First John: Introduction

This begins a series of studies in John’s first epistle, which is close to my heart for many reasons. Soon after I became a believer my first bible memory verses were taken from 1 John. Second, my “baby” Greek studies involved translating passages from 1 John. Third, I’ve read many solid commentaries on 1 John that were a huge encouragement to me. Fourth, years ago one of the most fulfilling home bible studies I’ve conducted was on the book of 1 John. What follows are my notes from this study.

Can I be sure I’m a Christian? What about others who say they’re Christian, but don’t look like it? Just how important is obedience in my Christian life? Must I love others who aren’t so “lovely?” Why is there so much confusion about the identity of Jesus?

At some point in our Christian walk we have struggled with these questions. The Apostle John answers them by putting forth three tests that appear repeatedly throughout his epistle. These three tests fall into three categories:

  1. Moral: Obeying God, 1:6-7; 2:3-6, 28-29; 3:4-10; 5:3
  2. Doctrinal: Believing the truth about Jesus, 2:18-27; 3:23; 4:1-6, 15; 5:1, 5, 10, 13
  3. Social: Loving others faithfully, 2:7-11; 3:11-18, 23; 4:7-12, 19-21; 5:1-2

With a pastoral heart John sets out to protect, correct, and connect. He seeks to protect us from false teachings about the person of Jesus; to correct anyone who claims obedience is not important; to connect us to one another through the quintessential quality of Christian love. John challenges us to examine ourselves to see whether we are living authentic Christian lives (see 1 John 5:1-3 for all three tests). If we scrutinize our lives by these three tests, then we can have confidence that we are God’s children.

Purpose of 1 John
To provide an authoritative basis for assurance of eternal life. John does this in two ways.

  1. By encouraging us that authentic Christianity consists in:
    • Loving others
    • Living obediently
    • Believing the truth about Jesus’ identity
    • Patterning our lives after Jesus
    • Relying upon God’s Spirit who is greater
    • Trusting God that our prayers are answered
    • Resting in the promise of eternal life
  2. By warning us that:
    • A believer cannot knowingly live with habitual sinful patterns indefinitely
    • The world constantly seeks to displace God by seducing us with all that it offers
    • False teachings about Jesus are real and dangerously deceptive

In essence, John is telling us that our beliefs and behavior must be in harmony. After all, right beliefs with wrong behavior leads to psychological and spiritual instability, whereas right behavior with wrong beliefs leads to pride. Both right beliefs and right behavior are necessary before we can have assurance of eternal life. Hence, John’s epistle provides the means of measuring the degree of continuity and cohesiveness in our lives.

Author of 1 John
John the Apostle and disciple of Jesus. By the mid 2nd century many early Church Fathers affirmed that John the Apostle and disciple of Jesus wrote First John. Although the author does not identify himself, there are many similarities to the Fourth Gospel. Common elements present in both books are:

  • Dualistic concepts (light, darkness), (life, death), (truth, lie), (love, hate), (have God, do not have God), (have life, do not have life)
  • The Logos of John 1:1, 14 = 1 Jn. 1:1-4 (cf., 1 Jn. 1:1 in the New Living Translation)
  • The Paracletos (Advocate) of John 14:16 = 1 Jn. 2:1
  • Simple statements about God’s character in Jn. 3:33; 4:24 = 1 Jn. 1:5; 4:8, 16
  • Eyewitness testimony to Jesus, Jn. 1:14 = 1 Jn. 1:1-4; 4:14

Date of 1 John
Most likely, First John was written after the Gospel of John around 90-100 a.d. In a work written ca. 110-140 A.D., Polycarp, a disciple of John the Apostle, quotes from 1 John 4:2-3.

Outline of 1 John
The Word of Life (1:1-4)
Living in the Light (1:5-2:29)
God is Light (1:5-7)
Honesty about Sin (1:8-2:2)
Living Obediently, Loving Faithfully (2:3-17)
Keeping the Faith (2:18-29)

Living as God’s Children (3:1-4:21)
God as Father (3:1-9)
Living Obediently, Loving Faithfully (3:10-24)
Applying Spiritual Discernment (4:1-6)
Loving Others (4:7-21)

Signs of Being God’s Children (5:1-21)
Love, Obedience, and Belief (5:1-5)
The Priority of Belief (5:6-10)
The Consequence of Belief (5:11-21)

Next post: 1 John 1:1-4

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