John the apostle

John’s family home was in Bethsaida of Galilee and would appear to have been centred around upholding the principles of righteousness. He was the younger brother of James, and Zebedee his father never discouraged his two sons and Salome his wife from following and supporting the Lord in his ministry. The record in Matthew 27:56, Mark 15:40, 16:1 and John 19:25 would indicate Salome was the sister to Mary the mother of the Lord. This would make John a first cousin to the Lord Jesus Christ. John’s name signifies “Yahweh has been gracious”.

John was a man of great enthusiasm, honesty and natural energy which he shared with his brother James. These characteristics would be moulded and shaped to a vessel of God’s delight in the years following the death and resurrection of the Lord. His intense love of God and his Lord is seen in his reaction to the revealing of “things that will surely come to pass” when he wept much (Rev 5:4) when it appeared there was no one worthy to open the sealed book.

During his association with the Lord, certain notable incidents left a profound mark on the mind of John. The witnessing of the transfiguration of the Lord and the whole demeanour of the Lord during the final meal with his disciples left an indelible print on his mind. His opening words in the Epistle reflect these incidents when he emphasizes several times that “we have seen, heard and handled”. John’s life expresses with startling clarity that the truth is not an academic record of principle; it is a way of life; it is a tangible and practical manifestation of high and lofty principles. After Judas had left the upper room, John only records the Lord as addressing his disciples as “little children” and he uses this expression exclusively as he appeals to the believers in 1 John 2:1,12,28; 3:7,18; 4:4; 5:21.

The epistle

The epistle is challenging in both the depth of thought and expressions of absolute truth. Yet for all its challenges, there are several simple fundamental directions for daily life.

Who in all honesty could not comprehend: “every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure”; or “whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him”?

On the other hand it requires careful and prayerful consideration to comprehend the depth of the truth expressed as: “if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: and he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.”

The Epistle may be studied from many perspectives. For instance, a thematic consideration will reveal seven contrasts, seven tests of true discipleship and seven characteristics of true discipleship. The following tables illustrate the themes.

Seven Contrasts

Chapter     Spiritual                 Carnal

1:5 – 2:11     Light                     Darkness

2:12–17       The Father            The World

2:18–28    Son of the Father   The Antichrist

2:29 – 3:24  Right                      Wrong

4:1–6           Truth                         Error

4:7–21          Love                        Hypocrisy

5:1–21       Begotten of God      Carnally Minded

Seven Tests of True Discipleship

Ch        The Question                                 The Test

1:6          Are we honest with others?            Fellowship

1:8          Are we honest with ourselves?       Sanctity

1:10       Are we honest with our                    Righteousness

Lord and Master?

2:4        Are we honest with our God?         Allegiance

2:6       Are we honest with those                  Association

in the world?

2:9       Are we honest with                            Understanding

our Brethren?

4:20     Do we really love God?                   Consistency

Seven Characteristics of True Discipleship

Ch          The True Believer               Characteristic

2:29          Practises Righteousness              Integrity

3:9            Avoids Sin                                       Uprightness

4:7            Manifests Love                              Selflessness

5:1              Believes that Jesus is                  Zealousness

the Christ

5:1               Loves God                                  Compassion

5:4               Overcomes the world               Resilience

5:18           Remains separate from             Consistency

the world

Alternatively the Epistle could be considered  under the following subjects.

Ch        Appeal to     Subject               Impact on

1             Ecclesia           Light                 Mental purity

2             Personal          Light               Mental purity

3              Ecclesia           Love                Moral purity

4              Ecclesia           Love             Moral purity

5              Ecclesia            Life                 Physical

Bearing in mind the foundation principle is:  “God [Light], so Loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in him should have… everlasting Life”.

Another theme running through the epistle is that of the “new commandment” (Ch 2). This command will be seen as not new in the sense of never before existing, but new in the sense of a totally unique understanding of an existing command. Moffatt gives a useful translation as follows: “And yet it is a new commandment that I am writing to you, realised in him and also yourselves, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining.”

The commandment to “believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another” is one indivisible commandment, although the first half is given by the Father and the second half is given by the Son (1 John 3:23).

This indivisibility within the commandment must be reflected within the community of believers that keep the commandment – this is the motive basis for the koinonia or fellowship, now and in the age to come. Once again we see a fundamental principle extrapolated into a practical application – love becomes the basis for fellowship. Yet if we wish to explore another level of consideration altogether, we could follow the thought of the significance of the composite commandment of God and His Son that reflects their indivisibility as much as the indivisibility between the ecclesia and Christ (cp John 17:21–23).

This leads also to the theme of love – its origin, application and perfection. “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed…” (1 John 3:1)

  • Light separated the darkness, so now Love separates from the world.
  • Just as in chapter 1 confession of sin leads to cleansing, so now, hope of the realisation of love leads to purification.
  • “This hope set on him” (1 John 3:3 Grk, ‘superimposed’ – is of God; cp John 1:12,13) – it is not of man.

The following table summarises John’s  consideration of love.

4:9–10            Defined

2:5                   Generated by the Word

3:1                   Result is Sonship

3:11                  Will be manifest to one another

3:14                    Evidence of our changed status

3:17–18              Will be practically expressed

3:23–24             Distinctive attribute of God’s family

4:7                      Demonstrates begotten of God

4:8                      Inherent characteristic of God

4:11–16                Seen in our life based on God’s example

4:17–18               Generates confidence

5:1–3                  Evidence of being a member  of God’s family

Of all the themes, it is the consideration of love  that may provide the greatest motivating comfort  in these closing days of the Gentiles.

True love, manifest in all aspects of the  believer’s life, will provide a calm and positive  confidence of our fellowship with God and His Son  from which will flow:

  1. Keeping of His commandments despite physical loss
  2. Doing that which would please Him
  3. Confidence in forgiveness for the times we fail.

This is the fulfilment of the promise our Lord made: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27).

So John therefore concludes: “Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world” (1 John 4:17). And now, little children, abide in him; that, when he shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before him at his coming” (1 John 2:28). For love to be made perfect, it must be the love of God, the fulfilment of the “commandment” (cp v12).

When we do this, we may have confidence toward the day of judgment because, although humbled in the presence of the Divine Lord, we know in him is love not punishment.

As he is, so are we – that is, we are one community – the very underlying objective of loving one another – our Lord is as much a part of that community in the day of judgment as we are today.

May we so develop in that true love to the honour of God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, His beloved Son.