Saturday, April 30, 2005

An email on 1 John 4:16-18

Here is an email I sent to a friend today following a discussion on 1 John 4:16-18. It may not be understandable without knowing the context but I do not think it is worth editing it. Hi Chris, I have had some thoughts which I thought you may like to hear - I may be wrong. However, here goes. Because of our discussion in cell on Thursday, I decided to read 1 John today, and have refined my interpretation of 1 John 4:16-18 which says:
God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. There isno fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. (NIV)
1 John 5:13 tells us the author’s intent in writing this letter and my reading of the letter has confirmed that to me. The author says to the church ‘I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life’. The main theme of the letter appears to be that we can tell the difference between the children of God and children of the Devil because children of God love each other, therefore we should love more, and recognise that our loving shows that the Spirit is within us and so we are God’s. In the light of this I would paraphrase the passage like this:
God is love. Therefore whoever lives a life giving a lot of love is united to God. By being united to God (by the Spirit living and working within us) we love more in both quantity and quality. So we can have confidence that we will be ok on the day of judgment, because in this world now we are like God (because we love like him). There is no fear of punishment for people who love others, because the existence of high quality love in a persons heart means fear of punishment on the day of judgment cannot remain there. The one who fears punishment is not being made by God into someone who loves like him.
Note that the next paragraph in this passage says love of God is always linked to love of others, and that God is the origin of our loving others (it is not something we can claim for ourselves). The main difference between my interpretation of the passage on Thursday and today is that now the word ‘love’ in the passage more often refers to the love of the Christian than of God. It is interesting in how much the themes of 1 John are similar to those of your ‘worship’ on the fruits of the spirit, and our recognising of them in ourselves. This is just what the John is asking the Christians who receive this letter to do, so that they may be more confident of eternal life (and in secondary themes: recognise the children of the Devil; and strive to love more themselves). Surely God was behind this neglected truth (in my experience at least) being raised twice in one meeting. Hope this was helpful, it has given me some food for thought Dave

Monday, April 25, 2005

David Jones and Jonah

This is an odd post for me as generally I find people who try and get a biblical message out of art very annoying. However I was flicking through a book of my brother’s, who is studying art, on wood engraving which had a lot of interesting engravings in it –it was truly amazing. I came across this one by David Jones (early twentieth century poet/artist, find out more here) with a naked figure surround by a bit of swirling art if you know what I mean and a halo round his head. My first thought was that it was some picture of Jesus, and as someone very anti pictures of Jesus (graven images and all that) and that finds religious artwork universally disconnected from reality I wasn’t interested. Then I noticed he seemed to be drowning and there was a boat nearby; I looked at the caption and it said it was from an illustration of the book of Jonah! It was illustrating his being thrown out of the sinking boat going to Tarshish. I couldn’t help thinking that for Jonah to have a halo and look so like Christ was very very weird. But thinking what must have made the artist do that has been very encouraging (whether I have understood his thinking or not). Jonah was a rubbish follower of God and pretty evil, and in this seen was being disciplined by God (although there was other things going on as well). But despite all this he was holy, all thanks to God’s favour and Christ’s blood. As a rubbish and evil follower of God too, it has been really great to think about this. Sadly the picture doesn’t seem to be on the Internet so I can’t show it here. Still I doubt anyone will ever read this post so it doesn’t really matter.

Evangelism as proclamation

On the way home from town today I passed a street preacher, which reminded me about something I had intended to post on after cell last Thursday. I used to get quite cross with these street preachers because I thought it was not a good advertisement for the gospel and was just an awful way to communicate it, as no one really listens. Recently though I have sympathised with them a lot more. My thinking on evangelism solidified a bit during cell last Thursday (which was on personal evangelism). There are a number of possible reasons for this but they no doubt include the following:

  1. My recent history. An incredible frustration post-university that there are so few opportunities to talk to people about God, and that the ways we are always told to do it (living a holy life to provoke questions) are very hard for ordinary sinful human beings. As a former student very influenced by UCCF style Christianity, it is hard to live with people who don’t ask questions like students do. Coupled with this is that God seems to be doing so little in the lives of the non-Christians in my family that I care about so much.
  2. God deserves better. Karl Barth, Lesslie Newbigin, and supremely the bible seem to picture evangelism primarily as proclamation. You tell people what God is like, what he wants, and what is on offer and people react how they like. But God deserves to be proclaimed/shouted, not to be mentioned in a conversation which gets round to what you do on a weekend. This back-foot proclamation that seems to dominate western Christianity seems to be so inconsistent with its content that it virtually denies it in itself. Much like how Newbigin talks about the nature of our life is the “hermeneutic of the gospel” to encourage holy living and a social concience; the actual context of the message is also of huge importance to how it is understood by the Non-Christian.
  3. Not just God but Non-Christians ‘deserve’ better. A passage, which constantly haunts me, is Ezekiel 3, which talks about a watchman who fails to warn the inhabitants of the city that disaster is coming. Verse 18 and 19 give a flavour: When I say to a wicked man, 'You will surely die,' and you do not warn him or speak out to dissuade him from his evil ways in order to save his life, that wicked man will die for his sin, and I will hold you accountable for his blood. But if you do warn the wicked man and he does not turn from his wickedness or from his evil ways, he will die for his sin; but you will have saved yourself. It is rare that you hear about wickedness today, but as a Christian I have to think about this subject and how to tell people about it in a loving and humble way, both with regard to them AND with regard to God.

In the light of these thoughts, how do I do evangelism in the world in which I live, in a way consistent with who God is? It seems clear to me that the street preacher hasn’t got it right in today’s culture, but there is something to be said for him.When I think about it I have known people who seem to have done it right, interestingly it seems very connected with their passion for God. Seek ye first The Kingdom of God…?