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Duddingston Kirk, Edinburgh

Sunday Services at 10 am and 11.30 am

Bible Reading Notes

These notes were compiled by the Reverend Dr James A P Jack. You will find reading the Bible rewarding and encouraging, but reading the Bible is not always easy!

These guidelines may help you.


March 2019

The First Epistle of John

March 1      1 John 2:7–8

John says that what he is writing is not new. Yet ancient truth can break in the believer with a freshness and vitality as though it were a recent invention! Here is one of the mysteries of the spiritual life. Each must ‘discover’ it for themselves. So many still see Christian faith as imitating what previous generations have done without discovering Christ themselves.

March 2      1 John 2:9–11

Jesus once spoke of a city set on a hill that could not be hidden. The same truth applies to personal faith. Our faith, which is within us, must be expressed in relationships, attitudes, conduct, etc. Where a Christ-like spirit exists within a man or woman then it must be expressed in Christ-like conduct.

March 3      1 John 2:12–14

The Christian life is relevant for all ages and conditions. How many acknowledge its value, yet say that it is only for children, or women, or the very old who must die soon. In this way we seek to avoid our responsibilities – ‘It’s alright for them, but not for me’. Note the way John speaks directly to ‘my children’, ‘fathers’ and ‘young men’. Christ is relevant to us whether in the innocence and dependence of youth, the experience and wisdom of age, or the vitality and strength of our working life. Such is the grace of the Christian Gospel that none can say that it is either too soon or too late to consider it.

March 4      1 John 2:15–17

The world around us is so full of all kinds of interesting subjects. The trouble comes when interest in them becomes so all-consuming that they become, as it were, our god; when God the Father is thrust into the sidelines of life while we pursue our worldly interests. By their very nature these interests can only be temporary.

March 5      1 John 2:18–20

The previous verses spoke of the dangers of the world’s attractions. Now we read of a more subtle danger – the Enemy of Christ. Many may think belief in the existence of a devil to be old fashioned superstition, but those who have any experience of the spiritual life know it is anything but a superstition. There is in the world a power, a force, which is opposed to God and all that pertains to God. That power must, inevitably, be opposed to all who cling to God by faith. Moreover, that power finds expression in the very life, conduct and thought of men and women like us. God, in his mercy, has given us the Holy Spirit that we may distinguish between what is of God and what is not!

March 6      1 John 2:21–23

It may be my sincere opinion that 2 + 2 = 5, but nothing can alter the fact that 2 + 2 = 4. If I continue in my false opinion I am not only wrong, but I am also opposing the truth. I could even be called a liar. The Christian faith is a historic faith in that it is based on certain facts that actually took place. To say that Jesus is the Messiah is simply to state a fact, because he IS the Messiah, and any who claim otherwise must inevitably be wrong.

March 7      1 John 2:24–25

Holding fast to principle can sometimes be nothing other than a mark of obstinacy. Great harm has been done to Christ’s cause by stubborn refusal to accept new ideas and possibilities. If I am drowning, who will blame me for clinging desperately to the lifeline? A large piece of driftwood floating past may appear to be more substantial, but will it ensure my rescue? Christians must be open to new ideas, but always at the back of our minds must be the question, Will this lead to eternal life?

March 8      1 John 2:26–29

John advises his readers therefore to ‘obey the Spirit’s teaching, and remain in union with Christ’. The Holy Spirit does teach us, though we, too often, are not ‘tuned’ to the Spirit’s teaching. Secondly, we are to ‘remain’ in union with Christ. Many are in union with Christ in a time of spiritual fervour or renewal. But when that enthusiasm passes, or a certain crisis is over, then Christ is very often abandoned, until next required. Christian faith is ‘remaining’ in union with Christ.

March 9      1 John 3:1–3

The love of God is so great that it is beyond our power to comprehend. But in a sense we are God’s children because we are part of the world God created, but far more we are God’s children through love. We are God’s both by creation and adoption. This ‘adoption through love’ is something that those who are only ‘children through creation’ cannot understand. Just as the tonally deaf will never understand music or the colour blind appreciate the wonder of a sunset, so worldly-minded people will never know the fullness of divine love. Christian hope is not fulfilled in this life, but in ‘what we will become’.

March 10      1 John 3:4–6

We have seen how Christians have every incentive to live pure lives. We have also seen how we are constantly pressurised by evil influences and temptation. Inevitably we fail our Master and succumb to temptation in one form or another. Students ought to score 100% in every examination, but seldom do. Poor memory and genuine mistakes lead to wrong answers, and this is understandable. What is not excusable is the student who persists in making the same mistake. Christians often fail, but there is no excuse for continuing in sin. The error must be acknowledged, corrected and not repeated.

March 11      1 John 3:7–10

If any sin has such a hold on us that we continue in it, then it means that it has become our master; and if we are mastered by sin in this way then Christ, the sinless One, cannot be our Master. One who is a child of God cannot continue to sin – if we do then we prove that we are no child of God. Those who claim to be Christian must consider very carefully the whole area of habits, customs, addictions and prejudices.

March 12      1 John 3:11–18

The person in whom the Spirit of Christ dwells must inevitably have some deep concern for his fellow men and women. The love that flows from the Heavenly Father to his children must flow through these children and on to those who do not know the divine love. We must be careful to note that while social concern is an expression of Christian faith, yet it is not a symptom of it. If I am a Christian I must help my neighbour; but helping my neighbour is not, by itself, proof that I am a Christian.

March 13      1 John 3:19–24

This might be called the ‘nitty-gritty’ of the Christian faith. Believing in Christ and loving one another are the basics of Christian living. Two things follow from this. First, we receive from God whatever we ask. Christian obedience has an impact on our prayer life – not only do we pray more fully and more urgently, but our prayers are answered more often. Second, we live in union with God and God lives in union with us. Spiritual obedience leads us to a deeper and more intimate relationship with God.

March 14      1 John 4:1–3

We must accept the fact that there are those who appear to speak with knowledge and authority, but what they say is not always true. How do we know the difference between what is true and what is false? John gives this sign – the acceptance that Jesus Christ came as a human being. This is a saying that is full of wisdom. Some would say that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, but he was not a human being in the real sense of that term – that he was merely a spirit with a human appearance. Others would say that Jesus was a human being, even an unusually good human, but not the Christ, the Son of God. Both of these are wrong. Jesus Christ was a human being AND God’s Son.

March 15      1 John 4:4–6

The teaching of false prophets is popular amongst those with no understanding of spiritual truth, because what they proclaim is based on human intelligence. The human mind is powerful, but, by its nature, it cannot penetrate divine truth. Such truth is only revealed to those whose hearts and minds are opened to receive it.

March 16      1 John 4:7–10

‘Love’ is an indefinable term. Many are aware of its reality, but unsure of its nature. Love belongs to the very nature of God, and reached its fullest expression in the Son whom God sent into the world for the forgiveness of sin. As John sees it, there can be no greater expression of love than this. The most significant mark of the Christian Church is not concern for the social problems of the world, nor strict adherence to truth, but the love its members ought to have for one another and for God.

March 17      1 John 4:11–12

We often say, ‘I would love to have that, when what we really mean is, ‘I very much want to own it or have it’. I may love someone who does not return my love. In such a situation there must be a deep sense of frustration and hopelessness. My love is enriched and enhanced when I know that the one I love loves me in return. God loves us with an unfailing love, but think of the joy it gives God when God’s love for us is reflected in our love for God. God’s love is then made perfect.

March 18      1 John 4:13–16a

Being in union with God is what faith is all about. This is more than just believing in the existence of God, or being involved in God’s service in every way. Unless we are truly in union with God then all else must be, somehow, incomplete; and this union with God is based on the acknowledgement that Jesus is God’s Son. That is the very cornerstone of the Christian faith.

March 19      1 John 4:16b–18

There will be a Day when all will be laid bare before the Judgement seat. This we cannot avoid. Inevitably it will be a time of great heart searching and remorse and therefore a time of fear. Only those in a right relationship with God will face such a Day with courage and hope. As John says, perfect love drives out all fear. Where there is fear of any kind, then love must be imperfect.

March 20      1 John 4:19–21

The bond of love began on God’s side – our love for God is a response to God’s first love for us. Our love for God is incomplete if we have no love for each other. Here we are reminded of the question ‘But who is my brother?’ Such love is commanded – ‘Whoever loves God MUST love his brother also.’ Christian love is not an emotion over which we have no control. A Christian loves, not because we cannot help it, but because we must.

March 21      1 John 5:1–5

The various themes we have already noted are repeated here, but with one addition. Many would think this impossible. John says ‘his commands are not too hard for us.’ In other words, this command to love is within our capability – it is not impossible. When we are in union with Christ we share not only his love but also his power and authority. Because he is the victor over sin and death then, by faith in him, we also can be victors over these two evils.

March 22      1 John 5:7–9

At its simplest level the water of baptism signifies cleansing. Blood represents a sacrifice that has been made, a sacrifice that propitiates righteous anger. In Christ both of these are present – the cleansing, or baptism, of forgiveness, and the blood, or sacrifice, by which the full penalty of human sin has been paid. With only these, however, a Christian would be like a room that has been scrubbed clean, but left empty. A room is rather useless unless it is furnished. The Holy Spirit is the One who ‘fulfils’ our lives so that they may be useful in the service of Christ.  

March 23      1 John 5:10–12

The life referred to here is not physical life which is the natural consequence of physical birth. It is the eternal life that has its source in the Son. In other words, this is about those who will have spiritual life and those who will not. It could not be simpler.

March 24      1 John 5:13–15

Spiritual uncertainty afflicts many Christians – ‘How can I be sure that I will have eternal life?’ Some would even suggest that it is wrong to ask such a question – that this is something about which no one can be certain in this earthly life. John, in both his gospel and epistle, has no such reservations – if we truly believe that the earthly, human Jesus was the divine Son of God, then we have uncovered the secret that gives certainty to eternal life.

March 25      1 John 5:16–17

All who are ‘in union with Christ’, have the promise of salvation and eternal life. But for some years yet we must remain in this physical life, surrounded by all kinds of ungodly influences, and subjected to inner desires and hungers. We are therefore liable to sin, but having sinned, we confess and know forgiveness. Others, however, have so utterly abandoned God in their own lives that it is as if nothing can ever break through the hardness of their hearts. This is the sin that leads to death. It is not a particular act, but an attitude – a hardness of heart; a lack of response to the forgiving love of God.

March 26      1 John 5:18–21

All the great truths John lists in his letter are not the result of his own intellectual perception, or even his own personal opinion – they are the result of an understanding that has been given by God. The letter ends with a warning against the influence of false Gods. John is ever aware how followers of Christ must face spiritual dangers every day.

The Second Epistle of John

March 27      2 John 1–3

Unlike 1 John, this letter is addressed, but there lies a problem. Who is the dear Lady? While no definitive answer can be given, ‘she’ is almost certainly not an individual, but a church or fellowship of believers.

March 28      2 John 4–6

Almost inevitably in every congregation some succumb to the wiles of Satan, and do not properly belong to the fellowship. Note also that this command to ‘love one another’ is not something new – ‘it is a command we have had from the beginning’. In each generation, and in every individual heart, this has to be rediscovered as though it were something new.

March 29      2 John 7–8

John speaks of ‘many’ deceivers. They refused to acknowledge that Jesus was fully human and fully God. This has always been a difficulty to many, but truth must never be ‘watered down’ just to make it easier to understand. Christians must always be on the alert for teachers whose message is at variance with the truth that is revealed in God’s word.

March 30      2 John 9–10

John warns the Church of those who do not keep the faith. How easy it is to be drawn away from the truth by a non-believer!

March 31      2 John 12–13

Here are some very touching and loving greetings from one fellowship to another