1 John 5:1-5
At the Battle of Shiloh, during the Civil War, where Johnston tried to push Grant into the Tennessee River, there was nothing but victory and enthusiasm for the Confederates on the first day. Yet, Henry M. Stanley, a correspondent wrote this view of the day:
It was the first Field of Glory I had seen in my May of life, and the first time that Glory sickened me with its repulsive aspect and made me suspect it was all a glittering lie. My thoughts reverted to the time when these festering bodies were idolized objects of their mother’s passionate love, their father’s standing by, half fearing to touch the fragile things, and the wings of civil law outspread to protect parents and children in their family loves, their coming and going followed with pride and praise, and the blessing of the Almighty overshadowing all.
Then, as they were nearing manhood, through some strange warp of society, men in authority summoned them from school and shop, field and farms, to meet in the weeds in a Sunday morning for mutual butchery with the deadliest instruments ever invented. Civil Law, Religion, Morality all complaisantly stood aside while 90,000 young men who had been preached and moralized to for years were let loose to engage in the carnival of slaughter.
War is brutal and ugly and devastating. Most of the men and women I’ve met and known who fought in one war or another, don’t want to talk about it. Won’t talk about it. They resist with passionate strength from remembering and calling forth the images of the horrors they witnessed.
Some of us by luck or by fate or by high lottery number weren’t called up for military service, and therefore were spared such nightmares, exempted from serving in the military.
But regardless of who you are, there is one Great War that is being fought, generation after generation. It is a war that started in the Garden of Eden. In this terrible war, none are exempted from service. All are drafted and everyone must serve.
Further, if you are wounded in this battle, you must fight on with no reprieve. It doesn’t matter how long you have served or waged resistance in the battle, you must fight on. No one is ever allowed to retire with a chest of medals in this war. The writer of Ecclesiastes stated, “There is no escape in this time of war, and no one can hide from its evil” (8:8). The child who was just born and the person who just turned 90 must fight side-by-side in the ranks.
Some who fight are but raw recruits. All they know about the battle is the manual in their hands and the theory of how their weapons work. Their banners are unworn and their uniforms are new and unstained with blood or dirt.
But others are in the forefront of the hottest fighting, giving and receiving a multitude of wounds and blows, with no thought and no sound but that of the war and the conflict.
Still others are near the end of the fight, bearing the scars of many conflicts, and soon for them will sound the trumpet taps of release and recall.
John wasn’t the first to describe life as a battle that we all find ourselves waging. But John and the whole New Testament are strong to say that we can win the battle. “Every child of God can defeat the world, and our faith is what gives us the victory.” Think of what that single statement of John assumes. It assumes that we as God’s children can defeat the world. But it also means the world is the enemy. The world is something that needs to be defeated. The opposite assumption also becomes true: If we can defeat the world, the world as our enemy can defeat us.
The main question I asked myself, as I pondered these verses this week, is, What do these verses assume? There are a lot of assumptions behind John's statements about conquering the world.
The first assumption is that there are the world's ways and there is God's way. The Message translation uses the phrase, "the world's ways." Other translations simply use the word, "world." So the assumption of John is that there is "the world" and there is something else. There are the ways of the world, as the Message has it, and along with that is the further assumption that there is some other way.
The first question we must ask ourselves is, what does John mean by "the world" or, "the world's ways"? We have to be clear on this because John is telling us that it (the world or the world's ways) should be conquered or overcome. So, we need to be as clear as possible about what it is we are to conquer.
The reason we have to be clear about it is because God created the world and everything in it, from the stars and the skies all the way down to the depths of the seas. When God was done creating it all, including human beings, God called it "very good." What is John referring to, then, when he writes about the world or the world's ways?
The word in Greek that John uses for the word world is kosmos. The kosmos is not just the world, but the harmonious arrangement of that world. It's how the world has been put together in such an order as to work perfectly together.
The kosmos is also the whole circle of earthly things: endowments, riches, advantages, good pleasures. Two bad things can happen with all that. First, there are factions in the world that are working hard to undo God's harmonious arrangement of the world. There is an attempt to dismantle that order so things don't work together as they should. That’s one of the things John means by the world.
And secondly, even though the endowments, riches, advantages and good pleasures are basically hollow, frail and fleeting, they still seduce people away from God, becoming obstacles to the godly life. For example, riches or wealth or money is basically amoral. That is, money has no inherent morality of its own. It's what we do with our wealth that then dresses that money up in morality or immorality. Same goes with advantages, and pleasure. That’s the other thing John is meaning when he says the world.
The question John is forcing us to ask is on the personal level. John isn't talking philosophy here. John is asking, what is it about the world or the world's ways that are hardest on you? How are you fighting to uphold God's harmonious arrangement of the world? How are you making sure that you see the endowments, riches, advantages, and good pleasures you are enjoying as gifts from God, and not things you think you deserve and end up craving more and more to the point of allowing them to control your life?
Next is the word conquer. There are a number of assumptions concerning this word as well. To conquer means to prevail, to have supremacy over something or someone. Conquering doesn't mean passive living. It doesn't mean just shuffling through life or just taking life as it comes.
In order for there to be a conquering victory, somebody or something wins and somebody or something loses. It means there is a battle. And it means there is no sidelines to that battle where people can leisurely sit on their folding chairs and watch.
John assumes that it is the world, or the world's ways, that need to be defeated. He assumes we are in a battle, and the world is our adversary. If the world's ways are to be conquered, that assumes we are not to give it any room. If the world's ways are to be defeated, that assumes those ways are not supposed to be or become our ways.
The battle involves two strategies, one defensive, one offensive. Defensively we are to keep from being defeated by the world. The world is bent on not just infiltrating our lives, not just finding the chinks in our armor, but bowling us over with its bravado and power. The world is manipulative and tricky. Therefore, our defenses must never let down or let up.
The battle involves the offensive strategy, as well. We are not only to stand our ground and protect ourselves, we are to push the battle line further on. We aren’t, as Christians, trained just in self-defense. We are to be offensive to the point of pushing for victory. We are ultimately able to defeat the world.
Some of the soldiers of the army of the Potomac were being interviewed by a correspondent. These soldiers were in the Battle of Gettysburg, and had taken part in the famous march from Manchester to Gettysburg. Many of the soldiers said that march, with the clouds of dust, the perspiration mixed with blood trickling down into their boots, their aching limbs, was the hardest experience of their war service.
A large part of the battle against the world may simply be the march, the endurance of putting one step in front of the other, more so than any battle. The battle against the world is a test, not only of immediate courage, but also a test of endurance. Many have given up, not at the battles along the way, but during the long march between the battles. Some have gone only part way and quit. Some have given up or given in. Some have stopped too long to rest and became side-tracked, until the powers of the world caught up to them, and easily overcame them.
There is only one way, says John, that we will be able to defeat the world: “No one can defeat the world without having faith in Jesus as the Son of God” (5:5).
Faith is a great word. In the Greek John wrote in, faith means persuasion—a total persuasion of the things that you believe. Faith means conviction—having a complete conviction of the truth of God and God’s ways. Faith means reliance—reliance upon Christ and Christ alone. Persuasion. Conviction. Reliance.
Faith is the weapon by which we overcome the world. In Ephesians (6:16), in describing the whole armor of God, Paul wrote: “Pick up the shield of faith. With it you can put out all the flaming arrows of the evil one.” So, our shield in the battle with the world and the evil one is our faith. That shield is made out of the metal of our conviction of the truth of God. The thickness of the metal of our shield is determined by how much we are persuaded by that truth. The strength of the handhold, behind the shield, is determined by the depth of our reliance upon Christ.
Those three qualities of faith that go along with the shield (conviction, persuasion, and reliance) are forged in battle after battle after battle. We cannot grow our conviction, persuasion, or reliance upon God and Christ sitting on the sidelines watching others in the battle. At some point we need to stand up and march in.
A soldier in the army of Alexander the Great was not acting bravely in battle. When he should have been joining the battle and pressing ahead, he was lingering behind. The great general approached him and asked, “What is your name, soldier?”
The man replied, “My name, sir, is Alexander.”
The general looked at him straight in the eyes and said firmly, “Soldier, get in there and fight, or change your name!”
Alexander wanted his name to be a symbol of courage and valor. So it is with the name of Christ. As Christians, we take his name with us into our battle against the world. As Christians in the battle, you are to either resist and fight with valor, or you should change your name. But know this: if you fight with faith in Christ as your weapon, you will defeat the world.
I say to you, despite the horrors you may see in this battle with the world, fight on with Christ as your goal, with Christ as your name, and with faith in Christ as your shield. And we will overcome.