1 John 3:1–7 (NRSV)
3 1 See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. 3 And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.
4 Everyone who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. 5 You know that he was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. 6 No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him. 7 Little children, let no one deceive you. Everyone who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.
There is something that every human being seeks no matter who they are, where they are from, and what they believe. Every human being seeks acceptance into a community. You may not agree with that statement because you have a friend or an acquaintance that always seems to withdraw from any community they seem to come across, but I stand by my statement because everyone seeks acceptance somewhere. They may find it in the halls of academia, they may find it in the research labs and scientific journals, they find it in national identity, at the local pub, places of employment, or even the solitary cabin at the end of a treacherous mountain road. They seek acceptance somewhere even if that acceptance seems somewhat antisocial. They seek some place where they can be seen as little or as much as they desire. It is this reflexive drive for acceptance that often mold us into the people that we become, because as humans we seek some sort of hemostasis, or equilibrium where there is little conflict. The problem with this sort of ingrained desire is often we settle into some position that may not be reflective of who we actually are.
People have studied this human desire in many ways have watched how communities have developed different roles and places for their members, yet through all of this study through all of the desires of homeostasis often we are left in a void. We desire acceptance but we cannot find it so we pursue a different path. For some this path can be physically destructive because the only place they find acceptance is through addictive behaviors, we may question why someone chooses a life of alcoholism or drug addiction but the answer is often found within the community they reside, how they were treated, where and when they received any emotional feedback, and what behaviors were promoted by the stimulus. Others find that their only avenue for acceptance of any kind is being the victim of others, or possibly as being the smart kid in class. Within these communities little by little people fall into places and roles unoccupied by others. Warriors, athletes, popular, smart, bums, and junkies are all roles that are filled. We say there is not a cast system in western civilization and we would be right but the only way for people to move out of the shadows of those who came before them is if they have an opportunity to express and potentially find a different role.
Why am I talking about sociology? Why am I discussing anthropology? Because these are the very things that God through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus overcome. John is often regarded as the Apostle of Love, for a very simple reason, he speaks about love all the time. John was one of if not the youngest of the disciples, which is why we rarely hear him speaking up within the conversations in the gospels but he was right there among the inner circle observing. He listened, watched, and was pretty quiet for someone who was known as a son of thunder. But because he was quiet when he spoke it probably carried a lot of weight, because everyone who knew him could tell that the words spoken came with much thought. I say this because the style of writing that John uses is much different than the other gospel writers, it is almost as if John wrote on a different plain than everyone else, that seemed to cut through to the very heart. And at the heart, at the very core is this strong desire to be loved and accepted.
I mentioned that John was probably one of the youngest of the apostles, but he was also the oldest as well. Tradition states that John lived to the end of the first century and probably died around the year 98. That is approximately sixty years after the crucifixion of Jesus. He saw the formation and struggles of the early church, he experienced the first wave of persecutions, and died as an elderly man. Because of his long life John played different roles within church, he was an apostle and an elder, he was one sent out and he was one that stayed and shepherded a flock. It was during this time as an elder that the writings of John emerged, later in his life after the ambition of youth had passed by and all he could really do is sit with a dear friend and speak words of encouragement to the ones who could continue to run in the race, while his friend transcribed his words.
After years of work and observation, after years of exile and persecution John spoke these words to the church, probably while he lived out the later years of his life in Ephesus. “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God: and that is what we are.” Just think about that verse for a moment. “See what love the Father has given us…” This goes way beyond just the visual senses, John is asking us to contemplate, consider, pay attention to, understand, and experience what he is talking about. He is asking us to use every aspect of our being, to visualize and feel the words and the idea of love. But he asks us to explore even deeper by saying, “See what…” He is asking each of us to imagine and visualize what type, what way, how massive and deep, and how Great the love of the Father has given us. The massive and gracious love that does not take into account any worthiness of the individual that is receiving the love but a love that is given out of total selflessness. Can you see it? Can you imagine it? Can you experience it?
It is extremely difficult to imagine this massive love of God for us because we are trapped in these humanistic systems, the systems observed by sociologists and anthropologists, the systems that assign roles to individuals based on factors within the community. And that is not what God’s love is. The love that God gives forfeits all rights and privileges and gives totally to benefit someone else. John wrote about this love often: “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son.”(John 3:16), “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friend.”(John 15:13), and “We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.” (1 John 3:16). Love is sacrifice, love is giving everything we have for someone other than ourselves without strings attached. Can you imagine it? Can you experience it? All of this was given so that we could be called Children of God.
That brings something else into the mix. When cultures seek homeostasis often the roles that individuals play within that culture are predetermined by the previous generations and by a crazy thing called birth order. Each of us experienced this at some point. Our parents filled a certain role so we are expected to fill the same roles, our older siblings were one way and often we are expected to be the same. These roles are the starting point from which we build our lives. My sister was a runner so I must be a runner. Their father was an alcoholic and they are expected to be as well. We can either live in the role given to us or we can break out and find a new niche within the community usually by some sort of battle to obtain dominance. The battle for the first chair in band, the competition to be first in class, and campaigning for elected office are all battles to overcome the role we perceive society placing on us and our desire to obtain something greater. These are not always bad things, but what John is saying is that we have a different identity our place is determined on a totally different dimension, a dimension that the world does not and cannot understand because our father who loves us so deeply and massively gave so selflessly that we are not of this world any longer but are part of the family of God. Accepted without any conditions.
John begins this section of the letter calling us to imagine this deep immense love because often we can forget our true identity and sink back into the roles the world wishes us to be placed in. John calls us to see, to remember, to examine the vast love of God and our relationship with Him because we can easily be distracted by the things of the world that are antichrist. He pleads with all that will listen to see.
There is great power in what John is calling us to participate in, to examine our lives in the light of God can greatly change our perspective. We are children of God. Children. How often do we forget that we are children and not adults of God? We are ever growing, continuously learning to look at things just a bit differently so that maybe we can understand. We are stubborn children that sometimes need to learn manners, we are fit throwing toddlers wishing for our own ways, we are a children that will give a gift just because, a child that will do anything to get you to laugh. We are children filled with giggles, tears, snot, and skinned knees. We grow but we are not yet fully mature. We make mistakes and we amaze our Father all in the same day and sometimes at the same time. See what love the Father has given us?
But the world does not understand this, because they do not know Him. That is one of the saddest of all statements in scripture. That we are not fully known because they do not know from whom we come. They do not see, they do not experience, they have not tasted the greatness of God’s love so the world cannot understand us, and they do not know Him. The question then is why do they not know him?
This is a painful question to ask because that directly reflects on the children of God. Are we reflecting the light of Christ to the world? In the world we live under that shadow of those that came before us, in Christ we live in the light of those that came before. Are we casting a shadow or reflecting light? John goes on to speak of purity and sin, lawlessness and righteousness these are all things that relate to growth and relationship. Often we will look at others and see something we perceive as a form of sin and we begin to judge. Before we do this I want us to stop and consider something, we are children and we do not know everything. The fullness of our own life is not yet revealed so why are we so quick to judge others? With each child a parent must teach and train differently at times a stern voice is all that is needed but at other times discipline must take a different form. It is different for every child and it is different at any moment. But slowly and progressively a child learns and matures. Slowly and with persistence a child begins to take form and become the amazing individual they were created to be. The same process goes for us as God’s children. We are revealed as he reveals himself to us. And the world can only see him if we then reveal Him to them.
Everyone is looking for acceptance and a place where they can live as themselves. But the world often restricts people from living out their full potential. But as children of God we are freed from the trappings of the world and revealed in Christ. See What Love the Father has for us? Step by step, moment by moment, slowly and consistently moving us from where we began to where we will be. Children of God.
John closes this passage with a powerful statement, “everyone who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.” This last verse asks us to examine what we are focused on. He calls us to explore the vastness of God’s love, he then shocks us by saying that the world does not know us because they do not know him, which then challenges us by asking why they do not know him if we are to reflect him in the world, then this closing statement today reveals to us why we often do not reflect Christ, because we are focusing on the wrong things. Do what is right as it is revealed to you is what John is urging us to do. He walked with Jesus for three years, he learned from the very mouth of the teacher, he participated in the holy rhythm of life that Jesus himself lived, and John even took on the role of brother when Jesus left Mary in his care. John had seen persecution, and he experienced exile, and through all of this he says do what is right no matter what the cost. How do we know what is right? How do we know what sin is? How can we reflect God to a world that does not even recognize us? It all comes down to knowing Him, experiencing the love of God and exploring life with God in the rhythm Jesus showed us. All that we have to do is Love God, embrace the Holy Spirit and live the love of Christ with others. Live a lifestyle of worship, prayer, and service not because they deserve our attention but because they are loved by God. We should selflessly give to them because God gave himself for us and that is true love that is true acceptance. See what love the Father has given us: that we should be called children of God. Let us focus on that, focus on doing right just as Jesus did, living our lives giving, serving, and encouraging because those around us are also children of God just waiting for us to see them.
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