The First Letter of St John the Apostle.
The author of the fourth Gospel is also the author of the three letters also bearing his name. The Apostle wrote this letter probably as a circular letter to the faithful of Asia Minor, to remind them of what he had written and preached concerning the divinity of Christ, and thus strengthen them against the heresies of the day. For it seems certain that, in the churches to which the letter is directed, there had risen false teachers and prophets – antichrists who denied that Jesus was the Messiah and Incarnate Son of God.
The fundamental thought of the letter is this: God is made known to us in Jesus Christ; hence, fellowship with the Father is through the Son. There are three main currents of thought: 1. God is light. 2. God is justice. 3. God is love. Hence, if we are to have fellowship with the Father through the Son, we must walk in light, in justice or holiness, and in love. Thus the Apostle calls those who deny that Jesus is the Christ and the incarnate Son of God, liars and antichrists. He especially emphasizes the sublimity and excellence of love, the love of God finding expression in brotherly love. The Apostle further shows how to distinguish the children of God from the children of the devil; he describes the baseness and gravity of sin; and finally he shows how the sinner may hope for pardon.
The Witness of the Word of Life.
1. John’s theme is ‘the Word of Life’. At the beginning of his Gospel John spoke of the person who is God’s word of life: Jesus Christ, someone John actually knew. Here too he speaks of his own experience: this living embodiment of God’s Word could be seen and touched. The Word is both a person and a message: the two are inseparable. John had seen God’s message of eternal life in Christ, had heard it from him, and now he joyfully declares it with a confidence born of certainty. 1 John 1:1-4.
God is Light.
2. What is this message? First, that ‘God is light’. This is the light that generates life and dispels darkness. Anyone who claims ‘fellowship’ or communion with God yet lives ‘in the dark’ is telling a lie. But to say we never sin is equally false. If we live in the light we will recognize and confess our sins. God can be relied on to keep his promise of forgiveness and cleansing. What is more, we have Jesus – the one through whom we are forgiven – to plead our cause.
1 John 1:5-10 & 2:1-2.
Living in the Light
3. How can we be sure that we really know God? To know is to obey. So the first test is obedience. If we obey God’s commands, if we live as Jesus did, we can be sure. 1 John 2:3-6.
The Second Test is Love.
4. Living in God’s light means keeping the old-and-new command to love one another (the ‘new commandment’ Jesus gave his disciples - John 13:34 – which John knows these Christians have already been taught). At this point John digresses. First he speaks to the church. His ‘children’, ‘fathers’, ‘young men’, reflect three stages in spiritual growth or maturity. From the church he turns to the world, which Christians must not love. What does this mean? John characterizes the world as humanity at loggerheads with God, self-centered, proud, materialistic: the whole evil system. To love the world is to accept its values and attitudes. But this world is destined to end, and John says that the end is near.
1 John 2:7-17.
Against False Teachers.
5. The early Christians were taught that an arch-enemy of Christ – the embodiment of evil – would come on the scene when the Lord’s return was imminent . John sees many antichrists already on the scene. These early manifestations of the Great Evil are a sign that the time is near. John comforts his readers that they are different. They know the truth. They have God’s Holy Spirit to teach them. If they stay with the message they have heard, they will stay with the Son and the Father – which means eternal life.1 John 2:18-29.
Living As the Children of God.
6. The child of God shares God’s own nature. It is against that nature – out of character – to live a life of sin, to go on breaking God’s law deliberately and habitually. The difference between ‘God’s children and the devil’s children’ is that ‘the devils children’ do not do what is right, or love others. The message ‘heard from the very beginning’ is that God’s people must love one another. What does that mean? John tells us plainly: ‘This is how we know what love is: Christ gave his life for us!’ This love is not just talk. It expresses itself in sacrifice and self-giving. And it will touch our pockets! If our conscience is clear on this score, we can approach God with confidence. He answers the prayers of those who obey him. God commands us to believe that the Jesus of history is in fact the Son of God, the Christ – and to love one another as Jesus commanded. Those who do so ‘live in him, and he in them’. We know it by his gift of the Spirit. 1 John 3:1-24.
True and False Spirits.
7. John sets one basic test by which to judge any teacher – he must recognize that Jesus Christ came as a human being. He is not ignoring
the equally essential recognition of Jesus as Son of God. But it was Jesus' humanity that the heretics of John’s day denied. So they cannot possibly come with a message from God. Because we belong to God, John says, we can tell truth from error. 1 John 4:1-6.
God is Love.
8. God is light – and God is love. He showed his love for us in sending his Son to bring us forgiveness and new life. The proof that we really share his life – his nature – is the love we show towards others. John has touched on this already in chapter 2. Here he looks at it from all angles. Love and obedience are bound up together. If we love and obey God, we need not dread the day of judgement. 1 John 4:7-21.
The Basis of Love.
9. Faith is what brings us into God’s family. To love God is to share God’s nature and to love others. Love for God makes obedience natural, not burdensome. Faith is what ‘overcomes the world’. God himself stands witness that Jesus is his Son. ‘To believe is life, to disbelieve is death.’ John is writing to those who do believe, that they may know for certain that eternal life is theirs. The false teachers loved to talk about ‘knowledge’. John makes his own list of things ‘we know’ for a certainty. A: We know that Christ himself keeps his followers from continuing in the
old sinful way of life.
B: We know we belong to God in an alien world.
C: We know that through the Son of God we know God himself, and
share his eternal life.
Having set out the certainties, John urges his readers in closing ‘Do not abandon the real for the illusory.’ 1 John 5:1-21.
The Second Letter of St John the Apostle.
The ideas and expressions of the Second Letter are the same as those of the First; hence its composition must have been prompted by the same or similar occasions. The recipient of the Second Letter is addressed as ‘Elect Lady’ but that might have been an expression of endearment for the Church in Asia Minor.
The Apostle commends the recipients of the letter for their steadfastness in the true faith, and exhorts them to persevere, lest they lose the reward of their labours. He exhorts them to love one another, but warns them to have no fellowship with heretics, and not even to greet them.
Teaching of the Apostle. Brotherly Love.
1. John warns against false teachers, encourages the readers to hold to the truth, and focuses on a favourite theme: Jesus’ command that those who follow him should love one another. For Christians, love and truth go hand in hand. 2 John 1:1-8.
Against False Teachers.
2. Christ’s teaching is the test by which to judge visiting teachers. Those who ‘go beyond’ it cannot be from God. John is combating the same sort of trouble here as in his first letter. From the start of the Christian mission there had been travelling evangelists and teachers, usually responsible to one of the apostles, who were given hospitality by the local churches. The time has come to tighten up. Those whose teaching contradicts the fundamental truth about Jesus Christ should not be made welcome.
2 John 1:9-12.
I hope to see you shortly.
3. John looks forward to a visit. There is so much more to be said than he can put in writing. The ‘children of your dear sister’ are presumably members of John’s own church. 2 John 1:13.
The Third Letter of St John the Apostle.
The Third Letter is addressed to Gaius. Perhaps this is a Christian of the same name mentioned in the Acts. The letter, though brief, vividly portrays certain features in the life of the early church. Gauis is praised for his hospitality and for walking in the truth. Diotrephes, on the contrary, is censured for his ambition and lack of hospitality. A certain Demetrius is also commended for his virtue.
Praise of Gaius.
1. Gaius, a man of integrity, is doing all in his power to help his fellow Christians, especially the travelling evangelists and teachers who depend on Christian hospitality and support. 3 John 1:1-8.
2. Diotrephes is damaging John’s own character, suppressing his letter, spreading lies, hugging his own position as leader and hindering the missionary outreach. 3 John 1:9-10.
3. The third character in the letter. Demetrius, may have been John’s messenger. This man’s life speaks for itself. He richly deserves the high regard in which John holds him. 3 John 1:11-12.
4. A letter is a poor substitute for personal contact. John longs to come soon to see his friends. 3 John 1:12-15.