Introduction to 1 John
How many of you have read ‘Pilgrims Progress’? As the book begins there is a man, whose name is Christians, who is seen with a book in his hand and a great burden upon his back. The man wept, trembled and lamented because of what he has read. From the very beginning he is crying out, ‘What shall I do?’
No one understood this man’s burden not even his own family. They assumed that he was sick and quickly put him to bed. They hoped that by morning he would be better but things had become worse. No one could understand the burden that this man spoke of as he talked about the coming destruction of of the people. Since no one could understand him he spent his time walking in the fields being greatly distressed saying, ‘What shall I do to be saved?’.
At one point, he stood in the field looking in one direction and then in another. He wanted to run somewhere but he did not know where to flee. At that very moment a man named Evangelist came to him and began to talk to the man. The man told Evangelist that he did not know which way to flee from the coming wrath and judgment.
Evangelist said to the man, “Do you see far off over there that shining light?” The man said, “I think I do.” Then Evangelist said, “Keep that light in your eye, and go up directly to it; you will see a gate, and when you knock, it shall be told to you what you shall do.”
In ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’ the man who stood weeping and trembling was lost for a time. He had become a stranger in this harsh world and there was no one to give him any direction. If it were not for the man named Evangelist what would have become of this man? If he were not there to tell the man to head for that far away light just imagine where this man might have ended up.
The people to whom the letter of 1 John was written had become lost. They had begun their journey towards the eternal city but they encountered many deceivers, liars, false teachers and antichrist’s who had tried to get them to turn away from their eternal destination. If it was not for this letter, and the apostle John’s authoritative message, where might they have ended up? How many might have wandered from the path that was heading towards life eternal.
Every generation, even our generation, needs to hear John’s message. His authoritative message comes to us while we are standing and looking in all directions and wondering which way should we turn? Without his message we would surely choose the wrong direction and end up at the wrong destination.
Let me give you one last example. John Wesley was a missionary in America. From there he wrote to his friends across the Atlantic who were living in London and pleaded with them to consider joining him on the mission field as pastors and ministers. This is what he wrote to them,
“In Fredrica and all the smaller settlements, there are about 500 sheep almost without a shepherd.He that is unjust must be unjust still...He that is a babe in Christ may be so still...Does any err from the right way? There is none to recall him...Is any falling? There is none to lift him up. What a single man can do is neither seen nor felt.” (George Dallimore, George Whitefield. p. 107)
Those words reveal the many dangers that these people were subjected too because there was no pastor in their towns. Wesley is clear that because there was no minister among these people they were not growing in sanctification, they were prone to wander off into error, and there were many who were stumbling in their faith.
As we read this letter we get a sense of the desperation that he felt concerning the well-being of these 500 souls. The danger that they faced was probably even more dangerous than what we may realize at first. Those who err from the right way are not simply those who wander off the path for a time; but they are those who are snatched away by false teachers who come and teach deceitful things.
Wesley’s concern is that there is not spiritual father there to say to them, “My son, do not walk in the way with them; hold back your foot from their paths, for their feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed blood.” Proverbs 1:15-16
We can be certain of this, there are not many who come preaching in this world the ‘Good News’. Yet, there is never a shortage of those who come preaching what is contrary to the gospel and who sow as many tares among the wheat as they can. John says in 1 John 2:18, “Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come.”
Wesley ends his plea to his friends by saying, “What a single man can do is neither seen nor felt.” In other words, there is no pastor, teacher or evangelist among these people to help them on their way. They wander in the fields and look in all directions but they do not have an Evangelist to direct them to the light.
In the absence of a faithful minister there is no evidence of the grace of God. These people go throughout their day and they see no kingdom work going on around them. Their is no godly influence guiding them in the right way. They are not comforted in their trials, encouraged when they despair, nor are they instructed in the way of the truth. They are not admonished when they sin, helped up when they fall, or protected from the false teachings and philosophies that are being espoused by so many.
Imagine for a moment that you are one of those 500 people that Wesley has written about.
Imagine that you had given your life to Christ but now there was no Christian pastor to faithfully give the Word.
Imagine that you were a believer who is failing to grow in sanctification and righteousness because you are not being taught the Word and given an example to follow.
John was writing this letter too people who were experiencing great difficulties. They had heard the teaching of the apostles and they had embraced it. But over time some in the church began to embrace false teachings, they had even begun to teach these things to others in the church and they had begun to draw them away from the truth. John speaks of these men and says, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us.” (2:19)
John D. Hannah in his commentary on 1 John states, “The errorists who are promoting false teaching and improper behavior are denominated (given a name, designated) as false teachers (4:1), antichrists (2:18), liars (2:22), and deceivers (2 John 7). Perhaps the most chilling comment concerning the gravity of the error of the false teachers is that they are unbelievers. ‘Any one who goes too far and does not abide in the teachings of Christ, does not have God…’”
Dr. Hannah goes on to describe the activities of these men by saying, “These itinerants twisted the apostles’ instructions from the earliest inception of the movement which gradually mutated into what became Gnostic tenants, borrowing selectively from Christian faith, mixing in components of various mystery religions and twisting its redemptive message into a gross, grotesque remnant of it.”
These individuals claimed that they were Christians, and that they were God’s children, but they were not manifesting the fruit of a true believer.
They had separated themselves from God’s people (2:19 – They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us.).
They claimed that they enjoyed fellowship with the LORD, but though they walked in darkness (1:6 – If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.).
They claimed that they knew God, but they did not keep His commandments (2:4 – Whoever says ‘I know him’ but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him...).
The unity of these churches were threatened with division and new gatherings were being formed that espoused the teachings of these false teachers. These false teachers even began to send out itinerant preachers to the Christians who tried to convert these believers to their new teaching which contradicted the message that they had received in the beginning.
As a result, the believers in these churches were unsettled, troubled, confused, anxious, and lacked assurance.
The words of John Wesley could have been said of these Christians, “He that is unjust must be unjust still...He that is a babe in Christ may be so still...Does any err from the right way? There is none to recall him...Is any falling? There is none to lift him up.” If someone were to observe these churches before this letter arrived they may have said that ‘what a single man can do is neither seen nor felt’.
However, it is into this situation John begins to speak boldly, confidently and authoritatively. He speaks with great clarity and forcefulness against these false teachers. He condemns their false doctrines concerning Christ. He rejects their false views concerning sin and sanctification. And John confronts these false teachers as those who do not love the brothers.
In contrast, John calls these true believers ‘little children’ and those who are ‘beloved’. Dr. Daniel Akin speaks of why this was so necessary for these Christians when he says, “With the onslaught of these false teachings, doubt and confusion developed among believers. They did not know what, or who, they were to believe. Were they to believe ‘the traditional teachings of the apostles’ or the doctrines of these false leaders?”
John’s purpose for writing this letter is clear. Four times in this letter John tells us explicitly why he has written this letter and we will briefly consider these four statements today.
First, In 1 John 1:4 he writes, “We write this to make our joy complete.” One of the purposes of this letter is to promote true joy in the heart of the child of God.
Secondly, in 1 John 2:1 he writes, “I write this to you so that you will not sin.” He writes this letter so that the child of God will walk in sanctification and will experience freedom from sin.
Thirdly, in 1 John 2:26 he writes, “I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray.” John is writing this letter to help protect these believers from the false teachers and their teachings.
Fourthly, in 1 John 5:13 he writes, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know you have eternal life.” John writes this letter to provide assurance of salvation for the child of God.
#1 - “We write this to make our joy complete” (1:4)
These Christians have been thrown into confusion and as a result they have lost their assurance. They have begun to doubt the truths that they had embraced at first, their faith has been weakened, and their fellowship together was strained.
Dr. Joel Beeke says, “When we don’t have assurance of faith but we do have faith, we will come to heaven, but we will take heaven out of our soul in this life. We won’t have the joys of heaven so much here. We’ll be going through this life more with our head down than with our eyes up.”
Therefore, it is with a sense of urgency that the apostle John begins this letter. There is no traditional greeting; instead John begins by saying something that will immediately get their eyes to look up to the LORD. He reminds them of the apostles eyewitness testimony concerning Jesus Christ. John says, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— 2 the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— 3 that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.” (1 John 1:1-3)
As these believers recover their proper view of Christ they will experience joy. Who else is more lovely, more true, more pure, more genuine and sincere than Christ?
#2 – “I write this to you so that you will not sin” (2:1)
John writes this letter so that these believers will have a biblical understanding of sin and sanctification.
The false teachers have thrown these Christians into confusion by speaking deceitfully concerning Jesus Christ and about His atoning and redeeming work.
John wrote to remind these Christians about Jesus’ redemptive work and His ministry of intercession for all believers. As believers look to Christ they will realize that they have been freed from the bondage of sin. The old body of sin has been crucified with Christ and the new man is made alive by the Spirit unto righteousness. (1 John 3:5-5-9 – You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either sin him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God.)
Douglass O’Donnell says, “Because Jesus is our righteous advocate who offered an expiatory propitiation for our sins (the removal of sin and the renewal of communion with God), we can know that we have come to know him if we follow His lovingly obedient example. Put differently, because of the living fellowship we have with ‘Jesus Christ’ (1:3), who is our Advocate and example (2:1-6), we have the living hope of being delivered from the control and consequences of sin.”
#3 – “I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray” (2:26)
The apostle John is writing this letter because of those who are trying to deceive them. He continues to give them comfort by letting them know that the Holy Spirit has been given to them and He will lead them into truth. He writes, “I write these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you. But the anointing that you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But His anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie – just as it has taught you, abide in Him.” (2: 26-27)
Matthew Henry writes, “True Christians have an inward confirmation of the divine truth they have received...Divine illumination must be something continued. Temptations snares, and seductions, arise. The anointing must abide. It is better than human intuition...It will preserve those in whom it abides against seducers and their seduction. It teaches you to abide in Christ and it secures you in Him.”
#4 – “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know you have eternal life” (5:13)
John wrote his gospel so that people would believe upon Christ and be saved. He wrote in John 20:30-31, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.”
Now, John writes this letter so that those who have believed upon Christ might have great assurance of their salvation. It is not those who trust in the Law that have great assurance, but those that look to Christ and cling to Him by faith. There is no abiding assurance for those who trust in a different gospel. There is no assurance for those who trust in another christ.
As we celebrate communion this morning we have a great opportunity to consider John’s words and look to Christ, to consider what He has accomplished for us, and to consider His advocacy on our behalf even now before the Father.
Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.
And as they were eating, he took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” 23 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. 24 And he said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.