A Theology of the Little Things

Our church, Cornerstone International, has recently begun a summer series in the book of 1 John. I had planned to kick off the study this past Sunday, 28 June, but had to hand over to another capable friend in the church due to the surprised early arrival of our son. Still, I have been reading and pondering the words in this first epistle of the ‘beloved disciple’, John. And, even more interesting is that, with the arrival of Caleb, God has already begun the teaching process in the first two weeks of his life, even using those ancient words of John.

Hey, could we expect anything less from our Father?!

So, what does 1 John and my son have to do with one another?

The passage that God has recently highlighted is the first verse of the whole letter:

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life. (1 John 1:1)

When we read this verse, it probably triggers in our mind the very first words of John’s Gospel:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1)

Therefore, we can easily see that John is keen on communicating that Jesus is the one ‘from the beginning’. Such a statement is one of eternality. Jesus, the divine Word, was with God and was God from the beginning.

And, even more, John says He is the ‘word of life’. This phrase is beautiful in itself. But I’ve taken time to write about this title elsewhere, so I won’t spend time on it here.

Therefore, getting back to the intent of this post – how 1 John 1:1 relates to my son.

No, I am not trying to claim that my son is the divine one who existed from the beginning. I’m not that crazy! But what I am noting is how God has spoken to me through this one verse and connected it to the care of my own son.

I am simply amazed that John pointed out how he and the other disciples go to hear, see, look upon and touch the divine Son. Can you imagine this? If we really ponder this kind of statement, there might be a moment where we receive tingles down our spine. It seems that the twelve did not really grasp everything prior to Christ’s resurrection and pouring out of the Spirit, so I imagine that John was kind of pondering what they had been a part of and it absolutely blew Him away. He might even be thinking, ‘If only we had realised it when we were with him those few years.’

I mean, come on. This is the eternal Word existing from the beginning. And they got to hear Him, see Him and touch Him. It’s amazing that God would use such small intricate details in communicating Himself to humanity. But, for some, they believe that, if God is going to reveal Himself, it has to be in some esoteric, sixth sense, or out of body experience? That’s the really spiritual stuff, right?

No. Frankly that doesn’t seem to be the pattern of how God works. He is an incarnational One, and this is true even prior to Christ. We see God’s presence in the angel of the Lord, the pillar of cloud by day and pillar of fire by night, the tabernacle and temple where God chose to dwell, and so many other ‘incarnational appearances’ of the Almighty. It seems that Scripture testifies that God wants to be with His people. Sure, such apperances are veiled. But that’s a good thing, since, if we saw Him in all His glory, we would keel over and die (check out Exodus 33:20). Yet, the final words of the Bible conclude that God’s consummating desire is that He dwell among His people (see Revelation 21:1-4).

And, so, God re-impressed upon my heart the reality that He is in the small things, even the smallest of the small. You wouldn’t think that such things as hearing, seeing or touching another would be important, but they are.

So, here I find myself listening to the gurgles and cries of my son, looking upon his face in wonderment, touching his soft skin, and I’m thinking, ‘If John was correct in those first words of his letter, then this stuff is really spiritual. This is truly divine.’

Now, contrary to such beautiful truth, I can easily find myself losing focus and forgetting about the wonderment of listening, looking upon and touching our son. Many times, I want to change his diaper rather quickly, breaking the previous time record. Or I hope it only takes 5 or 10 minutes to rock him to sleep this time, rather than have to walk around the entire apartment for a good 30 minutes. But such chips away at the divine blessing of being fully present with my son in all of my senses, enjoying the sounds, sights and touch of this little one.

Some theologians have noted that, in his letter, John might have been combating the early seeds of gnosticism. Such a dualistic philosophy desires to divide the material from the spiritual. Therefore, they were the greatest proponents of the sacred-secular split. God is all about the spiritual, but He is not too interested in the physical. And you can see how this philosophy has somewhat pervaded the church of the present day. But the opening words of John in his first epistle completely destroy such an unbiblical notion.

For God, there is no sacred-secular split. It all belongs to Him. As David poetically sang:

The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof,
the world and those who dwell therein. (Psalm 24:1)

And Paul even tells us that all of creation will one day be redeemed (Romans 8:19-23). It’s not just about saving souls. It’s about the restoration of all things (see also Acts 3:19-21).

Therefore, from the great prophetic utterances and miraculous healings to the planting of flowers and rocking your baby to sleep, all such actions invite our God to present with us. And, the thing is, He is already in our midst. It’s just whether or not we are willing to recognise such.

I’m glad Jesus, the God-Man, let His followers listen to Him, look at Him and touch Him. And I am glad our Father still desires us today to be involved in the spiritual activity of using our five senses to His glory.

With the next diaper change, I don’t want it to be a task to quickly complete so I can get back to the more ‘important’ things, whatever that might mean. I want to learn to revel in the privilege of such a divine and spiritual activity. And, hey, if Caleb is truly a gift from God, and I believe he most certainly is, then changing diapers can only be a very spiritual and godly activity. And remember, even Jesus would have had dirtied his diapers since he was fully human. Just ask Mary.

Therefore, we can be encouraged that God really does enjoy interacting with us in our real human activities. There is nothing too small for God to utilise in revealing His glory and grace and beauty and power. So, let us celebrate the small and the ordinary, for they are just as spiritual as the list of other things on our minds. And I think John is reminding us of such in those introductory words to his first letter.

The Word of Life

Just yesterday, I was drawn into an in depth look at the text of 1 John. There were a couple of reasons behind this ‘wooing’:

  1. I just preached out of 1 John 3:16-18 and 4:18-21 this past Sunday, which, by the way, blew my mind. I am not sure I have a great grasp on this love thing just yet.
  2. We, as a local church, have seen God’s direction in this season to specifically keep our eyes focused on the two great commandments – loving God and loving one another (Matthew 22:34-40). I knew John’s first letter talks about agape love a lot (45 times).

Thus, I found myself with the text open to 1 John. After reviewing some introductory thoughts to the letter itself, I dove into verse 1 of chapter 1. And, you know, I didn’t even get past verse 1.

There are a lot of special things about the first verse. We see John describes the Christ, the Son of God, as ‘that which was from the beginning’. It’s probably not referring to Christ’s birth, nor the beginning of His earthly ministry. Rather, it is most likely referring back to THE beginning, in the sense of being with the Father from all eternity. This introduction phrase in John’s letter seems like it could be summed up with the words, ‘That which has always been.’ And I think the connection is further solidified by the phrases ‘word of life’ and ‘which was with the Father’, both of them used later on in verses 1 and 2. These words definitely take us back to the beginning of John’s Gospel. But I’m getting a little ahead of myself…

John, then, goes on to share in the first verse that he, along with some others, actually got to hear, see, look upon and touch Christ Himself. Wow! Can you imagine being one of those? I’m looking forward to my opportunity in the future when I pass on to be with Him or He returns to marry us!

But, the thing that hit me the most from verse 1 is John’s description of the Son of God as the ‘word of life’. It’s quite a beautiful phrase, isn’t it? The Word of Life, or the Logos of Zoe (using a little Greek). And, of course, the word Logos does take us back to John’s Gospel where we read:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:1-5)

This wording in the prologue of John’s Gospel is very similar to some of the things we read early on in John’s first epistle. This is the Christ, the Son of God, the incarnate divine One who took on flesh for our sake. This kind of truth that John pens in John 1:1-5, when truly grasped, can bring one to tears. This is the Logos, the Word. There is no other Word like Him.

Moving back into 1 John 1:1, not only is Christ the Word, but He is the Word of Life. This refers to zoe life, which is the life of our soul/spirit. It is in contrast to the bios life, which is our physical life. It is not to negate or downplay our physical life, for that was created by God as well (Genesis 2:7; Psalm 139:13). But there is something fresh in the zoe life of God, the spiritual life. And, it is the Christ, God in the flesh, which is that Word of Zoe, that Word of Life.

I keep thinking of the practicalities of what this meant for the Son of God as he trod the dusty roads of Galilee, Samaria and Judea. I can only imagine that, as the Word of Life, every word that came from His mouth was life-giving. After Jesus proclaimed the words of Isaiah 61:1-2 in a Nazareth synagogue one day, the people responded by saying:

And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth. (Luke 4:22)

Or, after Jesus had just finished grossing everyone out by declaring that, if people wanted real life, they must eat His flesh and drink His blood, a lot of people started to slowly disappear. They realized the cost of following Jesus might be a little too much for them. He was a little too radical. (See the full story in John 6:41-71).

Thus, with many exiting stage left, Jesus turns to the twelve and asks, ‘Do you want to leave as well?’ This is where Peter answers:

Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God. (John 6:68-69)

Yes, He and He alone has the words of life eternal! That is truth par excellence!

To hear Jesus speak would have been one of the most amazing experiences I am sure. But, we must keep in mind that Jesus was not just the Word of Life then, but He is still the Word of Life today. I am convinced that Jesus still desires to and does speak to His people. Nope, we are not always listening, and true, some do not even believe He still speaks. Nevertheless, Jesus is still speaking those gracious words, those words of eternal life, for the One who is the Word of Life can only do such.

Thus, before I even listen and tune my heart to hear the Word of Life, I simply adore and worship the One who was, is and always will be the Word of Life. It’s a beautiful phrase John used to describe this One he was able to hear, see and touch. This is the One who, by the Spirit, breathed the very words we read in 1 John. This is the eternal Word of Life.

Oh, Word of Life, you are our life, you speak life, we want to breathe in Your life and hear your words of life. Here we are…