is love.” (The NLT says, “This is real love.”) John also states that “God is love” (v. 8). That’s who he is. God is continually showing love to others. The death of Jesus was a public demonstration of God’s love for us: “The love of God was made manifest among us” (v. 9).

God loves us so much that he sent his only Son to die for us. 

John emphasizes the depth of God’s love by stating that “God sent his only Son into the world” (v. 9) and that God “sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (v. 10).

God’s “only Son” was sent into the world “so that we might live through him” (v. 9). The Greek word for “only” is monogenes. It’s found nine times in the NT. The word is used to described the widow of Nain’s “only son” (Luke 7:12; cf. 8:42; 9:38; Heb. 11:17). Colin Kruse writes, “In each of these cases the expression is used to add poignancy to a story by highlighting that it was the person’s ‘one and only’ child who was in dire need, threatened, or had died” (The Letters of John, 158-59). The word is found four times in the Gospel of John to describe Jesus, including 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (cf. John 1:14, 18; 3:18).

The Greek word for “propitiation” is hilasmos. In the NT, it’s found only twice—both times in 1 John (2:2; 4:10). In paganism, a propitiation was a sacrifice that appeased the wrath of a god. Christian propitiation is different. God is the one who provided the propitiation: his only Son. And God did not force his Son to die for us. Jesus willingly died: “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us” (3:16.)

Inspired by God's Love 

Fear is not the right motivation to obey God’s command to love others. “Whoever fears has not been perfected in love” (v. 18). “Perfection in love here involves a love for God which is based upon our sense of God’s love for us, and this love relationship is what removes our fear as we face the day of judgement” (Kruse, 168-69). “There is no fear in love, but [God’s] perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment” (v. 18).

Love is the right motivation to obey God’s command to love others. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). John writes, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (v. 11). He also states, “We love because he first loved us” (v. 19).

When we realize how much God loves us, we are inspired to please him by loving others.

Did you know that every Christian should be a preacher? If you’re a Christian, you should preach daily to at least one person: yourself. We must daily preach to ourselves the gospel.

When it’s difficult to give of ourselves to others, we need to remind ourselves that God loved us so much that he gave his only Son to die for us.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

How Can I Discern Between Truth and Error?

Part 8 of Authentic, a series on 1 John

Text: 1 John 4:1-6

You can listen to this sermon here.

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world (v. 1). 

Wolves in Disguise

Probably all of us know the story of Little Red Riding Hood. Little Red Riding Hood is deceived by a wolf who disguises itself as the girl’s grandmother.

In the New Testament, Christians are warned to watch out for wolves in disguise. Jesus said, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (Matt. 7:15). The apostle Paul told the Ephesian elders, “I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away disciples after them” (Acts 20:29-30). And here in v. 1, John warns his readers, “Many false prophets have gone out into the world.”

Christians must not be spiritually gullible. 

John writes, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God” (v. 1). Little Red Riding hood was deceived by the wolf because she was gullible. False teachers will not announce to us that their teaching is false, so we shouldn’t believe every teaching we hear. (Many false teachers sincerely believe their teaching is true.) How can we discern between truth and error? 

Judge Not? 

To discern is to judge. (To discern between truth and error is to make a judgment.) But didn’t Jesus say, “Judge not”? Not exactly. Jesus also said, “Judge with right judgment” (John 7:24). The words “Judge not” are found in Matthew 7:1, but to understand what Jesus really meant, we need to read Matthew 7:1-5. “Jesus was explicitly rebuking the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, who were quick to see the sins of others but were blind and unwilling to hold themselves accountable to the same standard they were imposing on everyone else” (Eric J. Bargerhuff, The Most Misused Verses in the Bible, 26).

Matthew 7:1 does not prohibit Christians from exposing false teaching. Paul says that one of the qualifications for an elder is that he must “be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9). This doesn’t mean that Christians shouldn’t be allowed to have different views on non-essential doctrines (e.g., the millennial kingdom).

Testing the Spirits 

John says, “Test the spirits,” because he believes that there is a spiritual force behind every teaching: either the Holy Spirit or demonic spirits. Paul writes, “The Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons” (1 Tim. 4:1). We are to “test everything” (1 Thess. 5:21). When trying to discern between “the Spirit of truth” and “the spirit of error,” we should ask two questions.

1. What does this person say about Jesus? 

John writes, “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God” (vv. 2-3). There are three essential beliefs about Jesus: (1) the man Jesus of Nazareth is God the Son; (2) Jesus is fully God and fully man; and (3) Jesus is the only source of eternal life. We must reject teaching that denies any of these truths because it will lead people astray. To detect error, we must know the truth!

2. What does the world say about this person? 

“The world” in this context refers to people who reject the gospel. Beware a “Christian” teacher who is celebrated by the world. John writes, “They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them” (v. 5).

The Importance of Doctrine 

In some versions of Little Red Riding Hood, Little Red Riding Hood gets eaten by the wolf. Sometimes being deceived has very serious consequences.

If Christians are deceived by false teaching about Jesus, the consequences will be more serious than getting eaten by a wolf.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Why Is It So Important to Love Others?

Part 7 of Authentic, a series on 1 John

Text: 1 John 3:11-24

You can listen to this sermon here.

By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers (v. 16). 

Love One Another

Have you ever caught yourself saying something that your dad always used to say when you were a kid? A couple of my dad’s favorite sayings were (and still are) “The squeaky wheel gets the grease” and “Walk in there like you own the place.” He often used those sayings when I was a teenager searching for a part-time job.

Probably you can think of a few sayings that your father liked to say. Here are some popular dad sayings. “Do you think I’m made of money?” “Money doesn’t grow on trees.” “Were you brought up in a barn?” “When I was your age….” “A little hard work never hurt anyone.” “You’ll learn someday.”

The apostle John thought of himself as a father to his readers. Several times he calls them his “little children” (e.g., v. 18). One of his favorite sayings was “Love one another.” In verse 11, he writes, “For this is the message you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another” (v. 11).

It might be annoying to here the same sayings over and over again, but usually there is some wisdom behind a dad saying. For example, dads say “Where you brought up in a barn?” because it’s wise to close the door when you’re entering or exiting your house. My kids often neglect to close our back door, and this is probably the reason why we’ve had some mice in our house.

Why is it so important to love others?

The Importance of Loving Others

In this passage, we find two reasons why it’s important that we love others.

1. Love is necessary if we are to please our Father. 

Today (Father’s Day) is a day when people want to please their father. (Why are dads so difficult to shop for?) Of course, not every father is a good father, and many people aren’t interested in pleasing their father. But God is a perfect Father. In 3:1, John writes, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God.” Every child of God wants to please their heavenly Father. And what pleases God most is love: our love for him and our love for others.

In our relationships, we “should not be like Cain” (v. 12), who hated his brother and murdered him (cf. Gen. 4:1-16). We are like Cain when we hate others (especially our brothers and sisters in Christ). John says, “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer” (v. 15). He was probably thinking of Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:21-22: “You have heard that it was said to those of hold, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire” (Matt. 5:21-22). John also says, “And you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him” (v. 15). (Of course, God will forgive all sins—including murder—but John is thinking of an unrepentant murderer.)

When we know there is discord between us and another person, reconciliation should be our top priority. Jesus went on to say, “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matt. 5:23-24).

In our relationships, we should be like Jesus. “He laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers” (v. 16). The actions of Jesus define true love (“By this we know love,” v. 16). Jesus declared, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11; cf. vv. 15, 17, 18). He also said, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:12-13; cf. 13:34).

True love is not a do-nothing love; it’s a self-giving love. John writes, “But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (vv. 17-18; cf. James 2:15-16). Fathers, we’re very good at laying down ourselves on the couch, but how good are we at laying down our lives for our family? To husbands, the apostle Paul wrote, “Love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25). One way we can love others is by giving them our time.

2. Love gives us confidence that we are children of God. 

There’s a logical fallacy known as the “No true Scotsman” fallacy. For example, person A says, “No Scotsman would cheer for England in the World Cup.” Person B replies, “I’m Scottish, and I’m cheering for England.” Person A says, “Well, no true Scotsman would cheer for England.” Some people would argue that John is guilty of the no true Scotsman fallacy when he says that no true Christian would continually hate others. But what John says is no different than what Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples [true Christians], if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).

“By this [i.e., loving others] we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him” (v. 19). But how much love is enough to “reassure” our hearts? Sometimes “our heart condemns us” (v. 20). But John says, “God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything” (v. 20). God knows all of our failures but will always forgive repentant sinners. John adds, “Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God” (v. 21).

Monday, June 9, 2014

What if I Don't Feel Like God's Child?

Part 6 of Authentic, a series on 1 John

Text: 1 John 2:28-3:10

You can listen to this sermon here.

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God (3:2). 

Am I Good Enough?

Some of the world’s most talented people struggle with insecurity. Musician Taylor Swift has said, “I doubt myself 400,000 times per 10-minute interval.” Actor and rapper Will Smith has admitted, “I still doubt myself every single day. What people believe is my self-confidence is actually my reaction to fear.” Actress Kate Winslet has confessed, “Sometimes I wake up in the morning before going off to a shoot, and I think, I can’t do this; I’m a fraud. They’re going to fire me.”

Many Christians struggle with insecurity. They think, “If I don’t feel like a child of God, maybe I’m not. Maybe I never was.” What if I don’t feel like God’s child? Why do we sometimes doubt that we are God’s children? We struggle to obey God, and we think we might not be good enough.

Nobody is good enough to be a child of God. 

But we can be God’s children because of what Christ did for us, not what we do for God. “To all who did receive [Christ], who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13; cf. 3:3).

Reassuring God's Imperfect Children

In 2:28-3:10, John gives us three truths about God’s imperfect children.

1. God’s children aren’t perfect, but we are loved by God. 

We should be amazed by the love of God for us: “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God” (3:1). God’s kind of love is a sacrificial love. He demonstrated his love for us by sending his Son to die for us (4:9-10). God’s kind of love is also an unending love. God will never un-adopt his children. Nothing can separate us from the love of God (Rom. 8:35-39).

2. God’s children aren’t perfect, but we have the desire to be perfect. 

John writes, “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning” (3:8). He’s not saying that God’s children never sin (see 1:9; 2:1). A common interpretation is that John is referring to habitual sin. Another possibility is that John is confronting people who claim that God’s children are free to sin. God’s children don’t desire to rebel against our Father.

3. God’s children aren’t perfect, but we will be made perfect by God. 

John refers to two appearings of Jesus: a first appearing (3:5, 8) and a second appearing (2:28; 3:2). “When [Christ] appears we shall be like him” (3:2). We will be “like” Jesus, not identical to him. Like Jesus, we will be morally perfect. This is the consummation of our salvation. We are “predestined to be conformed to the image of [God’s] Son” (Rom. 8:29). For the child of God, the coming of Christ is something to desire, not dread: “we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming” (2:28; cf. 1 Thess. 4:8; 2 Tim. 4:8; 1 Peter 4:13).

The Imposter Syndrome

Some insecure celebrities might have what is known as the imposter syndrome. According to Wikipedia, the imposter syndrome “is a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments. Despite external evidence of their competence, those with the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved.”

Sometimes I don’t feel like a child of God. I feel like an imposter. I struggle to obey God. But the good news is that being a child of God is not based on my performance. It’s based on God’s grace. Christ died for all of my sins. I am trusting in what he has done for me, not in what I am doing for God.

“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God”!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Am I Believing the Truth About Jesus?

Part 5 of Authentic, a series on 1 John

Text: 1 John 2:18-27

You can listen to this sermon here.

Who is a liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son (v. 22). 

The Importance of Correct Belief

In 1 John, the apostle John gives us three tests to help us determine whether or not we are authentic Christians (i.e., someone who has eternal life). The first test is the moral test: “Do I obey God?” The second test is the social test: “Do I love others?” The third test is the doctrinal test: “Do I believe the truth about Jesus?”

Have you tried this spring to rid your lawn of dandelions? My dad is not someone who is willing to accept weeds on his lawn. One spring, he decided to spray his lawn with weed killer. A few days later, he noticed brown spots all over his lawn. He told me about this, and I immediately knew what had happened. What my dad believed was weed killer was actually grass killer.

Having an incorrect belief about a bottle of grass killer was harmful to my dad’s lawn. What about what we believe about Jesus? How important is believing the truth about Jesus? Nothing is more important.

We can’t have eternal life if we don’t believe the truth about Jesus. 

There was a group of people who left John’s church over a disagreement on the doctrine of Christ. John writes that these people “denie[d] that Jesus is the Christ” (v. 22). Since they didn’t believe the truth about Jesus, they were not authentic Christians. “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us” (v. 19).

Their denial of the truth about Jesus meant that they lacked a relationship with God. They “denie[d] the Father and the Son” (v. 22). If you deny (i.e., reject) Jesus, you also deny the Father. “No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also” (v. 23). John is repeating what he heard from Jesus: “Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him” (John 5:23).

The Authentic Jesus

John calls the people who were denying the truth about Jesus “antichrists” (v. 18; cf. v. 22). The prefix “anti” can mean “against” (e.g., anti-aircraft) or “false.” They were antichrists because they were against Christ and teaching a false Christ.

John also states that the presence of antichrists in the world is a sign that it is “the last hour” (v. 18). How could it be the last hour? History has changed its direction. Since the death and resurrection of Jesus, history is no longer traveling toward the end; it’s traveling along the end. At any moment, Christ could return (cf. 2 Peter 3:3-10).

Until Christ returns, we should expect false teaching about Christ. The false teaching that John confronts in verse 22 might have been a denial of the incarnation (i.e., God becoming flesh)—a denial that “Jesus is the Christ” (cf. 4:2-3; 2 John 1:7). They might have believed that the divine Christ came upon the man Jesus at the time of his baptism and left him before his crucifixion.

What is the truth about Jesus? The following are four essential truths about Jesus: (1) he is God the Son; (2) he is God incarnate; (3) he died for our sins; and (4) he rose from the dead. If we don’t believe these truths, we are believing in “another Jesus” (2 Cor. 11:4).

Two Cautions

In this passage, we find two cautions concerning false teaching about Jesus.

1. We must not sacrifice the truth about Jesus for the sake of unity. 

Both the truth and unity are vital to the life of a church. But if we don’t agree on the essential truths about Jesus, there isn’t real unity. 

2. We must be very careful when someone tell us something new about Jesus. 

The word “abide” is found several times in verses 24 and 27. John says that two things abide in Christians: “what you heard from the beginning” (i.e., the truth about Jesus) and “the anointing” (i.e., the Holy Spirit). Those who spread false teaching (“who are trying to deceive you,” v. 26) want people to go beyond what we have heard and believed to something new. But we must “abide” (stay, remain) in the truth. To go beyond the truth is to go into error.