First Epistle of John: Reading Guide
“Who am I?” “Who are you?” “Who is your leader?”
In the days when the Apostle John wrote his letters there was much confusion about who were Christians and Christian practice. Some thought they could sin with the body, since Christianity was a spiritual endeavor not concerned with the body. Others denied basic doctrine by prophetic utterance and other speculation. Others were leaving the church because of the lack of purity in the church. In many ways the situation was similar to what we have today.
These questions are different than the options we have today, where we ask: “Can you lose your salvation? Can you have assurance of salvation?” Instead of these questions John asks, “Who are you? Who am I? Who is your leader?”
Interestingly John did not ask the question, “When did you receive Jesus into your heart? Do you know the date you were born again? If you do not, you are not saved.” No, John goes much deeper. Obviously, we do not need a birth certificate to prove that we're alive. Besides, there are many who claim to be Christians everywhere today that live their lives as if they had never been “born again”. These are the kinds of tests that John would not put in his letter.
There are similarities between the Gospel of John and the First Epistle of John.
1. John 16:24 and 1 John 1:4
2. John 12:35, 1 John 2:11
3. John 13:34 and 1 John 3:23
The vocabulary between the gospel and the epistles is similar.
1 John uses the same "we" as the gospel. As John Stott says,
The first person plural is used not only in verbs that describe historical experience, but also in verbs that describe the proclamation of it. The people who made the announcements are the people who have had the experience. It is they whose eyes have seen, whose ears heard, whose hands touched and whose mouths open to speak. (Stott, p. 31-2).
From the information provided by the chart we can conclude that the author was a witness to the events of the life of Jesus and listened to the words of Jesus Himself. The author defends the words of Jesus in his preaching. Kistemaker indicates that the term "elder" was the equivalent of "apostle" in the letters of Paul and Peter. It is derived from the fact that John has been with Jesus "from the beginning" (Acts 1:21-22).
Tradition tells us that the Apostle John was pastor in Ephesus until his death near the year 98 AD (Kistemaker, p. 172).
They are very close to the Apostle John. So he uses terms like "my dear children" or "beloved children" and "dear friends". To emphasize this relationship John uses the pronoun "I" to refer to himself.
Many were new to the Christian faith. Some were Christians from the beginning.
The Old Testament in 1 John
· 1 John 1:8 and Proverbs 28:13
· 1 John 1:9 and Deuteronomy 32:4
· 1 John 2:10 and Psalm 119:165
· 1 John 5:3 and Deuteronomy 30:11
Those who received 1 John had many serious problems in their church. The problems were so severe that some people stopped attending church. What conditions could have caused such serious problems?
1. Christology: They were not sure who Christ was. Some thought Jesus was just a man. Others thought he only had the appearance of a man (he was purely divine). Both understandings were wrong.
2. Morality: Some misinterpreted the freedom we have in Christ as an excuse to sin (antinomianism). Others thought that Christians did not sin, i.e. some claimed to have no sin.
3. Anointing: Some thought they were entering a greater anointing, i.e. having an anointing that took them beyond Christ, such that some were already above Jesus.
4. Social: Some thought their relationship was only with God. What happened with the brothers was not important.
5. Gnostics: The Gnostics were a religious movement, which held that salvation was by knowledge rather than by Christ.
There is little information about the date on the letter. Most scholars place the date between 90 and 95 AD.
"These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life." (1 John 5:13)
John tries to help his recipients know who God is and who He is not. This is a difficult problem because many do not know whether they are Christians or not, much less whether others are or are not Christians too. It is vitally important so that you can be sure of your own relationship with God.
For this reason John mentions the things we "know" as Christians in 1 John. For John it is important that we know; that we have certainty in what we believe and what we are.
· 1 John 2:3 “And hereby we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments.”
· 1 John 2:4-6 “He who says: "I know Him," and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, in him truly is the love of God perfected. This is how we know that we are in Him: Whoever says he abides in Him ought to walk even as He walked.”
· 1 John 2:18 “Little children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come, by which we know it is the last hour.”
· 1 John 3:2 “Beloved, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.”
· 1 John 3:14 “We know that we have passed from death to life because we love our brothers. He who does not love his brother remains in death.”
· 1 John 3:24 “He that keeps His commandments dwells in Him and He in them. And this is how we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit, which He has given us.”
· 1 John 4:13 “By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit.”
· 1 John 5:2 “This is how we know that we love the children of God; when we love God and keep His commandments.”
· 1 John 5:13 “These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.”
· 1 John 5:15 “And if we know that He hears us, in whatever we ask, we know that we have what we asked of Him.”
· 1 John 5:18 “We know that whoever is born of God does not continue to sin, but he who was born of God is kept safe by Him, and the evil one does not touch him.”
· 1 John 5:19 “And we know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the power of the evil one.”
· 1 John 5:20 “And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know Him who is true. And we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.”
How can we know whether we are Christians? According to John RW Stott, John is applying three tests for us to see if we are Christians or not. The three tests are doctrinal, moral, and relational (love). These tests are repeated several times in 1 John. By all the tests we know if we are Christians or not. Passing the tests confirms our Christian identity.
Despite this evidence, there are many people who are unsure about whether they will be in heaven or not. John writes so that we can be confident in our hope of being in heaven and secure in our relationship with Jesus.
The First Epistle of John: Expanded Outline and Analysis
1: 1-4 Prelude: First issue - Doctrine: the incarnation of Jesus
We came to life through the Word, Jesus. We have seen, touched and heard him.
1: 5-2:2 Second issue - Moral: Walking in the Light, and sin and forgiveness.
Light and darkness are incompatible: the follower of Jesus cannot (continue to) walk in sin.
A Christian is not free from sin.
There is always forgiveness available.
2: 3-6 Second - Moral:
Those who know him, keep his commandments (they obey).
2: 7-11 Third – the Relational or love theme:
Loving vs. hating his brother
Light vs. darkness
2: 12-14 Interlude: Reasons for writing
2: 15-17 Preparation for warning
2: 18-27 Doctrinal: They deny the Son by going out from us.
Antichrist & antichrists
When you look for more anointing than Christ,you are denying Him.
2: 28-3:10 Moral: Justice and the children of God
3: 11-18 Relational: We should love one another
3: 19-24 Safety and the heart that condemns
4:1-6 Doctrinal: Incarnation - the Spirit of truth or spirit of error
How can you distinguish between truth and lies about Jesus in the voice of the leaders? How can you tell if a leader is Christian or not? John gives criteria to distinguish between those who are Christians and those who are not. John comes to this conclusion because there are many antichrists in the world.
Christians believe that Christ came in the flesh (1 John 4:2).
If one speaks of the world, he is of the world; if you talk of God, you are of God (1 John 4:5).
Christian leaders have a Christian audience. Other Christians will listen (1 John 4:6).
4: 7-12 Relational: Love
It is difficult to love God whom we have never seen. Our love for God becomes evident as we love people.
4: 13-21 combination of doctrinal and relational
5: 1-5 combination of doctrinal, moral, and relational.
5: 6-12 shows the three witnesses: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit. The Trinity is very present in the pages of the New Testament.
5: 13-17 Our confidence
5: 18-21 exhortation - Three assertions and conclusion
1. We Know: "He who has been born of God does not continue in sin, but he who was born of God keeps himself and the evil one does not touch him."
2. We Know: "We know that we are children of God, and the whole world is under the power of the evil one."
3. We know: "The Son of God has come and has given us understanding so that we may know Him who is true. And we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ."
For one to be considered Christian, doctrinally one must believe that Jesus, the man, is God incarnate (the Light that came into this world). Morally - We cannot say we are perfect (“without sin”, 1 John 1:8). We cannot embrace Jesus and continually practice sin (1 John 3: 6,9-10). We are not to be constantly looking for "new anointing” because we have the anointing of Jesus (1 John 2: 20,27). We are not concerned about the things of this world, such as prosperity, fame, even health, because the things of God are not of this world (1 John 4:6). Relationally (love) - We Christians must love each other (Christians). We must have a relationship with our brothers (Christians).
1. Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible Book by Book, Zondervan
2. Simon Kistemaker, New Testament Commentary, 1-3 John, Baker
3. John RW Stott, The Epistles of John, IVP.