Church Matters (Part 4)

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Series: A Journey through 1 John

Sunday 19 June 2016 – Justus Swart

1 John 2:15-17, 20-21; John 3:16; (Rev. 3:16); (John 18:38); (Matt. 10:16); (Luke 10:3); Rev. 3:16; Ps. 51:10; 1 Pet. 2:11-12; Luke 23:4; (John 5:19); (Eph. 4:25); Gen. 1:3; Matt. 5:14-16; (1 John 1:7); Matt. 10:34

Church exists to be an alternative to the world’s way of doing things.

Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever (1 John 2:15-17).

This was written to believers encouraging them not to be influenced by the seductive pleasures that are found in the world. This is not the world as referred to by Jesus in John 3:16 where Jesus talks about His creation, the people He came to die for. John refers to the world in the form of a system, its way of doing things, its philosophies about life, and its corrupt value system. When John says “do not love the world” he is referring to the operating system which presently governs most of our day to day lives.

It governs our thinking, the choices we make; it governs how we spend our money, how we spend our time and who we spend our time with. John is alerting believers to the fact that we are called to distance ourselves from the world’s way of living life. You have to keep some kind of distance between you and this system, but not necessarily the people. We are urged to set our defences against the world which constantly invites us to partake in its idea of success and fulfilment. When Jesus said, “I am sending you out”, He asks that we refocus our attention on the things of God. It happens in our minds. It is not a physical separation. If we set ourselves on achieving success in the way that the world defines it, through wealth or general acceptance or happiness, we will inevitably let our love for God grow lukewarm. We cannot hold the two in tension: to have material success and to have God will eventually lead to burnout or lukewarm faith (Rev. 3:16). God shows us His displeasure with the idea that we can live with one foot in the world and one foot in the Church. Seeking anything other than the will of God will result in a lukewarm faith that is sustained by the simple gratifications that we get from the world.

We are given three examples of things we are to avoid (1 John 2:16).

(1) The lust of the flesh, the cravings of sinful man. This is the man who lives according to his own free will with no desire whatsoever to live a life submitted to the authority of God and the Church. The self-made man who needs nothing and no one to make him who he is. If you continue living simply by impulse and gratification, you are walking down the road and that road has a destination. His eyes are not focused on the destination but his eyes are focused on the road itself. The freedom of choice fools him into thinking he is the master of his own destiny. He takes no stance on what is right and what is wrong; it is each to his own. He lives according to how he feels in the moment. Obscurity is his only comfort. It is ultimately an ungenerous life because it is all about his whims, his cravings and his desires. This is the man who avoids the Church because it offers him no opportunity but Jesus. And with Jesus comes limits to your freedom. The Church does not give validation to that kind of life. The Church offers only one thing and that is Jesus. And when you submit your life to Jesus, He calls for you to live a life of discipline. He calls for you to live in the narrow way, not the broad way.

(2) The lust of his eyes. This is a picture of the man who looks at his life and never feels that he has enough. He is always empty. He is always unsatisfied no matter what he does and no matter what he has. The only answer he can think of to get more; not knowing that everything he has is put into a bottomless pit. He is permanently lusting after the next thing that he thinks will give him fulfillment. He has no way to discern the true value of things and as a result he cannot but help to disrespect that which is sacred. Everything he sees is essentially valuable and equally valueless. He cannot understand or discern the pearl of great price that Jesus talks about. He will not understand that which is sacred; holy and faith based and cannot help but disrespect it, because he thinks it cannot give him what he needs. He looks at the world as nothing more than a consumable product. His unending appetite for more only leaves him in a constant stage of fatigue with no hope of rejuvenation. Jesus talks about people who go after wealth and live in a constant state of fatigue. Spiritual rejuvenation is absent from the man who lives according to the lust of his eyes.

(3) This is the picture of a prideful man. He is content only as long as he comes before others. He lacks moral fibre and creates an outward display of happiness trying to impress everyone around him. People’s acceptance is his highest currency. Inwardly he carries a crippling insecurity with him wherever he goes. He shuns reflection, only ever considering his actions to see if they will bring him renown. He has no compassion for his fellow man, but sees in him only a tool with which to accomplish his own desires. He is ultimately the weakest man because he lives solely on the praise of others.

We are trying to avoid these three things in the world, which mean nothing to those who are part of God’s kingdom. We are constantly surrounded by systems that validate this kind of behaviour and it can be tempting to take shortcuts when no one is looking. What is going on inside your heart? You will eventually stand alone before God one day; just you and God.

If we are to be honest, we know that we do not suddenly lose the desire for validation, for wealth or for freedom when we become a Christian. We still crave validation, wealth, a comfortable life, freedom and the ability to make choices. We can’t ignore that fact, but we must recognise that we are called to train our desires in order to set them on something much higher. In verse 17 John says, The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever. We come to church Sunday after Sunday to fine-tune our desires. Like a musician fine-tunes his instrument, we constantly need fine tuning to bring us back, to check our desires. The only way is by hearing the Word of God, by being in the community of faith and by worshiping God and receiving the sacraments. In church we are challenged by the Word of God to examine our hearts and to put our minds on Christ. This is the place where we come to receive our fine tuning. If we try to live life without fine-tuning, we end up becoming lukewarm.

What happens when we feel hopelessly out of tune? Cling to the Psalms which give us hope that God will never abandon those who seek after Him. David was hopelessly out of tune more than once in his life. In the Psalms he finds quietness before God and says “deal with my heart, I am open to You, deal with my heart” (Ps. 51:10). We call upon God in prayer and worship, asking for guidance in both good times and bad. Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes that falling away is an infinitely greater weight that falling down. Falling down happens. It is not about getting everything right, it is about training our desires to seek after the will of God. When we choose to ignore all the pursuits that life offers us, we become a church that matters. We become a church who is responsive to the will of God and the Holy Spirit and we learn to see the world in a totally new way. The main thing that we are striving to become is a signpost that points directly to our Heavenly Father. That is exactly what Jesus did. The Gospel of John says every miracle He did was a sign, and was directed to God. It is not our job to turn the world upside down. We do not have to right every wrong in the world. Social justice is not the heart of the Church’s mission. We have to focus on Him and to commit ourselves to doing His will. We are called to be holy unto God and to be set apart, not for our benefit, but in order that we can be a signpost pointing to God.

Peter mirrors John’s words: Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers in the world to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day He visits us (1 Pet. 2:11-12). We are all foreigners in the world. We are not foreigners on the earth, the earth was created for us, created for the Church, but we are strangers in this world. We are strangers in a land that does not recognise Christ. Here is our purpose, to live a life so good that people cannot help but glorify God. When Jesus came and stood before Pilate after everybody brought accusations against Him, Pilate said, “I find no charge to bring against this man” (Luke 23:4). His life was so good, He was completely rid of all other agendas and desires and He live solely for the will of God. Here is our purpose, to live a life so good that people glorify God. We live our lives dedicated to the will of God and that inevitably leads to good deeds. Jesus said, “I don’t do anything unless I see My Father do it” (John 5:19). When we seek the will of God, we end up doing good deeds which catch the world’s attention. The process of fine tuning our desires leads us to good deeds.

He also says to abstain from sinful desires which war against your soul (1 Pet. 2:11). We have to remove the idea that we can have both because it causes war. So you cannot give in to this way of living life and come to church and not be challenged. We are to live a good life among those who are non-Christians. They need to experience life alongside us and then they will learn to question their own pursuits; to find out “where am I going with my life – what is at the end of the road for me?” That is what we need to be doing. We are called to be an alternative to the world’s way of thinking and the world’s way of doing things. We therefore cannot blend into the world and think that there will be no consequences. You cannot live a life that is completely separate from the life that Jesus lived and think that that is okay. No, it is at war with your soul. It is an incredible statement – warring for your soul.

The very first time we read of God speaking audibly to us is in Genesis 1:3 when God says “let there be light”. Light appeared; light was created out of Him. He makes this exact same declaration of you when you come into faith in Jesus where He says, “You are the light of the world” (Matt. 5:14). We can parallel the start of our faith journey; it is completely linked to the start of the world. “Let there be light”, and it is not a light that you can control. Jesus said, “Do not hide your light under a bushel, you are a city on a hill, nothing can hide you” (Matt. 5:14-15). That exact same divine command is now over you and your life, “Let there be light”. If you cover that light, you plunge not only yourselves but those around you in total darkness. Your light lights up the way for others. It is not God’s idea for His Church to go and hide; we are to walk in the light just as He is in the light, and we have to do that among the people around us and among the people we live with. Only then can they see and testify to the light that is in us; not because of us, but because of Him.

How do we achieve this practically? How can we make sure that our desires are in fact set on God’s will? How do I know if it is my desire pushing me or God’s will? Firstly, the truth is in us (1 John 2:20-21). Each of us has the truth planted deep within us. It is a voice. You have to tune yourself to be able to hear that voice and being connected to the truth is the key to keeping our desires in check with the will of God. We all get it wrong from time to time. Dietrich Bonhoeffer also says it is a constant struggle for us to try and discern the voice of the heart from the voice of the Spirit, because sometimes that voice can be really loud. Sometimes we get confused about it and it is difficult to pray and to block out your own thoughts and to block out your own desires. That is the truth of it.

Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbour (Eph. 4:25). Expect to be handling truth in church. John says, “You know the truth and I’m writing to you because you know the truth” (1 John 2:20-21). But even so we need people to speak to us, even though we know the truth. We are here to train our desires and we are here for some fine tuning. This also then lays responsibility on each of us and says to speak truthfully to our neighbour.

There is a deeply political impulse that is built into our Christianity these days. The idea that our faith is a private thing comes from political thinking. Society and secular political sociology is saying that in order for a bunch of diverse people to get along, the only way a country, or a nation can exist, is if there is peace. So people are trained to take their beliefs and keep it to themselves. Only then can we exist in true peace. But Jesus said, I did not come to bring peace, but a sword (Matt 10:34). So the idea that the politics of the world is shaping our faith is quite disturbing. Political life is largely telling people, “Your faith is not something you can force on other people. It is something that you keep to yourself”. There has come a privatisation of faith and for the sake of general peace we are taught that good citizens never impose their beliefs on other people.

This thinking is destroyed by this very verse which forces us to ignore that impulse and to be open with other people with the truth that we know is already in them and in us. When these desires (the three mentioned above) creep up on those in our community, when these desires start to show themselves to people around us, we are urged to speak up about it because that is what fine tuning is for. Coming to church is about being fine-tuned and not just through the person in the front, but through the community, through life in the community. To speak truthfully to one another is important because we are serious about this thing called Church. We take church seriously. That means we take the fine tuning process seriously. Let us have some truth because what are we doing if not dealing with the truth? Did Jesus ever shy away from confrontation? When these desires for wealth, the lust of the eyes, boasting and prideful life start to show themselves in our community, it is up to us to actually be a confronting group of people. This is the will of God, that we should throw off all falsehood, to be ourselves and to be teachable to the people of God and to the Holy Spirit.

This is not easy and the point is not to take the shortest route from point A to B but to be clear about where we are going and the fact that we all want to go there. Fellowship with God is always our intended destination. Every step I take with my life, I want to know it is taking me closer to fellowship with God. This is what we really want.[/fusion_text][soundcloud url=”” layout=”classic” comments=”yes” show_related=”yes” show_user=”yes” auto_play=”no” color=”#ff7700″ width=”100%” height=”150px” class=”” id=””]