[This message is part of a series through the book of 1 John, entitled “Salvific Assurance Through Testimony,” preached by Pastor Senter].
Last week* we discussed our being witnesses of the love of God and the truth of it. We also looked at some falsehoods associated with this witness. I pray you understood the discussion concerning man’s ability and propensity to compartmentalize issues–to put people in categories where some are salvageable and some are not. We looked specifically at the act of speaking or saying one thing, then actually doing another. Moreover, we looked at those who are actually doing what they are saying they will do. We can actually see the difference in these people; the love of God operates through them in a visible way. We also looked at the commandment to man, which is to manifest an active, obedient love. We asked if we were actively placing the things of God, the word of God, and the commandments of God into our lives. Are we in fact taking steps to be proactive in our efforts to love God? Finally, we discussed the commitment of man in his belief and the results of it. We considered desires for the things of God over those of the world and that the scripture ties these things to a love of God. Do we, therefore, more greatly desire the things of God, rather than the things of the world? If we were to depart this world, would we in fact miss anything, or have regrets?
Please look at 1 John 5:2. We somewhat begin a new section today, still focused upon love; but we turn that focus from our personal relationship between ourselves and God to that of our relationship with others. Though we have opened this discussion on many occasions throughout this study, we will now focus upon it and what God would have us do to love one another.
There was once a man who loved God, and loved his family dearly. His father gave him special privileges because he recognized the love of God in him. He gave him special gifts signifying this special status. These things were not very well-received by the other members of his family. He was very much despised, ridiculed, and jealousy permeated the hearts of his other siblings. This culminated in their taking action against him. First, they simply imprisoned him. They later decided to remove him from their life all-together but did not want to kill him because he was still favored by their father. Therefore, they simply sold him into slavery. Through the submissive and faithful service he gave as a slave, he was elevated again to a position second only to his master. He devoted his service to his earthly master, and never forsook his heavenly God in the process. This service and devotion showed love in both areas–toward his earthly master, and toward the God we all serve. Once again, though, he was falsely accused in such a way that hate and jealousy were heaped upon him. Imprisoned again, but so much a man of God that it was undeniable, he again was raised to a status like no other on earth. This position, again second only to the ultimate earthly master, placed him in a position to make a choice of holding his family accountable for the mistreatment they had bestowed upon him. Conversely, he could choose to care for his family at a very trying time. At no time in his history is there testimony of him having hatred for those who dealt with him in malice and contempt. At no time do we find that he was angered or upset at the abusers or the abuse levied upon him. He chose to care for his family, to love them despite their hatred for him. In our own hearts, we would have been seething with pain and revenge on our minds. Today we learn what John thinks of the story of Joseph while we study regarding how “obedience through faith overcomes all worldly obstacles and shows the love of God to all believers.” Our hearts’ need for this instruction is displayed in the fact that the “love of God is obedience to God shown through a love for His children; but you still hold parts of yourself back out of selfishness.”
*We are now operating in “real time”–meaning that each posting will now be made (Lord willing) by Wednesday of each week, and will provide the reader with notes for the sermon that was given the Sunday previous, at Grace Bible Church.
Joseph does display a unique meekness, one that is seldom found in people. Everyone wants to stand up for themselves, however, we are taught to obey in love, trusting in God for our lives.
I. Obedience to God (verses 2-3)
The first thing we should note is that the word “keep” in this verse is our word for “do” or “make” in Greek. This is our doing or practicing word, which we studied very carefully earlier in 1 John. Next we should consider being the shoes of Joseph’s family, especially if you were one of the brothers who had thrown him into the pit, then sold him into slavery, and not seen him for 13 years. When you finally see him again he is the second most powerful man in the greatest kingdom of the day. Further, this is not some free country like the United States of America. This takes place in an age where slavery was a hard, punishing, whips-to-the-back slavery; a time when a master can take a slave’s life without repercussion. This slave of a powerful ruler could have broken those brothers in two with a command. They were very afraid, and they had every reason to be because they knew they did not know God. This is evident in that they persecuted Joseph. They did not love those who loved God.
Look now at Joseph. How do we know he loves God? Because He loves all of God’s people – even those who do not know God, who regularly exhibit rebellion toward Him. This is not the only proof though. We also know Joseph loves God because he keeps His commandments. He is doing or practicing this love by actively obeying the commandments of God. He obeys God’s word for his life, even if it hurts him personally; because he knows it serves God’s purposes ultimately. Therefore, serving God is not burdensome, but a pleasure.
What is the question here? It is, Do we love God’s children even when we are under pressure and persecution?
A. Loving His children
Children come in all shapes, sizes, types, styles, and kinds. God’s children are the broadest spectrum of people. Where we see adults making poor choices in their lives with either drugs or alcohol, He sees lost children wandering from here to there with no direction. Where we see grown individuals bent upon their own personal destruction, He sees children attempting to hide from the satanic influences of the world by escaping into a bottle or pill. Where we find adults falling engaged in poor habits, He sees a child who can do nothing but follow the crowd or continue in a pattern of destruction. Where we see an individual on the street, stoned out of his mind and barely able to talk or walk, God sees a child who is hurting and without the ability to make a decision for himself. Chris and I ran into just such a person the other day. There is nothing we can do for him except pray. I later found I had a tract for him; but it did not strike my mind to give it to him at the time. He just wanted 35 cents, but he needed a living soul.
We are called to love His children, folks. Our scripture here is making this love for others a mark of how much we love God. There is a comparison here, a parallel, a correlation to the love we have for the children of God, and the love we have for Him. This sample activity tells whether we love God or not.
We should consider the “one another” commandments in scripture briefly. First, “one another” is a reciprocal pronoun, which indicates a mutual action or relationship. Something that is given and received equally. There are 58 of these commands in scripture we will list a few of them.
First, John 13:34-35 we find that we are to love one another. Galatians 5:13 we are to serve one another. In 6:2, we are to be bearing each other’s burdens. In Romans 12:10 we are commanded to give preference to believers, 12:16 tells us to be of the same mind as one another. Hebrews 3:13 commands us to encourage one another and 10:24 we are to stimulate one another spiritually by loving one another and doing good deeds for one another. In 1 Thessalonians 4:18 we are commanded to comfort one another. The most difficult one to get past if we are considering not being a member of a church, or if we are denying that we must be a church member is Ephesians 5:21 and 30 ,where we are to be subject to one another, and James 5:16, which says that we are to confess our sins and pray for one another. You have to honestly ask how can you do those things, submit to, confess, and pray for one another if you are not in an assembly. Specifically, submitting to one another under the guidelines of Matthew 18, subjecting you to the scrutiny of the membership.
Do you love all the children of God such that you give of yourself, give your desires, give up all your personal wants for them? Alternatively, are you still holding on to things you feel you need?
This love for the children is then identified as a love for God.
B. Loving God
The greatest thing we can do for God’s children is point them back to Him. As a chaplain, I was resolved to be in a sheep-gathering ministry more than anything. My function would not be to have a church on base. My function instead would be to gather the wayward sheep that are on the plains grazing alone. Take them in to the sheepfold and give them to the master. Then help them find a local shepherd to care for them in his flock. In exercising this ministry, I am simply a Christian with a little more training than normal. My love for God is to obey Him by carrying out my tasks. My love for His children is in getting them to the Savior they need, and then letting go of them. If I attempted to keep them on base and do any more than disciple them, I would be disobeying Him because I am not a shepherd, just a gatherer of sheep.
There is a great book out called “On Being a Servant of God” by Warren W. Wiersbe. In it he says on page 2, that, “ministry is built on basic principles, not clever methods.” This means there are principially-oriented activities, activities that take place simply because it is right and proper that they be done. These activities, these principles, come from one source: God’s Word. Obedience, therefore, is to these commandments and these commandments must permeate the believer’s life in such a way that it is all that they seek. Wiersbe goes on to quote Acts 3 1-9, where John and Peter give what they can to a lame man, healing and the Lord Jesus Christ. This is the evidence of love that a servant of God must give. The love that shows salvation to all who are in need. This love, therefore, is in obedience to God. The command from God is that we love one another as He loved us. We love by giving His salvation to people – everyone we meet.
Another good book I found was “A Heart For God,” by Sinclair Ferguson. On page 94 of the book, he notes that some Christians have difficulties relying on God’s sovereignty as if to say,
If I were to believe that God is universally in control in his providence in the world, wouldn’t that paralyze me, and make me think that nothing I did really mattered?” In fact, as the lives of many Christians demonstrate – and as the life of the Lord Jesus Christ most certainly shows – believing in God’s complete providence and control has the opposite effect. Instead of discouraging us, it encourages us! … We know that nothing (trouble, hardship, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, sword – all elements in the world which God providentially rules) can ever separate us from the love of God in Christ…. we know that God has a purpose through these things….
Have you ever considered membership in an assembly a level of obedience? How can you submit to one another without putting yourself into subjection to a congregation? Do you regularly witness to everyone around you? Are you a living witness for Christ? On the other hand, do you get confused with worldly people because you have not witnessed with all your heart, mind, and soul, with all your being inside and out?
How do we give this love to others then? What is this obedience?
C. Loving is obedience
Reading verse three again, we find how we can love God. It is simple. Keep His commandments. Let us run down a few of them, shall we?
- Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. This is represented 14 times in scripture beginning in Deuteronomy 6:5. We also find it in Joshua 23, Psalm 31, as well as in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Why is it so hard to love the Lord when He sacrificed all for us to be with Him? Why does God have to command it 14 times? We must obey this command first, and show this through our faith in His sovereignty for us. If you are holding anything back from your testimony here with believers and with the world outside, you struggle with this commandment.
- Love thy neighbor as thyself (Lev 19:18; Jam 2:8) this is represented 9 times in scripture. God has to tell us the same thing nine times because we often forget those things we have only been told once, twice, or three times. It is a clear command. You feed yourself daily, you work for yourself daily, you enjoy your own hobbies daily–and in these ways, you love yourself daily. Do you spend equal time in these things witnessing for the Lord to your neighbors or anyone next to you? If you regularly find reasons not to serve or help others in any way in order to free up time for yourself and your own desires, you have a problem with this commandment, because you are supposed to put everyone on that same level.
- Be loving, supportive, kind, fair, and upright with one another. Beginning in Leviticus 25, we find the beginning of over 20 instances where we are to be kind to or love one another. Why is this one so hard to obey? Ultimately we find this in Ephesians 4:32, where we are commanded to be kind to one another and forgive one another, even as Christ Jesus forgave us. Why is it so difficult for us to love or be kind to one another–so much so that we have to be commanded to do so frequently in scripture? If you are holding back any fellowship, any association, and time together, or any form of gathering to fulfill any personal desires, you struggle to implement this command.
- Do not be conformed (that is, take upon yourself the image or likeness or attitudes or attributes) of the world. We are called to be holy and consecrated to God (Lev 11:44-45, Ps 86:2). Ultimately, in Romans 12:2 we read we are to not be conformed to this world. The Greek word for conformed “suschematidzō ” means “to form or mold one’s behavior in accordance with a particular pattern or set of standards – ‘to shape one’s behavior, to conform one’s life.'” Folks, you are not supposed to look, seem, speak, appear, behave, or react anything like the people of the world. 1 Peter 1:14 tells us specifically, what we used to do–stop doing it. We used to do the things of the world – stop. If you look, act, and react to things of the world in such a manner that others would not be able to tell if you are a Christian, you have some issues with obeying this commandment.
When we do a search on “obey” and “commandment” we find 16 times these two words are together in scripture. Deuteronomy 11:26-32 tells us that there are blessings in obeying His commandments, and curses if we disobey. Chapter 13 verse 4, 27:10, and 30:8, directly command that we obey His voice and hold fast to Him while walking with Him. We also find more than 12 other times in scripture where God requires our obedience to His commands, including here in these passages right before us in 1 John. I find it interesting that in Luke 8:25, the winds and the water obey the Lord’s commands; yet we here today struggle with every submissive act we have to give to the Lord. The winds and water have no will; but our stubborn will is well-known to God. Nowhere in scripture will we find that God commands the winds and water to obey Him as if they have a will of their own. Oh, I pray that we have a day where we are so submissive and obedient to our Lord. Love, folks, is submissive obedience to Him, to our Savior.
The most difficult thing for us to realize is that this is not burdensome. You can love and submit to Him completely folks, and it becomes a pleasure. Look at Joseph. Not once do we find him concerned about his personal welfare. Not once do we find him concerned about where he is going next. Not once do we find Joseph voicing anything except what he can do for others – giving them God. He gave it to the wine taster, he gave it to Potiphar, and he gave it even to Potiphar’s wife in asking how could he commit such sin against God. Joseph did not react or act like anyone else they knew, and they knew God was with him.
If the love of God is in you, this should be a more natural reaction. For the believer, therefore, operating in faith then is more of a natural event – to love God, not man, Who loved us enough to submit. Can you humble yourself enough to do so, too?
How do we get to this point though? We have heard about this giving up of our desires so often now. What is supposed to help us get us past our covetousness? The answer is faith folks, faith.
II. Faith in God (verse 4)
Verse four plainly states everyone who has been born again – has the Lord in their hearts – overcomes the world. The word for “overcomes” has a military connotation for victory. This is a war fought and won. Ladies and gentlemen, it is a participle and, if you remember, a participle indicates an activity that begins at a point and continues even after the moment it was written. This indicates a continuing behavior. We discussed in our earlier studies that this would mark someone as if to say, “he is an overcomer.” It is also in the present active form, which indicates you are currently overcoming the world if you are born of God. You, in your faith, should be actively doing this daily. You should be striving to move past the worldly things and on to godly things. One lexicon states that the term for world “must be understood in terms of the value system of the world.” Phillips in his commentary on John’s Epistles sums up the worlds offering thus:
The unsaved person feels at home in the world. Unbelievers were born into it, and it’s all that they can know. It appeals to their fallen natures, offering them the kinds of things they like. The world can mask its satanic nature behind a smiling face, offering pleasure, prosperity, and power. Too, it is a total system, offering culture, religion, philosophy, art, science, organization, and variety. And it can threaten, punish, persecute, oppress, and kill. It can be noble, inspiring, and attractive; or it can be base, disgusting, and cruel. But it is the world, and it is all the unsaved person has.”
Your faith in Him can produce victory in your life. Hiebert makes the point that this is not a concrete but figurative victory – a means for achieving victory – the power, therefore, that gives one the ability to be victorious. This is a direct reference to the Savior, to Christ Jesus.
You have to ask yourself, “Are you regularly overcoming the values of the world as they currently stand, or are you continually being pulled into them in your surroundings?”
We experience this faith when we truly believe that God is the Overcomer.
A. God overcomes
Knowing now that God is in you; knowing now that the Holy Spirit resides within your heart if you know Christ as your Savior; knowing now that you must obey Him and that some of His most basic commandments deal first with Him, and then other people–why do you not exercise faith that He will overcome these things for you? God is all-powerful. He is all-present. He is there when you drink that beer. He is there when you pass up witnessing to that individual. He is there when you make excuses for not being part of the congregation. He is there when you lose your temper. He is there when you have impure thoughts or thoughts of self righteousness and sanctimonious piety. He was there every time you dealt out another blow to the nail head as it passed through His hand on the cross. Further, with His great power, with His great mercy, with His great love He provided for the strength for you to overcome every single instance. He should be your strength and your shield. He should be your portion and sustenance. God, the only true God Who permits your heart to continue pounding in your chest–He is victorious over all the things of the world. You who are born of Him need to have more faith, or would you prefer to sink into the Sea of Galilee in the same way as Peter, when he lost faith?
Do you permit God to overcome the obstacles of the world for you, or are you still trying to beat them out by yourself? Trying to conform in order to say, “I can be whatever I want to make a difference,” does not witness for God. It shows pride and arrogance which earns you condemnation.
Do you know why and how you can have this victory?
B. Believers overcome
Believers overcome because they have God within them. They live with God in their lives every day. God is exemplified in them by everything they do, the choices they make, and the people with whom they regularly affiliate themselves. If we can envision a graph with two lines: one on top for believers, and one below for the world. Believers make marked or spiked entrances down into the world; but they should remain mostly at the believer’s baseline. At no time should a believer purposefully create a flat line at the bottom of the graph for extended periods, indicating a choice to prefer existence in the world. Even when we spike into the world for our work place, this spike should “shudder” up and down, as we are challenged in the work place and seek divine encouragement and guidance to overcome these challenges. Believers do this because the Holy Spirit of God within them is continually instructing them and encouraging them in this direction. People who rebel against the Holy Spirit and easily conform to the world are not overcoming it, but being overcome by the world.
Believers, therefore seek regularly the things of God in all facets of their lives. Young people, this is why I would only advocate a Christian education of any kind. Believers need to grow in the Lord and young people need an education focused upon His service. I know many here have secular degrees. I am one of you. My undergraduate degree is in Science at the University of Maryland. Good school; however, not a Christian school. I would encourage every young person to seek education at a Christian university. No matter how strong your testimony is, believers should be overcoming the world by supporting other believers. You never overcome by conforming. Victory comes by faith, and faith comes through love. Have some faith that a Christian institution will provide you with a stellar education. Some out there have outstanding programs. Young people, seek God, and seek these choices.
If therefore you love God, exercise your faith to overcome the world.
The reason believers have this victory therefore is their faith.
C. Faith overcomes
Folks, the only way for you to ever experience God in your life is to step out there and exercise faith. Faith sets you free. Faith is accounted to you for righteousness. In Hebrews 11 we find that you do not see the things you have faith in, nor do you have assurance of them; but it is by conviction that you know they are there. It is by faith we understand God created the universe. It is by faith we believe God made things that were invisible to be things visible – He spoke and it was. It is by faith in the resurrection, although Abraham had never seen anyone resurrected, that Abraham offered Isaac as a sacrifice. Without faith, we know it is impossible to please God and with faith, we draw nearer to God, as we seek Him in faith of His existence and sovereignty. By faith, though no one had ever seen it rain, Noah built an ark over a span of 120 years in obedience to God’s command. Yet here we sit, struggling to be non-conformists with the world around us. I dare say few of us will live to see 120, let alone live 500 years before we even begin, and 350 years after building and sailing in an Ark. Faith, folks–we only need to practice it a few short years here – maybe 80, 90 possibly 100. Noah practiced it over 950 years.
Do you exercise your faith regularly? Are you seen daily as an individual who is different because you live a life that is dedicated to God and not to the next exciting thing you can find in your life?
What does this faith show, though? How is being faithful going to love God?
III. Belief in God (verse 5)
In 1 John 2:22-23 we learned that denying the Son denies God all together. Calvin, in his commentary on 1 John notes, “this is the reason for the previous sentence, that is, we conquer by faith, because we derive strength from Christ…” Where Calvin points to the victory, the “overcoming” of the world, Clark points to the Overcomer; the one who provided the ability to overcome when he writes,
That he is the promised Messiah, that he came by a supernatural generation; and, although truly man, came not by man, but by the power of the Holy Ghost in the womb of the Virgin Mary. The person who believes this has the privilege of applying to the Lord for the benefits of the incarnation and passion of Jesus Christ, and receives the blessings which the Jews cannot have, because they believe not the Divine mission of Christ.”
Ryrie in his very succinct style writes, “Our faith in the Son of God overcomes the world.” Simply put folks, the one who can overcome the world is the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. The one who can overcome the world, is the one who believes in the Messianic power of Jesus of Nazareth. The one who overcomes the things of the world, which are envy, strife, greed, self-absorption, self-desires, distaste for things holy, conceit, and pride–are the people who truly have Christ dwelling within them through the Holy Spirit of God. People who have overcome these things are listening to and seeking God for all their lives, all their desires, all their wants, all their strength in service, and all their priorities in life. Folks, you cannot know the true love of God, and therefore the true victory one can have in Christ, until you give up all you want and give in to all that God wants for you. How can you, knowing that God gave Himself bodily and spiritually for you, even entertain the idea that something is yours to hoard? How can anyone who truly sees the great sacrifice of God even contemplate that they are owed something or even earned anything in life except condemnation, without Christ Jesus?
Folks He gave His all for you, you need to give your all for Him.
Look again at our study for today and Overcoming the World through Christ.
We first looked at the initial requirements for an ability to overcome worldly desires of selfishness and pride. This is given in obedience, our submission to a great God Who first submitted to us. We looked at loving His children, at our loving Him, and that love is best exemplified in obedience to His Word. We also talked about faith in God and the fact that God overcomes all obstacles. We looked at our ability as believers, what we have in us that provides us the capability to overcome the world. Operatively, we consider how this is done in faith, how faith therefore overcomes all things. Finally, we looked at what you call yourself: a believer. We looked at what you claim: belief in God through Jesus Christ our Lord. We considered how you should be operating and overcoming all those things in this world.
Here is a question for you, “How many of you really realize that, as you grow in Christ, you are not supposed to act or look more like people around you; but that you are supposed to act and look more like the Christ Who saved you?” He prayed every moment of every day to the Father for people. He gave of Himself so much that His physical body was routinely exhausted after daily ministering to thousands. How many of us here can say we are ministering, maybe not to thousands, but to more and more people every day at least? How many of us here can say we are depending, truly, on Christ if we don’t even tell anyone about Him? I doubt there was a moment in His life that He did not have the Father on His mind. How many here have gone days without talking about God to a stranger – or even someone you might hang out with? Folks, if your thoughts do not circle around God most of your day – you are nowhere near being able to overcome the world. The world, in fact, is controlling you. It preaches tolerance, yet demands you be quiet about your faith. That demands tolerance for atheism, not tolerance for Christianity.
Will you stand as a soldier who places faith in the One who has already overcome the world? Alternatively, will you cower in a corner and permit your testimony to be guided by the lost? It is simple–if you look and act worldly, you are the one who is defeated. If you look and act Christlike, you are the one who has victory over the world. Either believe in Jesus, or deny Him; but quit being lukewarm or risk being spit out at the judgment (Rev 3:16). What will it be? If you need help in these important life decisions, please contact us.