The book of 1 John begins with focus on Jesus:
“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched – this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us” (1 John 1:1-2)
In chapter two, John reminds us that Jesus is our advocate with the Father (1 John 2:1). He affirms that if Christians remain in what they heard from the beginning, they will remain “in the Son and in the Father.” In chapter 3, he reveals what that message they heard was: “We should love one another” (3:11). He says that Jesus defined love when he laid his life down for us (3:16).
Prayer comes into the picture again in chapter three, also, where confidence in prayer is tied to our obedience to God’s commands (3:22). God’s command, John writes, is this: “to believe in the name of his son, Jesus Christ” (3:23). John continues to emphasize focus on Christ and love (for God and for other people) as critical components of Christian living throughout the rest of this letter. He finishes the letter with continued emphasis on Jesus and a final instruction:
“We know also that the son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true by being in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. Dear child, keep yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:20-21).
Keep yourselves from idols? Certainly, by seeking God by focusing on Jesus and his embodiment of who God is, by loving God and loving one another, by obeying God’s commands. When we lose focus and substitute someone or an ideology or a symbol for Jesus as the focus of our confidence and faith, we lapse into idolatry. As a retired Army chaplain, I love my country and respect its flag. That flag, however, did not save my soul. To substitute that flag or any other national symbol for Jesus would be an act of idolatry, as would be professing that an economic system or a political party is our hope for salvation.
Let us pray with courage. Let us pray and live with love. May we always pray with our eyes fixed on Jesus. He is the author and perfecter of our faith. My friends, flee from idolatry.
• Quotations from the Bible are from the New International Version 2011.
O God who teaches us to love, Calm our fears. Help us to remember that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to you except through year. We’re tempted to place our faith in things concrete, but also in political parties, economic theories, and charismatic leaders. We’re tempted to excoriate and curse those disagree with those regarding those matters and leaders. We act sometimes with hatred and disrespect towards people who differ from us. May we follow the instruction of Jesus to love one another, and his example to love sacrificially. Strengthen us that we hear your Word and walk in obedience to your will. We pray through our advocate Jesus, amen.