Introduction to 1 John
1 John is a letter from the Apostle John, close friend of Jesus, to the churches he oversaw in what is now western Turkey. The letter was a circular letter, meaning that it was circulated among each of the churches and read aloud to the congregations.
Knowing that we belong to the Christ (the truth) is an important theme in John’s letters. Where does our confidence come from if we fail? Where does our confidence come from if we succeed? What two things does God ask of us? How are God’s commandments connected to our peace with God? How can you tell the difference between the Holy Spirit and the spirit of the Anti-Christ?
How is knowing God and our love connected? What was the definitive demonstration of love to the world? An atoning sacrifice (some translations propitiation) is a sacrifice that silences God’s wrath towards our sin. What comes first, our love for others or God’s love for us? What do you think John means by ‘God’s love is perfected (or made complete) in us’? In what way does the world see God through us? For John, there is a deep connection between what a Christian believes and what a Christian does. What does someone believe if God is living in them? What does someone do if God is living in them? Who is the power to love? Why is it impossible to love God but hate your brother (fellow human being)?
‘Born of God’ is one of John’s favorite descriptions of a true follower of Jesus. (For a fuller explanation see Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus in John 3.) What does someone who is ‘born of God’ believe? Christ is the Greek word for Messiah or ‘Anointed One’, the hope of Israel, the Son of King David who would come and establish God’s kingdom. What does someone who is ‘born of God’ do? What is the connection between love and God’s commands? What is the great obstacle to obeying God’s commands? What John means by the world are human cultures and institutions that are still alienated from God. How is the world overcome? What do the Holy Spirit, the water (Jesus’ baptism) and blood (Jesus’ crucifixion) all testify to?
What is the purpose of John’s letter? What should we do for a fellow Christian (brother) who has fallen into sin? The phrase “sin unto death” is particularly difficult to interpret. Some have suggested that it is a sin that leads to physical as in the case of Ananias and Sapphia (Acts 5:1-11). It is more likely that John speaks of a spiritual death where the unbeliever makes a final and total rejection of the Gospel. John Calvin in his commentary on 1 John warns us not jump too hastily to the conclusion that this has occurred and to hold out hope that there will be a restoration of the person’s faith. What will someone who is born of God not do? Verse 18 can be a little confusing because there is ‘anyone who is born of God’ and ‘the one who was born of God’. Most likely ‘anyone who is born of God’ refers to any Christian and ‘the one who was born of God’ refers to Jesus (see John 17: 11-12). The world is a formidable opponent. What has God done to empower us to overcome the world? Look at verse 21. Why do you think John ends the letter the way he does?
While it appears that 2 John is a personal letter to a woman and her family, it is far more likely that the phrase “the chosen lady and her children” is a description of a local church. The church is often referred to as the ‘bride of Christ’. If this is the case, ‘your chosen sister’ 2 John 13 refers to the church that John was staying with at the time he wrote the letter.
In American churches we are used to talking about the faith in the past tense: When were you saved? Last week 20 people accepted Christ. Notice that John speaks of faith in the present tense. What present tense phrase does John use to describe true faith? How does that phrase challenge our understanding of what it means to be a Christian? What is it that gives John great joy? What is John’s command to the church? How is love connected to God’s Law and his commands? What if the law of God wasn’t simply a collection of rules showing us what to avoid? What if the law of God is an exposition of what it means to love, specifically what it means to love God and love your neighbor. How does that change things?
Having laid out the Christian way of life, what false teaching does John warn against?
3 John is a personal letter from the Apostle John to Gaius, a missionary that John has left in charge in one of the local churches. In the early church, hospitality, particularly for traveling missionaries and teachers was vitally important. Look for this theme in this short letter.
What does John’s greeting tell us about the nature of his relationship with Gaius and the disciples in that local church? What is that gives John the greatest joy? Notice that John celebrates something that is ongoing, not something that occurred in the past. What does John warn Gaius against? What evil example is Gaius in danger of following? What was happening in Gaius’ church that should not have been happening?
The New Testament church was lead by multiple leaders called elders who were responsible for teaching in the local church and its spiritual direction. What advice does Peter give the elders? Notice that Peter considers himself to be an elder. The commands he passes on to his fellow elders is the same command that Jesus entrusted to him:
John 21:16 Again Jesus said, “Simon [Peter] son of John, do you truly love me?” … “Take care of my sheep.”
What rewards are elders to look forward to? What is Peter’s advice to the young men? Why do you think these specific commands were directed towards the young men? What enemy does Peter alert them to? What hope do we all have to look forward to?