Back when I was reading the Bible for the first time there wasn’t any book that touched me as deeply as 1 John, and it remains my favorite book of the Bible to this day. John is primarily known for his gospel, which stands apart from the other gospels with it’s focus on theology and emphasis on Christ being the logos. His first letter follows on from his gospel and emphasizes many of the same ideas introduced there. Christ being the light of the world, the focus on love, the repudiation of hate and scorn for brothers in Christ. 1 John is short, only five chapters but in my mind no other book in the entire Bible captures the essence of Christian life as well as John does in those five chapters.
John starts his letter by an inspiring reference to his gospel, that God is the light of the world, specifically Christ who came into the world to show us the light. There is nothing in him that is wrong or evil or “dark”, but in Him dwells the full goodness of God.
This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.
John follows this by reminding us that knowing Christ is not just a matter of intellect, but action, picking up your cross and acting in the way Christ commanded us to act.
Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. 4 He who says, “I know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. 5 But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him.
Remarkably simple yet it seems like something we forget all too often today. Christ lives in those who earnestly follow His commandments. If someone says they are a Christian but don’t live in a manner that shows they respect Christs teachings then John is fairly clear, the truth is not in them. Truth is keeping the word of Christ and when you live as Christ demands the love of God in in you. You know you are of Christ by your actions, not your beliefs.
9 He who says he is in the light, and hates his brother, is in darkness until now. 10 He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him. 11 But he who hates his brother is in darkness and walks in darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.
Christians cannot hold grudges or hate their brothers or sisters. We are all one in the body of Christ and must work together. Be charitable in every way you can, and if you’re in conflict consider first before anything that it could be you who has erred. In accordance with the sermon on the mount we must try our best to remove anything in our own eye before jumping to try and point out the flaws in others. None of us are perfect but we grow closer to perfection by ignoring the small flaws in others and trying to foster peace and unity rather than causing division by needlessly attacking people who we know are doing their best to follow Christ in their own way.
15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. 17 And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.
Being a follower of Christ means rejecting this world. It is ruled by Satan and there is nothing good in it. Again, only by following Jesus command to store up treasure in heaven by acting in accordance with Gods will can we find ultimate happiness. Anyone who focuses on the world and the accumulation of worldly things is as foolish as Ozymandias. It will all return to dust in the end and the poor soul will look upon his works (or lack thereof) and despair.
22 Who is a liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist who denies the Father and the Son. 23 Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father either; he who acknowledges the Son has the Father also.
Following God means following Christ. The Son is the living image of the Father, there is no other path to reach the Father except by going through the Son. If you follow Christ then you do the will of the Father. If you deny the Son then you also deny the Father.
28 And now, little children, abide in Him, that when He appears, we may have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming. 29 If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone who practices righteousness is born of Him.
Abide in Christ by doing the will of Christ. We need to always keep in mind the state of our own soul, and remember that Christ will come like a thief in the night. What good is all the apologetics in the world if you stand in front of Gods throne and are found wanting? Every effort should be made to develop yourself spiritually so when judgement does arrive you can stand in front of Christ and say “I ran my race and did my best to follow you” and have it be true.
16 By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. 17 But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?
Love is willing the good of the other, even to the point of self sacrifice. To want what is good for other people is love. John reminds us that if you have everything you need and you see one of your brethren who needs how can you say you love them if you don’t give them what they need? The expression of Gods love finds its highest expression in giving up what you have for others. Just as God gave us life for no other reason than He wanted us to enjoy existence with Him, we should give to others for no other reason than for the glory of God and our love for each other. Notice how point by point John is going over each of Jesus teachings and reinforcing them. 1 John can be considered a “mini gospel” in that it contains the essence of Christian teaching condensed into a single letter. Love God, love each other, avoid sin, don’t hate your brethren in Christ but lift them up. Johns message isn’t simply feel good messages though, he focuses on action and living your faith. John hammers home the point that to know Christ is to live Christs teachings and that anyone who calls them-self “Christian” but doesn’t live those teachings in a display of Pharisaical hypocrisy is not someone who knows Christ.
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, 3 and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God.
John gives simple instructions for testing spirits. A demon cannot recognize the truth of Christ. The power of the name of Jesus is anathema to them. Any spirit that confesses that Jesus is God is from God, those that cannot are from the Devil.
7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9 In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
Another absolutely gorgeous passage that is typical of Johns style. One of my favorites in the entire Bible. God is love. To know God is to feel love, and when you love others, you love God. As Jesus said “truly what you have done for the least of these, you have done for me”. God loved us, to the point of sending his only Son down to give us life through his sacrifice on the cross, so let us love Him back, and be His children by our expression of the love God feels for us in our actions towards each other. Patience, kindness, humility, charity, these are the virtues to cultivate if one wants to reform themself into the likeness of God, and return to what humanity was created to be rather than what we have become.
1 John is something I can read over and over. It inspires me to follow Christ in love and to make an active effort to follow Christs commandments every day. It is a book of beauty, hope and goodness. It reminds us that of all the stories in the Bible they all culminate in Jesus, and after his sacrifice on the cross it’s up to us to pick up our crosses, deny ourselves and follow Him on the path of love. A path which is not easy. It requires courage and a willingness to place yourself last and others first. To emulate Gods love for us by giving freely and not hoarding anything for yourself beyond what you need.
God is love. So let us love.