John was an apostle of Jesus who had lived with Him and learned from Him daily. His words have special meaning for me.
As we begin this new study in the book of 1 John, it helps to have some background about the author and the purpose for the writing. While this epistle doesn’t identify itself as coming from John, there are a few indications that lead us to believe that it was, in fact, written by John, the Apostle. Chuck Swindoll notes that this belief has been around from the earliest times and includes Polycarp, an early martyr who knew John, as one of those attributing this to John. Verse 1:3 indicates that the author is one of the original apostles. There are some grammatical indications as well, including an emphasis on love and the identification of Jesus with the term “logos.” It was probably written between AD 85 and 90. If earlier, at Ephesus and if later, perhaps, from the Isle of Patmos. We don’t see a specific indication of the intended recipients, but it would be easy to guess that it was written to those in the churches around Ephesus, given the direct address to the seven churches in the book of the Revelation. John knew those churches and probably worked with them.
John seemed to address concerns relating to the fellowship of believers with God and with each other. He did that by encouraging them to be zealous in their faith, stand firm against false teachers, and live in the power of the eternal life that they had for sure in Jesus Christ. (paraphrased from Swindoll) In addition, there seems to be a direct refutation of what would appear to be early forms of a heresy known as gnosticism. One of the tenets of most gnostics is that God was pure and flesh was evil, so God couldn’t have come in the flesh. John begins this letter talking about hearing, seeing, and touching Jesus, whom he saw as God the Son.
1. That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; 2. (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;) 3. That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.
The gospel of Jesus Christ goes all the way back to the beginning of time. It’s possible to consider the word “beginning” here as relating to the beginning of Jesus’s life on earth, but the gospel of John opens with the words, “In the beginning was the Word…” where it’s very clear that John meant the beginning of time, as he then continued with the role of the Word, Jesus, throughout creation. I believe John wants to remind his readers that we’re going back to the beginning of time and that this commentary is part of his attack on gnosticism. Part of the explanations of gnosticism deal with cosmology and how God emanated down through the ages until we got Jesus, or even any interaction with flesh. (Please note, an intense study of gnosticism will give you far more details than anything I can tell you.) Who is this Jesus, aside from the Word which was around from the beginning? He was fully human. He spoke, and they heard Him. He lived among them, and they saw Him. They touched Him on this earth, whether it be through embraces before the crucifixion, or feeling the scars after the crucifixion. This Jesus also was the origin of eternal life which they saw and shared with others, including the recipients of this letter. As John noted everything that they shared with the believers are things that they themselves saw and experienced, and his purpose for sharing was so that they could have true fellowship with other believers. Ultimately, that fellowship flows from the fellowship with the Father and with Jesus Christ that they all shared.
4. And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full.
If there’s one overarching theme about the Christian life is that it should be full of joy. As John wrote, he made that point that his purpose in writing wasn’t to bring sorrow; it wasn’t meant to scold his fellow-believers; it was so that their joy may be full, or complete. Let’s face it, as important as joy is in the Christian life, there are a lot of us who don’t show a lot of joy. At times, it seems like those of us who claim the name of Christ are more likely to be seen as joy-killers than joy-bringers. Sometimes that seems to happen because the only way to have true joy with God is through our relationship with Him, made possible by Jesus Christ. When we proclaim that message to people who’ve been satisfied with the ways of the world they tend to see us as eternal buzz-kills. We need to show people how to have an amazing and joyful relationship with God through our own lives.
5. This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.
In the gospel of John and in this letter, John contrasts the goodness of God with the world as the difference between light and dark. When we’re in the light, everything can be seen. Nothing’s hidden. Our eyes look for light. I remember many years ago, I took a trip to Las Vegas for a convention. If you walk around that city at night, it’s glitzy and glamorous. Neon lights flash, vying for your attention. Your eyes are drawn to the lights. Things are happening in this beautiful city. Only I didn’t stay up late. I woke up in the morning and walked through the streets in the light of day. That light didn’t draw your attention away from the dirt and grime in the streets, it revealed it by its very nature. What we missed at night, in the darkness, was revealed by the light. When John says that God is light he’s talking about a light that reveals the truth by His nature. God is open with us. He doesn’t try to hide anything from us and we can’t hide anything from Him.
6. If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: 7. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.
John gets blunt here and notes that anyone who claims to be in fellowship with God yet walks in the darkness of their sin is a liar. They aren’t living in truth. You might say that they’re being hypocritical. Please note that this isn’t attacking someone who sins occasionally, since we all do that, but those who claim to live in fellowship with Him but live as if they didn’t need to live in that relationship. They are living examples of oxymorons. Recently I saw an article that talked about “Christian witches.” That would be an extreme example of claiming to be in fellowship with God, and yet, walking in darkness. God’s practices and witchcraft are incompatible. Don’t breathe too easily, though. Can we claim to have fellowship with God if we’re greedy and make money too important, almost a god? Can we claim to have fellowship with God and hate people because they’re a different gender, a different skin color, or have a different socio-economic status? If anything in our lives becomes as important or more important than God, then we’re walking in darkness and we don’t live the truth when we claim to follow Him.
When we do walk in the light, it affects our relationships with fellow Christians. When we live in harmony with God’s standards, we have fellowship with each other. When our hearts and our lives are in tune with God, the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin. That cleansing involves forgiveness and power to avoid living with that sin throughout our days. Too often we apologize for our sin, and then go back and commit the same sin again. When we’re cleanses from our sin, it becomes harder and harder to keep committing that same sin over again. Forgiveness from our sins is the beginning of cleansing from all our sins.
8. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
One of the heresies that’s floated around the church from the beginning is that somehow, man can achieve sinless perfection. Baptism had the magical power to cleanse us from original sin and all other sins that we had committed and so many people waited as late in life as possible to be baptized. Others started living and believing that they were perfect since Jesus had forgiven them and that they were incapable of sin. Once again, John doesn’t pull any punches and calls people like that self deceived and separated from the truth. The cure for sin is confession. When we confess our sins, God forgives us and then cleanses us from all our unrighteousness. John finished the chapter (of course remembering that the chapters and verses were added to the Bible at a later date) by hammering home the point that if we claim that we haven’t sinned, we make God, whose word says that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, (yes, I now that’s Romans, but it’s still God’s word) a liar. If God’s word is in us, we’ll recognize our own sinfulness. I’ve talked with people who would proudly say that they never sinned. When I point out this verse, they get quite upset. We live in fellowship with God and with His people not because we’re perfect, but because we recognize our own sinfulness and bring that sinfulness to the Lord as we seek His forgiveness and His power to overcome our sin.
Bible readings for this next week: