The Apostle John wrote the collection of letters that is known as 1,2, and 3 John. This writer is John, the son of Zebedee, who wrote the gospel of John and was on the Isle of Patmos when he received the revelation of Christ church. The Rev. Dr. Earl Palmer, the former pastor of University Presbyterian Church in Seattle, has wisely commented that John writes wisdom literature in these little epistles. He writes in a Jewish voice with sentences and paragraphs and themes that are reminiscent of the Psalms and of Ecclesiastes and the Proverbs he seems to be defending the central doctrine of our faith: the identity of Jesus of Nazareth. He not only identifies Jesus as our God and Savior, but he does so in a literary form that focuses on God as life, God is light, and God as love.
Consider the inerrant and the infallible word of the living God taken from 1 John 3:1 – 7:
“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so, we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that bit did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. 6 No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous.”
“The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever” (Isaiah 40:8 NIV).
When your creed cracks your code crumbles. Let me explain.
The Canadian philosopher, Charles Taylor, called our age “The Secular Age.” We might also call it “the confused age.” Because we have shifted from a central philosophical and ethical center, we are seeing the edges begin to fray. I will be reading a paper at the National Defense University later this year which I will make the case that the great existential crisis that emerged in Western culture after World War I was met with a variety of responses not all of which were helpful.
For instance, in training military officers in ethics, many responded to the existential crisis of the horrors in your totality and inhumanity of the first world war by jettisoning transcendence and religion as the ethical core from which we teach. Therefore, while we were left with were patriotic virtues are acidic virtues of honor, duty, kindness. But where do these ethical standards come from? And what is happened since then raises the question as to whether the unprecedented rate of suicides in the military can be tied to the ethical confusion. This is a question that must be answered even though it strikes at the possibility of political incorrectness.
Such a question about the consequences of the loss of an ethical center is also a deeply personal and troubling matter which I’ve, regrettably, had a great deal of experience with. I know, personally, the depth of darkness that is attached with soldier suicides. But is this yet another example of how when the center is ripped the edges fray? When the creed cracks the code — that is, the code of living – crumbles? In the age of confusion, one’s sex, or gender, is a social construct, not a biological fact. In the age of confusion, the anatomical and reproductive realities which not merely suggest but mandate male and female complementarity in a relationship has been replaced by the concept of family defined according to our own wishes, even when those desires are in conflict with what is most natural. It is indeed an age of confusion, and it is an age in which the codes are crumbling because they creed, the center, has cracked. We are literally fraying at the edges of civilization.
In the late first century, the pastor to the mother of our Lord Jesus began to compose letters to churches in Asia Minor. The pastor of Ephesus, we are told by his student, Polycarp, is none other than John, “the disciple whom Jesus loved;” and the author of the great Gospel of John in the book of Revelation. John has a great concern in the late first century Asia minor: it is that the center is collapsing and the church is beginning to fray at the edges. The creed is cracking, and therefore the code is crumbling. The creed that St. John has in mind is that most central Creed of the faith, that Jesus of Nazareth is Almighty God. This doctrine was being attacked by those who considered it inconceivable that Almighty God, the perfect, the beatific, to use the language of Plato, could ever be “housed” in the sinful construction of humanity. Therefore, these teachers are advocating an idea that while Jesus was a prophet and the son of God he could not be Almighty God. Now, you say, “that is certainly heretical to the essential Christian doctrine. But what in the world is an idea like that have to do with everyday living?” This is the genius of the epistles of John. For he moves from doctrinal questions to vital everyday Christian living. John recognizes that the code in the creed are connected. He acknowledges that the center and the edges are one. Therefore, he boldly, forcefully, but also pastorally calls the church and all who are observing the church to take note: this is a new world order. This is a new world order in which the center of truth has been defined so precisely that the edges, the everyday living, the practical, have been dramatically impacted.
When we hear about a “new world order,” some of us think about conspiracy theories or the Council on Foreign Relations or a confederation of anti-Christ forces. I do not deny that there are parallel powers in existence to defy the Kingdom we announce. But I mean by “new world order,” that the Apostle John is saying, in his epistles, that there is a radical shift in the centering point of humanity that has a powerful application to everyday living.
Today, in the midst of our age of confusion, we, of all people, must be very clear with each other and with the world: a new world order has come in the person of Jesus Christ. He is fully God and fully man. He has lived the life we could never live and died the death that should have been ours. He was in the grave and on the third day He arose. And in His resurrection, a new world order has appeared in history. This order has broad and implications for the way that we live our lives. Looking at the text from our epistle lesson today, 1 John 3:1-7, we may identify three essential elements in this new world order that Jesus Christ has inaugurated.
The first essential element of this new world order is this:
The resurrected and reigning Christ has inaugurated a new kind of kingdom: the kingdom of God’s love (versus 1).
Every Sunday school child knows the Scripture: “God is love” (1 John 4:8). And it is a central theme throughout the epistles of St. John. In our text, the apostle John alerts the reader to what he is about to say the word that may be translated in your English Bible, “behold!” Or it may say, merely, “see.” He then connects this attention grabber to the reality of God’s love works its way out into relationship.
It was Benjamin Breckenridge Warfield of old Princeton seminary said that the wondrous truth of John 3:16 was the magnificent love of God for a fallen world. “For God so loved the world…” And he goes on to say this “world” in John 3:16 is in abject open rebellion against God. God’s love is higher than the baseness of our sins. Thus, Warfield:
“Conceive the world as vastly as you may, it remains ever incommensurable with the immeasurable love of God.”
The very plan of God from beginning to end in the Bible centers on this attribute of divine love, the love of the Creator for the creature. There can be no greater love, and all of the loves derive from this singular expression of our God and Savior.
One of my friends is the tremendous Anglican evangelist, Reverend John Guest. John Guest wrote in his book, Knowing You Are Loved, that the most significant theological truth in the world remains, “God loves you.”
I agree. And the message of God’s love is the clear message of John: that in the resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and his ascension and glorification in heaven, we have the ultimate certainty of the love of our God. It is hard for us to imagine a desire for those in rebellion, those chocking in their wickedness, those who cursed the very name of the One who created life. Yet, this is precisely what the Bible tells us. God loves you. God doesn’t love you “because.” He loves you because “He is love.” And to know that love is to enter into a new rule of life, and if you will, “a new world order” in which love is a pulsating center of all that is. This heartbeat pushes out the lifeblood of truth that transforms human beings and their world. And that leads us to the second essential element of this new world order.
The resurrected and reigning Christ Has inaugurated a new kind of kinship: the kingdom of God’s children (versus 1, 2, 7).
Seven times in John’s first epistle to the churches in Asia minor — seven-times — he calls those who follow Jesus Christ, “Little children.” The quaint couplet, “little children,” not only speaks to the deep pastoral impulse of the Apostle John, but the inspired phrase hints at a new kind of relationship between King and subject. The new kind of relationship is this: a love that produces intimacy between the Creator and the creature. The coming of Jesus Christ is the most remarkable story in all of the universe. All other stories find their greatest sense of wonder, their greatest plot for tragedy and triumph in the story of the coming of God to earth. But what is even more wonderful is that the coming of God to earth brought about a new world order which we may become the children of God. And not just children, but “little children.” What affection! What pathos! What passion! And, oh, what spiritual serenity and existential beauty flow from those familiar words, “Little children.”
I remember, so poignantly, a little child. This little child had known abuse. This little child knew heartache. When the violence crossed the line from family dysfunction to criminality, the courts placed the child in the heretofore empty arms of a loving widow. This woman miraculously drew the pain and the pain’s infection out of the soul of the child. How? She did so with her tender love that gave birth to tangible actions. I know that story because I was that child. My Aunt Eva was that tender loving woman.
Oh, my Beloved, it may be that as you hear these words today, you say to yourself, “but I’ve not been a lovable child. I have not been a good boy. I’ve not been a good girl. God will not call me his little child.” But in this, my dear friend, you are certainly mistaken. For the word of God tells us that the love of God is the centering point of the entire cosmos. His love is not contingent. His love is not conditional. His love is the penultimate love of all loves. And all that you have been longing for is all that he gives you. He calls you, even now, “Come unto me,” and He calls you His “little child.” And that is an essential element of this new world order, this new kingdom: we have a kinship with God through Jesus Christ, a relationship that is closer and more intimate than anything we could ever imagine.
The resurrected and raining Christ has inaugurated a new kind of culture: the kingdom of love’s response (verses 4-7).
In verses four through seven, the apostle John makes necessary turn his message: the application of this log and this relationship. This application is where we see the connection between the creed and the code. This literary milestone in his writing is where we look at the symmetry necessarily demonstrated when there is an exact center that is controlling the edges. John’s line of thought is this: it is the love of God that brings about the relationship that stirs us to holy living. Christian conduct and Christian ethics appear by the love flowing from the very heart of God. These are not rules. This is the rule of love, the rule of life when our lives reside in his life.
Pope Benedict XVI commented on 1 John when he wrote,
“We have come to believe in God’s love: in these words, the Christian can express the fundamental decision of his life. Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.”
Christianity is not about rules, but it is about “rule of life” that is grounded in love. The event of which the pontiff writes is the resurrection of Jesus Christ that has shown us the love of our heavenly Father, adopting us into his family, and opening up a new pathway in which we may walk. Or, as he puts it, “a decisive direction.” Look in that direction, and you will see the full fruit of the love of the Lord. For this world must yield to this new world order. In the new world order will, and God’s perfect timing, bring forth a literal new heaven and new earth order. I’m so, you see, we are called little children before we’re even called good children. For the love of God constrains us. The love of God adopts us. The love of God speaks to us. In the love of God then controls are being and our actions.
Based on John’s epistle, in 1 John 3:1-7, I want to introduce you to the love of God, so that you may become a child of God; and, then, you will become a follower of God.
And so, we conclude this passage in which we have seen how John the apostle has announced a new way of living that begins with the love of God and moves to his relationship with his children and concludes with the response of his children with their lives. We follow him because he left heaven to search for us.
I will never forget a boy named “Sandy.” If ever there was a bully in school, it was this boy. In particular, I recall that during recess as we would play basketball, this older boy would curse and cheat and make fun of even the slightest imperfection he might find in another child. And yes, sometimes I was that child. My height and weight kept him from doing anything more. And then, Dr. Pierce came to town. Dr. James K peers became the pastor of our church. In one-night, Dr. Pierce preached on the love of God. The youth group was there, and someone had invited Sandy. He came. I remember how uncomfortable I was with him seated just a few feet away from me, in the same pew. I remember looking at Sandy, and there was a sense of seething bitterness in my soul. For I knew how he ridiculed my schoolfellows. I knew how he cursed God so openly. But on that night, God was not seething at Sandy. God was not so offended by blasphemy coming out of that boy’s mouth that he did not draw near to him. Dr. Pierce preached on the love of God, and that boy listened with his heart. Sandy was saved. But I wondered to myself, “Is this just a temporary emotional reaction? Can a boy like Sandy truly become a new person?” Self-assuredly, I answered my question, “The proof is in the pudding!” Well, I would have my “pudding” soon enough for the next day there was an instantaneous change in this boy the filthy words that flowed from his mouth stopped. He no longer made fun of others. And within three weeks this young man became a stalwart witness for the Lord Jesus, leading his entire family to Jesus Christ. The mother and father and his siblings were all saved and brought into the kingdom of God, led by this little child, this bad boy who had been redeemed by a loving God. Sandy would later yield his life to the call of God and become a minister of the gospel. I heard him preach once. I was running from God. I was the prodigal listening to the prodigal who had come home.
You see, God does not look at human beings the way we do. And we should be thankful for that. Because that being so, he does not look upon us even as we might look upon ourselves. He looks upon us with love. The love of God is the most powerful transforming dynamic in the universe. It is a love that became human without ever ceasing to be pure love. Jesus is the love of God incarnate. He loved you to death and back again to call you His “little child.” My little children, don’t leave without receiving that love today. For a new world order for your life is even among you today if you will receive it.
Allen, D. L., and R. K. Hughes. 1–3 John: Fellowship in God’s Family. Crossway, 2013. https://books.google.com/books?id=ItM6SL7DzY0C.
Barton, B. B., G. R. Osborne, and P. W. Comfort. 1, 2, and 3 John. Tyndale House Publishers, 1998. https://books.google.com/books?id=gaoYY_ACSAMC.
Benedict, X. V. I. “Deus Caritas Est, December 25, 2005.” Acta Apostolicae Sedis 98 (2006): 207–52.
Burge, Gary M. “Letters of John: The NIV Application Commentary.” Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996, 12–30.
Calvin, J., M. Henry, A. McGrath, and J. I. Packer. 1, 2, and 3 John. Crossway, 1998. https://books.google.com/books?id=pyKvCgAAQBAJ.
Campbell, C. R., T. Longman, and S. McKnight. 1, 2, and 3 John. Zondervan, 2017. https://books.google.com/books?id=6jhvDAAAQBAJ.
Foucault, Michel. The History of Sexuality. 1st American ed. New York: Pantheon Books, 1978.
Guest, J. Knowing You Are Loved: What It Means to Know with Certainty That God Loves You. Servant Publications, 1987. https://books.google.com/books?id=mMKWHI6NG08C.
Hiebert, D. E. The Epistles of John: An Expositional Commentary. Bob Jones University Press, 1991. https://books.google.com/books?id=xEDlAAAAMAAJ.
Huntington, Samuel P. The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. Penguin Books India, 1997.
Kistemaker, S. J. Exposition of James, Epistles of John, Peter, and Jude. Baker Books, 2002. https://books.google.com/books?id=TaUPRAAACAAJ.
Kruse, Colin G. “The Letters of John; Pillar New Testament Commentary.” Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000.
Lloyd-Jones, D. M., and C. Catherwood. Life in Christ: Studies in 1 John. Crossway Books, 2002. https://books.google.com/books?id=57hnngEACAAJ.
MARTINSON, ROLAND D. “Sexual Orientation: The History and Significance of an Idea,” n.d., 7.
Norman, Edward R. Christianity and the World Order. Vol. 1978. Oxford University Press, 1979.
Rupert, Mark. Ideologies of Globalization: Contending Visions of a New World Order. Routledge, 2012.
Smalley, Stephen S. 1, 2, 3 John (Word Biblical Commentary. Vol. LI. Eds. David A. Hubbard, and Glenn W. Barker. Waco, TX. Word Books, 1984.
Thompson, M. M. 1-3 John. InterVarsity Press, 1992. https://books.google.com/books?id=PDKotn0q0ngC.
Warfield, Benjamin Breckinridge. The Saviour of the World: Sermons Preached in the Chapel of Princeton Theological Seminary. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1913. http://archive.org/details/saviourofworldse00warf.
Westcott, Brooke Foss, and Fenton John Anthony Hort. The New Testament in the Original Greek. Vol. 2. Harper, 1881.
“When Your Creed Cracks, Your Code Crumbles.” Michael Milton (blog), July 25, 2008. http://michaelmilton.org/2008/07/25/when-your-code-cracks-your-creed-crumbles/.
Witherington III, Ben. Letters and Homilies for Hellenized Christians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on Titus, 1-2 Timothy and 1-3 John. Vol. 1. InterVarsity Press, 2010.
Yarbrough, R. W. 1–3 John, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Baker Academic, Grand Rapids, MI, 2008.
Yenor, Scott. “Sex, Gender, and the Origin of the Culture Wars: An Intellectual History.” The Heritage Foundation. Accessed April 13, 2018. /gender/report/sex-gender-and-the-origin-the-culture-wars-intellectual-history.
 For a case study of this principle, see “When Your Creed Cracks, Your Code Crumbles,” Michael Milton (blog), July 25, 2008, http://michaelmilton.org/2008/07/25/when-your-code-cracks-your-creed-crumbles/.
 See, e.g., Scott Yenor, “Sex, Gender, and the Origin of the Culture Wars: An Intellectual History,” The Heritage Foundation, accessed April 13, 2018, /gender/report/sex-gender-and-the-origin-the-culture-wars-intellectual-history; ROLAND D MARTINSON, “Sexual Orientation: The History and Significance of an Idea,” n.d., 7; Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, 1st American ed (New York: Pantheon Books, 1978).
 For background, consult: J. Calvin et al., 1, 2, and 3 John (Crossway, 1998), https://books.google.com/books?id=pyKvCgAAQBAJ; Calvin et al.; B. B. Barton, G. R. Osborne, and P. W. Comfort, 1, 2, and 3 John (Tyndale House Publishers, 1998), https://books.google.com/books?id=gaoYY_ACSAMC; Gary M. Burge, “Letters of John: The NIV Application Commentary,” Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996, 12–30; Colin G. Kruse, “The Letters of John; Pillar New Testament Commentary,” Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000; S. J. Kistemaker, Exposition of James, Epistles of John, Peter, and Jude (Baker Books, 2002), https://books.google.com/books?id=TaUPRAAACAAJ; D. M. Lloyd-Jones and C. Catherwood, Life in Christ: Studies in 1 John (Crossway Books, 2002), https://books.google.com/books?id=57hnngEACAAJ; Stephen S. Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John (Word Biblical Commentary. Vol. LI. Eds. David A. Hubbard, and Glenn W. Barker. Waco, TX (Word Books, 1984); M. M. Thompson, 1-3 John (InterVarsity Press, 1992), https://books.google.com/books?id=PDKotn0q0ngC; Ben Witherington III, Letters and Homilies for Hellenized Christians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on Titus, 1-2 Timothy and 1-3 John, vol. 1 (InterVarsity Press, 2010); Brooke Foss Westcott and Fenton John Anthony Hort, The New Testament in the Original Greek, vol. 2 (Harper, 1881); R. W. Yarbrough, 1–3 John, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Baker Academic, Grand Rapids, MI, 2008); D. L. Allen and R. K. Hughes, 1–3 John: Fellowship in God’s Family (Crossway, 2013), https://books.google.com/books?id=ItM6SL7DzY0C; C. R. Campbell, T. Longman, and S. McKnight, 1, 2, and 3 John (Zondervan, 2017), https://books.google.com/books?id=6jhvDAAAQBAJ; D. E. Hiebert, The Epistles of John: An Expositional Commentary (Bob Jones University Press, 1991), https://books.google.com/books?id=xEDlAAAAMAAJ.
 The single greatest contribution on the subject in social sciences is the now classic work by Huntington. See Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (Penguin Books India, 1997). For further reading on the subject, consider: Edward R. Norman, Christianity and the World Order, vol. 1978 (Oxford University Press, 1979); Mark Rupert, Ideologies of Globalization: Contending Visions of a New World Order (Routledge, 2012).
Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield, The Saviour of the World: Sermons Preached in the Chapel of Princeton Theological Seminary (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1913), 105, http://archive.org/details/saviourofworldse00warf.
 J. Guest, Knowing You Are Loved: What It Means to Know with Certainty That God Loves You (Servant Publications, 1987), https://books.google.com/books?id=mMKWHI6NG08C.
 X. V. I. Benedict, “Deus Caritas Est, December 25, 2005,” Acta Apostolicae Sedis 98 (2006): 1.
Dr. Michael A. Milton (PhD, University of Wales) is the Distinguished Professor of Missions and Evangelism at Erskine Theological Seminary where he also serves as the Director of Chaplain Ministries. The retired fourth presidency and chancellor of the RTS System, Dr. Milton founded and shepherded 3 churches (KS, GA, and NC), and was the senior minister of the historic First Presbyterian Church of Chattanooga. Mike Milton is a US Army Chaplain (Colonel) retired, and remains President of the D. James Kennedy Institute of Reformed Leadership. Dr. Milton’s life verse is from Philippians 1:6: “Being confident of this, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it unto the day of Jesus Christ.” Or, as Mike puts it in the title of his autobiography, “What God Starts God Completes.”