A common misconception of Christians is we must always be non-confrontational and passive … no matter what. Even within the Christian community there is a rather pervasive view that believers should always be smiling and agreeable while conceding to others in our attempt to keep the peace. It is true that we are called be peacemakers, ministers of reconciliation and ambassadors of Christ (2 Co 5:19-20), yet the example of Jesus clearing the temple with a whip, along with various militant metaphors employed in the epistles, demonstrate that there are, in fact, times when we must fight for what we believe. Jesus Himself said that “from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force” (Mt 11:12).
Your life will indeed impact the lives of others, your life will make a difference, but not all lives have a positive impact, not all lives sow seeds of goodwill or produce a harvest of positive outcomes. Hitler’s life mattered, but most believe the world would have been a better place if he had never been born. There is no question that our life matters, the only question is what kind of life we will live and what kind of legacy we will leave behind.
The Barna Research Group reports that 84% of Americans claim to pray, yet we still see suffering, social disparities, racial hatred and hostility. The population of the United States is around 330 million people and if 84% are praying that means in the U.S. alone there almost 280 million people calling out to a god of some sort … yet, here we are. Why are we in the mess we are in if that many people are praying? How many people have to pray before God answers? According to the research, a lot of people are praying, but according to the Bible all prayers are not created equal. Anyone can pray, but does that mean God is listening to or answering every prayer the people are flinging toward heaven.
John is telling the believers in Ephesus, they can be sure that the word they received and believed concerning Jesus Christ is the gospel truth. They can be confident that they have put their faith in the truth and know that they are walking in the light. The false teachers who left the church to promote their own distorted doctrines, were claiming that the message of John and the apostles was wrong. So, John appeals to the Jewish standard that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word is established (Deut. 17:6; Matt. 18:16).
John opened this epistle by affirming that he and the other apostles had seen Jesus, heard Jesus, touched and examined Jesus, and their testimony was true. But as John brings the letter to a close, he emphasizes the truth of the message by again appealing to witnesses, but it’s not the witness of man, it is the historical witness of the life of Christ, the testimony of the Spirit, and the witness of God concerning His Son.
Love is a topic of much discussion in movies, books, TV, songs, and poetry, but the concept itself has become so diluted and polluted in the English language that “love” has lost much of its meaning. For example, it is not unusual to hear someone say they love pizza in one breath, and then tell their spouse that they love them in the next breath. Furthermore, love is not merely emotion but it is a decision, or John could not instruct us to love one another. Love in its purest form, is not selfish or self-seeking and it does not come and go or rise and falls like waves on the ocean. In Scripture love is powerful, persuasive, and persevering. Ultimately, true love comes from God, overcomes fear, turns enemies into friends, and moves us to selfless acts of kindness and compassion.
Have you ever heard the saying, “You can’t believe everything you hear, and only half of what you see”? Never has that pithy saying been truer than it is in our time; yet so many people seem willing to accept as the gospel truth, anything that confirms what they already want to believe. This is known in research as “confirmation bias,” which is when we believe what affirms what we want to believe, and reject what we don’t want to believe. However, truth is truth whether it affirms or disconfirms what we want to believe. Contemporary forms of false religions tend to prosper by telling people what they want to hear, rather than what they need to hear.
It is to the faithful flock who remained that John is writing to encourage and assure them that the gospel he preached, and the message by which they were saved, was the truth. He wanted them to know that they could be assured of their salvation through faith in Jesus, which manifested in their love for one another. As you can imagine, some in the church were conflicted. They were struggling to know with certainty that they were right to stay with John and the church, rather than going along with the deception of these persuasive teachers. To the faithful John says, “First of all, you can tell that they are wrong, because they do not live in the light according to the commandments of God, and second, because they are lacking in love.”
Have you ever noticed that there is world of difference between people who call themselves Christians? Of course, we would expect to see significant differences between those who are Christian and those who are not, but in case you haven’t noticed there is a big divide even among those who call themselves Christians (Catholic, Protestant, Pentecostal, Fundamentalist, Evangelical), and sometimes we look at each other and wonder how a person can do what they do, say what they say, believe what they believe, and still have the audacity to call themselves a Christian.
As I meditated upon this account I started thinking about “those hands.” Does anyone know what I’m talking about when I say, “those hands”? I thank God for my mother, and for the hands that fed me and clothed me, and every once in a while, spanked me, but I’m not talking about my mother’s hands today. I’m talking about “those hands.” I thank God for doctors and for the many men and women who have helped me in my times of sickness or during surgery, but I’m not talking about the doctor’s hands today. I’m talking about “those hands.”
It may be that God is sending the church into our prayer closets for a “time-out,” so that after we have thought about what we have done, we can come out restored, refreshed, revived and empowered and then come together again as the people of God walking, talking, witnessing and testifying in the power of the Holy Spirit. I believe that if we will yield our will to God’s will, and tarry in His presence, this could be our personal Pentecost, our Upper Room moment, our finest hour, so that we come back together in the power and anointing of God with renewed purpose and focus in a lost and dying world.