To me personally the Epistle of 1 John is by far one of the greatest books or letters in the Bible. You may be asking yourself how I can come to that conclusion, after all, it is only five short chapters long. The truth is, in those five chapters you will find the answers to who we are in Christ, our relationship with the Father, our condition in regards to sin, our assurances concerning eternity and the contrasts of good and bad, light and dark, truth and falsehood.
Like nowhere else in the Bible, you will find your reason for being, pretty much given specifically. It is almost as if God, our Father and Creator, centered the rest of His Word around this one little book. Now, I know that everyone who reads their Bible on a daily basis has derived favorites, chapters or passages that are especially endearing to them. The truth of the matter is, we need the WHOLE Word of God to be able to gain an insight and understanding into the character and nature of our truly loving Father, but that doesn’t negate the fact that we do and can have favorites.
For verse by verse, line upon line teaching, this Epistle is a good jumping off point, and by the time you are through it, I hope that you will agree with me that this IS just one of the greatest letters ever written. My goal in presenting this teaching format will be to give you an understanding of the Word of God, not just in bits and pieces, but as a whole picture. You have heard the old adage that says “You can’t see the forest for the trees, and/or you can’t see the trees for the forest.” Sometimes this is the problem that we encounter as we try and study God’s Holy Word. Our eyesight tends to be focused on maybe just a few scriptures here and there thus we don’t see them in context with the rest of the written word, thereby losing a necessary balance in our lives, or, our focus is on the word as a whole and we forget the little things that lend precise direction in our everyday lives.
I stated in my previous article, Expository Introduction, that one of the reasons I took to this epistle so completely was the apparent “grandfatherly” way in which the beloved Apostle wrote this letter. When read it appears very casual and informal and yet at the heart, exposes the very in-depth reasons for our walking in a Christian lifestyle. It truly exemplifies the Apostle’s pastoral heart and the Apostle John doesn’t pull any punches when talking about Jesus Christ being our One and True example of Godly living.
Now notice, I specifically ended the last sentence with “Godly living.” It, is an action, for to truly live, is to be doing; it is NOT a passive lifestyle as so many in the modern religious world would have you to believe, wrapped up with “religious” feelings and emotions to denote your true place in Christendom. Rather, John shows us that to be a true Christian, it can only be demonstrated by how we act and what we do!
Don’t get me wrong, I am NOT stating or putting forth the prospective that it is by our works that we come to Christ or are redeemed. On the contrary, it is BECAUSE of our redemption and our place IN Christ that our true love of God and others can be demonstrated by our works!
The Apostle James stated it this way; “If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” – James 2:15-18.
The world would say it this way; we are supposed to FEEL love first and when we do then we will be motivated to do something for others (for how can we do without feeling motivated first to do something?). BUT, Jesus’ form of love says to DO something for others FIRST and unconditionally to demonstrate our love and the feeling may or may not come upon the heels of the action. Our motivation is the love that is within us, because of Christ within, and not whether we “feel” love for the other or not. Jesus’ way is the way of faith, but the world would make it seem only logical and right to do it their way. So it is that the Apostle John lays it out to follow the example “as He” does, or “even as He” does, meaning to follow the example of Christ. This John laces throughout the five chapters of his Epistle. John definitely backs up the premise that the Apostle James was proposing in his Epistle.
One of the key themes to this Epistle is “fellowship, with God and with one another” and it is what ties all of the writing within this letter together. John, in detail outlines just what this fellowship with our Heavenly Father accomplishes in the believer and what awaits those who reject this fellowship.
It has been known in theological circles and thus taught when I was approaching my later teenage years that John proposed three tests to determine, or measure, our “fellowship healthiness” as it were, and this so impressed me as a young man that there could even BE a measurement, that I have never forgotten the “markers.”
We will go into these a little deeper as we get into the expository teaching, but as a summation, I will put them here:
Marker or test number one can be found in 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” First marker, have we confessed all our known sins so that we might be cleansed, thus being ABLE to “come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” – Hebrews 4:16.
Marker or test number two can be found in 1 John 2:5, “But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him.” Notice this does not state that OUR love for God is perfected (realized in practice); but rather, God’s love is realized as a truth/fact within us! Do we know His Word(s) so that we MAY even be able to keep them? Are we walking in obedience to God? Walking is another action, not a passive, indicator of our status of fellowship with God!
Marker or test number three can be found in 1 John 2:10, “He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him.” Are we demonstrating, by actions, a love for our brethren in an ongoing, practical way? Are we in “fellowship” with them as we are with our Heavenly Father? As the writer of Hebrews states/commands, “Let brotherly love continue.” – Hebrews 13:1.
Fellowship with God and with our brethren should not be an abstract or vague thing. As we read/study 1 John, we will see some key themes that are applied to the main theme of “fellowship.”
The beloved Apostle is very specific in his message concerning, our fullness of joy, our power over sin and assurance of our salvation, all of which he writes to foster our ability to protect holiness and righteousness (2:1), to prevent heresy and false teaching (2:26), AND to provide assurance and hope (5:13).
Again, as we study this Epistle together, keep an open heart and mind, don’t let the casualness of the writing style make you think this letter is of any less important than any of the other writings inspired by the Holy Spirit and do not let some of the underlying deep concepts hinder your acceptance of simplicity of what the Apostle is trying to get across. When you study and read, do so with Holy Spirit as your ultimate Counsel, for even though we need one another for encouragement, strength and edification, it is His job to teach you what He would have you glean from this work.
From John’s own words, “These things I have written to you concerning those who try to deceive you. But the anointing which you have received from Him abides in you, and you do not need that anyone teach you; but as the same anointing teaches you concerning all things, and is true, and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you will abide in Him.” – 1 John 2:26-27.