The Christian apologist Francis Schaeffer said the Christian community was the greatest apologetic for the Christian faith. When the community of faith is living in light of its acceptance by God, it welcomes all types of people into its midst to love and serve. I would like to qualify Schaeffer’s statement a bit. “The Christian community can be the greatest apologetic for the Christian faith.” I say can be because how many of us have been hurt by people in the church? How many times have you heard someone talk about the hypocrites in the church? How many times have you heard someone say they haven’t been to church for years because of how they were treated by the church?
The great potential of the church’s love and fellowship means there is great responsibility and a grave opportunity to destroy someone’s faith. Read throughout the New Testament and you will see this thread of threat throughout. Jesus said, “Woe to the one who causes one of these little ones to stumble, it would be better for a millstone to be tied around his neck and thrown into the depths of the sea” (Matt 18.6). The Apostle Paul says this much in 1Corinthians 8. And the same idea in Romans 14.
We live in a world of hyper-individualization.
- We don’t want people getting in the way of our dreams and aspirations and spirituality. Of crowding out our personal time. We want community when it’s convenient. Yet, this morning we see that we are interminably tied to others.
- If we try to free ourselves from others, then we risk undoing the very threads of our faith.
There is an old hymn by John Fawcett called “Blessed Be the Tie That Binds.” In it, he writes
Blest be the tie that binds
Our hearts in Christian love;
The fellowship of kindred minds
Is like to that above.
What we find is that we are tied to each other, like a family. This tying together can either bring much joy and preserve us from drowning, or it can be the very cause for our drowning.
My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. 2 He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. 3 And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. 4 Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, 5 but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: 6 whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.
1John 2:7 Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word that you have heard. 8 At the same time, it is a new commandment that I am writing to you, which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. 9 Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. 10 Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. 11 But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.
1John 2:12 I am writing to you, little children,
because your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake.
13 I am writing to you, fathers,
because you know him who is from the beginning.
I am writing to you, young men,
because you have overcome the evil one.
I write to you, children,
because you know the Father.
14 I write to you, fathers,
because you know him who is from the beginning.
I write to you, young men,
because you are strong,
and the word of God abides in you,
and you have overcome the evil one.
1John 2:15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. 17 And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.
1John 2:18 Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. 19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. 20 But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge. 21 I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and because no lie is of the truth. 22 Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. 23 No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also. 24 Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father. 25 And this is the promise that he made to us—eternal life.
1John 2:26 I write these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you. 27 But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in him.
1John 2:28 And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming. 29 If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him.
Every single one of us has a family. By virtue of being born, you have a family. A family is not merely your biology, it is the very heart of who you are. In the family you learn what is good and bad. You learn how to view the world. You learn how to navigate in that world. You learn economics, politics, religion, faith, the foundational elements of who you are.
For some of us, this is a comfort. For others of us, our families are sources of the greatest pain in our lives. Words said by a parent still echo in our ears from decades ago. Manipulation or abuse or negligence or criticisms leave indelible marks on our skin and souls. You don’t get to choose your family. But the Gospel of Grace opens up a whole new door to family.
When told that his mother and brothers were outside—presumably trying to keep him from acting like a madman in their town—Jesus looked around at those who were with him and asked, “Who are my mother and brothers?” And he answered, “These are. The ones that do my Father’s will.”
Just as we considered last week that the Christian life is a continual walking in the light—of fellowship with others. And by virtue of living life with others, we live life with God. Our passage this morning gives us another layer to what it means to be in community. In this new family we learn what it means to truly live. We learn what the innermost part of our being ought to look like as we navigate the world around us.
First, in order to truly embrace and appreciate this family that God has given us, we need to understand what’s at stake. Look at the second half of our passage. Verse 15: Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
But the world was made good and we are to celebrate God’s activity in his world?!? What does John mean when he says this? He defines what he means in the next two verses. The “world” as John explains it is everything that is antithetical to the self-giving God. Desires of the flesh. Desire of the eyes. Pride of life. Because this desire for puffing ourselves up finds its goal in making us look good, this desire…this kingdom will crumble and pass away.
This is the primary temptation we face in this life—to live lives of self-promotion or of self-giving. To reflect the Serpent in the Garden or the Son on the Cross.
This is how John can seamlessly move into his talk about antichrist in Verse 18. // There have been so many theories as to whether this or that political figure is Antichrist. Once Christ was resurrected, the period of time called The Last Days began. You may hear many people say, “I think we’re in the Last Days.” The truth is, since the Resurrection we have been in the Last Days. It is a period of time the Bible uses to say we are in the time before the Final Last Day when Christ returns physically.
Since this is the case, there is not merely one Antichrist. In fact, if you’ve tried to surmise that Hitler or Mussolini or any other figure was the Antichrist, the answer is all of the above. Look at the last part of Verse 18: Many antichrists have come. And then Verse 22. All these antichrists fall under the umbrella of the Spirit of Antichrist who denies [the deciding factor…not how many people he or she killed]. Everyone who denies that Jesus is who he said he was. The Christ. The Son of God.
What are all these antichrists trying to do? They are trying to not only get you to disbelieve that Jesus is the Christ, but they are trying to pull you away from the very place you get that kind of nourishment. We see this in Verse 19: They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.
Those who are truly Christians will remain in Christ. And we see here that those who are truly Christians will remain in fellowship with other Christians. Not just peripherally so, but integrated and sharing life together. Not a, “Yeah, I’m a Christian. I identify with them. But not involved in any real way in the life of a community—or they involved in your life.
Remember how last week I mentioned that to many in our culture, church is an accessory to their Christian lives. This does not seem to be John’s understanding! He is at pains to show that you are in a family. And if you cease to come to dinner or to go fishing or to clean the kitchen or to fill the car up with gas, then you aren’t really in the family.
Throughout our passage the words of family are everywhere. From Verse 1: My little children and Father. The entire song in the middle of our chapter (vv.12-14) highlights this familial aspect.
A lot of times when the honeymoon of being at a church wears off, people take off. They don’t stick around. When their wrinkles and pains are at risk of being exposed…or when they see those in another. Instead of seeing these things being brought to light as grace. Instead of seeing these uncomfortable conversations as the very means God wants to conform you. We sneak back into the dark. To the comfort of being hidden. We all say we want community. But when it comes down to it, few of us are willing to take the risk.
Being in the family of God exposes where our true allegiances reside. Our obedience is not done in order to be in the family of God. Rather, our obedience is a sign of and a living out of the truth of our being born again into the family of God.
There is here a warning for all of us. There is a great risk to us to water down or to make light of what it means to be in the family of God. Because we readily speak about our sin here, it can be very easy to become complacent in our obedience.
Look at all the language of obedience John uses: Verse 3: We know God if we keep his commandments. But look also at Verse 5: Whoever keeps his word, in him the love of God is perfected—or brought to its intended goal. We ought to walk as he walked. Our obedience is not done in order to win God’s favor. It’s a life that is lived as it was meant to be.
This was the intent from the beginning in the Old Testament. God graciously gave his Law to teach people how he intended them to navigate his world. We will talk more about this next week.
For today, though, we are called to strive toward love toward one another. Instead of running away or avoiding others when awkward circumstances come up, we are being told that this is the very means God uses to hem us in.
Illustration: The difference between dating and being married.
Think about it this way. We are the most free and vulnerable and honest and ugly with our families. This is not to explain it away as though being mean to your family is acceptable. Rather, I want us to realize that the reason we can be vulnerable and honest and ugly is because we know that our family is not going anywhere. They’re stuck with us.
But look at this on the flip side. The benefit of being intertwined into a family is so that the true and vulnerable you can come out. You don’t have to constantly hedge your comments. You can speak freely. You can love and struggle freely. Because you are in a family. Family also has the opportunity to point out those discrepancies between who you are and what you do. I submit to you: This community that God has given you is the means for your becoming more like Jesus. Don’t treat her as an accessory. Nourish these relationships. If you don’t know somebody, ask them to coffee or to dinner. Risk being vulnerable. This is a safe place to have sin pointed out. Look around. Every single person in here sins.
After all, we ought to strive for obedience…but we all must remember the very first verse of our passage today: My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. That’s the goal. To reflect Christ-likeness.
But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. 2 He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. We rest on Christ’s work and on his alone. This gives us the freedom to mess up.
We seek to lives lives of congruency with what we believe and what we do. The family of God. This family of God is God’s means to help you.
So in order for the Church to be the greatest apologetic for our world, we need to press into life together. We need to help each other and not leave each other to wallow in our sin. Instead of drowning us, may the Lord use the tie of forgiveness as the buoy for our lives.