Little children, let no one lead you astray: The one practicing righteousness is righteous. 1 John 3:7
Astray – Who should you follow? Who should you choose as your leader? How do you know you’re walking with the right person? John has a very simple test. Follow the one who is practicing righteousness.
It seems so obvious, doesn’t it? Who would follow someone who lied, cheated, was abusive and violent or did many reprehensible things? No one. That makes the choice easy, right? Well, not quite. You see, John uses a Hebrew idiom, practicing righteousness, to indicate a way of life. When he writes these words, he has a particular set of behaviors in mind, behaviors that any Jewish reader would have known. The question we need to ask is not, “What ethical behaviors do we include in the idea of righteousness?” No, we need to ask, “What behaviors would John have included in the Jewish expression ‘practicing righteousness’?”
The development of this theme throughout the New Testament makes it abundantly clear that John is in concert with Paul and the Apostles. Practicing righteousness is shorthand for keeping Torah. That means John is looking toward those men and women who fit the description given by James at the Jerusalem council. “These men are zealous for Torah.” They are people who study the words of YHWH in order to conform their lives to His wishes. They make charity a habitual action. They offer themselves in prayer. They shape their lives around the liturgy of the covenant revealed by God. They stand in the prophetic tradition. And they personally embrace God’s intention that Israel be the magnet to draw all nations to Him. Following men and women who display these behaviors is crucial for the individual and the community. Any other choice will result in being led astray.
The Greek word planao means, “to cause to wander, to deceive or cause to err, to seduce into rebellion.” The umbrella of meanings is important. Notice that it is not principally about cognitive error. From a Hebrew perspective, this Greek word describes the action of falling away from God’s instructions, of being seduced into choices that lead away from God’s will. It’s interesting to notice that Paul uses the idea of deception and seduction when he writes about the sin of Adam and Havvah. They didn’t make a mental mistake. They acted in opposition to God’s commandment. John suggests the simple test. If we don’t follow the one who is sticking close to God’s ways, we will be led off the path. We will be seduced or deceived, just as our parents were in the Garden.
Now it’s time to take a closer look. Think of those who lead you. Your submission empowers them. But have you asked if they are practicing righteousness? Would John point to them and say, “Follow that man. He follows Torah.”
Topical Index: practicing righteousness, astray, planao, Torah, 1 John 3:7