Why think about 1 John?
John gives three reasons for writing his letter to the churches: to complete our joy (1:4), to promote holiness (2:1) and to build up confidence in the truths of Christianity (5:13). He writes against, false prophets, deceivers and antichrists that have divided the church and left it uncertain about how to live and what to believe anymore. John wants to teach us how to be discerning, because much of what is called religion or spirituality is actually harmful. What John gives us are the tools we need to discern spiritual error from spiritual truth. [Notes]
The three errors John addresses are the theological error of denying that Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God, the ethical error of being over optimistic about human nature and thereby deceiving ourselves and, finally, the error of lovelessness. Since God has shown us what love means in Jesus Christ then to know him is to become like him (3:1-3).
Along the way John tells us how to encourage our hearts when our consciences condemn us or when our struggle against sin seems impossible or when the voices speaking against Christ are in the majority.
It is not difficult to see the relevance of the things John writes about for the life of the church or society today but this is also a deeply pastoral book written in the mature years of the last living apostle of Jesus Christ; for those reasons alone it is worthy our respect and attention.
In his commentary on Galatians the fourth century theologian, Jerome, relates a story about ‘blessed John the evangelist’ while he was in frail old age at Ephesus.
“He used to be carried into the congregation in the arms of his disciples and was unable to say anything except: ‘Little children, love one another.’ At last, wearied that he always spoke the same words, they asked: ‘Master, why do you always say this?’ ‘Because,’ he replied, ‘it is the Lord’s command, and if this is done, it is enough.’”St. Jerome on St. John
Study one: Introduction
Take turns reading 1 John out loud and answer these questions as you read.
1. What reasons does John give for writing this letter?
2. Compare these reasons with the purpose of the Gospel of John (John 20:30-31)
3. List the features of the false teaching and its effects on people’s lives.
4. Make a list of the recurring themes in 1 John (like love, atonement or antichrists) then discuss how you think these themes develop in this letter.
5. John writes eloquently about love and yet describes those who have left the church as antichrists, false prophets, liars & blasphemers. Why are their sins so serious?