The Bereans …received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day.
(Acts 17: 10-11)
The Doctrinal Basis of the Christian Faith
· Studying John’s Gospel chapter by chapter – Part One
· Studying John’s Gospel chapter by chapter – Part Two
· Abbreviated Study on John’s Epistles and Revelation – Part Three
· Studies in Isaiah (In preparation)
· Questioning the Whole Bible (New)
· Preaching the Word (In Preparation)
Synthetic Studies in John’s Gospel
Is there a meaning to life, to this world, and universe? What is wrong with this world? Why there is suffering and fear in the midst of so much that is beautiful and good? Why does peace and security elude even those who earnestly seek it? Why is there a guilt consciousness ever present in the heart of man? Is there a key to the understanding of these things, a light to reveal the way, a chart by which we may set a course that will lead to that which will bring peace and dispel all fear?
Indeed, there is a meaning; there is a principle. God has given clear light that we may understand the life we live and the world we live in. And that light is God Himself and the fact that He is love – a fact the great consequences of which even Christians have been slow to understand. For the great foundation principle of His universe is love.
We are told that science is discovering love. Psychologists and physicians are now realising that love, or the lack of it, has a profound effect on man’s health. Love is truly a basic necessity for man’s mental and physical welfare. The observers of nature will tell us that all animal life will eventually respond to love. Even the atheist, Bertrand Russell, through the mist of his human reasoning, catches a vague glimmer of the truth, which forces him to confess, somewhat apologetically, “The root of the matter, a very simple and old-fashioned thing, a thing so simple that I am almost ashamed to mention it for fear of the derisive smile with which wise cynics will greet it – is love, Christian love, or compassion. If you feel this, you have a motive for existence, a guide in action, a reason for courage, an imperative necessity for intellectual honesty. If you feel this, you have all anybody should need in the way of religion. Although you may not find happiness, you will never know the deep despair of those whose life is aimless and void of purpose; for there is always something that you can do to diminish the awful sum of human misery”.
But, science has still a long way to go. And the pessimistic atheist, with a love mixed with despair, a love without faith and hope, is far from understanding it. Man by his wisdom cannot understand God. The love which is God and which is the basis of God’s universe is something far greater and more fundamental than man’s mind, in its present condition and grasp. Yet, although it is beyond man’s wisdom, God has maintained a witness to it among men and all those who have loved God have been enabled by His Spirit to know it:
“That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:17-19)
To learn what love is we must go to God, for He alone is perfect love and He alone can reveal unsearchable riches and power of that which is the foundation of His universe. And we shall not go to Him in vain.
In his Gospel, John the Evangelist claims to have been an eye-witness of the scenes that he records (, ; and in his letter 1 John 1: 1-3), and in chapter 21 his identity with ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved’ is asserted. We will see when going along in John’s Gospel that love is an active not a passive force. It is not a theoretical or abstract principle. It has no existence apart from its manifestation in Jesus Christ:
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)
To say that one loves God or man has no reality except as there is the evidence of that love. God’s love is manifested in action, as stated in the above quotation. “God is love”. Love is not merely an attribute of God; it is the essence of His being. His attributes are derived from it. All His thoughts and purposes are expressions of it. All His actions are motivated and controlled by it. His whole being is ruled by the law of perfect love. God’s love is always manifested in action:
“In all their affliction He was afflicted, and the angel of His presence saved them: in His love and in his pity He redeemed them; and He bare them, and carried them all the days of old.” (Isaiah 63:9)
“Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end.” (John 13.01)
Love must express itself; therefore it requires an object. For that reason God created man. But, essential also to love is the communion of love. Therefore love’s object must be capable of returning love. So God created man in His own image and likeness, with love as the ruling principle of his being. Love must be intelligent and voluntary. Therefore, God created man an intelligent being with an absolutely free will. A being that loved because he was obliged to do so, or because he could not do otherwise, would be incapable of true love. He could not provide the true communion of love that love requires. But the communion of love is not love’s ultimate objective. It cannot satisfy love fully. Love is a creative force, and communion that is sterile is not the product of perfect love. Love that does not go beyond communion and produces only personal enjoyment is selfish and is not true love. Love finds its perfect fulfilment in a fellowship of selfless service which has as its objective the producing of the fruits of love in benefit to others. The true communion of love, therefore, is found in fellowship in love’s work. It was for such service that God placed man on the earth. He placed him in a position in which the full expression of love was possible; man’s position was an exalted one. He was made a co-labourer with God in the works of love. He was to replenish the earth, having power to create beings in His own image: beings to love, who were capable of fully returning his love and with whom he could fellowship in love’s work. He was to subdue and use all the forces and resources of the earth, to exercise dominion over all its living creatures and to be its head and ruler under God.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him; and without Him was not anything made that was made. In Him was life; and the life was the Light of men. And the Light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. (John 01: 01-05)
“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 03.14-16)
The Cross of Jesus Christ in the believer’s heart is something infinitely vaster and more fundamental in its significance than any trial or difficulty. It is death, utter, complete, all-embracing; it is life: Christ’s life, full abounding, dynamic, triumphant. In the believer it is the consummation of the work of God’s Word, the two-edged sword, in dividing between that which is of the soul and that which is of the Spirit of God. The Cross of Christ is the basic, essential fact in God’s dealings with the believer. We can know God only as we know the Cross of Christ. We can understand God’s Word only as we know the Cross of Christ. In all preaching and teaching, in all faithful prayer, unselfish service and warfare, the Christian acts upon the Cross of Christ.
All good is derived from perfect love. Truth, justice, holiness, purity, mercy, kindness, faith, patience, longsuffering, unselfishness, hope, joy, peace, unity – all are products of love. They are its natural and inevitable fruits. When they are the fruit of perfect love they are perfect. Perfect love also, from its very nature, is perfect in wisdom, omniscient, omnipotent, invincible and eternal.
“Love is never tired of waiting; love is kind; love has no envy; love has no high opinion of itself, love has no pride; love’s ways are ever fair, it takes no thought for itself; it is not quickly made angry, it takes no account of evil; it takes no pleasure in wrongdoing, but has joy in what is true. Love has the power of undergoing all things, having faith in all things, hoping all things… But now we still have faith, hope, love, these three; and the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13: 04-08, and 13 in Basic English.)
On the Gospel of John
The first three Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke are called the synoptics, from two Greek words which mean “a view together,” the idea being that they set forth the same general view of the story of Jesus Christ, and contain much the same material although differently arranged. They were the earliest Gospels published probably within twenty-five or thirty years of the date of the ascension, and did the work of an evangelist in carrying the knowledge of Jesus to peoples theretofore ignorant of Him. From among these men and women thus converted to Jesus Christ, Jews, Romans and Greeks, the Christian Church was now founded, and to this latter body, composed of all three classes, the Gospel of John was addressed.
We were happy, one day, when we heard a young convert say, “I do not have a religion, I have Christ”. At his office some of his colleagues had asked him if his religion forbade him from doing certain things and he prefaced his reply with just that statement. We felt he had gone far and seen a clear light.
Christ is the fullness of God, of His wisdom, power and love. In Him, we find met all the longings of our soul. From Him, we drink the living waters; from Him, moment by moment, we receive light and strength; in Him, we find comfort and peace, triumph and rest. Without Him, we have nothing; we are weak and undone, poor and alone. In the Bible, the Word of God, we do not find religious dogmas but revealed facts about the living God and the living Christ. We are not given doctrines to accept as a religious code but spiritual facts to be experienced in our lives. God’s purpose was not to give man a set of doctrines that he should accept by faith as a mysterious formula from the spiritual realm and learn by heart that he might state them correctly, but to provide him with spiritual truth that would be life, wisdom and power to him in the inner man.
Christ is our life. As He fills our self-loving hearts with Himself, the image and likeness of the God of perfect love is manifested anew in us, and God’s purpose for us is fulfilled. There is communion between Him and us – the fellowship which brings perfect joy, the working together in the carrying out of the great purposes of love that through Christ bring life out of death. Then, there is the fulfilment of the prayer which the Lord made for us to the Father:
That they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me. (John 17: 21-23 NKJV) And I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.” (John 17: 26 NKJV)
Thirty years about, had elapsed, and with the growth and development of the church had come up certain questions for investigation and settlement that the fourth Gospel was particularly designed to meet. These questions touched mainly on the person and work of Jesus, as the Messiah, His nature and the character and significance of His death, so that in answering them John necessarily reveals to us the deepest and profoundest truth found anywhere in the Gospels. For the same reason John’s Gospel is nearly altogether new in its facts as compared with the synoptics. This is absolutely not to say that John invented what he wrote, or that the substance of his Gospel was unknown to the other writers, but only that in the wisdom of God the relation of such things as he records was held back until the period when it was particularly needed and could best be understood and appreciated. John was the last survivor of the twelve, dying somewhere near the close of the first century, kept on the earth by divine Providence, until, like his Master, he, too, had finished the work given to do.
The victorious walk with Jesus Christ means the fulfilling of the basic commandment to love God with all the heart, mind and strength and our neighbour as oneself. That is the victorious life that our Lord lived. For us to do this, Christ must live in us, for to Him alone is it possible. Triumphing in Christ is not a passive state. The victorious life is not the peace of stagnation. It is unceasing warfare. It is Christ’s continual victory over our persistent weakness; the manifestation of Christ’s love and the bringing into death of our selfishness. It is self-discipline based upon love and faith. It is the acknowledging of own weakness that His strength may be revealed. It is participating, as an instrument, in the carrying out of Christ’s purposes. It is trusting Him implicitly and obeying Him without question. It is permitting Him to dwell in us in His fullness and to carry out His perfect will through us.
The proof of the later date of John’s Gospel is found in references as and 03.24, which assume a previous knowledge of the facts on the part of his readers. It is found also in the omissions of all the material of the synoptics down to the passion. There is only one exception to this, the feeding of the five thousand, which was retained in John probably in order to introduce and show the occasion for the discourse following on the bread of life (chap. 6).
Further illustration of its depth, if desired, could be found in the nature of the miracles it records, every one of which seems to show a higher degree of power, for example, than those in the synoptics, and so testifying all the more emphatically to the divine origin of Jesus’ message, and by inference to the deity of the Messenger. Witness the turning of water into wine (chap. 2), the healing of the nobleman’s son in the same chapter, and that of the impotent man in chapter 5. Also the man born blind (chap. 9), and the raising of Lazarus (chap. 11).
The nature of the discourses in John’s Gospel illustrates the same thing. They are the profoundest themes which fell from the lips of our Lord: The New Birth (chap. 3), the Living water (chap. 4), the Honour of the Son (chap. 10), the Farewell Discourse (chaps. 13-16).
Consider also, in this connection the character of the doctrines emphasised in John’s record. For instance, those related to the Godhead alone: Observe how he speaks of God in the abstract, (; ; ). No such teaching about the nature of God is found anywhere in the Bible outside the epistles of this same evangelist and those of the apostle Paul. Observe how he speaks of God as Father (03.16; , ; and 10); and as related to man (; ; -46, etc.). Observe finally how he speaks of the Holy Spirit (03.05; ; ; , 16, and 26; ; ). Obviously, in these instances, it is frequently Christ Himself who is speaking and John simply reporting or just quoting Him, but the point is, it was felt for John of all the evangelists to do this, to report Him in the deeper and profounder utterances concerning the Godhead which are so important for the Christians to know.
The task that God gave the Christians was not the reforming of the world or of society but the preaching of the Cross of Jesus Christ that men might become again “partakers of the Divine nature”. Any other work is waste of time because it can produce no true fruit. Our Lord taught the folly of endeavouring to put a new patch on an old garment. He made no attempt to do so. The ministry to which the Lord has called us may take the place that He should occupy, if we come to think of it as our power, our work and not as Christ speaking His Word and working His work through us. Even our knowledge of the Lord’s will may separate us from His presence, if we take His purpose into our hands to bring it to pass by our strength to the secret glory of our own heart.
When we realise that Jesus Christ is our goal, our life, our all, not religion, we feel in our mind a great release. We are freed from the deadness of the letter; we have gone beyond the sphere in which the Pharisee may cover his heart of sin with a cloak of religious works and orthodoxy. We have so left that which never could satisfy our thirst for God and have entered into reality. We have found Him and communion and joy and strength, and we could never be content again with anything less.
Philippe De Coster, D.D.
Evangelical Bible Teacher
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