I John 1:8-2:11
1:8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.
2: 1My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. 2 He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.
3 We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands. 4 The one who says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in them. 5 But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: 6 Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.
7 Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning. This old command is the message you have heard. 8 Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and in you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining.
9 Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates their brother [or sister] is still in the darkness. 10 Anyone who loves their brother [or sister] lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble. 11 But anyone who hates their brother [or sister] is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness. They do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them.
This reading comes from the First Letter of John, which is a letter that doesn’t get that much attention in the church of our time. In fact, there are three letters from John, and none of them really gets that much attention. The second and third letters are very short and written to people in very specific circumstances, which probably contributes to their relative obscurity.
But they clearly deserve some attention, because they are understood to have been written by the apostle John, the author of the Revelation and in some sense responsible for the Gospel of John. I put it that way because some scholars think the Gospel of John may have been compiled after John’s death by his disciples – from the things John had passed along to them from his time with Jesus.
The passage we’re going to be reflecting on today actually includes the last three verses of yesterday’s reading, because it seemed to me they all hang together as one logical section.
The first thing that should probably be said about this passage is that it casts some interesting light on the idea of sin as it’s presented in the writings of John. Especially in the Gospel of John, the text communicates the idea that there is really only one sin, which is the failure to acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah and accept him as your Savior. But this passage from John’s first letter paints a slightly different picture. It seems to say that there really are other sins, but that those who have embraced Jesus as their Lord and Savior are forgiven of those sins because Jesus intercedes for us.
And in the next sentence, John goes on to say that Jesus is “the atoning sacrifice for our sins.” This is a very important idea in the Christian faith: that by his death on the cross, Jesus has paid the penalty for our sins, and put us right with God again.
I suppose most of those who follow these Reflections would find these to be very familiar ideas.
But there are a couple of other thoughts in the passage that some people who call themselves Christians seem to forget or overlook. The first of these is that none of us is without sin, which seems to mean sin in the more conventional sense of the word. Because the point he seems to be making is that for those of us who have embraced Jesus as the Messiah and our Savior, we can be forgiven of the sins we will still commit.
But John also says that anyone who has really made a commitment to Jesus will be committed to obeying his commands, and to living in imitation of him. A person who claims to be a Christian but does not live a Christ-like life, John says, is just plain lying.
And as John expresses it in this passage, the main indicator of whether we are obeying Jesus and living in imitation of him is how we treat other people – whether we ‘love’ or ‘hate’ others. The New Testament meanings of these terms is probably a little different than the meanings we typically assign them when we hear them. ‘Love,’ in its New Testament sense, means to make a commitment to the needs and interests of others. And ‘hate’ in the New Testament, tends to mean something like refusing to do that. So John probably doesn’t have in mind here a choice between hugs and kisses or furious hostility, but rather the question of whether or not we show others the kind of sacrificial compassion and caring Jesus himself showed.
Now, just to loop back a bit, John assumes that all of us, even followers of Jesus, will sin and need forgiveness. So that seems to mean that we’ll sometimes fail to extend one another that Christ-like compassion and caring. But the mark of those who truly know Jesus will be a commitment to do better and better in demonstrating that kind of love to others – both in the community of faith and in the world at large.
So, as we said at the beginning, these letters from John really do seem to have some important lessons that are worthy of some thoughtful reflection from time to time.
Let’s pray. Lord, by the power of your Holy Spirit, move us to live more and more in imitation of Jesus, so that we show to others the kind of servant-love he himself showed. And we thank you that when our love for others fails, we can trust in your forgiveness through him. Amen.
Grace and Peace,
(The other listed readings for today are Psalms 116 and 146; Daniel 2:1-16; and John 17:12-19.)