Summary: 1 John: Chapter One Setting
1 John: Chapter One
There is nothing internal to the epistle that tells us the location of the recipients. We know they are Christians, well known and endeared to the author. They are facing false teachers that are within (2:18-19).
The writer is familiar with the recipients; he gives them no introduction customary to an epistle.
The writer writes with an air of authority. He considers himself part of the community (use of we).
The presence of false teachers is causing trouble (2:7, 4:1). He calls them antichrists (2:18) and false prophets (4:1). They are a serious threat as they have departed from apostolic teaching.
The controversy is in progress although some have left (2:19) causing schism. The false teachers were part of the original community but have departed (2:19, 4:1).
Doctrinal as well as ethical controversy.
There is an adversarial stance with the false teachers, using we/they (4:4-6).
No author is specifically identified but the witness of the early church attributes the epistle to the apostle John (Irenaeus, Clemente of Alexandra, and Tertullian). It is also very similar to the gospel of John and any differences can be explained by the fact that this is an epistle as compared to a gospel. The both have very similar key terms – remain or abide, righteousness and sin, Light and darkness, love and hate, truth and error, as well as many similar phrases. In addition the author claims to be an eyewitness to the life of Christ (1:1-3); his sense of authority, as wells as so similar to the Gospel lends support to the author being the apostle John.
Christ our life has eternally existed with they father.
John starts out the epistle similar to the gospel point to the beginning. As the word of life he is the source of eternal life (5:11-12).
Christ our life was manifested in the flesh
His point in using manifest is to make visible. The incarnation was real and tangible used to counter the false teachers (2Jn 7). This is why he uses all the terms referring to the use of senses. This also becomes the basis for doctrinal test (4:2). It is through the incarnation that John obtained fellowship with the Father and the Son Jesus Christ.
Therefore John makes the proclamation of Christ as the basis of fellowship with others. Restoration of our relationship with God restores us to relationship with each other. He is giving theology; this epistle is full of theology.
One purpose in writing this epistle is so that our joy may be complete. He is a Christian Hedonist. He is writing for his own joy. Not selfish but self interest. This was Paul’s motive also in ministry (Phil 1:23).
Continuing on the theme of proclamation, he moves to the content of the message. Positively, God is light and negatively there is no darkness in him at all. What is the purpose of light? Light helps us to see what we are after and avoid danger. Light sets us free (1 Cor 4:4-6). I.e. knife vs. fur in the darkness
He gives a series of if/then clauses. Negatively, if we say we have fellowship yet walk (metaphor as way of life) in the darkness (i.e. 2:8-11). That is hating brother and living for this passing world. Walking in the darkness if like chasing gravel when there are diamonds available. Then we lie and the truth is not in us. One cannot claim to be a Christian and walk in the darkness described as desiring this passing world.
Positively or in contrast, if we walk in the light as he is in the light then the blood we have fellowship and the blood of Christ cleanses us. Morality affects our fellowship with one another. Christianity is not just a confession but transformation and power for change. To walk in the light is to live and desire what God desires. Coming to faith in Christ is change of heart and appetites. In the next verses, as well as the rest of the epistle he will tell us that there is no assurance of salvation without walking in the light. Holiness gives us assurance.
He clarifies because he knows the struggle of the Christian life and against any sense of perfectionism. If we claim to be without sin, then we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us (v. 8) but when we do if we confess he will forgive and cleanse. The basis of his commitment to forgiving us is his justice and faithfulness. If God did not forgive he would not be just nor faithful.