Tuesday, August 11, 2009

1 John 1:1-4

The first chapter of 1 John is only 10 verses in length, but we can discern here from the style and language that the author of John’s gospel is also the author of this letter. The writings begin in the same way, speaking of the beginning, and end in the same way, giving the reason for writing as so that the audience may believe the gospel and have assurance of salvation (John 20:31; 1 John 5:13). The middle of John’s gospel and this book share much in common as well. And here in this chapter, John will introduce three errors of – and provide answers to – the common false teaching of the day. Since the answer to the third error falls in chapter two, we’ll also consider the first couple verses of chapter two. Let’s take a look:

V1-4 – 1That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched – this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. 2The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. 3We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ. 4We write this to make our [or, your] joy complete.

John begins this epistle similarly to the way he commenced his gospel, speaking of the beginning. And he’s basically laying out themes that he will re-address throughout the letter, just as he did in his gospel. He begins by speaking of the pre-eminence, the superiority, the eternality of Jesus Christ. In fact, the incarnation was to John as significant as creation itself. John speaks of “that which,” and his language makes me think of some thing, not some one. But his proclamation of the message and his proclamation of the Messenger are one and the same. Jesus is the Word made flesh (John 1:14), and both He and His gospel have existed from the beginning (or, existed in the beginning). Jesus is eternal; the gospel is eternal. Jesus is unchanging; the gospel is unchanging. Even with this opening verse, John is teaching against the false teachers, who are coming with something new. John says, “No, the gospel is not new. The truth is old, and it never changes like the false teachings.”

John testifies that he knows the truth about Jesus and His message. John heard Jesus; he saw Jesus with his own eyes; his hands had touched Jesus. These vivid verbs and their repetition also refute the false teaching of docetism that denied Jesus’ humanity. And so John’s testimony about Jesus, called “the Word of life,” is trustworthy. John calls Jesus “the eternal life,” which appeared after having been with the Father (v2). And John saw Him. John’s apostolic authority is powerful to override false teachers. And the fact that John speaks of life ought to excite us to desire it, for what is the enemy of humanity except death? Calvin says of life, “It is an incomparable good, ought to rouse and inflame all our powers with a marvelous desire for it, and with the love of it. It is said, indeed, in a few and plain words, that life is manifested; but if we consider how miserable and horrible a condition death is, and also what is the kingdom and the glory of immortality, we shall perceive that there is something here more magnificent than what can be expressed in any words.”

In v3, John declares the reason for proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ. He says it is for the sake of fellowship. Later, in 1 John 5:13, he will say that his writing is “so that you may know you have eternal life;” but that eternal life is truly nothing more than perfect fellowship “with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ,” and with one another (v3). This fellowship is both human and divine. John is saying that the only way to eternal life, to this perfect fellowship with God and with the people of God is to believe and cling to the message of the gospel, Jesus Christ Himself. Life is in Christ, through Christ, with Christ. The gospel, Jesus Himself, was sent, as one preacher noted, “for the creation of a fellowship between brothers and sisters in Christ in which we share life, we are mutually committed, we are mutually accountable, we believe that same truth, we are committed to the same mission, we are in love with the same Lord, we are trusting the same God, we are proclaiming the same gospel.” Mere conversion is not the goal of evangelism. Discipleship and fellowship and unity as the Body of Christ must be the goals of evangelism, as the apostle John portrays them here.

Finally, here in v4, the result of the message and the fellowship is joy (Psalm 16:5-6; Matthew 6:21). One preacher says, “The mutual accountability that comes from membership in the body of Christ, [which] leads to shared life and fellowship brought into being by the gospel, is a life of consummated joy” (see Psalm 16:11). So, in the midst of false teachers prescribing new ways to joy, John is saying that fullness of joy is found in mutual fellowship with brothers and sisters in Christ who share life with the triune God, united to one another and to Jesus Christ by faith in Him. If you trust in Him, fellowship with Him, and fellowship with His people, you are already a participant in the full life of joy; in His presence is fullness of joy and pleasure forevermore. Everything else is rubbish (Philippians 3:8).

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