Introduction

Some expositors consider the epistles of John to be the final books written in the Bible. Certainly John’s epistles are the last which he wrote.

The three epistles are called letters; yet the first epistle is not in the form or style of a letter. It has no salutation at its beginning nor greeting at its conclusion. Its style is more that of a sermon. It bears all the marks of a message from a devoted pastor who had a love and concern for a definite group of believers.

John served as pastor of the church in Ephesus, which was founded by Paul. It has been the belief of the church down through the years that John wrote his Gospel first, his epistles second, and finally the Revelation just before his death. However, in recent years some of us have come to the position that John wrote his epistles last. Therefore, he wrote his first epistle after his imprisonment on the Island of Patmos. This places the date about A.D. 100. John died in Ephesus and was buried there. The Basilica of St. John was built over the grave of John by Justinian in the fifth century.

To understand the First Epistle of John we must know something about the city of Ephesus at the beginning of the second century. It was very much like your city or hometown today. There were four important factors which prevailed in Ephesus and throughout the Roman world:

1. There was an easy familiarity with Christianity. Many of the believers were children and grandchildren of the first Christians. The new and bright sheen of the Christian faith had become tarnished. The newness had worn off. The thrill and glory of the first days had faded. My, how exciting it had been to be a believer on that day when Paul had come to town and challenged Diana of the Ephesians! The whole town had been in an uproar. In Acts 19 we read of the effect Paul’s teaching had upon the synagogue at Ephesus and also the impact of his daily sessions in the school of Tyrannus for two years. How fervent their love and zeal for Christ had been in those days. But many years later, when the Lord Jesus sent a letter to the Ephesian believers through John while he was in exile on the Island of Patmos, He said, “Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love” (Rev. 2:4). It was as Jesus had long before warned, “… because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold” (Matt. 24:12). The Ephesians’ devotion and dedication to Christ was at a low ebb.

2. The high standards of Christianity made the Christians different, and the children and grandchildren of the first Christians did not want to be different. The believers were called saints—from the Greek word hagios. The primary intent of the word is “set aside for the sole use of God—that which belongs to God.” The pots and pans in the temple were said to be holy because they were for the use of God. The temple was hagios; the Sabbath was hagios. Now the Christians were to be hagios—different, set aside for the use of God.

But the Ephesians had become assembly–line Christians, programmed by the computer of compromise. They had become plastic Christians. They were cast in a different mold from the disciples to whom Jesus had said, “If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of theworld, therefore the world hateth you” (John 15:19). And also in His high priestly prayer to His Father are these words: “I have given them thy word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world” (John 17:14). There was a breakdown of the Judeo–Christian ethic and a disregard of Bible standards.

3. Persecution was not the enemy of Christianity. The danger to the Ephesian church was not persecution from the outside but seduction from the inside. The Lord Jesus Himself had warned of this: “For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect” (Matt. 24:24). And the apostle Paul had said to the Ephesian elders: “For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them” (Acts 20:29–30).

Christianity was not in danger of being destroyed; it was in danger of being changed. The attempt was being made to improve it, give it intellectual respectability, and let it speak in the terms of the popular philosophy.

4. Gnosticism was the real enemy of Christianity, and, my friend, it still is. Gnosticism was the basic philosophy of the Roman Empire.

Gnosticism took many forms. However, one primary principle ran through this philosophy: matter of material was essentially evil; only the spirit was good. All the material world was considered evil. Therefore Gnosticism despised the body. They held that in the body was a spirit, like a seed in the dirty soil. The same principle is in modern liberalism which maintains that there is a spark of good in everyone and that each person is to develop that spark of good. The Gnostics sought to cause the “seed,” the spirit within them, to grow and tried to get rid of the evil in the body.

There were two extreme methods of accomplishing this goal as practiced by the Stoics and the Epicureans. The apostle Paul’s encounter with these two sects is recorded in Acts 17:18: “Then certain philosophers of the Epicureans, and of the Stoics, encountered him. And some said, What will this babbler say? other some, He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods: because he preached unto them Jesus and the resurrection.”

The Stoics were disciples of Zeno, and their name came from the Painted Portico at Athens where Zeno lectured. They were pantheists who held that the wise men should be free from passion, unmoved by joy or grief, and submissive to natural law. They observed rigid rules and self–discipline.

The Epicureans took their name from Epicurus who taught in Athens. They accepted the Greek gods on Mount Olympus. They considered pleasure rather than truth the pursuit of life. Originally they sought to satisfy intellectual, not sensual, gratification; but later they taught their followers to satisfy the body’s desires so it wouldn’t bother them any more.

There were all shades and differences between the two extremes of Stoicism and Epicureanism, but all of them denied the messiahship of Jesus. I believe John had them in mind when he wrote: “Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son” (1 John 2:22). They denied the Incarnation, reasoning that God could not have taken a human body because all flesh is evil. Therefore John distinctly declared, “And the Word was made [born] flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). And in his epistle he wrote: “Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world” (1 John 4:2–3).

Docetic Gnosticism, considering the Incarnation impossible since God could not unite Himself with anything evil such as a body, taught that Jesus only seemed to have a body, but actually He did not. For example, when He walked He left no footprints.

Cerinthus was more subtle in his teaching. He declared that there was both a human Jesus and a divine Christ, that divinity came upon Him at His baptism and left Him at the Cross. In fact, the Gospel of Peter, which is a spurious book, translates the words of Jesus on the Cross like this: “My power, my power, why hast thou forsaken me?”

The early church fathers fought this heresy and maintained that “He became what we are to make us what He is.” It is my firm opinion that John wrote his first epistle to answer the errors of Gnosticism. Actually there is a fivefold purpose expressed in 1 John: (1) 1:3, “That ye also may have fellowship with us [other believers]: and … with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ;” (2) 1:4, “That your joy may be full;” (3) 2:1, “That ye sin not;” (4) 5:13, “That ye may know that ye have eternal life;” and (5) 5:13, “That ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.”

First John has been called the sanctum sanctorum of the New Testament. It takes the child of God across the threshold into the fellowship of the Father’s home. It is the family epistle. Paul’s epistles and all the other epistles are church epistles, but this is a family epistle and should be treated that way. The church is a body of believers in the position where we are blessed “… with all spiritual blessings in the heavenlies in Christ” (Eph. 1:3, translation mine). We are given that position when we believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. Believing on the Lord Jesus brings us into the family of God. In the family we have a relationship which can be broken but is restored when “we confess our sins.” Then “he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

First John is the book which I used when I began my ministry in a new church. (I didn’t at the first church I served because I was a seminary student and didn’t know enough to begin in the right place.) But in the four churches I served during my forty years of pastoring, I began the midweek service with a study in 1 John. I am convinced that this epistle is more important for believers in the church than the church epistles. When we moved into this wonderful book, I saw the midweek service attendance increase. We saw a phenomenal increase in attendance in the last two churches I served. During the time we studied this little epistle the attendance doubled, doubled again, and then doubled again, so that we had as many people in attendance at the midweek service as we had in the Sunday evening service. Sometimes the midweek service would surpass the Sunday night service. My friend, it is very important to understand this little book.

(McGee, J. Vernon. Thru the Bible Commentary, Vol. 56: 1 John. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1991.)

Poems & Quotes

1 John Introduction–1:1

“The probability of life originating from accident is comparable to the unabridged dictionary resulting from an explosion in a printing shop.”
          –Dr. Edwin Conklin

1 John 1:1-4

“Agnostic is but the Greek word for the Latin ignoramus.”
          –Charles Spurgeon

1 John 1:5-7

Our thoughts lie open to Thy sight;
And naked to Thy glance;
Our secret sins are in the light
Of Thy pure countenance.
          –John G. Whittier

“Secret sin down here is open scandal in heaven.”
          –Dr. Lewis Chafer

1 John 2:8-16

I Heard the Voice of Jesus

I heard the voice of Jesus say,
“I am this dark world’s light.
Look unto Me, thy morn shall rise,
And all thy days be bright.”
I looked to Jesus, and I found
In Him my star, my sun,
And in that light of life I’ll walk,
Till traveling days are done.
          –Author unknown

1 John 2:13-16

And what is so rare as a day in June?
Then, if ever, come perfect days;
Then heaven tries earth if it be in tune,
And over it softly her warm ear lays.
Whether we look, or whether we listen,
We hear life murmur, or see it glisten.
          –From “The Vision of Sir Launfal” by James Russell Lowell

Heaven above is softer blue,
Earth beneath is sweeter green!
Something lives in every hue
Christless eyes have never seen:
Birds with gladder songs o’erflow,
Flow’rs with deeper beauty shine,
Since I know, as now I know
I am His, and He is mine.
          –“I Am His and He Is Mine” by Wade Robinson

1 John 2:16-19

“If I had only served my God like I served my king!”
          –Cardinal Woolsey on his deathbed

1 John 2

“God is in His world, but Buddha, Jesus, Mohammed are in their little private closets, and we shall thank them, but never return to them.”
          –From Living Religions and a World Faith by Dr. William E. Hocking

“Whoever you are that worship here, in whatever household of faith you were born, whatever creed you profess, if you come to this sanctuary to seek the God in whom you may believe or to rededicate yourself to the God in whom you do believe, you are welcome.”
          –Cover page of church bulletin at Riverside Church, pastored by Dr. Harry Emerson Fosdick

1 John 3:1-9

I was a wandering sheep,
I did not love the fold,
I did not love my Shepherd’s voice,
I would not be controlled.
I was a wayward child,
I did not love my home,
I did not love my Father’s voice,
I loved afar to roam.
          –"I Was a Wandering Sheep” by Horatius Bonar

1 John 3:8-12

Would You Hire This Preacher?

     "One of the toughest tasks a church faces is choosing a good minister. A member of an official Board undergoing this painful process finally lost his patience. He watched the Pastoral Relations Committee reject applicant after applicant for some fault, alleged or otherwise. It was time for a bit of soul searching on the part of the committee. So he stood up and read a letter purporting to be from another applicant and this is the letter:
     'Gentlemen: Understanding your pulpit is vacant, I would like to apply for the position. I have many qualifications. I’ve been a preacher with much success and also had some success as a writer. Some say I’m a good organizer. I’ve been a leader most places I’ve been. I’m over 50 years of age. I have never preached in one place for more than three years. In some places I’ve left town after my work has caused a riot and disturbances. I must admit that I’ve been in jail three or four times, but not because of any real wrongdoing. My health is not good, though I still get a great deal done. The churches I’ve preached in have been small, though located in several large cities. I’ve not got along well with religious leaders in towns where I’ve preached. In fact, some have threatened me and even attacked me physically. I am not too good at keeping records. I’ve been known to forget whom I have baptized. However, if you can use me, I shall do my best for you.'
     "The Board member looked over to the committee. 'Well, what do you think? Shall we call him?'
     "The good church folk were aghast. Call an unhealthy, trouble-making, absent-minded, ex-jailbird? Was the Board member crazy? Who signed the application? Who had such colossal nerve?
     "The Board member eyed them all keenly before he answered, 'It’s signed, The Apostle Paul.' And may I say to you, friends, it does have a message in it, does it not?"
          –Author unknown, as quoted by Dr. J. Vernon McGee

“I’m not going to judge you, but I am a fruit inspector.”
          –Dr. James McGinley

1 John 4:1-3

“I just want to take just a moment to clarify the statement I made relative to the fact that we are not attempting to use propaganda on this program either for or against any group, nor do we make announcements relative to certain things. We feel that our work is cut out for us. And I do not attack or defend any particular group. I avoid taking a stand relative to any organization. I may seem to be attacking a certain group if they are teaching something contrary to the Scripture as I see it when I'm teaching that particular section. Now, I do not deal in personalities, although I may mention them by name, never to condemn, but to complement. We're teaching the Bible. I set my hand to the plow about 40 years ago and the Lord told me not to look back to see if I was popular, or if I was unpopular. Just keep plowing a straight furrow, and let the clods fall where they may.”
          –Dr. J. Vernon McGee

“Beware of the wild utterances of prophecymongers.”
          –Sir Robert Anderson

1 John 4:7-11

     Years ago a lady who prided herself on belonging to the intelligentsia said to me, "I have no use for the Bible, for Christian superstition, and religious dogma. It is enough for me to know that God is love."
     "Well," I said, "do you know it?"
     "Why of course I do," she said. "We all know that, and that is religion enough for me. I do not need the dogmas of the Bible."
     "How did you find out that God is love?" I asked.
     "Why," she said, "everybody knows that."
     "Do they know it yonder in India?" I asked. "That poor mother in her distress throwing her little babe into the holy Ganges to be eaten by filthy and repulsive crocodiles for her sins–does she know that God is love?"
     "Oh well, she is ignorant and superstitious," she replied.
     "Those poor wretched negroes in the jungles of Africa, bowing down to gods of wood and stone, and in constant fear of their fetishes, the poor heathen in other countries, do they know that God is love?"
     "Perhaps not," she said, "but in a civilized land we all know it."
     "But how is it that we know it? Who told us so? Where did we find it out?"
     "I do not understand what you mean," she said, "for I’ve always known it."
     "Let me tell you this," I answered, "no one in the world ever knew it until it was revealed from heaven and recorded in the Word of God. It is here and nowhere else. It is not found in all the literature of the ancients."
          –From The Epistles of John by Dr. H. A. Ironside

1 John 4:12-21

“The radiant light is the shadow of God.”
          –Plato

1 John 5:1-4

     Some time ago I read of a man who spent a few months in India. When he came back, he was discussing India at the home of some of his friends, and the talk drifted to missions, and this man, out of his wide experience, about five months in India, said, "I have no use for missions and missionaries. I spent months there, and I didn’t see that they were doing anything; in fact, in all that time I never met a missionary. I think the church is wasting its money on missions."
     A quiet old gentleman sat near. He had not said anything, but now he spoke up and said, "Pardon me, how long did you say you were in India?"
     "Five months."
     "What took you there?"
     "I went out to hunt tigers."
     "And did you see any tigers?"
     "Scores of them."
     "It is rather peculiar," said the old gentleman, "but I have spent thirty years in India, and in those years I never saw a tiger but I have seen hundreds of missionaries. You went to India to hunt tigers and you found them. I went to India to do missionary work and found many other missionaries.”
          –Dr. H. A. Ironside

1 John 5:13-21

“Prayer is not overcoming God’s reluctance. It is laying hold of His willingness.”
          –George Muller