Three Witnesses–1 John 5:7-8

For there are three that testify: 8the[a] Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement. –1 John 5:7-8

No, you do not misread me. I’m staying on the same verses again today. Why? It’s simple. In yesterday’s meditation, I had a good deal to say about the phrase that is almost certainly not a part of John’s text, but I said virtually nothing about those words that are John’s.

Today, I stood outside in my yard, setting up a tent in preparation for a trip Tom and I are taking in a few weeks. As I struggled with fabric and poles, I felt the power of the sun beating onto my face and watched the wind churn up the surface of the lake. All I could do was smile as I felt God’s goodness in all this. As I stood there, nature seemed to proclaim his bounty.

I could not stand there long, as Ira and Sydney joined me, “helping” me drive pegs into the ground and unzip zippers. They giggled and squealed as they coursed into and out of the tent. Although the temperature had to be fifteen degrees higher in the tent, Ira couldn’t get enough of it, flinging his shoes off and rolling around on the floor.¬† Again I smiled, recognizing again the goodness of God manifest in these children.

Finally, and most importantly, I felt the testimony of God’s Spirit in that moment. Although I might misinterpret the testimony of nature (the water) and living beings (the blood), I could not misunderstand the message of the Counselor. It told me of a fallen world, redeemed by a single, perfect man. With all that in play, who needs the “improvements” offered by that long-ago scribe.

Comma Johanneum–1 John 5:7-8

For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement. –1 John 5:7-8

Time to get our thinking hats on today. If you’ll look at the two verses that I have before us today, you might notice something interesting, namely, these two verses are no longer than most single verses. Why is this? If you’ll run to the bookcase and pull down your King James Version, looking up these same verses, you’ll see the difference. Go ahead, run. I’ll wait.

There are only a few places where the Bible’s text leads scholars into significant disagreement. Perhaps I should clarify that. Scholars, by and large, establish their reputations by disagreeing with something that somebody else has said. You don’t get tenure at most schools by saying, “You know all that stuff that Franz Delitzsch said about the Old Testament? He was right.” So scholars will argue endlessly about all sorts of things, but there are only a handful of texts that are in significant doubt and that really matter. For example, that whole “woman caught in adultery” story is considered by many scholars to be a later addition to the text of John’s Gospel. That’s a pretty significant question, you might think, and it is, but on the other hand, does any key teaching of the gospel hinge on that story? No.

Today’s verses represent another one of those areas of disagreement, one where most scholars, even fairly conservative ones, say that the traditional material shouldn’t be there. In your King James Version, you’ll find an overt reference to the trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and then this odd combination of the spirit, the water, and the blood. So is that three or six witnesses? The scholars believe that some overzealous scribe way back in time decided to clear things up for us by putting in what he thought these verses really meant, the only clear and concise reference to the Trinity in the entire Bible. The problem was that our scribe didn’t go back and find all the ancient manuscripts and change them. He also didn’t find the books of the early church fathers who quoted 1 John and change them.

The comma Johanneum is this passage that is now left out. It’s in your King James Version–and admit it, you didn’t go get it off the shelf, did you?–but you won’t find it in any contemporary versions. Therefore, with a poof of editing, the doctrine of the Trinity was cast into the night, never to be considered again.

But not so fast. The doctrine of the Trinity is a lot like the doctrine of salvation through Christ’s blood. I’ve never seen Jesus’ blood. I’ve never seen Jesus. Does that make him less real? Does that make the application of his blood any less meaningful for me? No. I don’t need a clear statement of the Trinity in the 5th chapter of 1 John to recognize that God reveals himself in three persons. Jesus clearly talks of the Father as someone who is separate from himself yet the same as himself. That’s two-thirds of the Trinity without even breaking a sweat. And Jesus talks very clearly of the Holy Spirit, just as this passage of 1 John does. Now we have all three, even without the comma Johanneum. Hebrews 11:1 tells us that faith is being certain of what we do not see. Happily we have not only the testimony of the scripture but of the Holy Spirit to guide us. Who needs a few words thrown in by some over-enthusiastic monk?

Buzzer Beater–1 John 5:6

This is the one who came by water and blood¬óJesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth.–1 John 5:6

As I write this, the NBA Finals are about to get started. Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers will be squaring off against Paul Pierce (formerly of the University of Kansas) and the Boston Celtics. By the time you see these words the series should be about half over, but it’s all a mystery to me.

I’m not a big fan of professional basketball. When guys, especially the big stars, get to take six and a half steps with the ball in their hands as they slash to the basket, it just doesn’t seem much like Dr. Naismith’s game. However, you cannot deny the history and tradition behind the Celtics-Lakes match ups. This is the pair of teams that has met more often than any other in the history of the championship, pitting Celtics like Bill Russell, Bob Cousy, Kevin McHale, and Larry Bird against Lakers like Elgin Baylor, Wilt Chamberlain, Magic Johnson, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

In basketball, as in most any sport, there are good players and then there are special players, players who seem to always bring their A-game in the biggest situation. All of the guys mentioned in that last paragraph were cut from that cloth. I remember an enormous game in which Larry Bird–not the tallest, fastest, or shiftiest guy to ever lace up sneakers–came down in absolute crunch time, set up outside the three-point line and let fly. And what did he do then? The moment the ball left his hand, he broke for the defensive end of the floor, absolutely knowing that ball had to go in. Is Kobe that kind of player? Pierce? Time has yet to tell if either or both of them is truly special or just very, very good.

As special as special athletes might be, they are, after all, just humans. Tiger Woods, Bjorn Borg, George Brett, Wayne Gretzky–these are all just men. Cut them and they’ll bleed–before they knock you down for cutting them. They’re good enough for the hall of fame in sport, but they’re not good enough for what John is talking about in the current passage.

John has been calling us to a radical life of love, a life that, if not lived in the service of a truly special, truly divine figure, will just wind up with us feeling cheated and abused. Let’s face it–there’s a lot of truth to the old saying that “No good deed goes unpunished.” If we were living a life of love for a mere mortal, we’d be in deep water, but we’re not. Jesus stands as someone unique, someone born of water and blood, a part of the Godhead testified by another part of the Godhead.

Don’t you know that when the game is on the line and things look grim, the average players look to the special players for something miraculous? If they can do that, often finding a reward, how much more should we, as the average teammates of Jesus Christ, rely on him for that buzzer-beating score?

Overcomer–1 John 5:4-5

For everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.–1 John 5:4-5

About a year ago, I was feeling like an overcomer. After years of carrying around a lot of excess weight, I started, in April, eating properly and exercising daily. From April until just before Christmas, I lost forty pounds. Forty pounds! That’s a big sack of dog food. It’s five gallons of water. I have no idea how many Chipotle burritos that represents.

Feeling triumphant, like an overcomer, back around Christmas, what did I do? I got out of my good habits, stopped exercising, started eating garbage again, and gained most of that weight back again. Way to go, Mark!

At the risk of spiritualizing something that is purely a matter of calories consumed and calories burned, I can’t help but think that there’s something significant going on here. Every morning when I wake up and see myself in the bathroom mirror, I have to recognize the successes that I achieved and then let slip away. When I pull on my clothes, I feel the tightness and acknowledge my defeat. It’s as if Satan has me discouraged before I even put my shoes on for the first time.

Here’s the problem. When I was biking and running and eating right, I was pretty much doing it in my own strength, burning my own will power, and depending on my own motivation. When those sources ran out, I found my jeans getter tighter. I cannot overcome in my own strength.

In reality, I was not spiritualizing anything that didn’t deserve it here, because everything is spiritual. My adversary–and yours–will confront me wherever a victory can be won. My only hope is not weight watchers or a personal trainer. It’s a genuine reliance on Jesus Christ.

Carry the Burden–1 John 5:2-3

This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome,–1 John 5:2-3

Last week, a young man in Independence–a young man with problems I can only begin to imagine–called his estranged girlfriend, the mother of his four-month-old child, over to his home where he shot her. With her lying dead in his home, he called her father to report his deed and to announce that now he would shoot himself, which he did.

In the course of moments, two people were dead and an innocent was left orphaned. However, this story did not really develop in just moments. This story was, in fact, years, even generations in the making.

I know enough about the young lady’s life to recognize the obstacles life had placed in front of her. Her mother abandoned her and her three siblings when they were quite young. Her father was a less than terrific role-model. Mom and Dad met at Mom’s work, as an “exotic” dancer. Great stuff, eh?

But then Mom can’t be completely blamed. Her father was in prison during her childhood and she was raised by grandparents who were, apparently, not quite up to the task. And who’s to say that the generation before them didn’t drop the ball in some way?

I don’t offer all these observations in order to beat up on a family that is already reeling from a tragedy. Nobody, no matter what their failings, deserves what happened in Independence last week, and Lord knows I have plenty of failings of my own. Instead, I offer these facts to remind myself, and you as well, that the wages of sin is death. That applies not only in the eternal sense, but in the short term as well. Death, whether dramatic and violent death or a slower, less obvious sort, follows inevitably when people do not follow the commands of God.

Those commands are not burdensome, John assures us. He’s not asking us to climb Mount Everest each morning before breakfast. He’s not asking us to learn multiplication tables up to the 100s or memorize all the former cabinet officers of the U.S.

For this generation and for the next, for those close to us and those we scarcely know, for those who died by violence last week and those whose lives were scarred forever, for the glory of God and the increase of his kingdom, let us put our shoulders into bearing that light burden.

Family Love–1 John 5:1

<blockquote><em>Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well.</em>–1 John 5:1</blockquote>

Think about the people with whom you go to church or perhaps the people in your family. Somewhere among that cast of characters there is somebody who just drives you buggy, right? I can think of a couple such people. One person is simply too blunt, saying whatever comes into her mind regardless of how rude it might be. Another has this issue with doing laundry often enough. A last person simply never shuts up, yammering on as my eyes glaze over.

We also have our favorites, the people we enjoy spending time with. I have a good group whose company I greatly enjoy, people I admire and look forward to seeing. This entry is not about them. It’s about the people in the first paragraph.

It’s so easy to love the paragraph two people, but not so easy to love the ones in paragraph one. In our family, we almost have to make a good show of getting along with everyone, but in church we can get away with less civility. That’s not how it ought to be, however. We are–you and I–brothers and sisters. John makes that clear today. And when you’re a member of the family, even when your brother or sister drives you nuts, you make nice for the sake of the family, for the good name and happiness of mom and dad.

Those annoying folks in paragraph one are my brothers and sisters, born of the same heavenly father as me. If I truly love that father, then I have to love his other children. Once again, John pulls aside the phony Christianity that I might like to cover myself with, exposing me for what I truly am. How about you? If you can’t love your Father’s kids, do you really love your Father?