When inhuman events fill cable news, what can we do? We sometimes see opinion writers distressed at how bewildering it feels to explain to children these almost impossible to fully absorb realities. How can we both explain and protect them from the information? When we read John 14-17, sometimes called the Lord's "upper room" discourse, we see hints of this type of cautiousness. We see Jesus protecting and nurturing, even as He suggests the trauma of approaching events, “As the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you. Remain in My love… I still have many things to tell you, but you can't bear them now.”
The Lord is also protective when the 72 preach in the villages. When the 72 returned, they rejoiced that the demons had been subject to them in Jesus name. Jesus affirmed them but also cautioned, “Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
When training His disciples in leadership Jesus insisted on the fundamentals of discipleship, especially the sense of being greatly blessed in God's care, the quiet childlike contentment of Psalm 131. (I do not get involved with things too great or too difficult for me. Instead, I have calmed and quieted myself like a little weaned child with its mother; I am like a little child.) On the occasion of the return of the 72, Jesus prayed, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children.” Through His repetition of the "little children" analogy, Jesus insisted they receive His nurture.
Trauma & Crisis
In John's First Epistle, these ideas reappear. The son of Zebedee has learned the hardest thing, to receive love. In his epistle, his words repeat the Master's protection, nurture and warning. The best way to understand John's First Epistle is to pair the nurture and warning found there to a specific traumatic crisis in the early church. In Acts we read of an apostasy crisis at Ephesus. Ephesus was the city so deeply rooted in idol worship that faithful Christians had to disentangle themselves from many of the most profitable jobs. This created a great temptation, especially to the leaders, to split from orthodoxy and create a hybrid faith out of Christ and idols. Meeting with the elders of the church at Ephesus at Miletus, Paul shared tears over his coming arrest in Jerusalem, acknowledging that it may be their final face-to-face visit. But he also prophesied. Paul predicted that the Ephesian elders would face a severe apostasy crisis, that even some of the men from that very meeting would betray the church and the Lord.
Post-crisis, First John may very well have been the first apostolic communication to reach Ephesus. This would fit the text of First John perfectly, its clear purpose being to soberly affirm and wisely fortify its readers. Sometimes the epistle is thought of as the work of an elderly writer, with a casual structure, but seen in this light of trauma and crisis, First John is one of the most sharply focused books of the NT. This light illuminates John's nurturing and affirming but also very careful and cautioning words.
The Apostle John wrote on behalf of the Twelve in Jerusalem. (This is why he invokes "we" so frequently, as in, what we have seen and heard we also declare to you.) He scorns the apostates and affirms the faithful, insisting they possess fully sufficient doctrine and have no need to refine their body of truth. Note that the idea that a group has no need of refinement in their understanding would be unusual for an entire congregation.
“I have written these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you.The anointing you received from Him remains in you, and you don't need anyone to teach you. Instead, His anointing teaches you about all things and is true and is not a lie; just as He has taught you, remain in Him.” (1 Jn. 2:26, 27 HCSB)
John reminds the elders to remain in the love of the Father, warning the elders to not allow the drama to distract from the fundamentals of the faith: keeping from sin, full confidence in Jesus as the expansive propitiation for their sin, and, especially, abiding in love of the Father. Why is abiding in the fellowship of the Father so vital?
Hope in His Appearing
. . . Because it is the central strategy for preparing for the glorious appearing. The key verse of the Epistle is, So now, little children, remain in Him, so that when He appears we may have boldness and not be ashamed before Him at His coming.
Self-doubt (and even self-condemnation) is part of the human condition. After their congregation's traumatic crisis, the leaders in Ephesus needed to forgive themselves for any missteps taken in the heat of battle, and return to a state of tenderness in the care of their Heavenly Father. They needed to resist the temptation post-crisis to harden themselves against the vulnerability of sincere love. By remaining in the Father's love they would increase their expectancy and hope in His return. But they faced the danger of losing their first love: their love for the Father and their compassionate care for the flock. Very tragically this is what we see suggested in the Lord's letters to the churches (in Revelation 2) to the entire congregation in Ephesus.
“I know your works, your labor, and your endurance, and that you cannot tolerate evil. You have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and you have found them to be liars. You also possess endurance and have tolerated many things because of My name and have not grown weary. But I have this against you. You have abandoned the love you had at first.” (Rev 2:2-4 HCSB)
All-out love is probably most perfectly portrayed in the happy affection of little children. That type of being loved and loving back is the great fundamental of our faith in Christ. I know from experience it is a hard thing to fake. This is why I find it convicting when I read Paul's incredulous rhetorical question in Galatians, What happened to this sense of being blessed you had?
© Jodie Sawyer, 2014