Bible Study Notes “Living Words” (5-17-09) *UPDATE*

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Living Words

1 John 1:1-4

 

Before we begin I have a confession. I picked this book because it has to be one of my favorites in Scripture. Not really any other reason. When trying to decide which book to tackle next it was between another and this one, and personal preference was the deciding vote. We have gone through James, Ecclesiastes, Romans, Jonah, and Matthew. We’ve touched on various Psalms. Through all these books there is a common Author and a common Theme.  All of Scripture is intended for us to know God, know his plan of Salvation, give us instructions on right living, and even lovingly correct us when we fail. This book contains all of that and more! Without delay, let’s go.

 

The heart of these four verses is proclamation. John gives his authority for this letter and for all of his proclamations. Then he gives us the word of proclamation, what the message is. John also tells us that such Proclamation is needed. Lastly, John concludes that to proclaim such things is actually a cause for joy.

 

John’s letter went to a people at a time where many false teachers and some very destructive heresies were beginning to spread. Paul dealt with the Judaizers who said that Gentile Christians had to follow all the Mosaic Law and an earlier form of the same people John is dealing with now. We know this group as Gnostics. They claim to be special, having a secret knowledge of the things of God not revealed to anyone else and it is only by obtaining that special knowledge that one can truly be saved.  Uh-oh. These people went out and started telling good, honest, saints that they were not indeed saved! They didn’t have the special revelation! They didn’t know the Secret… People were being shaken. John knew it. While Paul was often polemic in his letters (Gal 5:12) we see something different is John’s tone. It is the tone of an older man who lived through much and had already had his battles with these people, he speaks frankly and honestly but does not hold back when it comes to false teaching. He also does not hold back when it comes to true teaching. So he writes…

 

What authority does John have to write to us? Who does he think he is? 1 John was written by the same John who wrote the Gospel of John. We see this attested to by the early church and even our own reading of the Gospel and the Epistle will give our ear a similar voice. At the time of this writing John was an old man. He was great-grandpa to more than a few Christians. Indeed, by this time John is the last remaining Apostle. He knew of the martyrdom of so many. First, Stephen’s infamous death by stoning; then, the beheading of his own brother, James; Phillip’s scourging and crucifixion; Matthew’s killing; James, the brother of Jesus, being beaten and stoned, and then killed by having his head bashed in with a club; Matthias, who replaced Judas, killed by stoning in Jerusalem; Andrew, Peter’s brother, being crucified on an X shaped cross; Mark’s being dragged to death in Alexandria as part of a pagan festival; Peter’s upside-down crucifixion; Paul’s beheading; Jude being crucified in Edessa in Greece; Bartholomew beaten and crucified in India; Thomas being impaled by a spear in India; Luke hanged on an olive tree in Greece; and Simon the Zealot crucified in Britain. John had lost is fair share of friends and family for the sake of the Gospel. John, along with many of these men, had apostolic authority. He was there! Where you there when they crucified my Lord? “YES!” John replies! “I was there! For three years this man, I was! I ate with him, I walked with him, I reclined upon his breast as he bid us farewell. I too ran. I too forsook him. Yet he said to me, ‘Peace be with you!’ He commissioned me, He sent me, to go out and spread the good news.” John writes not as a second-hand witness. This is not hearsay. This is that which he HIMSELF had experience with. These men who went about spreading lies did not have that blessed luxury. They were visited by ghosts and dreams and spirits. The resurrected Christ appeared to John! This resurrected Christ John also touched (John 20:19-20) and with whom he ate (John 21:12-14).

                Dear friends, we have not seen, yet believe and because of that John tells us that Jesus calls us blessed (John 20:29). While we do not have the authority John had, we still have authority to proclaim the truth. How? What would make us any different than the Gnostics? We have the Bible. John, Matthew, Paul, Mark, Luke, Jude, James, and Peter were all moved by God to write and God Himself persevered those writings for us. Not only those, but those writings belonging to the Old Covenant as well: writings from Moses, David, Ezra, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and more! All these are theopneustos, inspired. Or as the NIV puts it very well “God-breathed.” This is our authority. The Word of God. Indeed when we speak of the Lord there is not an inch for “I think….” And not one micrometer for “I feel….” Here, in the Word of God we have all we need as we read in whole in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, “All Scripture is breathed out by God (theopneustos) and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” The reformers of old called it “Sola Scriptura” Scripture alone is our authority. Not the traditions, not the teachings of men, not the secret whisperings of an elite few, but the Holy Word of God is what we rest upon!

 

John has the authority to proclaim, but what is it he proclaims?  The Gospel! In the course of this section John shows the reality of Christ and what Christ brings. The false teachers of the day were saying that Jesus was just a spirit not really human not the same God as God the Father. John immediately smashes that. The life of which he speaks he shows as equal to the Father, and that it was clearly seen by him (the authority again). The word of life is something that is twisted and changed by any and every false version of Christianity.  There are two words we see used often: “life” and “made manifest.” This is how John primarily sees the Gospel. Indeed, we those who are Christ’s see the gospel clearly, yet different parts of it fascinate us. They draw us. For example, a beautiful landscape. Perhaps the top of Angel’s Landing, or the view from up at Hollywood, near Sunrise Mountain, back down on the city. A wonderful beach at sunset. Put any number of people together and say, “What do you see?” One says of the city, “The amazing grid work, how from this view it really is amazingly intricate.” Another says, “The lights!” One says, “The heat waves rising from the hot pavement.” Or at the top of Angel’s Landing, “Oh! The way the canyon looks from here is amazing. It is so big!” Another, “These flowers are beautiful.” Still another, “The fresh air after such a strenuous go make this place.” At the risk of sounding post-modern, there are different angles at which to view something, different central interpretative motifs. This holds true with the Gospel. One person may be amazed at the holiness of God in the gospel; another, shocked by the love of God in the gospel; another, like Paul, at the wonderful fulfillment of the law in the gospel; another, such as John, the life that is in the gospel. Paul, Peter, John and all the apostles did agree on the definition of “gospel” yet such a grand thing, they each found themselves amazed by different things. They knew of all the others and they are preached as well. John speaks of repentance and law. Paul speaks of new life. John tells us that the source and maker and giver of life, has indeed come in reality to give us life! In person! Having seen it all we now tell you. Us, who are saved, now find ourselves fascinated by the gospel. As we learn it, and study it, and experience it more, we find ourselves viewing it through the lens of God’s holiness or God’s love or God’s righteousness (not that these can be separated in God, but that in our limited capacity we see these the clearest). John proclaims the gospel of eternal life; we proclaim the gospel as well. The Gospel of Grace. The Gospel of Peace with God. The Gospel of Life Eternal. The Gospel of God’s Holiness. Those are all fine as long as the true gospel is preached.

 

This brings us nicely to our next point. The need for proclamation. What happens with the proclamation of the Gospel? By God’s grace comes new life. Life eternal! John wrote of Jesus in his gospel “that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (Jn 3:15-16) This is beautiful and wonderful but there is a converse that many ignore: “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” (Jn 3:18-20) If people do not repent and believe they are already condemned to hell. Assuming we all know that hell is far worse than the pictures drawn in Little Nicky, South Park, and Dante’s Inferno how can we, who call ourselves Christians not do everything in our power to prevent people from going? Spurgeon said, “Oh, my brothers and sisters in Christ, if sinners will be damned, at least let them leap to hell over our bodies; and if they will perish, let them perish with our arms about their knees, imploring them to stay, and not madly to destroy themselves. If hell must be filled, at least let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go there unwarned and unprayed for.” More than getting our fuel from Spurgeon let us look to Scripture: Romans 10:14-17 Paul writes, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” We, then, are like firemen at the sight of a horrible house fire. The house is ablaze and people are trapped, unconscious from the smoke perhaps even dead. We have all the equipment to pull people from the fire. For a fireman to walk away from the scene would be criminal negligence resulting in death! The public would demand his head on a platter! The fireman would run in and drag them out! The fireman knows what he would want for himself and his own family and does everything he can to get them out. The Christian is, then, very much like that fireman. Jude 23 says that we are to “save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh.” Life must be proclaimed!  John is thus compelled to preach this now as pretenders with a false gospel are spreading their cancerous heresy. He is compelled to preach it more and louder and clearer. The gospel does something else, with that new life comes fellowship.  (That new life must happen for there to be fellowship) Fellowship with God! We are then made like-minded with God. As Paul says in Romans 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” As our minds are renewed by the Holy Spirit from our regeneration and continual sanctification we become more and more able to understand God’s character and nature and will. Even more we are adopted into God’s family and gain fellowship with each other. Galatians 3:23-26 Paul says, “Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.” And again in 4:4-7, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.” This is something I’ve been blessed to experience firsthand. Imagine! People from all different races, countries, ages, backgrounds, all able to be with each other and would have no connection with one another but for the salvation we share in Christ Jesus. But not only have I experienced it, so to all of us do so every time we enter into corporate worship of God. We have fellowship with God and with man; something that before our conversion would be downright impossible. Something that brings great joy.

 

This brings us to our final point. The Joy of Proclamation. There’s not a problem with this verse but something worthy of note. You’ll note in your bible for the word “our” it has a footnote to say “or ‘your.’” This is not reason to throw your Bible in the dumpster and call Christianity a sham. Most manuscripts have “our” and a good number, though fewer, have “your.” This does not change the core meaning of the text in any way shape or form. In fact, it gives us a nice view of how the proclamation of the gospel and gospel truths brings joy to both herald and hearer. First let’s look at the “our” joy since that is the predominant pronoun used in the manuscripts. So who is our? The same royal “we” we have at the beginning. The apostles, especially those who wrote. John tells us clearly why Luke, Matthew, Mark, Paul, Peter, Jude, James and he wrote. It brought them joy! Matthew and Luke write of Jesus saying, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Mt 6:21/Luke 12:34) Yes, their hearts belong to the gospel of Christ in its fullness. Even nearing the end of his pilgrimage on earth, Paul writes to Timothy (2 Tim 4:13), “When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments.” He loved the Gospel and could not stop from speaking it and diving into it. Paul loved to write about the growth he’s seen in churches. Though he had to rebuke some churches, you could see joy where he wrote of their growth. Paul even said (1 Cor 9:16b), “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” John, in this letter as he battles the damnable heresy of early Gnosticism and the worry of the mature Christians and confusion of the young believers he delights in the truths of the gospel and the joy he has in explaining them! What joy is ours when we are able to preach the gospel to a dying world. Why joy is ours when we fellowship and encourage each other in the things of the Lord! This is a joy nothing in the world system can touch. Next, the joy that is “yours,” that of the recipients of John’s letter. The joy to the direct recipients of the letter is to soothe their minds in regard to the true gospel and true salvation. John lays out truths of the gospel denied by the Gnostics and gives assurance to the knowledge of the recipients; he also explains how to know one is saved as the false teachers were casting unholy doubt on the Christians at the time. The text of 1 John brings them joy as the truths of the gospel are given voice and their salvation is assured. As we go through this epistle I hope and pray that the joy John intended for his recipients is given to you as well. Some of you may be reassured in your Christian walk at the same time challenged by John’s words. Indeed these words are “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Heb 4:12) As we’ve seen in these first four verses John packs a lot into a little and the themes touched upon here will be expanded upon in other places throughout John’s letter. I also hope and pray that you will find the same love for this book as I have. But most of all, that you will find the same joy John has in proclaiming the Truth of eternal life to each other for edification and to all the perishing so that they too may be saved.

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Feel free to listen to and download the audio here!

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