1 John – Knowing God

Gnosticism was distinguished by an unethical, loveless intellectualism. This seems to be the explanation of the false teaching against which this epistle is directed. The apostle describes the dry head-knowledge which left the heart and life untouched by love, and which led men, while they professed to love God, nevertheless to remain destitute of love to their fellow-men…In Gnosticism knowledge was in itself the supreme end and purpose of life, the sum of highest good to which a man could attain, the crown of life. The system was loveless to the core.

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It is believed by most scholars that John the apostle wrote his works (the Gospel, his three epistles and Revelation) toward the end of the first century when he was nearing the end of his life. It is most likely that he had risen to an authoritative position within the church in Ephesus. Some church fathers believed that when Christians from all over would gather to hear John preach in Ephesus, on occasion his only words were:

Little children, love each other.

John’s exhortation to the early church to love one another is the main theme of his first epistle, for to love one another represents a true knowledge of God.

John was counteracting two false teachings of the day that the church was up against:

1. Gnosticism – the idea that only those who achieved a higher and mysterious knowledge could obtain salvation. The church was coming under the threat of adhering to this teaching, which is why throughout the epistle, John reiterates to his readers what they already know. The believers already had the knowledge they needed for salvation:

I am writing to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I have written to you, children, because you know the Father.

1 John 2:13

But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you all know. I have not written to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it, and because no lie is of the truth.

1 John 2:20,21

And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ

1 John 5:20

2. Docetism – this was another belief that John was counteracting. Docetism said that Jesus’ earthly existence in bodily form was an illusion since the body and everything material was inherently evil and Christ was anything but evil. Therefore, some believed that Christ did not actually come in flesh because he was Divine. But John refutes this:

By this you know the Spirit of God : every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God…

1 John 4:2

This is the One who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ ; not with the water only, but with the water and with the blood

1 John 5:6

This heretical teaching also went hand in hand with immorality. Since the body was evil, some reasoned, there was no need to practice self-restraint and keep the body clean. John reminds the reader that anyone who has true knowledge also walks in holiness, which is reflected in their love:

By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious : anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother.

1 John 3:10

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God ; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.

1 John 4:7,8

If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar ; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.

1 John 4:20

So John’s message in his first epistle to the early church was quite simple:

  1. No one needs any “special” knowledge reserved for a select few for salvation
  2. Jesus came by water and blood (i.e., he was not just an illusion but he came in bodily form, blood and all. The water may refer to his water baptism)
  3. Those who love people (not just by word but in action and deed) reflect a true knowledge of God

For those interested, I got most of this background info from the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (which is my favorite free online encyclopedia source) that you can access here.

I found one entry in this encyclopedia that describes Gnosticism (the false teaching that John refuted), which explains why 1 John emphasized the importance of love:

Gnosticism was distinguished by an unethical, loveless intellectualism. This seems to be the explanation of the false teaching against which this epistle is directed. The apostle describes the dry head-knowledge which left the heart and life untouched by love, and which led men, while they professed to love God, nevertheless to remain destitute of love to their fellow-men. They did not fold their human brethren to their hearts, they were dead to the fact that where pity dwells, the love of God dwells also. In Gnosticism knowledge was in itself the supreme end and purpose of life, the sum of highest good to which a man could attain, the crown of life. The system was loveless to the core.

Source: International Standard Bible Encyclopedia

Accessed Aug 24 2014: http://www.biblestudytools.com/encyclopedias/isbe/gnosticism.html

I love the above passage. Basically, it’s reiterating the message of 1 John: true knowledge will be reflected in how well you love others, and those who profess knowledge but do not love do not have true knowledge.

I love having intellectual discussions, but I’m learning to keep love at the center. My brain is a gift, but my value and purpose is tied in God (who is love) all alone.

And since God is love, only continued revelations of Him will allow me to love in the way He does naturally:

I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, would give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him.

Ephesians 1:17

We are asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding, so that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him, bearing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of God

Colossians 1:9,10

themes-of-1-John

My Pursuit of Life: Gospel of John

Jesus promises that we can find abundant life, a well-spring, one that gushes over and never runs dry. We never have to “fill our tanks” again on the same things we rely on outside of God over and over, because God makes His home within us – the Ultimate Comfort

I had always heard in church that nothing outside of Jesus can bring lasting satisfaction (life) – so anything from money, material possessions, achievements, experiences, and success, to sex, drugs, alcohol, food – the list goes on.

At some point during my walk with God, I began to truly believe that – but to practically live that out was hard. To find life in Jesus, after all, wasn’t something tangible I could put my hands on. Although I began to seek out Jesus for life, I also relied on more than just Him to make me feel “alive.”

John the disciple, the most likely author of this fourth gospel, describes himself as “the one whom Jesus loved.”

One of the main themes of John’s Gospel is life. He presents an entirely different view from the rest of the world for obtaining life, one that is simple, almost too simple to trust:

All things came into being through [Christ], and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.

John 1:3,4

Mankind’s very existence comes from Jesus, who is Life itself, which means that man cannot possibly find Life outside of Christ.

But ever since Adam and Eve decided to walk away from their very source, mankind has either walked with God (in Life), or in sin (which masquerades as life, but is really just death):

…just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned…

Romans 5:12

 But one is tempted by one’s own desire, being lured and enticed by it; then, when that desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and that sin, when it is fully grown, gives birth to death.

James 1:14,15

And all of this makes sense, but I used to wonder to myself, how do I overcome? How do I stop making choices and thinking negative thoughts that are obviously not from God? I keep making mistakes and doing the wrong thing that leads me away from Life.

Who can’t identify with the apostle Paul’s struggle?

For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?

Romans 7:22,23

The answer comes in the Gospel of John, where another theme is belief – belief that Jesus Himself is Life (John 1:3,4), and that He will reveal Life to us (which is Himself) through faith alone – not willpower, not striving:

Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.”

John 6:29

…but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God ; and that believing you may have life in His name.

John 20:31

A speaker from my Foundations for Counseling Ministry School in Kona taught that man’s only work is belief. We simply must believe in the words of God, and obey whatever He personally speak to us in faith that we have heard Him (and God Himself gives us the grace [strength] to obey whatever He has called us to):

Do not let your heart be troubled ; believe in God, believe also in Me.

John 14:21

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed…

2 Corinthians 9:8

Jesus promises that we can find abundant life, a well-spring, one that gushes over and never runs dry. We never have to “fill our tanks” again on the same things we rely on outside of God over and over, because God makes His home within us – the Ultimate Comfort:

but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.”

John 4:14

Jesus answered him, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.

John 14:23

It has been a journey of following God (without really knowing where I was going) that has led me to experience His remarkable faithfulness toward me. The life I was searching for certainly didn’t come right away, but I can Kona_horsetestify that I have found it in God through faith and obedience (not willpower and strife). I’m not as dependent on circumstances or anything outside of Him to make me “feel alive” (although of course I’m still a work in progress). It comes from within. This verse describes it in a way I can’t with words:

He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’

John 7:38