26 October 2011

The Johannine Letters (4): I John 3: 1-24

Abide in him ... detail from an icon of Christ the True Vine

Patrick Comerford

Part 1: I John 3: 1-10, The servants become Children of God

Last week, we saw how I John 2: 28 -3: 10 is one whole unit and how, although some commentators link verses 28-29 with verses 26-27, most say this is not the case.

The first part of our study this morning, ought to be I John 2: 28 to 3: 3. This section deals with the Children of God, with verses 28-29 introducing what is being said in I John 3: 1-3. The verses in 3: 1-3 seem out of place unless we understand them as coming between two parts, each of which deals with the Children of God and their relationship with God as Father. Then, in the second part, the author of this epistle writes about the Children of God avoiding sin.

I John 2: 28-29, The servants become Children of God:

28 Καὶ νῦν, τεκνία, μένετε ἐν αὐτῷ, ἵνα ἐὰν φανερωθῇ σχῶμεν παρρησίαν καὶ μὴ αἰσχυνθῶμεν ἀπ' αὐτοῦ ἐν τῇ παρουσίᾳ αὐτοῦ.

29 ἐὰν εἰδῆτε ὅτι δίκαιός ἐστιν, γινώσκετε ὅτι καὶ πᾶς ὁ ποιῶν τὴν δικαιοσύνην ἐξ αὐτοῦ γεγέννηται.

And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he is revealed we may have confidence and not be put to shame before him at his coming.

If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who does right has been born of him.

Comments and notes:

Verse 28: Children of God:

The disciples, who have been called first as servants or slaves, were raised, in the Last Discourse in the Fourth Gospel, to the rank of friends of Christ (John 15: 15). Now, in I John, they move even closer, from being friends of Christ to being Children of God.

Then in Verse 28, the writer turns to the idea of union with God and with Christ at his coming. In the Fourth Gospel, the παρουσία (parousia) or the return of Christ at the end of time is not a frequent thought. But I John makes the connection between realised and final eschatology: while Christ is present to each Christian, the fullness of union is only possible with his final return.

Our present union with Christ enables us as Christians to face with confidence Christ’s return in judgment, either in death or at the end of world.

Verse 28: “abide in him” (NRSV), “remain in him” (RSV):

John calls on believers to abide in Christ, so that when he returns we may have confidence before him. Those who abide in him will have no need to shrink from him in shame at his coming. What does it mean that he is coming? The Greek conveys the idea of someone returning who is not now physically present. Christ is coming to take home those who abide in him.

What does it mean to abide in Christ?

The themes of divine indwelling, keeping the commandments and abiding love are at the heart of the passage on the vine and the branches in the Last Discourse in the Fourth Gospel. There Jesus says:

“Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete (John 15: 4-11).”

To abide in Christ means bearing spiritual fruit, and that there will be growth (John 15: 4). Abiding in Christ means we are obedient to what he teaches, to his commands (John 15: 10, 14).

Verse 29: “born of him” (NRSV), “begotten of him” (RSV):

I think John really answers the question for us in verse 29. Those who practice righteousness are those who abide in him. Why is this? Because if God is righteous we can be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him. This righteousness is evidence that someone is a believer.

What does it mean to be born of God? The idea of being “born of him” or “begotten of him” probably refers to the Father, despite the confusing shifting between the Father and the Son. And this idea is the presupposition of acting righteously – the Father’s love is always the source of sanctification.

Two pairs of verses in the Fourth Gospel give clear pictures of what it means to be born of God.

● John 1: 12-13: verse 12 says those who receive Christ and who believe in his name are given the power to become children of God. The Greek word used there for “power,” ἐξουσία (exousia), literally means power of choice, liberty of doing as one pleases, with permission, authority, privilege and power in the power of him whose will and commands must be submitted to by others and obeyed. John 1: 13 says those who believe are born not of blood, the will of the flesh, nor the will of man, but of God and God alone.

● John 3: 3, 5-6: When Jesus is talking to Nicodemus, he says in verse 3 you must be born again, and that without being born again no-one can see the kingdom of God. We must be born of the Spirit.

3: 1-3, Children of God:

1 ἴδετε ποταπὴν ἀγάπην δέδωκεν ἡμῖν ὁ πατὴρ ἵνα τέκνα θεοῦ κληθῶμεν: καὶ ἐσμέν. διὰ τοῦτο ὁ κόσμος οὐ γινώσκει ἡμᾶς ὅτι οὐκ ἔγνω αὐτόν. 2 Ἀγαπητοί, νῦν τέκνα θεοῦ ἐσμεν, καὶ οὔπω ἐφανερώθη τί ἐσόμεθα. οἴδαμεν ὅτι ἐὰν φανερωθῇ ὅμοιοι αὐτῷ ἐσόμεθα, ὅτι ὀψόμεθα αὐτὸν καθώς ἐστιν. 3 καὶ πᾶς ὁ ἔχων τὴν ἐλπίδα ταύτην ἐπ' αὐτῷ ἁγνίζει ἑαυτὸν καθὼς ἐκεῖνος ἁγνός ἐστιν.

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. 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. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.

Comments and notes:

We are the adopted Children of God. What comes to mind when you think of adoption? Are your images positive or negative? In verses 1-3, John bursts forth in praise because of the great love that God has given to us. Through adoption, God takes people who are not his children and makes them his children. Christ is the source of our being sons and daughters of the Father.

The world is incapable of knowing God and therefore is incapable of knowing his children, who are like him.

Verse 1:

The source of being made children of God, is God’s love. God has given us his love so we can be children of God, not just in name but in reality.

Verse 2:

We are God’s children now, and will remain God’s children for ever. We do not know now what we will be like, but we do know we will be like Christ when he is revealed or manifested, and we will be children of God forever.

Verse 3:

Sanctity or purity is our best preparation for being like God, and for seeing him.

I John 3: 4-10, avoiding sin:

4 Πᾶς ὁ ποιῶν τὴν ἁμαρτίαν καὶ τὴν ἀνομίαν ποιεῖ, καὶ ἡ ἁμαρτία ἐστὶν ἡ ἀνομία. 5 καὶ οἴδατε ὅτι ἐκεῖνος ἐφανερώθη ἵνα τὰς ἁμαρτίας ἄρῃ, καὶ ἁμαρτία ἐν αὐτῷ οὐκ ἔστιν. 6 πᾶς ὁ ἐν αὐτῷ μένων οὐχ ἁμαρτάνει: πᾶς ὁ ἁμαρτάνων οὐχ ἑώρακεν αὐτὸν οὐδὲ ἔγνωκεν αὐτόν. 7 Τεκνία, μηδεὶς πλανάτω ὑμᾶς: ὁ ποιῶν τὴν δικαιοσύνην δίκαιός ἐστιν, καθὼς ἐκεῖνος δίκαιός ἐστιν: 8 ὁ ποιῶν τὴν ἁμαρτίαν ἐκ τοῦ διαβόλου ἐστίν, ὅτι ἀπ' ἀρχῆς ὁ διάβολος ἁμαρτάνει. εἰς τοῦτο ἐφανερώθη ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ θεοῦ, ἵνα λύσῃ τὰ ἔργα τοῦ διαβόλου. 9 Πᾶς ὁ γεγεννημένος ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ ἁμαρτίαν οὐ ποιεῖ, ὅτι σπέρμα αὐτοῦ ἐν αὐτῷ μένει: καὶ οὐ δύναται ἁμαρτάνειν, ὅτι ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ γεγέννηται. 10 ἐν τούτῳ φανερά ἐστιν τὰ τέκνα τοῦ θεοῦ καὶ τὰ τέκνα τοῦ διαβόλου: πᾶς ὁ μὴ ποιῶν δικαιοσύνην οὐκ ἔστιν ἐκ τοῦ θεοῦ, καὶ ὁ μὴ ἀγαπῶν τὸν ἀδελφὸν αὐτοῦ.

Everyone who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Everyone who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. Everyone who commits sin is a child of the devil; for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The Son of God was revealed for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. Those who have been born of God do not sin, because God’s seed abides in them; they cannot sin, because they have been born of God. The children of God and the children of the devil are revealed in this way: all who do not do what is right are not from God, nor are those who do not love their brothers and sisters.

Comments and notes:

Sin is the great obstacle to being a child of God. The word used here for sin, ἁμαρτία (amartia), means being without a share, missing the mark, erring, being mistaken, missing or wandering from the path of uprightness and honour. In other words, wandering from the law of God or violating God’s law.

By stressing that sin is iniquity, I John may mean that sin is the mark of the children of Satan, when we consider New Testament concepts such as “the man of iniquity” and the “mystery of iniquity” (see II Thessalonians 2: 3-7).

In verses 4-10, we are told what a child of God will look like. The believer purifies himself as he is pure. The Greek word here for purify signifies a moral purity. It is a present active indicative, which means it is a continuous real action – the believer will be morally pure as God is pure.

In verses 4-6, we see three things:

Firstly, in verse 4, we have a definition of sin. Sin is lawlessness. Those who practice sin practice lawlessness, practice disobedience to what God has commanded in his word.

Secondly, in verse 5, Christ appeared to take away sins. What makes Christ eligible for this? Because there is no sin in him. Because he is without sin, he can take away sin.

Thirdly, in verse 6, no one who abides in Christ keeps on sinning. Those who abide in Christ cannot continually sin. The word sinning here is a present active indicative, which represents a real action that is continuous. The believer cannot continually sin. Why is this? Because they abide in Christ who came to take away sins so they cannot continue in it. We are Christ’s and there is no sin in him, therefore his followers are to be like him. No one who keeps on sinning knows Jesus Christ; they have not been adopted by God.

Verse 7:

If the child of God is marked by freedom from sin, the child of the devil is marked by sin. The Gnostics claimed they knew the righteous one, but they lived unrighteous lives. So John says those who practice righteousness are of the Father, they are the true believers, they are children of God. The way we live should back up our claims.

Verse 8:

Here the writer draws a comparison. He says whoever makes a practice of sinning is a child of the devil. Those who sin continually are not children of God, but are children of the devil. The devil has been sinning from the beginning. Sin has its origin in the devil, not God. The child of God cannot continue in sin because Christ appeared to destroy the works of the devil. The believer cannot be in bondage to sin because Christ destroyed the works of the devil, sin, for them.

Verse 9:

The writer says no one born of God keeps sinning because God’s seed abides in him. The one who believes cannot continually sin because the seed of God, the Holy Spirit, the breath of life, abides in them. While the Johannine Christians knew that sin is something evil, the secessionists, on the other hand, thought it not affect union with God. But the believer, cannot continually sin because he has been born of God. Yes, we do sin, but this is in spite of, not because of, being children of God.

Verse 10:

This section ends with a negative statement. John says this is how we tell who the children of God are, and who the children of the devil are: whoever does not practice righteousness, whoever does not love the other Christian, does not belong to God, is not one of the children of God.

“Little children, love one another” ... Saint John on his death-bed, from the Saint John window in Chartres Cathedral.

Part 2: I John 3: 11-24, ‘Little children, love one another

11 Οτι αὕτη ἐστὶν ἡ ἀγγελία ἣν ἠκούσατε ἀπ' ἀρχῆς, ἵνα ἀγαπῶμεν ἀλλήλους: 12 οὐ καθὼς Κάϊν ἐκ τοῦ πονηροῦ ἦν καὶ ἔσφαξεν τὸν ἀδελφὸν αὐτοῦ: καὶ χάριν τίνος ἔσφαξεν αὐτόν; ὅτι τὰ ἔργα αὐτοῦ πονηρὰ ἦν, τὰ δὲ τοῦ ἀδελφοῦ αὐτοῦ δίκαια. 13 [καὶ] μὴ θαυμάζετε, ἀδελφοί, εἰ μισεῖ ὑμᾶς ὁ κόσμος. 14 ἡμεῖς οἴδαμεν ὅτι μεταβεβήκαμεν ἐκ τοῦ θανάτου εἰς τὴν ζωήν, ὅτι ἀγαπῶμεν τοὺς ἀδελφούς: ὁ μὴ ἀγαπῶν μένει ἐν τῷ θανάτῳ. 15 πᾶς ὁ μισῶν τὸν ἀδελφὸν αὐτοῦ ἀνθρωποκτόνος ἐστίν, καὶ οἴδατε ὅτι πᾶς ἀνθρωποκτόνος οὐκ ἔχει ζωὴν αἰώνιον ἐν αὐτῷ μένουσαν. 16 ἐν τούτῳ ἐγνώκαμεν τὴν ἀγάπην, ὅτι ἐκεῖνος ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ ἔθηκεν: καὶ ἡμεῖς ὀφείλομεν ὑπὲρ τῶν ἀδελφῶν τὰς ψυχὰς θεῖναι. 17 ὃς δ' ἂν ἔχῃ τὸν βίον τοῦ κόσμου καὶ θεωρῇ τὸν ἀδελφὸν αὐτοῦ χρείαν ἔχοντα καὶ κλείσῃ τὰ σπλάγχνα αὐτοῦ ἀπ' αὐτοῦ, πῶς ἡ ἀγάπη τοῦ θεοῦ μένει ἐν αὐτῷ;

18 Τεκνία, μὴ ἀγαπῶμεν λόγῳ μηδὲ τῇ γλώσσῃ ἀλλὰ ἐν ἔργῳ καὶ ἀληθείᾳ. 19 [Καὶ] ἐν τούτῳ γνωσόμεθα ὅτι ἐκ τῆς ἀληθείας ἐσμέν, καὶ ἔμπροσθεν αὐτοῦ πείσομεν τὴν καρδίαν ἡμῶν 20 ὅτι ἐὰν καταγινώσκῃ ἡμῶν ἡ καρδία, ὅτι μείζων ἐστὶν ὁ θεὸς τῆς καρδίας ἡμῶν καὶ γινώσκει πάντα. 21 Ἀγαπητοί, ἐὰν ἡ καρδία [ἡμῶν] μὴ καταγινώσκῃ, παρρησίαν ἔχομεν πρὸς τὸν θεόν, 22 καὶ ὃ ἐὰν αἰτῶμεν λαμβάνομεν ἀπ' αὐτοῦ, ὅτι τὰς ἐντολὰς αὐτοῦ τηροῦμεν καὶ τὰ ἀρεστὰ ἐνώπιον αὐτοῦ ποιοῦμεν.

23 καὶ αὕτη ἐστὶν ἡ ἐντολὴ αὐτοῦ, ἵνα πιστεύσωμεν τῷ ὀνόματι τοῦ υἱοῦ αὐτοῦ Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ καὶ ἀγαπῶμεν ἀλλήλους, καθὼς ἔδωκεν ἐντολὴν ἡμῖν. 24 καὶ ὁ τηρῶν τὰς ἐντολὰς αὐτοῦ ἐν αὐτῷ μένει καὶ αὐτὸς ἐν αὐτῷ: καὶ ἐν τούτῳ γινώσκομεν ὅτι μένει ἐν ἡμῖν, ἐκ τοῦ πνεύματος οὗ ἡμῖν ἔδωκεν.

For this is the message you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. We must not be like Cain who was from the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. Do not be astonished, brothers and sisters, that the world hates you. We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another. Whoever does not love abides in death. All who hate a brother or sister are murderers, and you know that murderers do not have eternal life abiding in them. We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us – and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?

Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him.

And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.

Comments and notes:

Here we turn to the opening of the second main part of the Epistle, which defines the Gospel as: “We should love one another,” and holds up Christ as the example of love for one’s brother and sister.

In this section, Christians are referred to as the children of God, and we are told two things mark the child of God: righteousness and love. Righteousness is the theme of the first 10 verses of this chapter, which we looked at last week. Love is the overwhelmingly dominant theme of this new section, verses 11-24, with verse 10 acting as the transition. This section almost serves as a commentary on that part of the Last Discourse in the Fourth Gospel found in John 15: 12-19.

Once again, we hear the Gospel (ἀγγελία, angelia, message), but in terms of love, rather than light. Hatred is the mark of the children of the evil one and of his domain, but love is the great sign of having passed out of the kingdom of Satan, the kingdom of death.

Because it is enough

There was a notice in the lift in my hotel in Thessaloniki earlier this month that began: “Αγαπητοί επισκέπτες …” These words are commonly translated in Greek notices into English as: “Dear Guests …” But in Greek, these words truly say: “Beloved guests …”

There is a difference in the grade of affection and intimacy here. Could you imagine a hotel receptionist greeting you as: “My beloved …”?

Could you imagine someone greeting at the church door greeting you with the words: “My beloved …”?

But this is the very level of affection that is being talked about in I John.

Jerome, in his commentary on Galatians 6 (Jerome, Comm. in ep. ad. Gal., 6, 10), tells the well-loved story that John the Evangelist continued preaching even when he was in his 90s and was so enfeebled with old age that they had to carry him into the Church on a stretcher. And when he was no longer able to preach or deliver a long discourse, his custom was to lean up on one elbow on every occasion and say simply: “Little children, love one another.”

This continued on, even when the ageing John was on his death-bed. Then he would lie back down and his friends would carry him back out.

Every week the same thing happened, again and again. And every week it was the same short sermon, exactly the same message: “Little children, love one another.”

One day, the story goes, someone asked him about it: “John, why is it that every week you say exactly the same thing, ‘little children, love one another’?”

And John replied: “Because it is enough.”

If you want to know the basics of living as a Christian, there it is in a nutshell. All you need to know is. “Little children, love one another.” If you want to know the rules, there they are. And there’s only one. “Little children, love one another.”

As John is concerned, if you have put your trust in Jesus, then there is only one other thing you need to know. So week after week, he would remind them, over and over again: “Little children, love one another.”

That is all he preached in Ephesus, week after week, and that is precisely the message he keeps on repeating in this letter, over and over again: “Little children, love one another.”

It opens this new section in I John: “For this is the message you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.” He says it again down in verse 18, “Little children, let us love …,” in verse 23: “And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he commanded us.”

He repeats this, over and over again. Faith in Christ and loving one another go hand-in-hand. You can’t have one without the other. There is no such thing as “loveless Christianity.” It’s like saying you can have a meal without eating anything. Where there is no love there is no Christianity. And John says it over and over again to his readers – because it’s worth repeating, because, indeed, it is enough.

Verse 11 “the message you have heard from the beginning …”

Does this refer to the beginning of the world at creation, or to the beginning of the Church and the teaching of the apostles? Either way, it has always been the same: believers should love one another.

“ … that we should love one another.” That is not merely a duty; it is proof of true Christianity. The heretics boasted of their union with God and their knowledge of the truth, but they had no love for the believers. They separated themselves and lorded their will over them. They had no community spirit.

The heretics, particularly the gnostic heretics, boasted about new teaching. That is why John repeatedly referred back to apostolic authority, which is foundational and unchanging (I John 1: 1, 5; 2: 24). Many new doctrines have come and gone.

Verse 12:

When John says we have to love one another, does he mean that as Christians we have to be gushy towards one another all the time? Worse still, romantic, on an emotional high, or even erotic?

Instead of leaving us wondering, John gives us a concrete example of the sort of love he is talking about. Contrasting opposite extremes, he first gives a counter-example, of how not to be, and then follows this with a positive example of how we should be.

In verse 12, John reminds readers of the story in the Book Genesis of Cain and Abel. He says, “We must not be like Cain.” Cain, the first-born son of Adam and Eve, was jealous of his brother Abel, who was righteous, and so Cain murdered his brother.

Verse 13:

John says this is how the world works. We should not be surprised, brothers and sisters, if the world hates us. The world is like Cain all the time. This verse also reflects the Last Discourse in the Fourth Gospel: “If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you” (John 15: 18).

Verse 14:

But we should be different. We have moved from death to life. “We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another (our brothers and sisters). Whoever does not love abides in death.”

Verse 15:

But, unlike the world which acts like Cain, we should be surprised if our Christian brothers hate us.

“All who hate a brother or sister are murderers, and you know that murderers do not have eternal life abiding in them.” Loving your brother or sister in the faith is one of the key indicators of a genuine Christian. And if we are not doing that, if instead we are hating our Christian brothers or sisters, perhaps we need to have a deep look at ourselves.

Verse 16:

But love is about a lot more than just not hating. So, if Cain is the negative example, what about positive love?

In verse 16 we have the positive example:

“We know love by this, that he [Christ] laid down his life for us – and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.”

Christ laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. It’s there in black and white, in the second half of verse 16. So often we congratulate ourselves, thinking our Christian love for others is adequate. But is this how loving I am?

Once again we hear echoes of the Last Discourse in the Fourth Gospel: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15: 13).

Verse 17:

John goes on to say how our love for one another has to be practical love. In verse 17, he relates love and sacrificial love to our attitude to material possessions: If anyone “has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need,” can we say God’s love abides in them if they refuse help?

Verse 18:

The writer is not talking there about pity or feeling sorry for the other person who is in need. He means if I sit here in my comfort and luxury and watch a Christian brother or sister in need and talk about it but do nothing about it, then I haven’t even started finding out what love means.

Look at what John says in verse 18: “Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.” I can’t just talk about it; I have to do something about it.

Verses 19-20:

And the fact is, says John, when I start doing that, then I really start knowing I am alive as a Christian. When I start doing that I really start to know that I belong to the truth, to the real Christian family of true brothers and sisters: “And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.”

The “this” of verse 19 can refer to what has just been said, by the practice of love, or to what follows, by the greatness of God. If we opt for the first meaning, the practice of love assures Christians that they are on God’s side (“from the truth”). If they are aware of past sins, their hearts can be easy, for God knows their weakness and God’s powerful mercy can forgive sins.

Loving with actions and in truth is far more demanding than just thinking about it and giving intellectual assent to the idea, paying lip service to love, or loving people when it suits us.

Verse 23:

It is all summed up in verse 23. This is his command, this is what God wants me to do. We are to believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and we are to “love one another as has commanded us.”

The emphasis on the name of Jesus is also a favourite theme in the Fourth Gospel: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15: 12).

Keeping the commandments is the supreme source of our confident calling on God, and here we find a reflection on themes in the Last Discourse in the Fourth Gospel. The summation of the commandments is to believe in Christ and to love one another – the very points of faith and practice in which the false propagandists are deficient.

Concluding story

There is a well-known story about a new rector who preached the same sermon over and over again. On his first Sunday in his new parish, he preached a riveting sermon about love. Everyone shook his hand at the door and said: “Great sermon!”

But when they came back the next week, he preached exactly the same sermon, word for word. And the next week. And the week after that. Week after week after week.

Someone finally asked him why he kept preaching the same sermon about love week after week after week. And he said: “Well, everyone told me what a great sermon it was. But I think I’ve got to keep preaching it until they actually start doing it.”

It’s simple. But it’s so hard to do.

Next week: I John 4, The right spirit and testing the spirits.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This essay is based on notes prepared for a Bible study in a tutorial group of MTh students on Wednesday 26 October 2011

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