Dear children, keep yourselves from idols. 1 John 5, verse 21.
How do you end a letter? Do you sign it “sincerely,” then your name? Or “love,” and the same? If you were an English teacher, would you give the Apostle John a good grade for proper literary form? Or, if you were writing a business letter, would you rewrite this one because it doesn’t bring the correspondence to a proper conclusion?
Yeah. Same here. For a closing, this one seems odd at first. Yet, in these last six words of the book of 1 John, perhaps the apostle did better than either you or me. Perhaps he remembered an important lesson.
Put first principles first.
I’ve said it before but not before Jesus’ friend, John. Every sin is a form of idolatry. Sin has duality, and not just in the way it can seem enticing while masking its deviant nature. Instead, every sin is coupled with the sin of idolatry; every sin is a way of putting ourselves before God, our choices before His. When you lie, you’re both telling a falsehood and putting your choice to lie above truth (which comes from Jesus). When we murder, we are both taking a life and putting ourselves in the place of God, who is the only person with the right to end a life. When we steal, we are both depriving someone of their property and putting our disrespect for God above our respect for His wisdom.
We aren’t keeping ourselves from idols.
Somehow, I think that’s why the First Commandment is the exhortation to revere only God. It’s the most important first principle. Perhaps it’s why John ended his first epistle this way. Jesus is speaking through him to remind us that, as His children, we should remember that First Commandment. It should be the first thing we think of in the morning and the last thing at night. In other words, it should be our first principle. That’s what makes it a proper conclusion to the book of 1 John.
The more you read the book, the more this makes sense because, as you’ll remember the themes of the book are Jesus being incarnate God, how He is light, that we are children of God made new in Jesus, and that (because of these things) we live in a tough world plagued with sin. Knowing all of them, it makes sense that John should remind us to cling first to Jesus in all we do. We should keep ourselves away from anything that we can use to take the place of God.
If that’s good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for me.
Lord, thank you for your servant, John, and for the wise words You wrote through him. Help me to remember to put You first in all things at all times.