Today we begin a journey through the epistle of First John.
The Apostle John, one of Jesus’ closest disciples, wrote this letter. It is considered a general epistle, as it is not addressed to a certain person or group.
While the author does not identify himself in either the introduction or the conclusion of the letter, the writing style and authority match that of the gospel of John. Early church fathers and historians attribute the epistle of 1 John to John as well.
John was advanced in age when he wrote this epistle. Historians don’t know exactly when he penned this letter, but they estimate it was during the latter part of the first century. At this point, John was the lone survivor among the apostles. Another indicator of John’s advanced age is his use of the phrase “dear children”. John uses this phrase ten times throughout the letter. Each time, John is using this phrase to address the believers in the local church. It is a term of endearment, not a condescending expression of their spiritual condition.
Historians place John in Ephesus during the writing of this letter. John made Ephesus his hub and home for his writings to the churches in Asia Minor and surrounding areas.
As the lone apostle, John had tremendous respect and authority among the churches in Asia Minor. His letter probably needed no introduction or identification – his letter was most likely hand-carried and read to each church in the region.
John’s first epistle addresses two main topics: doctrine (particularly around Christ), and fellowship. John loops through these two topics four times in the five chapters of this letter. John teaches the doctrine, then speaks about how it applies to the local fellowship of believers.
John spends a lot of time addressing the rising tide of false teachings around Jesus and the Gospel. Paul had argued and taught that we have freedom in Christ from the Old Testament Jewish Law. Now a new set of false teachings was springing up. John Macarthur summarizes this new false teaching well:
“As predicted years before by the Apostle Paul (Acts 20:28–31), false teachers arising from within the church’s own ranks, saturated with the prevailing climate of philosophical trends, began infecting the church with false doctrine, perverting fundamental apostolic teaching. These false teachers advocated new ideas which eventually became known as “Gnosticism” (from the Gr. word “knowledge”). After the Pauline battle for freedom from the law, Gnosticism was the most dangerous heresy that threatened the early church during the first 3 centuries. Most likely, John was combating the beginnings of this virulent heresy that threatened to destroy the fundamentals of the faith and the churches (see Interpretive Challenges).”
“Gnosticism, influenced by such philosophers as Plato, advocated a dualism asserting that matter was inherently evil and spirit was good. As a result of this presupposition, these false teachers, although attributing some form of deity to Christ, denied his true humanity to preserve Him from evil. It also claimed elevated knowledge, a higher truth known only to those in on the deep things. Only the initiated had the mystical knowledge of truth that was higher even than the Scripture.”
(from Introduction to First John by John MacArthur)
As we begin this adventure and journey through the epistle of 1 John, may we always keep God’s Word and truth first, and man’s thinking about God and His Word second. God’s truth has no equal and no superior – it stands alone. May we harken to John’s instructions as they applied to his readers both then and to us here today.