Present Hope, Future Victory – The Epistles of John

“Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” (1 John 3:2 ESV)

Having considered John’s three epistles separately, we close our expositions in this series with a unifying summary of 1, 2, and 3 John. While each section of each epistle contains different emphases, all three letters share some commonalities: the same setting, the same applications, and the same hope.

1, 2, and 3 John are all written to first-century believers who were ransacked by apostasy. John writes from the heart of a pastor, giving these believers ways to recognize false believers while leading them to assurance of their own salvation. In addition, he exhorts them how to interact with those who deny the faith.

In each letter, John also stresses the same application – walk in the truth and love one another. Love and obedience are so central to John’s letters that these two characteristics are used to reveal whether an individual truly as eternal life or not.

Finally, the cord of hope winds through each epistle. This hope is found only in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Despite the difficulties of apostasy and false teaching, John’s audience has every reason to have hope because Jesus has defeated Satan, the light has overcome the darkness, and faith overcomes the world!

The theme of Christ’s triumph is something the Apostle John stresses in all his writings, including the Gospel of John and the book of Revelation. Perhaps this inspired insight is what kept John from a depressed countenance and gave him a positive outlook. To be sure, John recognizes – as we should – the despair of apostasy and difficulty, but he does not let these things sway him from the hopeful expectation of the future triumph of Christ. It is precisely this triumph that serves as the grounds of why we love one another, why we walk in truth, and why we have hope and assurance in the midst of trials.

As we ourselves bemoan our current cultural and ecclesial climates, we can be prone to doubts, fears, and anxiety. John’s inspired message is timeless. We serve a Lord who has defeated the very powers of darkness behind these attacks. He has triumphed over the grave and will ultimately triumph in glory. We look to that triumph to press on. Even more encouraging, perhaps, is that while we are waiting with hope for this final triumph, we have present hope right here and now because our Lord is indeed present with us, giving us victories every day.


The Church’s Call to Forgive – Matthew 18:21-35

So far in this sermon in Matthew 18, Jesus employed five accounts to teach Christian disciples how to love: 1) those in the world by limiting our freedom (17:24-26); 2) fellow-Christians with humble service (18:1-5); 3) weaker brethren through self-denial (18:6-9); 4) wandering Christians with relentless concern and outreach (18:10-14); and 5) sinning Christians by confrontation, and if necessary discipline or excommunication (18:15-20). What may be striking to us as we have been studying Matthew 18 is the seriousness with which sin is dealt with. No measure is to be left untaken in our effort to put sin to death in ourselves and in our brothers and sisters in the church. This shows us the importance of our “mission field” within our own local church. Our integrity as a church depends on our placing an equal emphasis on outreach to the world and “inreach” within the church. When we join ourselves to a local body of Christ, we become “our brother’s keeper,” as we strive together to make it to our final destination. So mortification of sin is a group-project, where we help each other to identify and root out sin.

But Jesus does not want to leave us with excommunication as the final word of this sermon – His last word is, forgiveness. In the course of living life together, individuals in the church will inevitably sin against each another. Part of our growth as Christians involves bearing with one another’s different sinful tendencies, and forgiving one another is paramount. In Matthew 18, verses 21-35, Jesus concludes this sermon on how to love one another with a strong exhortation of the absolute necessity for the Christian to forgive. The illustration of the unmerciful servant in our text reveals that forgiveness is so essential to our faith, that if we do not extend it to others, then we will find ourselves under God’s judgment. This parable stands as a warning to those in the church to examine themselves for the damning sin of unforgiveness. This text, along with parallel teaching from the apostle Paul in Ephesians 4:32 and Colossians 3:13, reveals that extending forgiveness to others is a behavior that comes as a result of the heart-change that we receive when we are forgiven our massive sin debt by Christ. It is with an overwhelming sense of gratitude then, that the Christian’s life becomes defined by charitable forgiveness.


The Altar, Sacrifice, and Worship – Exodus 20:18-26

Previously we have witnessed one of the most epic scenes in the Old Testament in Exodus 19:1–20:17. The Lord displayed his awesome presence to the people at Mt Sinai. He also spoke to them from the mountain in what we know as the Ten Commandments. Israel’s reaction was to tremble! They told Moses, “You speak with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die.” Verse 21 concludes, “So the people stood afar off, but Moses drew near the thick darkness where God was.”

In our text in Exodus chapter 20 verses 18-26, the Lord continues to speak with Moses upon the mountain. First, the Lord essentially reiterates the first two commandments concerning having no others gods and making no idols. While we may just pass over this, we must realize that when the Lord repeats something, the people of Israel (and we today) need to pay close attention! Secondly, the Lord continues with instructions for altars, sacrifice, and worship in verses 24-26. The Lord sets guidelines for making altars. While we have seen sacrifice and worship throughout Genesis and Exodus, this is the first time we read a set of rules for making an altar. Back in that time, pagan altars were quite elaborate. But God is very clear that this altar was not to demonstrate the craft of man. Whether it was to be an altar of earth or stone, it was to be constructed simply, thus directing attention to God and not to the work of man’s hand. Also in these verses we find the Lord giving guidelines for sacrifice and worship. He directs Moses to two types of sacrifices upon the altar, burnt offerings and peace offerings. In His mercy, right after giving the Law, which the Lord knows they will break, God makes a way for the people to atone for their sins.

On Sunday we will look at altars, sacrifice, and worship in the Old Testament, but we will also look at these things from a New Testament perspective and see how they even apply to our corporate worship today. It is wonderful to see how revelation progresses in Scripture from the Old to the New Testaments. We have seen it before most strikingly in the Passover in Exodus 12, and we will see it again in our text and beyond as we move forward through Exodus.

The Church’s Call to Discipline – Matthew 18:15-20

In Matthew chapter 18 Jesus employs six illustrations to teach about the nature of love within the church community. The first three call us to a humble and self-denying love that is relentlessly tough on oneself, so as to not damage the faith of others. The last three call us to love one another in a way that demonstrates passion for other individual disciples in the church. As Matthew reports these stories he is sequentially building to the climax in verses 15-20 – what is often referred to as the process of church discipline. Here Jesus teaches the sin-confronting process whereby straying individual disciples are won back into the family.

Jesus describes a four-step process to apply when a wandering disciple strays from an occasional struggle with a weakness, into willfully participating in something that is clearly sinful. When a disciple goes over the line from weakness into wickedness, Christ commands the covenant community around him to confront the individual disciple and urge him to repent. If there is one thing that is very clear in Jesus’ teaching, it is that He is protecting the reputation of the sinning one; He is in no rush to expose sin. The matter is to be contained first between the one in sin and the person confronting him, and then between the witnesses; ample time must be given to repent. Church discipline is not a matter that is to be taken lightly; to do it right requires time, patience, and energy, as love always does. The ultimate goal of this process is restoration and reconciliation. Even if the final step of church discipline is carried out, and a person is removed from fellowship, the church ought to continue to love and pray for his repentance.

“The church” that Jesus speaks of, refers to the local assembly. This is not a reference to the church leadership. Though the elders are involved in the process, it is the assembled church body that takes the responsibility of the final step of discipline. This shows the authority that Jesus entrusts to local congregations. Jesus authorizes the local church to remove (bind) or allow (loose) someone from their communion, and seals that decision with a promise of His presence with the church, and that wherever this “binding” or “loosing” is done on earth, it has the authority of heaven behind it.

The Church’s Call to Relentless Love – Matthew 18:6-17

 It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire. Matthew 18:9

D.A. Carson said, “… precisely because our culture finds it relatively easy to believe that God is a God of love, we have developed notions of God’s love that are disturbingly spongy and sentimental and almost always alienated from the full range of attributes that make God, God.” Sadly, in what Calvin referred to as the “idol factory” of the mind, human beings tend to craft gods who make them comfortable. We readily accept those characteristics and actions that we judge as loving, while rejecting deeds and appearances of harshness. It’s the same with people. If someone is deemed to be “accepting” or “tolerant,” he might be counted as a “loving person;” while a person who confronts or challenges sin in another person’s life, is counted as “judgmental” and “unloving.” Even within God’s attributes, it is difficult for some to reconcile the love of God with His judgment of the wicked in hell. But it is not right to count the doctrine of eternal judgment as unloving, because the most loving Person to walk the earth taught it. And it is the most loving thing one can do, to warn people of the severe consequences that lie ahead of them on their present course. It is unloving to appear “tolerant” while you know a person is headed for his destruction.

On Sunday we will examine a Scripture text from Matthew chapter 18, where Jesus teaches the nature of love within the church community. We are called to love one another in a way that demonstrates passion for the individual disciple in our church. We find first, in verses 6-9, a love that is relentlessly tough on oneself, so as not to damage the faith of others in the church. Secondly, in verses 10-14, we read of a shepherd diligently seeking after one wandering sheep. From this illustration, we discover that love for one another leads us to relentlessly pursue the straying disciple, seeking to restore him to the fold. Then in verses 15-17, Jesus teaches the sin-confronting process whereby straying individual disciples are won back into the family. When we think of love, our minds rarely run to “cutting off limbs” or “announcing sin to the entire church;” but the love that God ordains for His church is one that relentlessly pursues its object until it makes sure that he or she achieves the common goal of the upward call of God, whatever the cost.

The Church’s Call to Self-Denying Love – Matthew 17:24-18:5

… the sons are free. However, not to give offense … Matthew 17:26b-27a

Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 18:4

With verse 24 of chapter 17 of Matthew’s Gospel, we move into another section of teaching that is relevant for our life together as Christ’s church. In these next three chapters (18-20), we will look at congregational ethics (Matthew 17:24-18:35), domestic and monetary principles (Matthew 19), and servanthood (Matthew 20:1-28). God willing, we will cover this section in the next seven sermons, which will contain some very practical lessons about life in the church, at home, and in the work environment.

Coming out of chapters 13-17 with the call to “walk by faith” still ringing in our ears, in this next section we see what “walking faith” looks like among the people of God. In our text for Sunday we will cover the first two of six accounts in chapter 18, that teach how self-denying love: 1) limits personal freedom (17:24-27), and 2) redirects ambition (18:1-5). In the first story about the payment of the temple tax, we learn that “the children (of the kingdom) are free” (vs. 26); however, it is a central truth of Christian love that freedom is limited out of concern of offending others – that is, of driving them away from the Faith. Of course the non-Christian community around us is going to be offended by certain Gospel truths that we uphold. However, in the application of our Christian walk we must be careful that those around us are not stumbling over the political and cultural views that we may count as important, but are personal freedoms and not Gospel truths. In the second story, Jesus uses a child to illustrate the posture of a true Christian’s faith. Self-denying love takes one’s own personal ambition and success and relegates it to a place behind serving others.

In the first account, we see how as Christians, we have been set free to love others. In Christ we become the free servants of others. In the second story we learn that humility is the path to greatness. Both of these anecdotes are so antithetical to the world’s philosophy and way of living. The world sees freedom as a pathway to do whatever one wants; and the world links greatness with personal ambition. We are called to live with an “out of this world” self-denying humility that considers others better than ourselves.

Rejoicing in the Truth – 2 John

“I rejoiced greatly to find some of your children walking in the truth . . .” (2 John 4a ESV)

Truth is of utmost importance and absolute. Coming to understand truth is a privilege. If we have received the truth, we ought to study the truth, proclaim the truth, and guard the truth.

We’ve seen the significance of truth in our expositions in the John’s First Epistle. John was writing to believers who, like us, were threatened with lies from false teachers. John writes to them from the heart of a pastor, warning them about these wolves while assuring them of their standing with God. Reading the epistle inspires even 21st century Christians to defend the truth.

While examining, preaching, and contending for truth are vital disciplines, we must also ask: do we rejoice in truth? The truth that you guard from attack – do you truly love it? The truth you preach to others – does it delight your own soul? The truth that you parse, exegete, and scrutinize – does it bring you joy? Are you encouraged when others walk in truth?

The joy of truth is the spirit of John’s Second Epistle. Though much of the material overlaps with his first letter, the emphasis on rejoicing in truth stands out in the first few verses. Indeed, the epistle contains warnings against false teachers. But we do not start with a defensive or negative posture; rather, in our quest to see the truth of Christ exalted, we begin with a heart that is so captivated by the glorious truth of the gospel, that anything less or anything contrary is automatically spurned. Our hatred for every false way should be a natural outgrowth of our love for what is true.

As we prepare for our brief time in 2 John, let us ask the Lord to search our hearts and reveal our real attitudes toward the truth. Is truth something we use to win arguments, or is it something that has won our hearts? Is truth something we enjoy telling people to obey, or is it really our delight to walk in truth? Does hearing truth conjure up judgmental attitudes about others or does it cause us to rejoice in God? Brethren, let us remain diligent in our study of truth and vigilant in our defense of it, but most of all, let us rejoice in the truth and in knowing the Truth-Giver!