Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Simple Christianity

But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. ~2 Corinthians 11:3

There are nine usages of “little children” in the book of 1 John that reveal simple Christianity. The truths contained within these “little children” usages are vital to all of us as believers, but especially to those who are new to the faith. Are you new to the faith? Or do you know someone who is? Do you struggle with understanding what the really important issues of life are in the Christian faith? Perhaps you are mature in the faith but still need to be reminded of these truths. These “little children” lessons are truths that God wants all of us to know and understand. They teach us “the simplicity that is in Christ,” which applies to all of God’s children, regardless of our maturity level; and they chart out the lifestyle of a true Christ follower—the lifestyle Satan tries to beguile us from walking in.

The small, five-chapter book of 1 John contains nine usages of “little children.” We can think of it as a primer for newborn believers, with nine basic rules for Christian living. These salient truths our heavenly Father wants us to know, understand, and apply are like the basic lessons our earthly parents gave us as little children when they instructed us to “say your prayers every day,” “don’t take candy from strangers,” “be kind to others,” and “don’t play in the street.” The “little children” lessons in 1 John are simple, yet priceless, practical instructions for Christian living.

I heard once that the gospel of John was the best place to begin reading to learn about Jesus, and it is true that it gives an overall perspective of who He is; however, 1 John shows us how to have fellowship with Him and His family.

These are instructional lessons for little children in the kingdom of God and are words of comfort like a good earthly father would use in order to tenderly teach his young children. And yet, they also have words of warning that set boundaries to protect us from the evil one and his false prophets. Above all else, they contain the number one lesson of loving others, which is the key to successfully living in His family. 

Before jumping to the lessons, let’s look at a comparison of 1 John, which according to tradition was written to the believers in Ephesus, and the epistle that Paul wrote to the Ephesians.

Comparing the Book of 1 John and the Book of Ephesians

First John and Ephesians are flip sides of truth—one being deep or complex and the other one being simple and practical. Paul wrote the epistle to the Ephesians (the deep one) about ad 62. He addressed it to the believers and to those who were faithful in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 1:1 KJV). It is perhaps Paul’s deepest revelatory writing. He was a deep thinker, and even Peter said that some of the things he wrote were hard to understand (2 Peter 3:16). He was “Dr. Paul” of Tarsus, a very well-educated man, and his writings reflect that. When I was first saved, I was told to read the book of Ephesians. At my early Christian age, it definitely challenged me to go deeper into the things of God. I’m thankful, because the fruit of that depth is still being produced in me today. However, there were some foundational things lacking that are found in 1 John. We need instruction so simple that even a fool need not err therein. We need the simplicity that is found in Christ.

First John (the simple one) was penned by John the apostle and it too was addressed to the believers in Ephesus. The time of its writing is estimated to be around the same time as the book of Revelation, which John wrote while imprisoned on the Isle of Patmos, circa ad 90. That means some of the same believers Paul wrote to 28 years earlier may have still been in Ephesus at the time of John’s epistle. The message of 1 John shows us how we are to live simple Christianity. Although it was written specifically to the Ephesians who were newly born again, it also addressed the mature believers and reminded them of the simplicity that is found in Christ.

Another comparison between these two epistles to the Ephesians is that John was much older than Paul when they wrote their epistles. Older and, perhaps arguably, a little wiser than Paul would have been at when he wrote his epistle, which was probably around 57 years old. We know that all scripture is given by inspiration and all of it is accurate, but some writings are deeper than others and some are simpler to understand than others. Each one has a unique and separate profit.

Since John wrote his epistle at an older age than Paul wrote his, I believe he probably had gained a greater practical wisdom. He had personally known and walked with Jesus and was called the disciple that Jesus loved; Jesus had, in fact, entrusted the care of His mother to John at the cross. He was a refined, hard-working fisherman from Galilee who, while imprisoned, wrote some simple instructions to those he called “little children” of the faith. On the other hand, the epistle of Ephesians was written by a doctor of the law who was perhaps more concerned with doctrine and teaching but was led by the Holy Spirit to share the depths of truth that God had revealed to him. Maybe the same people that Paul taught the doctrine to needed to hear the sage wisdom of one of Jesus’ apostles when he called them back to simple basic Christian living 28 years later. Just as Ephesians is deep, 1 John is very practical. In my opinion, 1 John is a lot easier to understand; therefore, perhaps it should be the first book of the Bible that we recommend to new Christians to read. The epistle to the Ephesians is protein; whereas, 1 John is milk.

This is simple Christianity.

Who was John?

John was one of Jesus’ apostles and closest friends. He was referred to as the disciple that Jesus loved, and love is undoubtedly the biggest lesson to learn from 1 John. Why not learn it from someone who not only lived and walked with Jesus, but was entrusted with the care of His mother? Jesus must have seen the love that John walked in or He would not have trusted him to take on such a relational and personal commitment. I can see Jesus choosing John to write this. This is the disciple that Jesus loved.

As I began my serious quest into 1 John, I decided to do a little background research on the Apostle John to try and “get inside his head” and really understand the man who wrote this letter to the Ephesians. I had already done this with the Apostle Paul in the past and some of the other writers of Scripture, but never with John. As I share several things I learned about him, I hope it helps you to understand more about the revelation that God imparted to him.

John and his brother, James, were hard-working fishermen bc (before Christ). They were called “the sons of thunder,” perhaps because they were boisterous and loud—maybe using some of the salty language associated with today’s fishermen. They were among the first apostles Jesus called to follow Him, and we can only imagine the amazing transformation they must have gone through. They saw the miracles Jesus did, witnessed Him in His resurrected body, were present at His ascension, and received the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. John and Peter healed the lame man at the temple gate (Acts 3), and then John lost his brother James, who was brutally martyred (Acts 12:2). Think of the lessons he must have learned throughout his life, especially after he met and followed Christ.

As mentioned before, he was the disciple that Jesus loved (which is testified of three times). Jesus loved not just his spirit but also his soul, because John 20:2 says that Jesus loved (phileo—brotherly love or friendship love) him, which means he liked him. Jesus considered him a friend who could walk beside him when they traveled and probably even slept next to when they stopped for the night. They were close companions. We know Jesus entrusted His mother to him (John 19:26), which indicates John was a caring and loving man. It makes sense that God would choose him to pen this basic, yet vital, message of simple Christianity.

A few years ago, Vicki and I visited Ephesus and saw what many consider to be the burial site of John the Apostle. According to history and concurred by our tour guide, John had been exiled to the Isle of Patmos where he miraculously survived being boiled in oil, and from where he wrote the book of Revelation and the three books of John. After his exile, he returned to Ephesus where he later died and was buried. It is common knowledge in the Ephesus area that Mary, Jesus’ mother, went with him, and there are even monuments there memorializing her. John followed through on Jesus’ dying appeal to take in His mother. John was a caring, kind, and loving man who kept his promise to Jesus as He was dying on the cross. He must have been an amazing man.

John was a man of love. His writings reflect his simple practicality just as Paul’s reflect his complex education. John was as simple as Paul was complex. The epistle of Ephesians may arguably be Paul’s deepest written revelation, and as profoundly complex as Ephesians is, 1 John is simple and practical. Also, I find it interesting that both of these giants of New Testament scripture received their most profound revelations while imprisoned. Think about it.

Even from the beginning of 1 John, it is easy to see that these are basic lessons. The first chapter lays out the foundation of Christianity with these two points:

·           We are to have a relationship with the Father and His Son
·           God sent Jesus to forgive our sins so that we could have that fellowship.

First John 1:4 gives the purpose for the writing: that your joy may be full.

Throughout 1 John the Father seems to be saying, “Little children, I called you into joy, freedom and power, not into bondage and defeat.”

Note: This study of 1 John will never suffice for your personal reading of it, but it can serve as a guide to take you through the book. Each of the usages of “little children” holds a powerful message and lesson. Each of these usages will be covered in the following sections with the verse in its title.

Usages of ‘Little Children”

There are nine different usages of “little children” in 1 John. Seven of them are expressed by the Greek word teknion, which means a very small child, and the other two by the Greek word paidion, which means a child who is just a little older, but still small. Both words are extensions of their respective nouns, referred to as diminutives. A diminutive makes something smaller and endearing, like a boy calling his girlfriend “baby,” or you calling your dog “the cutest little thing.” Both Greek words are important to our study as we look at these basic lessons for simple Christian living.

So “little children,” please sit down and learn these primary lessons. If you already know them then please take the time to deeply reconsider them, and give the new believers a good example by living them.

Lesson One—1 John 2:1—If we sin, Jesus is our defense attorney.

The first lesson to new believers is do not sin. But if they do sin, Jesus is their defense attorney and has them covered. Chapter 1 talks about this as well, exhorting us to do what is right but still assuring us that Jesus will be there for us if we fail. Not only did He pay the price for our salvation, He also paid the price for our forgiveness and restoration into fellowship with the Father.

Lesson Two —1 John 2:12—Our sins are forgiven.

I write to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for His name’s sake. ~1 John 2:12

The second lesson to new believers is that our sins are forgiven. This exhortation is similar to the first, which is God’s way of emphasizing it. He tells us twice that because of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice, our sins are forgiven and they will not separate us from Him.

This portion of 1 John is written to three categories: little children, young men, and fathers (King James Version). Each has specific instructions, but what is addressed to “little children” settles the righteousness issue.

Lesson Three—1 John 2:13—Get to know your heavenly Father.

I write to you, little children [paidion], because you have known the Father. ~1 John 2:13b

The third basic instruction for simple Christianity is get to know your heavenly Father. The Greek word for “known” in 1 John 2:13b is ginosoko, which means to know by experience. God wants His little children to get to know Him by experiencing His fatherly love. In Old Testament times, God’s people had to wait until the Sabbath to really fellowship with Him, but because of the blood of Jesus, His children can freely access His presence and experience perpetual fellowship with Him. Jesus paid the ultimate price so that we could intimately know God, so why not enjoy getting to know Him as your heavenly Father? (My book, You Don’t Have to be Smart to Walk with God, available at our e-store, is also a helpful resource.)

Lesson Four—1 John 2:18—The Anti-Christ is in the world.

Little children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard that the Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come, by which we know that it is the last hour. ~1 John 2:18

The fourth basic instruction for simple Christianity is the anti-Christ is in the world. Our loving heavenly Father warns us that Satan will come after our faith. The seed that falls by the wayside is gobbled up by Satan before it can grow roots (Mark 4:15). Little children in God’s family are instructed to beware of the “antichrists” that are already in the world; and there are other cautions in 1 John about the enemy and his deception. Just as earthly fathers do not let their kids take candy from strangers, our heavenly Father wants us to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. Satan is coming after our faith. Be on guard.

There are also other three places in 1 John that tell us to be on guard because we have an enemy.

Lesson Five—1 John 2:28—Have confidence, not shame, before Him at His coming.  

And now, little children, abide in Him, that when He appears, we may have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming. ~1 John 2:28

The fifth basic instruction for simple Christianity is have confidence, not shame, before Him at His coming. Having hope in Jesus’ coming is more than looking forward to being raptured and taken off the planet. It does include that, but the exhortation is given that if we have that hope of seeing Him face to face, we will keep ourselves pure (1 John 3:3). From the end of chapter 2 through the first part of chapter 3, it talks about looking like Him when He appears. We should have hope in His coming and that hope should inspire us to be pure just as He is pure.

The hope of Christ’s return and His coming kingdom is our undergirding strength. Regardless of what happens in this world, we have an inheritance that is reserved in heaven for us (2 Peter 1:4). Have hope!

Lesson Six—1 John 3:7—Let no one deceive you.

Little children, let no one deceive you. He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous. ~1 John 3:7

The sixth basic instruction for simple Christianity is let no one deceive you. This is a bold lesson from the Father, and it again reminds us of the previous instruction—that we have an enemy who wants to deceive us. We can know his people by their fruit, just as we will know a true Christ follower by his fruit. This is a great lesson to all of us who are taught to love one another. Pay attention to the fruit that is being produced by others (as well as the fruit we are producing!). Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness (Ephesians 5:11). Do not be deceived: Evil company corrupts good habits (1 Corinthians 15:33).

New believers, in particular, should consider the company they are keeping and how it affects them.

Lesson Seven—1 John 3:18—Love one another.  

My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth. ~1 John 3:18

The seventh basic instruction for simple Christianity is love one another. In John 13:33 and 34 (written by the same Apostle John), Jesus told the “little children” that they had a new commandment—to love one another as He has loved us. That is a tall order, but one He has given us the ability to fulfill. The truth about the transforming love of God is woven throughout the gospels, as well as the epistles written by Paul, Peter, James, and John.

Love never fails (1 Corinthians 13:8). First John 2:15 instructs us to not love the world or the things of the world. Even though these are simple lessons, love is a deep one to walk in and develop. According to Ephesians 3:17–19, it has four dimensions! Love is a big lesson that must be understood and is truly the law of life for a genuine believer. As we live His love, He perfects it in us—so much so that it expels every fear in our lives. Jesus said, “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).

Walk in love.

Lesson Eight—1 John 4:4—He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.

You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. ~1 John 4:4

The eighth basic instruction for simple Christianity is He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. This lesson for little children again shows the conflict that we have walked into, being in God’s family. But this exhortation is that greater is God’s power in you than the temptations or devices that will come against you. This verse should build great confidence in you. There is a spirit of antichrist in the world, but greater is Christ in you (Colossians 1:27) than all of Satan’s power in this world.

There should never be any reason for you to fear Satan and his kingdom. Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world. No fear! (Remember, His perfected love in you will expel all fear.)

Lesson Nine—1 John 5:21—Keep yourself from idols.

Little children [teknion], keep yourselves from idols. Amen. ~1 John 5:21

The ninth basic instruction for simple Christianity is keep yourself from idols. The culture in Ephesus was centered upon the idol worship of Diana of the Ephesians. This is telling the new believers in Christ to come apart from their old way of living. In our culture it is not so much worshiping an idol of stone or wood or even gold—it is the worship of self. This last exhortation to us as little children is very powerful. Follow only after the Lord Jesus Christ. Do not let the things of this world distract you from your true, first love—Jesus.

Keep God #1. This verse in The New Living Translation reads, “Dear children, keep away from anything that might take God's place in your hearts.”


The following table summarizes the lessons of “little children” from the Epistle of 1 John. These instructions apply to a “newborn” believer and to us all, no matter how mature we are in our spiritual lives.

1 John 2:1
Sin not; your advocate is Jesus.
1 John 2:12
Your sins are forgiven by Jesus Christ.
1 John 2:13
Get to personally know the Father.
1 John 2:18
Antichrist is in the world; guard your salvation.
1 John 2:28
Have hope and be pure.
1 John 3:7
Take heed of the company you keep.
1 John 3:18
Love in deed and truth.
1 John 4:4
Remember your power. Fear not!
1 John 5:21
Keep God first.

Keep it Simple!

But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. ~2 Corinthians 11:3
©2018 Dale M. Sides

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for the gold nuggets of truth that you mine out. The teacher anointing upon your life is reflective of your love for our Father and the LORD Jesus Christ.I love and admire you Dr.Dale your friend Willie.