1 John 2:15-29
One of the things I really struggle to understand these days is how a US president can seem to lie with impunity. One of the things he rails against is fake news and how the media doesn’t report the real situation. Meanwhile, he doesn’t appear to see the irony of him not telling things as they are either. I read a recent report from a reputable newspaper which has been tracking his lies or half-truths and so far they’re up to 604. Some of them are quite minor (e.g. getting the time of something wrong), but others are substantial. My issue is that while there are some calling him to account, there are others who either rationalise his behaviour or don’t seem to bother about it at all. On the other hand, we see from today’s passage in John’s letter that he’s intensely interested in truth and lies and instructs believers accordingly.
Let me say one thing before we start: as I’ve said before, I wish John would write more plainly and simply! I find his language somewhat convoluted and obscure (e.g. v. 27) and rarely find his meaning obvious on first reading. If that’s your experience too, you’re not alone. If you have no trouble reading John and it’s crystal clear, all power to you and perhaps I’ll read it with you next to me in future!
Let’s first remind ourselves why John was writing:
1 John 5:13 (NRSV) 13 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.
So that you may know you have eternal life i.e. so that in this life you can already know and begin to experience the life of the new heaven and new earth yet to come. We’ll consider this passage in the light of this purpose.
A Hindrance to Eternal Life: Love of the World [15-17]
Here’s a summary in my words of what John says in this passage: you can’t love the world and the Father at the same time; it’s one or the other. If you love the world, you won’t experience eternal life here and now because the things you love are going to pass away.
World and Worldly
Because of my evangelical upbringing, ‘world’ and its associated ‘worldly’ are flag words for me because I think what passed as being worldly really missed the point and wasn’t what John would have had in mind. In my upbringing, ‘the world’ would have been associated with things like dancing, movies, cards, food and drink and most forms of entertainment. Narrow definitions of worldliness almost made it as though pleasure itself was a sin. But God gives us many things in the world to enjoy, and I’m sure he takes pleasure in us enjoying his good gifts. John would have had in mind something far more significant: those things within the world that stand in rebellion to God, the things that draw us away from him.
Loving the World
The issue is not the things in themselves, but loving the world and its things. In the previous section, John told us what it is to love God: very simply, we show our love for God by doing what he commands . As I’ve prepared this sermon, I’ve wondered if the same reasoning applies in regard to loving the world: i.e. we show if we love the world by doing what it commands. How can the world ‘command’ anything? It’s quite clear that God as God has every right to command anything he wants. But it seems a little incongruous to think of something impersonal like ‘the world’ commanding anything. But let’s consider what John says.
His brief definition of the world and worldliness covers three things: desire of the flesh, desire of the eyes, pride in riches —none of which comes from the Father. Note the focus: none of the things covered in his definition are about actual physical things in the world or things we might do in the world, but rather are about desire and pride. Any time we get to thinking that these things don’t make any commands or demands of us once they have their tentacles in, then we are well and truly kidding ourselves. There’s no doubt they draw us away from the Father because they actually command our allegiance. They become idols—things we worship instead of God—and as such we cannot love them and the Father at the same time. Ultimately the things of the world don’t last and so love of them is futile; they will pass away. On the other hand, those who do the will of God live for ever i.e. will already begin to experience in this life the life of the age to come.
A Hindrance to Eternal Life: False Teachers
A further hindrance to experiencing eternal life and here and now is following false teachers, referred to by John as antichrists.
Antichrist is another flag word for me, once again because of the attention paid to it by certain sectors of the Christian faith.
Put the word into Google search and it will come up with something like 11.2 million hits. But rest assured—numerous ones have worked out exactly who or what the antichrist is: it’s the pope/papacy. You can rest easy now! Somehow I doubt that’s what John had in mind. Apart from anything else, he was speaking in present tense, not referring to a person or institution of the future. Here’s John’s definition of the antichrist: someone who denies that Jesus is the Christ and thereby also denies the Father . This passage is not about the antichrist, but about many antichrists, antimessiahs, those who are actually against the messiah.
What does John have to say about the antichrists? Here’s one of the really sad things: they originally fellowshipped with the believers . The even sadder thing was that even though they did that, they never really belonged , and that was shown by the fact they left to spread their teaching elsewhere. If they truly belonged, they would have stayed there .
What characterised them as antichrists was their denial that Jesus was the Messiah. That could have been something they actually taught e.g. they could have simply seen him as a good man but not the Messiah (possibly because they could have had trouble reconciling his crucifixion). Or, it could have been that they showed they denied Jesus as Messiah by running after other self-proclaimed messiahs who were around in that era—and there was probably no shortage of them, just as there isn’t today.
They were also liars  and deceivers .
On the other hand, the ones to whom John was writing knew the truth . They were indwelt by the very Spirit of God  who enabled them to know all the things they needed to know to remain in the truth [21, 27]. They had been taught about Jesus from the beginning of their faith and church. While they continued to abide in that truth they were equipped to pick a lie from truth and would not be deceived. Perhaps this is a way of saying they had everything they needed to discern truth from error, something vital in the life of the church. In so doing, they would also abide in the Father and son i.e. have fellowship with them, and so experience eternal life here and now [24, 25].
Three further comments.
Firstly, all of what John wrote equally applies for us. Don’t get sucked into some of the prevailing teaching about the antichrist by those who figure they have the second coming of Jesus all mapped out. I remain entirely unconvinced of their arguments and believe that even though they claim to be people of the scripture (and I don’t doubt their sincerity), I fear they actually use the Bible in ways unintended. Meanwhile, it becomes all too easy to miss the antichrists all around us, perhaps even some within the church. In ways and degrees unprecedented for preceding generations, we are relentlessly bombarded with words, sounds and images which play to the desires of the flesh, eyes and riches. It is so easy to become ensnared by idols, and so effectively deny Jesus and the Father.
Secondly, because the church isn’t immune from antichrist people and teaching, we are in constant need of discernment. There is so much out and about that is not truth e.g. guest on Jim Bakker show. We have the Spirit, we have the scripture, and we’ve been taught i.e. we have all we need to discern error from lie.
Finally, as we abide in Jesus and live in a way that reflects his truth, we have no need to fear being shamed when Jesus returns . Any sense of fear we might have would often be associated with shame over what we’ve done or not done, as well as its associated judgement. But John says we can be confident at his coming i.e. we don’t have any cause to feel nervous about standing before him. I was listening to a podcast yesterday and the guy was talking about judgement, which we often see in relation to punishment i.e. you do the crime you do the time. But, according to the podcast, judgment in the scripture has more to do with restorative justice rather than punitive i.e. judgement is made in regard to what needs to be done to restore what’s been taken away, to set things (and especially relationship) right again. Abiding in Jesus is about relationship with him, so there will be no cause for shame at his coming. How liberating is that!! That is what it is to experience and know eternal life.