This letter is attributed to John, Christ’s beloved disciple, and it bears his unmistakably simple and pastoral style. It was likely written sometime between A.D. 80–85 to churches in Asia Minor. John wrote to address influential false teaching that was plaguing these early churches. In short, some Christians were starting to question whether Jesus had truly been both God and man.
John begins his letter with Christ, who “was from the beginning.” He wants his readers to remember that Jesus is the Son of God; he also wants to establish John’s own credibility to testify about Jesus, the man. John was a dear friend of Jesus, the disciple “whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23). It was John’s personal relationship with Jesus that qualified him to set the record straight about Jesus’ divinity and humanity. Sent by the Father to redeem the world from sin, the Son remained fully God, yet also fully human.
John begins his letter by establishing the Son’s “God-ness.” Obviously, no mere man has been “from the beginning.” He reminds his readers that the divine nature of Christ wasn’t something Christians made up; Jesus was revealed to us as the eternal “Word of life.” John outlines how sinful human beings can be in a right relationship with God: by asking for forgiveness and “walking in the light.”
In 1 John 2, we see how life in Christ is more than just an internal attitude; it always affects behavior. This means our relationship with God is demonstrated through our obedience in a world filled with temptations.
1 John 3 continues John’s defense against false teaching by equipping his audience to discern who is in Christ. Genuine brothers and sisters will exhibit certain characteristics: purity, righteousness, obedience, and, ultimately, love for God and others. If we’re to be known for the kind of love Christ demonstrated for us, then we ought to lay down our lives for each other. We should expect the world to misunderstand and even hate us for being in Christ, yet we should also demonstrate God’s love with actions.
In 1 John 4, John returns to the deity and humanity of Jesus by reminding readers that the key to faith is knowing God.
In 1 John 5, John makes it clear that Christians are able to relate to God through Jesus, who being both fully God and fully human, provides the way for us to be reconciled to the Father. If we don’t believe Jesus is the Son of God, then we don’t have access to His power, which overcomes both the world and the sin in us. But when we do abide in Christ, then we can pray with confidence, knowing our prayers align with God’s will. We can also correct one another in love and prevent ourselves from falling for the lies of the enemy. False teachings will come and go, but our standing with God is sealed in Christ, not our knowledge. God gives us the understanding we need in order to be in Christ (5:20).
What role does discernment play in the desire of Christians to cooperate with and encourage others engaged in missions? In John’s second letter, he reminds his readers how truth and love must walk together. Unswerving devotion to Christ and His teaching should guide us in our missionary cooperation and support. In this most brief of letters, the apostle counsels a friend or local church, described as “the elect lady,” about how to evaluate fellow workers. Through it all, one theme stands out as both our guide and goal: the truth.
John teaches that a right concern for truth leads not to legalism but to obedient love. In a fallen world, however, only “some” who claim the name of Christ actually walk in the truth. So John warns about the “deceivers” who deny the nature of Christ and go beyond Christ’s teaching, finally declaring that such a teacher “does not have God” (1:9). John instructs the church not to welcome or support such teachers; in fact, he says that anyone who does support these teachers “shares in his evil work” (1:11). After these stern warnings, he closes with warmth and affection toward his “children,” noting that only when he sees them face-to-face will his “joy be complete.”
As in his prior letter, in 3 John the apostle continues to instruct Christians about how they should relate to and support missionaries. And again, John tells us that the test for whom we should encourage and support revolves around one thing: truth.
But where 2 John tells us whom we should NOT to support, 3 John tells us whom we OUGHT to support—both why and how. As he discusses this, John introduces us to three people: Gaius, Diotrephes, and Demetrius. With each person, John is at pains to discuss how their lives relate to the truth—for better or worse. For example, Gaius loves others because of the truth (1:1–8), Diotrephes loves himself more than the truth (1:9–10), and Demetrius rejects what is evil and chooses the truth (1:11–12).
Again, John ends his letter with warm affection and a desire to see his friends face-to-face. While some of the words in the letter are stern, they serve as a useful reminder that through it all, love is the apostle’s guiding motivation and spiritual good is his goal.
1 I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom:2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions,4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.5 As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
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