NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN
SUMMARY OF CHAPTER ONE
By the time this Epistle was written, the Apostle John is well advanced in age. Writing from Ephesus, he reminded and encouraged the church to remain faithful to Christianity’s basic teachings. While the letter does not mention or introduce John, early believers who knew him ascribed this letter to him because of the clear apostolic authority he demonstrated. It also has many similarities with the Gospel of John. The Apostle writes to combat teachings that later became Gnosticism. He writes in a very black and white style with absolutes using repeated themes throughout the letter, emphasizing genuine fundamentals of faith.
First, John seems to assume that the reader is familiar with the Gospel. Rather than re-state these facts, John is concerned with building confidence in Christian believers. At the same time, his words encourage believers to examine their lives for signs of their relationship with the Anointed One. This letter also challenges false teachers and their incorrect claims about Jesus. This Epistle shares many themes with John’s Gospel.
Therefore, Chapter 1 sets the stage for the rest of John’s letter. The concepts of truth vs. falsehood, light vs. darkness, and rightness vs. self-deception are explored in more detail later on. By claiming to be an eyewitness and marking the difference between God’s truth and error, Chapter 1 gives a sense of how serious this subject is. The distinction between truth and falsehood is a primary marker used for spiritual self-reflection.
The letter opens with a speaker for multiple speakers, who start declaring all the things they know about Jesus. The speakers say that, from the beginning, they’ve been able to hear and see and touch “the Word of life.” That’s a poetic way of saying that, in addition to being God, Jesus was a flesh and blood human.
They also announce that they know about eternal life and what God revealed to the world in Jesus. Secret knowledge? Yes, but what God inspired them to proclaim. They’re saying all this so that everyone can live in harmony with them as one big happy Christian community.
The message they need to deliver is this: God is a Light. That will come in handy when the power goes out. If you live your life for God, then you won’t ever be in the dark. But don’t lose any of the Light you have now. How do you know you’re in the Light? That’s easy! You’re part of a community—precisely the same Christian community the speakers enjoy. God loves those who willingly join. And how do you know you’re not in the Light? Well, one clue is if you say you’re not a sinner. That is a myth because everyone’s a sinner.
The good news is that if you admit your sins to God, He’ll forgive you. Not for your sake, but Jesus’ sake. Hopefully, you’ll start being a better person, too. But if you keep going on about how sinless and perfect you are, you’ll never achieve union with God.
John also speaks of the relationship between God, Jesus, and man. It tells of the blessings that faithful followers receive and the joy in fellowshipping with each other, which connects to the Lord.
One of the main themes is honesty. John wrote about following the doctrine of the Anointed One and believing in Him as Lord and Savior. He spoke about being honest with yourself, too, by comparing darkness and Light. If you claim to be living in the Light, John said, you can have nothing to do with the darkness without making yourself into a liar.
John instructs his readers to reflect on their actions. It asks them to look in their hearts and minds for pure thoughts and good intentions. If those who claimed to be true Christians were genuine believers in the Anointed One, they would love one another and commit selfless acts.
No one expected Christians to be without fault. John said that if you sin, acknowledge that you were wrong and repent. John accepted that human beings are flawed and would struggle to stay on the path to righteousness. Yet, on their journey to know God, the act of seeking forgiveness was one of the most critical tasks of true believers.
It consists of three parts. First, verses 1–4 offer an introduction describing the author’s eyewitness experiences with Jesus. Jesus already existed in the beginning, emphasizing His eternality (1 John 1:1). The apostle John heard saw, and touched Jesus (1 John 1:1). John testifies about Jesus and the eternal life He brings (1 John 1:2). This message had already been accepted by this letter’s recipients (1 John 1:3). From the start, John emphasizes fellowship with both the Father and the Son. Both are “from the beginning” and are inseparable. John wrote this letter to make their mutual joy complete or full (1 John 1:4).
Secondly, the theme of light and darkness is strongly communicated. It connects both to the creation account in Genesis chapters 1 and 2 as well as to the Gospel of John chapter 1. Those who know the Anointed One “walk in the light.” Those who do not know Him “walk in darkness.” God “is light, and in Him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). The believer’s goal is to “walk” in the light, as God is in the light, in order to have fellowship with Him. Those who claim to have fellowship with God must live as if that claim is valid (1 John 1:5–6).
Thirdly, Those who do are continually cleansed from sin (1 John 1:7). However, those who claim to have no sin are deceived and do not have the truth in them (1 John 1:8). Those who claim to have no sin at all are lacking in truth. Instead, such people are fooling themselves. In later chapters, John will address deception from false teachers. In this chapter, he focuses on walking with God to avoid being deceived. According to John, confession to God brings forgiveness. And, it brings the work of God to remove that stain from our lives (1 John 1:9). God offers forgiveness to those who seek it. However, those who claim to be without sin directly contradict God and do not know Him (1 John 1:10).