1 John Introduction
I shared my desire, in my first post, to “blog through the Bible in a way that is helpful and interesting.” This post is the beginning of what I pray will be an edifying walk through the Scriptures. Please feel free to interact and comment on each post, as I welcome insight, constructive and civilized criticism and correction, and the occasional statement of appreciation.
The first book of the Bible that I read when I began my Christian walk was First John. Reading it throughout the past thirteen or so years as a believer has deepened my appreciation and love for this book and the Apostle who wrote it. So we will begin here, with an introduction and overview of this amazing text and its writer who possessed a deep wisdom and love for God’s people, and had a burning desire to stir up passion for the Lord Jesus Christ.
John was unique in many ways. Although he was the youngest Apostle, he outlived all of the others. He and his brother James were nicknamed “Sons of Thunder” by Jesus (Mark 3:17), but he became known as the “Apostle of Love” as he grew in the Lord. That is not to say he lost his fiery disposition; it was not lost, but redirected toward love and truth. We see this passion in all of John’s writings (John, 1, 2, 3 John, and Revelation), and author and Pastor John MacArthur draws attention to it in his excellent book, Twelve Ordinary Men:
[T]he way John wrote was a reflection of his personality. Truth was his passion, and he seemed to bend over backwards not to make it fuzzy. He spoke in black-and-white, absolute, certain terms, and he did not waste ink coloring in all the gray areas. He gave rules of thumb without listing all the exceptions. Jesus Himself often spoke in absolutes just like that, and John no doubt learned his teaching style from the Lord. Although John always wrote with a warm, personal, pastoral tone, what he wrote does not always make for soothing reading. It does, however, always reflect his deep convictions and his absolute devotion to the truth.
First John is written from a pastor to a congregation of believers (2:12-14, 21, 5:13). Just as in his Gospel (see 20:31), John gives the reason for his writing toward the end of the epistle in 5:13: “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” John wanted to reassure the believers that they did possess eternal life because they believed in the true Jesus. The Christians that John was writing to were being attacked and their churches were being infiltrated by false teachers. Their exact nature is not clear, but there are three false teachings that are usually proposed: Gnosticism, Docetism, and the teachings of Cerinthus. Each of these held heretical views of the nature of the Lord Jesus Christ. Although not fully developed at the time John wrote this epistle, the beliefs of the early Gnostics (from the Greek word gnosis, meaning knowledge) concluded that a “special” knowledge was necessary for salvation. They held to a dualistic view in which spiritual and material things were in opposition to each other, and therefore rejected that Jesus possessed a physical body. Docetism also claimed that Jesus only appeared to have a physical body and therefore did not suffer on the cross. Cerinthus, whom John apparently confronted publicly (there is a funny story about that), taught that Jesus and the Christ were not the same. In his view, the “Christ” descended on Jesus at His baptism and left shortly before His crucifixion. John powerfully opposed these heresies from the first verse and continued to instruct and guide the believers into knowing and living the truth in love.
Church tradition holds that John, in his later years, became the pastor in the church that Paul founded at Ephesus, and this letter may have been written during his time there. Its paternal tone seems to suggest that he wrote it as a “seasoned” pastor concerned for the well-being of his flock. It is this that draws me to the writings of John. He is the perfect picture of how God can transform a zealous, passionate and tough young guy, into a man who still possesses those characteristics, but is infused with the love of Jesus Christ. Who John became and how he grew was phenomenal, and it gives me hope not only for myself, but for those that are half my age who know just enough truth to be dangerous, yet lack the heart that Jesus had (and has) for people.
This book is a great place to start and I pray that we will grow and be confronted head on by its teachings and admonitions, and encouraged by its writer’s tenderness and love for his fellow believers. There will be challenges, extreme ones at times, but it will be good for our hearts and minds to be stirred up and our faith to be tested. I hope you will join in.
John MacArthur, Twelve Ordinary Men : How the Master Shaped His Disciples for Greatness, and What He Wants to Do With You (Nashville, TN: W Pub. Group, 2002), 99.
Earl D. Radmacher, Ronald Barclay Allen and H. Wayne House, Nelson's New Illustrated Bible Commentary (Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers, 1999), 1 Jn.