When I was a young boy, 9, 10, 11, I lived in a small farming community north of Indianapolis called Carmel and my father was one of just 3 family practice doctors with an office between the towns of Nora and Noblesville. And being the son of a small town doctor gave me a lot of social cache. My dad was a special person at the Carmel High School basketball games… he had a seat right behind the team in case anyone was injured… every coach knew my dad and always greeted him and me warmly. He was treated with tremendous respect at Bill, Buck, Dale and Dick’s Barbershop in downtown Carmel when we’d get our every-other-Saturday-morning haircut. His opinions on anything from politics to High School coaching decisions were always given great weight. And since he was a doctor the assumption was that we were well-to-do… he did drive a new, baby blue Pontiac Tempest which added to our mystic. And all of my dad’s respect in that once small town bled over onto me. Adults called me ‘Little Doc.’ I was his son and it gave me entrance into his world. And I loved it! I tagged along with him as often as I could and when he would say, ‘This is my son.’ all questions about why I was in the locker room or the doctor’s lounge at Riverview Hospital ended. I was Tim Ayers, the son of Dr. Ayers! As I look back on those years I’ve come to realize that that is about as close as I have ever come in my life to experiencing what ‘family connections’ were like for everyone in the first Century during the time that John, one of Jesus’ disciples, was writing the letter we are looking at during our ‘Saved’ series, the letter we call First John. In Jesus’ and John’s world the connections between family members were very deep and permanent… multiple generations always lived together and the reputation of everyone in a household was connected to the reputation of the oldest male in the home. And all of the respect, deference and privilege that was given to the family leader was expected to also be given to his children. For instance, if the son of a well-respected man was sent to deliver a message or complete a family business deal it was assumed that he would be received and treated in exactly the same manner that the father would have been treated had the father come personally. Anything less was a great affront to the entire family. The son spoke for the Father… his words were to be heard as if the father had actually spoken them. Everyone understood these expectations and most followed them. Now, I tell you all of this because we don’t think like this at all. There is a time in life when we are expected to step out from under the ‘reputation umbrella’ of our parents and begin forging our own identity. That is normal for us. But it would have been unimaginable in the first century. And this background, this understanding of the deep ties between a father and his children helps make the first sentence in today’s passage all the more powerful. Let’s turn to I John 3 on page 863 and (Grace Fishers) read what John has to say. Verse 1 ‘See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!’ Just to be clear, when John wrote this nobody thought that everyone was a child of God simply because they were born. Our culture tends to think that way… that everyone is a child of God… but that would have been a ridiculous thought in the first century. The Jews did believe that as a nation they alone were the ‘children of God,’ but this idea that there was only one God and that one God would allow anyone, Jew or Gentile, who surrendered their life to Jesus to call themselves His child was something very new and quite controversial. And besides being controversial, the language of this statement ‘that we should be called the children of God’ would have immediately reminded a 1st Century person of the adoption process of that day and here is why. Adoption in that time had a very different purpose than adoption today. When we think of adoption we generally think about babies or young children being adopted into new families. But in the 1st Century it was primarily the means for an older childless, wealthy couple to create an heir for their estate and most often adoption involved adopting a friend’s adult child or even more likely adopting a trusted adult slave… someone they loved and knew they could entrusted with all of their earthly possessions. The process was easy: (it actually had a formal name: verba solemna) the parents, let’s call them Marcus and Livia, would publically say, ‘You are my son’ and the adoptee would say, ‘You are my father and mother’ and then the adoptee would add, ‘I am now to be called the child of Marcus and Livia’ and from that moment on every right, privilege, all prestige, all property, authority, power and position of the father was expected to be afforded to his new child, even if just minutes earlier that ‘child’ had been a common slave! This is why John says that being able to call ourselves God’s children is a sign of God’s lavish love toward us. And I love the little reminder, ‘And that is what we are! It’s important to keep in mind that Christians then were looked down on… they were thought of as poor, ignorant unfortunates, unworthy of respect… and many had even been disowned by their families for following Jesus. John was reminding his fellow Christian brothers and sisters, and I think we still need to be reminded of this as well, that if we have surrendered our lives to Jesus, if we are following him, we have an entirely new identity! We have been adopted into a wonderful, new family and our father is the God of Heaven! And what we gain from this adoption is all of the rights, privilege, prestige, property, authority, power and position that comes with being a son or daughter of the God who created the universe. This is a fact of being ‘Saved.’ But, of course, not everyone recognizes that this is true of Christ followers. And John addresses this straight up in the next part of this verse where he says, ‘The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.’ In other words, how can the people around us, people who don’t know God, people who have never been introduced to our father, how can they recognize that we are his children? I had an experience one time that always comes back to me when I read this verse. When I was in my early twenties living in Evansville, word got back to me that an acquaintance of one of my sisters was going to various Indianapolis car dealers and claiming to be me, saying he was Dr. Ayers’ son and that he was looking to buy a new sports car. He’d actually test driven a number of very expensive cars before he finally ran into a dealer who happened to know our family and confronted him about not being Dr. Ayers’ son. I talked to that car dealer later and he said to me, ‘Anyone who knows your father would have known right off that that guy wasn’t his son. He acted absolutely nothing like the Dr. Ayers that I know.’ The other car dealers didn’t know the difference but the one that knew my dad could see the truth. This has always stuck with me. And it explains why we can be misunderstood or marginalized as followers Jesus. People who aren’t saved don’t know God and so they don’t recognize that we are his children. Our actions and sensibilities and priorities don’t make sense to them because they don’t really know our father. Now, I say this very carefully because in order for this to be true we have to be living in a way that our actions and sensibilities and priorities actually do reflect the actions and sensibilities and priorities of our father. In fact, in verse 2 through 6 of this chapter John talks about the way we, as God’s children, should carry ourselves in the world in order to shrink down the credibility gap that often exists between who God is and how those that claim to be his children really live. And it’s pretty clear that the expectations are high! He starts out in verse 2 saying, ‘Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known.’ He reminds us that there is a time coming when we will realize all that it fully means for us to be the children of God… we don’t know all that this entails yet, but we will someday. And he goes on to say, ‘But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.’ In other words, when that time comes we will finally be like Jesus and we won’t have to struggle in this world any longer! Then he goes on to say, ‘But in the meantime, ‘all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.’ Now, he is getting down to the nitty gritty… if you have this hope that someday you will see Jesus and be transformed to be like him then your life better reflect that you are Jesus’ brother or sister now! He goes on, ‘Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin. No one who lives in him keeps on sinning.’ John says, ‘The one who didn’t have any sin took away our sin and so we should now do all that we can to avoid sin.’ And to make it clear how important this is John then says this, ‘No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.’ This verse is a bit scary, to be honest, because I know that I sin... frequently! The Greek here does imply an ongoing, unending, willful sinning and not just messing up from time to time… but still, the bar is Jesus’ purity. Fortunately, John does give us some helpful advice on how to live like Jesus. Look at verse 18. Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. I think we all understand that actions speak louder than words. John says live like you know this! Stop the talking and get busy doing! And in verse 23 he says this, ‘And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. And I think this all makes sense… it makes sense that we should be doing the right things… not just talking about it… it makes sense that we should believe in Jesus, believe the good news that he is the savior of the world… and it makes sense that we should be loving others. Now, I’ve been doing some self-examination on these things… I know that I believe in the name of Jesus, that I have surrendered my life to him and I am his follower… this, God promises, makes me ‘Saved.’ This makes me a child of God! I also know that in my heart I know what is right and what is wrong… well, most of the time I do. I am confident that for the most part my desire is to do the right thing in the moment and to make things right when I don’t. But I’ve been thinking about this ‘loving others’ business and what I found is that I need some ridiculously practical way to know what this looks like… Now, John is going to talk about this in his next chapter and we will be looking at this next week, but I felt that it would be good for me to try and be as practical as I can today… to bring something that would help me and I hope you in knowing what it looks like to love others and I sure found something practical… oddly, I found it in a passage that is familiar to a lot of people… I found it in what is often called The Love Chapter… I Corinthians 13. Now, I know that this chapter is almost always read in the context of a wedding, but its initial purpose didn’t have anything to do with marriage. It had to do with how Christians gain credibility in the world. Love is a word that is thrown around all the time… particularly, in reference to how people who claim to be following Jesus are supposed to treat others… and Jesus made it very clear over and over in his teaching that ‘others’ means everyone and not just the ones you happen to get along with… What I’ve found is that this chapter tells me how to live if I want to be recognized as a child of God, if I want to be known as someone who lavishes love on others in the same manner that, as John said earlier, God has lavished his love on me. Let’s turn over to this chapter and look quickly at some of the verses. Page 813 Now, these words were written by the Apostle Paul, one of the leaders of the early church and we don’t know if John had access to this letter, but I am confident that John agreed whole heartedly with Paul when Paul wrote this in verse 4 of chapter 13: Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. This is how I am supposed to ‘love’ others if I am going to show the world that I am a child of God. So, what I’ve been doing with these verses is pretty simple: I’ve been asking myself, and here is the brave part, asking others who really know me, how loving I actually am… ‘Am I patient with others?’ ‘Am I kind… to everyone?’ ‘Am I envious of others or do I find joy in other’s success?’ ‘Do I boast? Are my accomplishments the center of my conversations?’ ‘Am I proud? Do I leave others with the feeling that I think I’m better than they are?’ ‘Do I work to bring honor to others? Do I mind it if I am not the center of attention?’ ‘How easily am I angered? Do I hold grudges?’ ‘Do I find enjoyment in the evil in our world or is my joy found in the goodness of the truth?’ And do I always protect others… no matter who they are… Do I even know what it means to protect others? Do I trust others… do I hope for the best for others no matter who they are… and do I persevere in all of these things? Is my desire to never fail anyone? Now, I realize that this side of heaven I will never be able to ever fully embody any these things with the purity of Jesus… none of us will; but if I, and all of us that claim to be followers of Jesus, are not moving toward being more patient and kind and humble and forgiving I have to wonder whether or not we are truly the children of God. To meet God is to meet the one that defines patience and kindness and humility and forgiveness… and as his child my life should reflect my father. When God lavished his love on us it was this kind of love: a patient, kind, humble, trusting, protecting, truthful and never failing love that made it possible for us to be adopted into his family and receive full access to the power and authority that comes with being his child. This is an amazing truth… and it is a truth that is central to the gospel… the good news of Jesus. And if we really believe that every life matters… that everyone deserves the opportunity to hear this truth and choose to surrender their life to Jesus and become a child of God… it should change the way we live. It just should.
And John says one more really important thing right at the end of our passage in 1 John (flip back) that should give us confidence in the face of all of the difficulties that come with representing Jesus in this world. In verse 24 John says this, ‘The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.’ We have talked a lot over the last few weeks about what we receive from God when we choose to surrender our lives to Jesus. We get the gift of knowing God and that is amazing… we get the gift of knowing that our sins are forgiven and that is amazing… we get the gift of a new identity… the gift of being adopted by God and becoming his child and that is amazing; I could go on and on listing the many amazing things that come with surrendering our lives to Jesus. But possibly the greatest gift of all is that God himself comes to live in us. He gives his children his Spirit. Now, I will admit right up front that this is very mysterious and it is difficult to explain... but there are plenty of places throughout the Bible that tell us that if you choose to surrender your life to Jesus and follow him, then God literally puts his Spirit inside of you in some way that not only marks you as his child but strengthens and guides you in ways that make it possible for you to live the kind of life that show that you have been adopted into his family. That is good news! I find it interesting that one of the most common types of adoptions in John’s day was a slave being adopted into the family of a free man… literally taken out of slavery and given a seat at the family table. And this is an accurate picture of what God will do for you if you choose today to surrender your life to Jesus. He will release you from slavery to sin and brokenness, he will breathe his Spirit into the core of your very being and he will proclaim throughout the heavens, ‘This one is my child and I am their father. I have adopted them into my family and they will be mine forever and ever.’
Pray… anyone that hasn’t surrendered to your son will consider this the moment to do so… to allow you to free them from the sin that has them in bondage and to allow you to adopt them into your family. I thank you that you have lavished us with your love. Amen.