Read this post to get the background for The Living Word weekly column. In short, it is not meant to be an intellectual or theological study of the Bible; it is more like giving you a glimpse at bits and pieces of my spiritual journal and to also share Bible study tools and/or methods that I use that you might find helpful, as well.
The book of 1 John is a letter written by the Apostle John to his “dear children” in the faith. I started a new study of it several months ago thinking it would be a two or three week study (it’s only five chapters), but it turned out to be a rich study that took me several months!
Over the next few weeks, I will share some of the insights I gleaned from this most recent study of the book. Please remember as you read that these are my thoughts—some are actual “copy and paste” quotes—from my spiritual journal.
One of my favorite “tools” for studying the Bible is to read the same passage in several different translations. Often, a slight change in the wording sheds a whole new light on any given scripture.
My translation of choice is the New International Version (NIV), but I have ten or more digital versions that I reference, and I also have hard copies of translations that are hard (if not impossible) to find digitally. One of my favorites is the Phillips’ translation (by J.B. Phillips), also called The New Testament in Modern English. I made great use of the Phillips version during the study of 1 John.
Two Principles for Discovering God’s Will for You
Who doesn’t want to know God’s will? It’s a high priority for true believers, right? I ‘found’ a couple of “secrets” to discovering His will tucked in the little book of 1 John.
Principle 1: How We Relate to God
Below are two translations of 1 John 1:10. Note, in particular, the phrases that I have underlined.
NIV says, “If we claim that we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our hearts.”
Phillips reads, “If we say ‘we have not sinned’, we are making him a liar and cut ourselves off from what he has to say to us.”
These are powerful statements to me. I do NOT want to shut the word of God out of my life. I do NOT want to cut myself off from what He has to say to me! In fact, my immediate internal response at the mere thought is the same as Peter’s when Jesus asked, “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Peter replied, “Lord, to Whom should we go? You have the words of eternal life!”* That’s how I feel at the idea of navigating life without the the word of the Lord!
So when I read the statements above—particularly the phrases I have underlined—I take notice. So how to avoid being “cut off”?
I believe the principle tucked in this verse is one of humility versus self-sufficiency. When we deny any wrong-doing or weakness in our lives, then we shut the door to God’s intervention. If we claim we’ve got it all together, that we don’t have needs, then we cut ourselves off from what He has to say to us. If we try to relate to Him from a position of self-sufficiency—”I’m strong. I’m good. I didn’t do anything wrong.”—then His word has no place in our lives and we are on our own? Scary!
Bottom line: He is God, and we most certainly are not!
Application: Relate to God from a humble position and be “adjustable,” not defensive, when He points out sins or wrong thinking patterns in my life.
Principle 2: How We Relate to Our Brothers
“Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him” (1 John 2:9-11, NIV).
“The man who hates his brother is shut off from the light and gropes his way in the dark without knowing where he is going. For the darkness has made him blind” (1 John 2:11, Phillips).
Again, I have included both the NIV and the Phillips’ translations above, and again, I have underlined a specific phrase for emphasis. I find Phillips’ to be especially poignant in describing life without God’s direction. I do not want this to be me! Therefore, I must examine my life and make sure there is no hate for a brother/sister in my heart. I do not want to be groping around in blindness. I want to know where I am going; I want to live a life “on purpose.”
I’m afraid most of us skim this statement too quickly (I know I did) and dismiss it with, “I don’t hate any of my brothers/sisters. I’m OK on this.” However, did you know the literal meaning of the word hate is “to love less”? Hmmm. That changes things a bit, doesn’t it?
“Hating a brother,” then, is not only represented by being angry with him, holding a grudge against him, and/or despising him in the way that we usually use the word (though those typical interpretations certainly do qualify as hate), but it is also about not properly valuing him or esteeming him. Hating a brother could be an “I can take him or leave him” attitude.
Basically, hating a brother subtly translates into a spirit of independence: “I don’t need you. You’re dispensable. I’m OK without you.” It’s that ugly spirit of self-sufficiency rising back up.
The broader application here—beyond anger, vengeance, and unforgiveness, etc.—is isolationism, self-sufficiency, independence. This makes perfect sense to me in the context of the scriptures above and gives greater clarity to them, too. We could read it like this: “The man who hates [devalues and disesteems] his brother [seeing him as dispensable, non-essential, I-can-take-him-or-leave-him], is shut off from the light and gropes his way in the dark without knowing where he is going. For the darkness [of thinking he can make it on his own in a state of isolation and independence] has made him blind.”
Bottom line: When we refuse to build a spirit of community with others of like faith and values, we are in the dark! When we isolate ourselves because we think we don’t need others, we are blind!
Application: Examine my life and make sure there is no hate for a brother/sister in my heart. Become aware and remove any attitudes of isolationism, independence, or any other ways of devaluing my brothers and sisters in Christ.
Bible Study Tools/Tips mentioned in this post: Read in more than one translation for greater clarity and insight.