Book 23 - JOHN'S FIRST LETTER, TO THE CHURCHES AROUND EPHESUS
With people, places, definitions ......
Writer: The apostle John, towards the end of his life;
Date: c AD90-100
Where written: Ephesus, on the west coast of Asia Minor (to where Paul wrote his Letter to the Ephesians in c AD62)
Readers: The church in Ephesus and throughout the province of Asia; also as a circular letter to the church at large
Why: A general letter on living the Christian life through faith in Jesus Christ, and in accordance with the Gospel they have been taught. He warns his readers about the ways of the world and false teachers, and proclaims the preeminence of love - God's love for us, and in response, our duty to love each other
According to Some Modern Scholarship: Written by a close companion of John, known as John the Elder.
GOD'S SON REALLY BECAME MAN; THROUGH HIM WE CAN LIVE IN GOD'S LIGHT
JOHN WAS AN EYE-WITNESS TO JESUS, THE WORD OF LIFE
1 John 1:1-4 - We are writing to you about something which has always existed yet which we ourselves actually saw and heard: something which we had an opportunity to observe closely and even to hold in our hands, and yet, as we know now, was something of the very Word of life (Jesus Christ) himself! For it was life which appeared before us: we (as apostles) saw it, we are eye-witnesses of it, and are now writing to you about it. It was the very life of all ages, the life that has always existed with the Father, which actually became visible in person to us mortal men. We repeat, we really saw and heard what we are now writing to you about. We want you to be with us in this - in this fellowship with the Father, and Jesus Christ his Son. We must write and tell you about it, because the more that fellowship extends the greater the joy it brings to us who are already in it.
TO REALLY KNOW GOD, LIVE IN HIS LIGHT, AND ACCEPT THAT YOU ARE SINNERS
1 John 1:5-10 - Here, then, is the message which we heard from him, and now proclaim to you: GOD IS LIGHT and no shadow of darkness can exist in him. Consequently, if we were to say that we enjoyed fellowship with him and still went on living in darkness, we should be both telling and living a lie. But if we really are living in the same light in which he eternally exists, then we have true fellowship with each other, and the blood which his Son shed for us keeps us clean from all sin. If we refuse to admit that we are sinners, then we live in a world of illusion and truth becomes a stranger to us. But if we freely admit that we have sinned, we find God utterly reliable and straightforward - he forgives our sins and makes us thoroughly clean from all that is evil. For if we take up the attitude "we have not sinned", we flatly deny God's diagnosis of our condition and cut ourselves off from what he has to say to us.
TO KNOW GOD IS TO OBEY HIM AND LIVE CHRISTIAN LIVES
IF WE DO SIN, JESUS WILL DEFEND US
1 John 2:1-2 - I write these things to you (may I call you "my children" - for that's how I think of you), to help you to avoid sin. But if a man should sin, remember that our advocate before the Father is Jesus Christ the righteous, the one who made personal atonement for our sins (and for those of the rest of the world as well).
THE TRUE CHRISTIAN OBEYS ALL GOD'S COMMANDS
1 John 2:3-6 - It is only when we obey God's laws that we can be quite sure that we really know him. The man who claims to know God but does not obey his laws is not only a liar but lives in self-delusion. In practice, the more a man learns to obey God's laws the more truly and fully does he express his love for him. Obedience is the test of whether we really live "in God" or not. The life of a man who professes to be living in God must bear the stamp of Christ.
THE CHRISTIAN LIVING IN GOD'S LIGHT, LOVES, AND DOES NOT HATE
1 John 2:7-11 - I am not really writing to tell you of any new command, brothers of mine. It is the old, original command which you had at the beginning; it is the old message which you have heard before. And yet as I give it to you again I know that it is true - in your life as it was in his. For the darkness is beginning to lift and the true light is now shining in the world. Anyone who claims to be "in the light" and hates his brother is, in fact, still in complete darkness. The man who loves his brother lives and moves in the light, and has no reason to stumble. But the man who hates his brother is shut off from the light and gropes his way in the dark without seeing where he is going. To move in the dark is to move blindfold.
JOHN'S READERS KNOW GOD, THEY HAVE BEEN FORGIVEN, THEY HAVE REJECTED EVIL, AND THEY LIVE GODLY LIVES
1 John 2:12-14 - I write this letter to you all, as my dear children, because your sins are forgiven for his name's sake. I write to you who are now fathers, because you have known him who has always existed. And to you vigorous young men I am writing because you have been strong in defeating the evil one. Yes, I have written these lines to you all, dear children, because you know the Father; to you fathers because of your experience of the one who has always existed, and to you young men because you have all the vigour of youth, because you have a hold on God's truth and because you have defeated the evil one.
TO LOVE AS GOD LOVES, YOU CANNOT ALSO LOVE THE WORLD
1 John 2:15-17 - Never give your hearts to this world or to any of the things in it. A man cannot love the Father and love the world at the same time. For the whole world-system, based as it is on men's primitive desires, their greedy ambitions and the glamour of all that they think splendid, is not derived from the Father at all, but from the world itself. The world and all its passionate desires will one day disappear. But the man who is following God's will is part of the permanent and cannot die.
THE FALSE TEACHERS WERE NEVER REALLY CHRISTIANS; BUT YOU, THROUGH THE SPIRIT, KNOW BOTH GOD AND CHRIST
1 John 2:18-23 - Even now, dear children, we are getting near the end of things. You have heard, I expect, the prophecy about the coming of the anti-Christ. Believe me, there are anti-christs about already, which confirms my belief that we are near the end. These men went out from our company, it is true, but they never really belonged to it. If they had really belonged to us they would have stayed. In fact, their going proves beyond doubt that men like that were not "our men" at all.
Be on your guard against error
God has given you all a certain amount of spiritual insight, and indeed I have not written this warning as if I were writing to men who don't know what error is. I write because your eyes are clear enough to discern a lie when you come across it. And what, I ask you, is the crowning lie? Surely the denial that Jesus is God's anointed one, his Christ. I say, therefore, that any man who refuses to acknowledge the Father and the Son is an anti-christ. The man who will not recognise the Son cannot possibly know the Father; yet the man who believes in the Son will find that he knows the Father as well.
CONTINUE TO LIVE AS YOU WERE TAUGHT
1 John 2:24-29 - For yourselves I beg you to stick to the original teaching. If you do, you will be living in fellowship with both the Father and the Son. And that means sharing his own life for ever, as he has promised.
It is true that I felt I had to write the above about men who would dearly love to lead you astray. Yet I know that the touch of his Spirit never leaves you, and you don't really need a human teacher. You know that his Spirit teaches you about all things, always telling you the truth and never telling you a lie. So, as he has taught you, live continually in him. Yes, now, little children remember to live continually in him. So that if he were suddenly to (return and) reveal himself we should still know exactly where we stand, and should not have to shrink away from his presence.
What it means to be sons of God
You all know that God is really good. You may be just as sure that the man who leads a really good life is a true child of God.
THE CHRISTIAN LIFE MEANS LIVING IN LOVE
IT IS A MIRACLE WE ARE "CHILDREN OF GOD"; WE SHOULD LIVE OUR LIVES IN CHRIST ACCORDINGLY
1 John 3:1-6 - Consider the incredible love that the Father has shown us in allowing us to be called "children of God" - and that is not just what we are called, but what we are. Our heredity on the Godward side is no mere figure of speech - which explains why the world will no more recognise us than it recognised Christ.
Oh, dear children of mine (forgive the affection of an old man!), have you realised it? Here and now we are God's children. We don't know what we shall become in the future. We only know that, if reality were to break through, we should reflect his likeness, for we should see him as he really is!
Everyone who has at heart a hope like that keeps himself pure, for he knows how pure Christ is.
Conduct will show who is a man's spiritual father
Everyone who commits sin breaks God's law, for that is what sin is, by definition - a breaking of God's law. You know, moreover, that Christ became man for the purpose of removing sin, and he himself was quite free from sin. The man who lives "in Christ" does not habitually sin. The regular sinner has never seen or known him.
SIN IS OF THE DEVIL, GOODNESS IS FROM GOD
1 John 3:7-10 - You, my children, are younger than I am, and I don't want you to be taken in by any clever talk just here. The man who lives a consistently good life is a good man, as surely as God is good. But the man whose life is habitually sinful is spiritually a son of the devil, for the devil is behind all sin, as he always has been. Now the Son of God came to earth with the express purpose of liquidating the devil's activities. The man who is really God's son does not practise sin, for God's nature is in him, for good, and such a heredity is incapable of sin.
Here we have a clear indication as to who are the children of God and who are the children of the devil. The man who does not lead a good life is no son of God, nor is the man who fails to love his brother.
TO LOVE OUR BROTHERS IS OF GOD, TO HATE IS A PATH TOWARDS MURDER
1 John 3:11-15 - For the original command, as you know, is that we should love one another. We are none of us to have the spirit of Cain (brother of the murdered Abel- Genesis chapter 4), who was a son of the devil and murdered his brother. Have you realised his motive? It was just because he realised the goodness of his brother's life and the rottenness of his own. Don't be surprised, therefore, if the world hates you.
Love and life are inter-connected
We know that we have crossed the frontier from death to life because we do love our brothers. The man without love for his brothers is living in death already. The man who actively hates his brother is a potential murderer, and you will readily see that the eternal life of God cannot live in the heart of a murderer.
TRUE LOVE IS MORE THAN WORDS, IT IS TRUTH IN ACTION
1 John 3:16-20 - We know and, to some extent realise, the love of God for us because Christ expressed it in laying down his life for us. We must in turn express our love by laying down our lives for those who are our brothers. But as for the well-to-do man who sees his brothers in want but shuts his eyes - and his heart - how could anyone believe that the love of God lives in him? My children, let us not love merely in theory or in words - let us love in sincerity and in practice!
Living in love means confidence in God
If we live like this, we shall know that we are children of the truth and can reassure ourselves in the sight of God, even if our own hearts make us feel guilty. For God is infinitely greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.
WE KNOW WHEN WE ARE OBEYING GOD; AND HE REWARDS US ACCORDINGLY
1 John 3:21-24 - And if, dear friends of mine, when we realise this (... that love shows itself in true action) our hearts no longer accuse us, we may have the utmost confidence in God's presence. We receive whatever we ask for, because we are obeying his orders and following his plans. His orders are that we should put our trust in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another - as we used to hear him (Jesus) say in person.
The man who does obey God's commands lives in God and God lives in him, and the guarantee of his presence within us is the Spirit he has given us.
GOD IS TRUTH AND LOVE
A SIMPLE TEST FOR FALSE PROPHETS IS THAT THEY DENY JESUS BECAME A MAN
1 John 4:1-3 - Don't trust every spirit, dear friends of mine, but test them to discover whether they come from God or not. For the world is full of false prophets. You can test them in this simple way: every spirit that acknowledges the fact that Jesus Christ actually became man, comes from God, but the spirit which denies this fact does not come from God. The latter comes from the anti-christ, which you were warned would come and which is already in the world.
GOD, THROUGH CHRIST, ENABLES US TO DISTINGUISH TRUTH FROM LIES
1 John 4:4-6 - You, my children, who belong to God have already defeated this spirit, because the one who lives in you is far stronger than the anti-Christ in the world. The agents of the anti-christ are children of the world, they speak the world's language and the world, of course, pays attention to what they say. We are God's children and only the man who knows God hears our message; what we say means nothing to the man who is not himself a child of God. This gives us a ready means of distinguishing the true from the false.
LOVE COMES FROM GOD, AND HE LOVES US SO MUCH, HE SENT HIS ONLY SON TO DIE FOR US
1 John 4:7-10 - To you whom I love I say, let us go on loving one another, for love comes from God. Every man who truly loves is God's son and has some knowledge of him. But the man who does not love cannot know him at all, for God is love.
To us, the greatest demonstration of God's love for us has been his sending his only Son into the world to give us life through him. We see real love, not in that fact that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to make personal atonement for our sins.
WE TOO SHOULD LOVE ONE ANOTHER, AND GOD WILL LIVE IN US
1 John 4:11-16a - If God loved us as much as that, surely we, in our turn, should love each other!
It is true that no human being has ever had a direct vision of God. Yet if we love each other God does actually live within us, and his love grows in us towards perfection. And, as I wrote above, the guarantee of our living in him and his living in us is the share of his own Spirit which he gives us.
Knowing Christ means more love and confidence, less and less fear
We ourselves are eye-witnesses able and willing to testify to the fact that the Father did send the Son to save the world. Everyone who acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God lives in him, and he lives in God. So we have come to know and trust the love God has for us.
GOD IS LOVE, AND PERFECT LOVE DRIVES AWAY ALL FEAR
1 John 4:16b-18 - God is love, and the man whose life is lived in love does, in fact, live in God, and God does, in fact, live in him. So our love for him grows more and more, filling us with complete confidence for the day when he shall judge all men - for we realise that our life in this world is actually his life lived in us. Love contains no fear - indeed fully-developed love expels every particle of fear, for fear always contains some of the torture of feeling guilty. This means that the man who lives in fear has not yet had his love perfected.
WE CANNOT HATE OUR BROTHER, AND CLAIM TO LOVE GOD
1 John 4:19-21 - Yes, we love him because he first loved us. If a man says, "I love God" and hates his brother, he is a liar. For if he does not love the brother before his eyes how can he love the one beyond his sight? And in any case it is his explicit command that the one who loves God must love his brother too.
OUR CONFIDENCE AS CHRISTIANS
THE TEST OF OUR LOVE IS OBEDIENCE TO GOD AND BELIEF IN JESUS
1 John 5:1-5 - Everyone who really believes that Jesus is the Christ proves himself one of God's family. The man who loves the Father cannot help loving the Father's own Son.
The test of the genuineness of our love for God's family lies in this question - do we love God himself and do we obey his commands? For loving God means obeying his commands, and these commands of his are not burdensome, for God's "heredity" within us will always conquer the world outside us. In fact, this faith of ours is the only way in which the world has been conquered. For who could ever be said to conquer the world, in the true sense, except the man who really believes that Jesus is God's Son?
TO BELIEVE JESUS IS THE CHRIST IS TO RECEIVE GOD'S GIFT OF ETERNAL LIFE
1 John 5:6-13 - Jesus Christ himself is the one who came by water and by blood - not by the water only, but by the water and the blood. The Spirit bears witness to this, for the Spirit is the truth. The witness therefore is a triple one - the Spirit in our own hearts, the signs of the water of baptism and the blood of atonement - and they all say the same thing. If we are prepared to accept human testimony, God's own testimony concerning his own Son is surely infinitely more valuable. The man who really believes in the Son of God will find God's testimony in his own heart. The man who will not believe God is making him out to be a liar, because he is deliberately refusing to accept the testimony that God has given concerning his own Son. This is, that God has given men eternal life and this real life is to be found only in his Son. It follows naturally that any man who has genuine contact with Christ has this life; and if he has not, then he does not possess this life at all.
I have written like this to you who already believe in the name of God's Son so that you may be quite sure that, here and now, you possess eternal life.
WHATEVER OUR NEEDS, GOD WILL ANSWER OUR PRAYERS
1 John 5:14-15 - We have such confidence in him that we are certain that he hears every request that is made in accord with his own plan. And since we know that he invariably gives his attention to our prayers, whatever they are about, we can be quite sure that our prayers will be answered.
PRAYING FOR THOSE WHO SIN
1 John 5:16-17 - If any of you should see his brother committing a sin (I don't mean deliberately turning his back on God and embracing evil), he should pray to God for him and secure fresh life for the sinner. It is possible to commit sin that is a deliberate embracing of evil and that leads to spiritual death - that is not the sort of sin I have in mind when I recommend prayer for the sinner. Every failure to obey God's laws is sin, of course, but there is sin that does not preclude repentance and forgiveness.
JESUS PROTECTS AND EMPOWERS US TO LIVE THE CHRISTIAN LIFE
1 John 5:18-21 - We know that the true child of God does not sin, he is in the charge of God's own Son and the evil one must keep his distance.
We know that we ourselves are children of God, and we also know that the world around us is under the power of the evil one. We know too that the Son of God has actually come to this world, and has shown us the way to know the one who is true. We know that our real life is in the true one, and in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the real God and this is real, eternal life.
But be on your guard, my dear children, against every false god!
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