Another of the many contrasts John draws in his first letter is that of the old command and the new command. In 1 John 2:7 he says, I'm not writing you a new command but an old one, yet it is a new command. So which is it? New or old?
He means to say it is both old and new. Leviticus 19:18 reads, "Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord." (emphasis mine) Jesus said that we should love one another as he loved us, which is more than loving our neighbor as ourselves (John 13:34). Loving someone as God loves us goes far beyond loving someone as we love ourselves. In this way, Jesus' teaching is an old teaching with a new twist. It is a command of a greater magnitude. The Jewish hearers of Jesus' teaching would have noticed the change immediately. They had been taught to love only those who did good to them.
But Jesus' teaching specifically went beyond even loving our neighbors when he proclaimed, "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" (Matthew 5:43). So the teaching of Jesus progressed from the old command to "love your neighbor as yourself" to "love your neighbor as I love you" to "love your enemies". Changing from "love your neighbor" to "love your enemy" indeed makes it a new command. Undoubtedly this is one of the hardest teachings of Jesus to accept and try to practice.
For Reflection: As Christians, how are we doing at loving our neighbors? How are we doing at loving our enemies? Perhaps we need to ask ourselves, "Who is my enemy?" Today I hear people in the U.S. speak of "those republicans" or "those democrats" as if they are the enemy. Or we speak of unnamed terrorists or ISIS or Al Quaeda as the enemy. Yet Paul says we wrestle not against flesh and blood (Ephesians 6:12). So who, indeed, is our enemy?
Let us pray. Jesus, I seek to follow your command to love my enemies and pray for, or do good to, those who persecute me. Who have I been treating as my enemy? I ask you to help me see them through your eyes. I need help praying for them and not against them.
"The man . . . is a liar and the truth is not in him." Strong words from Apostle John speaking in general of someone who says he knows God yet does not obey God's commands (1 John 2:3-5). John also calls out another type of liar: "Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist -- he denies the Father and the Son" (1 John 2:22).
Again, these are such strong words from John. But in a way they tell us what a Christian must profess and do. A Christian must know that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed Son of God and must follow in the footsteps of Christ. A Christian must walk the walk. And how do we walk the walk? We follow the example of Jesus and we do whatever specific things God calls us to do. Following his example means caring about people, offering loving service and giving witness to God the Father.
It is not so difficult to know what Jesus did because we can read the Bible to find out. But many have trouble knowing exactly what God is calling them specifically to do. This calls for prayer and listening. Jesus also prayed and listened to the Father. He often went off to a quiet place to pray. If even Jesus needed to pray, to seek the Father's face, how much more do we need to do the same?
For Reflection: How often and how earnestly do I pray and seek God's direction for my life? If I need to do more, it needs to be scheduled. When will it be?
Let us pray. Jesus, I know you went off alone to pray all the time. I need to do the same. Please show me the opportunities in my day when I can spend a little time with you and the Father. I don't want to be the liar who says one thing and does another. I want to be your true witness. I want to follow in your footsteps and listen to the Father's directions.
John continues to speak of sin, truth and lies in chapter two of his first letter. He has already spoken of confessing our sins (1:9) to Jesus who is faithful and just. Then he goes on to say that Jesus is the Righteous One, the atoning sacrifice. He is the one who serves as our defense lawyer before the Father. In fact, he is the only one who can represent us before the Father because it was his sacrifice of his own life that leads to our justification. It is his justification, his righteousness which is applied to our sin before the Father. And so, we are declared "not guilty" because he took our guilt, our sin, our shame upon himself. He is our defense (2:1-2).
He is a better defense attorney than Johnny Cochran. He argues in a court far above the Supreme Court. And he always wins.
For Reflection: Justification is the forgiveness of sins (cf. Rom 3:23-25; Acts 13:39; Lk 18:14), liberation from the dominating power of sin and death (Rom 5:12-21) and from the curse of the law (Gal 3:10-14). It is acceptance into communion with God: already now, but then fully in God's coming kingdom (Rom 5:1f). It unites with Christ and with his death and resurrection (Rom 6:5). It occurs in the reception of the Holy Spirit in baptism and incorporation into the one body (Rom 8:1f, 9f; I Cor 12:12f). All this is from God alone, for Christ's sake, by grace, through faith in "the gospel of God's Son" (Rom 1:1-3). (Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification by Faith, 11, www.vatican.va)
Let us pray. Jesus, you are the only begotten Son of the Father. You are the Righteous One, the Just One. You are the one who intercedes for us. You are the light. You are the truth. You are the atonement.
"God is light" is the opening theme of 1 John (1:5). The light of God is contrasted with the darkness of Satan, sin and evil. God is pure light. In him there is no darkness at all. If there is darkness in us, then we are not in the pure light of God. The pure light is the truth; darkness is a lie.
All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, as Romans 3:23 tells us. If we claim not to have sinned, then we are liars. The pure light of God is sinlessness and it is truth. All else has some measure of darkness, sin and fabrication. Since we are not perfect, not pure, then we have elements of darkness, sin and falsehood within us. However, if we confess our sins, God will forgive us and purify us. This is a great promise - like a "get out of jail free" card. If we but sincerely repent and confess our sins, God will forgives us. It's not that he might forgive us, or probably he will forgive us, but he will forgive us. It's a sure thing. God will take us out of the darkness and bring us back into the light. He sets us free from our bad choices.
Thus begins John's argument against those who would deny the reality of sin (1 John 1:5-10). Sin is real and it is present in all of us. If we think it is not, we deceive ourselves.
For Reflection: Have I been thinking that I am past all that sinning "stuff?" I'm too good to sin now. If so, how did this lie get into my thinking?
Let us pray. Blessed be your glorious name, and may it be exalted above all blessing and praise. You alone are the Lord. You made the heavens, even the highest heavens, and all their starry host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to everything, and the multitudes of heaven worship you" (Nehemiah 9:5b-6).
The three letters of St. John are quite short and often seem to be ignored. The first letter encourages Christians to stay strong to the true teachings because falsehoods were being spread. The heretical proselytizers denied that Jesus was God and that sin was real.
John begins his letter by giving his credentials. He knew Jesus personally, walked with him day-by-day, saw his miracles, witnessed his death, and ate and drank with him after the resurrection. From that direct experience, he speaks. "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched --- this we proclaim concerning the Word of life" (1 John 1:1). Who better to know and tell us the truth than one of the original 12 disciples? In fact, John often spent extra time with Jesus as one of the three (along with Peter and James) who was singled out by Jesus (e.g., Matthew 17:1-9).
John proclaims what he knows to be the truth. God became man. Jesus Christ is the Son of God. If we believe this, then we have fellowship with one another. This fellowship is both spiritual and social. Spiritually we have the same belief that Jesus is the Messiah and so we have fellowship with the Father and the Son. Socially we are united with fellow believers through good times and bad, through peace and persecution, through death into eternal life.
For Reflection: Unity in belief and fellowship helps us to hold fast to the truth. Have I gotten away from Christian fellowship? How intimately do I know Jesus?
Let us pray. Jesus, I have not walked with you in the way that John did. Still I long to be by your side, to walk with you, to talk with you, and to hear your voice every day. Nothing else could be as special to me.
Even while he traveled and preached the Gospel, Paul worked for a living. He was a tentmaker and he was able to ply his skill wherever he went. Peter and some of the other disciples were fishermen. They were not able to fish everywhere they went. So they made their living by receiving offerings from those to whom they ministered. Peter and the apostles did not travel alone. They had their wives with them and perhaps even their children.
Paul tells us this (1 Corinthians 9:1-12) to make a point. He has a right to hospitality, to be married and to be paid for his ministry to the people. Just because he does not claim those rights, as the others do, he is not less of an apostle.
What we give to ministers does not always have to be money. We can provide hospitality, food, or clothing. We can pave the way to further places of ministry. We can uphold them in prayer. Let us consider not only their daily needs, but their long-term needs also. Most don't have retirement plans or college funds for their children. They may need a vacation or a sabbatical.
For Reflection: Whenever someone has ministered to me have I always given according to my means? Have I offered a kind word and thanks for their ministry? Have I witnessed to other people about how God touched me through them?
Let us pray. Jesus, I ask your forgiveness for being stingy about giving to ministers. I recognize now that they have the same needs I do, and that in giving to them I am giving to you. Please help me to make an inventory of all of those who have touched me whether in person or over the internet and allow me to make a deposit into their continuing work for you.
The last of the spiritual works of mercy is controversial to many Christians. Praying for the living is OK with all Christians, but not all believe in praying for the dead. Praying for the dead is too complicated to get into with these short meditations, so let's concentrate on praying for the living.
Most of the time in this blog we pray for ourselves to become better followers of Christ. I think that is the most easily answered prayer. When we pray for ourselves we know that we are doing this of our own free will and we really desire to have that prayer answered. When praying for someone else, we may not know where they stand on the issue about which we are praying. Take for example, praying for someone to be healed of a physical ailment. If we know that the person truly wants healing then we are not praying against that person's free will. But if the person does not want to be healed what would be the point of our prayer? Do we want to ask God to heal the person in spite of what that person wants? And would God do that?
When we want to intercede for someone, it might be best to find out what the person in need really desires. If we can agree with that, a mighty prayer can be offered. "Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them" (Matthew 18:19-20).
I think the catch is finding two or more people who really agree in prayer. At times when a group has prayed for one particular person, I have asked the individuals in the group afterward "What specifically did you pray?" It turned out that none of them prayed for the same thing. There was no agreement in prayer.
Who are "the afflicted?" If we are to comfort them, we need to be able to identify them. Today we might consider them to be the people of Nepal suffering after the earthquake or the residents of Baltimore who have experienced death, protests and curfews. But, unless we personally know someone involved in those events, we have no opportunity to offer comfort.
We might, on the other hand, know someone who has lost a job, had a fire in their home, or been unjustly accused. Sometimes those who are afflicted hide their problem. They don't want anyone to know that they've lost a job, or their spouse has left them, or the insurance has run out for their sick child. So, often, the person whom we have the opportunity to comfort is someone really close to us, a family member or life-long friend.
Comfort can be a listening ear, doing the laundry for someone spending their days at the hospital, or taking in people who have lost their home. Years ago when my mother was in her final illness, a neighbor, who knew about insurance, offered to keep track of the doctor and hospital bills. It was a tremendous load off of my mind as my days revolved around my mother's medications, oxygen supplies and doctor appointments. Another friend offered me a room to sleep in when my sister would take care of Mom for a night. These acts of kindness were a big comfort to me.
For Reflection: If we listen to people and look around, we may see opportunities to comfort a friend who is afflicted. "What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, 'Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,' but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead." (James 2:14-17)
Let us pray. Father, for the times when I have turned a blind eye, forgive me.
For the times when I have seen the need, but refused to get involved, forgive me.
For the times when I have hardened my heart to another's affliction, forgive me.
"To counsel the doubtful" is a lofty-sounding goal that might put most of us off from attempting to do it at all. But I am not one of those who thinks that the spiritual works of mercy apply to some of us and not all of us. All of us, I believe, are called at various times to counsel the doubtful in the same way that we are all called to instruct others in the faith to the best of our abilities.
Who has not been doubtful about their faith at some point in their lives? I certainly have. Satan loves nothing better than to bring doubt to our minds. Isn't that what he tried to do with Jesus in the desert (Matthew 4:1-11)? Satan said, "If you are the Son of God, . . ." Starting off with "if" was meant to sow doubt. Obviously Jesus didn't need anyone to counsel him away from doubt, but he had just come off of 40 days of fasting and prayer. Plus Jesus was well versed in the Word of God.
Doubt about our faith does not come from God. When we come across someone who is doubting, what should we do? Let's take them in the reverse order of what Jesus did with Satan's temptation. Remind them of what Scripture says. Pray with and for them. Fast for them. And if we need to refer them to someone who can answer their questions more completely, we can do that too.
The same approach works if we are the one who is doubting. Read Scripture, pray, fast, consult an elder in the faith.
For Reflection: Times of doubt come and go. What do I do when I am doubtful? When I come across someone who is doubtful, what is my response?
Let us pray. "I call on the Lord in my distress, and he answers me. Save me, O Lord, from lying lips and from deceitful tongues" (Psalm 120: 1-2).
I started this website and blog on May 1, 2012. I am a Catholic who has been in ministry for many years. I first developed what I would call a close relationship with Jesus in the early 1970s. Ever since then I have been praying with people for healing and other needs. It is because I have seen so many of these prayers answered that I am so bold as to offer to pray for you individually through this website and phone line.