Understanding 1 John
It has been recognized that First, Second and Third John were written by the aged apostle John in the year AD 90 later than he wrote the Gospel of John. He penned this epistle in the city of Ephesus, where he spent his later years.
Peter, James, and John the three closest disciples of Jesus Christ, who have encountered Jesus, were transformed into their characters. In the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) John was nicknamed “son of Thunder”, but turned ultimately to have become the “apostle of love.”
John says, “I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray” (2:26). He re-affirms the authenticity of the Christian’s faith on to the anointed One, Jesus Christ. “The Word became flesh, and made his dwelling among us…. [Jesus] came from the Father” (John 1:14).
John was speaking against the prevalent philosophy at that time—Gnosticism. RAY C. Stedman explains in his Adventure through the Bible as follows:
Gnostics believe that matter is evil and spirit is good and that the good human spirit is imprisoned in an evil material body. They say that the purpose of life is to teach us how to rise above the evils of our bodies and release the good spirit from it, the material body, to achieve a form of nivana or heaven or spiritual perfection.(P.751).
John tells us Christians to believe in truth but not to be misled by secular philosophical teachings; to remain in the true faith on Jesus Christ, the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and. . . . for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2).
Chapter 1 1-10
The Word of Life
John knows God first hand through his experience with Jesus Christ. His vivid memories of Christ’s teaching and way of life before His disciples during the three years of Jesus’ ministry proclaim the Word of life. This is what the disciples including John have seen and heard and the eternal life from the Father God has appeared to the world through Jesus Christ. John thus proclaims the complete joy that our fellowship is with the Father and with the Son, Jesus Christ (1:1-4).
Walking in the Light
John testifies that “God is light; in him, there is no darkness at all.” If one is in the dark, one cannot be in the light at the same time. “If we claim to have fellowship with [God], we will be in the light. If we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from every sin, we walk in the light (1:5-7).
In this world, “There is no one righteous, not even one; . . . no one who seeks God. All have turned away. There is no one who does good, not even one (Romans 3:10-12). John admonishes us not to deceive ourselves; “If we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1:8-10). When we are in tune with Christ, the discords of life become harmonious. We’ll be strengthened to face what may come in life.
Chapter 2: 1-29
Jesus Christ, the Righteous One, is the atoning Sacrifice for sins and . . . also for the sins of the whole world (2:1-2).
- Obey God’s will. If we obey His commands, we know that we have an intimate relationship with Him (2:3).
- If we say that we know God, but do not do what He commands we are liars (2:4).
The litmus test of an authentic Christian is to observe whether he or she obeys God’s will and keeps God’s commandments. “If anyone obeys His word and keeps God’s love is truly made complete in him or her. Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did” (2:5-6).
- Love God with all your heart, soul and mind.
- Love your neighbour as yourself.
- Love one another and so on….
This is another litmus test of the authentic Christian. “Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brothers is still in the darkness. Whoever loves his brothers, lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble. But whoever hates his brothers is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him” (2:7-11).
John repeatedly writes, “I write to you —“
- Sins have been forgiven on account of his name (2:12).
- Know God is from the beginning (2:13).
- Overcome the evil one and be strong in Christ (2:14).
Do Not Love the World
Apostle John says, “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (2:15).
Apostle Paul also says in his epistle to the Christians in Rome, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’ swill is—his good pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2). Then, what is wrong with this world?
We cannot deny the fact that we’re in a fallen world—a self-centred, greedy, and grasping world. “For everything in the world-the craving of sinful men, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world”(2:16).
David McCasland in his “Our Daily Bread, October 11, 2014” says:
“The world has changed dramatically since Paul’s time. But the longings of people for love, forgiveness, and the power to change remains the same. Jesus, offers all of these an invites us to experience a new and different life in Him.”—Davis McCasland.
Warning against Antichrist
What John had reminded the First Century Christians at the same time reminds us that in the last days (hours), many enemies of Christ (called the antichrist) have come. They deny both the Father and the Son.
Paul also asked the Thessalonians not to be deceived by “some prophecy, report or letter . . . saying that the day of the Lord has already come” (2 Thessalonians 2:2). Jesus had answered His disciples the time of His return, in Acts 1:6-8, was a secret known only to His Father.
John says, “I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray” (2:26). All Christians have an anointing from the Holy One, and if whoever believes in Jesus he [or she] has the Father also (2:23). “And this is what he promised us—even eternal life” (2:25).
[But] “Humanism, the philosophy that we human beings can become our own god and do not need any other god is the final, and ultimate lie of Satan and it is virtually identical to Satan’s original lie in the Garden of Eden: You will be like God.
“Increasingly, we see men and women falling for that same lie, worshiping at the altar of the self, seeking to be their own god, telling themselves they have no need of the one true God. At the same time, the propaganda mill of our secular culture are churning out books and pamphlets, movies and TV shows, telling us there is no God, we have outgrown our need for God, and we can be our own gods. It’s the oldest lie in the book, but it still sells.”— (On the Way to the Future by Ray C. Stedman, P194).
Christians doing what is right in Christ who is righteous have become children of God (2:29). Continue to believe in Jesus Christ and walk in His way. When Christ returns, we can be without fear and not be ashamed before him at his coming.
Children of God
We, believers, are called children of God and we truly are owing to the great love the Father has lavished on us. The world does not know us because it does not know Him (3:1). We know when Jesus appears again we shall be like Him and salvation will be complete (3:2). We who have hope in Him are purified in Him (3:3). And in Him is no sin.
Everyone who commits sins is guilty of lawlessness. If we know Christ as God dwelling in our lives we will not practise sin. “No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him” (3:6). A Christian under strong temptation may fall into sin for the time, but “no one who born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God” (3:9).
“Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother” (3”10b).
Love One Another
Love each other is the teaching every Christian has learned from the beginning. Do not be like Cain who belonged to the Evil One and killed his brother (Genesis 4:8). Whoever does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates a brother or a sister is a murderer, and no murderers have eternal life in them (3:14-5).
This is how we know what real love is: Jesus gave his life for us. So we ought to give our love for our brothers and sisters. If everyone has enough to live and sees a brother or sister in need, but does not help, God’s love is not living in that person. We should love people not only with words and talks but by our actions and true caring (3:13-18). Thus, we know that we belong to the way of truth. When our hearts make us feel guilty we know how we can still have peace before God—He is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything—(3:20). If our hearts do not make us feel guilty, we can come without fear into God’s presence. And God gives us what we ask for because we obey God’s commands and do what pleases him (3:21).
God’s commands are:
- To believe in the name of the Son, Jesus Christ, and
- To love one another as he commanded us.
The people who obey God’s commands live in God, and God lives in them. We know that God lives in us because of the Spirit God gave us.
Warning against False Teachers
Test the Spirit (4:1-6)
- Do not believe every spirit.
- Test the spirits to see whether they are from God.
- Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God.
- Every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist. The false teachers deny the fact that Christ truly suffered and truly resurrected.
- The people from God know God and listen to Him and practise His way of life. The spirit of falsehood follows the world. But believers of Jesus Christ are not of the world.
God’s Love and Others (4:7-21)
- Love is the litmus test of the Christian faith. “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love” (4:8).
- God sent his one and only Son into the world to save us as an atoning sacrifice for our sins (4:9-10). “Since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (4:11).
- Anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him/her and he/her in God (4:15).
- “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God and God in him [her] (4:16b).
- “Perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love (4:18).
- “Whoever loves God must also love his [her] brothers [sisters]. This is the command God has given us (4:21b).
Faith in the Son of God (5:1-21)
At closing John re-assures two essential aspects of the Christian faith:
- Faith in the Son of God
“Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well” (5:1).
- Believers love God and his son Jesus Christ by carrying out his commands (5:3).
- Believers love one another as they are children of God (5:2).
- Believers should overcome the world—stand firm in a world that is morally falling apart (5:4).
- “God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He [she] who has the Son has life; he [she] who does not have the Son of God does not have life” (5:15).
- There are three witnesses that tell us about Jesus: the Spirit, the water, and the blood (‘water’ probably means the water of Jesus’ baptism; ‘blood’ probably means the blood of Jesus’ death). The Holy Spirit tells us the truth about his own Son (5:6-9).
- We have Eternal Life Now
- Whoever believes in the Son of God will have eternal life (5:13).
- Believers should have the boldness in God’s presence to pray to God for anything that agrees with what He wants, He hears us. Not our will but God’s will (5:14-15).
- “If [a believer] sees brother or sister sinning, that person should pray, and God will give the sinner [a new] life. This does not refer to sins leading to death. All wrongdoing is sin, and there is sin that does not lead to death (5:16-17).
- We know that those who are God’s children do not continue to sin. The Son of God keeps them safe, and the Evil One cannot touch them (5:18).
- We know that the Evil One controls the whole world. But we also know that the Son of God has come and has given us lives so that we can understand the True One. And our lives are in the True One and his Son, Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life (5:19-20).
- Keep away from the gods. That simply means to keep us away from those secondary idols, the substitutes that demand our attention or attract our desires. Give us completely to the only true God who loves and knows our needs and cares for us. This is eternal life (5:21).
(. . . to be cont’d, 2 John. . .)