by: Pastor Mark Driscoll on Apr 24, 2012
The Apostle John is a towering figure in the Bible.
As one of Jesus’ closest friends, the Bible describes John as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23; 20:2; 21:7; 21:20). He is one of the twelve disciples of Jesus, among the three who witnessed Jesus’ transfiguration (Mark 9:2–13, Matt. 17:1–13), and the author of the Gospel of John, and 1, 2, and 3 John, and the book of Revelation, whose first three chapters we’re studying in our sermon series the Seven.
Prior to preaching through the Gospel of John nearly 12 years ago, I took time to introduce the church to the man John. Taking the time then and now to reflect upon his life and ministry has influenced me greatly.
After spending so much time studying the life of John, in which he tirelessly served and led the early church, was boiled alive in oil (and survived!), and finally banished to the island of Patmos, where he wrote Revelation, the following are four lessons I’ve come away with from observing his life.
1. Humility: The True Path Greatness
As a young man, John was a zealous individual. He wanted power and longed for authority. Along with his brother James, Jesus nicknamed him Boanerges, which means “sons of thunder” (Mark 3:17). What this name suggests about John’s personality is that he was “loud” and even “hot-tempered.” You don’t have to look far and wide throughout the Bible for examples either.
From ticking off the other disciples by asking Jesus for a privileged seat in his kingdom (Mark 10:35–37, 41), asking to pray for fire to descend from heaven to destroy a town (Luke 9:51–55), to even attempting to stop someone casting out demons in the name of Jesus because that person wasn’t a part of their group (Luke 9:49–50), it’s clear that John wasn’t a meek and mild young man.
Amazingly enough, Jesus didn’t squash John’s zeal. Instead, he lovingly redirected it through teaching and modeling humble service (Mark 19:42-45). As I’ve said before, there’s nothing wrong with pursuing greatness, but the reason why you crave it or the way in which you go about attaining it can be sinful.
As John matured in Christ, he became a loving and humble leader, who wrote toward the end of his life, “By this we know love, that [Jesus] laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. . . . Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:16–18).
2. Build Your Identity on Jesus’ Love for You
John loved Jesus, and Jesus loved John. Jesus’ love for John was the foundation for John’s identity.
Even though John could have easily built his identity upon his ability to write, preach, or even the fact that he was considered a “pillar” of the church (Gal. 2:9), it was Jesus’ love for him that served as the foundation for who he was. John says as much in 1 John, writing:
Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world.
Do you find that your identity—your value and worth as a human being—is based upon how well you do at work, how good your grades are, or how well you perform in athletics? Does the size of your bank account, the newness of your car, or possessing the latest gadgets give you a sense of self-worth? To build your life on anything other than Jesus and his love for you is like building a house on sand.
The things of this world are fading sources of hope and satisfaction. Like John, trust in and love Jesus. He will never leave you or forsake you (Heb. 13:5).
3. Love God and Others
When you read through John’s writings, you’ll easily see that he had a tremendous pastor’s heart. He writes often about God’s love, encouraging others to love one another and to love God. He writes so much about love that many even call him the “apostle of love.”
Even when writing to a church that was struggling against false teaching, John tempered his love for the truth with his love of Jesus and others. He addressed the recipients of his second letter as those he loves “in truth” (2 John 1:1), and even commends them to love each other by walking “according to his commandments” (2 John 1:5–6). Notice that John didn’t come out swinging with a verbal barrage, but rather a loving and affirmative tone.
When discussing right doctrine with people, we can learn much from John. He was the type of person who was more interested in making a difference in the lives of others than in making a point and winning an argument. What type of person are you? Are you the type of person that simply wants to make a point or a difference? Or are you a person who wants to make a difference in others’ lives because you love them and want them to love Jesus?
In your zeal for truth, be sure that you don’t win an argument at the sake of losing the person. Our zeal for truth should be softened by our love for God and people.
4. Eagerly Follow Jesus
John eagerly followed Jesus, with his life at Jesus’ call.
From leaving his family and financial livelihood behind (Mark 1:19–20), to taking in Jesus’ mother Mary (John 19:25–27), to suffering greatly for the sake of the gospel, John was willing to follow Jesus and trust Jesus with his life.
I encourage you to also follow Jesus with your life. Don’t leave anything on the table. Give your all to following his call and commands upon your life. In doing so, the level of joy you experience in life will be great and complete—and nothing else will be able to compare (John 15:11).