Tom Long writes, “We go to scripture … to encounter a presence, to hear God’s voice speaking to us ever anew.”[i] Where Long says “we,” he specifically means preachers. However, what he says is true of most Bible readers. Christians open the Bible to hear from God. Long feels that the primary function of the preacher is to testify what he or she has seen – to tell what can be known about God. I agree and I think all Christians are called to this activity of giving testimony.
The epistle First John is also the testimony of an eye-witness. “We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life” (1 John 1:1). What we learn of God in this letter comes from the first-hand experiences first century believers had.
At HillSong, we will spend the Sunday sermon time in July and August considering the testimony offered in 1st John. Our intent is not to do verse-by-verse exposition. Where that is appropriate, it will be done. But our goal is to see God. The witness of the 1st John will serve to help us see God. So, I encourage all who will worship at HillSong to read this letter and as it is read, make notes. What are we seeing? Where is God in this? Look for Him. Read expecting to have an encounter with the transcendent, eternal, almighty One.
This way of reading is demanding. We need to read attentively and imaginatively. Every word matters, but each comes from a late 1st century context and in response to specific circumstances – circumstances we can only speculatively piece together. How do we hear it and how do we see the truth in these words take shape in and inform us in our context, one very different that the first century when the words were written?
We also need to read confessionally, allowing the text to interpret our lives as the Spirit, speaking through the word, breaks us down and remakes us. Reading in this way requires something of us – the readers. It is involved. When the word speaks of sin, we have to name our own sins, accept our guilt, and realize the truth about ourselves. At the same time, the text speaks of forgiveness (1 John 2:1-2) we can accept it. We accept that we are forgiven and in Christ we have life (1 John 5:11). Christ is evidence that God loves us.
So, come to HillSong and read 1st John. And read with complete involvement and commitment. It may sound like an emotional rollercoaster, but it is worth it.