“Pretty Is as Pretty Does”

1 John 3:1-8 The Message (MSG)
South Presbyterian Church’s Fellowship of Faith
April 15, 1018
The Reverend Deborah Fae Swift

 1 John 3:1-8 The Message (MSG)

What marvelous love the Father has extended to us! Just look at it—we’re called children of God! That’s who we really are. But that’s also why the world doesn’t recognize us or take us seriously, because it has no idea who he is or what he’s up to.

But friends, that’s exactly who we are: children of God. And that’s only the beginning. Who knows how we’ll end up! What we know is that when Christ is openly revealed, we’ll see him—and in seeing him, become like him. All of us who look forward to his Coming stay ready, with the glistening purity of Jesus’ life as a model for our own.

All who indulge in a sinful life are dangerously lawless, for sin is a major disruption of God’s order. Surely you know that Christ showed up in order to get rid of sin. There is no sin in him, and sin is not part of his program. No one who lives deeply in Christ makes a practice of sin. None of those who do practice sin have taken a good look at Christ. They’ve got him all backward.

So, my dear children, don’t let anyone divert you from the truth. It’s the person who acts right who is right, just as we see it lived out in our righteous Messiah. Those who make a practice of sin are straight from the Devil, the pioneer in the practice of sin. The Son of God entered the scene to abolish the Devil’s ways.

This is the Word of the Lord.          Thanks be to God.


+ + + + + + +


In the world, but not OF the world.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but when I was growing up, I never felt like I belonged. There was always some REASON, I thought, why I just didn’t feel like everybody else.

… Little did I realize until much LATER that EVERYBODY feels that way sometimes … ESPECIALLY when we’re teenagers. Right?

And most of us HATED it.

We hated feeling different – OR we found a way to make our “difference” be something SPECIAL.

I was different because I was in the arts. I hung out with world-class musicians even as a teenager.

One of my BROTHERS was different because he was an ATHLETE.  And then he became a MARINE … the FEW … the PROUD.  It was GOOD to be different if you were one of the few and the proud.

Truth be told, though, each ONE of us is different. We’re UNIQUE. God created each one of us to be the only ONE – even if we are identical TWINS … our soul … our SPIRIT … our connection to Jesus makes us special. And each one of us IS special.


And then I read THIS: What marvelous love God has extended to us! Just look at it—we’re called children of God! That’s who we really are. But that’s ALSO why the world doesn’t recognize us or take us seriously, because it has no idea who God is or what God’s up to.

That changed EVERYTHING.

Maybe I felt different and like nobody understood me because of GOD?!

Don’t let anyone divert you from the truth. It’s the person who acts right who is right. That’s sort of the corollary of what my grandmother used to say: Pretty is, as pretty DOES.  In other words: it doesn’t matter what you’re like on the OUTSIDE … it’s what you DO … who you ARE … what you STAND for … that makes you beautiful. Or, in this case, that shows the world that you are a child of God. And that means we see the world differently than the rest of the world – according to today’s reading.

Well … let’s pause there a minute and do a little Bible Study, shall we?

1 John.  Old Testament or New?   … Right. New. It’s a dead give away because it mentions Jesus. Right?

Is it the same thing as the GOSPEL of John?   … No.  The GOSPEL tells about the LIFE of Jesus … and this is a LETTER … an Epistle … written by someone NAMED John.

Now, there are 3 of these letters … 1 John, 2 John, and 3 John … and some scholars think that all three may have been written by the same person, but MOST agree that the person who wrote the LETTERS is NOT the same person who wrote the Gospel.[i]

How do you think scholars can tell that? If that were YOUR job to figure out if the authors were the same, what would you look for?  [Style, wording, references]

The GOSPEL tells us about Jesus … its purpose is to help people come to BELIEVE that he was the Christ. The LETTERS, tell us about how to LIVE after we already believe. Each ONE of them addresses some sort of CONFLICT that existed among the early believers, and THIS one, 1 John, focuses on two main things – an argument over whether Jesus was fully and completely HUMAN, or just divine … and the second thing is how to practice LOVE toward one another.[ii]

They were most likely written around the same time – or even a little AFTER – the Gospel of John. Do you remember when that would have been?

[Mark ~70 | Matthew and Luke in the 70’s-80’s | John between 90-110.]

The first three … Mark, Matthew and Luke … have a lot in common – they’re called the    SYNOPTIC      Gospels, and John is very different. Remember? We talked about that a couple of weeks ago.

Eye-witnesses were dying off … Romans really ramped up the persecution of Jesus-followers … there was a heavy GREEK cultural and linguistic influence. Right? So, John’s Gospel has all of the “I AM…” sayings … [living water … good shepherd … the way, the truth and the life …]  and it’s in THAT environment that the Johanine community (fancy word for John’s community) started to really grow and prosper … especially around Ephesus. Ephesus was a city in western Turkey, straight across the Aegean Sea from Athens, Greece. It was a very cosmopolitan area  … a lot of travelers … and the message of Jesus took hold like wildfire.

So picture this … you’re in a very cosmopolitan area … lots of well-educated business people … and they hear the Good News of this Jay-guy who was raised from the dead. And they start to form groups – little COMMUNITIES – of people who all believe in him.

But THEN … like with so many groups even today … arguments erupt over whose WAY of being together … whose DEFINITION of what it means to be a Christian … is right. Whose way is BETTER? And before you know it, there’s CONFLICT in the early church. (Imagine that … SO unlike churches today.)

Arguments over ortho-DOXY (right-DOCTRINE) and ortho-PRAXY (right-PRACTICE of one’s faith) sprang up … just like they do today. And 1 John had a very enlightening IDEA … one that surfaced again with feminist theologians late in the 20th century … and that is that “vital community occurs where believers live their faith in ACTION and make God’s love VISIBLE in their hospitality toward others.”[iii] When people can see the good works you do, they want to be part of that community.

1 John uses a lot of FAMILY language and imagery to get the point across about love and hospitality, so he writes about the relationship between God and Jesus as a Father and Son, and then about all of us being CHILDREN of God. Kinda cool, huh? And that’s why we’re all supposed to LOVE each other … because we’re all related … we’re all brothers and sisters.

So here’s the deal …

Just like with our FAMILIES, what we DO matters more than what we SAY.

We can SAY we love other people equally … we can SAY that skin color or sexual expression doesn’t matter … but what do we DO about that?

We can SAY that we believe that everybody – even undocumented residents in this country are our brothers and sisters … but how do we actually FEEL about them and TREAT them?

My Christian Ethics professor used to say that “Love is cheap if you get to it BEFORE you get to the justice … Love is on the OTHER side of justice.”

Frankly, I think that that’s what this letter from John is all about. The WORLD wants the easy way out … the feel-good, what we call in the church, the “sloppy agape” kind of love. I’ll send you a Hallmark card, but don’t ask me to help you pay the rent.

That’s the WORLD’s way of loving … give out Thanksgiving baskets once a year and forget about the needs of the hungry for the other 364 days.

Or another example … Some of you feel UPSET about what’s going on with our government, but don’t ASK you to say that out loud because that might make someone mad or hurt their feelings.

I can tell you right now … we don’t all agree about politics in here. But we keep learning how to work together ANYWAY.  Be BRAVE! Stand UP for what you believe in.

IN the world … but not OF the world.

“Oh, but Pastor Deb … I was taught to never talk about sex, religion or politics.”

Really? So was I. And y’know what??? That teaching was WRONG!

How do I know it was wrong?

Because what did Jesus TALK about????

Sex. Religion. And Politics.

Be IN the world, but not OF the world.

Don’t let ANYONE divert you from the truth. It’s the person who acts right who is right because we are Ambassadors of CHRIST … we are on the JESUS Team … we’re SUPPOSED to be his hands and feet … his smiles and hugs … we’re supposed to be his PRESENCE … his CONSCIENCE … his very BEING in the world.

We are to be anchored in HIS values … not in the WORLD’s values. What’s pretty and beautiful to THEM is not what GOD is looking for. Sometimes we will stand out and feel like we don’t fit in. And sometimes what we are called to do will make us very unpopular. “Pretty IS, as Pretty DOES.”

SOMETIMES we might even think that we’re wrong and we don’t belong here – and that’s ok. Because in reality … we don’t. 😊 We DON’T belong here in this world. WE live in the KOG … the what?  [the Kingdom of God].  Right. And God’s Kingdom is not of THIS world.

We are emissaries TO this world … and every time we see another BELIEVER, we are reminded of our homeland in the KOG.

We might not fit IN here … but we are NEVER alone because we are all One in Christ Jesus.

Grafted onto HIM, we ARE children of the Light.

So the person who acts right … is right, and Pretty IS, as Pretty DOES.

And let the CHURCH say … AMEN!



[i] Although the author or authors are unknown, 1 John does appear to have come out of the same Christian community as the gospel now known as St John’s Gospel. Many scholars say that it makes more sense if understood as written in a period following the appearance of the Gospel, at least after the initial edition and before redaction. There is strong evidence that John’s Gospel was written early in the second century, so 1 John was also written in the second century, but somewhat later.

The writings of Dick Harfield, Australian scholar in Dick Harfield studies Ancient Greek Rhetoric, New Testament Textual Criticism, and Papyrology. http://independent.academia.edu/DickHarfield

[ii] O’Day, Gail R. “1, 2, and 3 John” in Women’s Bible Commentary, 21st edition, Newsom, Carol A., et al (eds), p. 622.

[iii] Ibid.


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