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John, the disciple Jesus LOVED (see John 13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:7, 20, 24) is the author of the Gospel of John, 1, 2, 3 John, and the Book of Revelation. John proclaims the love of God like no other Apostle. He identifies himself in the light of the love of God. It seemed that when Apostles proclaimed who Jesus was, they would say the same things, but tended in Bible writings to emphasize Jesus as The Messiah (King), the Righteous One, a teacher, and a Great Prophet. They also emphasized Him as the Son of God (brought forth of God Himself).
Now John would say such things too, yet he emphasized Jesus’ love for him foremost in his recognition of Jesus. He saw the Son of God as a person that loved him above seeing all His titles and status. I am not suggesting the other Apostles didn’t, only that, John seems to shine a light on Jesus’ love with unique inflections that draw us into the core of Jesus’ heart in a personal way.
No one else called John, “the disciple Jesus loved.” John spoke that way of himself because that is how Jesus revealed himself to John. John tells us he believed, above all else, that this is the gospel message. John understood the Gospel well! Think about it… John 3:16… “for God so LOVED the world that He gave His One and Only Son, that whosoever believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life.” Who wrote that? John did!
We may know that verse well but, let us thank God for revealing it to John. It is John who tells us. When I think about how much John tells us to love one another and how much Jesus loves us, it helps to understand why John would call himself “the disciple Jesus loved.” You see, John recognized and shared the message of the love of God. John heard and witnessed it from the source.
Perhaps the most beautiful example is when Jesus looked down from the cross and saw His mother and the disciple whom He loved (John) standing before Him at His execution. He said to His mother, “here (referring to John) this is your son” (see John 19:26) because He loved His mother and now called John to love her as He loved her. To His mother, was a call to love John just as she loved her Son. Right there it is! The call for those that love Lord Jesus to be family and love as He loves.
John clearly understood the very purpose of the Son of God’s mission. He was in touch with what God was about: a fellowship of love. John zeros in on God’s love expressing his understanding in such a rich relationally theological voice. For example, “our fellowship is with the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit” is so much more relatable and down to earth to read than long explanations about the nature of the Triune God.
As theological profound as John explains the nature of God, the love of God is what always stands out when I read John’s words. I believe John’s voice (witness) may have been heard on earth longer than all of Christ’s Apostles because he so passionately proclaimed the LORD’s LOVE. That is the message of the Cross (see John 3:16) and the mission of those that follow Him (see Matthew 28:16-20). That mission is to teach of Jesus’ ways and lay down one’s life in Love. John, after the Resurrection of Christ, clearly leads that charge the longest and, in my opinion, the best.
If you call Jesus Lord?
Understand Jesus’ words, “I give you a new commandment to love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (John 13:34 NET).
Let’s get to 1 John!
Verse 1 reminds me of Jesus’ words that life is more than food. John was one who learned such a lesson from Jesus in the flesh when He taught, “Therefore, I tell you do not worry about your life, what you eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more and clothes” (Matthew 6:25). Indeed, it is and as John says here in Chapter 1, life (Jesus) stood before him in the flesh and he saw, heard, and touched a Divine Man and I should emphasize A Full-Blooded Human.
So, with the above proclamation, comes an invitation. We are invited to share in the fellowship that will only be satisfied when all those who share in eternal life take their place in the kingdom of Christ. The language of John is much like that of Jesus’ prayer in John chapter 17 when Jesus says in His prayer, “I pray that they will all be one, just as You and I are one–as You are in Me, Father, and I am in You. And may they be in Us so that the world will believe You sent Me” (NLT John 17:21).
It’s the part… “may they be in Us”… that stuns me most because of the complete harmony of fellowship. I get “You in Me” and “I in You,” but the fact that we can be made to be a part of Them goes beyond the fact that sin can be forgiven. It is one thing to be forgiven and something completely more to have oneness in your relationship with God and the overall community going forward. Such language of perfection is symbolized in Revelation where the streets are gold like crystal and clear as glass (Revelation 21:21). This symbolically points out that God’s family will come to maturity without any pollutants in themselves. They will live in a glorified reality.
John himself says this when he states that in God there is no darkness (1:5). In verse 5, he then tells us to walk in the light (Jesus). If we strive toward the ways of God, which someone with a circumcised heart can do, we will grow into such good character. We will then follow the ways of God. God will purge the darkness from our souls and perfect us to be like Jesus because the love of God manifests from the nature of God. This is sent to us by the Son of God (God Himself).
So as verse 5 states, in God “there is no darkness at all.” This means, as John also says starting at verse 6, if there is darkness living in you, you are not representing God. John goes as far as to call such a person “a lair” if they claim to be a Christian. I take this to mean purposeful unrepented sin. Since “of course” all fall short of the glory of God, Paul also says as much about such a person stating (see 1 Corinthians 5:10-12) that Christians should not even associate with those that call themselves Christian yet live without Christian convictions.
Such firm boundaries for living remind me of how ritual law worked in Old Testament Israel. First, consider the manner of confessing sin for those who participated in the Israelite community. Secondly, consider how for such people God provided life to atone and cleanse wrongdoing and maintain His presence with them. Thirdly, consider how that meant they were blameless before God. This is not to say they had no sin or didn’t sin, but instead, by God‘s instruction received the life provision from His hand that they might continue to be a part of the community.
Furthermore, we must keep in mind there was no sacrifice within the rituals law system provided for people who purposefully (or maybe better put those who habitually) disregarded God’s law. They were cast out of the community. There was no sin to atone for such behavior, not that God was unwilling to forgive. No. God is faithful to forgive, but the ritual law system was set up for those who wanted to be in God’s community and not for those who do not wish to participate. Again, this isn’t to say that God could not forgive purposeful sin because in the life of King David we see someone forgiven for sin without making an offering of sacrifice (see Psalm 51).
The fact is by Christ all things can be forgiven except blaspheming the Holy Spirit which I find similar to those who sin on purpose (not seeking to be a part of God’s community in according to His instruction) (Matthew 12:31-32). Things are not so different in the New Covenant concerning God providing a way to keep us in His presence and blameless before Him. He did this for Israel under the Old Testament covenants. The change is that there has been the giving of life through the sacrifice of a human that had a spotless life to give. That, in turn, offered humanity a way to share in God’s presence. His presence allows us to be among the community of humankind. What’s more, all those He calls and receives, He gives participation in that fellowship forever.
The more incredible thing is that Jesus has condemned sin in His flesh (see Romans 8:1) and so the matter of instruction is now written on the heart of those in fellowship (with Father and Son as John states in verse 3). The failures of the past can in Christ be put to death. Indeed, to stay in the light (be in the presence and community of God) we need to follow the Command of the Lord. When we learn to do this, we live loyally to His way of love. However, as verse 10 warns, if we don’t learn but deny Christ’s grace (the giving of Himself) there is no place in the community of the living for such a person because there is no darkness in the Living One.
Let me end now with a return to verses 3-4. I like these verses a lot because they tell us to be sure, to be active in fellowship, and to be mindful of our joy though it is not yet complete. The full-Joy-to-come will occur when all who will receive Christ bow to share in His presence gathered together as one. John is telling us, I take it, to both endure the hardship of life as it is now manifest in the residence to God’s ways and once the family is completed in number our joy will be complete. The Christian should then live to that end knowing what verse 4 tells us. The message of Christ’s testimony is what will bring the JOY of our fellowship to fullness.
In meditating on this 2nd chapter of 1 John, I see a call to maturity and steadfast behavior under God’s rule. I see a call to His people whose source is Christ, His Unique Son.
For Christ is how we know we know God. The Apostle John speaks to this conception of God by the contrast between those that keep God’s commandments and others who do not. He declares we do what God says. The reason we do what He says is that we believe what He says.
I think there are two responses people that we must consider in verses 3-6:
#1 The Bad-Weak Belief = This is a fading faith resulting in unbelief or at best, belief without action. Weak belief can be a lack of self-denial in one’s character; much like James says, “such a person is double-minded unstable in all they do” (James 1: 8 NIV).
#2 The Good Belief = We, in our weakness, hold on to God’s word knowing God and growing deep in our bond with Him.
Verses 7 to 11 in 1 John 2 are fundamental because of his use of contrast that makes it so transparent that GOD is in a category of His own and His character is the standard for our lives, which for us seems an impossible standard to realize. Nevertheless, it is here that God is calling for our maturity. This is where our falling short of His glory can be addressed so we can grow. Furthermore, to abide is to grow in Christ (our atoning sacrifice) through whom what we are in the personal substance of our character can be exposed and we can progressively confess God’s glory in our actions.
John follows this up by encouraging the new converts to be established in Christ. He calls them “Children of God” because of their unwillingness to deny Christ which has revealed they are of the Truth.
Next, I think John addresses and encourages faith in Christ by acknowledging their witness and development of faithfulness to God in verses 12-14. He calls them “little children” because these are people who accept the Gospel Message as true. Likely, I think, many would be new to the faith and have recently trusted God for the forgiveness of their sins. Nevertheless, this is not to say their belief is not firm, only that they are early in the walk with Christ.
“Fathers” know God. Those that know God have fought and are fighting the good fight. Therefore, John calls them “fathers” because they are a source of guidance, a family pillar, and a spiritual-bread winner.
“Young men” are also addressed. Though this word in most translations may be rendered in the masculine, I don’t think it is to one gender that John is speaking, but to all those young in the Christian faith. For instance, the NET Bible renders the Greek word neh-an-is-kos as “young people” because it is about where John’s disciples are in their walk with God that is his concern. John states they have been tested and have overcome. So, they have been Christians long enough to show some loyalty to Christ. They had remained in Him or as John puts it, “the word of God abides in you.” These young people trust in Christ’s atonement for their sin but have held to that truth through some level of testing. This testing is more than just believing their sins are forgiven.
“Don’t love the world,” John writes this at the beginning of verse 15. This is easier said than done! Deception is a real thing to which we are all vulnerable in our human weakness. Two things can happen: One, we can embrace something of the world and in so doing, deny God. Two, we can hold to God’s way, not by our strength, but in His grace which can be hard and will bring forth real growth pains (spiritually speaking).
Let’s be real, there is a lot to love in the world! Yet we cannot love the world’s things if we are God’s children. So, don’t love the world or the things of the world because you are made for something more, namely God. Better yet, read Jesus’ words, “what good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? (Matt. 16:26 NIV)
Moreover, in verse 18, he begins a warning not to deny Christ. Better put, he begins to positively reinforce to continue believing in Christ. John tells them, that if what you heard remains in you (that is through belief, not merit), you will continue in God. Since progressively we who believe are confessing Christ as Lord and exposing our weakness after conversion, we do not shrink back into our former coping mechanisms based on human strength.
Instead, we voluntarily submit to the Holy Spirit working in us which in our times of testing develops our character to reflect Christ. So, by this process, we can go from “little children” to “young people” and to “fathers” (those that know GOD). We then realize abiding faith in Christ because the only way to overcome is to believe by means of Christ’s cross. We are under grace (Christ giving of Himself) so that we can all work through our issues, trouble, and even the loss of life and come to know our Lord.
Yes, in this way we learn to recognize Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the same human way Jesus lived. John says it himself in verse 6, “The one who says he resides in God ought to walk just as Jesus walked” (NET).
On to 1 John 2 and 3… Who is the person that does not continue in sin?
Answer = the one “in” the sinless Son of Man.
What does the answer mean? It means that people following Christ with a continual progression do so because they believe and love Him. Consequently, John tells us Remaining “in” Christ means something! That looks like the love of God.
John also tells us what the love of God is writing in verse 11 that the message of the gospel is that we should love one another. He did not say that the Gospel is only, that Jesus forgives sins, though that is true. The Gospel is more than that. The Apostle John said UNDER INSPIRATION OF GOD, “we should love one another.”
There is a link here with ongoing love based on and proceeding from the belief in our hearts. Belief leads our actions. This understanding is in line with what the Apostle Paul says, “that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9 NKJV) That action looks like loving one another.
I am pointing out that the result God wants from his Son’s sacrifice is not just souls (people saved) but people loving one another. For what good are people with salvation if they don’t love each other?!
So, John warns us, “don’t be like Cain who hated his brother.”
Here I think John is saying, take your actions seriously when you claim to live right before God. Those of us who are Christians bear His Name. The bearing of God’s name must match what is in our hearts. Let us remember the third commandment, “Do not carry the name of the Lord in vain.” I did not quote that wrong. Those that bear the name of God must love as He loves or in reality, they take the name of God in vain. God does not change, but we must change to reflect Him.
His seed must see growth in us. Our belief in Christ is the water of God’s seed. So, the seed given remains because it is of Christ, but without belief, there is no growth and death will occur (see John 15). The Apostle John provides us with contrast here to make things very clear:
The lawless continue in sin.
The righteous continue to love.
There is indeed a significant challenge to consistently live in the love of God. Those that believe in Him follow Him (as John points out in verse 16) even at the cost of their own life for fellow Christians.
What’s more, verses 18-22 seem to me, to be a way of saying behavior based on God’s revealed character brings forth specific direction and emotional comfort in the presence of God. Where morally we who believe are drawn deeper and deeper into the love of God. Also, making a pathway to bring his love into the world through our belief in The God who loves us. I think this process is the result of the residing seed of verses 9-10 because obedient belief in God drives out sin or puts sinful deeds to death and is how human life can blossom with the love of God.
John says as much in verses 23-24., which I encourage you to meditate on. “Now this is his commandment: that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he gave us the commandment. And the person who keeps his commandments resides in God, and God in him. Now by this we know that God resides in us by the Spirit he has given us.” (1 John 3:23-24 NET)
John opens chapter 4 with a warning to look out for “lying spirits” which is more about understanding love than asking the right questions. It is true that we must test spirits by asking if they believe Jesus is Lord. We must test and ask if Jesus came in the flesh if He is the Son of God and if He rose bodily from the dead, but! remember! we can be blindsided even with the right questions. We will be blindsided if we neglect to take seriously what John has said before this fourth chapter. By not questioning ourselves as John has instructed us to do before we test the spirits.
The question is: Where is your love?
Just asking the “Who do you say or think Jesus is” questions are a good defense, but love is the offensive action John has been proclaiming. The Apostle John emphasizes this in addressing the need to test spirits. Likewise, as we do, our love will be tested. We test the spirits because God sends them to check us. Love is questioned because our love for Jesus manifests in devotion which is to be the compass of the Christian soul.
Deuteronomy 13: 1-5 plainly states why God’s people need to test the spirits and, in the process, put ourselves under a test. God tells us in that passage:
“If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a sign or a wonder, and if the sign or wonder spoken up takes place, and the prophet says, “Let us follow other gods” ( gods you have not known) “and let us worship them, “You must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. The Lord your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all of your heart and with all of your soul. It is the Lord your God you must follow, and him you must revere. Keep his commandments and obey him; serve him and hold fast to him. That prophet or dreamer must be put to death for enticing rebellion against the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery. You must purge the evil from among you.” (NIV)
Spiritual warfare is about who or what you love. Through moral combat, one’s heart is brought into the light. Either into victory or the retreat into darkness and defeat after the heart’s real desire and belief is revealed. The test is of our love for God as a person, “if you will.”
I think it would be good at this point to have a reminder: John has already in this letter, 1 John 3:10, established that those that love their fellow believers are in right relationship with God. So then, if you struggle with loving Christians (honestly, we all do to a degree), then the requirement to test the spirits will play out for us only as well as is our love for God which is measured by the love we have given to our fellow Christians.
Outwardly we may not be willing to worship other gods, though we would not likely call them “other gods,” but those that neglect proper love relationships tend to fade from God’s way. Those that are unaware of how to have appropriate relational bonds can end up fading from the way of God’s love. Love is what we all really desire. The fact is we do not properly love one another. We don’t love each other as God loves us. It is at that point of neglect that we seek to supplement true relational unity with God’s defaults blessings. Those things that comfort but do not really correct our relational longings
Relationships are hard. In our fear, we resist closer unity. Our inclination is to go with what God freely gives, but unlike Him, we do not always reflect love as He does. People tend, in my experience, to supplement the relational neglect (not loving as God loves us) in their life with God’s blessing or something resembling or pointing to harmony with God. They hold onto the benefit more than God Himself. They then, in turn, follow after others and/or “other gods” by their own choice. Not loving as God loves opens the door to deception. We can only love those who believe in God by loving God Himself. This brings lasting blessing. Therefore, we must ask ourselves: Is our love for God’s blessing or God as a Person? In that way, as John tells us, perfect love casts out fear! (1 John 4:18)
It seems the final exam for the believer is always: The blessings of God or the Person of God?
For example, we read in Job’s story (in the Book of Job) about such a test. A God-blessed life is stripped away to see if he truly loves God. For example, Abraham was commanded by God to sacrifice his promised son Isaac. Abraham went through years of waiting on God’s promise of a son only to have God command him to surrender the son after decades of longing. God must come first even before the blessings that come from His Hand. Job and Abraham both believed in God and knew the challenge was to believe God Himself rather than to treasure God’s blessings above Him. After years of learning to properly love God, at the final exam they put to death in their minds any opposition. Likewise, our trust must be wholehearted in the promise of God’s love for us.
1 John 4:8 says simply, “God is love.” A. W. Tozer taught that “Love is not the definition of God because God transcends any one of His attributes.” God defines love in its complete form by sharing that we should lay down our lives for our fellow Christians. Christ is the source of Christian fellowship, and indeed as John points out, it is by such love we live. It is by such love we live!
Therefore, by the Spirit of such love, we carry the Name of God and have continuance in Him. We do not reflect God if we do not love… just as the Shema declares. God commands His people to love with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength (one’s whole being) because that is what He does. Moreover, Jesus said the same thing in speaking to this standard of love with His command, “be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).
We are to love with completeness. Jesus says this more clearly to His disciples when He says, “love as I have loved you” (John 13:34-35). In 1 John, the Apostle John (verse 23) passes along this command to all indwelt with the Holy Spirit. Now I must emphasize: only Christians can love in this manner because they as God’s children (born of God) have received God’s Spirit and know such love. God’s children are to love one another as they love God following after the love He has given.
Now you may feel that you fall short of such love. You’re right. You do. The real question is do you believe in such love or better yet… in such a Loving Being. Remember He is faithful and just to forgive our sins (1 John 1:9).
I must close by saying, it is our belief that God loves us that brings God’s love through our good works, not the other way around.
What follows are some of my thoughts in meditating on 1 John chapter 5. I hope you find them helpful!
Belief Brings Birth: God always puts His seed in the open heart through his Son having a body formed of the earth just like any human. God seeds the souls of humanity through his Son being like plowed earth, if you will, and indwells open hearts with his Spirit. The very resurrection power of God. So, they can grow out of the earth to be righteous. In this way, God has fathered us who believe. Since we believe in the human, HE fathered us by His Spirit through His love for the world, namely, Jesus of Nazareth… the Messiah and His one and only, unique Son.
Yes, in the heart of the soul fathered by God is the love of God. Most clearly revealed in us by love for the brothers and sisters of those with Faith in Christ. In this way John proclaims, by being fathered by God, such people follow the Son of God to conquer the world.
So, of course, the Son is a big deal! Verse 4 ends saying, “this is the conquering power that has conquered the world: our faith.” (NET) Those who believe in the one who overcame, so conquer.
John tells us that Jesus came by water and blood not water only but water and blood. That speaks to the fact God the Father has commanded such a unique life to come forth. Moreover, if you keep in mind Jesus’s mother Mary was a virgin in the chaos of humanity. That also sticks with the context of the passage about being fathered by God. So, John here I think has emphasized that Jesus was human with a human life of flesh and blood. He did not just appear human. He was human and His coming by blood I think points to His death and resurrection, but, to be honest, it is hard to nail down what is meant by the one who “came by water and blood.”
Nevertheless, The Son (Jesus) has come to us with life and has come to us through death, and in him, we can share in the life that conquers. To those that believe the testimony John proclaims, you have eternal life because to have the Son is to have life itself. Since life exists in God and Jesus is a human (the Godman but fully human) who resides in the presence of Father God.
To disbelieve the testimony of Jesus and his apostles of which John is one. Is to call them liars. To neglect God’s spoken command is to call God a liar, which God says leads to death. (see Genesis 2:17) God, by the way, cannot lie. He is the truth. Those that believe He is true share in His eternal life. They can ask for what they need in bearing His Name, and they will have it.
John concludes by warning in verse 21, “Little children, guard yourselves from idols.” The very opposite way of living from what this letter has instructed. The participation and or worship of an image of who or what (real or imaginary) one might turn to for help, comfort, and direction. To live choosing good oneself without or over honoring God with your life. Those who know God live for God, and He imparts His Spirit to them, the great Comforter and from Him alone are we to receive counsel. Others find their relief in sin and are powerless to overcome the powers that shepherd sinful behavior. And make no mistake about it, “sin” in its twisted way is a comfort to us and we have a willful inclination to turn to sin’s momentary comfort. Therefore, we must guard our souls since we who believe are not yet glorified.
We (Christians) must heed to command to acknowledge the LORD and love, especially those of the family of Faith in Christ.