John’s first letter applies John’s testimony about Jesus Christ to the lives of believers. Because Jesus came to offer eternal life, we can know by our experience and behavior that we have eternal life. Because Jesus came to reveal the Father, we can be confident in our relationship with the father. Because Jesus gives the Spirit to each who is born again, we can live daily in the Spirit. Just as Jesus called His first disciples to love one another, John calls on believers to put that love into action. There is no indication as to when this book was written though it seems that the author is elderly. Many believe this was written near the end of the first century, and that John wrote it from Ephesus. It is fairly certain that the people John was writing to were being challenged by Gnostics. Gnostics considered physical matter to be innately evil and they could not comprehend the incarnation. For them, the divine Logos or word could not possibly have become flesh. Gnosticism denies the need for an incarnation or an atonement. This implied that Jesus had a physical body and the Gnostics could not believe that. The Gnostics may not have been at the height of their influence at this time but Peter warnedthe believers to be on guard against them. Here are a couple more things about Gnostics. They denied that their immoral actions were sinful. They insisted that the teaching of the apostles was to be supplemented with the higher knowledge they claimed to possess. The Gnostics taught that the divine Christ came upon the human Jesus at His baptism and then left Him at the cross so that it was only the man Jesus who died. As you read look for John’s call for Christians to live in a godly manner: turning from sin, obeying God’s commands, showing love to other believers, abandoning worldly glory, and holding fast to orthodox teachings about Jesus Christ. And here are some themes to watch for. First, the incarnation. John wrote this epistle to warn Christians of false teachers or “antichrist” from within the church who denied that Jesus had come in the flesh. John insisted that Christ is not some supernatural apparition disguised as a human but a historical person, Jesus of Nazareth. The test of Biblical Christianity is belief in the full humanity and full divinity of Jesus Christ. Second is love. The key command in this short book is the call to love. Christians are to follow Christ’s example by loving one another and caring for those in need, even to the point of laying down their lives for one another. Since love comes from God, genuine love can only be expressed as God lives in us and we in him. Third, Christian certainties. John asserted that Christians can be certain of the following: Jesus is the Son of God. Believers have eternal life through Him. God heard and answers their prayers. They are no longer in bondage to sin but are kept safe by God from the evil one. They are children of God. They can know God through His Son Jesus Christ. Jesus is the true God.
Chapter one is all about Christian fellowship and it reflects the prologue of John’s gospel; John 1:1-14. The we that occurs here is a reference to John and those with him. They were people who had seen, heard, and touched Jesus. They were theeyewitnesses of Jesus and had a personal fellowship with God through Him. Now John has invited the readers to join in that fellowship. They are proclaiming the One who has always been; before time began, eternally. But John and the other disciples saw Him with their own eyes. They actually touched the Word of life. This is big because the Gnostics denied that Jesus was actually a human being. Jesus, the Son of God is the personal expression of the invisible God and the giver of eternal life. Eternal life comes from Him and he makes it available to all who believe. Jesus the Christ was known to His disciples as a human being during His earthly ministry. He also revealed God to the apostles. Once this happened the apostles entered into fellowship with both the Father and the Son. And even better, John told the believers that whoever entered into fellowship with the apostles, entered into that same fellowship with the Father and the Son. Their joy comes from that same fellowship with the Father and the Son. From 1:5-2:6 John is focused on the first aspect of living in fellowship with God. Living in the light means that the believers will see that they are sinners. They will also realize that Jesus is their advocate who makes them right with the Lord. God is light and that light shone through Jesus to everyone He came into contact with. This light exposed their sin and illuminated the moral character of God. In John light represents God’s holiness and revelation and it is the opposite of false teachings and undisciplined living, which is darkness. Verse six is the first time John challenged the claims of the Gnostics. They were living in spiritual darkness. They did not have fellowship with God or shine His light. Keep in mind theevil one pretends to have light but it is really darkness. It is also interesting that the evil one’s name is Lucifer, which means light. But it is not true, life giving light. The gnostic teachers thought they were enlightened but were actually darkened by their so called illuminations. They claimed to have spiritual experiences from God but they rejected fellowship with the oneswho had actually seen God in the flesh, John and the apostles. Believers have fellowship with each other and with God because they live in the light. People cannot say they commune with God and then refuse to have fellowship with God’s people. This was what the Gnostics were doing. On the other hand, the apostles had known Jesus in the flesh and were continuing to have spiritual fellowship with Him. If verse eight sounded familiar it is because that is part of our confession and forgiveness on Sunday mornings. This was the second false claim of the Gnostics. They claimed they could be sinless since Christ had abolished their sins once and for all. Their higher knowledge would lift them above the realm of sin. True Christians acknowledge their sin and trust that God will take it away. In order to maintain continual fellowship with Jesus we need to confess our sins to Him. Forgiveness and cleansing are guaranteed because God is faithful to His promises and because He acts on the basis of His justice. Christ’s death for our sins fulfills God’s justice and acquits us of our guilt. And if we claim to have no sin, we are liars. Gods word emphasizes the permeating and penetrating nature of sin.
If we are to live in the light then we are called to confess our sins and stop sinning. John focused on sin in the last chapter in an effort to make believers despise their sin and avoid it. We will sin but we shouldn’t fear going to God to confess those sins. That is because we have a “Paraclete”, an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ who is righteous. He is our defense attorney, representing us before the Father. Jesus is righteous. We are sinners. Because Jesus Christ fulfilled the law and paid sin’s penalty for us, He can plead for us on the basis of justice as well as mercy. Martin Luther said, “The righteousness of Christ stands on our side; for God’s righteousness is, in Jesus Christ, ours.” Obedience is one clear indication that we know Christ and belong to Him. Disobedience shows that we do not belong to Him or love Him. When we obey we also grow in our love for Him and in completeness and maturity. We will live in union with God, showing love for others.
John taught about the new commandment. The disciples had the old commandment; to love one another; from the very beginningbut it is also a new commandment. Jesus’s command provided the new basis for their love in His own demonstration of love to the disciples. The light of the Good News expels darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it, particularly when believers are living out the love that is in Christ. Another indication of truly knowing Christ is how one treats other Christians. Again John points out that those who claim to be spiritually enlightened but separate themselves from other Christians with an attitude of superiority are really showing hatred. To cause others to stumble can also mean to ensnare or entrap them. The Greek word is “skandalon” which means a trap, or to block someone’s path. This is where the word scandal comes from. The Gnostics were hindering people by ensnaring them in error and darkness. Verses 12-14 give us John’s purpose for writing. He gave three classes of believers at various stages of spiritual maturity: God’s children, the young in faith, and the mature in faith and he reminds them that there are things they already know. Their sins have been forgiven in Jesus. Jesus has existed from before time. They know the Father. They have won their battle with the evil one because of their faith in Christ. They are strong, and God’s word lives in their hearts.
John cautioned the believers that the world is a morally evil system that is under the influence of the evil one and is opposed to God and Christ’s kingdom on this earth. The world appeals to people’s fleshly desires and as such tries to tear them away from God. Those who are from this world need God to redeem themfrom it. John warned about antichrists. That word, antichrist,literally means “instead of Christ.” He claims for himself what belongs to Christ and poses as a substitute for Christ. Many have appeared in the form of the false teachers. It appears that many of these false teachers had once been part of the faith community, in fellowship with John and the other apostles. These teachers deny that Jesus is the Christ, God’s Son in the flesh. The false teachers had left the fellowship and formed their own exclusive community based on their false teachings about Christ. True believers would have stayed in the fellowship. It is the Holy Spirit that gives believers the ability to understand and recognize spiritual truth, and those who have the Spirit know the truth about the Father and the Son. Any who deny Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, the unique revealer of the Father, John says are liars and the believers are to avoid these people. Remaining in fellowship with Christ means in part to not be misled by any kind of false teaching. If they do fall away they will have to shrink back from Christ when He returns.
Chapter three is all about living as children of God and loving one another. When Christ returns we will be like Him for we will see Him as He really is. God’s children bear the image of Christ and will share in His glory. Those who have this hope keep themselves pure, seeking to become more like Him in anticipation of His glorious appearing. John stood in amazement of God’s love but the greater amazement is the fact that God’s love is expressed to human beings; that Christians are included in His family. God loves all believers, weak or strong. And His love stands in stark contrast to the love of the world. The world loves those who love them but God loves even those who disobey Him. We don’t know all the specifics of our future existence but we do know we will put on immortality and become free from the sin that currently plagues us. Those who have the hope of seeing Christ and being like Him realize thatHe is pure. This is an incentive for people to pursue purity even more. Part of this chapter is John discussing what it means to live a pure life. A life of sin is evidence that someone is not truly God’s child and sin is incompatible with the new nature that comes from new birth in Jesus Christ. John wants believers to dowhat is right. Living in Christ means abiding and remaining vs. departing into falsehood. John is not saying that anyone who sins is in trouble. We all sin. John is speaking of those who persist in sin. God came to destroy the evil one. This doesn’t mean to annihilate but to break down, to undo, or to render ineffective. Christ didn’t obliterate the evil one. He came to undo the works of the evil one by freeing people from sin and it’s horrible consequences.
Living righteously means living in a right relationship with God. This is in contrast to the false teachers who believed and taught that life in the Spirit could not be contaminated by any behavior in a physical body. This does not mean that we live perfect lives, but that we keep ourselves in a good relationship with God.Verses 11-22 focus on the believers need to love one another. John begins with Cain and Abel. Cain was jealous that Abel received approval from God, and that jealousy led to murder. Hatred is judged, just as the outward acts that result from it. Having love for our brothers and sisters who are believers is tangible evidence that we have experienced rebirth in Christ and we will have eternal life instead of condemnation. Christ’s example shows us that real love involves self sacrifice. We do this by becoming truly concerned about the needs of other Christians and by unselfishly giving our time, effort, prayer, possessions, and even our lives. What John really said is thatactions speak louder than words sometimes. Those who truly love have confidence that God accepts them because real love is primary evidence of real faith and of new life in Christ. The last couple of verses in chapter three find John giving a new criteriafor discerning who has the Spirit. The Spirit is not the possession of the elite who are enlightened without their lives being changed. Instead, the Spirit comes to all believers and stimulates obedient discipleship.
Chapter four begins with John calling on believers to discern false prophets or teachers. Those who belong to God can distinguish spiritual truth from error because the Spirit’s presence teaches them. But John provided some concrete tests for the believers to apply so there will be no confusion. This is not an exhaustive list but a starting point for the teachers. Those who left John’s church claimed to be prophets but the true prophet is an instrument for the Holy Spirit’s messages. Every speaker should be tested against what the Holy Spirit has said through the apostles. The test for teachers is this: those who have the Spirit of God confess that Jesus Christ came in a real body. So they must affirm that Jesus is both fully human and fully divine. Anyone who denies this is a false teacher and an antichrist. Believers however already belong to God and we overcome by recognizing false teachers and refusing to follow them. He who is in you is the Holy Spirit and he who is in the world is the evil one. The Holy Spirit has way more power andinfluence than the evil one. Those who are of the world listen to the evil one. Another benchmark of identifying false teachers is whether or not they listen to the apostles teachings. The Spirit of truth is the Holy Spirit who teaches the truth about Christ. False prophets only have the spirit of deception, the spirits of the antichrist, who lead people away from Christ.
Verses 7-21 finds John explaining the source of Christian love. God is love, the source and the embodiment of all love. This and the concept of God is light form the basis for John’s letter. That God sent His only Son to pay the price for our sins demonstrated His love for us. This is real love, not that we loved God so much but that He loves us beyond measure. And because God lovesus, He has set the example for us. Because we are loved by God we are called to love one another. Those who have received God’s love cannot help but love others. When we love others it is clear we love God. Again John reminds the believers that he had seen Jesus with his own eyes meaning what he was saying was true. Those who believe in Christ have God living in them, and they live in God. The Father and Son experience this fellowship, and experiencing God in this way is a special privilege for believers. As we continue to live in God, our love grows more perfect. This doesn’t mean flawless but instead mature and complete. We mature as our relationship with God grows and God’s love makes our love complete. Verse 18 is an amazing promise. God’s perfect love casts out all fear. We can be confident in facing the day of judgement, which will be terrifying for those who don’t know God. Fear anticipates a deserved punishment, producing dread that is in itself a foretaste of that punishment. God loved us first while we were still sinners. God started the process. When He loved us that allowed us to respond to Him in love and to share that love with others.
Those who believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God have been born spiritually as children of God. They are empowered by theSpirit of God to love Him and other Christians. By their faith they will be able to overcome the evil temptations of the world. Through faith they can love God and live in obedience to Him. Only those who belong to the Lord will be able to win the battle against evil. The one who came by water and blood is Jesus Christ. He was revealed as God’s Son in the waters of His baptism and by his blood shed on the cross. The false teachers said “the Christ” descended as a spirit on the man Jesus when He was baptized but left him before He died. All three witnessesagree that Jesus is the Son of God, fully human and fully divine: the baptismal water, the shed blood on the cross, and the Spirit descending in Jesus at His baptism. All who believe know this to be true. This is what John taught and knew to be true; that those who have the Son of God living in them have God’s eternal life now. They enjoy the presence of God’s Spirit and they have the guarantee of eternity with God. John is confident that God hears us when we ask for anything that pleases Him. The key is to pray according to His will. The sins that lead to death are those that involve apostasy. Here that means leaving the apostolic faith and joining a heretical, anti Christian movement like the false teachers John was denouncing. But those sins that don’t involve apostasy can end in repentance and forgiveness. John ends by reminding the people that Christ enables us to know God in a personal, intimate sense. Jesus is the true God and to know Him is to have eternal life. In closing John exhorted his flock to keep far away from anything that would take God’s place in our hearts, keeping away from idols. Here the primary idol would be any false teaching that takes people away from Jesus Christ, who is at once fully man and fully God.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W