The Word of Life
1 We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— 2 this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us— 3 we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4 We are writing these things so that our[a] joy may be complete.
God Is Light
5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; 7 but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
Christ Our Advocate
2 My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; 2 and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world
For the next six weeks the liturgy follows the book of 1 John so I thought this was a great opportunity to present a mini-series on 1 John exploring the message of this book in depth. 1 John is quite a small book in the bible even in comparison to the other New Testament letters, but it is still a book that deserves an in-depth look. So Over the next few weeks I am going to try to unpack some of the context around the book, as well as some of its main themes and messages within it. Today I am going to focus on the broad setting of 1 John as well as the introduction to the letter which we have just heard in today’s reading. So let’s jump in
The book on 1 John is also accompanied by 2 and 3 John. These books appear to have been written by the same author from the same community and address similar situations. Through a reading of 2 and 3 John we come to have a clearer understanding of what the situation being addressed in 1 John is. If you haven’t read these book or do not have a clear memory of them I would encourage you to give them a quick read this week just to help you frame what we will be talking about in church. In 2 John the letter is addressed to the Elect Lady and her children, presumably a female leader of a church and the congregation she is leading. This letter commends the church for walking in the truth and light and then leads on to warn about deceivers who do not confess that Christ came in the flesh. The deceivers are labelled as the anti-Christ, here meaning those that are opposite to what Christ true message was. In Thrid John the letter is addressed to Gaius. Again it starts with commendation for walking in the truth. This time John is asking for the support of a missionary group who are spreading the true gospel but meeting opposition, specifically from someone named Diotrephes who is being quite unhelpful. These two letter then reveal that there has been some form of division in Johns community. There is a group that does not confess the coming of Christ in the flesh which is going around spreading this message. While there is also a group going around spreading Christ true message but meeting opposition.
But what of 1 John itself and why does the lectionary focus on it for the next six weeks! 1 John is often classed as a letter although it does not really follow the conventions of such. Its main focus is to help the community which is struggling with the situation we have heard about in 2 and 3 John. It does this though both up-building the community as well as warning the community. It aims to encourage the community on its faith journey while also waring against potential dangers and deceivers. As such 1-3 John are basically written to remind the community of the truth about Christ and to encourage them to support each other and live their lives in recognition of that truth. In short it is about correct beliefs and correct actions and what better message is there to listen to over the next six weeks. At Easter we remember the death and resurrection of Christ. But what does that mean to us, who do we say Jesus is and how does that change our lives? This is precisely what John in looking at. How does following Christ change us. The letters of John are consistently reminding us of what he has written in his gospel “for God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son”. But they do more than reaffirm this, they remind the believing community that in response to the gospel message they should be a community of love. John emphasises throughout that correct beliefs is not enough but should also lead to correct action. Knowing Christ, and the atoning sacrifice Christ made for us should lead to a life lived in light of the gospel truths. As John explains, those who do not love their brothers and sisters in Christ, those who do not walk in light and truth and liars if they call themselves believers. John here is not calling us to be perfect beings but to be honest before Christ. Throughout he is calling his believers to walk in light and love and to always strive to be better.
Right, that has covered much of the background and peculiarities to 1 John, and so now we can move on to look at today’s reading with this new background knowledge helping us frame its message. Our reading is really John setting the scene for the rest of the letter and him laying out his main thoughts and ideas that he will keep circling back to and adding on throughout the letter.
The first section is a poetic opening that establishes the divinity and identity of Christ. John opens with We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life. The use of beginning in relation to the word of life is deliberately ambiguous here in order to allow it to refer to three different beginnings and three different truths about Christ. First the beginning of creation, from the beginning of creation the Word of life was there, as we read in Johns gospel 1:1, in the beginning was the Word and the world was with God and the Word was God.. The Word in this instance refers to Christ, Christ is not a new thing but has been there since the beginning, Christ was not just invented to fulfil a purpose but is a key part of the triune God we believe in. As such his coming in human form was not a simple matter but a sign of the immense love God has for his creation. Second, beginning also refers to the beginning of Christ earthly journey. John specifically refers to this with the concept of touch. Christ walked among us and has imparted his life giving word, the gospel message, with us to guide and strengthen us. Since Christ came to us we can now have a closer and more intimate relationship with the father as well. The third beginning is the beginning of Christianity, Christ the Word became flesh has left his written word so, as it says in John 10:10 we may have life and life in abundance!
In verse two John goes on to reiterate Christ being the life giving word and then in verse three explains that it is this age old message which he is portraying in this letter to the community. John then ends this first introductory section by hinting at the joy which is found in knowing and spreading this life giving message. And he is right, there is such a joy in knowing the word of life which has been revealed through Christ. There is a joy in knowing that from the beginning God intending to give this life giving word, a joy in knowing that Christ came to die for us so that we could have life and a joy in the continuing journey with the word of life in our own Christian journey. This then is a poetic presentation of the nature of Christ. Next John moves on to how believers should respond in light of this.
In this poetic introduction John has laid out the foundations for his doctrinal focus he now moves on to lay out his second main focus which he will keep circling back to and expanding on throughout his writings. Specifically that life in Chirst should lead to a life striving to walk in the light away from sin. In this section John strongly uses the metaphor of light to convey his point; reading in verse 5 God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. This immediately reminded me of John 3:19, light came into the world and people loved the darkness rather than the light. Here John is deliberately using this contrast to back up the idea that the Son and the Father are one, they are God, the light of the world in whome there is no darkness. The next few line then move to discuss how we need to respond to Christ presence. 6 If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; 7 but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.
But what is Darkness? Is darkness sin? No, not quite, or not exclusively. sin at the end of this section is linking into Johns next point, so here darkness is referring to something more than sin. To walk in darkness is to sin, but as we will see, those that walk in the light still sin. Darkness is the absents of light. So walking in darkness refuse to the lack of the light of Christ being present in one’s life. Walking in this light leads believers to be aware of the truth, after all Jesus is the way the truth and the life. But what does this look like to live in the light. Walking in Christ truth means to become aware of the lies and deceits the world teaches us. It means as Paul sates in Romans 12:2 to not conform to this world but to be transformed by the renewing of your mind. It means to follow the criteria of Christ not the criteria of the world and although we may fall short we are aware of this and aware of the forgiveness we have in Christ Jesus. Let me give you an example.
By the laws of the world adultery or cheating on your boyfriend or girlfriend is not illegal. For a husband to cheat on their wife or a wife to cheat on their husband is not a criminal offence. I fact some couples are in what is termed open relationships. They are married or in a committed relationship to each other yet allow each other to have other sexual engagements outside of their marriage. Yet, as those who walk in the light we know this is wrong. We know it is against God law. Further we know Gods law is the truth and that it has been established to give us a joyous marriage. As such we walk in the light.
Another more general example is that of community. A community does not necessarily support each other. In fact there are many so called communities in which individual members lie steal and cheat to get on top of those in their community and to exercise power over them. This dog eat dog world is seen as a natural part of the struggle to get rich and powerful. Yet as Christian we know this is sin, we know Christ truth, we know as a community we are mean to act in love and support of each other, as Paul states in Galatians 3:28 “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slaved nor free, there is no male or female, for all are ONE in Christ Jesus. we are all equal before God. As such our ultimate goal is not to get rich by any means but to strive to live in the loving community which Christ has called us to. Yet while we know cheating is wrong and that we should strive to create a loving and supportive community, Christians still fall short, we still sin. But they do so in light of Gods truth and come to realise the errors of their ways and greatly regret their decisions. This is what John now goes on to explain 8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we are without sin we have not grasped Christ message Yet is we confess our sins then we have life. John reiterates this with 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us Walking in the light does not mean the end of sin. Rather it means we become aware of Christ intent for our life and of the possibility of forgiveness for our sins. To walk with Christ is to enter the light of God’s love. This light is not a punitive interrogation but a light that allows us to see Gods plans for our life so we can enjoy his creation to its full. However, if we pretend we are fine the way we are, if we over look or do not strive to rectify our sins we are not truly following Christ; in fact we make Christ a liar. So those who cannot or do not acknowledge their own short comings also walking in darkness away from Christ. Maybe you think you are a good person, you come to church on a Sunday and have no major flaws. You don’t sin. Well you are wrong, we all sin and we all need Christ. Don’t make Christ a lier be true to Christ and acknowledge those areas which need improvement. Only then can we truly walk in God’s love and truth
But God does not just want only us to come into his light and enjoy this amazing gift of being able to walk in his light and truth. As we read;
My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; 2 and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. For the sins of the whole world! Now we know the joy and truth found in Christ Jesus we are to share this message further. God does not want the world to continue in darkness, so neither should we! There is such great joy in knowing Christ, in knowing the truth, so we are called to share this. As such to follow Christ does not just mean to strive to follow his truth in your daily lives, but to share that truth with others.
So to conclude we have seen three main points from these opening lines of 1 John. First an Awareness of who Christ is, the word of life, the only son of the father and one with God the father. Second. What this awareness should result: life in the light of Christ living in awareness of sin and third a call to not keep the word of life and light of truth to ourselves but to let the whole world know that Christ Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for our sins.
Next week our reading shall focus on 1 John 3:1-7. So If you get time this week to read 1 John 2 that would be good. But before I close I want to challenge you this week; where in your life are you ignoring the truth of Christ? Where in your life are you pretending there is no sin and making Christ a lire. All of us fall short, yet if we do not strive to acknowledge our short comings in the light of Christ we remain in darkness. So this week reflect on where in your life you need to let Christ light into, Amen