When Jesus to earth, He came not only to live a life, but to give life.
“I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10)
The Gospel of John was designed to produce faith so that we might have life (John 20:30‐31). However, it is First John which describes the nature of that life in greater detail (e.g. 3:14). The goal of our six-week study of First John is to learn more about how to live the life God offers through His Son Jesus Christ.
The author is the Apostle John, son of Zebedee and the author of the Gospel of John and Revelation. He was a fisherman; one of Jesus’ inner circle (along with James and Peter); and “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23). Similarities in style, vocabulary, and themes in both this epistle and the Gospel of John certainly offer internal evidence for this conclusion. As we stated in our “jet tour” through the New Testament, some argue this book was written by a disciple of John, but there is no reason John couldn’t have written it and many reasons to believe he did. As he states in his prologue (1:1-4) he claims to have seen Jesus with his eyes and touched him with his hands (1:1). There is also external evidence that John is the author. Polycarp, a close associate of John, appears to make reference to this epistle in a letter to the Philippians at the beginning of the second century. Irenaeus, a student of Polycarp, quoted from the epistle and attributed it to John. Other church fathers who attributed his letter to the Apostle include all the big names, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian and Origen.
No one is specifically mentioned by name, but John is known to have lived in Ephesus in his later years before he was banished to the island of Patmos so the letter was probably addressed to the church there. Another theory is that the letter was a more general epistle written to Christians throughout Asia Minor (modern day Turkey).
Uncertain. Estimates range from 60 A.D. to 100 A.D. Most modern scholarship places it around AD 85-90. By this time Jerusalem had been destroyed (AD 70) and Christians were scattered across the empire. Christianity had been around for more than a generation. It had faced and survived severe persecution. The main problem confronting the church at this time was a watering down of doctrine and declining commitment; many believers were conforming to the world’s standards, failing to stand up for Christ and compromising their faith. False teachers were plentiful and they accelerated the church’s downslide away from the truth and the Christian faith.
Purpose and Theme
John wrote this letter to put believers back on track, to show the difference between light and darkness (truth and error), and to encourage the church to grow in genuine love for God and for one another. He also wrote to assure true believers that they possessed eternal life and to help them know their faith was genuine so they could enjoy all the benefits of being God’s children.
John himself frequently states why he was writing
“these things we write to you that your joy may be full” (1:4)
“these things I write to you, that you may not sin” (2:1)
“these things I have written to you…that you may know that you have eternal life” (5:13)
“these things I have written to you…that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God" (5:13)
While these reasons (above) may state the positive purpose for John's letter, it appears he was also responding to errors prevalent at the time - “these things I have written to you concerning those who try to deceive you” (2:26).
If not fully developed in John’s day, there was at least a precursor to Gnosticism. Those who later came to be called Gnostics claimed to have a superior knowledge (the Greek word for knowledge is gnosis). The central teaching of Gnosticism was that spirit is entirely good and matter is entirely evil. From this unbiblical dualism flowed several important errors.
1. Man’s body, which is matter, is therefore evil. It is to be contrasted with God, who is wholly spirit and therefore good.
2. Salvation is the escape from the body, achieved not by faith in Christ but by special knowledge that was mystically revealed to the select.
3. Christ’s true humanity was denied in two ways. Some said that Christ only seemed to have a body, a view called Docetism Docetism (dokeo, “to seem”) (contrast that with John’s statement in 1:1). Others taught that the divine Christ joined the man Jesus at Baptism and left him before he died so that the "Christ‐spirit" never suffered (5:6). This view is called Cerinthianism after its most prominent spokesman Cerinthus, a contemporary of John.
4. The Gnostics’ application to everyday living took two different directions. Since all matter was considered evil, some taught one should abstain altogether from anything that would satisfy the flesh and the body was treated harshly. Others went in a totally different direction. They claimed it did not matter what one did in the flesh (it was evil anyway), and to have “full knowledge” it was proper to explore everything. In other words, since matter – and not the breaking of God’s law (3:4) was considered evil, breaking god’s law was of no moral consequence. The Gnostic teaching John was confronting in this letter was the libertine kind, throwing off all moral constraints.
John’s purpose therefore appears to be twofold:
• Assure Christians that they have eternal life (5:13)
• Counter those who denied that Jesus had come in the flesh (4:1-‐6)
As for the epistle’s theme might I suggest:
• Eternal life is in Jesus Christ, who has come in the flesh.
This epistle is a distillation of all that John, now an old man, wants people to remember about the faith. Its essence is that God is light (1:5); God is love (4:16); Jesus is the Messiah (2:22), the Son of God (4:15) who has come in the flesh (4:2) to make us his children (3:1). As such we have eternal life (2:25) and are called not to sin (2:1) but to love one another (3:11; 4:7-12).
The letter was probably occasioned by the fact that a group had split off from the church (2:19) and began trying to persuade others to espouse their new and “advanced” views (2:26). To help the church discern truth from error, both in doctrine and lifestyle, John wrote this letter. The secessionists did not believe Jesus was the Messiah (2:22), nor that he had come in the flesh (4:2-3). Furthermore, they didn’t need Jesus as Savior or mediator, since they claimed to have direct knowledge of and fellowship with God (1:6; 2:4). This spiritual elitism bypassed morality and love as marks of one’s spiritual maturity. What was important to them were visions and spiritual revelations.
First John does not have a neat, logical outline found in many New Testament books. Instead, John seems to have written one paragraph and then he would be reminded of a related idea which became the topic of the next paragraph. The structure is more spiral than linear.
A three-fold outline of the book might look something like this:
1. God is light (1:1–2:29)
2. God is love (3:1–4:21)
3. God is life (5:1–21)
In our dark world, God is light. In our cold world, God brings the warmth of love. In our dying world, God brings life. When we feel a lack of confidence, these truths bring us certainty.
There is a ton of powerful teaching in this short epistle. Here is just a brief look at some of the teachings:
God Is Light (1:1–2:29)
• Walk in the Light (1:5–2:2)
• Resist sin (1:8–2:2)
• Obey the command to love (2:3 - 11)
• Know God and keep His commands (2:3 - 6)
• Know your spiritual status (2:12 - 14)
• Be warned of enemies of the faith (2:15 - 27)
• Beware of the world (2:15 - 17)
• Live like children of God (2:28–3:10)
• Be confident and ready for His coming (2:28–3:3)
God Is Love (3:1–4:21)
• Be righteous and do not sin (3:4-10)
• Love one another: part one (3:11‐24)
• Love in action (3:11‐18)
• Love one another: part two (4:7‐21)
• Love others because God loves you (4:7‐10)
• Love others because God lives in you (4:11‐21)
God is Life (5:1–21)
• Obey God and experience the victory of faith (5:1-5)
• Believe in the Son and enjoy eternal life (5:6-12)
• Confidence and Characteristics of the Child of God (5:13‐21)
• Know you have eternal life (5:13)
• Be confident in prayer (5:14‐17)
• Do not continue in sin (5:18‐20)
• Keep yourself from idols (5:21)
1) Who is author of The First Epistle of John?
2) Who were the original recipients of this epistle?
3) When was it written?
4) List four reasons John stated for writing this epistle. (1:4; 2:1; 5:13)
5) List another reason John wrote this epistle. (2:26)
6) What doctrine found in Gnosticism is addressed in this epistle?
7) What has been suggested as First John’s two-fold purpose?
8) What has been suggested as its theme?
9) What are the main divisions of this epistle as outlined above?
The Holy Bible, New International Version © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society
Executable Outlines, Copyright © Mark A. Copeland
Serendipity Bible for Groups Third Edition, Zondervan Publishing Grand Rapids © 1998
The NIV Study Bible, 10th Anniversary Edition, Zondervan Publishing Grand Rapids © 1995
Life Application Bible New Revised Standard Version Tyndale House Wheaton © 1988, 1989, 1990