December 6, 2015.
Daily Reading: I John 1-5.
Background: The first of three letters that have been persevered, I John is attributed to the Apostle John, author of the gospel that bears his name. The letter is written to what would seem to be believers that the aged apostle held in his care, who he calls his little children several times throughout the epistle. The work was written in part to combat a false teaching that had arisen about Jesus, saying that He did not come in the flesh, but rather only in spirit. John focuses on love and obedience, giving his audience ways of knowing whether or not they were true believers though their actions. We can learn much from the wise apostle though his letter, as it was written to believers just as those of us today.
Concepts and Connections.
Walking in the light: From the opening of the letter, John addresses one of the main false teachings that had crept in among the believers that Jesus had not come in the flesh, but on in the spirit. He affirms that they had been there from the beginning with Jesus, seen Him in the flesh and not proclaimed to the world eternal life. John tells them these things so that just as they had fellowship with Jesus on this earth, now all the believers may have fellowship with one another. This concept of fellowship would continue throughout the rest of the chapter as John talks about having fellowship with God by walking in the light. The second half of this chapter is a very important teaching as it shows the difference between sinning and living in sin. If we say that we have fellowship with the Lord but walk in darkness, we are lying and not practicing the truth. However, John would go on to make it clear that no one is sinless, and if we say that we have no sin, we are also deceiving ourselves. Verse seven here is the key to understanding this, where John says that if we are walking in the light (genuinely attempting to live the Christian life), then the blood of Christ continually cleanses us from sin. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and will forgive our sins, cleansing us from all unrighteousness. Thus, we are to walk in the light. If we fall, we should get back up and try again. The Lord knows our weakness, and He knows that we struggle with sin. That was the purpose of sending Jesus to die for our sin, that we might live for Him. There is a difference between sinning (and getting back up) and living in sin (not coming to repentance), and that difference is the cleansing of Christ’s blood. This concept is continued and expounded on in the next chapter, 2:1-6.
The teaching of Christ: At the opening of this chapter, John continues his discourse from the last chapter, wiring so that his audience would be encouraged not to sin, but if they did, they would know that they had an advocate with the Father who is the propitiation of our sins. One cannot claim to know Christ (in the sense of following Him) without keeping His commandments. This is the first test that John gives to the believers to see if they are truly abiding in Christ, examining whether or not they are keeping His commandments (see John 14:15, 15:10). John then comments on the commandment that they had had from the beginning, that they love one another, for if anyone hated his brother, he was still in darkness. The one who walks in darkness has no fellowship with the Savior, as we see from the first chapter. John then addresses several specific groups of people he is writing to and why he is writing to them, giving each specific complements and encouragement.
John goes on to remind his little children who they are and how they are supposed to behave in this world. He tells us not to love the world or the things in the world, that is our fleshly (sinful) desires and things that will lead to sin. These are not from the Father and are passing away. But eternal life is given to those who walk in the light. He warns against antichrists who have gone out among them, departing from the faith and denying the deity of Christ. The term ‘antichrist’ makes a lot of sense in this context, as these were teachers who were essentially teaching against Christ, though they acted as though they were of the faith. John makes it clear that anyone who denies the son does not abide in the Father. These teachers were doing nothing but trying to deceive sincere believers. John gives the believers encouragement to abide in the Lord just as he has been explaining to them by practicing rightcoenssess, so that we may not be ashamed at His coming.
Love: John continues his discussion about the second coming of Christ at the onset of this chapter, noting the love that God has for us that we might be made like Jesus at His coming. We are the children of God now, but in that day we will be transformed through His power. Then John makes it abundantly clear that continual sin, or the practice of sinning, is lawlessness and separation from the Lord. He says that no one who abides in Him keeps on sinning, tying what he is saying here back to what he teaches in the first chapter. Do we all have sin? Yes. Are we to continue in sin? Absolutely not. John actually says that whoever continues in sin is of the devil and not of God. We must strive to defeat sin, and when we do fall, we must continually get back up and try again. In this, the blood of Christ will continually cleanse us. But in the continuation of sin, we show that we actually have no fellowship with Christ at all. We have been born of God, and thus we cannot make a practice of sinning.
Closely related, we also cannot be born of God and hate our brother at the same time. John reminds us the importance of loving one another and draws upon the example of Cain to show the evil of hatred and murder (see Genesis 4). We are to be dead to sin and alive to Christ, for we are born of God (see Romans 6:1-11). In this, we are not to be surprised when the world hates us, for they are not of God. But we are to love one another, showing ourselves as disciples of Christ. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer and does not have eternal life abiding in him (see Matthew 5:21-22). Just as Jesus laid down His life for us, so are we to love one another. We are not to love in talk or word only, but in deed. This is another test that John gives to us to determine whether or not we are disciples indeed. If we pass the test, we have assurance that we are in Him, even when our very hearts condemn us (we are often too hard on ourselves). God is greater than our hearts, and if our heart doesn’t condemn us, then we have all the more confidence before God. Whoever keeps His commandments abides in God, and God in Him. Let us put our spiritual walk to the test.
1. Testing the teaching: In the opening of this chapter, John charges the believers not to just accept everything they hear, but rather test the teaching to see whether it is of God or not. He warns that many false teachers have gone out into the world. Anyone who came to them and taught against Christ, saying that He had not come in the flesh or that He was not the son of God, was a false prophet/teacher. They were not to listen to such teaching, for it was deception and not of God. They were to overcome these false teachers, listing to John and the other apostles who were from God. John said that whoever listens to them knows God, but whoever did not listen to them is not from God. This was another way to tell if the false prophets were from God or not. Note that the specific false prophets that John was contending against were those who were denying Jesus’ deity and/or saying He had not come in the flesh, which is the context of his statement “every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God.” Certainly there have been many since then who affirm that Jesus came in the flesh but teach false teachings about Christ and Christianity. However, John was combating a specific group of people and teaching here.
2. God is love: After warning about false teaching, John again emphasizes the love that we should have for one another, for love is from God. God is love. We are not born of God if we do not have love for one another. John makes this abundantly clear, almost as though he was making sure that his audience could in no way miss his point. We love Him because He first loved us and sent His Son to be a propitiation for our sins. Again, this is the test that John says we should put ourselves through to determine if we are true believers: do we love one another? Anyone who loves God must love his brother. If we love one another, God abides in us and His love is perfected in us.
Believing in Jesus: Wrapping up his letter, John encourages the believers by reminding them that anyone who had been born of God overcomes the world. This is our victory- faith in Jesus. Our status as children of God is made evident by our love for Him, in that we keep His commandments and His commandments are not burdensome to us. John then goes on to talk about how Jesus came by water and by blood, and that the Spirit, water and blood all agree and testify to Christ. This seems to be a reference to baptism, or at least a parallel to baptism, as we reach the blood and the Spirit though this surrender to God and acceptance of His grace (see Acts 2:38, Romans 6:1-11, Colossians 2:8-15). Whoever has the Son has eternal life. John writes these things to the believers that we might know that we have eternal life. If we love one another and walk in the light, we can be assured that the love of the Father is in us and we can have confidence towards Him. Anyone who is born of God does not keep sinning. But those who continue in righteousness abide in Him and have everlasting life. Note at the end of the letter John says, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” In context, he says nothing about physical idols as we think of them. However, he does talk about the love of God and abiding in His commandments. Anything that holds precedent over God in our hearts, as told by our actions and the time we spend with it, is an idol. John is warning us against these idols, these things that take the place of God. Let us be vigilant and keep ourselves from idols, ever placing the Lord as first in all aspects of our lives.
Tomorrow’s Reading: Deuteronomy 13-15.
Love one another.