How to Conquer the World

How to Conquer the World

Sunday, May 5, 2024
| 1 John 5:1-6

To conquer the world in Christ doesn’t mean we get everything we desire. It does mean the world has no power to master us in the daily struggles and persistent challenges we face.

“Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?”
—1 John 5:5

“He came from nothing. He conquered everything.” That’s the tagline for Ridley Scott’s film, Napoleon, released in the fall of 2023. Movie reviewers have remarked on Joaquin Phoenix’s understated performance of the French general who terrorized Europe in the early part of the 19th century, after literally crowning himself emperor of the French.

Napoleon really did come from nothing, or close to it. Born on the remote Mediterranean island of Corsica, he faced discrimination as a young army officer. He had an Italian name: Buonaparte (he later changed it to the French-sounding Bonaparte). Because he’d spent the early part of his career on the fringes of respectability, he found himself one of the few military officers still standing after the carnage of the French Revolution.

Napoleon never saw a power vacuum he didn’t want to fill. And there was a whopper of a power vacuum in France after so many leaders had gone to the guillotine during the Reign of Terror. When the few remaining royalists seized the moment to push back against the Revolution and restore themselves to power, Napoleon ordered his men to load their cannons with grapeshot and turn them on the mob of aristocrats. The cobblestones of Paris literally ran red with blood. After the smoke cleared, this fierce Corsican military officer was the most powerful man in France.

Napoleon seized the moment. In the coming years, his army would overrun nearly all of continental Europe. By 1812, his empire stretched from Spain on the west to Poland and Austria on the east.

But the juggernaut of conquest, once set in motion, is hard to stop. Rather than quitting while he was ahead, Napoleon boldly sent his army into Russia in late summer, looking for a swift victory. Who could defeat him, the great Napoleon?

The Russians like to say it was General Winter who defeated him. His overconfident soldiers outran their supply lines. Many of them, still wearing their summer uniforms, starved to death in the snowbanks. The elusive Russian soldiers, bundled in heavy fur coats, came out of their hiding places and made short work of the rest. After a brief return to power and his legendary defeat at Waterloo by British General Wellington, Napoleon lived out his days on a remote and rocky island in the South Atlantic, the world’s most notorious prisoner.

In Napoleon’s heyday, it looked to the people of Europe like he was a man who could conquer the world.

But he couldn’t do it. No one, thank the Lord, ever has.


Just One Word

The writer of the first letter of John begs to differ. “Who is it that conquers the world,” he declares, “but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?”

This is the season of college graduations, when celebrities address crowds of eager capped-and-gowned graduates, seated row upon row. Their message often boils down to, “If you just believe in yourself, you, too, can conquer the world.” But — apart from a few Christian colleges — commencement speeches rarely have anything to do with believing in Jesus.

They’re more likely to have something to do with financial success. Remember the 1967 classic movie, The Graduate? In a famous scene, title character Ben Braddock (played by Dustin Hoffman) is taken aside by an older man at a party.

The businessman, Mr. McGuire, whispers to the promising young college graduate, “I just want to say one word to you. Just one word.”
“Yes, sir,” says Ben, dutifully.
“Are you listening?” asks McGuire.
“Yes, I am.”
“Exactly how do you mean?”
“There’s a great future in plastics. Think about it. Will you think about it?”

Plastics manufacturing looked like a pretty good field in 1967. They were making all sorts of things out of plastic — and hardly anybody had ever heard the word “recycling”! Graduate from a top school, get your foot in the door of the infant plastics industry, and who knows how fast and how high you could climb? Why, you might even conquer the world!

Speaking of conquering the world, in the same year that Ben Braddock was hearing the whispered mantra, “plastics,” a young teenager named Bill was learning how to play tic-tac-toe on a school computer. Back then, a game of computer tic-tac-toe — that would take 10 seconds with a pad and pencil — demanded all of a school lunch period to come clattering out of a dot-matrix printer. (They didn’t have monitors back then, let alone smartphones.) It hardly made sense to play that way, but Bill wasn’t giving up his lunch periods because he was a tic-tac-toe fanatic. He was enough of a visionary, even at that tender age, to realize computers wouldn’t be that slow forever.

When Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard eight years later and joined his friend Paul Allen in starting a little company called Microsoft, no one ever dreamed he’d become the next Andrew Carnegie or John D. Rockefeller — but that’s exactly what happened. If anyone can be said to have conquered the world in our day, it would be Bill Gates, multi-billionaire.

But that’s not the sort of conquest the author of 1 John has in mind. “Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes Jesus is the Son of God?” That statement’s not about accumulating vast wealth, nor wielding enormous power. The author of this letter knew perfectly well there was only one person in his day who could fit that description: the emperor of Rome. It was the sort of role Napoleon wished for himself, but he couldn’t make it stick.

No, the sort of world conquest this ancient disciple is describing is very different. It’s more of a spiritual reality. Let’s unpack what it means to make this confession — and to follow Jesus Christ.


Jesus, Prophet

For many centuries, the church has rolled out three great words to describe the person and work of Jesus Christ: prophet, priest and king.

First, Jesus is a prophet. Now that may sound strange to say when so many of us think of prophets as people who predict the future, but there’s a lot more to being a prophet than that. Prophets foretell the future, but they also speak powerfully to the present. Prophets are those rare individuals who defy convention, challenge injustice and raise a cry of protest when every other voice in the land is silent.

Prophets have vision — not so much of future events (though that may be part of it), but of the world as God created it to be. If Jesus is our prophet, it means he’s continually calling us to share his vision of things as they could be — ever leading us out of complacency and cynicism so we may make our little corner of the world a better place.

Let’s turn to the Bible to see a prophet in action. In 2 Kings 13, Elisha demonstrates prophetic vision. The pathetic King Joash is cowering in fear, quite unable to lead his soldiers into battle. Elisha tells him to take a bow and arrow, notch the arrow to the string and pull it back. Then, the prophet — near death himself but still strong enough to do this — walks over to the king and places his arms around him, laying his hands upon the king’s hands, as he holds the bow. Together, the two of them release the arrow to fly out a nearby window.

That arrow flight symbolizes Israel’s coming victory over Aram. Yet, without the prophet’s intervention, the arrow would never have left the bow — nor would the king have had the courage to lead his people to victory. Think of Jesus the prophet as being something like Elisha — reaching around us with strong arms, guiding and directing our lives, so that in word and deed we may bring our faith to bear, challenging the grasping, self-seeking values of our culture. With Christ as our prophet, the arrows of justice we release will always find their mark.


Jesus, Priest

Second, Christ is our priest. In the days of the ancient Hebrews, priests were those who made public sacrifices. Killing a prize sheep or goat, then roasting it upon an altar, was how you kept God happy, or so the people thought. The high priest of Israel had an especially important role. On the Day of Atonement, only the high priest could enter the Holy of Holies and perform the sacrifice for the sins of an entire people.

The letter to the Hebrews famously identifies Jesus as “high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek” (6:20). In going to the cross for us, Jesus has entered the Holy of Holies, that inner sanctum of the temple. There he has made a sacrifice for the sins of the world, not with a sacrificial animal, but with his own body and blood. Unlike the high priest of Israel — who had to make the sacrifice every year — Jesus’ high priestly sacrifice is once and for all.

The biblical accounts of the crucifixion tell how, as Jesus breathed his last, the veil of the temple was torn in two. The temple veil was a huge, floor-to-ceiling curtain that served as a gateway to the Holy of Holies. Only the high priest was permitted to venture through it, no one else.

When the gospel-writers describe the rending of the temple veil after Jesus’ death on the cross, the symbolism is powerful. No longer do we who are his followers need the offices of a priest to make sacrifices for us. Christ, our great high priest, has already done everything needful. Whenever we turn to God and forthrightly confess our sin — in worship or in private prayer — we instantly assure ourselves of God’s pardon, knowing Christ has paid the price.

To live our lives with Christ as our priest means we take seriously all he has done. It means that, when life deals us low blows and we sink into suffering, he’s right there with us. The Lord whose name we confess knows what it means to suffer pain, to endure indignity and heartache. More than that, he has — in his resurrection — triumphed over every human limitation, even death.


Jesus, King

Finally, Christ is our king. Now, this is no easy concept to take in — for there are precious few real kings left in our world today. What our tradition means to say, in talking about kingship, is that Jesus Christ, in being raised from the dead, has been exalted and rules the world from God’s right hand.

Of course, this vision of kingship is not only unfamiliar. It runs at variance with the ways many people prefer to see Jesus. Most would rather see him as a wise teacher, an extremely spiritual person who was closer to God than anyone else. Such people enjoy the lively vision of his parables and profess to follow his ethic of loving neighbor as self — but there’s no room in their worldview for one who’s Lord and Master. They prefer a spiritual sage, whose teachings they can take or leave, as it suits them.

In his classic book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis has this to say about the impossibility of separating Jesus’ teaching from his kingly rule: “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”1


How to Conquer the World

Christ, then, is the Son of God. He is our prophet, priest and king. He was born in a manger, died on a cross and rose to defeat death itself. He came from nothing. He conquered everything.

But what does it mean, in this ancient disciple’s understanding, to conquer the world? Most of our Lord’s victory is yet to be realized. It won’t be revealed until he either returns one day or we find ourselves face-to-face with God. But in the meantime, we can take assurance in the promise that, if Christ is on our side, the world will never conquer us.

Sometimes it may appear that, in the great struggle of life, the world is winning. But those struggles are temporary. As Paul famously writes in the second letter to the Corinthians: “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies” (2 Corinthians 4:8-10).

To conquer the world, in Christ, doesn’t mean we get everything we’ve ever desired. It doesn’t mean we can crown ourselves anything. It doesn’t mean we’ll all become Pacific-Northwest software barons, Wall Street tycoons or even emperor of the French. It does mean that in the daily struggles we undergo and persistent challenges we face, the world has no power to master us. How could it? For we are not our own masters. We belong not to ourselves, but to Jesus Christ. And he has conquered everything.

—Carl Wilton contributed to this material.



1. Mere Christianity (HarperSanFrancisco, 2009), book 2, chapter 3.

The Other Texts

Acts 10:44-48

What Is One Possible Approach to the Text?

Jesus 101. In this text, the apostle Peter is preaching to the household of Cornelius — basically a roomful of foreigners (Gentiles) — as opposed to the Acts 2 crowd that consisted of a city full of Jews. As he does so, two remarkable things happen that turn the world upside down for the “circumcised believers.” First, the Holy Spirit comes down, and second, Peter baptizes the entire lot of them! The key to this text is verse 48: “The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles” (emphasis added). Now go back to 10:34-43. Luther famously referred to John 3:16 as the gospel in a nutshell. Yet, these verses might also lay claim to that metaphor: they’re just a bigger nutshell. Peter, who kick-started the church into existence at Pentecost, is now speaking to a largely Gentile audience. So, he gives the house of Cornelius a crash course in Christianity. His opening message is startling: God is not Jewish, not Roman, not Asian, not American and not European. God is transcultural and “anyone who fears him and does what is right” is acceptable to God! Wow! This is epic! Then, Peter explains how this is all possible: Jesus. He was anointed, he “went about doing good,” he was “put to death,” he was buried and rose after three days, he ate and drank with people after his death, and he’s now the only one authorized to judge the living and the dead. Believe in him and receive “forgiveness of sins through his name.” It is at this point that the Holy Spirit breaks through, and everyone is subsequently baptized. These are the basics. Develop each of these basic ideas, and you have yourself a sermon, only a little longer than the one Peter preached in Joppa.

What Does the Text Say?

In Acts 10, Peter and Cornelius receive visions and visitations that change them. Peter’s visions and visitation convince him to cross the threshold between the Jewish and Gentile worlds and begin intentionally leading non-Jews to Christ. Acts 10 begins not with Peter, but with Cornelius, the Gentile who has a vision from God to send for Peter and listen to his message. Once in Cornelius’ house, Peter explains the gospel to him and his household, and another miraculous visitation takes place. The Holy Spirit surprises the Jewish-Christian brethren who came with Peter by resting upon the Gentiles in the house so that they, too, can speak in tongues and evidence other signs of acceptance by God. Like the visitation of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost in Acts 2, the revelation occurs to all gathered in the place. However, in Acts 2, it is presumed that all those visited by the Spirit are Jews gathered for the festival of Pentecost. Here in Acts 10, the same gift of the Holy Spirit is given to non-Jews. This is what surprises Peter and the others. At this point, however, they can no longer think of any reason why these persons should not be baptized into the Christian faith. They have obviously been chosen and validated by God. Initially, baptism, such as that practiced by John, was an act of piety engaged in by Jews to help establish or re-establish religious purity in light of repentance. Here, however, it becomes that which makes the unclean convert to clean. Baptism becomes their gateway into religious purity. Conversion to Judaism and traditional circumcision, apparently, is no longer required.

Psalm 98

What Is One Possible Approach to the Text?

A New Song. The tone of this psalm is ecstatic, almost euphoric. The writer cries, “O sing to the Lord a new song ... make a joyful noise to the Lord all the earth, break forth into joyous song and sing praises” (vv. 1, 4). The psalmist wants a new song. Wait! What is wrong with the old song? There is a lot of praise music in the psalms. The writer has already fiddled around with his lyre and harp and composed and played many songs. Today, we have scores of books of praise music. So why would the writer call for a new song? You’d think we have plenty of songs with which we can praise God! Yet, he calls for a new one. He does so because God has, yet again, done something new! And when God reveals the power of the divine presence anew, the writer can do nothing but sing a new melody with new words to praise God for what God has done. Can we write a new song? What has God done for us that would cause us to break forth in a “joyful noise”?

What Does the Text Say?

The central theme of Psalm 98 is that Israel (vv. 1-3), along with all the nations of the earth and the rest of God’s creation (vv. 4-9), is to sing praises to the Lord because the Lord has brought victory and reigns as King. The psalm’s imperative verbs are plural, reminding us that biblical worship is characteristically corporate. So, all of you/y’all/all y’all “sing to the Lord a new song.” The people of Israel had experienced God’s powerful and miraculous deliverance; thus, they were joyfully singing praises to the Lord. God’s delivering power was a public act (v. 2) — “in the sight of the nations.” “All the ends of the earth” (v. 3) have seen what God has done. The witnessing by the nations of God’s victory for Israel is important to Scripture. It is not only Israel, but all the earth — all peoples and even inanimate creation — which is joining in the chorus of praise to the Lord. All the earth/world (vv. 4 and 7, see Psalm 24 for parallels) makes a “joyful noise to the Lord.” Our voices and instruments, along with sounds of creation/nature, resound together in praise to God.

John 15:9-17

What Is One Possible Approach to the Text?

Servant or Friend? The text is verse 15. Here, Jesus reveals to his inner circle that he does not think of them as servants. Or, as their teacher/rabbi, he does not think of them as students. He thinks of them as friends. The difference? A servant is not privy to all that the master is doing, thinking or planning. There’s a gulf between the boss and the employee, a respectable distance. Servants function on a need-to-know basis. Generally, servants are not invited to the master’s house for dinner on Saturday night. They don’t share a pint together in the pub. Jesus says, “I don’t think of you as servants.” Jesus thinks of us as friends, because he has shared everything he knows with us. There is no respectable distance, no gulf and no divide. Jesus has confided everything he knows. He has held nothing back. This marks the intimate nature of friends. They share openly, freely and without reservation. Jesus is such a friend, and, more remarkably, Jesus considers us to be his friends. But are we? Have we been faithful friends? The congregation, soloist or choir could sing the old, old hymn, “What a friend we have in Jesus.”

What Does the Text Say?

Verse 9 declares that there is no distinguishing difference between the love of the Father for the Son and that which the Son has for his chosen disciples. But even though this love is steadfast and sure, it is also a love that may be lost. Thus, Jesus urges his disciples to “abide” or “remain” in his love. The direct implication of verses 12-14 is that, if the disciples obey Jesus’ commandments, they are, by definition, his friends. As his friends, they know Jesus will gladly give his life to save theirs. The mark of Jesus’ love and friendship for his disciples is further demonstrated by the openness, respect and reciprocity that define their relationship in verses 15-16. Jesus clearly distinguishes the kind of relationship that exists between himself and his disciples from any sort of master/servant or rabbi/student hierarchy. He now says that his followers are more than his students — they are his friends. With his friends, Jesus has openly shared all that his Father has told him. There is no secret cache of esoteric knowledge that keeps Jesus artificially elevated above his disciples on some “master” level.

Worship Resources
Benedictions General

God, the world does not know you. But all of us in this place have heard your Word proclaimed. We may not completely agree with each other, but we are unified in our belief in you. May we leave this safe haven and go out to tell others of our unity through Christ, your beloved Son. This we believe. Amen.

Pastoral Prayers General

O God, our help in ages past: We confess that often we do not have much hope for years to come. As we read or watch the news, our faith falters. We wonder about the future — about the world’s future and our own future. We forget your promises along with your great, saving acts on record in your Word.

We thank you, most patient God, for keeping faith with us in spite of our doubt, and particularly for providing for us examples of steadfastness, of belief in the future, to shame and hearten us.

We thank you for the old man who is planting trees up and down his street, even though he knows that he will not live to enjoy them.

We pray for the young woman who is dying a slow, painful death, but who has left her body to a hospital so that, out of her anguish, healing may come to persons unknown to her.

We pray for scholars who write plodding, faithful chronicles of bygone times, because they consider humankind’s ongoing history worth recording.

We thank you for scientists, politicians and grassroots folk who struggle to preserve our environment, so that our children and grandchildren may inherit a habitable world.

And we pray, with thanksgiving, for women and men who agree that, in spite of the news, this world is still a fit place for having and raising children.

We know, merciful Lord, that all these servants of yours who believe in the future and who are striving to make sure that it is a future worth having, are not necessarily doing so in your name. But we believe that you acknowledge them as yours, and we pray that you help us, each of us, to join their ranks. Restore our faltering faith. Remind us that you are our hope for years to come. For the sake of him who willingly died young so that we might have a future. Amen.

Calls to Worship General

Leader: Let us worship a God of surprises! Too often, we are told that winning is everything.

People: Here, in this place, we glimpse God’s reality that we must lose in order to gain.

Leader: Too often, we believe that freedom means autonomy, that we are in charge of our own lives.

People: Here we learn again that true freedom comes from God. We are free when we follow Christ and obey God’s commandments.

Leader: Too often, we are told that we are what we have, that wealth reigns and power rules.

People: Here we remind one another of God’s good news: “The stone that was rejected has become the chief cornerstone.”

All: Let us worship a God of surprises! Let us prepare our hearts to hear God’s startling good news once again.

Music Resources

O God, Our Help in Ages Past
The Church’s One Foundation
A Mighty Fortress Is Our God

Worship and Praise*
This I Believe (Fielding, Crocker)
Jesus Paid It All (Nifong, Hall, Grape)
Never Lost (Brown, Furtick, Hammer)

*For licensing and permission to reprint or display these songs on screen, go to The worship and praise songs suggested by Homiletics can be found in most cases on Google by using the title as the search term.


on 1 John 5:1-6

In the four chapters preceding 1 John 5:1-6, the letter features a twofold focus — the message that “God is light” (1:5ff) and the message that “we should love one another” (3:11ff). Because God is light, 1 John encourages us to walk in that light, for it is the source of our fellowship (koinwnia) with God and one another (1:6-7a). It is also the source of redemption and forgiveness through Christ (1:7b, 9; 2:1-2). Loving one another involves having life (3:14-15; 4:9), experiencing the indwelling presence of God (2:23b-24; 4:12-16), Christ (2:23b-24; 3:23-24) and the Spirit (3:24b; 4:13b) and responding to the reality that God first loved us (4:7, 10-11, 19) as revealed through Christ (3:16; 4:9-10, 14-16a).

Each message corresponds to the other in a number of ways, but three connections in particular are worth noting in preparation for reading 1 John 5:1-6. First, loving one another is part and parcel with walking in the light (2:10). Second, we cannot pay lip service to walking in the light and loving one another. Faithful talk about both must be backed up by faithful living (1:6; 2:4-6; 3:18; 4:20). Third, and accordingly, walking in the light and loving one another are ethical stances grounded in obeying God’s commandments (2:3-4; 3:22-24; 4:21).

Of the eight times commandments are mentioned prior to 1 John 5:1-6, five do not identify what is required. However, in 3:23, the commandment entails “that we should believe in the name of [God’s] Son Jesus Christ and love one another,” which is underscored by “obey [God’s] commandments” immediately following in 3:24. Then, in 4:21, the specifics of the commandment are that “those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.” It is very likely that the affiliation of loving one another with God’s commandment in 3:23 and 4:21 informs the meaning of the references to those commandments that are less detailed, and, even more likely, given how this affiliation is further supported by such exhortations as “let us love one another, because love is from God” (4:7) and “since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another” (4:11).

Thus, when we turn to 1 John 5:1-6, the correlation between loving one another and obeying God’s commandments is already established. The passage builds on this (vv. 1-3), while also considering the further matters of believing Jesus is “the Christ” (v. 1) and “Son of God” (v. 5), of faith that conquers the world (vv. 4-5), and of the testifying presence of the Spirit (v. 6).

In verse 1, believing Jesus is the Christ echoes 4:23, where belief in Jesus Christ and loving one another comprise a two-part commandment. Being born of God echoes 2:29-3:3. Linking love of the parent to love of the child echoes the ongoing theme of the unity between loving God and loving one another (although a case could be made that “child” refers to Jesus, which would reinforce how belief in and love of Jesus Christ is central to an understanding of and capacity for loving God). More about believing Jesus is the Christ will be discussed below in relation to verse 5.

In verses 2-3, there is a further reiteration of the nexus of loving God, loving one another, and obeying God’s commandments. It feels like there is a certain element of circular logic in motion here, since loving one another is the gist of the commandments to begin with. However, the expectation of obedience emphasizes how joining our love of God to our love for one another is not a proposition but an obligation. Also, at the end of verse 3, we are informed that “[God’s] commandments are not burdensome.” While there are those who may feel burdened by the commandments put forth in 1 John, the imperative of loving God and one another is meant to enhance life, not encumber it. Loving God and one another is not only an ethical stance, but it is also an invitation to participate in a lively network of relationships where God and humankind are drawn together into rich companionship and communion.

In verse 4, there is a shift to “whatever is born of God conquers the world.” The context for conquering the world can be found earlier in 2:13b-17, where the evil one is overcome (2:13b, 14c) and it is imperatively stated: “Do not love the world or things of the world” (2:15a). The phrase “born of God” in verse 4a echoes verse 1 regarding the link between believing Jesus is the Christ and being born of God. This also sets up verse 4b, where faith itself “is the victory that conquers the world.”

In verse 5, believing Jesus is the Christ (v. 1) is now stated in terms of believing Jesus is the Son of God. The use of these concurrent titles indicates a certain flexibility in naming the divine dimension of Jesus, a flexibility that may reflect a time in the early church when Christological determinations were much more in the process of being developed than they were settled and definitive. Of additional significance to this verse is how, between the bookends of verse 1 and verse 5, believing that Jesus is the “Christ” or “Son of God” is the crux of the convergence of being born of God, obediently loving God and one another and the victory of faith that conquers the world.

As for verse 6, the preacher may want to decide whether to include it in the passage since this verse clearly belongs more logically in a verses 6-12 grouping. At the same time, verse 6 follows congruently from verse 5 with respect to the focus on Jesus being the Son of God (v. 5), who is “the one who came by water and blood” (v. 6). Here, water signifies Christ’s baptism, and blood represents Christ’s sacrifice. The Spirit that testifies is the divine presence through whom we know “[Christ] abides in us” (3:24), “every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God” (4:2) and “we abide in [God] and [God] in us” (4:13).

The scholarly consensus is that 1 John issues from a community that is dealing with both division from within that has caused some to leave (see 2:19) and threats from the world outside the community. Thus, the community is confronting disobedience (1:6, 8, 10), those who walk in darkness (2:11), the evil one (2:13b, 14c), the temptations of the world (2:15-16), antichrists (2:18-26), lawlessness (3:4-10) and false prophets (4:1-6). Consistent with these challenges is concern over emerging doctrinal issues such as the nature and purposes of God in relation to the Trinity, the Incarnation, christology, the person and work of the Holy Spirit and koinonia among Christians — all of which set up the fledgling first-century church for disputes from within over what is orthodox and heretical, as well as mocking rejection from outside.

Present-day sermons about battling heresies and the travails of being Christian in a secular world run the risk of coming across as overly sanctimonious, whiny, defensive — or just plain boring. 1 John 5:1-6 is a good starting place for simply welcoming the congregation to consider what they actually do know, believe and find relevant about basic doctrinal understandings related to believing Jesus is the “Christ” or “Son of God,” being born of God, loving God and one another, living an ethical life grounded in God’s commandment to love, conquering an often hostile world (or at least not being overwhelmed by it) and responding to the presence of Christ along with the Spirit that testifies to him.


Sometimes it looks like the world is winning in the great struggle of life. And our Lord’s victory won’t be fully revealed until he returns, or we find ourselves face-to-face with God. In the meantime, we can rest assured that the world will never conquer us if Christ is on our side.



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So what is this “conquest,” and how does it come about? John seems, here, to be very close to a seam of thought we find in the gospel of John, a seam which emerges (for instance) at 12:31, where Jesus speaks of “the world’s ruler” being “thrown out”; at 14:30, where he declares that “the ruler of this world” has “nothing to do with me”; and at 16:33 where, after warning the disciples that they will face persecution in the world, concludes, “But cheer up; I have conquered the world!”

In the gospel, all this is meant, so it seems, to draw the eye up to the two dramatic chapters 18 and 19, in which an odd, unbalanced conversation takes place between Jesus, Pontius Pilate and the chief priests. Jesus and Pilate argue about the great themes of kingdom, truth and power, with the chief priests accusing Jesus and finally persuading Pilate to have him crucified. Somehow, we are meant to understand, these events and their aftermath, more particularly Jesus’ death as “king of the Jews,” are in fact the moment when, and the means by which, “the world’s ruler” is being “thrown out.” They are the means by which Jesus is in fact conquering the world, even though it looks for the moment as though the world is conquering him. There is a deep mystery here. …

The victory that conquers the world is the saving death of Jesus. And those who by faith cling on to the God who is made known personally in and as the Jesus who died on the cross — they share that victory, that conquest of “the world.”

“The world,” it seems, is not just the source of temptation and distraction. It is a positive power for evil, resenting the arrival of its own creator to claim his rightful lordship over it. (“He was in the world,” said John in the gospel, “and the world was made through him, and the world did not know him.”) It will fight back — a fight which, in the gospel, comes to its head when Jesus, representing God’s kingdom, faces Pilate, representing Caesar’s kingdom, the supreme power in the world.

—N.T. Wright, Early Christian Letters for Everyone: James, Peter, John and Judah (Westminster John Knox, 2011), 163–165.

Christ on this earth was the healer of the sick, the feeder of the hungry, the hope of the hopeless, the sinners’ friend, and thank God for that because that means he is also our hope, our friend. Thank God for every time the church remembers that and acts out of that.

But Christ was also a tiger, the denouncer of a narrow and loveless piety, the scourge of the merely moral, the enemy of every religious tradition of his day, no matter how sacred, that did not serve the Kingdom as he saw it and embodied it in all its wildness and beauty. Where he was, passion was, life was. To be near him was to catch life from him the way sails catch the wind. He was the Prince of Peace, and when he said, “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword,” what he presumably meant was that it was not peacefulness and passivity that he came to bring but that high and life-breathing peace that burns at the hearts only of those who are willing to do battle, as he did battle, to bring to pass God’s loving, healing, forgiving will for the world and all its people.

—Frederick Buechner, A Room Called Remember (HarperOne, 1992).

Wherefore, as becomes Catholic kings and princes, after earnest consideration of all matters, especially of the rise and spread of the Catholic faith, as was the fashion of your ancestors, kings of renowned memory, you have purposed with the favor of divine clemency to bring under your sway the said mainlands and islands with their residents and inhabitants and to bring them to the Catholic faith. Hence, heartily commending in the Lord this your holy and praiseworthy purpose, and desirous that it be duly accomplished, and that the name of our Savior be carried into those regions, we exhort you very earnestly in the Lord … to lead the peoples dwelling in those islands and countries to embrace the Christian religion; nor at any time let dangers or hardships deter you therefrom, with the stout hope and trust in your hearts that Almighty God will further your undertakings … we, of our own accord … out of our own sole largess and certain knowledge and out of the fullness of our apostolic power, by the authority of Almighty God conferred upon us in blessed Peter and of the vicarship of Jesus Christ, which we hold on earth, do by tenor of these presents, should any of said islands have been found by your envoys and captains, give, grant, and assign to you and your heirs and successors, kings of Castile and Leon, forever, together with all their dominions, cities, camps, places, and villages, and all rights, jurisdictions, and appurtenances …

—Excerpts from an English translation of the papal bull of Pope Alexander VI, May 4, 1493, assigning to Spain and Portugal the lands of the New World.

Full English text of the document may be found here:

Commentary from that web page:

“The Bull stated that any land not inhabited by Christians was available to be “discovered,” claimed, and exploited by Christian rulers and declared that “the Catholic faith and the Christian religion be exalted and be everywhere increased and spread, that the health of souls be cared for and that barbarous nations be overthrown and brought to the faith itself.” This “Doctrine of Discovery” became the basis of all European claims in the Americas as well as the foundation for the United States’ western expansion. In the US Supreme Court in the 1823 case Johnson v. McIntosh, Chief Justice John Marshall’s opinion in the unanimous decision held “that the principle of discovery gave European nations an absolute right to New World lands.” In essence, American Indians had only a right of occupancy, which could be abolished.”

Nearly 500 years after papal decrees were used to rationalize Europe’s colonial conquests, the Vatican repudiated those decrees on Thursday, saying the “Doctrine of Discovery” that was used to justify snuffing out Indigenous people’s culture and livelihoods is not part of the Catholic faith.

The doctrine was invoked as a legal and religious standing by Europeans who “discovered” new lands and violently seized it from people who had been living there for generations. It has been cited in different arenas for centuries, including by the U.S. Supreme Court — as early as 1823 and as recently as 2005.

“The statement repudiates the very mindsets and worldview that gave rise to the original papal bulls,” the Rev. David McCallum, executive director of the Program for Discerning Leadership based in Rome, told NPR.

“It renounces the mindset of cultural or racial superiority which allowed for that objectification or subjection of people, and strongly condemns any attitudes or actions that threaten or damage the dignity of the human person.”

—Bill Chappell, “The Vatican repudiates ‘Doctrine of Discovery,’ which was used to justify colonialism,, March 30, 2023.

Once I had a parishioner who was upset because we didn’t have a picture of Jesus hanging up in the church. After a second complaint I said, “Fine, I’ll get a picture of Jesus up if you can tell me what Jesus looked like.” Was Jesus fat, thin, balding, short hair, green eyes, Asian, black skin, beard, or no beard? Perhaps he preferred wearing his carpenter’s work pants rather than a robe. Of course, no living person knows what Jesus looked like. The Bible is strangely silent on the matter. So how can we put a picture up and claim that is Jesus? That settled the matter.

However, if I had paid a little better attention to Paul’s writing, I would have asked this woman to follow me into the sanctuary and pointed at the cross, and said, “If we want to see a picture of Jesus, it’s hanging right there.” Paul writes, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” I find it interesting that Paul does not say I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and HIM RESURRECTED. His focus is on the crucified Jesus as the central act of God.

—Mark Juengel, “When the Cross is Smart,” sermon preached at First Presbyterian Church, Hawley, Pennsylvania, February 5, 2023.

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Hold up a popular children’s board game and ask the children to raise their hands if they have played it. Ask them if it is important to follow the rules of the game. Find out if the game is fun to play if everyone does whatever they want to, and no one follows the rules. Point out that it is hard to have a good time if people are throwing pieces and turning over the board and making a mess. Let them know that the same is true with God. The Bible says that “the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments” (1 John 5:3). Ask the children if we show our love for God by stealing from a store, friends or neighbors. Find out if we show our love for God by hurting other people. Ask if we show our love for God by worshiping other gods, disrespecting our parents, lying or wanting other people’s toys. Stress that if we love God, we will follow the rules of his game, and this will make life better for everyone — our friends, parents, classmates and neighbors. Close by saying that life, like our favorite board game, is really the most fun when everyone follows the rules.

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