The Latter Epistles – 1 John 1

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.  The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us.  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.  We write this to make our joy complete.
This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.  If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth.  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.
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.  If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.

  • 1 John 1:1-10

Noted Biblical Scholars, Teachers, and Preachers Comments

1 John 1:1 ‘with our own eyes’: “The fact that Christ was really in the flesh, that he was no phantom, no shadow mocking the eyes, is exceedingly important.  Eyesight is good, clear evidence.  But better still John had leaned his head on Jesus Christ.  His hands had often met the real flesh and blood of the living Savior.  We need have no doubt about the reality of Christ’s incarnation when we have these open eyes and hands to give us evidence.”

  • Charles H. Spurgeon, from his sermon notes

1 John 1:1-4 ‘biblical view of Christ’: “As an apostolic eyewitness to Jesus’ ministry, including His death and resurrection, and as one of the three most intimate associates of the Lord (John, Peter, James), John affirms the physical reality of Jesus Christ’s having come ‘in the flesh’ (cf. 4:2, 3).  In this way, John accentuated the gravity of the false teaching by immediately focusing on a strongly positive affirmation of the historic reality of Jesus’ humanity and the certainty of the gospel.  Although the false teachers claimed to believe in Christ, their denial of the true nature of Christ (i.e., His humanity) demonstrated their lack of genuine salvation (2:22, 23).  The affirmation of a proper view of Christ constitutes the first test of genuine fellowship (v. 3…)”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary

1 John 1:5 ‘God is Light’: “In Scripture, light and darkness are very familiar symbols.  Intellectually, light refers to biblical truth, while darkness refers to error of falsehood (cf. Ps. 119:105; Prov. 6:23; John 1:4; 8:12).  Morally, light refers to holiness or purity, while darkness refers to sin or wrongdoing (Rom. 13:11-14; 1 Thess. 5:4-7).  The heretics claimed to be the truly enlightened, walking in the real light, but John denied that because they do not recognize their sin.  About that basic reality, they were unenlightened.”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary

1 John 1:6  ‘first false claim’: “The first false claim (1:6) is to have fellowship with God while continuing to ‘walk’ (live) in ‘darkness’ (sin).  This antinomianism separates ethics from faith.  John’s response is two-fold: we lie and we do not live (practice) the truth.  Truth is the revelation about God’s nature as light.  We contradict the truth by words and by deeds.  The corrective (1:7) is to walk continuously in conformity with God’s nature (truth, holiness) just as he is in the light.  His activity is always consistent with his nature.  Two result follow: fellowship with other believers (based on fellowship with the Godhead {v. 3}) and continuous cleansing – not just forgiveness – from the stain of sin by the blood of Christ.  The noun sin (hamartia, missing the mark) refers to either sin we unconsciously commit while in the light or our sinful nature; blood recalls the Old Testament atoning sacrifice (Lev. 16), which was fulfilled at the cross.  Both the human (‘Jesus’) and divine natures (‘his Son’) are indicated.”

  • Walter A. Elwell, editor, Baker Commentary on the Bible

1 John 1:7 ‘the blood of Jesus’: “If guilt returns, his power may be proved again and again.  There is no fear that all my daily slips and shortcomings will not be graciously removed by this precious blood.”

  • Charles H. Spurgeon, from his sermon notes

1 John 1:8  ‘second false claim’: “The second false claim (1:8) is to be without sin in our nature.  This is a worse error than the first, since it denies the very fact of having sin (see John 9:41; 15:22).  The consequences are worse; we practice self-deception and the truth with its moral quality is not even in us.  The first error concerns one’s living; this concerns one’s being.  The corrective (1:9) is to continually confess sins when they are known.  We acknowledge being sinners in both nature and practice.  The provision is twofold: forgiveness of (release from) the debt of sins and cleansing from the stain of all unrighteousness (5:17).  This God will do because he is ‘faithful’ (so his promise to forgive [the new covenant; Jer. 31:31-34; Heb. 8:8-13]) and ‘just or righteous’ (because Christ satisfied God’s justice in his death for sins).  Confession (and forsaking [Prov. 28:13, James 5:16]) is an obligation; John is commanding the readers to confess sins.”

  • Walter A. Elwell, editor, Baker Commentary on the Bible

1 John 1:8 ‘denying our sin’: “The natural tendency of our heart is to try to appear to be what we are not.  We all, more or less, struggle against this tendency.  Love of approval, rightly checked and kept in order, has its uses.  But often it pushes people to pretend to be better than they are.  The Lord cannot stand with us on the platform of seeming and appearance but only on the ground of what we really are.  We must, therefore, judge ourselves severely.  If we do not, our natural tendency to falseness will lead us to delude ourselves into the foolish belief that we are what we proudly represent ourselves to be.”

  • Charles H. Spurgeon, from his sermon notes

1 John 1:10 ‘third false claim’: “The third false claim (v. 10) is to be without sin in comfort.  This is the worst error: claiming to be incapable of doing sinful acts.  The two consequences are the most serious: we make Gd a liar (no longer light, v. 5) and his word (truth) is not in us.  This claim attack’s God’s nature and revelation, because his word declares sin to be the universal and present (Ps. 14:3, Isa. 53:6, 64:6).  The corrective (2:1-2) is that one must not commit sin: to emphasize that point is one of the chief purposes for writing.  ‘Dear children’ is terminology unique to John (2:12, 28; 3:7, 18; 4:4; 5:21; cf. John 13:33), expressing John’s concern and oversight.  He commands his readers to renounce sinful acts or a lax attitude toward sin.  Yet if one sins, the divine provision is twofold.  First, Jesus Christ is our intercessor or advocate (again, the terminology is unique to John: see John 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7, which refer to the Holy Spirit).  As the righteous (2”29; 3:7) God-man he pleads the legal case of the unrighteous before God as the ‘atoning sacrifice’ sufficient for sins for all time for all men.  The description atoning sacrifice means a propitiatory offering; Christ satisfies God’s wrath against sin (4:10).  He is not simply the expiation (RSV) given by God to annul the guilt of sin.  His death is applied only to all who ask for salvation (i.e., believe).”

  • Walter A. Elwell, editor, Baker Commentary on the Bible

My Thoughts

The Apostle John may be trying to counter an early form of Gnosticism.  At least two of the commentaries that I studied started with entry remarks about it.

We must know that Jesus was fully human and fully God.  God’s atoning sacrifice does not work without that.  John uses some of the similar language to the beginning of the Gospel of John in establishing Jesus as God.  The comments from Spurgeon and MacArthur above are important.  The letters from Peter and John are from eyewitnesses who had not just heard Jesus, but walked with Him, talked with Him, touched Him, and as for John, leaned against Him at the Last Supper.  That should carry a lot of weight.

John then states that God is Light.  While most people going through a tough winter may want to see the sun shining and catch a few rays of sunlight, there are many that avoid the light.  God being light, means that there is no shadows in which to hide.  God knows our sin.  That is the next thing that John addresses, but in being Light, God knows all about us.  When we do good deeds, He knows.  When we sin, He knows.  God is equally someone that we should be attracted to, but He is also to be feared.  He is without sin and we can never measure up, until He washes our sins away.  This should leave us with a debt of gratitude that we could never repay.

The Baker Commentary does a great job of breaking down the three aspects of the false teaching that John is combatting.  We must recognize our sin and repent.  Walking and talking with God and continuing in a sinful life is not a compatible mixture.  But, the second part, is important that we must confess or sins.  We may stumble.  We may find that an old habit that we thought was no big deal has become a big deal and it must be jettisoned, and as an old habit, that might not be possible without God’s help.  The Baker Commentary nails it down that confession is necessary, but I have heard many Christians say that their sins were forgiven 2,000 years ago and God has already forgotten, so why bring it up?  Mostly, I hear this from ex-Catholics that remember confession and what they were required to do.  We confess to God so that we can repent and move in the other direction.  If we do not bring it up, we may never work on a full repentance from that sin.  God has forgiven us, if we truly believe, but what type of witness do we make by returning to the old problem once that problem has already shown to be a problem?

But the third false teaching is the worst, the idea that we are not sinners at all.  It reminds me of a discussion about whether we could lock ourselves in a room and manage to not sin for an hour.  I joked that a sweet lady in class could not do it, but I will put the joke on myself.  After about 45 minutes (in actuality maybe 45 seconds) I would be so proud of myself for lasting that long that I would be unable to control my bragging on myself and ruining the whole experiment.  Even with no one watching on a livestreaming monitor, God would know that I was in that room crowing about how wonderful I had become in 45 minutes (yep, maybe 45 seconds).  We cannot avoid sin.  And as John and the commentaries all state, we make God a liar.

This may seem like an odd plateau to end, but this is where the first chapter ends.  This thought will be continued in the discussion of 1 John 2.

Some Serendipitous Reflections

“3. Have your friends lost sight of Jesus’ deity, or his humanity?  With what results?”

  • Lyman Coleman, et al, The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups

1 John 1 is a short chapter and the main theme is split between chapters 1 and 2.  The Serenity Bible combined all of chapter 1 and half of chapter two in one discussion.  Since two of the questions relate to verses in both chapters 1 and 2, they will be part of next week’s discussion.

If you like these Thursday morning Bible studies, but you think you missed a few, you can use this LINK. I have set up a page off the home page for links to these Thursday morning posts. I will continue to modify the page as I add more.

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.

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