I felt like stretching my legs again a bit today. The weather was perfect… not too hot and not too cold. A little bit of lovely rain… just perfect.
I decided to go for more of a 10k today, but I was feeling good so I just ran the extra .8 miles to make 7 miles total. I finished in 54:55 with an average pace of 7:50 per mile.
This week I ran 27.89 total miles and had an average pace of 8:08 per mile. That is very similar to last week. I actually ran .09 more miles and had a 1 second faster pace this week in comparison to last week… very similar.
So far in the month of May I have run nearly 80 miles (79.2 to be exact) and have maintained an overall average pace of 7:54 per mile. I certainly intend to finish strong next week (+ plus 3 days since May has 31 days).
Today as I was running I spent my time thinking about the disciple / apostle / church father / revelator John. It is possible that John is one of the most misunderstood characters in all of Scripture.
As a church we have been preaching through 1 John for the past several weeks, and tomorrow I will preach on 2 John. We have been spending a lot of time with John lately.
It is funny how you can read someone’s words over and over again and yet not really know who the person is who wrote the words.
What was John like? Who is this person who appears in all four Gospels and the book of Acts, wrote the Gospel of John, wrote three Epistles, and wrote the book of Revelation?
I remember reading John Piper’s Don’t Waste Your Life and forming an image of John Piper in my mind. I could hear his voice, know his mannerisms, and even decipher what he looked like -all from simply reading his book.
And then I heard him preach live.
It turned out that the image in my mind was completely wrong.
Is it possible that this same phenomenon occurs when we think of John, the disciple of Jesus?
I think so.
Most paintings of John make him out to look feminine. Consider the Last Supper painting from Leonardo Da Vinci. John looks like a girl.
While everyone else in the painting looks like a dude, John looks like a chick.
And this certainly is not just a Leonardo thing. Throughout most of the paintings in history, John is depicted as quite feminine.
What’s up with that?!
Is that even close to right?
Where did we get that idea?
Are we stuck with that idea in our minds as we consider what John was like?
They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so it may take at least a thousand words to recalibrate our minds. For the next thousand (plus) words in this blog, I intend to make a case for re-thinking the character of John.
John was not a feminine character. He was a fisherman. He was rough and tough. He was a hard man, passionate, intense, and zealous for the things of God. John was an absolute lover of truth. Because of this, he became an absolute lover of Jesus.
While many paintings depict John as being feminine, it may be more accurate to simply portray him as black and white. That’s what he was. There was no grey area with John. Things were either black or white. Right or wrong. Light or dark.
With the Apostle Paul, you see a bit of this, but you also catch a lot of grey area. Paul goes to great lengths to try to explain himself and offer exceptions to the things that he is saying. If he thinks he will be saying something particularly difficult to understand, he tries to explain it from several different angles.
Not John. John just says it. Deal with it.
It is ironic that John is known as the “Apostle of Love”, considering that what he wrote about most frequently was truth and obedience as the basis and proof of love:
Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked. (1 John 2:4-6 ESV)
Black and white.
You say you love God? Prove it. If you cannot prove it by your obedience to his commandments, you are a liar. The truth is not in you.
Sounds kind of harsh, doesn’t it?
John was originally a disciple of John the Baptist, but when J.B. pointed out that Jesus was the Messiah, John immediately became a disciple of Jesus instead. (In this simple illustration, you see that John is deeply interested in spiritual things, but not just any spiritual thing. He is interested in the truth! If he finds a truer truth than the truth he is currently believing, he is quick to embrace the truer truth.)
What would it have been like to be a disciple of John the Baptist -that wild man from the wilderness who spoke with eccentric boldness? How did being a disciple of J.B. form John, who later became a disciple of Jesus?
We see John throughout the Gospels trying to make himself known as greater than the rest. He and his brother James came to be known as the “Sons of Thunder”.
At one point John saw someone casting out demons in Jesus’ name, but he tried to stop him because the man was not a part of their group. Jesus rebuked him for his sectarianism.
Not long after that incident, John, along with his brother James, asked Jesus if they should call down fire from heaven to destroy a village of Samaritans who would not receive Jesus and his disciples. Again Jesus rebuked him.
In his own Gospel, John refers to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved”. This phrase could be taken as prideful, or elitist, but I actually think it was an example of pure humility. I think it was an example of amazement. I think John knew his own heart and was simply amazed that Jesus loved him, even though his heart was wicked beyond measure. I believe that he refers to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” because he never got over the amazing truth of God’s love for him.
John was a lover of truth. It was his passion as a youth and it remained his passion as an elder of the first century church.
In his first letter, he speaks of the truth that God is love. He says this twice in the fourth chapter of 1 John. Here are his incredible words from the second half of 1 John 4:
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.
By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. (1 John 4:7-21 ESV)
“Love” was mentioned 29 times in the 326 words listed in the above passage. And what is the context of all of this talk about love? Check out the preceding verse:
We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error. (1 John 4:6 ESV)
The context was how to discern truth from error. John was a lover of truth, and did not want anyone to be in error.
In his second letter, John writes that he rejoices greatly to find the church walking in…
He goes on to define love as walking according to God’s commandments (see 2 John 1:6).
In his third letter he again proclaims that he has no greater joy than to hear that the church is walking in the truth.
Next John does the unthinkable, he points out one particular church member who is not walking in the truth. He names him by name (Diotrephes), declaring that this individual does not acknowledge John’s authority, and John says that when he comes to see them face to face he will publicly bring up the evil that this man is doing.
I don’t believe that John ever lost his passion for the truth. I do believe that he grew in understanding of love, and that he grew in walking it out (but I’m not so sure that individuals such as Diotrephes ever felt overly loved by John).
Nevertheless, we see John again in the opening pages of the book of Revelation. Jesus chose John and appeared to him, asking him to to write seven more letters to seven different congregations. Though the words belong to Jesus, the handwriting belonged to John.
The letters were not overly encouraging.
Were they loving?
Well, that probably depends on how you define loving. I’m not so sure that the world would call these letters loving, because many of them contain a strong rebuke and call for a specific change in action. It’s hard for me to believe that these letters felt loving to the recipients.
But I think the letters were loving. If I understand John correctly, and if I understand love correctly, then I have to admit that it was incredibly loving to offer correction to individuals and congregations who needed it.
Yes, the words were harsh, and there was far more negative than positive (one church received no positive feedback at all), but the words were true… and therefore, I believe, loving.
Possibly the best example of this loving rebuke is found in the letter to the church in Laodicea:
Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. (Revelation 3:19-22 ESV)
Jesus himself connected his love with reproof, discipline, zeal, and repentance.
And what kind of man delivered these letters to the seven churches in his own handwriting? Well, certainly no wimpy man.
John was a rough, tough, straightforward, no time for small talk, let’s get to the point, lover of truth, lover of Jesus, and therefore lover of the church.
Forget the Last Supper painting (they didn’t even eat at tables like that in first century Israel, anyway).
All of this thinking about the character of John led me to wonder: what would we think about John if he were living today?
Would we want to hang out with him, or would we prefer to just kind of stay away from him?
Would we be able to hear his harsh words today, and recognize his authority as lovingly speaking on behalf of Jesus, or would we dismiss him for failing to follow proper protocol?
Is it a ploy of Satan to make us think of John as a girly man, watering down his message to the point where we tend to hear nothing more than flowery poetry about “love”?
Would John be able to effectively pastor a church today, or would he be let go for hurting too many feelings, calling individuals out who are living in sin, and failing to make people feel loved?
Would we be supportive of him, or would we constantly find ourselves embarrassed, upset, and apologizing for him?