Last night we wrapped up our Fall session of the Monday Men’s Group, where we’ve been studying 1-3 John. For my part, I have loved the study. I feel like I’ve been helped, challenged, and encouraged through what John wrote in those three letters, and I’m thankful for brothers in the Lord to process it all with.
One of the particular themes that John repeats so many times is that he refers to his recipients as “beloved”. In fact, he uses the word six times in 1 John, and another four times in 3 John. Many modern translations have obscured the meaning a bit by trading out the more archaic term “beloved” for a more modern rendering of “dear friends”. And that does make some sense. John, as a shepherd and overseer of the church, loves the people to whom he is writing as dear friends. He longs for them to embrace the truth and eschew the common lies that were permeating the church at that time. And he emphasizes a key message over and over that he heard straight from Jesus: Love one another!
In making the translation decision to translate the word “dear friends”, though, there is maybe something big that’s being missed. Now, I’ll be the first to confess that my Greek knowledge is very thin! But if there’s any Greek word I know, it is the word agape. My best understanding of agape, and it’s variants, is that this word connotes the love most clearly and perfectly demonstrated by Jesus, which is to say it is a self-sacrificing, loving-my-enemy, laying-down-my-life kind of love. And so when John is calling the people “agapētos”, he isn’t just indicating his own love for them. He is helping his recipients, and in fact, he is helping us, to see our identity.
If you are “In Christ”, you are beloved. Not just by earthly shepherds who will all do their very best but will come up short. No, much more than that, you are beloved by Jesus Christ, the perfect shepherd. You are beloved by the One who made you, who called you according to His purpose, and the One who has promised to “keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy” (Jude 24). What a glorious identity! Who are you? You are someone loved immensely and personally by the God and King of Universe.
We are a few short days away from Thanksgiving. What could be more appropriate than to spend some time in gratitude for how Jesus has chosen to identify you: Beloved! If you are in Christ, you have been, are being, and will be loved more than you can possibly imagine. That’s something that deserves eternal gratitude.
Pastor Ryan Donovan
PS – The Monday Men’s Group is done until January 8. On January 8 we will start a new 8-week study, working through the book titled Stumbling Toward Eternity: Losing & Finding Ourselves in the Cross of Jesus. I’ll have copies for the first 24 men who let me know they want to participate.
PPS – If you grew up in or around the church and surrounding subculture in the 80’s, here’s a little Thanksgiving Blast From the Past Gift from me to you 🙂 – 1 John 4:7&8.