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Momentum – 9/3/23

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Title

Momentum – 9/3/23

Teacher

Peter Hubbard

Date

September 3, 2023

Scripture

1 John, 1 John 2:12-14

TRANSCRIPT

The day before I was born (actually, the day after I was born), August 20th, 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Poverty Bill, also known as the Economic Opportunity Act, and he declared war on poverty. President Johnson, in that address, made an extraordinary promise. He said,

“Today, for the first time in all the history of the human race, a great nation is able to make and willing to make a commitment to eradicate poverty among its people.”

He went on to emphasize,

“The days of the dole in this country are numbered. The conquest of poverty is well within our power.”

One year later, in 1965, a young Jewish activist named Peter Cove, shortly before attending Woodstock, joined the War on Poverty. Cove would spend the next five decades working to help the poor. He held numerous government positions in New York City. He was a part of the Community Action Agency in Boston. But over time he began to question everything he was doing. He wrote in 2017 in his book Poor No More,

“The War on Poverty, though begun in earnest, has turned into a war on the poor themselves. I was there. I believed we had a calling that was noble and right. I wish that I had then the knowledge and perception to understand that we were creating the forces that would perpetuate and increase dependency. Only now, through the prism of time, do I understand why the war failed.”

And the war did fail. Six decades after the War on Poverty was declared, the U.S. has spent over $25 trillion — that’s not million, not billion — trillion dollars in poverty alleviation programs. Of course, that doesn’t count Social Security, Medicare, none of that. And the percentage of Americans living in poverty has lowered only slightly. The reasons for this are complicated and varied, and I would love to dive into them, but that is not our purpose today. One that jumps out to me could be summarized in one word, and that is momentum. The tentacles that keep people bound in poverty are so numerous and so persistent, often multigenerational, that a handout or a class or a training program cannot in and of itself break the grasp.

So, in 1984, Peter Cove started America Works, the first for-profit, welfare-to-work company. Since then, they have helped nearly two million people move from dependence to independence, including homeless vets, many disabled, many coming out of the criminal justice system, countless single moms. And their strategy is quite simple — help them get a job, any job. Cove writes,

“Getting a job, if you are able-bodied, is a crucial first step to success for multiple reasons inherent to American culture …. Employment not only is the best avenue to economic security, but also makes you an important, positive, adult role model for children.”

Stop there for a second. Do you see what he’s talking about? Breaking that multigenerational cycle. “You continually develop …” And now feel it. See if you can feel the momentum in these words.

“You continually develop new skills, learn new things, and build a record of employment that can lead to a better job and further education or skill training in the future.”

So, what Cove discovered, after decades of helping the poor, is what I would call (these aren’t his word; they’re my words) “the power of vocational momentum.” In other words, if we start with someone’s difficulties, which can be many — historically, think of racism; think of lack of confidence, need of day care, need of training/education, need of transportation. The list keeps growing. If we start there, the difficulties multiply. The government has often assumed (as most of us I would think is reasonable to assume) it starts there and assumes that if we can just eliminate all these difficulties, then get a job. What America Works assumes is the opposite because they noticed after many decades that doesn’t generally … there are exceptions, obviously … but that generally doesn’t work. Why? Because of the lack of momentum.

Studies show that the unemployed view their lives differently. They are much less likely to believe they can change important things in their lives. They are much more likely to become depressed. They have higher mortality rates. This is why Dr. King said,

“No work is insignificant. All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.”

So, vocational momentum is based simply on the fact that objects that are in motion are harder to stop than objects that are static.

And this, I believe, is the message God has for us today in 1 John 2:12-14. Now, of course, John is talking about a completely different kind of momentum, not vocational momentum, but spiritual momentum. And I want to be upfront with the fact that this passage has been super frustrating and confusing to me. I haven’t known what it means. It raises so many questions. So, what I want to do is walk through some of the questions it raises and then hopefully land on what I believe is the main point of the passage.

Questions: first — why now? Why is John greeting his readers and explaining why he’s writing partway into the letter? Why isn’t this little section … I hope you’re there in 1 John 2:12-14. You’ll notice it just seems like it drops in the middle of chapter 2, coming out of nowhere. Why now?

Second question — why this style? You’ll notice if you look at the paragraph, it looks different from the other paragraphs because it is. It’s almost poetry. There are lots of repetitive statements with small stylistic changes. For example, he moves from present tense (“I am writing”) to aorist (“I write”). Is that merely stylistic?

Third big question — this is a big one — who is he addressing? He refers to little children and then fathers and then young men. Are these age groups? Hey, kids, he’s talking to you, little kids. And then, hey, Encore people, he’s talking to you. And then, hey, young adults…. Is that what he’s doing, talking to different age groups? Or clusters of spiritual maturity? Is he talking first to new Christians (little children) and then older Christians and then middle-aged Christians? Now, most of the time when you hear this preached, stages of development are his primary point. If he’s talking about stages of spiritual development, why wouldn’t he work through stages of spiritual development? Why does he go from little children to fathers back to young men? Why wouldn’t he progress through the stages of spiritual development if that was his primary point?

Maybe he’s talking about three characteristics of all Christians. In a sense, we are all children as we come from our father. We are all fathers in the faith as we receive from our father and passed down to the next generation. We are all young men as we walk in the strength of the Lord. Or better, maybe he’s talking to all believers, then the old, and then the young. Where do we get “all believers”? That term, “little children” is used seven times throughout the letter of 1 John to refer to all believers, “teknia.” “Little children” is not referring just to children of a particular age, but all believers are described as little children. So, perhaps he’s saying, “little children,” talking to everyone, and then talking to the older Christians and then talking to the younger. And by the way, the Greek masculine plural here is typically inclusive. So, he’s talking to males and females.

Now, we could raise a lot more questions, and all of these are interesting, but I don’t think any of them get at his main point. So, what is his primary point? You’ll notice there is one word that is super consistent throughout this paragraph, and it is the word “because” … Six times! See if you spot that word. If you underline in your Bible, you may want to underline the word “because” because so many other words change. Even the word he uses for children, two different Greek words — first one, “teknia,” then the second one, “paidia” — two different words. He moves, as I mentioned, from present to past tense. So much is changing throughout the paragraph. The one thing that is super consistent is the word “because.” Why? Well, let’s step back and look at the context for a second, and then hopefully we can drive right into the main point.

So, John is delivering some heavy material here. As Steve talked about last Sunday, he’s giving us three signs of life, and he’s going to continue those all throughout the letter. Three signs — Number 1, a belief sign, which is a theological sign that you’re alive. What do you believe about Jesus? Second is an obedience sign, an ethical or moral sign. How is your belief about Jesus shaping the way you live your life? That tells a lot about whether you’re dead or whether you’re alive. Third sign of life is the love sign, the relational, the social. Am I loving others, or am I characterized by bitterness, resentment, hatred? John says that’s a big sign of life.

And the difficulty with these signs, as many of you have shared with me when we announced the next book … It’s so fun to hear from you because some of you are like, “I hate that book.” Well, good. Why do you hate that book? And a lot of people said the reason they don’t like I John is because of these signs. John uses a lot of language —

“If you hate your brother, you walk in darkness.”

He just said that a few verses ago. And even though John makes it clear he’s writing to deliver assurance … You’ll see that chapter 5 right at the end.

“This is why I wrote — that you may know.”

He’s writing to deliver assurance, but we can receive it as doing the opposite, right? It can rattle us. It can make us question our faith. It can be disturbing. And so, we want to get away.

So, in light of that, three signs of life … Again, we hear here, and we’re going to get all throughout the book … And then the very next verse he goes on we’ll see next week. 1 John 2:15,

“Do you not love the world or the things that in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”

Oh! Oh, no! I love cheeseburgers! Does that mean I’m not a Christian? I love my dog or to watch a Clemson football game. Can you be a Christian and enjoy a Clemson football game? Oh, man! Church split! Wow! Wow, we’re not going to be building a building after all.

So, John is giving us some heavy stuff — these three signs and then this call not to love the world, and he anticipates that these can rattle his readers. And so, right in the middle of this, he steps away, leans in, and it’s almost like he’s whispering, “Let me tell you why I’m writing.” And the image I have in my mind is that of a good coach who’s driving his team in two-a -days, keeping them after practice for extra running, really pushing this key player. And then after practice, before the big game, he calls you aside, and he says to you, “Hey, you might notice I’ve been a little hard on you.” And inside your thinking, “Yeah.” But you can’t say that. “Oh, really?” “I want you to know something. I see something in you. I see a depth of character. I see a fire of resolve. I see a selflessness and a team spirit. I see a strength and athleticism that is extremely rare. And I’m counting on you to be in this position in this next game because of what I see in you.” Would that player say, “Coach, I don’t care what you see in me. I want you to go easy on me. Back off. Coddle me. Pamper me”? No, there’s no real athlete that’s ever going to say that.

Well, think of that when you read these. (And I’ll put a summary of them up on the screen.) Verse 12,

“I’m writing to you because your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake. I’m writing to you because you know him who is from the beginning.”

Twice he says that.

“I’m writing to you because you have overcome the evil one,”

twice.

“I’m writing to you because you know the Father … because you are strong and the Word of God abides in you.”

Notice a couple of things, first of all, the repetition. If all you’re doing is outlining stages of spiritual growth, why do you need to repeat? Perhaps the hearers are questioning the message you’re giving. When someone needs to be convinced of something, you repeat yourself. Also, the stylistic changes communicate a level of passion, an earnestness of communication. Maybe these readers were having a hard time believing what John was sharing. Maybe they were convinced the coach hates me. That’s why he’s so hard on me. These signs of life and what we’re going to get next week, the call not to love the world, might be heard by them as a hopeless command to achieve an impossible goal.

So, John here is telling them not to do anything. Do you notice this passage? He’s not telling them to do anything other than acknowledge the momentum of God’s work in your life. You see, if you are ignorant of what God has done in your life, you will most likely be intimidated by what he’s going to do. You will tend to interpret commands as threats, not as promises, and you will doubt. If you doubt what he has done, you will deny what he will do.

Think of David when he was young and standing before King Saul in 1 Samuel, 17, and he was trying to convince Saul to send him to fight Goliath. And he says to Saul,

“The Lord, who delivered me from the paw of the lion and delivered me from the paw of the bear, will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.”

That’s spiritual momentum. Do you see that? “I’ve seen God do this. I’ve seen God do this. Therefore, I trust God to do this.”

And this is why it’s so important to get what John is saying here because some of us are frozen about what God’s going to do in the future because we’re blind to what he’s done in the past. And John is opening our eyes and saying, “The reason I’m writing to you is not because I think you’re on the shelf or have no life, but actually because your sins are forgiven. You know him who is from the beginning! You’ve overcome the evil one!” You could just feel the momentum. You’re not getting on a moving train from a standstill. You’re already being swept into the pace of grace. And that’s something very different.

So, why might some of us struggle with this today? If God is doing all this, and if all this is true of us, why might we be blind to the spiritual momentum in our lives? Which explains why would John need to write this? A couple suggestions — number 1, we tend to trust our feelings more than God. Look at the first sign of momentum — verse 12, “because your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake.” John just wrote back in chapter 1, verse 9,

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just.”

Notice he’s not saying, “you’re faithful enough” or “you’re just enough” or “you’re good enough” or “you’re sincere enough.” He is faithful. He is just. He paid for your sin in Jesus. Therefore, he forgives us our sins and cleanses us from all unrighteousness.

So, I want to ask is there any reason why every believer in this room right now is not just swimming in a sea of forgiveness, confident that all my sin has been forgiven? And if you say, “I want that to be true” or “I wish that were true” or “I hope that” then step back from that. Why isn’t that true? “Well, I feel like I haven’t done enough or haven’t proven or haven’t been sincere.” Do you see how all of those are grounded in our feelings, not in his promise? What John, who has so much more he wants to say to us, so much more he has for us … He wants to make sure you know the reason I’m writing is not because I don’t think you’re forgiven, or God wants nothing to do with you or the enemy is just going to crush. No, it’s because of the opposite. Open your eyes to the wave of grace God is pouring over you!

Second, we might be blind to the spiritual momentum in our lives because we misinterpret pain. You see, when we experience difficulty, it feels like something is wrong. Either I’ve messed up, or God is fed up. But what if the opposite is true? What if God looks at you as his child and is so delighted at the fruit that is popping out of your life? Not perfect, but it’s popping. I see love. I see joy. I see peace. I see patience and kindness and goodness and faithfulness and gentleness and self-control. We stumble, but God delights in seeing the fruit of the Spirit popping out of his children, and he says, “You know what? I want more for you.” And so, what does he do? Think of the words of Jesus in John 15:2,

“Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit, he …”

What? Say it out loud.

“Prunes.”

It’s not what you eat. It’s what he does. He gets the clippers, and he starts cutting back, which means what? Pain. It hurts! And everything inside of us is tempted to interpret that cutting in our lives as “He hates me. The coach hates me. Why is he making me so miserable?” But what if the opposite is true? What if he has so much more for you than you could even imagine? “You’ve tasted of my love. Well, I have Niagara-Falls amounts of love to pour out on you and pour through you so much fruit!” But if we misinterpret suffering, difficulty, pain, loneliness, struggles as signs that God must be angry with me or I’m a loser or he’s putting me on the shelf, then we will miss out on the spiritual momentum that is already flowing in and through us.

Number 3, we can be blind to the spiritual momentum because we tend to confuse truly good with perfectly good, truly good with perfectly good. This comes from a statement written over five hundred years ago. Francis Turretin wrote,

“We must distinguish between truly good and perfectly good.”

And he’s talking about works of Christians. Our works are not perfect until we’re with Jesus. But our works are good because of the momentum of grace. He’s talking about Christians. Ephesians 2:8-10 illustrates this.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. This is not of your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works so that no one may boast.”

We can’t take any credit for our salvation.

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for [what?] good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

So, we are not saved by good works, but we are saved for good works.

This is what Paul was getting at in Philippians 3:12 when he says,

“Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect.”

I’m not perfect.

“But I press on to make it my own [why?] because Christ Jesus has made me his own.”

That’s spiritual momentum. Paul is saying there is this tidal wave of favor that has come over me. I have been swept into relationship with Jesus. He is mine. I am his all by his grace. And now that wave of grace, the pace of grace presses me on. “I press on to make it my own, because he has made me his own.” That’s so different from the way we naturally think. Some of us are like, “How do I jump start some spirituality in myself?” That’s just not going to work. It’s like stepping on a moving train. Paul is saying, “No, no, no. God has started something. He is not going to stop. Ride that wave. Ride that wave.” So, we might be blind to the spiritual momentum in our lives because we confuse truly good with perfectly good. And we get stuck there.

Or number 4, we devalue the significance of an ordinary life. Now, I love reading biographies of remarkable Christians. I’m reading a new one now that is about Christians we’ve never heard of who changed the world. And I love these stories. They are very energizing to me. I look forward to sharing some of them with you at some point. But there’s also a danger in reading these kinds of stories because we can tend to think unless I do something spectacular like this individual, I may be a Christian sort of, but like I’m on the JV team, not really the Varsity. I don’t letter. I’m just allowed to be on the bench, maybe the waterboy. The problem with this way of thinking is if we minimize the mundane, we wipe out most of our lives, right, because it doesn’t matter. Talk to a missionary in our church. Talk to missionaries who go out from our church. No matter how remote or spectacular your place of mission is, your life there will be quite ordinary.

In other words, Kevin DeYoung writes in his recent book,

“No matter where we live as Christians, life will be filled with a lot of the same things, eating, sleeping, cleaning, laughing, crying, or taking care of kids, going to church, praying, reading our Bibles, trying to get along with others, and seeking to make a difference in others’ lives. If God isn’t happy with the normal life, he’s not going to be happy with most of us because normal is what most of our days are like.”

Perhaps some of us are blind to the spiritual momentum in our lives because we automatically write off anything that seems normal. And that’s most of our lives.

DeYoung in that book goes on to question what we call “radical discipleship,” and it might be helpful to know he and his wife have nine kids that could affect this quote.

“One of the great disservices we have done the church is to let people think that getting married, having children, staying married, taking those children to church, teaching those children about the faith, buying shoes and training those children to be kind and courageous Christian adults is something other than radical discipleship.”

Now, we can fall off the cliff on either side of this, slipping into “it’s all about me” or “God’s going to call everyone to get married and have nine kids.” But Paul pushes against both extremes when he says in 1 Timothy 2:1,

“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions”

So, all of us should have this big-vision prayer life. He’s saying, “Pray big.” Why?

“That we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.”

That seems pretty small. So, you’re praying big prayers for a small, ordinary life. Verse 3,

“This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior [why?] who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”

So, there is this link between social stability and gospel advancement. When ordinary Christians live ordinary lives, the gospel is advanced.

Now, let’s summarize. Look up again at what John says. “I’m writing to you …” And maybe it might help you, as you look at those, to flip them in your mind, to begin to grasp how significant they are. John is not saying, “I’m writing to you because your sins aren’t forgiven and you need to get this taken care of” or “because you don’t know him” or “you’re getting crushed by the evil one; you don’t even know the Father; you’re weak, and you don’t even know the Bible.” No, he’s saying the opposite. He’s writing to these churches full of imperfect Christians, and he’s saying, “Little children, fathers, young men, I am writing to you because of what I see in you.”

So, can you look at these now, this list, and talk to your Father about this? Perhaps there’s one there that you say, “Yeah, I struggle saying that that’s true of me.” Or there’s one there that you say, ‘I really have a hard time believing that.” Well, maybe the Spirit is saying to you today, “Will you trust me that I am giving you this gift?” Remember, John is not telling you to do anything to earn this or prove this. He’s saying, “I’m writing to you because this is true if you are a follower of Jesus. Your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake. You know him who is from the beginning. ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.’ You know him. You have overcome the evil one.”

“Jesus said, ‘In this world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer. I have overcome the world.”

And when you’re in me, you’re on the winning team because you know the Father. If you know Jesus, you know the Father. You are strong, and the Word of God abides in you. Notice our strength comes from hearing, believing God’s promises.

And we’re going to talk more as we go through the letter of 1 John about these specifics because he will keep coming back to some of these. But I want you to look at that list and imagine for a moment what if that is true of you? What difference does that make? Some of us have been caught in multi-generational, spiritual poverty, and the Lord is saying to you today, “Let’s break that cycle today. Will you believe what I am already doing in you, for you?”

And to help us with that, we’re going to remember the Lord’s Supper. There are two mindsets we should approach the Lord’s Supper with, thankful, thoughtful. Thankful, when Jesus gathered with his disciples shortly before going to the cross, he broke bread and gave thanks. And so, when we break bread and participate, we are giving thanks. Jesus, you have paid the price for my sins so that right now all of us can walk out of this room completely clean because of Jesus. Glory to God! Give thanks — thankful.

The second is thoughtful. In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul addressed the Corinthian church and rebuked them because he said,

“Do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who do not have?”

His point there is when we partake of the Lord’s Supper, this isn’t just about you. This is about us. So, being thoughtful means I’m not flippant about giving thanks to God for what he’s done in my life. And then I’m going to despise, humiliate, resent, retain anger toward someone else. So, being thoughtful means if I have anything I need to make right, let’s make that right before we remember what he’s done. If you’re not a believer in Jesus, this is a really good time to cry out to him. Receive his gift. Let’s pray.

Father, you have through this passage this morning, you are just sweeping us up into the momentum of your kindness. Your smile through Jesus is energizing, so encouraging! Many of us need to hear this Word from you today. So, Spirit, continue that work in us as we respond with song and prayer, with eating bread and this cup, reminding us that you have done everything to make these promises possible in our lives. Nothing holds us back. We give you thanks for this in Jesus’s name. Amen.