In my week of ministry in New Jersey, I have been asked to give a bit of an introduction to the three epistles of John. That talk will be given on January 7 in Sunday School. Since you are reading this on January 30th, we are hoping the presentation went great! (Time is a weird thing, isn’t it?).
We’ve looked at some of the introductory information about John the author. We then surveyed six themes of the Johannine epistles suggested by Constantine Campbell in his 2017 commentary.
In this last post on this topic, I’d like to focus on what I call the SPIRITUAL SURPRISES in I John. How important is life in the Christian community? Is the local church the great evangelical option (I’ll go when I feel like it and contribute my resources and service only minimally)? The early Christians often ate their meals together, shared their possessions with one another, and prayed for each other when persecution came. Today it seems we barely say “Hi, how are you? How ’bout them Mets?” to one another.
Here’s what I’ve found in I John. John purposely substitutes “the church” or “other believers” in places where you would expect him to write “Jesus” or “God.” Here are seven examples that I see in I John:
The first spiritual surprise comes in 1:3 where John writes, “3 We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.” One would have expected John to say, “We’re proclaiming this to you so you may have fellowship WITH GOD,” right?
The second spiritual surprise occurs in 1:7 where John writes, “7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” Again, one would expect John to focus on fellowship WITH GOD, but instead he refers to the Christian community.
The third spiritual surprise that I see is found in 3:10- “10 This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister.” I would have expected John to say something about one not loving GOD.
The fourth spiritual surprise I find is in 3:14 where we read, “14 We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death.” I would have written something like “because we have believed the gospel” or “because we have trusted the Lord Jesus.” John’s concern is love for other believers.
The fifth spiritual surprise I see is also in chapter 3, but in verse 16- “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.” This one’s obvious, right? One would have expected something about martyrdom for JESUS, don’t you think?
The sixth spiritual surprise is in 4:10-11- “10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” Reciprocal love for God is shown by loving His children!
This theme of loving other believers is hit one more time (in a seventh surprise) by John in 4:19-21- “19 We love because he first loved us. 20 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.” It is impossible, according to John, to love God IF one does not love his brother or sister in the faith!
How critical is the Christian community? I’m not sure John could have driven that point home more strongly than the way he worded these verses. How are you doing in loving other believers?