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How to Be Sure About What is Right When All Hell Has Broken Loose

1 John 2:24-2:29

We live in times of rapid change. Just this week I’ve been reading about how shopping malls are becoming a thing of the past as people opt to buy everything from dog food to cars and even houses over the Internet. You know, recently Encyclopedia Britannica laid off every single one of its sales staff in North America when it opted to replace its 26 volume book set with a CD ROM and sell it over the Internet. It doesn’t seem like that long ago that I was learning how to use a microwave let alone the internet!!

We live in times of rapid change. And with it comes uncertainty.

As Christians what do we make of this rapid change? What do we make of IVF?, of transplant surgery? Euthanasia? Genetic engineering and cloning sheep? What do we make of single parenthood? Of homosexual marriages and homosexual priests? A generation ago none of these things were common issues. But today they’re prevalent in our society.

In the passage we are looking at today, we discover How to Be Sure About What is Right When All Hell Has Broken Loose.

This was the condition under which the recipients of this letter found themselves. They were not only having to come to grips with the teaching of their new Christian faith, but they also had to deal with false teaching which challenged them. These original believers had accepted all that the Apostles had taught them about Jesus and Christianity, yet now they faced the challenge of charting the waters of their new found faith. And possibly without Apostolic leadership. John was getting old, he didn’t know how much longer he would be with them. He was concerned about their continuing faith.

Even then, as it does today the Christian faith brought radical social changes to the lives of believers. John understood that finding the way forward was sometimes difficult and mistakes were easily made. And so John gives his readers some practical pointers to help believers know how to be sure about what is right when uncertainty reigns.

The believer can be sure about what is right when all hell has broken loose by:

1. Sticking with what Jesus has said (v24-25).

John’s inspired instruction first tells us to,

1JN 2:24 See that what we have heard from the beginning remains in us.

Now John is a man who should fully understand the weight of this seemingly simple instruction. What he’s actually saying is, “When confusion reigns, stick with Jesus; Hang in there.” And these are not just empty words for John. The Apostle is speaking from experience. It is believed that this letter was written by John, the Beloved Disciple, in the later years of his life when he was around 75 - 95 years old. Towards the end of the first century. John’s faith had endured much, not the least of which was the postponed return of his best friend, his Lord and Saviour Jesus.

For all this Apostle knew, Jesus was to return in his lifetime, but he didn’t - yet this fact didn’t weaken John’s faith one iota. How could it? John had walked with Jesus, he had talked with Jesus, he had seen the empty tomb of the risen Jesus, he had spent hours under his instruction. It was this, the instruction of his Lord that John fell back on time and time again.

He even falls back on it here. In v25 he says, “This is what he promised us--eternal life.” John is casting his thoughts back to the verbal promises of Jesus.

Fortunately for John he had first hand experience under the instruction of Jesus. It was easy for him to recall it. But you know, the only difference between John and the 20th Century believer, is that John had the joy of hearing Jesus’ Galilean accent! Because we have the words of Jesus right here in front of us. Through thousands of years, Jesus’ instruction has come down to us as well, and like John we can fall back on it too.

How well do you know your bible? Do we have a knowledge of it to fall back on when all hell breaks loose and confusion reigns and the way ahead seems unclear?

John says, “Stick with what Jesus has said,” “Stay put with him.” When we’re faced with uncertainty we need to ask ourselves, “Is this in accordance with the Christian tradition outlined in the Bible?” When we’re faced with uncertainty need to get back to basics and this will help us discern the truth.

We should note here that by the phrase, “Remain in him,” John is not meaning for us to dwell in the same state or condition, neither does he mean for us to never move forward with the times. To do that would be contrary to the rest of Scripture. It is clear that God wants us to grow and mature. Instead, John uses the word “remain” in this instance, with reference to ‘place,’ ie location. “See that what you have heard from the beginning ‘settles down’ within you.”

But John continues. There’s more to it than simply knowing your Bible. To see the way forward takes more than just a sound understanding of the basics of the Christian faith. He continues,

1JN 2:27 As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit--just as it has taught you, remain in him.

2. Being sensitive to the Spirit’s activity in the community of believers (v26-27).

The second instruction we are given is to be sensitive to the Spirit’s activity within the community of believers. When we’re faced with doubt we need to ask ourselves, “Is this course of action or is this behavior, in accordance with what the Spirit is saying to others within the community of believers to which I am attached, ie what is God’s Spirit saying about this issue to other people in my church?”

The ‘anointing’ that John speaks about here is the gift of the Holy Spirit that comes upon the believer.

Up to the time of Christ anointing had been the privilege of the chosen few, Prophets, priests and Kings. Now, however, it is the privilege of every believer, whoever they are. The gift of the Holy Spirit enabled the chosen to discern the heart of God. Now every believer has that gift. The ability to discern the heart of God.

Yet there is a qualification here. This is an important qualification so listen carefully. When John writes, “As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you,” and “as his anointing teaches you about all things…” He’s not speaking to an individual. He’s speaking to a community of believers, just like those of us here who believe. The word ‘you’ that John uses here is plural, not singular. He’s speaking about an anointing that has been received by a group of people.

As Baptists we have it right when we hold to the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers. It is clear here that as priests did in the Old Testament, so now all believers are anointed with the Holy Spirit; all believers have that equal status as priests - so to speak.

But we miss the mark by a long shot when we understand that doctrine to mean that the individual can discern the heart of God separate from the community of believers to which they are attached.

Many a church has gone astray because they have mistakenly understood that doctrine to condone the emphasis of the individuality of believers. An overemphasis of the priesthood of all believers leads to spiritual pride.

The heart of God cannot be fully understood outside of the community of believers. If you want to know what God is saying, after you have searched the scriptures, you speak to his people.

But you say to me, “it says here, 1JN 2:27 As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. Doesn’t that mean that I can understand the heart of God separate from the church? I don’t need to go to church to understand the heart of God and to hear what God is saying to me.”

My answer to you, if you think that way, is this - What does the rest of the Bible say about teaching and teachers?

MT 28:19-20 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in n the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.

1CO 12:28 And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, etc etc

EPH 4:11-13 It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

COL 3:16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.

1TI 4:11 Command and teach these things.

2TI 2:2 And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.

2TI 2:24 And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.

It is a good, right and natural thing for us to be taught by others within the safe boundaries of the church. Outside of those boundaries, scripture is open to personal interpretation. Essentially what I am saying is that, if we want to correctly discern the heart of God, we need a relationship with each other. The anointing that brought understanding and teaching to the Christians that John is writing to, was a community anointing.

So when we are in doubt we need to ask ourselves, “Is this course of action or is this behavior, in accordance with what the Spirit is saying to others within the community of believers to which I am attached.” We need to seek each other’s counsel.

Of course it’s not only the counsel of one another that we need to seek, but also the counsel of God himself. The third instruction we are given is to,

3. Seek an intimate relationship with the Father, Son and Spirit (v28).

Have you ever been home sick? You know, you’re surrounded by the unfamiliar, and your heart longs to be back home. Oh you may be surrounded by people, you’re not lonely, its just that these people don’t really know who you are and quite frankly, they don’t care who you are. But back home, you have an identity, you are known, you’re familiar to others.

This is the kind of familiarity that John encourages us to know God with.

He says, (v28) “now, dear children, continue in him, so that when he appears [you won’t be surprised by a complete stranger, but instead we will merely move on to a nearer relationship with an old friend and so] we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming.”

John is saying, “If you want to know certainty when uncertainty reigns, when all hell has broken loose, then foster an intimate relationship with God.”

There’s a story about a farmer who repeatedly invited a friend to taste the apples from his orchard. And just as often as he was invited, the friend would decline. Until one day the farmer asked, “What do you have against my apples?” His friend replied, “To tell you the truth, I have already tasted a few of them and they’re very sour.” The farmer then asked which apples his friend had eaten, to which he replied, “The apples that fell along the road over your fence.” Then the farmer understood and he explained how he had planted those trees to fool the local boys. Then he invited his friend to the center of the orchard where he found the most succulent, juicy and sweet apples.

On the edges of Christianity there are some very sour apples such as the conviction of sin, self-denial, and the purity of the lifestyle. But in the middle of the orchard are the delicious fruits of knowing God intimately, and one of those fruits is certainty in the face of uncertainty.

This is why John encourages us here, to “continue” with him; to nurture an intimate relationship with God.

Finally, once we have stuck with Jesus and the basics of the Christian faith; once we have endeavored to be sensitive to the guidance of the Spirit in the community of believers and once we’ve sought an intimate relationship with God, then we can take the fourth and final step in dealing with uncertainty. And that is to,

4. Apply God’s standard to Him, others and ourselves (v29).

1JN 2:29 If you know that he is righteous, you know that everyone who does what is right has been born of him.

When we apply God’s standard, which is perfect righteousness, to God himself we find that only he is perfectly righteous. That is the basic conviction of every believer. And it reassures all who do the right thing that they are, in fact, born of him.

He also says that we can test what people are trying to teach us by applying God’s standard to their lives and observing whether or not their practice, their life, supports what they profess.

Finally we can apply that test to ourselves. Throughout the whole of ch2 John has been saying, “Make it your aim not to sin.” I wonder how many of us make it our aim not to sin, ‘very much?’ Can you imagine a soldier going into battle with aim of not getting hit very much? No, if we want to know the right thing to do when all hell breaks loose, we need to tackle sin in our lives and eliminate it. And we need to identify whether or not there are discrepancies in the lives and teaching of those who are wanting to influence us and so apply the test of God’s standard to them. This will help us discern the truth in the face of doubt.

So there we have it. When we’re faced with uncertainty, when we want to be sure about what is right when all hell breaks loose, we need to stick with what Jesus has said from the very beginning, know the basics of the Christian faith; we need to be sensitive to what the Spirit is saying among the community of believers; we need to seek an intimate relationship with God - to continue with him as with a familiar old friend; and we need to apply the test of the standard of God’s righteousness to God, to ourselves and to those who are trying to influence us. Only then will we know what is right when uncertainty confronts us.

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