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Introduction to the Books of the Bible

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John's First Letter





BOOK : 1 John

Description : A letter clearly written to believers (see 2:12-14,19; 3:1; 5:13) to encourage them in a variety of ways, and specifically to counter the errors of Gnosticism.

Author: The author is John, son of Zebedee, the apostle and the author of the Gospel of John and Revelation

Date written : Probably somewhere between AD85 and AD95

Chapters : 5



Brief Synopsis:

•  The letter contains many exhortations to live a good (holy) life, contrasting good and right behaviour with wrong behaviour.
•  In the outline below we have identified each block of teaching showing the way believers live as contrasted with others in the world but believe that the links between them are so seamless that it is really false to try to categorise them any further.
•  The letter is easily read at one sitting but becomes more and more meaningful if you take account of the things below and with repeated readings.
•  It is a letter with vital teachings within it, both for then and for now.



Outline :

1:1-4 John's testimony about Christ
1:5-7 The necessity of walking in the Light.
1:8-2:2 The necessity of confession of sin
2:3-6 The necessity of obedience
2:7-14 The necessity of loving one another
2:15-17 The necessity of NOT loving the world
2:18-25 Living in the last hour
2:26-29 The necessity of resisting deception and holding to what is right
3:1-10 Sinless children of God
3:11-18 The necessity of loving one another (2)
3:19-24 The necessity of holding a clear conscience
4:1-6 The necessity of testing the spirits
4:7-12 The necessity of loving one another (3)
4:13-21 The means of loving – His Spirit in us
5:1-3 Love is expressed by obedience
5:4-21 Overcomers of the world



Some Key Verses:


In his instructions to live good lives, John again and again speaks a negative and then a positive . Later on it is the other way round but both approaches show there is a clear way to live as a Christian and there is clear wrong behaviour that reveals those who are not. The positive also reveals a positive consequence for the Christian


1:6,7 If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light , as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin

The consequence: fellowship & purified from sin


1:8,9 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness

The consequence: forgoven & purified from all unrighteousness


2:4,5 The man who says, "I know him," but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him . But if anyone obeys his word , God's love is truly made complete in him

The consequence: God's love will be made complete in us


2:9,10 Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble

The consequence: we will not stumble


2:17 The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever .

The consequence: has eternal life


2:23 No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also.

The consequence: know the Father as well as the Son


3:6 No one who lives in him keeps on sinning . No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.

The consequence: is able to stop sinning


3:7,8 He who does what is right is righteous , just as he is righteous. He who does what is sinful is of the devil

The consequence: is righteous


3:14,15 We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers . Anyone who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer

The consequence: have passed from death to life


4:5,6 They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God , and whoever knows God listens to us ;

The consequence: other believers listen to our ministry


4:7,8 Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God . Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love .

The consequence: we know God


4:19,20 We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, "I love God," yet hates his brother, he is a liar.

The consequence: we love


5:10 Anyone who believes in the Son of God has this testimony in his heart . Anyone who does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because he has not believed the testimony God has given about his Son.

The consequence: we have the truth in us


5:12 He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.

The consequence: we have life

               Remember, a wrong way, a right way, and a consequence



The Strength of John's Testimony


Note the language of an eye witness

1:1-4 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard , which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched --this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us . We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard



John's Teaching to Reassure about their Salvation


Reassurance about eternity

1:2 The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us


Reassurance about if we do sin

2:1,2 I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defence--Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.


Reassurance about our destiny and present status, born again

2:24,25,29 See that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father. And this is what he promised us--even eternal life…… you know that everyone who does what is right has been born of him.


Reassurance about our status, children of God

3:1,2 How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.


Reassurance about our status, made spiritually alive

3:14 We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers


Reassurance about having a clear conscience

3:19-24 This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him. And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.


Reassurance about the consequences of our belief in Jesus – the indwelling Holy Spirit

4:13-16 We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Saviour of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.


Reassurance about the consequences of our belief in Jesus – born again, new creatures

5:1 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God


Reassurance about the consequences of our belief in Jesus – eternal life

5:11-13 And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life



The Error of the day, of Gnosticism, to be countered


Towards the end of the first century a heresy appearing in various forms but coming under the general description of ‘Gnosticism' arose. It is clear from John's content that he is countering many of the heresies of Gnosticism of which some were:

•  A belief that the body and all things material were evil and there fore only spirit is good
•  Salvation comes by escape from the body through ‘special knowledge' (Greek gnosis = knowledge)
•  Christ was not truly the divine Son of God, but only ‘appeared' to have a body and some said the divine only came to it at his baptism and left at his death.
•  Because the body was evil it was to be treated harshly and a form of asceticism followed.
•  Paradoxically this also led to licentiousness. Because the body was evil, the use of ‘matter' did not count, therefore you could do what you liked.


John countered these errors by

•  Giving an eyewitness account of Jesus incarnation, a physical body, seen, heard and touched (1:1-3 – see above)
•  Denying the need for special teachers with special knowledge as believers had the anointing of the indwelling Holy Spirit to teach them (2:20,21,27)
•  Warning about false teachers and false spirits (2:18,19,22,26, 4:1-3))
•  Reassuring them about their salvation which was sure and secure (see above)
•  Giving strong and repetitive teaching about right and wrong behaviour (see main Key Verses block with opposing pairs of behaviour and thinking.)



Concluding Comments


As we said at the beginning of this page, we believe this letter has vital teachings within it, both for then and for now.

We would encourage you to really take in the information above and then read and reread this letter to see its value.



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