I have been told I talk like my dad. Specifically, I’ve noticed this as I talk to my kids. Some of the words and phrases that come out of my mouth are nearly direct quotes of what he used to say to my sisters and me when we were kids. My wife has caught me a few times called me out and made fun of me for it.
Apparently, I also act like him. My dad is known for wearing two pairs of glasses. He’ll have his reading glasses on his nose and his sunglasses on the top of his head. It’s become so common that if you look closely enough, there are two tiny indents on top of his head where they rest. Unfortunately, I realized the other day that I also was wearing both of my glasses as I was walking through the store, just like him.
It’s pretty common for children to resemble their parents. Often, it’s just like looking at a photo album, and in the apostle John’s first epistle, he talks about this idea. He describes those who are members of the family of God.
And just like children resemble their parents, John writes about how Christians should resemble God. When a person becomes a child of God, that person receives the life of God–eternal life. All who have this life show it by acknowledging Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, love God, obey his commands, and don’t continue to live in sin. These are some of the traits that can identify a person in God’s family.
I’m to spend some time studying this book over the next couple of months because I believe that there are some deep theological truths that we, as Christians, as children of God, can gather from this letter.
John does an incredible job of tying his gospel letter into this letter, and he is able to express the deep spiritual truths in a way that is simple and easy to understand.
My hope is two-fold. The first one is that we can take these truths and use them to reassure the foundation of our faith. If you have spent any time around me, you know that one of my biggest goals in ministry is to teach middle school and high school students to take ownership of their faith and stop living out their parent’s faith. If these students don’t have a spiritual foundation, their own relationship with Jesus Christ, we will continue to lose them to the world. Studies show 8 of every 10 students will leave their families, either going to college or moving out, will never darken the doorway of a church building again. We all need to work on our spiritual foundation. We need to get back to the basics of what it means to live a Christ-centered life.
My second hope is we must take the gospel that has been given to us and share it with our various communities. We have something special. Something really special, and we need to be passionate about sharing it with those who don’t have what we have.
Before we dive into 1st John, let’s set the scene and give some historical background to this letter.
Who wrote 1 John?
Interestingly, there isn’t an author listed in this letter and there isn’t a defined audience. That’s strange because the majority of the epistle letters included a note about the author and who the author was writing to in the introduction. For the sake of time, I won’t go into how we know that the author is John.
This is the same John that wrote the Gospel of John. He was one of the 3 most intimate associates with Jesus, along with Peter and James. Jesus called John and James the “Sons of Thunder” in Mark 3:17. John referred to himself as “the one Jesus loved”.
Who was John writing to?
This letter was probably written to several churches in Asia Minor, what we would know as modern-day Turkey. He was directing his message towards believers, people who knew the gospel, knew Jesus, and had been confused by false teachers.
When did John write this letter?
It’s commonly accepted that John wrote this letter between 80 and 90AD. With that in mind, John would’ve been getting up there in age. We’re talking about 50-60 years after Jesus’s death and resurrection. The bible isn’t clear about how old the disciples were, but we know they were old enough to work full time and it was rare that any disciple would’ve been older than a teacher within Jewish tradition. So, they were probably between 20-30 years old. So, John was likely in his 70s or 80s when he wrote this letter.
We’ll see language throughout the letter where John refers to the readers and “little children”. This isn’t demeaning. It’s a sign of endearment and love for the churches.
Why did John write this letter?
Remember I mentioned the false teachers? There was a new movement going through the area that needed to be addressed. They were called Gnostics.
Gnostics professed to be Christians but claimed to have additional knowledge, superior to what the apostles were teaching. They claimed a person could not be completely fulfilled until he had been initiated into THEIR “deeper truths”. These false teachers typically came from within the church, giving them a level of respect from others through their relationships. These “deeper truths” that they were teaching said that all matter was evil and only the spirit was good. Meaning that Jesus clearly couldn’t have been a man because the human flesh (matter) was evil.
Some other Gnostics taught that Jesus was “taken over” by the spirit and made Holy after his baptism and then right before the death on the cross, his spirit left him so that “God never died.” Another teaching said that Jesus’ physical body wasn’t real, like he didn’t physically exist. Like a hologram or something.
These were the type of people and messages that John was disproving in his letter. So, let’s go ahead and jump right in. John is going to set up the rest of the letter by giving a clear definition of who Jesus was.
We proclaim to you the one who existed from the beginning, whom we have heard and seen. We saw him with our own eyes and touched him with our own hands. He is the Word of life. 2 This one who is life itself was revealed to us, and we have seen him. And now we testify and proclaim to you that he is the one who is eternal life. He was with the Father, and then he was revealed to us. 3 We proclaim to you what we ourselves have actually seen and heard so that you may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. 4 We are writing these things so that you may fully share our joy. | 1 John 1:1-4 (NLT)
I love how John jumps right into here! There is no shallow end, there is no easing his way into it. With these 9 sentences, John quickly disproves the Gnosticism that had been sweeping through the churches.
Verse 1 starts with the WE PROCLAIM. John is saying that he isn’t alone in this message. He is calling on the other apostles who have been teaching this true message for the last 50-60 years.
He says we proclaim to you the one who EXISTED FROM THE BEGINNING. Jesus existed from the beginning. When we read Genesis 1:1, Jesus was there. There was never a time when Jesus was not. Never.
John goes on and says, AND WE HAVE SEEN HIM WITH OUR OWN EYES AND TOUCHED HIM WITH OUR OWN HANDS. What a great opening thought to a letter! John has this first-hand knowledge that he is sharing about the physical humanity that was Jesus.
The other false teachers didn’t have this experience. Their knowledge was second, or maybe third-hand knowledge at best. They didn’t have the same type of experience and knowledge that John and the other apostles had and they had fallen into the trap of a lesser, culturized gospel.
John is saying, “This man, this God that has been around since the beginning, we sat with him. He had meals with him. We slept on the same floor and swam in the same sea as him. We were able to hear him talk and have conversations with him. For 3 years, we watched and observed his every word. He sat on the edge of our chairs, waiting for him to perform another miracle and teach us something new. We didn’t just ‘know of the Jesus’ but we KNEW HIM and he is the Word of life.”
This idea was important enough that John feels the need to repeat himself a couple of times over the next few verses. John needed to set the record straight that Jesus wasn’t just a non-physical manifestation and not fully God.
In verse 2, John explains the divine side of Jesus. He says THE ONE WHO IS LIFE WAS REVEALED TO US. Other translations use the word “manifested”. How were the apostles, mere mortals, able to experience that audible, visual, and tangible access to the divine Christ? They were able because Christ, through an intimate relationship with the Father from the beginning, was manifested to us.
This is called the Doctrine of the Incarnation. Jesus isn’t a myth. He isn’t a fairytale. He wasn’t a ghost or an illusion. He was indeed the God who took on full humanity.
John wrote in his gospel, “The Word became flesh.” Jesus was fully God and fully man. He’s not half and half. He’s not all one and not the other. Jesus was with the Father and then came to be with us as a baby born in Bethlehem.
Jesus was the name given to him at birth and speaks to his perfect humanity. Christ is the name that speaks of Him as God’s Anointed One, the Messiah.
So, now we’re about to get to the purpose of this passage. This is why John proclaimed all of this in verses one and two. For a third time, John repeats himself when he says, WE PROCLAIM TO YOU WHAT WE OURSELVES HAVE ACTUALLY SEEN AND HEARD SO THAT YOU MAY HAVE FELLOWSHIP WITH US. AND OUR FELLOWSHIP IS WITH THE FATHER AND WITH HIS SON.
The reason John continues to repeat himself about what he heard and saw is that he cannot contain the desire to share the good news with others.
For John, the eternal life-giving Word is the reason that he couldn’t stay silent. It’s the reason that he tells us that we shouldn’t stay silent either. We must testify and bear witness concerning Jesus Christ. We must proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The idea of fellowship in verse 3 is important. In this situation, John isn’t saying that we’re going to have a meal together after a church service. Rather, John is talking about the relationship we can have with Jesus because we know that He is both God and man. We can become partners with other believers through eternal life, through salvation.
You’ve probably heard this word before, but the Greek word for fellowship is “koinonia.” The meaning of this word speaks of sharing in common something significant and important. It entails joy and oneness with a group of people who are in accord regarding something that matters. People in koinonia share common values, beliefs, and goals. They love the same things. They pursue a common agenda.
This is what we have as believers with other Christians and with Christ. This is what John is inviting people to join. He was so passionate about this message and these people that he didn’t even bother to tell them who was writing this letter. He wanted to invite everyone to this fellowship.
And here is the application for us. It’s two-fold.
- If you haven’t accepted that invitation to this fellowship with Jesus, it’s yours to take. Jesus wants that intimate relationship with you. He wants it right now. He loves you and He wants you to know that. A little further into this letter, we’re going to read that Jesus is our advocate with the Father for when we sin. That’s the type of relationship we can have. Jesus is a loving father who will never leave us. If that’s you, send me a message. I’d love to talk to you.
- The second application is this: we know the gospel. We know Jesus. So, what’s keeping us from proclaiming to every person we know about this fellowship and salvation that we have. I’m not saying that we all need to go out and spend every last second sharing the gospel with every single person who comes within an earshot of us. But perhaps there is someone who just came to your mind who doesn’t know Jesus. I challenge you this week to step out of your comfort zone and tell them the good news. Tell them the gospel.
I want to end with verse 4. WE ARE WRITING THESE THINGS SO THAT YOU MAY FULLY SHARE OUR JOY. God is glorified in us when we find our joy in Him. A common theology, a common savior, a common Father, and a common experience of joy unites all who have come to know this life that is like no other, life in Jesus the incarnate Word.
John wants us to have complete joy. Not partial, but complete joy. In his gospel account, John 15:11 tells us that Jesus says, “I have spoken these things to you so that My joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.”
We can have a fullness of joy in our shared life with Jesus. That fullness of joy is ours through our friendship with one another and with God. And all that is made possible through the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Grace and Peace.