Two themes of 1 John

As I’ve mentioned in the past I am working through the Letters of John with our congregation, or, those who come on Sundays.  We are up to chapter 4 and will be covering 1-6 this week.   We took off four weeks for Advent and focused on preapring our hearts for the coming of the Lord.  But not that that is over, I wanted to do a review sermon to get people caught up to where we left off on 1 John before getting back into it.  Well, I have been reading it quite a bit and have also been browsing various commentaries to get other perspectives through the Amazon reader feature.  For myself, I made a discovery (something that’s always been there, and someone else probably already noted; I rarely come up with things all on my own) in meditating on 1 John and putting together some things I have been reading and thinking about. 

I am finding there are two major themes that could effectively serve as hinges on which the teachings of 1 John hang.  I also figured these two themes could serve as balances on a scale since the first theme is in 1 John 1:5 and the second theme is in 1 John 4:16b (also noted in verse 8).   These to themes together provide the balance for living a life in proper relationship to God and to one another in Christian community. 

The first is, as noted in 1 John 1:5, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.  This truth comes up early in John’s letter.  Light and darkness in the Johannine corpus have to do with truth and falsehood, life and death, reality and deception, purity and impurity, etc.  John here is communiting a very significant truth abut God: that he is pure light, life, truth and reality.   This statement stands in stark contrast to what can be said about John’s opponants the false teachers who were in every sense, impure, full of falsehood, and deceptive.  Their way is the way of death.

John’s letter then flows from this theme and focuses on ethical living in the light of fact that God is light.  So he adminishes his readers to “walk in the light” of God.  God is light, live accordingly.  Stop living a sinful life and start living in the light of God.

The second theme is, as noted in 1 John 4:16b, which is at the other end of John’s letter, that God is love.  That God is love means he is the source and the origin of love.  It is not something to which he adheres, but rather it is the essence of his existence and being: God is love.  Therefore, love comes from God and anyone who claims to “know God,” loves God and loves other people.  Why?  Becaue God is love.  The ultimate display of this truth is that God sent his one and only Son into the world to give his life on the cross for the sins of humanity (1 John 4:9-10), that human beings may be reconciled to God.  This ties in to John’s ethical teaching related to God as light.  Verse 11 reads, “Beloved, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”    Then here is the second part of 1 John 4:16: “God is love.  Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.” 

This proceeds the love section of 1 John – because God is love, those who know God should love one another.  God loved us by giving his Son to the world.  For us then, love is that act of self sacrifice to put another person in a place of importance above the self.  Love is a kind of selflessness.  Basically you are giving another person the place of priority; you’re putting them in front of you.  In certain instances you, your needs or interest don’t matter, the other person does.  Your own interests get laid aside for the interest of another.  This is also called service – when you serve another person you are loving them.  Jesus said that he came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mk 10:45).

This again is in stark contrast to the character of the false teachers.  They did not love.  In fact, they were loveless and selfish.  They had their own agenda and didn’t care one ounce about others.   They may have claimed to know god but they did not in any way love God or love one another.   They did not walk in the light or live in love.

So, as John admonished his readers to “walk in the light” he also admonishes them to “live in love.” 

These are the two themes that serve to balance the scales of the Christian life: God is light and God is love

So the life we are to live in proper relationship to God and one another is to walk in the light and live in love.


4 responses to “Two themes of 1 John

  1. i appreciate it brian… i’ve been writing about 1 john these last few days and i’m reading through the johns this week with a friend of mine… this is great insight…

  2. Pingback: Here is the WP version of my 2010 Year in review « συνεσταύρωμαι: living the crucified life

  3. We often think of our neighbor as the guy next door–he may be a fun guy to have around or total reprobate. Regardless, he/she is an icon of Christ and as we embrace and love him/her we embrace Christ, and in that embrace grace flows.

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