The First Epistle of John

Although the author is not named, it has been generally accepted it was John, the disciple Jesus loved, also the author of the letters 2 and 3 John. The overall purpose of this letter is given in 5:13: that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God. It is constructed around three tests of ‘the reality of the knowledge of God’: the test of obedience, the test of love and the test of belief. These three tests are grouped and repeated three times throughout the letter, although in ‘The third application’, ‘obedience’ is encompassed in ‘Belief ’. It is thought this letter was probably written sometime between A.D. 85 and 95.

Introduction

[1:1-4] The apostle gives his testimony by relating his fellowship with Jesus, and hence with God, explaining the close physical relationship the apostles had with him.

The first application of the tests

[1:5-2:28]

Obedience

John declares God to be the light; none can have fellowship with Him who do not walk in the light and have not been cleansed from all unrighteousness by the blood of Christ. No man can say he has not sinned, but God is faithful and just to cleanse from all unrighteousness those who confess their sins, with Jesus Christ as the atoning sacrifice for all sins. We can be sure that we have come to know him if we obey his commands.

Love

This is a commandment of old, to love one another. Anyone who hates his brother is still walking in darkness. Warnings are given against love for the things of this world, that is, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life. Those who have love for this world do not have the love of the Father in them.

Belief

John warns against ‘antichrists’ – in this context, those who deny that Jesus is the Christ and also deny the Father (these were the Gnostics of the time who were leading some believers astray). His readers are urged to remain steadfast in the truth and in their confession of the One that promised everlasting life.

The second application of the tests

[2:29-4:6]

Obedience

It is one of God’s expressions of love for us that those who believe in Jesus and are born again are called children of God. All children of God know of the certainty of Christ’s second coming and turn away from sin. This is how believers know that Christ is in them and they are children of God, that they turn away from all sin.

Love

We know we have spiritual life when we love one another and have compassion for those in need. Love is most evident when it is displayed in actions rather than words, but it is our hearts that condemn us if true love is not in us.

Belief

Caution is to be exercised when listening to those who profess to have the Spirit in them. The Spirit of God is recognised by this simple truth: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. Hence, belief is in the incarnate Christ, not just in words but in public confession.

The third application

[4:7-5:12]

Love

Love comes from God; God is love. God showed his love for us by sending His son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. So we also ought to love one another. The God who no one sees is seen in those who love, for God’s spirit is in us, and his love is made complete in us. Perfect love drives out fear; the one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because God first loved us. And this command have we from him, that he who loveth God love his brother also.

Belief

John speaks of faith in Christ (belief), introduced by combining the three elements of love, obedience and belief. The core of Christian belief, witnessed by the Spirit, is that God has given us eternal life through His son.

Concluding remarks

[5:13-21] John ends his letter with an explanation of his primary purpose in writing: that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God. He encourages confidence in prayer, tells them that those born again cannot be touched by the Devil if they avoid sinning, then reminds them that Jesus is the Son of God who was sent by the Father, and through him we come to know God. John concludes with the simple warning to guard yourselves from idols.
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