1 John 1:1-4

Jimmy Jo1 John, SermonsLeave a Comment

We are beginning today a study of the first epistle of John. Several years ago, we walked through John’s gospel. And if you remember that gospel, you will find a lot of similarities with John’s letters.  But even if you don’t remember, or weren’t here for that series of sermons, I hope that you will find 1 John edifying. 

Our passage today essentially serves as the introduction for the rest of the letter.  Now it’s (maybe) interesting to note that John’s first letter doesn’t begin with the typical formula – that which we see in John’s other letters (1 and 2 John) and Paul’s letters.  Specifically, it doesn’t have a salutation.  Why this is, we don’t know.  Nevertheless, we can see that 1 John does seem to be addressed to a particular audience.  It seems to have a particular community in mind, and it seems to be addressing the particular concerns of a community. 

The introduction or prologue to 1 John tells us a little about this – and more specifically, it tells us what the main concern is in John’s mind.  So we read: 

1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete.

1 John 1:1-4

One of the things that we’ll find in John’s letter is that the language can sometimes be a little convoluted (which of course may be a result of the distance between the Greek and English).  This is maybe made a little bit more obvious if we look at our passage in another translation.  For example, if we look at the ESV, we see: 

1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.

1 John 1:1-4 (ESV)

In short, what we see in the ESV (which, in this, follows the Greek) is that verses 1-3 are all one sentence (also, NASB, NRSV, NKJV).  And this can get a little confusing (which is why the NIV, for better or for worse, translates it the way it does).  So it’s important that we try to track what’s going on through John’s syntax. In short, what I want to note is the relationship between John’s proclamation and the object of his proclamation.  In other words, I want to distinguish between the activity and the substance of proclamation. 

Firstly, John says in verse 1, “this we proclaim.”  The this is substantiated by the witness: “We have heard, we have seen, we have looked at, our hands have touched.”  (the “we is likely John’s participation in the apostolic witness as opposed to “John and his readers/hearers.”). 

To put it simply, John’s proclamation has authority because it flows out of his actual experience.  But more than that, John’s proclamation is motivated by this experience.  Or, because of John’s experience, because of John’s encounter, he is driven to proclaim – to share with those who didn’t experience the same thing – the substance and significance of his experience. 

So what is the substance of his experience?  What is it that he’s proclaiming.  He’s proclaiming “the Word of life,” “That which was from the beginning.”  Well if we follow John’s train of thought in this passage, we can see the various things he says about “it.” 

  • It “was from the beginning.” 
  • It “appeared.” 
  • It is “the eternal life,”
  • Which was “with the Father,”
  • “and has appeared to us.” 

Now I’m not going to parse those thoughts deeply but if we think about what John said in the prologue to his gospel, the substance of “the Word of life” becomes clear (if it’s not already).  In John’s gospel, he says: 

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

. . .

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

John 1:1-14

Again, we’re not digging into this, but the parallels between what John is saying in this first epistle and what he says in the prologue to his gospel should be fairly clear.  In short, Jesus is the Word (or the “Word of life”); He was with God the Father in the beginning, being equal with the Father and co-eternal with Him; Jesus came to earth, becoming like us, taking on humanity; so that we might have eternal life – that we might become children of God.  In the gospel, John proclaims that he (we) “have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son…” and he reiterates this here in the epistle – this is what He proclaims.  None other than Jesus, the divine Son of God. 

Now we haven’t gone into the contextual considerations of this epistle – that is, the social and historical circumstances and etc.  We will do this more next week and undoubtedly over the course of the study of the epistle.  However, it’s important to note that John is making a pretty specific claim here, and he does so in a pretty specific context.  That is, he, along with and as one of the apostles, is proclaiming Jesus Christ and not anything else.  He is proclaiming that it is only in Jesus Christ that anyone can find eternal life – there is no other, there is nothing else. 

So, John goes on to say: 

We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete.

1 John 1:3,4

Now, in order to emphasize the point, I might rephrase this to say something like:  “Our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ [that is, with God], and we want you also to have fellowship with us [possibly, “along with us?”].  That is why we proclaim to you what we have seen and heard.  We write this to make our joy complete (by bringing you into this fellowship). 

Now obviously that is a little presumptuous to try to re-interpret scripture.  And that’s not what I want to do or am trying to do.  I am merely trying to emphasize the point as I see it.  That is, when we’re talking about eternal life (which is what John is talking about), when we’re talking about life-life, what we’re ultimately talking about is fellowship with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.  We’re talking about the restoration of that which has fundamentally gone wrong with human existence.  We’re talking about redeeming the tragic consequences of the fall (and our continued fallenness) where human beings lost fellowship with God and all that entails.  And this is accomplished only in the person of Jesus Christ.  And so, what John is proclaiming, what he proclaims in harmony with the other apostles, is nothing more and nothing less than Jesus. 

The reason this is important, as will (I hope) become apparent as we work through First John, is because the community was being divided by those who were claiming that other things were necessary in order to be God’s people (this is the specific context out of which John is making his specific claim about Jesus).  These folks were claiming other things were necessary in order to find God’s favour – or they were saying that we can find greater favour, or find a better eternal life if they did certain things.  And John is vehemently proclaiming that Jesus Christ is all – nothing more is needed and nothing can be added. 

Which begs the question, what do we think?  (It also begs the question, why do we think that? But we’re not really focussing on that). 

The past couple of years have been interesting.  It has been difficult for many, but maybe we’re a little sick of talking about how difficult it is.  So I just want to say it’s been interesting.  From my perspective, I think a lot about how Covid has impacted the church.  And I think a lot about how Covid has impacted Christians.  As you know, one of my personal priorities or perspectives is to think about “what is the responsibility of the Church in the midst of a wide-spread crisis?”  (But I don’t want to digress). 

So, broadly speaking, and for a variety of reasons, including but not limited to various limitations that have been placed on religious gatherings, one of the impacts of the pandemic on churches has been to force us to think about what it means to be a church.  What does it mean to be a church when we cannot do all of the things we used to do?  On numerous occasions, I’ve had conversations with folks about how the ministries of the church have been impacted; about how the outcomes and results have been impacted.  And these are important conversations to be sure.  I understand why people are so concerned about such questions.

But I’m also concerned about the foundations for focussing on these particular kinds of concerns – among others.  I’m concerned about the underlying assumptions we might have about what it means to be the people of God. 

Now I don’t want to go off on too much of a rant.  So I want to return to John’s letter.  For John, the sole foundation of our participation in the body of Christ, the sole foundation for the assurance of our salvation is Jesus Christ.  And the content and fullness of eternal life is found in fellowship with Jesus Christ. 

At this point, I want to refer us to what J.I. Packer has to say: 

What did the apostolic writers have in mind when they spoke of faith? Nothing less than what they took to be the distinctive essence of Christianity: namely, a belief-and-behavior commitment to Jesus Christ, the divine-human Lord, who came to earth, died for sins, rose from death, returned to heaven, reigns now over the cosmos as his Father’s nominated vice-regent, and will reappear to judge everyone and to take his own people into glory, where they will be with him in unimaginable joy forever. This was “the faith” that was taught and defended against Gnostic syncretists from the start (we see Paul in Colossians and John in his letters actually doing that)…

Packer goes on to say, “Mere credence—assent, that is, to “the faith”—is not faith, nor is commitment to a God or a Christ who is merely a product of human imagination. Christian faith is shaped, and its nature is determined, entirely by its object…”  And what he means by that is, at least in part, that the object of our faith, the foundation of our faith is an actual person (he means more than that, but he means at least that).  The Christian faith is not assent to a system of beliefs or doctrines (though these are important to orthodoxy).  It is not a system of ethics (though these are important in the pursuit of holiness).  The Christian faith, what we believe, what we proclaim, is finally and ultimately a person – the person of Jesus Christ.  And who we are, as Christians, and as part of the people of God, is ultimately about how we are in relationship with Him (not just an idea, but an actual person); how we are dependent upon Him; and how we seek to live into Him. 

Now we could and must dig deeper into this, but I want at this point to touch on one other significant theme in John’s letter.  We are probably all familiar with the verse: 

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

1 John 4:7-12

And this theme of loving one another is repeated throughout this letter.  The particular context seems to be the division that has been caused by those who are demanding something different (than reliance on Jesus) as the foundation for the community.  But John is saying something deeply theological here.  He’s saying something significant about our relationships with one another, but he’s also saying something significant about what it means to live into the life of Jesus.  As we know, one of the consequences of the fall was not just the breaking of communion with God, but the breaking of communion with one another (also, the breaking of communion with creation, which should make us think – but that’s a sermon for another time).  So, inasmuch as the work of Christ results in reconciliation with God, should it not also result in reconciliation with one another. 

And so what I want to say (one of the things I want to say) is how we live with one another, how we love one another, has huge implications for what it means to proclaim the work and person of Jesus Christ.  How we live with one another, how we love one another has huge implications for what it means to proclaim the life to which He is calling us.  And so John says: 

We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete.

1 John 1:3,4

So, as we contemplate a new year, and as we walk through the book of 1 John, I invite us all to contemplate what it means to be the people of God in whatever circumstance.  We want to continue to be a community of Christ, no matter what conditions we find ourselves in.  We want to continue to know Christ and to make Him known.  And we want to love each other well, to the glory of God who gives us life.

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