Let Love Live Week 9 – The True God
1 John 5:13-21
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. 14 This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us – whatever we ask – we know that we have what we asked of him.
16 If you see any brother or sister commit a sin that does not lead to death, you should pray and God will give them life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that you should pray about that. 17 All wrongdoing is sin, and there is sin that does not lead to death.
18 We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the One who was born of God keeps them safe, and the evil one cannot harm them. 19 We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one. 20 We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true by being in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.
21 Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.
How many times have you gone for the cheapest option in purchasing something needed only to find that it broke within five minutes if use!
There is no substitute for quality, especially for things that you rely on – like vehicles, good tools, a good wheelbarrow, a good jacket for cold Barossa winters, a good beanie for the same, …
John abruptly ends his little letter with a rather short, sharp direction that seems a bit out of place.
21 Dear children, keep yourselves from idols
I think he is saying, “Don’t settle for substitutes”. “I have laid out the truth so don’t fall for lies. Because they will destroy you and people around you”.
When it comes to life itself, hope, peace and love for life now and into God’s future even beyond the grave, don’t settle for substitutes, is John’s final word.
Don’t give your heart to the old creation with its way of having to keep the rules and be good to try and earn your way into God’s blessing. You will never do it and you will die trying. The new creation founded on the grace and power of Jesus’ resurrection to life is now the hope, and it is already here. Receive that truth and enjoy faith and love all your life.
Don’t give your heart to trying to make this life in your own image with your own ideas and wants, needs and vision as if God is not working in you to transform you in all of life’s experience – good and bad – to be like Jesus and working through you to tell the world of Jesus.
Don’t give your heart to anything other than the truth that Jesus of Nazareth is God himself with us and for us in flesh and blood for the love of the world. Don’t settle for other teaching that says he is not God or not human or not love or not alive or not the world’s hope, because he is all of these.
Don’t give your heart to serving only yourself by not loving, not forgiving, not serving others in Jesus’ power. That is caving in to that unholy trinity – the anti-messiah word, the anti-messiah drive within you and the Anti-Messiah himself – or, “the world, the flesh and the Devil” in Lutheran terms.
OK John. We get it. But how?
How do we live out this life in this new kingdom of grace? How do we love the real thing and not get won over by the fake thing? What helps me to live in the lavish love of the Father by the blood and the water of the Son in the power of the Spirit with joy and hope, so we I truly love another and be a sign of this new age already here in this old world?
John’s way to stay in the truth and its love? Praying.
14 This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us – whatever we ask – we know that we have what we asked of him.
Prayer for John is not just ticking some spiritual box or doing a duty or mouthing some words because someone said you need to. Prayer here is a show of reliance, trust, relationship, open conversation between parent and child, honesty from friend to friend, trusted mentor to seeking student.
John has tried to convince you that you are lavishly loved by the God of the universe in the ‘blood and the water’. In all Jesus achieved for us from baptism in Jordan’s water to the blood on the cross on the hill, from baptism to holy meal, from river to city, of which John and the other Apostle’s bear eye-witness, we have this ‘confidence’ or ‘boldness’ with our God.
Prayer then is like asking for some help on something from a mate you have known for 20 years or inviting a trusted mentor into your struggle to gain some clear thinking on a decision. We can speak like this because you know the Lord Jesus. He has won your trust long ago and held that trust for ages. You know he will be there for you and assist in whatever way he can because he knows you and what you need.
That’s prayer. It is reliance, trust, natural conversation with a kind and loving heavenly Father, a generous, protective and self-giving older brother, and a wise friend whispering in your ear to help you through.
Ah but don’t we struggle to live in the confidence when it comes to God?
Luther anticipates the obvious question that comes from knowing ourselves and our personal struggles to pray; to trust, to rely on Jesus. Luther asks,
“What if I should have a frigid heart and feel that I lack this faith (to boldly ask)?”
A ‘frigid’ heart. Good expression for how we feel more often than we might admit: Stone cold and stone walled from God’s lavish love.
But why? John says, it is because of idols in our life.
Idols are the substitutes for the real thing. They cost you more than you think and cannot deliver what you actually need.
- By choosing to pay for that cheap pair of plyers you find out that when they break within five minutes in some critical moment in the workshop that now you are going to have go back to the shop and buy that other better quality and more expensive pair that were right there next to these cheap and now broken ones. You realized you have paid more and got less.
That is what idols of the heart do. They capture your heart with promised rewards they cannot deliver and ask for evermore increasing payment.
For John and his community, idols were easier to see; statues and whole temples dedicated to many gods that were made of stone, wood and metal. For us, they are harder to see.
Luther defines an idol as anything you trust in more than the promises of God. Idolatry is the breaking of the first and only commandment to love the Lord with all of yourself and all you have been given. The other nine are how you do it.
For Luther and Augustine idols are about love – misplaced love – loving the lesser things a lot and the greatest things the least – disordered loves – giving our heart to immediate gain rather then long term reward from the Lord.
21 Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.
Why avoid idols? Because they will destroy you as they demand ever increasing payments of your love.
- If you trust that money is the most important thing to have plenty of, then you will live your life getting it, at cost to other people if need be. This most dangerous idol (says Jesus) will make it hard for you to have quality relationships because everyone will always be wondering if you are just ‘on the take’ from them.
Trusting money for your future rather than God’s Son and his love as your future beyond the grave will make it hard for you to pray. You’ll only be able to tell the Lord what he needs to do for you to make your life project work out. That is not relationship, that is turning God into another tool to get what you want, not a Saviour to achieve in you what he wants.
Carol King and James Taylor sang it well;
They’ll take your soul if you let them, so don’t you let them” (You’ve got a Friend)
So, as we come to the end of this letter where does John point us on how we can love well and avoid paying out to things that can never deliver the best things?
Luther echoes John.
Reliance on God is what staves off making and chasing idols that destroy us and our relationships.
… if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us – whatever we ask – we know that we have what we asked of him.
Friend, you can rest assured today that those questions and requests, those feelings and groans without words, those desires and needs are understood and heard by that man who journeyed from the river to the cross for you and still pours our blood and water for life and healing into your world.
John is obviously a ‘Star Trek’ fan. He says we are “Boldly go where no one has gone before….”
Pray boldly because we can. We know this Father, and this Brother, and this Advocate. He is transforming you through all your experience to Jesus as he fully is and yourself in the process.
So, pray…. Pray long and pray a lot.
Luther speaks of relying on our God in trust.
If because of this confidence you are persuaded that you are heard, He will also give you what you have asked for.When Solomon prayed, ( Kings 3:5–11), God said: “Ask what I shall give you.” But Solomon said: “Give your servant an understanding heart.” This prayer pleased God. Therefore God said: “I will give you what you have asked for.” Because Solomon had asked according to the will of God, he was heard. But it is not seemly to fix the manner and the time.
To Abraham the Seed had been promised, and a son from his body, (Genesis 13:16; 15:5, and 18:10). This fulfillment was put off for almost 20 years. Abraham waited patiently. Sarah also thought: “Perhaps not from me but from another woman.”
Therefore we should determine for God neither the time nor the manner of hearing and granting our prayers. We should only wait patiently and diligently. And this suffices for a Christian, because a Christian is content to know that he pleases God. And he is persuaded that his prayer is heard, that it is not neglected, but that it is accepted. And this is confidence according to His will, as John said.
Friend, you are heard, not rejected today. For 2 minutes or twenty years we rely on God’s hearing and acceptance of us as we live in this new creation always coming.
 Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 30: The Catholic Epistles. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 30, p. 323). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.