Who does God say you are? 4: Blessed, 1 John 3:1–13
This talk was given by Paul Wintle on .
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As many of you will know, I was in Kent this week and I spent some time with my previous pastor, Stephen Greasley at Gillingham Baptist Church. In conversation, he was telling me that this morning he was also going to speak on the same subject, on being blessed, although he’s using Old Testament and I’m using New Testament. I kept saying something over and over and over again, you might think the message I was trying to convey was something of significance.
Everyone has been on a car journey, when eventually that little voice from the back seat pipes up and asks, “Are we nearly there yet?>” Because it’s important to that little person that the end of the trip is nigh, because they want to start the activity. We also often want to pacify them by saying, “Won’t be long now” “Almost there” “Not quite” “Go to sleep and we’ll wake you up when we’re there”
Sometimes we forget how to walk in someone else’s shoes or see it from another person’s viewpoint. Or perhaps another familiar way in which a teacher would get the message across about the importance of knowing our times tables. I remember sitting or standing behind my desk in class chanting, “One two is two, two two’s a re four, three two’s are six”
I’m signed up to a Christian Facebook feed or a number of them. Dick, do you have the slide, please? I like this one. If it’s there, it may not be. No? It just says, “Love one another as the Father has loved you, so you should love one another. Love one another deeply” You get the point that there’s a bit of a repetition here. It’s a reminder that there is a simple act at the heart of our faith: love. That reminder, as we see here, is printed all the way through the Bible, explicitly, like we read here, and sometimes perhaps more implicitly by the actions shown by somebody.
Last time, we looked at the truth that we are deeply loved by a God who has created each one of us in his own image. Although we are reminded that we fall short of God’s glory, we might forget that somehow God planed in our silliness and our sin, and yet still loves us. We know that Jesus died and rose from death to beat sin and all that comes with it. Out of a heart of gratitude, we might say that we are blessed, the topic of our talk this morning. Now there’s a word, bless.
Perhaps it’s overused in common parlance when we see a new baby we go, “Oh, bless” I can bet that at least one person in the congregation might have said, “Oh, bless>” to a new baby in the last few days, or two new babies, or perhaps when we say farewell, we might religiously say, “God bless” I know I’ve said that this week, or perhaps indeed when I sneeze, it’s likely someone would say, “Bless you”
Last time, I introduced you to my big exhaustive Bible concordance. I used it again, in my preparations for this message and looked up the word bless, and discovered that bless, blessing, blessed, blest, et cetera, appears 420 times in the New International Version of the Bible, 420 times. Interestingly, it appears more in the Old Testament than it does in the new, often linked to God’s promise of a blessing for somebody who might obey.
The most common Old Testament Hebrew word for blessing or blessed is barak or baraka, something like that. It includes a mixture of words for giving praise or offering good words of praise about someone, speaking divine words of favour, or to pronounce a greeting. In the New Testament, makarios is used and it seems to have more of a pointed use towards a blessing received through God’s favour or feelings to have received such godly favour but implying good fortune, and happiness.
Mary, the mother of Jesus, for example, on hearing that she was with child by the Holy Spirit contented herself as blessed. In the context of I John, the word ‘lavish’ is among a number of words which means merely to give. First, when we compare the word lavish and give, it feels to me that there’s a bit of a let-down somewhere, but then we look at it another way. God gives us his love. He lavishes his love, that we should be called children of God.
Let’s have a deeper look. John writes to his dear children, as a reminder that they must live as Jesus lived. John was, in all likelihood, the John who shared ministry and life with Jesus and as a result, his joy was complete. He was writing to make sure that his beloved readers were not being fobbed off by unbelievers in their midst, to distorting the truth of faith in Jesus. John writes to encourage, and to challenge, and to ensure, that what they have learned remains true in their lives. He is reassured that the Messiah will return and wants his followers to be ready for that event.
As John has written about the people who like and spread false claims about Jesus, he now turns to the encouraging fact for all those who are born of God and who are, therefore, God’s children. Throughout this passage, there is this repetition about being children of God. We often hear this in church circles, that we are children of God, because it’s true, but I wonder whether we connect being a child of God with blessing. That it is a wonderful blessing to be known as God’s son, God’s daughter.
This portion of I John cites what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God, and that is what we are. Father God, lavishes love upon his children. How impressive is that? What a wonderful word lavish is. It’s rich and it’s deep and has a more, perhaps thorough feeling about how God gives his love rather than God loves his children. When we learn that the words given and lavish are the same in the New Testament, it almost feels like we’ve lost the depth, until we learn afresh that we never had to ask for God’s blessing to be his child.
God has given us that status of childhood. He has given us the status of being his children. It is a blessing to have such a status, let alone to be given it lavishly. According to John, that is exactly what we are, children of God. Being a child of God is undeserved. It’s God’s riches, as a loving Father gives to his children, holding nothing back. In Ephesian 1:8 and in I John, the word lavished is undeserved by us, but willing to be freely given by the God who chooses to call us his children. This is truly a blessing.
This series then, how God sees us, reminds us how God views us as his children. I guess we could see that in a variety of different ways, perhaps depending on how we see our own parents, our own childhood, how people related to us when we were children, and maybe even how children relate to us. I guess the point I’m getting at is that we all have some kind of baggage, stuff that either helpfully or unhelpfully, makes us view the world and a lot that might come from how we were brought up, and that’s true of how Christians might see the Bible.
Many of us might view the Old Testament, where the wrath of God seems prevalent, whereas the New Testament in comparison shows more of a father heart, in showing a compassionate Father God who sent his son to the earth, but when we see the Bible as one long blessing, it changes our perspective. I’m not denying that there’s a lot of bloodshed and horribleness in the Old Testament. Let’s face it, one of the central tenets of our faith is the atrocious killing of an innocent man, so perhaps it is about how we see the Old Testament and the New: is one more of the blessing than another?
The Old Testament is full of mercy and justice, it is full of gems that God loves his people so much that he gives them freedom to follow or to rebel. He was just rather they followed him. As was stated earlier, there are more words to do with blessing in the Old Testament than in the New. If taken overall, perhaps the God of the Old Testament is also a God of compassion, who wants to draw his children to him. The Psalmist regularly finds shelter under the wings of God, there are various times when the prophet Isaiah reminds God’s people of his love for them. Even in the books that we perhaps don’t often look at such as Deuteronomy, we have times where God tells his people that he loves them.
The New Testament shows us Jesus, the fulfilment of the whole love of God in human form. Perhaps that makes things easier for us to relate to a God who shows love, rather than a God who appears in stories long ago. Maybe that’s why we think the God of the New Testament is a loving God because we meet Jesus in person. As people, God’s people, walk with Jesus into whatever comes next, things become easier because they can see a person. God is no longer an abstract idea. God, as John once wrote became flesh and made his dwelling amongst us, full of grace and truth.
God is now in the neighbourhood, what a blessing is that? The promise that John seems to be making in his letter, is that whatever the future looks like, we will be like Jesus, because we have seen him, and because we know him. Because if we are children of God there’s also a family likeness. That’s the thing about families, it continues if there are children in them. I remember my great-nana Gwatkin in South Wales, she was very old and white-haired. More vividly I remember my four grandparents, who were also old and white-haired.
I had the privilege this week of being reunited with my parents who aren’t quite old, and grey-haired. I had the privilege this week of being reunited with them, and I’d not seen them since Easter. During the summertime, my niece came over for the day, and I spent time with her, and she isn’t old and-white -haired either, talking with her about her future dreams, and aspirations to become an architect. That’s the thing about families, we can be part of them if we choose.
Although I have no children of my own, I know that the Wintle family will continue. My nephew and my niece may decide to have families of their own, and I guess that I will be, to some extent, part of that as great-uncle Paul one day, and so families are past, they are present, they are future. Here, John reminds his dear children that there is also a glorious future ahead, a blessed future ahead. As Tom Wright says, “… the present, too, is glorious, since it is into this present age that Jesus has come to display God, and the Life of his New Age. That already is enough to tell us how much God loves us [verse 1]; if Jesus is the Son of God, God’s love in Jesus has made us, too, his children, his sons and daughters.” [Tom Wright, Early Christian Letters for Everyone, SPCK, 2011]
Our hope as children of God seems enormously positive, even amidst the backdrop of how tumultuous the world is today. Jesus brings hope. As part of that family, Jesus brings hope, and therefore with it comes blessing, God’s favour bestowed upon his people. John goes on to talk about the challenges of reflecting the purity of Jesus Christ in our lives, and that is a challenge. Whilst I’m not wanting to take anything away from, or out of context of John, I wonder whether sometimes we look at whole chapters, or chunks, or paragraphs, without sitting and pondering a few words or lines, and just letting them sink in deeply, to move us or to change us to be more like Jesus.
What I mean is, today we’re talking about blessing, I’m using one I John 3, as an example of how God blesses us, because verse one tells us that we’re God’s children. We’ve read up to verse 10, and so now the obvious thing to do in a Bible study is to look at the things that we could get out of these next verses, about the purity of Jesus, and ensuring that we are on the right path. That’s all good and great stuff, but what if I just mused upon that wonderful blessing, that I am a child of God, that I should be called a child of God, that together in this place, we are children of God.
What if you really let that sink in? Not as sinners saved by grace, not by people who have earned any right to a position of blessing, not someone who has received a special calling on their life to serve God in some big way, but to be known as a child of God. To imagine that is precisely what Father God desires for his children. I was imagining a child crawling up onto God’s lap, and just to stay there, in a warm and safe embrace. What if we looked at just this verse this morning, and really began to understand it more fully for ourselves? How much of a blessing would that be, for our Father God to know that we get it just a little bit more?
That Father God is not just a title, but that’s what He desires his creation to call him, dad, daddy because we are children of God, you are a child of God. You are not a child of God because you eventually found God in your sin. If we’re to take the parable of the Good Samaritan, even when the son was far off, the father girded up his loins, and ran to meet the lad. The prodigal son was still a sinner all the way through the story, but that’s not the point. The point is that the son was always the son, the child was always the child. Whatever he thought the father might think of his behaviour, or his actions before, during, or after the inheritance had been squandered, was of no interest to the father.
Child of God, this is your status, Christ died for you, He is now somehow our brother because God chooses to call you and me his children, and somehow we claim a blessing, just as God promised Abraham that his offspring would become a great nation. We have been ingrained into that same promise. Adoption has taken place, and it’s as if you never belonged to another. Jesus bridges the gap in so many ways. Sin and forgiveness. God and humankind, showing what it is to love and to be loved. Now, Father God allows Jesus to be our brother, and we are all God’s children.
That’s the central message and theme throughout this series. If we could listen to all the messages one after another, which you can do on our website actually, it’s all about Jesus. His life, his ministry, his example, his death, his resurrection, and somehow he has incorporated all of this into new life, new way, new age, which we have been invited to participate in. John puts it into familiar language of blessing. God has made us his children, the mightiest blessing of all time. This blessing includes you and it includes me. Jesus’ life and message is one of blessing. When we use the word bless, let us use it as an invocation of bestowing God’s favour upon one another, not so much of as a religious greeting.
If the word blessing in its various guises appears 420 times in the Bible, then perhaps this is a constant reminder that each one of us is to be a blessing and allow God to bless us and, in knowing this, we become a blessing to the world. May each one of us know God’s blessing. Stephen Greasley at Gillingham is preaching on this particular passage from Numbers 6 this morning. It says this, “The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you. The Lord turn his face towards you and give you peace”
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