Everyone Divided

There’s no sidestepping it, scripture divides us. This principle applies to everyone we know and everyone we may never know. The Apostle John, in his first letter to the Church, describes what is true of everyone.

Writing about the Christ, John says:

If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him. 1 John 2:29 English Standard version (ESV)

To this, Calvin says:

If you know that he is righteous [John] again passes on to exhortations, so that he mingles these continually with doctrine throughout the Epistle; but he proves by many arguments that faith is necessarily connected with a holy and pure life. The first argument is, that we are spiritually begotten after the likeness of Christ; it hence follows, that no one is born of Christ but he who lives righteously…

Next, speaking of our response to Christ, John says:

And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. 1 John 3:3 ESV

And Calvin says:

And every man that has this hope …The meaning then is, that though we have not Christ now present before our eyes, yet if we hope in him, it cannot be but that this hope will excite and stimulate us to follow purity, for it leads us straight to Christ, whom we know to be a perfect pattern of purity.

Then, speaking of those apart from Christ, John says:

Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. 1 John 3:4 ESV

Calvin explains the distinction:

Whosoever commits, or does, sin. …The import of the passage is, that the perverse life of those who indulge themselves in the liberty of sinning, is hateful to God, and cannot be borne with by him, because it is contrary to his Law.

It does not hence follow, nor can it be hence inferred, that the faithful are iniquitous; because they desire to obey God, and abhor their own vices, and that in every instance; and they also form their own life, as much as in them lies, according to the law.

But when there is a deliberate purpose to sin, or a continued course in sin, then the law is transgressed.

John presses this point further:

Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. 1 John 3:15 ESV

And Calvin responds:

Is a murderer. …The Apostle declares that all who hate their brethren are murderers. He could have said nothing more atrocious; nor is what is said hyperbolic, for we wish him to perish whom we hate. It does not matter if a man keeps his hands from mischief; for the very desire to do harm, as well as the attempt, is condemned before God: nay, when we do not ourselves seek to do an injury, yet if we wish an evil to happen to our brother from someone else, we are murderers.

Returning to those in Christ, John says:

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. 1 John 5:1 ESV

Calvin responds with:

Whosoever believes …The first truth is, that all born of God, believe that Jesus is the Christ [i.e., Messiah, Savior]; where, again, you see that Christ alone is set forth as the object of faith, as in him it finds righteousness, life, and every blessing that can be desired, and God in all that he is…

Loves him also that is begotten of him …The context plainly shows that his purpose was no other than to trace up brotherly love to faith as its fountain. It is, indeed, an argument drawn from the common course of nature; but what is seen among men is transferred to God.

John elaborates on the condition of those in Christ:

For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. 1 John 5:4 ESV

About the victory, Calvin says:

This is the victory. …This passage is remarkable, for though Satan continually repeats his dreadful and horrible onsets, yet the Spirit of God, declaring that we are beyond the reach of danger, removes fear, and animates us to fight with courage. …But as this promise secures to us perpetually the invincible power of God, so, on the other hand, it annihilates all the strength of men…he makes victory to depend on faith alone; and faith receives from another that by which it overcomes. They then take away from God what is his own, who sing triumph to their own power.

And, as if to draw a final distinction, John says:

We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him. 1 John 5:18 ESV

To which, Calvin’s explanation is:

We know that whosoever is born of God If you suppose that God’s children are wholly pure and free from all sin, as the fanatics contend, then the Apostle is inconsistent with himself; for he would thus take away the duty of mutual prayer among brethren. …Hence spiritual life is never extinguished in them… Though the faithful indeed fall through the infirmity of the flesh, yet they groan under the burden of sin, loathe themselves, and cease not to fear God.

Keeps himself. What properly belongs to God he transfers to us; for were any one of us the keeper of his own salvation, it would be a miserable protection. Therefore Christ asks the Father to keep us, intimating that it is not done by our own strength. …And we know that we fight with no other weapons but those of God. Hence the faithful keep themselves from sin, as far as they are kept by God. (John 17:11).

There are many ‘everyones’ that we come across every day. All are divided in the ways we’ve just seen. Which are you? Which, then, is your neighbor? Our duty is to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.

I don’t know your situation; but I find I need to pray for and serve my neighbors to keep myself from mischief.

Everyone at Yankee Stadium

Yankees Stadium Crowd, uploaded to Wikimedia Commons 26 February 2013, Donald Riesbeck Jr., in the Public Domain

Schadenfreude

Have you ever laughed when someone trips up, makes a mistake, or some other calamity befalls them? That’s an example of Schadenfreude.

Wikipedia defines it as:

Pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others. This word is taken from German and literally means ‘harm-joy.’ It is the feeling of joy or pleasure when one sees another fail or suffer misfortune. It is also borrowed by some other languages.

But it’s not something we should practice towards those we call brothers and sisters.

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Romans 12:15-16 English Standard Version (ESV)

We shouldn’t practice it toward those who do us wrong either.

Do not rejoice when your enemy falls,

and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles,

lest the Lord see it and be displeased,

and turn away his anger from him.

Proverbs 24:17-18 (ESV)

And not because we wish them harm, but because we’re commanded:

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” Romans 12:19 (ESV)

and

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:21 (ESV)

But if we do persist, we’re on a slippery slope. Soon, we may find ourselves siding with the Pharisees and looking down on the Tax Collectors in our midst:

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt:

“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’

“But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’

“I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 18:9-14 (ESV)

What does John Calvin think of the passage in Luke?

There are two faults at which Christ glances, and which he intended to condemn, — wicked confidence in ourselves, and the pride of despising brethren, the one of which springs out of the other. It is impossible that he who deceives himself with vain confidence should not lift himself up above his brethren. Nor is it wonderful that it should be so; for how should that man not despise his equals, who vaunts against God himself? Every man that is puffed up with self-confidence carries on open war with God, to whom we cannot be reconciled in any other way than by denial of ourselves; that is, by laying aside all confidence in our own virtue and righteousness, and relying on his mercy alone.

I urge you to read what else Calvin says about the passage.

It always seems to come down to: “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone…” And it needs to start with me.

The Swallow's Nest Castle near Gaspra

The Swallow’s Nest Castle near Gaspra, Yalta municipality. Republic of Crimea, 4 April 2014, A. Savin, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported