SOAP Journal – 31 August 2016 (1 John 2:21)

I have not written to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it, and know [that] no lie is of the truth.

1 John 2:21

I find it interesting that John repeats the phrase I have written to you or some variation thereof so often. This is the eighth time the phrase or some variation has been used in this chapter alone. So it is no wonder that this verse caught my attention as I read over it.

The purpose of this writing — why John is writing or has written this letter — is something that John wants clear in my mind. He is writing so that our joy may be made complete (1:4); so that I may not sin (2:1); because my sins have been forgiven … for His name’s sake (2:12); because I know Him who has been from the beginning (2:13); because I have overcome the evil one (2:13); because I know the Father (2:13); because I am strong and the word of God abides in [me] (2:14); and because I know the truth (2:21).

At a glance, these reasons for writing comprise the message of salvation (know the truth and be forgiven my sins for His Name’s sake) and walking as a believer (know the Father, Who was from the beginning, be strong and let the word of God abide in me that I may not sin and might overcome the evil one). And that seems like a great bit of a message to have driven home this morning.

In addition, this verse reiterates something for the believer: you know the truth and can tell truth from lies. John writes with full confidence that his audience can tell the difference between God’s truth and a pretender’s lies. I suspect that he is so confident because he is confident of their ability to discern truth from lies because he is confident that they know the Father and that the word of God abides in them. I heard a story from the days before Monopoly money as currency about how bank tellers were trained to recognize forged bills. The banks would have them handle real bills for a long time. The tellers would get used to the feel and the weight and the sound and everything about genuine currency. From prolonged and intimate exposure to the real, the tellers would readily recognize the fake and not accept them. John seems to have a similar confidence in these believers. He seems to think that they have handled the Real so much and for so long that the fake is obvious to them.

This morning, I am challenged to examine myself. Do John’s reasons for writing apply to me? If no, I need to get those things straightened out.

Father, thank You that You are Truth and that You cannot lie. Thank You that You have put forth Truth in Your Word. Please examine me and communicate Your findings to me that I might know whether or not John’s reasons for writing — forgiven my sins, making efforts not to sin any more, know You, overcoming the evil one, strong, and Your Word abiding in me — apply to me. If they do not, please show me where the deficiency is and fill up what is lacking in me.

SOAP Journal – 30 August 2016 (1 John 2:15-17)

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 its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.

1 John 2:15-17

Immediately preceding this, John wrote about why he is writing this letter (v. 12-14). Prior to that, he wrote about loving one another (v. 7-11). And he opened this chapter with the statement that he wrote these things that you may not sin (v. 1).  So this thought needs to be understood in the overall context of the three preceding thoughts: that John is trying to give me guidance in how not to sin, that he encourages me to love my fellow believers, and that he is writing to people whom he believes know God and are forgiven of their sins and have overcome the evil one.

All of that becomes terribly important when John opens with Do not love the world. The context tells me that John is not talking about people. He has encouraged me to love my brothers and sisters in Christ. The context also tells me why I should not love the world — that I may not sin. If I want to avoid sinning, then my best course of action is to avoid loving the world and the things in the world. What John is talking about — since he is not talking about people — is the world in the sense of life apart from God. The media, in the modern era, plays a large role in the flipping of this script. I saw a meme yesterday that illustrated this point. It was a graph of how much sexual intercourse people have in various relationship states  in reality and in the media. The media would have me believe that marriage will kill my chances at sexual intercourse, while the statistics say the exact opposite. Contrarily, the media makes it seem as if unmarried people are falling into bed with one another left, right, and center and that these liaisons seldom have any adverse consequences. Yet again the statistics tell the opposite story. The world and the things in it include the promiscuity peddled by media outlets. And, while I am thinking of it, the things in the world include the world’s attempts at equality. Paul wrote that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, but that all are equally saved and equally heirs to the grace of God. We are all equally condemned without Christ and all equally saved with Him. That is true equality.

John goes on to write that the love of the Father is not inanyone [who] loves the world. Jesus said it this way: you cannot serve two masters. I cannot love the world and the things it loves and love God and what He loves — the two are mutually exclusive.

Which leads me to wonder what, precisely, defines what is in the world? I mean, preachers have variously defined it over the years. What does John write about it? 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. It boils down to a pretty simple litmus test for me. (1) Is this thing a lust of the flesh? If the thing in question is all about sating an appetite that my flesh has — food, drink, companionship, pleasure — in a fashion that is not condoned by God, then that thing is in the world. (2) Is this thing a lust of the eyes? If this thing could be categorized by me as “a shiny,” then it is likely in the world. Not all “shinies” are inherently bad, but they can easily become so if not kept in their proper place. (3) Does this thing pander to the boastful pride of life? If this thing is all about making me feel better than or more important than or pretty much anything that involves a comparison which casts me in a favorable light — even if I am trying to be more humble than ___, unless the blank is filled in with something like “I was yesterday,” then that thing is in the world.

The danger, John writes, of all of these things that are in the world is that (1) the love of God cannot be in me at the same time as love for these things — the one love casts out the other — and (2) The world is passing away, and its lusts. Not only can I not love God and not properly love my brethren if I love the world and the things in it, but I am loving something that will, definitely and forever, pass away. God does not pass away. My brothers and sisters in Christ do not pass away. This world — all the money and cars and houses and clothes and entertainments and pleasures — is passing away. I can see it happen every day. My car used to be new and amazing and pristine. Now only the amazing remains and even that will one day be gone. She is a noble steed, but every steed passes away eventually. My clothes, comfortable and pleasant as they may be, wear out and fray and eventually tear — usually in embarrassing spots — and are no longer useful. The world tells me that I just need more and better of everything. God tells me that I need more of Him and that He will supply all my needs according to His riches in Christ.

Short application, since it is embedded in the observation of the verses: love God more and stuff less. Loving God more will bring people along for the ride, because He loves them and we tend to love the things beloved by those we love. Love God more. Love things less.

Father, I see clearly what You would have me do and I know that the desiring is present but the acting out is feeble at its best. Please strengthen the hands that are weak guide me into loving You more and loving people more — especially those people whom You have most directly placed in my life to love — and to love things — objects, entertainments, and pleasures of every stripe — less. I do not think it will be easy, but I know that it is needful. Thank You for Your enduring love for me.

SOAP Journal – 29 August 2016 (1 John 1:1)

What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life …

1 John 1:1

It is bad practice to take a verse out of context. It is also not so fantastic to take a part of a verse and start making doctrines from it. This verse is the first in the book, so there is not much in the way of preceding context. And what I see in this verse is not going to change any doctrines, that I am aware of.

John is commonly thought to have written this letter, hence the name of the book, but there is nothing as concrete as in the letters of Paul and Peter to tell me that this is definitely from the pen of John the Beloved. There are some similar thematic elements between this letter and John’s gospel — the focus on love, for example — and, I am told, some similar linguistic constructs — not reading Greek, I could not say — so the likelihood is high that this letter is, indeed, written by John. The audience to whom this letter is written is not explicitly stated, though there are passages that state that the author is writing to little children, fathers, and young men (2:12-14). Essentially, this letter is meant for believers at every stage in life. And that life may be either spiritual or physical, as the things mentioned as pertaining to the three groups are generally spiritual in nature.

With that in mind, what do I see this morning? Verse four (v4) tells me that these things were written so that our joy might be made complete. The things in question begin being described in this verse: (1) What was from the beginning, (2) what we have heard, (3) what we have seen with our eyes, (4) what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life. (1) John speaks of the Word made flesh in his gospel — one of those similarities that make folks think this letter is written by John — and what was from the beginning is God. Nothing else has been around that long. (2) This is not just about God, but about things heard. I can hear about God by reading The Bible and I can hear directly from God Himself. This tidbit does not give me any insight into which is intended. (3) What I have seen is personal experience. While I may have heard about God by reading scripture, a thing must happen to me personally in order for me to have seen it. What the author of this letter is going to be writing about is not hearsay, but is personal experience; eyewitness testimony. (4) As if the preceding was not clear enough, this is added — that these things have been looked at and touched. This implies a thorough examination. This was no cursory glance, but an investigation.

This leaves me with two action items. First, I need to be aware that I can only really testify to what I have personally experienced. If I am not handling God’s Word regularly and am not looking for Him to intervene in my life and seeing that intervention, then I really have nothing to say to others about God. I cannot tell someone about another person’s friend and be credible as a source, I must personally know the One about Whom I am talking. Second, this feels like an invitation to do all of these things: to hear and see and examine and touch. Not only must I have done these things in order to be a credible source when telling others about God, but this sounds like an echo of other places in scripture like the verse that invites me to taste and see that the LORD is good or the verse where Thomas is invited to reach his hands into Jesus’ wounds. God does not want me to stop at a distance and never come close to Him, God invites contact.

Father, thank You that You are not distant, but close. Thank You also, that You are not afraid of my examination, but rather invite it. You want me to hear and see and touch and find out about You personally. Thank You for these things. Please remind me that this is not about rules and regulations, but about a relationship with You. Do This and Do Not Do That is easier to manage than a living, breathing relationship. Rules are such predictable things, but living beings are not. And there is no one more alive than You. Please teach me to be at home with relationship and give me things to recount — times I see Your works and times with You that can be nothing else.

SOAP Journal – 26 August 2016 (2 Peter 3:8)

But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day.

2 Peter 3:8

Just before this verse, Peter wrote about those who mock the promise of the Second Coming and say things like Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation. Even for those who are not mocking the promise, it can sometimes be difficult to understand how God could promise to come “soon” and two thousand year elapse.

What Peter reminds me of is that God’s measurement of time is not the same as mine. Peter gives a couple of comparisons. First, that one day is like a thousand years. Then he flips the script and tells me that a thousand years [is] like one day. I can take this at face value and just figure that time does not mean a great deal to God and I can also look at the figurative language and see what it tells me about what God can do with time.

That one day is like a thousand years tells me God views one day as more than enough time in which to accomplish the miraculous. According to Genesis, it took God six days to make the entire created universe. If God made every living thing in the oceans in a single day, then the problems that concern me pale in comparison to what God has the time to do.

That a thousand years [is] like one day tells me that all of my waiting for things — answers to prayer, deliverance from circumstances, and so on — is not drawn out because of any meanness on God’s part, but because He just reckons time differently. My entire life on this planet will account for less than a day if a thousand years [is] like one day. I mean, if I do the math, I figure that an entire human life is equivalent to about two hours by this scale (1,000 years:1 day ≅ 100 years:2.4 hours). It is comforting.

Father, thank You for this reminder that Your time table is not the same as mine. Thank You, also, that this disparity brings comfort about waiting and about just how much You can do to resolve the things that concern me in any given day. Please bring this to my mind when I feel overwhelmed by the problems I face or when I feel I cannot wait one more moment.

SOAP Journal – 24 August 2016 (1 Peter 4:8)

Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.

1 Peter 4:8

This verse is somewhat self-contained and self-explanatory. It will not hurt my understanding to know that Peter has bracketed this verse with instructions for believers, but it may not help my understanding either.

Peter writes that this instruction is to be done above all, which tells me that anything else he has written is in second place to this. So, whatever other instruction I may read, this is of paramount importance.

What could be so important that Peter would tell me to do it above all other things? Keep fervent in your love for one another. To remain loving toward others is more important than anything else Peter has written, or so this verse implies. This makes sense, as Jesus said that the whole of The Law and The Prophets could be summed up in two commandments: (1) love God with all you are and (2) love your neighbor as yourself.

Peter then answers the question we might want to ask: Why is loving one another so important? Because love covers a multitude of sins. Looking up the words used in the original, I find that this might also be rendered unconditional love (ἀγάπην) covers and puts out of mind a large number of errors, mistakes, and times we just miss the mark. If I want unity in my church, then I should start with unconditionally loving my brothers and sisters in Christ. If I do, then that love will put out of mind a whole mess of mess and I will get along much better with my fellow believers.

God, The Bible tells me that You are this unconditional love that I am supposed to show my fellow believers. This and my own experience agree that I cannot love as I am instructed without You loving through me. Be free to love on my brothers and sisters in Your family through me. Please move aside anything in me that would hinder Your ability to love my brothers and sisters through me and help me to be mindful of ways that I can show Your love to my brethren.

SOAP Journal – 23 August 2016 (1 Peter 3:7)

You husbands in the same way, live with [your wives] in an understanding way, as with a weaker vessel, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered.

1 Peter 3:7

Being a husband, I felt the need to stop and consider this verse.

First, I notice that it begins with the phrase in the same way, which indicates that I, as a husband, am to emulating some behavior. The behavior in question is in the verses preceding. In point of fact, it harkens all the way back to 2:11Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. —and continues forward in a series of instructions to behave in the same way. Slaves and wives and husbands are all instructed to do something in the same way. More, 2:21 tells me that Jesus left me an example for me to follow in His steps. The slave and the wife and the husband are all to be doing things in the same way, which is to say as Christ does.

I am instructed to live with [my wife] in an understanding way … since she is a woman. I know that the original language of this passage had no punctuation to speak of and that the translators added in all those commas, but let me trust the translators for a moment and lift out the weaker vessel aside and address the idea of living with my wife in an understanding way since she is a woman. Much and more has been made both seriously and comically about the differences between men and women in generality. Individual applicability varies, but one thing is consistent: husbands and their wives are not the same person. My wife is not the same as me. She does not think the same way or address difficulties in the same way or love in the same way or … really much of anything in the same way. She is different. And different is good. But different can also be frustrating. The understanding way mentioned comes from the root word gnosis which means to know. I am to know my wife — her quirks, her strengths, her weaknesses, her hopes and dreams and aspirations — and to live with her in that knowledge. This implies that I must study her. Not the way I studied subjects about which I did not particularly care, but the way I studied subjects about which I was passionate. I can still dive into subjects about which I am passionate and spend hours studying them without noticing the passage of time. Can the same be said of how I study my wife?

Now I circle back to the idea of living with her as with a weaker vessel. Vessels of all types are purpose-built. If we are talking about household vessels like bowls and pitchers and whatnot, then their purpose is readily apparent. And it is household vessels which are implied by the word used. The imagery that comes to mind is twofold. First, I get the image of the fine china versus the daily use flatware. Some people have plates and stuff that they only use for special occasions — the fine china or the “good” china — and other stuff that they use every day. The dishes serve the same purpose, the difference is in when they are used and why there is a disparity. The “good” china is supposed to be saved for special occasions so that it is not worn out or damaged by the daily use. The other dishes are often made of more durable stuff and less likely to be rendered unusable by the abuses of daily uses. There are instances where this is, I think, what God had in mind when He had Peter write this verse. The second image I get is of dishes meant for different purposes, but used with the same frequency — drinking glasses and plates, for example. We, if we are not dying of dehydration, are drinking liquids every day. We are also, if we are not starving ourselves, eating something every day. This generally means that a glass and a plate get used every day. The thing is, I can drop both plates and glasses and the dish survive if it hits in the correct way — or they can shatter. Neither is immune, but a glass is generally considered more fragile.

Lastly, I am told to show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that [my] prayers will not be hindered. She is just as saved as I am. She is just as precious in the sight of God as I am. God loves her just as much as He loves me. And I need to let these truths impact my behavior. The audience to whom this was written would have found this thought revolutionary. The First Century world did not generally think of women in this way. Yet God, through Peter, tells believers to behave in a way that would have seemed strange to the people of the time. And the behavior comes with a promise: my prayers will not be hindered. But the inverse is also true. If I do not behave as I ought toward my wife, then my prayers will be hindered.

This verse tells me that I ought to have two consuming passions in my life: my God and my wife. I ought to study them both so as to be intimately acquainted with who they are and how best to please them. I need to be mindful that my wife is not created for the same things as me. She might be a glass while I am a frying pan — both useful and necessary items, but not equally durable. And I need to give her equal honor so that my prayers are not hindered.

Father God, thank You for this reminder. Thank You that I am not told to understand all women, just the one to whom I am married. Thank You that I have the privilege of making both You and her people whom I can study with a will. I confess that I am not always passionate about studying either You or her and I ask that You would forgive me and kindle anew the fires of that passion to learn about both of you. I confess that I am not always mindful that You have created her for a purpose that is not the same as my own and I ask that You would forgive me and remind me regularly that she and I are not the same make and model. Please teach me to be a better husband to the wife; the good thing in Your eyes that You gave given me to care for.

SOAP Journal – 22 Aug 2016 (1 Peter 1:13)

Therefore, gird up the loins of your minds, be sober, fix your hope completely on the grace which is announced to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

1 Peter 1:13

Any verse that begins with therefore begins with a callback to what has just been said. Peter has, immediately preceding this verse, written that our salvation was spoken of by prophets who wanted to more fully understand the prophecy given them by God and into which angels long to look. So, the instruction given in this morning’s verse is given in light of our salvation.

Because I have been saved, I should gird up the loins of [my] mind. The phrase gird up your loins is often repeated in The Bible, but what does it mean? I once encountered a pictorial reference on how an individual would gird up his loins. It was not only instructive in the event I should ever be wearing a long tunic or robe and need to do some heavy labor, but it also shed some light on what the biblical instruction is all about. To do any sort of hard work in a robe, you must gird up your loins or the robe will get in the way. Girding actually consisted of wrapping and tucking and then securing all of the loose material. Which is a great way to understand what Peter is saying here. In light of my salvation, I should wrap up, tuck away, and secure all the loose thoughts in my mind. I have an abundance of errant thoughts, and this instruction tells me that I need to get those thoughts under control. Paul said the same thing to the Corinthian believers when he told them to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.

Because I have been saved, I should be sober. This thought comprises more than merely not being drunk. If that were the full extent of sobriety, then many of us would have this down. But sobriety in the biblical sense meant something more akin to not behaving in the manner of a drunken person. A drunk stumbles around, knocking things over, causing disruption, and generally making a nuisance of himself. He is objectionable to be around by his behavior as well as by his hygiene (or lack thereof) and his emotional instability. To be sober, as The Bible understands it, is to be careful of myself with regard to my behavior and emotional stability. The first instruction was to get my mind under control. This is instruction to get my emotions and my behavior under control as well.

Because I have been saved, I should fix [my] hope completely on the grace which is announced to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. There is a song that says, “My hope is built on nothing less / than Jesus’ blood and righteousness”. That is precisely correct. In light of my salvation — Who saves me and how He does it — I should fix my hope completely on His grace. This is, I think, the natural progression forward from the previous two instructions. I must discipline my mind and my emotions and my behavior and I must remember that there is grace for the times when I fail. And Peter, the man who penned these words, knew a thing or two about God’s grace.

Father, thank You for Your grace that covers my failures. Please help me to discipline my mind and to have control over my emotions and actions, that I might, as the later verses instruct, be holy as You are holy.