Continuing our introduction of I John, an absence of self-sacrificial love of the will for fellow believers characterized the false teachers, especially when they reacted against anyone rejecting their thinking and doctrines (3:10–18). They separated their followers from the fellowship of those who remained faithful to apostolic teaching. This led John to reply that such separation outwardly manifested that those who followed false teachers lacked genuine salvation (2:19). This tactic among false teachers remains so today.
This departure by some so-called believers left the other believers, who remained faithful to apostolic doctrine, emotionally shaken. Responding to this crisis, John wrote to reassure those remaining faithful and to combat this serious heresy in the church. As come commentator explains, “Since the false teaching was so dangerous and the time period was so critical for the church in danger of being overwhelmed by false teaching, John gently, lovingly, but with unquestionable apostolic authority, sent this letter to churches in his sphere of influence to stem this spreading plague of false doctrine.”
What are the predominant themes contained in I John? To begin with, the overall theme is a return to the fundamentals of the faith” or “back to the basics of Christianity.” The apostle deals with certainties, not opinions. He expresses the absolute character of Christianity in very simple terms; terms that are clear and unmistakable, leaving no doubt as to the fundamental nature of those truths. John’s epistle is a loving, conversational, and above all, tender intimate conversation a spiritual father is having with his children.
Second, I John is pastoral. It is written by a pastor from the heart of a pastor who has concern for his people. As a spiritual shepherd, John communicated to his flock some very basic, but vitally essential doctrines. He assured his audience of the basics of the faith. He desired that they have joy regarding the certainty of their faith rather than being upset by the false teaching and current defections of some (1:4).
Thirdly, I John is also critical and controversial. It is not positive but also negative. John refutes the heretics with sound doctrine. He has no tolerance for those who distort divine truth. He calls those departing from the truth as “false prophets” (4:1), “those who are trying to deceive” (2:26; 3:7), and “antichrists” (2:18). He pointedly identifies the ultimate source of all such defection from sound doctrine as demonic (4:1–7).
Finally, the epistle’s repetition of three sub-themes reinforces the overall theme regarding faithfulness to the basics of Christianity: happiness (1:4), holiness (2:1), and security (5:13). By faithfulness to the basics, John’s readers will experience these three results continually in their lives. These three results also reveal the key cycle of true spirituality in 1 John: a proper belief in Jesus produces obedience to his commands; obedience originates in a love for God and fellow believers (e.g., 3:23–24). When these three (sound faith, obedience, love) operate in concert together, the result is happiness, holiness, and assurance. They constitute the evidence, the litmus test, of a true, authentic Christian.
May the Lord’s truth and grace be found here.
Soli deo Gloria!