In Union with Light
1. In what way was the apostle John especially blessed of Jehovah, and why?
JEHOVAH used a man well qualified through whom he revealed some of the deepest and some of the most precious and vital truths, truths bringing the richest blessings when appreciated and entered into, but also carrying with them the most serious and searching responsibilities. That man well qualified was John, a favored servant of Jehovah. He was one of the “twelve apostles of the Lamb”, one of the privileged three chosen by Jesus from among the other disciples on special occasions, and the one who enjoyed a unique and close relationship with Jesus above any others who knew him when on earth. What made John particularly suited to be used as just mentioned? Let us look at the record and see.
2. (a) How was John well qualified to be thus used? (b) What kind of relationship obtained between Jesus and John, and on what basis?
2 John was one of the first four called by Jesus to follow him. This meant he had the advantage of being in the closest possible touch with Jesus throughout his ministry, listening to all his teaching, receiving direct training for the ministry, besides seeing how he dealt with all the different types of persons met and all the varying situations he had to face. But it is evident that in many respects John gained a deeper insight into the mind and heart of Jesus than his companions did, and not only that, but a fuller and freer access into the Lord’s confidence and love. This close and intimate companionship was certainly not due to sentimental causes on either side; but, as clearly revealed by John’s writings, it was solidly based on his keen appreciation and quick response to that which was uppermost in Jesus’ own self—an intense love for righteousness, for God and toward all righteously disposed persons, and an equally intense hatred of evil in all its manifestations. The same basis formed that extraordinarily close friendship between those other two men, David and Jonathan. On his part, Jesus was quick to discern the true disposition of his disciple John and did not hesitate to show, not favoritism, but a justified preference and love and affection for this one who was worthy of it. Hence there came about a very close fellowship and partnership between these two. John was truly “in union” with his beloved Master.
3. Is John’s style of writing unusual in any way, and does this make for easy study?
3 It is not our present intention to make a detailed study of the beloved apostle, but we remind our readers that this was the subject of an article in our issue of September 1, 1951. However, there is one other interesting feature we want to mention before taking up our main discussion, and that is John’s unusual style of writing or composition. It raises a difficulty in our readily gaining a concise and complete picture of any one of the various subjects he discusses. He does not appear to confine himself to a set outline, or progressive argument, and say all he has to say on one point at a time, with headings and subheadings, as it were. No; he starts off on one line of thought, leading on to another, then another, then frequently goes back and adds to what he has already said on a certain subject, like a diamond merchant examining a precious stone, turning it round and round, letting the light reflect from its many facets. This is one reason why we are not taking up a verse-by-verse study of what John wrote.
4. Can the Bible in any part be accused of contradicting itself? How can the seeming contradictions be explained?
4 Some might be tempted to say he repeats and contradicts himself; but, as is sometimes true of those thus accused, John does not really say the same thing twice, but looks at the subject from different angles; as, for instance, regarding sin. “If we make the statement, ‘We have no sin,’ we are misleading ourselves and the truth is not in us.” But a few verses later John writes: “My little children, I am writing you these things that you may not commit a sin. And yet, if anyone does commit a sin, we have a helper with the Father, Jesus Christ, a righteous one.” (1 John 1:8; 2:1, NW) First he shows we will sin, then writes as though we can avoid sin; but he goes on to show that we will sin because of imperfections, for which reason a helper is provided for us. So we must view such statements in their context. While these seeming contradictions, or paradoxes, occur once in a while in God’s Word, careful examination of the context or background of events will dissolve the problems.
5. (a) What must be remembered respecting John’s writings? (b) How are his two main themes summarized?
5 The reason for John’s writing in the way he did may be partly that he knew, when writing his Gospel and letters toward the close of his long life and ministry, that his readers were already familiar with the themes on which he loved to dwell. In any case, we must remember that he wrote under the guidance of the holy spirit. His writings are part of God’s Word. We wish now to take up a study of this part of God’s Word, particularly the two main themes running through John’s writings, (1) that “God is light” and (2) that “God is love”, specially dealt with in his first letter. This must be done, however, in conjunction with John’s Gospel, for the two are so closely interwoven.
6. Why need we not hold back from aspiring to a close personal union with the Lord?
6 Perhaps we hear someone say at this point: ‘Ah yes, such a study may be very profitable, but no one can possibly enter into the same personal and intimate relationship with Jesus as enjoyed by the beloved John.’ But let us not reach too hasty a conclusion. Granted, we cannot come into physical contact with the Lord, or recline on him, as John did. But that was a mere outward, passing expression of the real inward harmony subsisting between the two. In any event, any twinge of envy or regret we may feel on this score is done away with when noting that the first reason given for writing John’s first letter concerning “this partnership of ours” is “that our joy [his and yours] may be in full measure”. We can have partnership in the same joy as John did. And did not Jesus speak to the same effect when he said: “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you and your joy may be made full”? (1 John 1:3, 4; John 15:11, NW) Jesus undoubtedly “preferred” John, as we read several times (John 13:23; 21:7, 20, margin, NW); but this did not mean an exclusive friendship with John in the somewhat usual selfish meaning of that word. There is no need for us to hold back. Indeed, there is every encouragement from the foregoing to believe that we, too, can likewise be “in union” with our beloved Master, the closeness and depth of which union depends on each of us individually. How can this be? This, in turn, raises another important question. It is this:
WHOSE CHILD ARE YOU?
7. (a) What was Jesus’ reception on coming into the world? (b) On what basis were some authorized to become God’s children?
7 Yes, it is a question of sonship. In his letter John does not discuss sonship until the Joh third chapter, but in his Gospel sonship crops up early in Joh chapter one, in its logical sequence. He points out that “the Word”, the sole creative agent of life, was also appointed by God to be “the light of men”. He came into a dark world, “but the world did not take note of him.” Why not? Because, as John explains at the end of his first letter, “the whole world is lying in the power of the wicked one.” He even “came to his own home”, to those who should have welcomed him, but they were ‘not at home’ to him. His own people, the Jews, just did not want to be in union with him. There were individual exceptions, however, and it is regarding these that John writes: “As many as did receive him, to them he gave authority to become God’s children.” On what basis this? First and foremost, “because they were exercising faith in his name.” This stresses the importance of faith in becoming God’s children. Let us make sure we see its importance from the correct angle, the Scriptural one.—John 1:4, 10-12; 1 John 5:19, NW.
8. How is the importance of faith stressed in Scripture?
8 All familiar with the Bible know how often John refers to the command that children of God should love one another, and records Jesus’ own words on the subject; but not all realize that our having faith, particularly faith in Jesus’ name, is mentioned as a prior command. Writes John: “Indeed, this is his commandment, that we have faith in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and be loving one another.” (1 John 3:23, NW) If something is commanded by God it must be important: a righteous requirement, a charge laid upon us, which we cannot afford to treat lightly. It is much stronger than an appeal or exhortation. There is no option about a command from God. It must be obeyed.
9. Where and how does the Bible explain the correct angle as to faith in relation to works and obedience?
9 The Jews recognized the importance of obedience to God’s commands as contained in the Law; but they viewed obedience from the wrong angle. They pinned their faith on their own efforts to gain righteousness by keeping the works of the Law; but when they asked Jesus on one occasion: “What shall we do to work the works of God?” Jesus summed up the whole answer in one sentence: “This is the work of God, that you exercise faith in him whom that One sent forth.” Paul argued the same matter out with the Galatians, asking: “Did you receive the spirit due to works of law or due to obedient hearing by faith?” Then he proceeds to show “that those who adhere to faith . . . are sons of Abraham” and are “blessed together with faithful [believing] Abraham”. Finally, right on the question of sonship, Paul says: “You are all, in fact, sons of God through your faith in Christ Jesus. . . . for you are all one in union with Christ Jesus.” Faith is necessary to gaining sonship. Admitted, these scriptures have their strict application to those called to the heavenly kingdom with Christ Jesus, the “little flock”, but the same exercise of faith is required of the “other sheep”, who can share in praying “Our Father”, with the hope of gaining eternal life on earth.—John 6:28, 29; Gal. 3:2, 7-9, 26-28, NW.
10. Is faith a gift with some, but denied to others, or is it within the reach of all?
10 Another point about faith as being commanded of us is this. God never issues a command that is impossible for the creature to obey. There are ample grounds for confidence in the possibility of exercising faith. There is no excuse. It depends on the heart attitude, the ‘right kind of soil’. The individual is responsible to ‘turn his faith’ to God’s Son. If necessary to that end, as is often the case, one can experience a change of heart, like Joseph’s ten half-brothers, or like the younger son, the prodigal son, who “came to his senses”.—Rom. 1:20; Mark 4:8;1 John 5:10, NW; Gen. 44:18-34; Luke 15:17, NW.
11. How is one identified as a child either of God or of the Devil?
11 It can be appreciated, therefore, that the question of whose child you are is not at all determined by fleshly birth or by mere professions. Neither does this mean that before you turned your faith to the Son of God you were one of the Devil’s children. One is not identified as either a child of God or a child of the Devil until shown to be in union with either the one or the other in a time of national or world judgment; proved by one’s fruits to be either a “good tree” or a “rotten tree”; either practicing righteousness and loving one’s brothers, or hating them and seeking their life, like Cain.—Matt. 7:15-23; 1 John 3:10-12, NW.
12, 13. How do the Jews, also Christendom, stumble over Christ, and show the need for what?
12 So we see, then, that we can enjoy union with God only by becoming his children, through faith in his Son. But it must be an enlightened faith based on the truth, especially the truth regarding Christ Jesus. He is the pivotal point, as John repeatedly stresses. Let us not stumble over Jesus, as the Jews did over his appearance as a sin-offering, though they reckoned they would have welcomed him as king; or like Christendom, stumbling over Christ as the present reigning king, though they reckon to accept him as their redeemer. Theirs is not an enlightened faith.
13 This question of an enlightened faith brings us to a consideration of the main word in the present theme for study—“LIGHT”. What a cheering word it is!
14. In what way is light used as a symbol in Scripture?
14 “God is light,” says the apostle; and in those three short words we feel there must be a wealth of meaning. (1 John 1:5, NW) It is one of the definitions, not of who God is, but of what he is. How is the word “light” used in the Scriptures? In this connection it is evidently used as a symbol, primarily meaning divine truth and the enlightenment therefrom, but also including closely related things, namely, God’s favor and blessing, especially the crowning blessing of everlasting life. “For with thee is the fountain of life: in thy light shall we see light.” So we petition God: “Oh send out thy light and thy truth; let them lead me: let them bring me unto thy holy hill.” Yes, indeed, the light streaming forth from Jehovah’s face means an endless flow of blessings, as Moses was instructed to say to Israel: “Jehovah bless thee, and . . . make his face to shine upon thee.” These blessings can be enjoyed only by exercising an enlightened faith, rejoicing in the first shaft of light, the basic truth of God’s existence, and then finding “that he becomes the rewarder of those earnestly seeking him”. He is truly “the Father of the celestial lights”, from whom comes “every good gift and every perfect present”.—Ps. 36:9; 43:3; Num. 6:24, 25, AS; Heb. 11:6; Jas. 1:17, NW.
15. What Scriptural support is found for linking victory with the God of light?
15 What immeasurable advantage the God of light, who is called “the Victory of Israel”, enjoys! (1 Sam. 15:29, AS, margin) Think of it! There is not a thing or a person, neither a circumstance nor a conspiracy, conceived in the inner recesses of the mind or suddenly put into action, that can escape or hide from that all-powerful, all-penetrating beam. “The eyes of Jehovah are in every place, keeping watch upon the evil and the good.” “He that keepeth Israel will neither slumber nor sleep,” and “there is not a creation that is not manifest to his sight, but all things are naked and openly exposed to the eyes of him with whom we have an accounting”. He is never off guard; cannot be taken by surprise, knowing and “declaring the end from the beginning”. With him, final victory over all his enemies is absolutely assured, and at all times he is entirely fearless.—Prov. 15:3; Ps. 121:4; Isa. 46:10, AS; Heb. 4:13, NW.
16. Over what issue did conflict first arise, as expressed by Jesus?
16 Victory is one of the inspired and inspiring themes of the Bible. There was a time when there was no need for such a word, for victory means the overcoming of an enemy in battle, or conflict, over some issue that has arisen. At that time there was no enemy, no Satan, no ruler of darkness. At this time, though, it is the issue of light versus darkness. In contrast with light, darkness stands as a symbol primarily of error and falsehood and the darkening effects thereof, namely, craftiness and corruption, leading to death. John quotes Jesus’ testimony as to why the issue arose. Jesus said of the Devil: “That one was a manslayer when he began, and he did not stand fast in the truth, . . . he is a liar and the father of the lie.”—John 8:44, NW; see also 2 Corinthians 11:3, NW.
17. How does John closely tie in life with light and victory?
17 At this point it is interesting to note how John, introducing his record of the good news with the masterly use of short and profound statements, closely ties in the three foregoing themes: life, light and victory. John tells us that Jesus said: “I am the way and the truth [the light] and the life.” First, John reminds us that all life owes its existence to “the Word”. Then he tells us that Jesus, “the life,” is “the light of men”. That means that the only way for man to gain life is to come to the light and forever stay in union therewith. Finally, John sounds the note of victory, saying: “And the light is shining in the darkness, but the darkness has not overpowered it.” A victory for the light!—John 1:1-5; 14:6, NW.
18, 19. What first step brings us into the picture, leading to what further things?
18 Before discussing further how the darkness did its utmost to overpower the light in the case of Jesus, but utterly failed, let us see how we, too, come into the picture, examining it under the heading:
COMMISSION AND RESPONSIBILITY
19 As already noted (¶7), we become God’s children by exercising faith in Jesus’ name. In other words, as Jesus said, “Exercise faith in the light [meaning truth], in order to become sons of light.” (John 12:36, NW) Faith is the first step that brings us into the picture. Then what? Our becoming “sons of light” brings us the richest blessings and privileges, but carrying with them searching responsibilities. To appreciate and enter into these, we must first get the measure of Christ’s commission and responsibility as God’s foremost light-bearer.
20. How did God foretell Jesus’ commission, and how was it fulfilled?
20 The wording of God’s commission to Jesus as His Servant, recorded long before, reads thus: “I, Jehovah, have called thee . . . and give thee . . . for a light of the Gentiles; to open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison-house.” (Isa. 42:1, 6, 7; see also 49:6, 9, AS) Did Jesus appreciate the charge laid upon him? Hear his answer: “I am the light of the world.” And did he faithfully discharge his responsibility? He did. Because Jesus went up to Galilee to preach, his apostle Matthew quotes and applies to Jesus Isaiah’s prophecy, that “the people [of Zebulun and Naphtali] sitting in darkness saw a great light”. Then he says: “From that time on Jesus commenced preaching and saying: ‘Repent, for the kingdom of the heavens has drawn near.’” (Matt. 4:15-17, NW) But with far greater emphasis comes Jesus’ own testimony at the close of his earthly life. In fact, no expression ever fell from his lips with greater force respecting his mission than the declaration he made to Pilate: “For this purpose I have been born and for this purpose I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth.”—John 8:12; 18:37, NW.
21, 22. As “sons of light”, is our commission likewise clearly set forth?
21 Do Christ’s followers, the “sons of light”, share in that same commission with its attendant responsibility? Most decidedly. Isaiah’s prophecies concerning the “servant” often include these body members of the Christ in their major fulfillment. (See Isaiah 43:10, AS, for example.) We have, too, the Lord’s pointed word to his disciples: “You are the light of the world. . . . let your light shine before mankind, that they may see your right works and give glory to your Father who is in the heavens.” (Matt. 5:14-16, NW) And now please observe Paul’s word, showing both the blessing and the responsibility of our being in union with light and how we are brought right into the picture. First, he mentions “this ministry”, which is “the good news we declare”. Then he explains why “it is veiled among those who are perishing”, namely, because “the god of this system of things has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, that the illumination [enlightenment] of the glorious good news about the Christ, who is the image of God [the source of all light], might not shine through”. Then Paul forges a most unexpected link with that first great command which rang out, “Let there be light.” (Gen. 1:3) That command seemed to refer only to literal light, but Paul now gives added symbolic significance to it. He says: “For God is he who said: ‘Let the light shine out of darkness,’ and he has shone on our hearts to illuminate them with the glorious knowledge of God by the face of Christ.”—2 Cor. 4:1-6, NW.
22 Yes, it is the truth, the glorious knowledge of God, that is the light, perfectly and fully reflected “by the face of Christ”, and it is our commission for ‘all of us, with unveiled faces, to reflect like mirrors the glory of Jehovah’; or, as Peter expressed it, to “declare abroad the excellencies of the one that called you out of darkness into his wonderful light”.—2 Cor. 3:18; 1 Pet. 2:9, NW.
23, 24. (a) What aspect of our responsibility is brought to the fore? (b) How does John highlight this aspect?
23 It is the realization of our commission from God that drives home the practical responsibility of being in union with light. It certainly does not mean our mere mental agreement as to what is truth, just a placid acceptance of light, like a dull, dark surface, absorbing all the light rays without reflecting anything in return. No. It means being like a precious stone reflecting the light to such a degree that it appears to be radiating light from within itself.
24 Thinking of the practical aspect of our responsibility brings us back to John’s first letter. Some might say that, of all the Bible writers, James stressed most the practical side; and that, in contrast, John was the apostle of love. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Every time John enunciates a truth he immediately follows it up by showing both its practical application and the dire results of a failure to act consistently therewith. Observe, for example, John’s remarks following his statement “God is light”, showing we must not only believe and love the truth, but must keep on “practicing the truth”. (1 John 1:5, 6, NW) Nobody could be either more hard-hitting or helpful than John in showing how we can identify those of the “antichrist”, “who are trying to mislead you.” (1 John 2:18-26, NW) And in his third letter he does not hesitate to mention by name a certain mischievous chatterbox, Diotrephes, followed by some terse counsel. It would not be of much use trying to hide anything from John’s penetrating gaze.—3 John 9-11, NW.
25. Why is a consistent course of action so essential?
25 Much more could be said, of course, about our responsibility as “sons of light” both regarding mind and heart and course of conduct, and also our ministry. But, above all, we must act consistently in “practicing the truth” so as to be ever in union with the God of light, with whom there is never a “variation or shadow caused by a turning”.—Jas. 1:17, NW, margin. See also Luke 11:33-36; Ephesians 5:6-14.
26. Is a close relationship seen between enlightenment and love?
26 In poetic mood, we think of the smile of our heavenly Father’s approval as likened to the warm sunshine. (Num. 6:25, Mo; AS; Knox) And that is true. Light and love go hand in hand, leading us on to bright victory and making us fearless in God’s service. If we have been helped to a closer union with God and his Son by our meditation on the theme “God is light”, there is every reason to believe we shall find still further profit in considering that other definition of what God is, namely, “God is love.”—1 John 4:16, NW.