Our new sermon series on the book of 1 John is titled “Finding What’s Real in a World of Fake.” There’s a lot of fake in our world isn’t there?
- Infomercials about products that don’t work the way they appear to on TV
- Fruit juice that’s not really made from fruit; burgers not really made of meat
- Singers who can’t really sing, they just use auto-tune
- People who are famous for not really accomplishing anything
- Hair weaves, facelifts, liposuction
- Airbrushed pictures in magazines
- People who are buried in debt in order to project a good image
- Relationships on social media where you have false concern for each other but not in reality
- Political correctness
- Worst of all – fake preachers on TV that are all about money and self-promotion
We live in a world full of things that are phony. Don’t you get tired of it? Do you long for real relationships and substance and honesty in life? If so, you’re going to like the book of 1 John.
1 John was written by one of Jesus’ best friends. We always hear about Jesus spending time with three particular disciples – Peter, James, and John. This is that John. Not only was he called to be a disciple of Jesus, but as one of Jesus’ inner circle he saw some things that not even the other disciples witnessed. Along with his brother James and Peter, John was there:
- on the mountain with Jesus when He was transfigured (Mt. 17:1)
- in the home of Jairus when Jesus raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead (Mk. 5:37)
- praying with Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane (Mt. 26:37)
It was John (and James) whose mother asked Jesus if her two sons could sit on His right and left in the coming kingdom (Mk. 10:35-45). It was John and James who asked Jesus if they could call down fire from heaven on a Samaritan village which refused to receive the disciples (Lk. 9:54). These brothers were nicknamed the “sons of thunder” by Jesus (Mk. 3:17) which might reveal to us a bit of their boisterous and aggressive personalities.
John was often mentioned in company with the Apostle Peter in the book of Acts. The two went up to the temple together at the ninth hour to pray when they healed a lame man (Acts 3:1-10). They were brought before the council on account of their teaching about Jesus and the resurrection (Acts 4:1). They were released but told to keep quiet, to which they responded, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. 20 For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard. (vs. 19).” John was probably included in the arrest of the apostles in Acts 5:18, which was followed by their release from prison by an angel. And John was sent with Peter to Samaria on the occasion when they laid hands on those whom Philip had evangelized and baptized (Acts 8:14).
John was apparently the youngest apostle and outlived all the other apostles. He served as the pastor of the church at Ephesus, where Timothy also had pastored. Later he was banished to the island of Patmos by the Roman Emperor Domitian, which is where he received the vision we call the book of Revelation. He later returned to Ephesus and died there. It was during this last stint at Ephesus that he wrote 1 John.
John wrote this letter for 2 primary purposes: a) to expose and refute false teachers (specifically Gnosticism), and b) To give believers assurance of their salvation. And in the midst of speaking to these two issues we find that John speaks very clearly and powerfully about the most important doctrine of our faith – the incarnation of Jesus Christ. In doing so, John also teaches how Christian community, or fellowship, is directly tied to our fellowship with and understanding of Jesus.
Because the fact that 1 John has no address at the beginning it is believed that this is not a personal letter, rather, a general treatise aimed at wide distribution to the churches of Rome. This book gives us some insight into the fact that there were some struggles in the 1st century churches that John wrote to. 1 John 2:18-19 even suggests that at least one of the churches receiving this letter had split; with some members having left the congregation in an uproar. The letters of John know conflict and struggle. They were born in the midst of intense controversy. In their pages John works to give guidance; and in doing so, he draws a sweeping panorama of what should be normal Christian thought and behavior when congregational life gets tough.
At this time in the 1st century false teachers were beginning to arise from within the church’s own ranks. These people had taken on the philosophical trends of the culture and began infecting the church with false doctrine. These false teachers advocated new ideas which eventually became known as Gnosticism (from the Greek word gnosis which meant knowledge). Gnosticism advocated a dualism which thought that matter was inherently evil and spiritual things were good. As a result of this idea, these false teachers, although attributing some form of deity to Christ, denied Jesus’ true humanity as an attempt to try and preserve Him from evil.
Part of the problem that John tried to speak to was the fact that these false teachers were putting man’s ideas above God’s revelation rather than allowing God’s divine revelation to stand as judge over man’s ideas (1 Jn. 2:15-17). The Gnostic heresy took on 2 basic forms. In the first form some people asserted that Jesus’ physical body was not real but only “seemed” to be physical (this was known as Docetism). Speaking to this branch of Gnosticism, John forcefully affirms the physical reality of Jesus by reminding his readers that he was an eyewitness to Him. The second form of this heresy was led by a man named Cerinthus, who contended that Christ’s “spirit” descended on the human Jesus at His baptism but left Him just before His crucifixion. We will see that John combated this idea as well by teaching that the Jesus who was baptized at the beginning of His ministry was the same person that was crucified on the cross (1 Jn. 1:5:6).
These teachings are incredibly important for us to understand, because such heretical views destroy not only the true humanity of Jesus, but also the atonement, because in order for Jesus to have been an acceptable sacrifice for us He had to be both fully God and fully human man (Heb. 2:14-17). The Gnostic idea [that matter was evil and spirit was good] led to the idea that either the body should be treated harshly or sin committed in the body had no connection or effect on one’s spirit. This led some to conclude that 1) sin committed in the physical body did not matter; 2) absolute indulgence in immorality was permissible; 3) one could deny sin even existed (1 Jn. 1:8-10) and 4) that one could disregard God’s law (1 Jn. 3:4). In opposition to these ideas John emphasized the need for obedience to God’s laws, as he defined the true love of God as obedience to His commandments (1 Jn. 5:3).
1 John 1:1-4
As we get in chapter 1 we find that right thinking about Jesus Christ is the fulcrum on which right theology, and subsequently right living, is balanced. Today we will be looking at the first four verses of 1 John. If you look at the layout of these verses in the Holman Christian Standard Bible I believe that the passage is easier to understand, it reads:
What was from the beginning,
what we have heard,
what we have seen with our eyes,
what we have observed
and have touched with our hands,
—concerning the Word of life—
that life was revealed,
and we have seen it
and we testify and declare to you
the eternal life that was with the Father
and was revealed to us—
what we have seen and heard
we also declare to you,
so that you may have fellowship along with us;
and indeed our fellowship is with the Father
and with His Son Jesus Christ.
We are writing these things
so that our joy may be complete.
In the first four verses, John introduces the subject he wanted to talk about by describing it as “What was from the beginning,” and he completes this thought at the end of verse 1 by describing it as “the Word of life.” John, of course, is referring to Jesus. In order to refute the heretical teachings of the Gnostics and to affirm the salvation of those who had placed their faith in Jesus, John starts off with strong evidence regarding the reality of Jesus’ personhood by talking about his own first-hand experience of Jesus.
Look at all of the verbs John uses to prove the reality of Jesus’ humanity from his own personal experience as one of Jesus’ best friends and students. He’s not talking about someone he has simply studied or read about, he’s talking about someone he knew personally. He talks about Jesus as someone he has HEARD and SEEN and OBSERVED and TOUCHED. To dispel any notion that Jesus’ appearing was imagined or partial in any way, John speaks graphically of the sensory confirmation that he personally witnessed.
John calls Jesus the Word of life. This reminds us immediately of the first three verses of John’s gospel:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. (John 1:1-3)
Why did John call Jesus the Word? Jesus reveals to us the mind and heart of God. Jesus is the living means of communication between us and God. He is God’s Word to us. John was very intentional about identifying Jesus because if a man is wrong about Jesus, he is wrong about God. Jesus is the final and complete revelation of God and we must understand this or else the rest of our theology is incorrect. There are many incorrect understandings of Jesus in today’s world just as there were in the first century. For instance:
- Some people today believe that Jesus was a good man, or even a prophet, but not God.
à John refutes these ideas in 1 John 5:20 by teaching that, “We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true–even in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.”
- The Gnostics of John’s day said that Jesus was God, but not fully man.
à John refutes that idea here in chapter 1, verses 1-2 by telling of his own personal encounters with Jesus.
Understanding Jesus’ true identity is so important that we will hear John compare those who deny the reality of who He is follow the lies of the Antichrist (1 John 2:22-23). John says in verse 2 (just as he did in his gospel – John 1:1) that Jesus is the “eternal life that was with the Father.” There is no other way to understand this than to put God and Jesus on the same plain. John said in John 1:3 that “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” But the Bible tells us in Genesis 1:1 that, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” So who created all things? God or Jesus? The answer is: YES.
Fellowship with God – Finding What’s Real, Part I
In verse 3 John explains why he is declaring this great truth of Jesus’ identity to his audience: “so that you may have fellowship (along with us, and indeed our fellowship is) with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.” Why is John writing this letter? So people can come to have a personal relationship with Jesus and so they can have healthy, unified relationships with one another, based on a correct understanding of Jesus.
John wants these churches to know that there is only one way to enter into a personal relationship with God and that is through Jesus (John 14:6). As sinners, we have no ground to stand on before God in and of our own power or moral integrity. We stand before Him guilty. But because of His great love for us, God made a way for us to be reunited with Him. He came down and took on flesh so that He could become the perfect and final blood sacrifice for us. Romans 4:25 explains that Jesus “…was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.” What this means is that in His death He paid the penalty for our sins and by His resurrection He proved that God accepted His sacrifice and consequently could remain just while justifying the ungodly since their sins were paid for.
Ephesians 2:4 says it this way, “…because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions–it is by grace you have been saved.” That passage goes on in verses 8-9 to say that “…it is by grace you have been saved, through faith…not by works, so that no one can boast.” John wants His listeners to experience #TheEncounter with Jesus just as he did, as they come to obtain the full knowledge of the reality of Jesus’ incarnation.
Fellowship in Community – Finding What’s Real, Part II
But also important in John’s mind was his desire (and God’s desire) for these churches to understand that right thinking about Jesus leads to right living within community. Remember, John is writing to a community where there is considerable disunity. In this diverse community the Christians were trying to discern what was essential for Christian identity. It’s not far-fetched, especially in our politically-correct world today, to imagine some believers (both then and now) insisting that any doctrine that divides should simply be set aside so that none are offended. But the doctrine of Jesus incarnation cannot be set aside, for it is the foundation on which every other doctrine rests. Jesus as Messiah is the core belief of Christianity.
But this is not just a theological treatise, there are practical ramifications as well, and these churches’ lack of understanding of Jesus’ identity is exactly why they were facing disunity. John tells them that he wants them to experience fellowship with Jesus, and in the process, fellowship with “us” as well. And once again John gives the reason. In verse 4 he says he is writing these things, “so that our joy may be complete.” Let me rephrase that for us today – “So that we might experience life that is true, life that is real – the life we were meant to live.”
Romans 11:36 says, “For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever!” We were made by God and for God and until you connect to this truth through a personal relationship with Jesus and an intentionally committed relationship to His Body, the church, life will not make sense.
Trust John’s teaching today – seek Jesus and commit to the church, and you will find “what’s real in a world of fake.”