Introduction: The First Epistle Of John
We now enter upon our study of the First Epistle.
God dwells in light unapproachable. But He always wanted to reveal Himself. However, God can never reveal His Godhead essence. That intrinsic glory of His we can only behold, as our Lord states in John 17:24; we cannot share in it. What then does God reveal? The moral nature and character and the happiness of the life God has and lives. It is into this that the believer in Christ is introduced, and of which the Epistles of John treat. It is not a fellowship of “Being”; we do not share in the Godhead, in Deity, but in the moral nature and life of God. In order to do this, God had to come out of the unapproachable light in which He dwells, and manifest Himself so that man could see eternal life; see it lived and thus learn to know what it is like. That eternal life is not shown out in creation, nor in the holiness and righteousness of God’s law, but only in the life and death of Christ. There only is God fully displayed. Neither in creation, nor in the law, nor through the prophets is God made fully known. One Only could say, “We speak that we do know and testify that we have seen”—John 3:11. So also in Hebrews 1:1: “God, who in times past spake unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by His Son.” In creation, under law and by the prophets, God spoke to man, but He Himself remained invisible. Man heard, but did not see. But in Christ, God is made manifest. ‘The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of an only begotten with the Father, full of grace and truth”—John 1:14. Who can understand the wonder of this great mystery—all that is involved in the incarnation of God? This truth, God manifest in flesh, is the theme of the Gospel of John.
Just as the Gospel depicts eternal Life in Christ, so the Epistles of John have for their topic eternal life in us, who believe in Jesus. In the opening verses of the First Epistle John reminds us that Eternal Life originally was only found in Christ and manifested in His life on earth (thus the first two verses of the Epistle are a brief summary of the whole Gospel of John); and then shows us that because we believe on Him, we possess that same divine life and nature, for our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ—ver. 3. Then the remainder of the Epistle is taken up to show how that same life now is in us, and is by us to be manifested also.
John shows then that eternal life is not only a tenet of our faith, but a present reality. And, seeing it is a reality, it must manifest itself in us, as it did in Christ (as set forth in John’s Gospel). In connection with that thought of practical manifestation of eternal life in the believer, John tells us in his Epistle that he writes for four different purposes at least:
1. That the believer may enjoy fellowship with the Father and the Son—ch. 1:3.
2. That his joy may be full (or John’s joy may be fulfilled)—ch. 1:4.
3. That the believer may not sin—ch. 2:1.
4. That we may have the knowledge and assurance of the present possession of eternal life—ch. 5:13.
The last named passage shows that the teaching of this Epistle is intended to give assurance to the believer. All is written that we may “know”. Notice the many “know’S” of this short Epistle:
We know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments—chap. 2:3.
We know that we are in Him—chap. 2:5.
Fathers have known Him that is from the beginning—2:13.
Children have known the Father—chap. 2:13.
We know that it is the last time—2:18.
Ye know all things, having the unction of the Holy One—2:20.
Ye know the truth—2:21.
Ye know that everyone that doeth righteousness is born of God—2:29.
We know we shall be like Him—3:2.
Ye know that He was manifested to take away our sins—3:5.
We know we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren—3:14.
Ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him—3:15.
We know that we are of the truth—3:19.
We know that He abides in us, by the Spirit given unto us—3:24.
Ye know the Spirit of God by the confession of Jesus Christ come in flesh—4:2.
We know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error—4:6.
Everyone that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God—4:7.
We know we dwell in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit—4:13.
We have known and believed the love God hath to us—4:16.
We know we love the children of God when we love God—5:2.
I have written that ye may know ye have eternal life—5:13.
If we know He hears us, we know we have the petitions we desire of Him—5:15.
We know that whatsoever is born of God sinneth not—5:18.
We know that we are of God and the whole world lieth in wickedness—5:19.
We know that the Son of God is come—5:20.
That we may know Him that is true—5:20.
John writes his contributions to the canon of Scripture some thirty to thirty-five years after the other inspired books of the New Testament had been written by Peter and Paul. Those men had passed off the scene some thirty years or so past. Now at last John writes, after having known and proved Christ for sixty years. Apostasy was rampant, for there were many antichrists, when John wrote his Gospel and Epistles. What is the remedy for this widespread apostate teaching? Back to the beginning, back to Christ, is the answer. Some fifty times in these Epistles John refers to the past. Ten times there is the word “beginning”, nine times referring to Christ during His life and death. John, who was with the Lord from the very first, is the very last to write. It seems as if he, who knew and loved the Lord so intimately and deeply, is set to guard His glory and the infinite worth of the Person of our blessed Lord, against the fearful departure from the truth of God. John tells us that in the last hour—even a stronger expression than the “last days”—only Christ can still fill the bill. John stresses the personal, moral glory of his Lord, by the Spirit’s guidance and inspiration. For that alone can truly win the sinner and stabilize the saint.
Outline Of The First Epistle
Vers. 1-4: Eternal life seen in Christ on earth. This results in fellowship with the Father and the Son for those who believe in Jesus. Fulness of joy again is the fruit of such fellowship.
Vers. 5-10: The Christian in the light. False profession.
Vers. 1, 2: Christ our Advocate, maintaining our standing before God.
Vers. 3-6: The believer walking in obedience.
Vers. 7-11: The believer walking in love.
Vers. 12-27: Degrees of growth in the family of God.
Vers. 28, 29: Righteous living the evidence of new birth.
Vers. 1-3: The Father’s love for His children.
Vers. 4-7: Christ’s Person and work separating the believer from sin.
Vers. 8-24: Contrast between the children of God and the children of the devil. Righteousness and unrighteousness; love and hatred.
Vers. 1-6: How to detect false teaching.
Vers. 7-21: The classical passage on Christian love.
Vers. 1-5: Love to God proven by obedience; His commandments are not grievous.
Vers. 6-12: Three witnesses whose testimony agree.
Vers. 13-21: Life eternal is to know Him and be in Him.