The keynote of fellowship in love is emphasized much in our day. Oftentimes, leaders in the church emphasize love at the expense of the truth or its opposite, emphasize the truth at the expense of love. The Holy Spirit has given us this small letter to teach us that true fellowship is in the truth and must be sanctioned by love. Let’s see how this is true from the letter itself.
A BRIEF OUTLINE
1. Introduction (I John 1:1-4). The usual identification of author and intended recipients is lacking. Instead, he begins by introducing Christ Who is the Word of Life, and John states that he was eyewitness of His work (I John 1:1). In addition, Christ is the manifestation of eternal life (I John 1:2). The purpose of writing this letter is to declare the truth of Christ in order that we may have fellowship with the Father through Him and that this fellowship includes both Christ and one another (I John 1:3). In this fellowship is true joy (I John 1:4).
2. True fellowship is in the light (I John 1:5-2:6). God Himself is light and in Him is no darkness at all (I John 1:5). Fellowship with Him is expressed not by walking in darkness, but rather by walking in the light. In this way we know that the blood of Jesus cleanseth us from sin (I John 1:6, 7). We must not say that we have no sin (this would make God a liar); rather we must confess our sin and be forgiven and cleansed (I John 1:8-10). He tells us that he is writing this letter to guide us in being victorious over sin in two ways, First, that we avoid sin in the first place: “I write that ye sin not …. We know Him if we keep His commandments …. In Him is the love of God perfected …. We ought then to walk as He walked” (I John 2:1-6). The second is that if we do sin we may enjoy forgiveness, for we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, and He is effective as an advocate for He is the propitiation for our sins and that of the whole world (I John 2:1, 2).
3. True fellowship is in the way of loving the brethren, not in the love of the world (I John 2:7-17). God comes with His commandment that we should love one another. This commandment is both old and new. The true light (Christ) has come into the world, and anyone who says he is in the light, but hates his brother, is in darkness. In contrast, those who love their brothers and sisters are in the light (I John 2:7-11). He makes special mention that he writes unto little children because their sins are forgiven and they have known the Father. He writes unto fathers because they have known the Father from the beginning. He writes unto young men because they have overcome the wicked one and they are strong because the Word of God dwells in them (I John 2:12-13). None are to love the world, nor the things of the world such as the lust of the eyes and the pride of life. If we love that world, the love of the Father is not in us and we will perish. The love of the Father is demonstrated in doing His will and, by doing that, we will abide forever (I John 2:15-17).
4. John warns against heretical teaching and exhorts us to confess that Jesus is the Christ (I John 2:18-29). There are many antichrists, and their presence indicates that it is the last time. The heretics which left the church, only prove by that act that they were not really one with them. They must understand that all who deny that Jesus is the Christ is antichrist (I John 2:18, 19, 22, 23). The faithful have the unction of the Spirit and know the truth. This truth is the same word which they had from the beginning which the Spirit taught them. He exhorts us to abide in Christ and do what is right, so when He appears we shall not be ashamed (I John 2:20, 21, 24-29).
5. We are admonished to live consistently, to flee from sin, and walk in righteousness (I John 3:1-12). The love of the Father is demonstrated in that we are called the sons of God. Our sonship will become even more clear when Christ shall return, for then we shall be like Him (I John 3:1, 2). As sons of God we purify ourselves and overcome sin. If we continue in sin we cannot claim to be His sons (I John 3:3-6). This contrast is set forth; one who continues in sin is of the devil, one who is born of God does not continue in sin for His seed remains in him. This is the manifestation of sonship: we forsake sin and walk in righteousness (I John 3:7-10). Cain and Abel illustrate this contrast (I John 3:11, 12).
6. The proof of our salvation is seen in our practice of love (I John 3:13-24). Hatred is natural, love is spiritual. If we love the brother, it is proof that we are spiritually alive. All who hate a brother are murderers. Rather, we should follow our Lord Who loved so much He laid down His life for us (I John 3:13-16). Love is demonstrated by deeds of love—e.g., sharing our goods with the poor (I John 3:17, 18). God commands us to believe in Jesus and to love one another. If we fail in this, we may receive forgiveness; if we practice it we become confident of our sonship for it is proof that Christ abides in us (I John 3:19-24).
7. We are to try the spirits (I John 4:1-6). The spirits are teachings of men, they are to be tested by the Word of God. If they confess that Jesus is come in the flesh, they are of God; if not, they are antichrist. We confess this because we have overcome these false spirits by God’s presence in us. The world confesses the lie and has a large following. We who are of God confess the truth and all who know God hear us.
8. Another exhortation is given to practice brotherly love (I John 4:7-21). We are to love one another, for love is of God, and all who are born of God have this love. Without love, we know not God (I John 4:7, 8). God manifests His love in the sending of Christ to die. It is not that we love God, but that He first loved us (I John 4:9, 10). In that great love of God we ought to love each other. God dwells in us by His Spirit, and to confess that Jesus is the Son of God is proof of it (I John 4:11-15). God is love, and one who dwells in love dwells in God. Boldness is proof of love, perfect love casts out fear. We love Him because He first loved us (I John 4:16-19). If we claim God’s love, but hate our brother, we lie, for how can we say we love God Whom we have not seen if we cannot love the brother whom we do see. We must love God and our brother also (I John 4:20, 21).
9. True fellowship expresses itself in obedience (I John 5:1-12). Children of God express their faith by believing in the divinity of Christ, this is witnessed to us by the three in heaven (Father, Word, and Spirit) and the three on earth (Spirit, water, and blood). Our faith is in the Son of God (I John 5:1, 6-12). This is also shown in our daily conduct, we love God and keep His commandment and thus overcome the world (I John 5:2-5).
10. The assurance of our salvation is expressed (I John 5:13-21). Through faith in the Son of God we have eternal life (I John 5:13). Our confidence in Him is that we may ask anything according to His will and He will give it (I John 5:14, 15). This is so powerful that we may pray for the forgiveness of each other’s sins (excluding the sin unto death) (I John 5:16, 17). We know that whosoever is born of God does not continue to commit sin, but keeps himself pure. Our security is in God and His Son. We are to keep ourselves from idols (I John 5:21).
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION
1. What evidence is there in this letter that John, the brother of James, was the author?
2. Consider why John calls the heretical views of Cerinthus and his followers “antichrist”? What evidence is there today that these antichristian views are also present?
3. Show from this letter that John is combating a heresy that denies that Jesus is really the Son of God. Also, how does he show that a denial of the divinity of Christ is a denial of our true fellowship with the Father.
4. Go through this letter and quote passages that show that true fellowship with God is in the truth and that the lie destroys this fellowship.
5. This is often called the “epistle of love.” Make a list of texts that teach us what love really is (over 30 of them). How do these passages teach us that true love of the neighbor cannot exist without love of God?
7. Explain in the light of many passages in this letter, e.g., I John 1:13, 1:15, 16, 3:10, 4:5, 5:19 the doc trine of the antithesis, that is, the church must be spiritually separated from the world.
8. How can we apply the instruction to share our goods with the poor brother (I John 3:17) to our brother today? Does this include an individual responsibility as well as one of the whole church?
9. Illustrate how we can be guilty of the sin mentioned in I John 4:20.
10. Why does John qualify our asking anything in prayer by “according to His will”? How specifically must we do this?
11. Give specific ways in which you believe our congregational life would improve if we would all heed the words of this epistle.