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Worldview Bible
The Seen and Unseen


1 John 4:20-21

If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.

The Story: A lawyer, that is, an expert in the Mosaic law asked Jesus what was required for eternal life. Jesus responded by asking him what he thought. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself,” said the lawyer, and Jesus approved. But the lawyer, “desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’” And Jesus responded with the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). The priest and the Levite in Jesus’ story no doubt believed they loved God—whom they couldn’t see. They were, after all, “in the ministry.” Yet they both crossed the road in order to avoid the beaten man—whom they could see. In this encounter with Jesus, the initial question and context was eternal life. Eternal life was the context of John’s words as well (verse 17).

The Structure: Someone once wrote, “To live above with saints in love—oh, that will be glory. / To live below with saints we know—well, that’s another story.” But in order to live above with saints in love, we need first to live here and now loving the saints we know—however unsaintly their behavior may be. That has always been countercultural and is perhaps even more countercultural in our individualistic era. Most of us live in self-selecting communities with people who are like us economically, socially, educationally, and vocationally. We live in separate houses and often in separate rooms in those houses, and so our interactions with others at home, in the neighborhood, and at church are also self-selecting and highly regulated. And we typically do our best to keep things pleasant, safe, and thus superficial. But loving others—really loving others—isn’t like that. It’s messy, can be dangerous, and takes us well below the surface. This is the love Jesus and his apostle John call us to live out.

Look around. Who do you see? How can you love them?
 
Divine Initiation


1 John 4:19

We love because he first loved us.

The Story: This assertion underlies everything John has been saying about love. God, John insisted, is the source of all love. God loved first, he wrote, because love is at the center of God’s nature and of all His actions (1 John 4:8, 16). Creation, redemption, and even judgment find their motivation in the love of God. John knew his readers loved God and told them that this love they had for Him was because of God’s love. That love initiated the relationship and made a relationship possible in the first place (4:10). John knew his readers loved one another as well and told them this too was because God loved each of them first. His love made it possible for them to love one another (4:11-12). They had no need to conjure up love for God. They needed only to drink in the sweetness of His love, return it, and pass it on to others.

The Structure: While we know that day begins at midnight, on a practical level we believe the day begins at sunrise or at least when we get out of bed to “start my day.” That is, day begins when I begin initiating action and ends when weariness overtakes me and I fall asleep. But in Genesis and throughout the Hebrew tradition, day begins not at sunrise but at sunset. “And there was evening and there was morning, the first day” (Genesis 1:5 and see 1:8, 13, 19, 23, 31). That is, when I wake up, the day is half over. Rather than initiating “my day,” I wake in the middle of God’s day. You and I rise from sleep to step into what God has already begun without us. That’s true of all of life, but here John seems to use this principle to help us understand love. Just as a newborn receives initiating love from others before he or she can love in return, we receive God’s initiating love “while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8). That initiating love gives us the ability to love God in return and to pass it on to our neighbors.

Take 15 minutes to meditate on 1 John 4:10 and God’s initiating love.

 
No Fear


1 John 4:18

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.

The Story: John said in verse 17 that God’s love perfected in his readers gave them confidence even in light of the impending day of judgment, when Jesus will come again to judge the living and the dead. “Perfected” does not mean perfect love, but love that has reached its appointed goal: moving Christians from fear to confidence. Thus, wrote John, “there is no fear in love.” In light of judgment, fear, according to John, indicated that his readers did not know and believe the love that God had for them. It indicated that they doubted that love and worried about being condemned by the Just Judge on that day. By focusing on God’s love, coming to know it and believe it through a relationship with Him through Jesus and through loving each other, that fear could be changed into confidence.

The Structure: The Day of Judgment (verse 19) is a source of fear. And while the Bible commends the “fear of God,” calling it “the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 1:7a), that is not the same as being afraid of God in the way we might be afraid of someone chasing us with a gun. Fear, in fact, has no place in the Christian life. Even sin, while it should cause us pain and grief, should not be the occasion for fear. John made that clear when he wrote that “we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1). Jesus died that we might be forgiven not subjectively, but objectively since our sins were nailed to the cross and marked “Paid in Full.” What then have we to fear? We have nothing to fear and every reason to be confident. Our love for God and one another confirms it.

Does fear or confidence characterize your relationship with God and others? What causes fear? How can you get out from under it and grow in confidence?

 
On the Day of Judgment


1 John 4:16-17

So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world.

The Story: Jesus made it clear that there is a Day of Judgment, the time when all people and give an account for matters even as seemingly insignificant as “every careless word” (Matthew 12:36). What then? John assured his readers that they could have confidence before God’s judgment based on God’s love for them and God’s life in them. They “have come to know and believe the love God has for us.” They saw this love in Jesus’ coming into the world (1 John 1:1-2) and in His death that was “the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2). They experienced that love in their obedience to Christ’s commands and in the love they had for one another. And they knew that love because even in this world, they conformed to the character, love, and life of Jesus.

The Structure:Dies iræ, dies illa / Solvet sæclum in favilla,” begins the requiem chant. “The day of wrath, that day / Will dissolve the world in ashes. . . . How much tremor there will be, / when the Judge will come, / investigating everything strictly!” The medieval words sound . . . well, positively medieval. Yet they are nonetheless as true today as when written in the 13th century. For all our emphasis on the love of God to the exclusion of the wrath of God and for all our impulses toward feel-good religion, the Day of Judgment will come. Jesus will return to judge the world and all who have ever lived (Matthew 25:31ff). We can prepare by coming “to know and to believe the love that God has for us,” and we can help others prepare—love of neighbor demands that we help others prepare—by introducing them to the love that God has for us, so that they too may have confidence for the Day of Judgment that will surely come.

How well do you know and believe the love God has for you? How do you communicate it to others?

 
Abiding


1 John 4:15

Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.

The Story: Once again John harkened back to what he heard directly from Jesus. There can be nothing greater than abiding in God. Those who “abide in Me,” said Jesus, bear much fruit, something that is impossible otherwise (John 15:5). They may “ask whatever [they] wish, and it will be done for [them]” (John 15:7). Jesus compared abiding in Him to a branch attached to a vine. Just as the life of the vine flows into each branch, so divine life flows through Jesus into His followers. The same image is in John 6:56 where Jesus said, “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.” Regardless of how we read those words as they relate to the Lord’s Supper, Jesus—and John in his letter—made it clear that to abide in Christ is to abide in God and to have divine life flowing through our being.

The Structure: Often Christians who have a keen interest in the intellectual—we might call them “worldview Christians”—have much less interest in the mystical. And those attracted to the mystical are often ones who avoid or even denigrate the intellectual. It wasn’t always so and should not be true today. Jonathan Edwards may have been the greatest intellect ever born in North America. His theological, philosophical, psychological, and scientific brilliance was prodigious. Yet Edwards loved to talk about rejoicing in and relishing the “sweetness” of Christ. He described “a calm, sweet abstraction of soul from all the concerns of this world; and sometimes a kind of vision or fixed idea of being alone in the mountains, or some solitary wilderness far from all mankind, sweetly conversing with Christ, and rapt and swallowed up in God.” He, like countless other Christian thinkers, knew that even the best ideas are as dross compared to abiding in God. He was an intellectual and a mystic—and a model for us today.

How have you enjoyed the sweetness of Christ that comes from abiding in God? How can you grow your desire for that sweetness? (Hint: Begin with prayer.)

 
We Know


1 John 4:13-14

By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.

The Story: John used two verbs meaning “know” 42 times in this letter. Probably he did this as a direct challenge to the growing Gnosticism we’ve already spoken about. The Gnostics believed esoteric knowledge, known only to those who were properly initiated, saved. John challenged that belief by repeating “we know.” Here, he wrote that he and his readers knew God lived in them because they had His Spirit and because they believed the very non-esoteric message that the Father sent the Son to be the Savior. John’s words carried a sense of finality and assurance. His readers did not need to keep guessing, particularly when confronted with those who thought their faith was naïve and incomplete. There is no “given us of His Spirit,” but. . . . No “we have seen and testified,” but. . . . They had received, seen, and testified all they needed. And that plus love for one another was proof enough for John.

The Structure: In our Christian lives, we can easily fall into one of two opposite errors. With the first error, we want to augment faith in Christ, abiding in God, and love for one another with extras. Good things such as knowledge, giving, Christian worldview, missionary service, and so on are raised to the level of saving sacraments—or at least to the place where they divide the mediocre Christian from the highly committed and really serious Christians. With the other error, we settle for a shallow version of those simple truths as though simple was a synonym for easy. It’s not. These simple truths are far from easy. What at the beginning seems easy and shallow becomes over time challenging and filled with unfathomable depths. Soon we’ll be singing the old familiar carols about the incarnation of Jesus. A four-year-old can tell you what they mean, but one lifetime is not nearly enough to take in the truth, “that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.”

This weekend, set aside fifteen minutes a day and consider:“We abide in him and he in us”(Friday), “He has given us of his Spirit” (Saturday), and “the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world” (Sunday).

 
Seeing the Invisible God


1 John 4:12

No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.

The Story: “No one has ever seen God,” wrote John, repeating what he wrote in his gospel (John 1:18). The difficulty is that loving an unseen God can be a bit abstract for Christians and for the watching world. But there is nothing abstract about the love between Christian brothers and sisters. If we love one another, John wrote, God lives in us, His life filling up ours. More than that, if Christians love one another, God’s love is perfected among His people—that is, it comes to its intended end, which is both unity in the Church and witness in the world. Jesus used this same Greek verb when He prayed that His followers would “become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me” (John 17:23). Just as Jesus made the invisible God visible (John 1:18), so John’s beloved little children could make Him visible as well.

The Structure: Perhaps if John was unafraid to repeat himself, I should feel the same freedom in expositing his words. Belief in Jesus—God come in the flesh—and love within the Church were, for John, the highest Christian priorities. After the Ascension, God is only visible in this world by the way we, His people, love each other. And perhaps we are in a better position than ever to actually show that love. Faced with the Enemy and with enemies attacking life, marriage, and religious freedom, Christians—Protestant/Catholic, Baptist/Methodist, Pentecostal/Presbyterian—have been forced into what Chuck Colson’s dear friend theologian Timothy George has called “the ecumenism of the trenches.” We are, in a sense, being forced into loving each other with generous, committed, initiating, and sacrificial love. And it may be that these troubling days will result in the Church growing in love and thus in spiritual power and numbers.

How have you seen “the ecumenism of the trenches” in your community? How can Christians love each other and work together more effectively across denominational lines?

 
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