Intro to 1 John
This summer, from April 23 to July 15, we’ll be studying verse-by-verse through the letter of 1 John. Below you’ll find some introductory content on the letter, but first perhaps you’re wondering, why 1 John?
John the Elder, as he refers to himself in 2 and 3 John, was an old man writing to the church in the first century AD, and throughout his first letter he visits and revisits a gospel truth that we need to hear today: belief in Jesus and living the way of Jesus are inextricably linked. We can’t profess a faith in Jesus that doesn’t work itself out through obedience to his commands, chief among them his insistence on loving others (ex. 1 John 2:9).
To connect this to our year-long theme, All of God for All of Us, this outworking is what it means to live with the God who has given himself to us. Throughout his letter, John uses the image of walking, which is perhaps the best way to consider what it means to receive God. We take him not as a lovely heirloom, to be placed on a shelf and handled from time to time, nor as an insurance policy, to be cashed in on a rainy day. Instead, we receive him by beginning a fellowship with him (1:3), by responding to his call out of darkness and walking with him in his light (1:7). To receive the gift of God is to respond as Jesus’s disciples did when he said to them, “Follow me.” We tag along, learning to live as Jesus lives and to love as he loves.
Background on the Book
John the Elder likely wrote the letters we call 1-3 John towards the end of the first century, something like 66 AD – 90 AD. Like all books of the Bible, scholars debate who exactly wrote 1 John and when, and in the case of 1 John whether or not this specific author wrote all of the books in the New Testament attributed to him: the Gospel of John, 1-3 John, and Revelation. Despite an excess of debate on the subject, the parallels between the Gospel of John and the letter of 1 John (ex. John 1:4, 1 John 1:2), the 3 letters of John (ex. 1 John 3:6, 2 John 9, 3 John 11), and between the Gospel of John and Revelation (ex. John 1:29, Rev 5:6), all indicate that the same author wrote all five books.
Now, for what purpose did John write the letter of 1 John? John seems to be preoccupied with two primary things: 1. to impart assurance to a troubled church and 2. to counteract false teaching. In imparting assurance, John keeps circling around this concept: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13). John communicates assurance through what we’ve described above: belief in Jesus is tied to following Jesus. We know we belong to God when the love of God is being perfected in us (1 John 4:12); “whoever loves has been born of God” (1 John 4:7) (in this we should always be careful to receive from God his definition of love, rather than to project our own concept of love onto the Scriptures). The outcomes of this assurance are things like internal and external peace, forsaking sin and worldly desires, unity among God’s children, and above all, the mutual love that Jesus said would characterize his followers (John 13:35).
Check out the Bible Project video above for more information on the occasion, purpose, and intended outcomes of 1 John.