1 John 1 (day 1160) 5 March 2013
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â 1-4: Ancient witnesses believed that the gospel of John the three letters of John and the apocalypse of John were all composed by John, son of Zebedee, a disciple of Jesus. While it is impossible to assert the authorship with any certainty there is general agreement that the three letters of John were likely penned by the same author, and that the style and content of the letters match well with the gospel. The author does not identify himself (in 2 and 3 John he identifies himself only as “the elder”). The opening is unlike any of the other epistles, diving right into the revealed identity of Jesus and claiming to be an eyewitness to his ministry. The purpose of the letter, he says, is to provide a connection between Jesus and the readers so that they, too, may have fellowship “with the Father and with his son Jesus Christ” and with those who have seen.
5-10: There are 10 pairs of hypothesis and conclusion (“if-then”) statements in 1 John; five are in these verses. Verse 5, of course, is very reminiscent of the opening verses of John’s gospel, then follows the series of “if-then” statements. If we say we have fellowship with Christ while we live in sin, then we lie (the “then” is understood, of course). If we walk in the light (believe in Jesus), then we have fellowship with one another. If we say we have no sin, then we deceive ourselves. If we confess our sins, then he will forgive us. And if we say we have not sinned, then we make Christ a liar. In other words, we need Jesus.
1 John 2 (day 1161) 6 March 2013
1-2: Tradition has it that John wrote these letters when he was a very old man. The word “children” occurs 23 times in these three short letters. The tenderness with which he addresses them is evident throughout. Whereas Peter seems to focus mainly on wrongdoers and heretics, John focuses mainly on the church (with a side trip to see the antichrist, but only briefly). He urges them not to sin, but if they sin there is no need to despair because “we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”
3-6: Here’s the test: if you live like Jesus lived, then you know Jesus. If you claim to know him but don’t act like him, you don’t know him.
7-11: The key word is love. You can’t truly know Jesus and hate anybody. Love is light; hate is darkness.
12-14: He addresses children, fathers and youth in a six stanza poem that builds them up. The word to children is that they are forgiven, and thus know the Father. The message to the fathers is simply repeated; he is writing to them because they know Christ. The message to youth at first applauds them for conquering the evil one — a phrase I take to mean “you have renounced sin and accepted Christ” — and then for being strong and having internalized the word of God.
15-17: The “world” for John is primarily a reference to selfish desires. He cautions them not to seek the things of the world. Those things will pass away. Only the love of the Father remains forever.
18-25: Meet the antichrist. Or I should say, meet the antichrists. The antichrist here is not a reference to an individual but to a type. Those whom John labels “antichrists” were once part of church, but went out of it and began teaching doctrines that were not part of the gospel message. The very fact that the church was being split was for John a sign that the “end’ was near and that soon the kingdom of our Lord would be ushered in. Verses 22-23 give us a glimpse into the heresy to which John is alluding: a faction from within the church had begun to teach that Jesus is not the long expected Messiah, and not the Son of God. He insists that believing in Jesus as the Son of God is the mark of those who have had their sins forgiven and who seek to live as Jesus lived, in love with God and neighbor. The stakes are high: life eternal.
26-27: The word “anointing” here seems to refer to the basic teachings of the faith. If they have received that anointing they should be able to resist the antichrist and abide in Christ — that is, follow the Lord’s commandment to love and live as Jesus lived.
28-29: When the Lord returns he wants them to be able to stand before him unashamed because they have been faithful to the commandment to love. For John, righteousness is love, and Jesus is therefore the spiritual “father” of righteousness.
1 John 3 (day 1162) 7 March 2013
1-3: But righteousness is not yet the ultimate aim of our faith. The day will come when Christ is “revealed” (certainly a reference to his coming again), and those who love will be transformed into his likeness.
4-10: For John, there are two kinds of people in the world; the children of God and the children of the devil. Those who are righteous (loving God and neighbor) are God’s children. Those who are lawless are the devil’s children.
11-17: “Love one another” is the primary commandment. Any other way of living is sin, he says, using Cain as an example, and other examples quickly follow: Christians are persecuted because sin hates love, while their love for one another is proof that they have entered that life Jesus taught them, life that is abundant and eternal; Love leads to life, the absence of it leads to death; Hating others is tantamount to murder, but haters are really murdering themselves; Christ demonstrated his love by dying for us, in contrast to those who have plenty but refuse to help others who have little.
18-22: Actions speak louder than words, and so it is with love. Doing trumps saying and validates the state of our hearts even when deep inside we think we’re not being as faithful as we ought. Love in action emboldens us in our relationship to God and enables us to ask of God anything we wish.
23-24: Believe in Jesus. Love one another. That pretty much sums it up.
1 John 4 (day 1163) 8 March 2013
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â 1-6: John’s black and white view of things is contained in a number of dichotomies — life and death, light and dark, love and sin, to mention a few. Here he introduces another; spirit of truth and spirit of error. The spirit of truth testifies to Christ, the spirit of error testifies against Christ. He refers to false prophets who have gone out into the world as examples of the spirit of error. Early in the history of the church different factions formed, teaching different doctrines about Jesus’ true nature and what our response should be and what the future will hold for God’s people. Thus back in 2:18 John wrote that “many antichrists have come” (see also 2 Peter 2:1). Another dichotomy appears in verse 4 and following; the distinction between those who are “from God” and those who are “from the world.”
7-12: This paragraph is really the crux of John’s theology. Why does he insist that loving one another is the hallmark of the followers of Jesus? It is because God is love. God’s love was enfleshed in Jesus and demonstrated to the world in the death of Jesus as an atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world. He even makes the claim that though God is invisible God is to be seen in our love for one another.
13-16: The concept of abiding is also important in John’s theology. The gift of the Spirit is the indwelling of God. God is with us and in us. Likewise, confessing Jesus as the Son of God is evidence that we abide in God. To live in love is to live in God. To live in love is also to have God live in us because God is love.
17-21: Love results in courage and a lack of fear. This boldness and fearlessness is exhibited primarily with regard to “the day of judgment.” Living a life of love for others is above judgment and there is thus no punishment to fear. Whoever is perfect in love does not fear; whoever fears is not perfect in love. God’s love in us is not selective: We cannot hate others and say we love God.
1 John 5 (day 1164) 9 March 2013
1-5: John comes full circle in the last chapter, insisting now that loving God and obeying God are one and the same. Obedience is tantamount to conquering, or overcoming, the world. By “world” here John means the “desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride in riches” (2:16). To conquer the world means to overcome these temptations.
6-13: Water and blood in this context is a reference to the dual nature of Christ, human and divine – born fully human in the water of Mary’s womb, proven divine through his death (the shedding of his blood) and resurrection. The Spirit of God testifies to this understanding, he says. Whatever human beings say about him, God says that Jesus is his Son, and God’s testimony is greater than human testimony. God gave the Son. The Son gives life. Whoever has (that is, believes in) the Son therefore has eternal life. Whoever does not believe does not have (eternal) life.
14-17: The granting of forgiveness of sins is bestowed upon the followers of Jesus. Jesus himself said as much (see John 20:23). John makes a curious distinction between mortal sins, which cannot be forgiven, and sins that are not mortal sins, which may be forgiven. Many commentators believe he is thinking of Jesus’ saying about the unforgivable sin of “blaspheming the Holy Spirit” (see Matthew 12:32 and Luke 12:10).
18-20: The “evil one” is the current ruler of the world in John’s understanding of things, but the evil one is being overcome by those who are “born of God,” that is, those who believe in Jesus the Christ.
21: He ends by entreating them to “keep yourselves from idols.” It can be argued that the first commandment (“you shall have no other gods before me”) gets more attention in the Bible than any of the others. As long as we refuse to worship anything but God we will overcome the evil one. We will be in the world, but not of the world.