See what love the Father
has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is
what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did
not know him. 2Beloved, we are Godís children now; what we will be
has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is
revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. 3And
all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.
4 Everyone who
commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. 5You know
that he was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no
sin. 6No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen
him or known him. 7Little children, let no one deceive you. Everyone
who does what is right is righteous, just as he is
righteous. 8Everyone who commits sin is a child of the devil; for
the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The Son of God was
revealed for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. 9Those
who have been born of God do not sin, because Godís seed abides in
them; they cannot sin, because they have been born of God. 10The
children of God and the children of the devil are revealed in this
way: all who do not do what is right are not from God, nor are those
who do not love their brothers and sisters.
11 For this is
the message you have heard from the beginning, that we should love
I want to start
this morning with a paradox. And the paradox is this: can a sinner be
It's a silly question, right? I mean, can a circle be a square? Can the
Pope be Jewish? Can a cat be simultaneously alive and dead at the same
time? Well, if you're SchrŲdinger's cat, evidently you can. That's an
old quantum-physics problem (if you've not heard that before, find a
high-school student to explain it to you, because I can't :).
And I ask that question because we just heard in our text from 1 John
that no one who abides in him sins. Those who have been born of God do
not sin because God's seed abides in them. They cannot sin, because they
have been born of God. Did you know that? You cannot sin! Hallelujah!
But this same author, in the first chapter, says "If we say that we have
no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we say that
we have not sinned we make him a liar and his word is not in us".
So which is it? Is this some kind of trick question? Is it a
philosophical riddle hidden in the text?
Claiming that the followers of Jesus are sinners who do no sin sounds
about as plausible as suggesting that Congress is made up of politicians
who do not lie :) As you ponder that possibility, I want to explore with
you some of the background of this tax from the first letter of John.
And I invite you this week to read the entire text, because we are going
to spend the next couple of Sundays in it. So read 1 John -- it's not a
long text, about 5 chapters, takes about 4 pages of your Bible. So read
that, and meditate with me this week as we reflect on this letter.
Now, a little background. There are 3 letters of John, very cleverly
named in the New Testament -- 1 John, 2 John, and 3 John :) And after
much scrutiny, scholars over the last 100 years or so have concluded
three things about these three letters, particularly about this first
letter of John.
First of all, they're not arranged chronologically. 1 John is not
necessarily the first of the three that was written, but it's first
because it's the most significant of the three, the longest of the
three. Secondly, the first letter of John has none of the standard
conventions of a letter. Compare it to the Apostle Paul's letters, which
typically start out with "I, Paul, an Apostle of the Lord, greet you,
the church in Corinth", etc. 1 John has none of those standard
conventions of an ancient letter, so scholars have concluded that it's
not a letter at all. It's more of a religious tract on the meaning of
Christian love. Third, the author is anonymous. Nowhere does it actually
claim to be written by John. It's come to be associated with John in the
late 2nd century because of the similarities of the themes of the text
to the Gospel of John.
So, if you're paying attention, though we call it the 'first letter of
John', it's none of those things. But fortunately the authority of
scripture does not depend on the titles given by the later editors who
assembled our New Testament for us.
We also know a few other things about this religious tract, written
anonymously for the ancient as well as the present church. First of all
that is was quoted by other Christian authorities in the 2nd century,
which gives evidence indicating it's acceptance by the early church as
an authoritative witness to the Gospel message.
And as I indicated earlier, there are
many similarities to the Gospel of John, which would suggest that if not
written by the same author, that it came out of the same community, what
scholars often call the "Johannine school", or tradition, or community.
A school of John's people, so to speak. Quite likely a community formed
around that beloved Disciple named in the gospel of John (actually not
named in the gospel of John, just called the 'beloved disciple', who we
assume to be John the Disciple of Jesus). And then a community formed
around this group and developed this literature.
There are a few scholars that even believe this 'non'-letter of John
actually might be older than the Gospel of John. It's hard to tell, the
letter never quotes the Gospel of John, even though it has many
similarities. Most scholars, however, have concluded it's more likely a
decade or two after the Gospel of John was written. So probably right
around the year 100.
Most importantly, though often ignored, is that it is written within the
context of the Greco- Roman world, not the context of Jewish Palestine
with which we're typically more familiar because of the Gospels. And
that is significant, because within that world (as those of us saw on
our World of Paul pilgrimage a year ago), the worship of other gods in
that world -- Mars, Jupiter, Apollo, and most importantly, Augustus --
that that was not simply a matter of religious preference, as one might
choose a church because you really like it's music. Or you might choose
a church because you like the liturgy and the ritual and the mystery. Or
you might choose a Disciple church because you're drawn to the charisma
of the preacher :)
Well, in the 1st-century Mediterranean world, one's loyalty to the Roman
Empire was closely connected to one's loyalty to the Gods. Now, it's a
good thing we have nothing like that today :)
So in other words, the church rose as an alternative to, and quite
likely in opposition to, the organized religion of church and state of
that time. Thus, when John writes "The reason the world does not know us
is that it did not know God", he is challenging one of the basic
foundations of that society -- everyone knew their Gods. Just not this
By the way, it's in that context -- and only in that context -- of the
late 1st-century that the Revelation of John (which also comes out of
this Johannine community or tradition), makes sense. Whereas Revelation
was written to counter the corruptive power of the original evil empire
(so to speak), the Roman Empire, 1 John appears to be directed not at
those opposing forces outside the church, but rather those inside the
Namely, what John calls the 'antichrists' (and note it's plural in this
text, not singular). There's not one evil being that's out to destroy
the world and us, but rather those who were a part of the followers of
Jesus who, John says, have now corrupted the message and have turned
against Christ. Hence the "antichrists".
Does that sound familiar at all? You know, those who take Jesus' message
of love and acceptance and turn it into a message of hate and judgment
against gays or immigrants. Those who take Jesus' message of peace and
nonviolence and turn it into a war against other religions and nations.
Such do not belong to us, says John.
And so he writes, because of these deceivers, he calls them, who have
corrupted the message of Christ.
Now, granted when we read a text like this non-letter of John, we have
to keep in mind we're only hearing one side of the debate. We're just
hearing John's perspective. It's like deciding you know what President
Obama believes because you've listened to the Republicans tell you what
he believes. Or you know what Mitt Romney believes because you listen to
what the Democrats tell you he believes, right?
We all know the truth lies somewhere in-between. But those who are on
the winning side of this debate from the 1st-century church are the
authors of the New Testament. And unlike politicians, I do take their
word for gospel, even as I read carefully between the lines for some of
the nuances and suggestions of what their opponents might say.
So here is the opposing argument, as best as we can surmise, that John
is refuting: by taking away sin, they say, Christ has made sin
meaningless. And therefore how one lives their life is basically
unimportant. See, what one does in the flesh does not matter. All that
matters is one's belief. Possessing the correct doctrine. So their motto
might be: "Believe in Jesus, and do as you please".
Sound good to you? In other words, faith has nothing to do with
morality. Now, that's not as wild and far-fetched as it sounds. Because
in the ancient religion of that Roman world, whether or not one
succeeded as a merchant or a warrior -- even as a criminal -- was
determined by paying sufficient homage to the Gods. If you paid the
homage, then God would protect you, look out for you, no matter what it
was that you did.
So how else do you explain why the good suffer and the bad prosper? It's
because they paid their dues to the Gods. So success is determined not
by 'right living', but by backing the right God. And I ask you -- is
that really all that different from what many people believe today? That
being right with God is not about how we live, but where we worship.
It's not about what we do, but about what we say.
Now, it's not unusual for social
issues to appear in the Sports pages. Have you ever noticed? Drug use,
sexual misconduct, racism. You read about those things in the sports
pages from time to time. But I have to tell you, I was rather surprised
this week to read in the sports section that world peace has been
suspended for 7 games by the National Basketball Association! Did you
I didn't know that we had achieved world peace, let alone that the NBA
had the power to suspend it! I mean, if you thought that professional
basketball games were rough before, wait until you see how they're
played now, without world peace. Thank heavens it's only 7 games, I
mean, where would we be otherwise :)
Come to find out, "World Peace" was formerly the Defensive Player of the
Year known as Ron Artest. Yeah, changed his name. He plays for the
Lakers. He gave an opposing player a concussion with a rather vicious
elbow to the head. He changed his name in September, he said "To inspire
and to bring youth together all around the world". How nice.
I suspect that James Hardin (they guy who took the elbow), who was the
victim of his ballistic elbow, would probably prefer that he inspire his
body to come together all around the basketball court. This would be, by
the way, the same player who holds the record in the NBA for the longest
suspension for on-court misbehavior. You may remember this, about 5-6
years ago in a game with the Indiana Pacers, there was a big brawl. The
refs had to actually stop and cancel the game, it was never finished.
Then Ron Artest punched-out a fan who had thrown a drink at him. Only,
the fan he punched-out was not the one who had thrown the drink, he was
an innocent by-stander. At any rate, suspended 86 games. This is the
same player suspended 10 times in his career, also sentenced to 20 days
in jail for domestic violence. So his off-court behavior is evidently
similar to his on-court behavior.
And he says in his own defense he was raised in a rough neighborhood in
Queens, and he once witnessed a fellow player stabbed to death on the
basketball court at a YMCA game. And therefore he's used to playing
rough, it's just part of his culture. His name-change to "World Peace"
last fall was supposed to signify a new image, he turned over a new
leaf. World Peace is his last name, his first name is "Metta", which is
a Buddhist name meaning "Loving, kindness, and friendliness toward all".
Asked what the Lakers would do without World Peace, my cousin, Kobe
Bryant (you have to know Kobe to appreciate the humor of that :), said
"We have reactivated Global Harmony, formerly known as Shaq O'Neal". I'm
not making this up! OK, I made up that last part about Shaq. But the
rest of it is all true.
You'd think if you were going to adopt a name like "World Peace", you'd
want to walk the talk. And that is precisely the point of this text.
Sure, we all have our sins, like World Peace. We're human. But if we are
going to be children of God -- and John says we are, we are children of
God -- we have to live by a higher standard. His claim that those born
of God do not sin is not a statement of fact, it is an appeal to
Now, whenever you hear some leader proclaim "Such and such is not what
we do here", you can bet it's because "such and such" is what someone
did there, right? Members of the Secret Service are held to the highest
professional standard. Except when they're in certain countries of
Central America, right? Marines do not engage in conduct unbecoming of
Marines and the U.S. Government. Except when they get a little
over-zealous when celebrating a kill of their Taliban opponents.
Christians born of God do not sin.
Except, when they do.
The point is not that the followers of Jesus are any better than anyone
else, but rather that when we adopt Jesus we adopt the way of Jesus and
accept the responsibility to live by that higher standard.
And what is especially striking this text from this non-letter of John,
in all of the authors efforts to convince us to live by this higher
standard free of sin, though he speaks of the devil, he never speaks of
hell. Though he speaks of eternal life, he never speaks of eternal
damnation. Read it for yourself, check it out.
The worst he can say for the world and its sinful ways is that it will
pass away -- not that the world is going to come to an end, but that the
sinful way of the world will pass away, the Kingdom of God will come.
And the motivation, then, that he gives for avoiding sin is not the fear
of judgment, but love for others that comes from God. What kind of a
world do you want to live in? One that is motivated by fear? Or one that
it is motivated by love?
I'm convinced ethics driven by fear of consequences to oneself are
morally bankrupt. They are rooted solely in one's self preservation. And
that's the biggest problem I have with the philosophy of Ayn Rand that
is behind so many of the anti-tax activists calling for smaller
government, is the ethical model is driven by self-interest and material
gain, which I find contrary to the Gospel as expressed in this text.
John gives us another model -- ethics driven by love instead of by fear.
As children of God, we do the right thing not for our own benefit, but
because of love, following the example of Jesus.
Sin is inconceivable to us, then, because sin is foreign to love. When
you love someone, you will not harm them. Like that bumper-stickers
says, "When Jesus said Love Your Enemies, he probably meant do not kill
"See what love God has given to us. That we should be called children of
God. For this is the message we have heard from the beginning, that we
should love one another."
If we do, if we truly love one another, we will not harm our brothers
and sisters, be they Christian or Muslim or Jew or Buddhist or Hindu or
If we love one another, we will work to end the practice of torture by
this government and by all governments.
If we love one another, we will find a safe place for the homeless to
be, to eat, and to sleep in this community.
If we love one another, we will put an end to the bullying and
harassment, and treat each person with respect and dignity as a child of
We will do this not just for ourselves. We will do this for God, because
of the love that God has shown us in Christ.