Back in school days, I took a college course on the Gospels. It wasn’t really my cup of tea, but I was curious and you have to have a number of electives, so you choose the ones least egregious. The instructor was some retired Southern Baptist clergyman. He told how the old boys back in seminary would yuck it up over John‘s gospel. It was the “idiot’s gospel,” they said, since its vocabulary is markedly simpler than anywhere else in the Bible.
But sometimes simple statements have all the more power for their simplicity. We regularly drown our audience in verbosity, the purpose of which is, at least in part, to show off. Check this statement of John’s for power:
If anyone makes the statement: “I love God,” and yet is hating his brother, he is a liar. For he who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot be loving God, whom he has not seen. 1 John 4:20
Upon aligning our lives with God’s purpose, we are judged in large measure on the basis of how we get along with each other. Can’t love your brother? Then don’t even pretend that you love God.
To this end, humility is a good thing. It’s a lubricant of human relations. Act high-handed, even to those whom you have authority over, and you invariably bring out the worst in them. Thus Paul advises us to be “doing nothing out of contentiousness or out of egotism, but with lowliness of mind considering that the others are superior to you.” (Phil 2:3) Practically speaking, how does that work? How can everyone consider everyone else superior?
For the most part we like to think of ourselves in terms of areas in which we excel. And that’s fine…..good for self-esteem and all, but when looking at others it’s good to think differently. Surely they have some qualities in which they outstrip us thoroughly. We’ve very clever, but they’re really more loving than we are. We’re very loving, but they’re really more courageous than we are. We’re very courageous, but they’re really more generous than we are. And so forth.
Another way to see persons as superior is to focus on what they’re doing with what they have.
Jesus spoke of the fellow with 10 talents (a measure) of silver who produced 10 talents more. And the guy with 5 talents who produced 5 talents more. And then the one oaf who had one talent and didn’t do a thing with it….he buried it. We don’t all start equally; we don’t all have the same abilities, backgrounds, dispositions, genes, upbringings, etc. Therein lies a way in which to look at other people.
If so-and-so is putting out 8 talents, assume he was given 8 talents. The person putting out 4 was given 4. Strive to look at people that way. The only fellow we don’t know about for sure is ourself. We were given 5, but are maybe giving back only 4. There’s room for improvement within ourselves, but to the best of our knowledge…..we‘re not empowered to judge, you know….. the other person is doing as much as they can with what they have.
Two suggestions for viewing the other person as superior, and thus smoothing human relations. It’s all in perception. But that doesn’t make it invalid.
Incidentally, John uses that label “liar” a total of 5 times in his letter. The other four are:
If we make the statement: “We have not sinned,” we are making him a liar, and his word is not in us. 1:10
He that says: “I have come to know him,” and yet is not observing his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in this [person]. 2:4
Who is the liar if it is not the one that denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one that denies the Father and the Son. 2:22
The [person] putting his faith in the Son of God has the witness given in his own case. The [person] not having faith in God has made him a liar, because he has not put his faith in the witness given, which God as witness has given concerning his Son. 5:10
Yeah, he spoke simply, John did. And he called a spade a spade.