By Arlene Rains Graber
The young man sat on the shore beside the Sea of Galilee. His eyes swept across the water. The area was lush with plants protected by the warm moist air, harbored within the bounds of the surrounding hills. Galilean sunrises were the envy of even the most unaware, and this young man saw one most every day.
Finally, he lowered his eyes to the ground blanketed with homemade fishing nets. He must hurry and mend them before his father Zebedee and brother James arrived ready to fish. He fingered the mesh, checking for tears. Soon, these very nets would be filled with sardines, tilapia, (St. Peter’s fish), and catfish. He loved every minute spent fishing, and better yet, it provided a lucrative income for his family.
It was a secure and serene life for John, the man who would soon be called John the apostle. Little did he know his circumstances would change dramatically before he entered midlife. And little did he know, eternal life was just ahead.
Changes came rapidly. Jesus from Nazareth, who was teaching and preaching in the area, issued an invitation for John and James to follow him (Matthew 4:21, 22). They accepted without hesitation.
John witnessed Jesus’ first miracle at the wedding feast in Cana (John 2:1-11) and prayed with Jesus while the Romans marched toward them, ready to crucify his beloved leader (Luke 22:39-53). Jesus entrusted John with the care of his mother (John 19:25-27). John was one of the chosen few to be with Jesus when he ascended into Heaven (Luke 24:31-53).
John became recognized as a leader of Christianity, founding churches throughout Asia. He suffered persecution but never faltered from his strong Christian beliefs. John was a maverick for God’s Word. Later, this young Galilean fisherman would write five books that would be included in the greatest book of all time, the Bible.
John’s sermons were simple and focused on the teachings of Jesus: true Christianity is to love one another, confess our sins, strive for obedience to God’s Word, and live by faith. Jesus Christ is God’s Son who died for our sins and rose again to offer eternal life to all.
Having learned from the master teacher (1 John 1:3), John knew that both seasoned Christians and new converts needed encouragement. Jerusalem had been destroyed and people were becoming disillusioned with their faith by listening to false prophets who questioned Christ’s lordship. They had let bickering over Scripture and beliefs cloud their faith. Others believed they were without sin and were living perfect lives. John gave them a reminder and wrote letters to them. His mission? To encourage and reinforce the Christian faith.
John began his first letter by reiterating the good news. Through God all things are possible and in him we find eternal life. He compared light with darkness—truth as light and darkness as sin. “If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his son, purifies us from all sin” (vv. 6, 7).
In some ways, the world we live in today is different from John’s world. In other ways, it’s very similar. We face conflicts over abortion issues and war ethics. We’re surrounded by people who climb the corporate ladder by means of corruption. We live side by side with folks who profess Christianity but live lives of fraud. Bible teachers misinterpret God’s Word. John’s blueprint offers solutions.
“Dear children, keep yourselves from idols” (5:21). Instead of worrying about our neighbor’s behavior, we need to keep close watch over our own daily actions. Are we keeping God’s commandments? Are we letting greed, hatred, or deceit color our spiritual communion with God?
The Priority of Faith
Christians enjoy the comforts and security of faith, living lives ordered by God’s commandments. But modern day heresies can shake even a strong Christian, and John knew firsthand how easy it is to be swayed by false prophets who dispel the commandment of repentance by telling folks what they want to hear. When the world discredits the Bible and considers Christian values obsolete, beliefs can waver.
Christians must be in constant communion with God and his Word in order to withstand the skepticism of unbelievers. In 2008, during a national Republican debate, presidential hopeful Governor Mike Huckabee was asked about his views on the theory of evolution. Unruffled, he stood in front of the nation and proclaimed his belief in God, the biblical account of creation, and prayer. His voice didn’t falter, and the message was clear: “God created the world and everything in it. The Bible is the world’s manual.” It mattered little that his audience might ridicule him. Instead, he answered the question sincerely and boldly.
The Power of Love and Compassion
John stressed the commandment to love one another, explaining that if we don’t love our neighbors, relatives, friends, and enemies, we are in darkness. He added, “Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did” (2:6).
Opportunities to show love and com-passion abound. Many people around us are drowning in a sea of despair, addiction, deceit, and discouragement. We can help by reaching out to them, offering the hope Christ offers.
Often it can be as uncomplicated as an invitation to church. It can be as simple as fellowship and a listening ear. Take in a downtrodden relative, friend, or wayward child. Love and encourage those who are struggling. If you have the gift of entertaining, prepare a meal for missionaries and church leaders. Take meals to the sick. Serve in soup kitchens and shelters. It will do more good than you’ll probably ever know, and at the same time fulfill God’s commandment to love everyone. “Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth” (3:18). Do we sometimes forget how good God has been to us? If God has blessed you with a good job, financial resources, or a strong healthy body, share your blessings with those who are in need.
David Green, founder of the Hobby Lobby retail chain, has a gift for merchandising. As a Christian employer, he offers his employees many benefits, treating them with Christ’s love. He pays higher wages than most companies in his field, closes his stores on Sunday, and plays Christian music for his shoppers. These may be subtle ways of witnessing and offering encouragement to those who enter his stores, but then how often do you leave a Hobby Lobby store and come away humming a hymn you just heard while shopping?
If the world would follow John’s blueprint, how different it might be.
Arlene Rains Graber is a freelance writer in Wichita, Kansas.
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