Monday, August 10, 2009

An Introduction to 1 John

The apostle John, the one whom Jesus loved, one of the inner circle of three along with his brother James (together called the sons of thunder, the sons of Zebedee) and Peter, is the author of this five-chapter letter. John also wrote the Gospel of John, as well as 2 and 3 John and Revelation. John, a most-important apostle and early church leader, is also mentioned in Paul’s writings, as well as in Luke’s Acts. Taken together, 1, 2, and 3 John are pastoral in nature, with some doctrinal teaching in 1 John, leading to the application of that teaching in 2 and 3 John – mainly with regard to loving one another in the truth by showing hospitality to those engaged in sharing the gospel and refraining from hospitable care toward those who are attempting to spread a false gospel.

The doctrinal nature of 1 John follows closely the pattern of John’s gospel, showing great concern for the true identity of the Person of Jesus Christ. Some false teachers were denying that Jesus had truly come in the flesh (1 John 4:2-3), a view called docetism that taught that He only had seemed to die and didn’t really, because He wasn’t really human; and John, as an eyewitness, wants to correct and dispel that erroneous teaching. The clear reason for writing – “that you may know you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13) – provides an equally clear date range for the book’s copyright date. It was certainly written after John’s gospel (70-90 AD) but before later writings of Polycarp and Ignatius (110 AD).

While 1 John is usually considered a letter, it lacks the common signs of New Testament epistles; nevertheless, John addresses his “little children,” possibly the congregation at Ephesus if akin to 2 John, or the congregation of Gaius if akin to 3 John, with some profound ideas laid out in loosely tied-together strains of thought. The book is difficult to outline given the writing style, but the language is not difficult to understand. John speaks of light and darkness; believers are to show that they live in the light by obedience to God and love to the brethren. John speaks of living in righteousness, loving one another and guarding against Satan and his fruits. John speaks of love, perfected in us, living in God and God living in us, living the Christian life. One commentator says, “John shows that true sonship, far from simply being a passive state in which we subjectively enjoy the glorious fact of our adoption in Jesus Christ, that true sonship mobilizes us for service, for love, for obedience, for belief.”

We’ll study John in five sections. In chapter one, through v2 of chapter two, we have an introduction, followed by mention of three erroneous teachings and answers to those teachings, as well as comments on walking in the light as a result of the forgiveness of sin through the work of Jesus Christ. In chapter two, beginning with v3, we see three tests of authentic Christianity – moral, relational, and doctrinal – and we learn to exhibit the fruits of forgiveness, which include repentance (turning around and obeying God’s commands), loving one another, overcoming the world, the flesh (sin), and the devil, and persevering to the end in righteousness. In chapter three, we heed John’s instruction on righteousness, guarding against sin and the devil, loving instead of hating, loving by being generous, and the blessed assurance of salvation. In chapter four, John teaches us to know the Spirit of God contrasted against the spirit of antichrist, he dwells on the fact that God is love. Finally, in chapter five, John reminds of belief leading to obedience and life in God through prayer. Perhaps if we had to outline the three main points, John would give us three tests of authentic Christian faith – the moral test, the doctrinal test, and the test of fellowship. Let’s take a look at 1 John.

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