Triple Witness

water and blood
Image credit: <a href="">Leonardo Agiuar</a>

1 John 5:6-12

Jesus came through water and blood. Not just water, mind you, water and blood both. The spirit is our witness. The spirit is truth. The spirit, the water, and the blood all agree. If we have a witness from people, the witness of God is still more reliable. God’s witness is to God’s child. Once you accept that, the witness is internal. If you don’t accept it, it’s your word against God’s: you’re as much as calling God a liar. The witness is this: We’ve been given life forever in Jesus. If you have Jesus, you’re living. If you don’t, you’re dead.

First, there is the water. This is the part, symbolized by baptism, where you discover and accept who you really are. Call it a spiritual experience. Lots of people will tell you about their moment of calling. Lot’s of people talk a good line about their spiritual life. All well and good. It’s essential to know who you are.

Second, there is the blood. This is the part about the cross. It’s what you do as a consequence of why you are. Are you willing to lay down your life for who you really are? Are you willing to live the life you know you’ve been called to live or no life at all? Are you willing to put your life on the line for someone else? This is also a spiritual experience. Witness Franklin McCain, one of the four black protestors who started the lunch-counter sit in movement at a Woolworth’s in 1960 Greensboro, NC (courtesy of NPR):

“Fifteen seconds after [I sat down] … I had the most wonderful feeling. I had a feeling of liberation, restored manhood. I had a natural high. And I truly felt almost invincible. Mind you, [I was] just sitting on a dumb stool and not having asked for service yet…

“It’s a feeling that I don’t think that I’ll ever be able to have again. It’s the kind of thing that people pray for … and wish for all their lives and never experience it. And I felt as though I wouldn’t have been cheated out of life had that been the end of my life at that second or that moment.”

Third, there is the spirit. That’s, as John explains, when you internalize what you know about yourself and your mission to the point that you no longer depend on someone else, anyone else, having to tell you who you are or what that means you should do. Accept that spirit, and you will live, no matter what happens after those first 15 seconds at the lunch counter. Reject it, and no matter what you do, you’ll never really experience the fullness of life.

Does God want Children, or an Army?

Assyrian Reliefs
Photo credit: <a href="">Elissa SCA</a>

1 John 5:1-5

Everyone who embraces Jesus as the chosen one is a child of God.

Everyone who loves the parent loves the child. So we know that we love the children of God by loving and obeying God. We love God by obeying God’s orders – which is not so hard. Whoever is God’s child vanquishes the world. Which is to say, our affirmation of Jesus vanquishes the world. Who, but those who embrace Jesus as God’s child, will vanquish the world?

For all John’s talk of love, this passage has a decidedly unloving tone. Us against the world, and we will be victorious. Some will make the case that the meaning here is spiritual. It’s not. It’s militant. The Greek all but invokes Nike, the Greek goddess of victory, even as it claims to kinship with Jesus, the Prince of Peace. That’s a serious problem.

The second problem in this passage is that it’s logic is completely flawed: loving the parent doesn’t mean squat about one’s attitude toward the child. I can think of instances in which the parents are perfectly lovely people, but I’d rather not be around their children. You can probably think of some, too. And it applies in the other direction as well. You’re not guaranteed to like the parents just because you like their kids.

If anything, this passage is a reminder of how easily devotion can cross the line into fanaticism. Devotion, at its best, is a deep commitment to a cause or person, or even a religion. Fanaticism is that perversion of devotion that narrows everything into black and white, for and against, us and them, (capital-T) Truth and blasphemy. Devotion seeks to deepen and build and bind together. Fanaticism flattens, consumes, and divides. Devotion yearns to see more clearly. Fanaticism blinds and confuses.

You can see where this is going. The quest for love is one thing. The quest for victory is quite another.

It’s About Love. Period.

alphabet soup says "Jesus loves you"
Photo credit: <a href="">Stuart Caie</a>

1 John 4:13-21

This is how we know that we’re simpatico with God: God’s spirit is in us, and we are witnesses that God has sent Jesus to restore the world. God is in everyone who recognizes that Jesus is the child of God. They are part of God. We know and live God’s love.

God is love. Those who love are part of God. Something of God is in them. When the reckoning comes, it is love that will see us through. In perfect love, we are God’s image in the world. So don’t be afraid. Real love isn’t fearful. Real love banishes fear. Fear is a by-product of punishment. If you’re still afraid, you haven’t understood love.

Love because God loved first. People who say, “I love God,” but who hate others are liars. If you can’t love someone standing right in front of you, how are you going to love a God they can’t even see. This is the one and only rule: If you love God, love your neighbor.”

John’s God is all about the love. Love is the measure of every assertion, every action, every moment. Not convenience. Not expense. Not expedience. Not permanence. Not reputation. Not connection. So far as John is concerned, there are no excuses for not loving. So far as John is concerned, everything Jesus did was for love. Everything we do is either rooted in love or it has nothing to do with God.

But John’s kind of love isn’t some romantic notion. This is not about Valentine’s day. It means that when you see your neighbor in need, you do something about it. Period.

Life on the Line

dandilion seed taking off
Photo credit: <a href="">Neal Fowler</a>

1 John 4:7-12

Dearest friends, let’s love each other because love is godlike. Whoever loves is a child of God and knows God. Whoever doesn’t love has no idea about God. God is love.

We know God is love because God sent Jesus into the world. With him, real life is possible. We didn’t love God first. God loves us first and sent Jesus. Jesus, the one in whom wrong is righted.

Dearest friends, since God loves us so much, we should love each other. Nobody has seen God. But if we love each other, we can see God’s life and love in each other.

The Greek word hilasmon appears only here in the New Testament. On it’s own, it means literally, “the making one.” In the Greek version of the Hebrew scriptures, though it came to be used for the “mercy seat,” the place where God sat, in the temple, over of the arc of the covenant. As such, it was the place where sacrifices were made. So many translations render it, “propitiation” or “atoning sacrifice.” The point, though, is not the method. The point is the result, setting people right again after they’d gone wrong. It’s the place where wrong is righted. In the Hebrew covenantal law the method was blood sacrifice. In the New Testament it’s Jesus.

If Jesus is the method for setting people right, then John’s bracketing this central affirmation between pleas that people who follow Jesus ought to love one another makes sense. Love for one another becomes the real care that is willing to go out of the way for, even to put one’s own life on the line for, the sake of others. In John’s tradition, Jesus did this freely (John 10:18). Now, John commends the same self-sacrificial action to those who want to follow Jesus.

Indeed, the re-enactment of Jesus’ life, putting your life on the line for the sake of others, is the only way people can have any idea what the New Testament understanding of God is about. Putting your life on the line for the sake of others is still how wrong is righted.