The Bible in a Year – 26 December

If this is your first viewing, please see my Introduction before reading this

26 December. 1 John chapters 1-5

There is so much in this deeply spiritual writing that it is impossible to summarise it neatly, and it reads more like an unscripted but passionate sermon than like one of Paul’s carefully argued theological letters.  The one unifying theme is love: the love of God for those who believe in Jesus, the importance of us loving God more than the “world”, and of loving our “brothers and sisters” (other Christians) even if we disagree with them.

There is also a second strand running through the book, that of sin and grace. John does not actually use the word ‘grace’ but describes it in other ways. He says that if we confess our sins and repent, Jesus will “cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1:9); and describes those who truly believe in Jesus as having “God’s seed abiding in them” and being “born of God” (3:9) to prevent them from sinning.

What John is trying to get at, although it is such a deep mystery that even he struggles to convey it in simple language, is that since Jesus Christ came into the world there is now a clear division between people, greater than any division caused by barriers of race, language and even religious background.  On the one hand are those who have come to him, described as “walking in the light and having fellowship with one another” (1:7), who obey the commandments of Jesus, particularly those regarding loving others (2:3), do the will of God (2:17) and are called his children (3:2), no longer commit sin (3:9) – although the epilogue at the end of chapter 5 admits that this is not quite true – and have the Holy Spirit (4:13).  The opposite is true of those who do not yet walk in the light but remain in darkness: they do not obey God or Jesus, cannot be called his children, live in sin and do not have the Spirit in them. They “love the world and the things in the world” (2:15).  The distinction is summed up starkly at the end of the letter: “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.” (5:12).

The good news is that the only way to move from darkness to light is to believe in Jesus – not simply in assenting that he lived and died, or that he was a good teacher, but in wanting to become part of him and be open to the Holy Spirit.  Only in that way can we share in the light that comes from God the Father.

There are no doubt many better summaries of John’s teaching than mine.  But the message is clear – anyone can become part of God’s family, but Jesus is the only way in.

The Bible in a Year – 27 July

If this is your first viewing, please see my Introduction before reading this, and also my introduction to the Proverbs.

27 July. Proverbs chapters 4-6

Kanyakumari-dawn

From these chapters I will pick only one verse (4:18): “The path of the righteous is like the morning sun, shining ever brighter till the full light of day” (NIV translation).

The main reason for picking this verse is that it reminds me of a trip to India eleven years ago, to see the work of the Christian development charity Tearfund and their Indian partners EFICOR and ESAF. For part of our time there we stayed in a hotel on the very southernmost tip of the continent, where you could see the sun rise in the east and set in the west from the same point.  This photo was taken from the hotel bedroom at dawn (about 6am), and the dawn was marked by loud worship from both the Hindu temple and the Catholic church nearby.

Offering praise to God at the start of the day is common to most religions. While a scientist may prosaically say that the earth is simply rotating on its axis so that the sun comes into view each morning, the idea of the rising sun banishing the darkness of evil and heralding the coming of God’s goodness and protection – what we might call a sacramental view of cosmology – is a common one.  Similarly, right living is compared to living in the light, and sinfulness to walking in darkness.

In the original context of this verse, the “way of the righteous” is contrasted with the “way of the wicked which is deep darkness”.  In other words, the more you live according to the way of wisdom, following the ethical teachings of your religion, and living honestly and openly, the clearer you will see the world; whereas if you get enticed into sin and crime, which naturally lead to secrecy, fraud and lies, the world will become dark to you and you will lose your moral compass.  In that context, the dawning of the sun is like the moment of conversion when you realise that following Christ (who called himself the “light of the world”) is the only way to a life lived in the full light of day.

The work of ESAF (Evangelical Social Action Forum), and other Christian agencies in the region including the Salvation Army, that we saw included working in local villages with fishermen and coconut growers who had lost their livelihood as a result of the 2004 tsunami; provision of clothing, food and medical treatment for homeless people; reconstruction of damaged houses and building new ones; supporting “Sangrams” (self help groups”; and starting an orphanage and Sunday schools. They also ran a micro enterprise scheme which offers insurance, a savings bank and capital investments for income generation projects.  All this was truly bringing light into the darkness of some of the poorest people of India.

 

The Bible in a Year – 1 May

If this is your first viewing, please see my Introduction before reading this.

1 May. Isaiah chapters 9-12

At least two passages here have been much used in Christian thought as prophecies of Jesus Christ: the beginning of chapter 9 (“The people who walked in darkness…”) with its reference to the child from Galilee who will be called “Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace”; and the start of chapter 11, the “shoot of the stock of Jesse” (i.e. a descendant of King David) who would rule Israel in peace for ever.  These certainly tie in with what we know or believe about Jesus.

 

The danger, of course, lies in quoting isolated verses: these short passages are set within larger passages of verse that clearly relate to the politics of Isaiah’s time.  More objective commentators consider that the prophecies of a saviour or messiah in this book are really pointing to King Cyrus of Persia under whose rule the Jews eventually returned to Jerusalem.

 

This, however, is no reason why these prophecies could not have had a deeper meaning as well.   And the opening verse of chapter 9 – “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; on those who lived in a land of deep darkness, light has shined” – is true whenever anyone turns to God in faith.