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1 John

Background

John, the apostle and closest friend of Jesus, writes this Letter probably from Ephesus, where he spent the last years of his life. He reminds the readers that he was an eyewitness to Christ (1:1-3), and possibly the last living apostle who had followed Jesus during his earthly ministry.

It lacks the typical features of a letter and may well have been a circular letter. We have to guess at the recipients since the Letter itself does not describe a clear audience. Most agree that it is probably to churches within Asia, though not close to Ephesus. These are likely to have been mainly Gentiles. 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 is addressing a belief that goes by the name of Gnosticism. This includes the belief that some Christians have a higher spiritual knowledge than others.

John’s style is to mention ideas and themes which he returns to often, rather than develop ideas in a logical way. For that reason, scholars have failed to find a unifying structure.

Many have assumed that the letters 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.

It seems possible that the recipients may have been the same as 2 and 3 John, though some think that 2 John may have been written first.

 

Purpose

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 need assurance that they 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. John needed to remind the church that he was an authentic voice to listen to as an eyewitness to Christ (1:1-3).  

 

Why read it?

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 light and love ourselves and need to share this with other believers.

Beware of false teaching

John gives three reasons why the teachers are false: They have left the church and formed their own group (2:19). They deny that Jesus is the Christ (2:20-23). They don’t have the anointing of the Holy Spirit that believers have (2:24-27). Of course today there are many churches that claim to have ‘the truth’ and you will need to measure their teaching against the whole of scripture. But it’s what people teach about Jesus which needs to take our attention. Jesus is fully God and fully man, and was sent as Israel’s king. People teaching anything different are false.

The importance of sin

John includes some precious words about God’s willingness to forgive sins. He doesn’t assume that believers will sin but promises that if they do God will forgive them, if they confess and ask Him to.

Be sure of your faith

The Letter reminds us that there are two elements of assurance emphasized throughout 1 John: (1) obedience to God (by believing in Jesus and loving fellow believers, 3:23-24) and (2) the work of the Holy Spirit within your life (4:13).  As you obey His Word, you can have that inner assurance of your faith. Obedience is not how we enter relationship with God, but how we live out our relationship with God.

Structure 
ChaptersContent
1:1-4Prologue
1:5-2:11Living in God’s light
2:12-27Staying close to God
2:28-3:23Walking in the love of God
3:24-4:6Testing spirits
4:7-21Learning to Love
5Believing in Jesus
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