Introduction to John’s letters
We spent a few months journeying through the Gospel of John so I thought it might be good for us to continue on by reading the three letters that he wrote and are contained within our scriptures. In his gospel John was dealing with the intellectual, non-believing, Greek world of his day as he wrote the purpose of his writing was this; ‘these things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.’ Here in the letters he is addressing those who have come to faith. This new faith was about fifty or sixty years old and moving into second and third generation families of believers. There was this distortion of truths as John seen them growing, people were beginning to twist and distort the Apostles teaching to the first generation church. People have used words set to different meanings for a long time. Here in the letters of John we discover it has actually been happening since the close of the first century. Christianity was spreading across the known world of the first century. Naturally it came into contact with other religions, other philosophies and different cultural backgrounds were trying to absorb this new religion into their own faith systems. It should come as no surprise therefore that people were adapting and tweaking some of the gospel truths to suite their own agendas instead of changing their ways they began to set about trying to change the gospel message.
Questions about Jesus were being asked. Who he really was. How could he be God and die? From the Greek word Gnosis, a new cult arose called Gnosticism. This cult had to find explanations for all things. They were popular among those who counted themselves as the intellectual elite. As we journey through the letters we will revisit some of their thinking as John challenges them head on.
Fast forward to modern day: Tablet: a pill given by the doctor when you were ill – now an electronic machine for playing games and reading books. Sick: when somebody said that to you, you were unwell, or something was depraved – now it means something is totally brilliant. Born again: reference made by Jesus to being born of the Spirit – now a comeback of any kind of career. Possibly the most distorted one taken from the Bible would be: Christ: a title for Jesus the Messiah – now a common everyday word used as a curse. There is a pattern to his writing that flows through the letters. In our reading this morning we will see this with John using the word light. He will tell us the opposite of light being darkness and how we ought to walk in the light once we know what it means to do so. God will be the centre of all Christian life.
Reading: 1John 1:1-10
John opens his first letter very much in the way he opens his gospel. Jesus was with God from the very beginning. To go further, Jesus was with God before the beginning as he was not created. God the Father has no beginning therefor the same is true of God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Jesus says in the gospel, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life’ Here in the letter John speaks of the life eternal being in Jesus. He challenges one of the first issues with Gnosticism which claimed as all material things were inherently evil then Jesus could not be human and divine as this makes God evil. Their thinking took them down some, let’s just call them, strange lines of enquiry. Jesus could not possibly be truly a human being and this makes him some sort of phantom. The appearance of God, they may agree, but he only looked human.
Others claimed God set himself upon Jesus at his baptism, journeyed in and through him for those three years but departed him before the crucifixion and death. John wastes no time at all as he says very clearly in the opening verses. ‘we have heard, we have seen, we have touched.’ Those witnesses have used their own senses to engage with Jesus and now he testifies that his own ears, eyes and hands have experienced Jesus as both fully human and fully divine. John uses the word fellowship to bring them together. He uses that pattern I spoke of earlier, defining light as God’s holiness, darkness is evil and sinfulness. If we are to be in this fellowship, we need to walk within the light.
The truth of what we say can be evidenced in the way our lives are lived out. To say I walk in the light is a folly if our actions deny this. Walking in the light brings us into fellowship with each other and with God it also sees the blood of Christ purifying us from sin. However hard we try we will never be completely free from sin and that is the point John is making. We may stumble and fall along the way but in the light of Christ and in his cleansing blood we do not remain fallen. We are not slaves to sin. Christ, not Satan is our master. As temptations come and go, as we yield or not, we seek the forgiveness of God through our repentance and in his mercy and grace we are continually cleansed and healed and set upright once more. God speaks to us about our sins, we should not close our ears to this. If we close God from our hearts, then we close him from our lives. If we close God from our lives, then we walk in the darkness of this world, continually stumbling and falling further away from Jesus and his ways.