John, the Apostle and closest friend of Jesus, wrote this Letter probably from Ephesus where he spent the last years of his life. He reminded his readers that he was an eyewitness of the ministry and resurrection of Jesus Christ (1:1-3) – thus identifying the validity of his apostleship (Acts 1:21-22).
It lacks the typical features of a personal letter and may well have been passed around many churches. We do not know which churches John had in mind when he was writing, but it was probably sent to churches within what is now Western Turkey.
John was addressing the false view that Jesus was not fully human, a heresy that was especially found in some Gentile churches in the first and second centuries. In addition, many believe John was correcting a false belief which is now called Gnosticism. This included the wrong teaching that some Christians have a mysterious or secret knowledge reserved for those with ‘true understanding’.
The Letter does not have an obvious structure because John’s style is to identify important themes to which he returns repeatedly.
Many have assumed that the Letters of John are amongst the latest of all the New Testament documents, perhaps around the 80s AD, when the apostle was very old, though some have made a case for the late 60s AD after the death of Peter and Paul in Rome.
The purpose statement for 1 John is found in 5:13: ‘I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.’ This of course suggests that the readers are believers who needed assurance that they did possess eternal life.
It seems clear that the immediate reason for the Letter is that the false teachers had left the church (2:19) but were attacking the church from outside. The false teaching caused Christians to doubt the basis of their faith, so John assured the readers that he was an authentic apostle because he was an eyewitness of Christ (1:1-3). The Letter enabled them to discern the difference between true and false teaching, which is as different as light and darkness.
Be sure of your salvation
This Letter identifies two ways in which a believer may be assured that they are embraced by God’s love and salvation: (1) obedience to God (by believing in Jesus and loving fellow believers, 3:23-24) and (2) the work of the Holy Spirit in the Christian’s life (4:13). Obedience is not how we enter relationship with God, but is an evidence of being related to Him in love.
Beware of false teaching
John highlighted three issues which identified the false teachers. They had left the church and formed their own group (2:19). They denied that Jesus is the Christ (2:20-23). They did not exhibit the presence of the Holy Spirit (2:24-27). What people teach about Jesus is central to sound doctrine: Jesus is fully God and fully man (1:1-4), Jesus is coming again (2:28-3:3) and Jesus is the sacrifice for our sin (4:7-12). People preaching anything different are false teachers. Every spiritual assertion should be tested against the Scriptures.
Live a life of love and light
The Letter reminds us of the character of God and in particular that ‘God is light’ (1:4) and ‘God is love’ (4:8). Through faith in Jesus, we can know God’s illumination of the truth about Himself, ourselves and the world in which we live; and know the personal love God has for us … and a desire to share this with other believers. Knowing God’s light and love will overflow into showing others what God is like, living righteous lives (2:28-3:10, 5:1-5) and demonstrating God’s love (2:7-14, 3:11-18, 4:7-12).
Understand sin and forgiveness
John includes some precious words about God’s willingness to forgive sins. He acknowledges that believers will sin but promises that God will forgive them - if they confess and ask Him to (1:5-2:2). The Letter also helps us when we feel guilty and struggle to believe that God has forgiven us (3:19-24, 4:13-21).
|1:5-2:11||Living in God’s light|
|2:12-27||Staying close to God|
|2:28-3:23||Walking in the love of God|
|4:7-21||Learning to love|
|5:1-21||Believing in Jesus|