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:
- No one needs any “special” knowledge reserved for a select few for salvation
- 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)
- 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.
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