Formations 09.08.2019: A Light in the Darkness

1 John 2:7-19

If you are a follower of Christ, do you feel that you live in the light?

I have consciously been on my faith journey since I was about ten years old. Before that, as far back as I remember, my religious upbringing consisted of church three times a week, prayers before meals and bedtime, and a general acknowledgment by the people in my life that God exists. But at age ten, I made what my church called a “public profession of faith.” I accepted Jesus into my heart, walked the aisle at church to stand in the front, shared my decision with the congregation, and later got dunked into the water in baptism.

I lived comfortably in what I knew of the light for several years after that. And then life began to happen to me. My family members spoke negatively about black people. My grandfather suffered with lung cancer and eventually died at sixty-six years old. My depressed best friend started experimenting with alcohol and we drifted apart. My gay friend threatened to kill himself. My youth pastor’s daughter got pregnant by her boyfriend. My long-held beliefs were challenged by a college boy from no religious background. My determination to stay “sexually pure” for Jesus was tested when I fell deeply in love. All of this was before I turned twenty-one!

The light began to fade and doubt swept in.

After my marriage eighteen years ago, life has continued to happen to me and those around me: church pettiness, travails of parenthood, difficult financial decisions, ill grandparents, overburdened parents, anxiety and panic attacks, arguments, siblings with struggles, loneliness, marital strife, friends in crisis, children with cancer, spiritual indifference, uncertainty about death, letting go as offspring grow up, political unrest and division, racism, homophobia, inequality, devastation, war…. Any one of us could produce a list that goes on and on. In spite of all the beauty of life in our world, it is often dark and scary.

When we let the darkness win, we start to contribute to it. John writes in our lesson text, “Whoever says, ‘I am in the light, while hating a brother or sister, is still in the darkness. …whoever hates another believer is in the darkness, walks in the darkness, and does not know the way to go, because the darkness has brought on blindness” (1 Jn 2:9, 11). When we let the darkness win, we stop reflecting Jesus. We become part of the problem.

Author Barbara Brown Taylor wrote a book called Learning to Walk in the Dark. Notice that it’s not called Learning to Live in the Light. There are indeed times when we have to walk in the dark. The darkness is going to fall. What can we do when we find ourselves in it? Taylor writes, “Even when light fades and darkness falls—as it does every single day, in every single life—God does not turn the world over to some other deity. …Here is the testimony of faith: darkness is not dark to God; the night is as bright as the day.” She is drawing from Psalm 139:11-12: “If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night,’ even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.”

As followers of Jesus Christ, we are able to walk in the dark with confidence and courage because his light never goes out, and it lives within us (Jn 1:5, 9). On our best days, we are able to shine a bit of that light out into the world, bringing hope to people who need it.

Source: Barbara Brown Taylor, Learning to Walk in the Dark (New York: HarperOne, 2014).

Discussion

• What have been some of the darkest times in your life? Were you able to find any light in those times?

• Who has shone the brightest light for you in your times of darkness? How have they helped you when you felt that you could not keep going?

• How have you been able to shine a light for others going through difficult times?

• Have you ever felt overcome by the darkness? How did this affect your outlook on life and your treatment of other people?

• Since dark times are going to keep happening—whether to you, to people you know, or to the world at large—how can you learn to walk in the dark? How can you see and share the light of Christ no matter what happens?

Reference Shelf

The third boast [of “three erroneous boasts”; see vv. 6, 8, 10] is tested in 2:9-11: “The one who says, ‘I am in the light,’ and hates his brother is in the darkness still.” The thesis sentence is expounded in the two following sentences, one positive (“The one who loves his brother abides in the light,” v. 10), one negative (“The one who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in darkness,” v. 11). Here, of course, light and darkness are ethical categories (as in T. Levi 19:1: “Choose for yourselves light or darkness, the Law of the Lord or the works of Beliar”; T. Naphtali 2:10: “You are unable to perform the works of light while you are in darkness”). The point of the second subunit of ethical exposition (2:3-11) is that a covenant understanding of “knowing God/abiding in God/being in the light” implies certain behavior toward others as a corollary.

1 John 2:12-17 is the third of three small subunits in the larger ethical section, 1:6–2:17. It is linked to the preceding subunit by certain key words: know him/the Father, 2:3 and 2:13; I am writing to you, 2:7-8 and 2:12-13; from the beginning, 2:7 and 2:13; love for God/the Father, 2:5 and 2:15. It consists of three parts in an ABA’ pattern.

A A word of assurance, which functions as the experiential foundation for the exhortation that follows (2:12-14)
   B A word of exhortation (2:15a)
A’ A word of clarification, which gives the ontological basis for the exhortation that precedes (2:15b-17)

Each will be examined in order.

A, the word of assurance (2:12-14), contains two blocks of three addresses each, all of which lay the experiential foundation for the admonition to follow in v. 15a.

I am writing, little children, because (v. 12);
I am writing, fathers, because (v. 13a);
I am writing, young men, because (v. 13b).
I write, children, because (v. 13c);
I write, fathers, because (v. 14a);
I write, young men, because (v. 14c).

Since elsewhere the author refers to all his readers as little children (teknion, 2:1, 12, 28; 3:7, 18; 4:4; 5:21; paidion, 2:13, 18) and since elsewhere in the New Testament fathers and young men are designations for the old and the young in the church (1 Tim 5:1; Titus 2:2-6; 1 Pet 5:1-5), there are two groups within the whole singled out. He says: All of you, old and young alike, have certain experiential components in your spiritual status (forgiveness of sins, knowledge of God and Christ, spiritual power that enables you to overcome the evil one). Because you possess this experiential status spiritually, “Do not love the world [i.e., humankind organized in independence of God, under the control of the evil one, and the source of opposition to God] or the things in the world” (=B: v. 15a, the exhortation). It is because they have received the gift experientially that they can follow the guidance given.

A’, vv. 15b-17, the word of clarification, contains three antitheses that provide the ontological foundation for the exhortation to resist the world.

First antithesis: If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in him (v. 15b).

Second antithesis: All that is in the world is not of the Father but of the world (v. 16).

Third antithesis: The world passes away but whoever does the will of God abides forever (v. 17).

There are two possible covenant partners: (1) the world organized in independence of God with its accompanying human values and desires, and (2) the Father. The two covenants are mutually exclusive. Covenant loyalty (love) toward the one partner excludes covenant loyalty toward the other. The one covenant is transient, the other eternal. This is the ontological basis for the exhortation in v. 15a: “Do not love the world or the things in the world.”

In 1:6–2:17 three subunits wrestle with problems posed by the progressives. In each case the unity of the vertical and horizontal dimensions of Christian life is affirmed in the face of claims that the vertical can be detached from the horizontal.

Charles H. Talbert, Reading John: A Literary and Theological Commentary on the Fourth Gospel and the Johannine Epistles (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, 2005) 25–26.

Kelley Land, a graduate of Mercer University, has been an assistant editor of Smyth & Helwys curriculum and books since 2001. She is also the office administrator for Jay’s HOPE, a nonprofit serving families of children with cancer. Kelley enjoys spending time with her daughters, Samantha (14) and Natalie (12), and her husband John. Occasionally, she appears onstage in community theater productions and can sometimes be found playing board games with a group of rowdy friends. She loves Marvel movies and Doctor Who, and she’s still trying to write a young adult novel that her girls will enjoy.

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