Daily Bible Studies
|Series Theme: John's letters Studies|
Chs.1 & 2
General Introduction to this form of Bible Study
Before you start reading the Notes, may we recommend the following:
1. You pause and pray and ask for God's help for the Bible to come alive to you.
2. You have your Bible open infront of you and read the passage through completely first.
3. You work your way through the questions looking for answers in your Bible.
4. Then and only then, read through the commentary.
The primary objectives of these studies are a) to get you to read the Bible and b) to take in what you have read. At the end of each page of studies (normally a chapter) there will be a 'Recap' to remind you of what you have read. At the end of every 'set' (see the front Contents page) there will also be a 'Summary' and a 'Conclusions' that cover the pages in that set.
INTRODUCTION to John
Who is the Writer?
That the author of these letters is the same as John's Gospel is fairly obvious. The opening of the first letter is very similar to the prologue of the Gospel and at various times through the first letter there are very close similarities to things recorded in the Gospel. Truth and love are two themes clearly seen in the first letter and then continued in the other two letters. John the apostle appears to be the writer.
Letters Two and Three are clearly to two individuals, but letter One appears to be a general letter probably sent around the churches. John, writing at the end of the first century, saw the signs of the enemy coming against the church in the form of false teaching or heresies, and so speaks out against these. He doesn't do it by directly referring to them, but by teaching truth that emphasised their error. Gnosticism was the main heresy he spoke against and you will find a separate note following this Introduction detailing his approach more fully.
We will simply work our way through the three letters. John is a very profound writer and, as with his Gospel, some of the themes are not easy to take in. Because of this we will keep each study to just a few verses. That which is so profound is also at times so simple, and some of the things John says, again and again, are so basic that we may be tempted to wonder why we are reading them.
The reason is that it is so easy to be a “head-Christian” who apparently knows the truth in the mind, but does not live it out in life. Again and again John is saying, “If you know God, then you ought to be living like this….”, a message we sorely need in the twenty-first century where the world's teaching is “do what feels good and do what you think is right”. John blasts into this approach speaking about the revealed ‘truth' that demands we live in a very particular way, a narrow path (Mt 7:14 )
Part One : “ Hold On” : Chapters 1 & 2
Here we'll find John declaring why we should listen to him, then calling us to live a life of repentance, confession and forgiveness, a life of obedience and a life of love. He then warns against ungodly attitudes and those who would lead astray. Be warned, some of these verses are so full that our commentaries are likely to be longer than usual. Please persevere because there is so much wonderful truth here.
SPECIAL NOTE : Gnosticism
What was Gnosticism?
As the first century progressed, as believers sought to wrestle with the basic doctrines, especially about the person of Christ, and the absence of the original apostles was felt (because apart from John they had all died), false teachers arose putting forth wrong ideas. One group were the Gnostics who suggested a special knowledge was necessary to comprehend truth. (the Greek word for "knowledge" is gnosis, hence Gnosticism).
The Gnostics believed:
Man is matter, and matter is evil, contrasted with God, who is wholly spirit
and therefore good (a derivation from Greek thinking).
Salvation is the escape from the body, achieved not by faith in Christ but by
Christ's true humanity was denied, some saying that Christ only “seemed”
to have a body, while others said that the divine Christ joined the man
Jesus at baptism and left him before he died.
This separation of body & spirit also led to licentiousness, since matter and
not the breaking of God's law was considered evil, so breaking God's law
was of no moral consequence.
John's Countering this heresy
As we study the first letter we will find John:
Linking body and spirit, e.g. 1:1-3, 2:22 , 4:2,3
Declaring that salvation is by belief in the finished work of Jesus and
trusting in that, e.g. 2:2, 3:1,2, 4:10, 5:1,11-13
Declaring that every Christian can know these things because they are
based on the revealed truth from God. Watch for the number of times John
says “you know” and speaks about the “truth”.
Part of this “knowing” included knowing God, but knowing here means
experiencing Him. John is very strong on us knowing God in experience.
As a result of knowing Him, in this sense, John also is very clear that our
behaviour must conform to His character, in other words there is no room
for doing just what we think is right
In each of these ways we will find, again and again, John speaking to counter the lies of the enemy and to establish the believer.
Chapter: 1 John 1
Passage: 1 John 1:1-4
A. Find Out:
1. What was John proclaiming? v.1a.c
2. How did he know about it? v.1b
3. What had appeared? v.2
4. What had they proclaimed and why? v.3a,b
5. Where was his fellowship? v.3c
6. Why was he writing? v.4
In a whole variety of ways, John emphasises the uniqueness of Jesus in these verses. He first describes him as “that which was from the beginning” (v.1), and there we find echoes of John 1:1,2 where he shows Jesus to have existed from before the creation of the world.
Second, he calls him “the Word of life” (v.1), again similarly echoing John 1, where he describes Jesus as the expression of God (see “Behold the Lamb” in this Studies). Jesus is the expression of God who brings life.
Third, he describes him as “the eternal life” (v.2), placing an emphasis on Jesus' immortality and life-giving capacity. Usually when we speak about eternal life we tend to think of our lives stretching out into infinity, i.e. the time dimension of it, but John says Jesus IS the eternal life, so it is only "in Christ" are we eternal. He is the very means of our having a life that will not end, because he does not end.
Fourth, he speaks of him as the one who “was with the Father” (v.2) showing again that Jesus came from heaven (see also John 6:33,38,46,50,58). The Son existed with the Father, left His presence in heaven, came and lived on earth, and then returned to the Father in heaven, which is where he now dwells.
Fifth, he describes him as the one who has “appeared to us” (v.2), emphasising the fact that God has come down and made Himself known. The staggering truth of Christianity is that God has come down in human form to us, the form of His Son.
Sixth, he describes him as God's “Son” (v.3), emphasising his form and relationship to the Father. As one of the early church creeds put it: "He is God of the substance of the Father begotten before the world, and He is man of the substance of His mother born in the world; perfect God, perfect man".
Seventh, he describes him as “Jesus Christ” (v.3), clearly identifying him as the Messiah who came in the form of the man Jesus from Nazareth. As "the Christ" he was the one spoken of in the prophetic Scriptures, the Coming One.
Note also the down-to-earth nature of John's testimony. Look, he says in all of the first three verses, we've encountered and experienced this One with all of our senses. We're not making this up! This is a testimony that can be trusted and believed!
Finally in these content-packed verses, note the order of what John is saying:
This word 'fellowship' is going to come up again and again.
Chapter: 1 John 1
Passage: 1 John 1:5-7
A. Find Out:
1. What message was he proclaiming? v.5
2. How did he say we may lie? v.6
3. What two things happen when we walk in the light? v.7
John has just said (v.3) that our fellowship (as Christians) is with God. Fellowship means a close intimate sharing. The key thing about a Christian is that they 'know' God. They don't just know about Him, but they have experience of Him.
Now, he goes on, we have received a message from God (v.5) that we have got to pass on. There is a sequence here: we have seen and heard the word (v.3) and now he's given us a message to pass on. When we truly encounter God He always says something. It's in His nature to communicate to the ones He loves.
So what was the message? God is light and there is no darkness in Him (v.5). This is his starting place. It starts with the nature of God. God is light, God is pure, holy and righteous. Darkness, impurity, worldliness and unrighteousness simply can't exist in Him. Put in it's simplest terms: God is full of goodness and therefore anything less is not part of him.
Once we grasp that, there is a logical conclusion: if you say you have fellowship with God you have to be walking in the light (v.6). Remember we said fellowship meant close intimate sharing? If you have 'darkness' (wrong) in your life, you can't possibly have close intimate sharing with the One who is utterly good.
In his teaching John picks out and uses a number of wrong ways of thinking to use and contrast with the truth. This, in verse 6, is the first of those: the people who claimed to know God and fellowship with Him, yet walked in wrong (darkness).
If you're walking in darkness, you can't be in the light and you can't know God. Here is a very sharp truth that we need to see. Therefore anyone who maintains wrong (sin) in their lives cannot claim to be knowing and walking closely with God. To know God means your life will change and you will cease to allow wrong to remain in it.
Next comes a second logical conclusion: if we are walking with God in the light then we have fellowship with one another. As soon as we are walking in the light with God then there comes a closeness to one another. Absence of fellowship with one another perhaps indicates an absence of fellowship with God!
Not only that, there is a third logical conclusion: by living in the light, close to God, we find the effect of the work of Christ on the Cross is there purifying us from our sin.
Chapter: 1 John 1
Passage: 1 John 1:8-10
A. Find Out:
1. What happens if we claim to be without sin? v.8
2. What happens when we confess our sins? v.9
3. What do we do if we claim we haven't sinned? v.10
You'll see from the study numbering above that we have inserted this study in response to a request to cover these verses in more detail and so we have split and expanded the previous study no.2.
These present verses are often taken out of context and misunderstood. It's important therefore to see what goes before them. John has been making the point that because God is light, if you're walking in darkness, you can't be in the light and you can't know God. Because he is still John the Evangelist (as some scholars call him - see John 20:31) he wants to pick up anyone who hasn't come into the light yet, who hasn't come to know God through Christ. To come into the light we have to go down a particular path and so he lays that out here.
The starting point of the Gospel (Good News) is always 'bad news' - we are sinners who need saving. So, says John to those who have not yet come to the light and who believed they were all right, (including the Gnostics of his day) if you say you haven't any sin you're kidding yourself! God says we have, so if you say you haven't you're challenging God!
Here in verse 8, and then in verse 10, is the second of those wrong ways of thinking we referred to in the previous study: people who claimed not to be sinners, who said they had no need of the Gospel. No, the first step to salvation is acknowledging and facing up to the truth that you are a sinner and need help, you do sin, you do get it wrong.
But the Christian message doesn't leave you in a guilt-ridden mess, it does something about it. So, he goes on, if you confess it (acknowledge and turn away from it) then God will deal with it for you. He will forgive us AND cleanse us of it, i.e. He will take away our guilt AND take away the sin! There is a twofold removal here in the Gospel.
It is the latter one that John is really focusing on here because of his theme so far - come to God, be transformed and let Him remove the darkness from you. If the darkness is removed you will live good and godly lives. That is what he, as a good pastor, is aiming for.
So, he concludes, if we deny our need we are denying God and we can't possibly say we have fellowship with Him and we can't say we are Christians! That is the power and strength of all he is saying. Wow!
Chapter: 2 Peter 2
Passage: 2 Peter 2:1-6
A. Find Out:
1. Why was John writing? v.1a
2. Yet what happens if we do sin? v.1b
3. What is Jesus? v.2
4. How do we know we know him? v.3
5. What happens when a “believer” isn't obedient to Christ? v.4
6. What must a “believer” do? v.6c
John has just spoken about how we deal with our sin by coming to God and confessing it openly. Repentance, we said, was the key to coming into and remaining in fellowship with God. The objective of coming to Christ is to have him remove our sin.
Now he states that one of his purposes for writing, is to help them not sin (v.1a). Salvation is ongoing and so if the first objective of coming to Christ is to remove our sin, the second objective is to keep us from falling back into sin.
But immediately he says that, this pastoral giant recognises the reality of Christian living and says, but if you do sin (for we quite possibly will from time to time) then Jesus is there speaking up for you (v.1b). This is truly wonderful! This is John's teaching: don't sin, yet when you sin inadvertently, Jesus is there speaking up for you, and as soon as you are aware of it, confess it. When that happens we find that Jesus' death on the Cross acts in the same way as an Old Testament sacrifice and atones or makes up for, or pays the price for, our sins (v.2).
This keeping free from sin, John now equates with being obedient! Relating to Jesus means we will obey all he has said. In fact, he says, being obedient is a sign that we know him (v.3).
To emphasise the point, John uses the fourth of his 'wrong-way-of-thinking' illustrations (v.4): those who say they know and have fellowship with God but who don't do what He commands. This is the positive side of the same coin we saw in v.6 where negatively he spoke of those who said they knew God but actually did wrong.
Next John links obedience and love (v.5). Because God is love (see later in the letter) everything He says and does is an expression of love and so when we do the things He instructs us to do, they will also be an expression of love. This is yet a third way that we know we are Christians. If we claim to know Christ (v.6) we must walk in the say way he did, the way of obedience and love.
So far John has told us three times how we may know or have fellowship with God. First it was by living in the light (1:6,7) and then it is by being obedient (2:3) and finally it is about living in love (2:5). All of these are really all about 'being' and character, and it is being like Jesus.
Chapter: 1 John 2
Passage: 1 John 2:7-11
A. Find Out:
1. What was John writing? v.7a
2. What was it? v.7b
3. Yet what also was it and how seen? v.8
4. Where is someone who hates his brother? v.9
5. Where does the one live who does love his brother? v.10
6. What, again, is the state of the one who hates his brother? v.11
John has just written about the need to obey Christ's commands and now he speaks about the command to love as both an old (v.7) and a new command (v.8). How can it be both old and new?
It was an old command in that it was given to the Jews centuries before (see Deut 6:5 and Lev 19:18), to love the Lord with all your heart etc. and your neighbour as your self. Jesus put these two together in Mt 22:37-40. Yes, the Law already said it.
Yet it was now a new command in that Jesus specifically laid it on his disciples (see Jn 15:9-17) as a sacrificial love, a love that comes in response to his love, and then copied his love. This new command was now actually coming into being as the church grew and the love of Christ was shining through his people. It was like darkness was receding in the face of growing light (v.8).
Previously it was a command that people had to obey out of their own resources. Now it is a command that is lived out because the Spirit of love, the Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit, lives within us and energises and enables us to live this life of love.
So, continues John, (using his fifth 'wrong-way-of-thinking' illustrations) if you claim to be in the light (v.9) you can't hate someone else, indeed if you do you are still in darkness (v.10). This parallels 1:6 but here it is about relationships with others instead of with God. Indeed John is so insistent on this that he repeats his assertion that if you hate your brother you cannot be in the light (v.11).
It is possible for Christians to be saved, it seems, yet not be walking in the light and enjoying the fruit of their salvation (for John was writing to Christians). These verses are not to write off a person's salvation if they have a wrong attitude, but they do declare that a wrong attitude about another person can put you right out of the light, the place where you receive and enjoy all of God's goodness.
Chapter: 1 John 2
Passage: 1 John 2:12-14
A. Find Out:
1. Why was he writing to them as little children? v.12,13c
2. Why was he writing as to fathers? v.13a,14a
3. Why was he writing as to young men? v.13b,14b,c
If John were addressing literal children, fathers and young men, then he would probably take a different order, i.e. children, young men, fathers, so it is more likely that he is addressing different levels of spiritual maturity.
First “children”. He speaks as a pastor to all the flock as “dear children” (note the endearment). In their earliest stages all Christians know their sins have been forgiven and know God the Father. The first stages of spiritual development are about forgiveness and reconciliation to the Father. We should all know that, it is first and foremost about knowing God as our loving heavenly Father and receiving His love and forgiveness. Perhaps he is implying, you need to hear these things to help you stand strong and grow.
Next “fathers”. The same thing is written twice: “you have known him who is from the beginning”. There is here, a sense of enduring. Fathers are those who have aged and matured and had much experience of life, who have endured through it. A father is one who has been through the years of parenthood which, perhaps more that most other things, brings about a deeper maturity. So John speaks not only to young Christians but also to those who are mature and who have endured for the sake of Christ. Perhaps he is implying, you know the things that I am saying are true and are needed. Support me and back me up!
Finally “young men”. Young men have energy and are involved in doing. These “young men” have fought the enemy and overcome and have prevailed by the word of God in them. Here he addresses those who are involved in service in the kingdom. To do that you have to be strong spiritually and have God's word living in you to sustain you and protect you in the battle. Perhaps it is as if he is implying, men, you are experiencing this battle right now, and you know the truth of these things I am saying, so I'm simply reminding you that you need to hear and hold onto these things.
Which group are we in? Just a young Christian? Then we really need to take in the truths that John is bringing in this letter. Or are we someone who has endured in maturity? Then let's be encouraged as we reaffirm these truths. Or are we someone who has been in the service of the King, triumphing over the enemy? Then let's grab these truths and be strengthened in the battle by them.
Serving the king? Fight on! Enduring through the years? Hold on! A young Christian? Grow!
Chapter: 1 John 2
Passage: 1 John 2:15-17
A. Find Out:
1. What are we not to do? v.15a
2. Why? v.15b
3. What 3 descriptions of the “world” activity are given? v.16b
4. Where do they come from? v.16a,c
5. What happens to the world and its desires? v.17a
6. Who will live for ever? v.17b
“World” in scripture has various meanings. It sometimes means the planet on which we live (e.g. Mt 13:35), sometimes the people of the earth (e.g. Jn 1:29), and then finally as the total system of godless thinking by mankind that excludes God (e.g. Jn 15:18). It is this last usage that John means here. Now let's consider the expressions of it that John describes.
First “the cravings of sinful man” (v.16) mean the sensual desires of self-centred man who simply wants personal comfort and personal pleasure. This is about yearnings to personal gratification that seeks personal well being without any reference to God. This produces illicit relationships, and foolish and destructive behaviour.
Then comes “the lust of the eyes”, the constant wanting more of whatever you see which the Bible calls covetousness. This is what modern materialistic advertising is built upon, and it feeds on the lack of comfort that sin carries with it. Until we come into a good relationship with God there is always a hunger within us and therefore we crave comfort and our eyes are constantly looking for something to assuage that hunger. No wonder we use such phrases today as 'comfort eating' or 'retail therapy'!
Finally there is “boasting of what he has and does”, which is pride exalting self by saying “I'm better than you!”. Pride is that overbearing opinion of oneself that is blind to failure and weakness. Pride is what the weak person uses to bolster them self in the absence of knowing God's love. They focus on things they have done, abilities that they have, not realising that they can only do them because of God's loving provision.
Note that it is all man-centred, on what “I” want, on what "I" can do, on “me” and thus excludes God. That's why so many references to 'world' in the Bible refer to the human population of the world that is against Christ and ignores God.
No wonder John says “don't love the man-centred way of life”. The world, the planet on which we live, is God's gift to us to enjoy. The world, the people on the planet, are loved by God and are to be loved by us. But all we have, all we are, all we do, is to have God at the heart of it, otherwise our godless existence will only bring our destruction. If instead, we have God in it all, then eternal life flows in us.
There is a challenge at the end of these verses: what are our priorities in life? Are they to focus on my needs, what I want, or are they to come into relationship with God and to do His will. The former are doomed to frustration, the latter will bring life.
Chapter: 1 John 2
Passage: 1 John 2:18-23
A. Find Out:
1. When did John say it was and how did he know that? v.18
2. What had happened and what did that show? v.19
3. But what did he say his readers had? v.20
4. Why was he writing? v.21
5. Who is a liar and an antichrist? v.22
6. What is the link of Father and Son? v.23
Having just spoken about the world attitude, John now moves on to the subject of those who are anti-Christ. Jesus had spoken about false Christ's coming (Mt 24:5,24) and such people had apparently already appeared. From this John deduces that they are in the last times.
In Mt 24:3 the disciples asked Jesus about the end of the age and he told them to watch for a variety of signs. In Acts 2:16,17 Peter, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, claims the outpouring of the Spirit was the start of the “last days”, a long period running up to the return of Christ. Thus John was saying, friends look out, the characteristics that Jesus spoke about in respect of this age are clearly here. There are clearly people who will deny that Jesus is the Christ.
But there is more for he refers to people who had gone out from them. Perhaps the Gnostics had been those who had been part of the Christian congregation before they moved out and established their own distorted beliefs. The truth is, says John, they were never really part of us and (implied) they had never really known fellowship with the Father. If they had really had fellowship with the Father they would have known the truth and would not have been seduced by untruths.
It seems that there will always be those who are part of the Christian congregation (yet not actually part of the church) who don't fully come to the truth and fully become God's children. Jesus' parable of the Sower (e.g. Mt 13:3-8) indicates there there will be those who hear the Gospel but in whom the word does not genuinely take root. So sadly, yes, there will be those who appear with us for a while, but who eventually wander away.
But for the Christians that John is writing to, John is quite clear on two points. First, they had the anointing or the help of the Holy Spirit and so He would show them the truth of these things. That was why he was writing, simply to confirm what the Spirit within them was saying. He wasn't writing to them to convince them because they didn't believe but, to the contrary, he was writing because they did know the truth and just needed to have it reaffirmed.
Second, he says, any person who denies that Jesus is the Christ is an antichrist and cannot know God the Father. In an age where multi-faith proponents flourish we need to heed John's words. Anyone who claims Jesus is not God's messiah, cannot know God. Their “faith” is not valid!
Chapter: 1 John 2
Passage: 1 John 2:24-29
A. Find Out:
1. What instruction does Jesus give? v.24
2. What has been promised? v.25
3. Against whom is Jesus warning them? v.26
4. Yet what have they, and with what consequence? v.27
5. Again what does he instruct so what will happen? v.28
6. Who has been born of him? v.29
John has just warned about antichrists, people who deny Jesus. He now tells us that he is writing to help the believers there resist such people and not be led astray. So, he says, hold onto what you heard from the beginning, let it live in you, and as you do that so your relationship with the Father and the Son will continue, and so you will receive eternal life. Continue in Christ, he goes on, and (implied) don't be put off by others.
With this comes a number of reassurances:
First, if we hold onto the word, onto the truth of the Gospel, then we will remain in relationship with the Lord (v.24). The call here is to KEEP ON in our living relationship with the Lord that came when His word came and impacted us and He changed us as we responded to it.
Second, when we do that we will be sure that we have eternal life, for the Lord is the author of all life (v.25). This is what eternal life it. It is the very life of Father and Son flowing in us, it is being one with them and so it is their life in us that carries us into eternity, and of course, that means from now on.
Third, we have received anointing (v.27), or we have received the enabling of the Holy Spirit, and so the Spirit will teach us and confirm us in the truth, and so as He remains in us, so we are to remain in Him. When someone was anointed in the Old Testament it meant that they were equipped by God to perform a task, whether it was kings or priests. When we came to Him, He gave us His Holy Spirit and He lives within us, enabling us to be the people He's called us to be.
Fourth, if we do that, when he returns we will be confident and not afraid. Living in the truth, living in him, means we will gladly receive him when he returns and not be afraid of what he might say when he comes (v.28). Whenever Jesus returns, we want to ensure he finds us living in the light, living in relationship with the Father and as long as we remain doing that, we won't be afraid of his potential return.
Finally, as we do right it confirms that we have been born again of him; we are new creations in Christ and our lives prove it (v.29). This keeps coming over in this letter. We prove we are God's children by the way we live. A righteous life is an indication of a heart that is linked with His.
In all these ways he establishes confidence in us .
RECAP: "Hold On" - 1 John 1 & 2
In this first group of 8 studies we have seen John :
John establishes his credentials in the opening verses and then indirectly, and soon directly, warns against attitudes and people that might lead his readers astray. John makes us face basic truths about the Christian faith:
These chapters have behind them a deep concern for a church that could so easily be led astray from the truth and from the real knowledge of God.
1. We are to hold onto the central beliefs of the Gospel
2. We are to ensure we continue to live in Him
3. In doing that our lives are to show righteousness and love
4. We need to resist the lies of the enemy that seek to lead us astray.
Thank the Lord for your salvation (in detail)
PART 2 : "Be Confident…. and go on"
In the next Part John shows us why we can be confident in Christ and then the lifestyle which that confidence leads us into as we know and experience Christ.