Since we have started into our sermon series on 1 John, you might want to review the little overview we did in our seminar on New Testament biblical theology in 2013. Here is a little excerpt from those notes.
These three letters are among the shortest in the NT, but they are deeply personal and pastoral. I. Howard Marshall writes of the first letter, “John has not written it according to a neat plan; attempts to get a tidy, three-point sermon out of 1 John are misguided. He conducts a tour through his subject, pausing at the points that interest him, returning to areas of interest, seeing familiar objects from different angles, and yet all the time progressing toward a conclusion. His starting place is firm and solid: it is the Word of life, the revelation of God in Jesus (1:1-4). His goal is clear: it is the possibility of fellowship between men and God through Jesus Christ, his Son” (The Epistles of John, 5).
And so the personal is deeply theological. These little letters give us, not abstract doctrines, but the essential nature of true Christian experience based on the true nature of God (1:5). It is life suffused with God, full of light and truth and love. This then also serves to expose those who falsely claim to know God. Those who do not walk in light, love, and truth do not know him. But John’s purposes are essentially positive: “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” (5:13). John brings together all the truths about the triune God and our relationship with him to demonstrate what true Christianity is.
Robert Yarbrough gives an excellent summation of the three-fold perspective that John gives on the Christian life:
“Life in the Son grows out of right belief, but not right belief alone. It extends to obedient behavior too. But correct behavior, even combined with high orthodoxy, can be overrated. Who has not encountered the doctrinaire, morally scrupulous, but hate-filled self-confessed follower of Jesus? Something is missing. First John in particular puts a finger on it (see also 2 John 1, 5-6; 3 John 1, 6). True godliness in John’s conception consists of a third integral element: deep-rooted devotion of the heart to God. This is love. It changes not only our regard for God but also for people” (1-3 John, 25-6).
We might call these three perspectives orthodoxy (right doctrine or belief), orthopraxy (right practice or obedience), and orthopathy (right affections or love). Let’s look further at these three perspectives.
A lexicon defines truth with terms like “(1) the quality of being in accord with what is true, dependability, uprightness; (2) the content of what is true; (3) an actual event or state, reality.” Yet when we look at the way John uses the concepts of truth, we find something much more alive. Yarbrough has broken down John’s use of truth into the following categories:
· “Truth is possessed and imparted by the Holy Spirit (1 John 2:20), who is truth (4:6; 5:6; 3 John 12; cf. John 14:17; 15:26; 16:13a).
· “Truth refers to the ethical standards that God has established for his people as expressed in his commandments (1 John 1:6: 2:21a; 3:18; 2 John 4; 3 John 3b, 4; cf. ‘doing the truth’ in John 3:21; also 8:32; 14:15, 23; 15:10, 14).
· “Truth is God’s revealed and personal sanctifying presence that gives the believer the capacity to reflect God’s character traits, like love and aversion to sin (1 John 1:8; 2:4, 21b; cf. John 1:14, 17; 4:23-24; 8:32; 16:7; 17:17a, 19).
· “Truth refers to the quality of conformity to the way things are in God’s omniscient wisdom (1 John 2:8; cf. John 5:33; 8:40, 44a, 45, 46).
· “Truth refers to the gospel of Jesus Christ, its implications, and the sphere of eternal life into which the gospel ushers those who embrace it (1 John 3:19; 2 John 1b, 2, 3; 3 John 1, 8; cf. John 14:6; 16:13b; 17:17b; 18:37a)” (1-3 John, 335-6).
Truth is inseparable from God, his plan, his providence, and his communication of himself to his creatures. That is why John stresses the relationship of abiding in order to know the truth (John 8:31-32). Truth must be walked in (2 John 4, 6; 3 John 4). Furthermore, the truth about Jesus Christ must be believed if one is to have a relationship with God (1 John 2:22-23; 4:1-6, 15; 5:1; 2 John 7). But thankfully, truth can be known (1 John 5:13-15, 18-20 uses this term 7 times).
God is light, which is his moral purity and excellence. Those who are in fellowship with him must therefore be morally pure and ethically excellent. They must walk in the light (1:7). John clearly states that he writes “these things to you so that you may not sin” (2:1).
· Keep his commandments (2:3-6; 3:24; 5:2; 2 John 6)
· Practice righteousness (2:29; 3:4-10)
· Yet John is clear that the foundation for this righteousness is the blood of Jesus, God’s Son (1:7; 2:1-2)
The centrality of love in John’s letters is immediately obvious. Love language permeates virtually everything John says. The verb for love (agapao) is found 31 times, and its corresponding noun (agape) shows up 21 times. From what we have already considered above, it is not surprising that they are often used in conjunction with “commandments” (1 John 3:23; 4:21; 5:2, 3; 2 John 5, 6).
· The love of the believer is itself a manifestation of the fellowship of which John speaks. It is the love of God in the believer which moves him to keep God’s word (1 John 2:5).
· The one who loves his brother abides in the light (2:10).
· The believer is not to love (set his affections on) the passing world order which rejects God’s redemptive rule. Those who do love the world demonstrate that they have no love for the Father (2:15).
· The Father has given us his love to make us his children (3:1) through the death of Jesus for us (3:16). If we do not love, it is obvious that we are not of God (3:10). The very nature of God requires the command to love, and those who love their brothers give great evidence that God’s love abides in them (3:11-24). This God-like love is a love that lays down its life for others (3:16-18).
· These themes are fleshed out and reiterated by John in 4:7-12, 16, 18-21; 5:1-3; 2 John 5-6.
· Love links with truth and obedience (2 John 1-6).
I believe these descriptions fit well with the observations of a couple systematic theologians. John Frame writes, “Wisdom and truth, like knowledge, are given by God’s grace and in the deepest senses of the terms, involve obedience and intimate, personal involvement between Creator and creature” (The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, 49). Rolland McCune says, “As the self-contained, self-consistent Ontological Trinity, God is the source of all truth….This foundational aspect of God’s attribute of truth is the basis of a truly Christian philosophy of truth. That is, truth is that which corresponds to the being and will of the God of truth. Any so-called truth or fact attains truthfulness, factuality, or intelligibility because each is in essence a theistic fact, being true because of its place in the eternal counsel of the God of all truth” (A Systematic Theology of Biblical Christianity: Volume One, 254-5).