1 John 3 Common English Bible (CEB) 1-7
3 See what kind of love the Father has given to us in that we should be called God’s children, and that is what we are! Because the world didn’t recognize him, it doesn’t recognize us.
2 Dear friends, now we are God’s children, and it hasn’t yet appeared what we will be. We know that when he appears we will be like him because we’ll see him as he is. 3 And everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself even as he is pure. 4 Every person who practices sin commits an act of rebellion, and sin is rebellion. 5 You know that he appeared to take away sins, and there is no sin in him. 6 Every person who remains in relationship to him does not sin. Any person who sins has not seen him or known him.
7 Little children, make sure no one deceives you. The person who practices righteousness is righteous, in the same way that Jesus is righteous.
This is the word of God for us the people of God. Thanks be to God.
Three Simple Rules – Do Good
In my family and most families, my children are reflections of me and my husband, Ed. A few years ago, I took this picture of my two sons Jonathan and Mark and Mark’s fiancée, Stephanie. People always recognize that Jonathan looks like Ed. This time, several people commented that they hadn’t noticed that Mark looked a lot like Ed, too. But EVERYONE would notice that Stephanie looks very different! She is a reflection of her parents – her dad has red hair like she does, and she talks just like her mother. And, I’m pretty sure that no one would think Stephanie is one our children.
A lot of you know that I wa a lawyer and Ed was a coach. Well our kids, didn’t get very creative – I guess we influenced them more than we thought because Jonathan is a lawyer and Mark is a coach. In many ways children are reflections of their parents –certainly not in all ways – but in their looks, their mannerisms, their beliefs, their interests, and sometimes even their career choices.
Just like children are a reflection of their earthly parents, we are reflections of God. Today we are going to think about what it means to be a child of God (there are both benefits and responsibilities). And we are going to think about what the process of reflecting God’s light into the world might look like especially according to our Wesleyan roots. We will consider Rueben Job’s book Three Simple Rules together with today’s scripture from 1 John. And, so I invite you to think about how we can “do good” as children of God.
To me the most amazing part of this scripture is to think that God would even want to call us his very own – that we are God’s own beloved children – that we are holy and precious in God’s eyes. The benefit and blessing is pretty overwhelming. The Message translation of the Bible says it this way:
What marvelous love the Father has extended to us! Just look at it—we’re called children of God! That’s who we really are.
It’s a love that surpasses the greatest human love – we really can’t even comprehend God’s love for us because there are no strings attached to God’s love. We are a part of God’s family! And it’s not just that we are merely called God’s children, but we actually are God’s children. That idea takes a little bit of work to understand. Commentator William Barclay said that “by nature a [person] is the creature of God, but it is by grace that he becomes the child of God.” In other words, it is God’s gift that we were created by Him and born of him. But we truly become a member of God’s family at the time that our hearts and minds respond to him and accept the relationship that God offers to us – to become a member of God’s family.
Barclay explains this more by describing the meanings of two closely related words: “paternity” and “fatherhood.” Although the words are related, the meanings are very different. Paternity describes the relationship in which a man is responsible for the physical existence of a child. We have paternity cases all the time, where DNA testing is done to determine who the father of the child is – that establishes paternity. But “fatherhood” on the other hand is more than just the person who physically created the child. Fatherhood describes an intimate, caring and loving relationship. Unfortunately, we have many examples of men whose paternity is established, but who are not fathers in their children’s lives.
Barclay points out that in the sense of paternity, “all people are children of God; but in the sense of fatherhood people are children of God only when God makes his gracious approach to us and we respond.” (Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series, The Letters of John, page 73. ) We are all God’s children because God created us. But when we say “yes” to God, that is when we are truly God’s children. We are adopted into God’s family when we say “yes” to this relationship with God.
I learned this week that in the Roman world during which the book of 1 John was written, adoptions did take place even in 100 AD, but not out of compassion for orphans. In fact, many people were adopted as young adults or even grown adults. Adoption for the Romans was about inheritance and name. Sometimes a grown man was adopted to carry on the name of a couple with no children. The adopted son severed ties to the old family including the relief of any debt owed under the name of the old family. He would become a whole new person, in a new family, with a new inheritance and a new name. It was a new beginning.
And so it is with us. When we accept this new relationship with Christ, as we grow closer to Christ, we become whole new persons, we are transformed, and the light of God begins to shine in and through us. We become a reflection of God.
Being transformed into the image of Jesus is what becoming a disciple is all about – and when that happens, we are a reflection of a whole new family. But unfortunately, when we say “yes” to God, we are not instantly transformed into Christ-like people are we? When we profess our faith, we don’t suddenly begin living our lives loving God and loving people. God gave us a little thing called free will, and we are always battling with our free-will. We tend to love ourselves more than we love God and others. So, it is a constant struggle. This transformation is a slow journey – we slowly change from being self-centered to being God centered. Our actions really do matter. Because our actions are what reveal the light of God in the world.
And so that brings us to the question of how we as children of God are called to live in the world so that we actually reflect the one we belong to. How do we live out this new identity in Christ? I want to turn to the rest of the scripture. Let’s turn to 1 John 16-24 for an explanation:
16 This is how we know love: Jesus laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 But if a person has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need and that person doesn’t care—how can the love of God remain in him?
18 Little children, let’s not love with words or speech but with action and truth. 19 This is how we will know that we belong to the truth and reassure our hearts in God’s presence. 20 Even if our hearts condemn us, God is greater than our hearts and knows all things. 21 Dear friends, if our hearts don’t condemn us, we have confidence in relationship to God. 22 We receive whatever we ask from him because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. 23 This is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love each other as he commanded us. 24 The person who keeps his commandments remains in God and God remains in him; and this is how we know that he remains in us, because of the Spirit that he has given to us.
We are called to live as God’s children by loving with our actions and not just our words. In fact, it’s not just a suggestion is it? It’s a commandment that we love one another.
In the General Rules, John Wesley says the people called Methodists should do good of every possible sort. If you will look at the hand out from last week, you can see how he described these rules. There are basically three categories of doing good. First, it says “to their bodies.” We are called to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit or help those who are sick or in prison to the best of our God given ability.
We are called as children of God to provide for the physical, bodily needs of others if we are able. In other words, if God has gifted us with money, we are called to use those gifts to provide for those in need. If God has gifted us with time to visit the sick or those in prison, we are called to use that gift. If God has given us a skill, or a temperament or a vocation that lends itself toward helping those in need, we are called to use those gifts for God’s good purposes. And do you see how we are reflecting God’s light in caring for those who might really need to see a little light?
But it is not just the body, that Wesley was worried about. Look at the General Rules. The second things he says is that we are to do good by their souls – by instructing, reproving, or exhorting all the people that we come in contact with. In other words, Wesley is saying, not only is it our job to provide for physical needs but to attend to the souls of our brothers and sisters. We are called to not just provide bread, but to offer them the bread of life, Jesus Christ. We are called to offer them Christ!
And then the third thing that we find in the General Rules is that we are to do good especially to those in the household of faith. Christians are to have a special concern for their own, and I think an even higher level of concern for those within his own particular body of Christ. We are called to see to the needs of each other in this place — by praying for one another and showing God’s love and light through our actions.
Do you remember from last week where John Wesley went to college? (Oxford) And do you remember from last week the name of the group of young men who met to read scripture and do good in the world? (The Holy Club). I want to share with you a description of some of the ways the Oxford Holy Club practiced doing good.
John Wesley and the Holy Club recognized social work to be an essential, inseparable art of Christian life. Their social work in the city [of London] involved visiting impoverished families, assisting in schools and helping in workplaces. Furthermore, Charles and John Wesley visited prisons, preaching and setting up pastoral care groups as well as helping with the rehabilitation of prisoners, often caring for them financially as well.
They visited disadvantaged families, supplying medicine and clothing; they set up schools for children and paid teachers so that children could receive an education. The members of the Holy Club prevented one another from purchasing unneeded clothing and fasted regularly showing a serious intent on making a permanent change for the deprived and marginalized. (Joshua Bloor article “Revisiting Wesley’s Ethics and His Ministry to the Poor).
In his later life, John Wesley even learned about medicine and grew medicinal plants to help those who couldn’t afford medical care. He preached outside of coal mines in order to share the gospel with marginalized workers.
As a direct result of Wesley’s involvement in the lives of people in need, key societies were created to help. Wesley often bought nourishing food for those who were hungry, provided decent clothing, and furnished houses for widows and orphans. In order to boost employment, Wesley would send weavers yarn for their looms. For children, schools were built to train young children as well as setting up publishing programs for uneducated adults. (Bloor)
There are all kinds of stories about the creative ways Methodists worked to bring physical and spiritual healing to the world. As United Methodists we have a really rich legacy of doing good in all kinds of ways. So, how does that translate for us 300 years later? How can we “do good?” There are so many needs out there, that it can become overwhelming, and it wears us out and we think we can’t make a difference. In fact, as I was writing this sermon, I had a person in need call about help getting her electricity turned back on, and I didn’t have a good solution for her because she had already tried all the usual resources. I felt very helpless because not only did she have no electricity, I knew that once she did get enough money to turn it back she would probably be in the same situation again without some type of comprehensive plan to get her back on her feet.
So, rather than being overwhelmed, let’s start by thinking small. I imagine that every single day there are ways that we can reflect God’s light – in our own families, as we go about our daily routine – in our jobs, and at school. One of my favorite Mother Teresa quotes is this one: ‘Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”
And so here is the interactive portion of this message. I want to give you 60 seconds to turn to the person next to you, and share a recent time when someone “did good” for you. “When did someone do a small thing with great love for you?” And then I want some of you to share those things with the group.
After you leave here, I invite you to continue this conversation at lunch with your family.
Sometimes, though, we are inspired by the Holy Spirit to tackle something really big. Doing good is also a big task – we are called to do good for those who face serious needs in our community and around the world, and to develop relationships with our neighbors in order to offer them Christ. God also wants us to be his instrument in creating permanent changes – including solving the underlying problems. So, what are some bigger acts of “doing good?” We just spent Lent learning about the special concern Jesus had for people considered nobodies. We’ve taken time to think about people the world disrespects, and we’ve started to notice people. And so, what I ask you to do now, is to grab a piece of paper. And write down what you think the one biggest need in our community is right now. Don’t think about how or if we can address this problem. Don’t think about the cost of time and money or whether we would succeed. I just want you to write down what you think the biggest need is in our community, and I’ll share these results with you next week. Perhaps the Holy Spirit will inspire us to do something great for God if we take the time to think about it and write it down.
These rules are simple, but they are not easy. Doing good is really difficult. We worry how successful our efforts will be and whether people will take advantage of us if we try to help.
But, Rueben Job writes this:
The truth is that my gift of goodness may be rejected, ridiculed, and misused. But my desire to do good is not limited by the thoughts or actions of others. My desire to do good is in response to God’s invitation to follow Jesus, and it is in my control. I can determine to extend hospitality and goodness to all I meet. I can decide to do good to all even to those who disagree with me and turn against what I believe is right and good. And the reward for my doing good is not cancelled or diminished by the response to my acts of goodness. I will have the reward of knowing I did what was right and pleasing to God. I will still be identified, known, and loved as a child of God. What could be a greater reward than this? (Rueben Job, Three Simple Rules)
So, hear the scripture again from the Message:
My dear children, let’s not just talk about love; let’s practice real love. This is the only way we’ll know we’re living truly, living in God’s reality…. This is God’s command: to believe in his personally named Son, Jesus Christ. He told us to love each other, in line with the original command. As we keep his commands, we live deeply and surely in him, and he lives in us. And this is how we experience his deep and abiding presence in us: by the Spirit he gave us.
May our lives truly be reflections of God.
May we live as children of God.
May others know Christ by our love.