06 August 2011

"See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are." (v. 1)


In the ancient world being a 'child of God' implied some things that we do not always quite appreciate.

It is important not to exaggerate the differences, but generally we can say whilst our western society emphasises the importance of the individual, John's world was more focused on the group; whether that group was a tribe, a family or something else. Part of that focus lay in the fact that an individual's sense of value or social standing was firmly embedded in the groups to which he or she belonged. To be part of a family or a household meant, in a real sense, to share the honour or status of the other members of that group. A person's own sense of value was much more strongly linked with their family and with public recognition than in our society. The notion that family members would be like each other in character was also stronger than in our society. So when John says that we are "called children of God", indeed we are children of God: he is not simply saying that God feels loving towards us, he is talking about how we are valued - we now, in one sense, share God's honour because we are part of God's household.

In John's world it was possible for an adult male to be adopted in to a new family; if that happened the man could inherit from his new family - and would also come to share the honour and status of the new family. This happened because adoption was public and everyone around knew that it had occurred.

Because of what God has given us Christians have a new status and a new sense of being valued, which is not recognised by the world around them. This is the tension that we live with until God is revealed. In the meantime we are to look forward to a future when all be revealed by keeping ourselves pure and, as John will go on to say, doing what it right (verse 7).

To Ponder

What in your life makes you feel valued?

John claims our future hope should change how we live now. What, if anything, motivates you to be more Christ-like?

Bible notes author: The Revd Judith Rossall

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