If you ever came across a person lying upon the ground in extreme pain, what would you do? Let’s say for a moment, that you were walking in a park and you came upon a man who was sprawled out upon the ground and barely conscious. How would you react? Would you go over and begin a conversation with him? Would you say, “Hi, my name is Matt! It is wonderful to make your acquaintance. It’s a beautiful day isn’t it? The sun is shining. The birds are chirping. It is just a lovely day in the kingdom!”
Of course you wouldn’t. The severity of the moment would require you to give immediate attention to the ailment at hand. You would skip all the formalities of polite conversation because the situation was desperate and needed special attention.
I pose that to you because it is something of what we find here in the opening of 1 John. You might have noticed that John doesn’t poke around with small talk. His opening words of this epistle may sound a little jarring—like a dump truck lurching forward from a stoplight at full speed.
If you feel that way, there is a reason. Epistles typically follow a particular introductory form. Usually, epistles open with a formal greeting and salutation. They often include a blessing and then, after that little warm-up, they start into the meat of the letter.
John doesn’t do that. At least not in this letter. He dispenses with all the polite formalities and dives right into the meat of his epistle. And I believe that he does this because of the severity of the moment.
This letter is written to people who are basically in a state of shock. Later on in our study we’ll see that there had been something of a mass exodus from the faith. A number of people had left the church due to their embracing other doctrines. Some false teaching had infiltrated the ranks and it had caused a huge division within the church. And, of course, when that happens, there’s typically a lot of confusion among those who are left within the ranks. They wonder, “Should I go with them? Is there something that I’m missing?” No doubt, others were floundering, perhaps on the fence as to whether or not to follow them in abandoning the faith.
I believe that is why John begins his book in this dramatic way. He has diagnosed the problem, and has seen that it is rather serious. The church is like a man laying upon the ground gasping for breath. So he jumps right in order to make sure that the problem is dealt with promptly. John wants to revive a reeling church. He wants to stabilize it by clearing up some of the confusion that has emerged among them.
And essentially he goes straight to the gospel. He wastes no time in applying the balm that would bring healing to the church. He understands that the only way the church can be recalibrated is by means of the gospel.
And, my friends, that is exactly what we need. This book is a book that is one that is essential for today. For if there ever was a time where the church was fractured and misled by false teaching, it is our day. We have a buffet of beliefs and a myriad of gurus all pandering their respective philosophies and variations of “the truth.”
We’ve got your classic liberalism and your neo-orthodoxy. There’s the post-modern bent on Christianity, marching along side your Mormons, Jehovah’s Witness and other assorted cults. We’ve got a strong tide of secular humanism, agnosticism and even something they now call Chrislam, the blending of Christianity and Islam.
And if there was ever a time when people were leaving the truth, it is now. Surveys are saying that 80% of young people are leaving the church, never to return again. Tides are walking out of evangelical churches to join communion with Eastern Orthodox or Roman Catholic churches.
This little church here has not been immune either. Some of you here know exactly what how it feels to have close friends up break fellowship with you. Even though it has been a while, your heads still feel like their spinning. You are probably still confused and hurt, and you feel kind of like your are reeling from it all.
And it is into that kind of context that John writes. He dispenses with the formalities because he wants to stabilize this reeling church. And how does he do it? He does it with the gospel. He proclaims the unadulterated gospel. His only concern is that we know its facts and the fruits that flow from it.
If you look at verse 1, you see that his primary concern is that you know the facts of the gospel.
I. Concerned that we know the facts of the gospel
It says, “That which was from the beginning, which we have hears, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked on, and touched.” These are nothing other than plain facts about the person of Jesus Christ. John says, “Look, I know your heads are swirling. I know that there are some funky things being tossed around out there. But this is what you need to believe.”
Now I want you to take note of this. There are facts that we must affirm. There are things that we absolutely must believe.
If anything, this is the heresy of our day. Back in John’s day they dealt with believing the wrong things. In our day, a lot of the problem surrounds believing anything. Today it is said that you can believe anything, everything, or even nothing at all.
What you’ll hear is people saying things like, “All you need is a personal relationship with Jesus.” And we affirm that yes, you do need a personal relationship with Jesus. But that relationship is based on certain truths. You cannot have a personal relationship with Christ based on some vague notion of some figure you have imagined in your mind.
The Scripture puts a nix on that kind of thinking. John is concerned that we know the particular facts of the gospel. He is very much concerned that we get a clear understanding of the details of our faith.
And he spells some of that out here. In sum, he affirms the fact that Christ, the second person of the trinity, is the eternal Son of God who has, really and truly, become man by taking upon himself human flesh.
Look at verse one. He starts off by saying, “That which was from the beginning.” In these opening words we are taken back to Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” We are reminded there that before there was anything there was one thing: God. God, being eternal, and above all creation, was not confined to space and time. He exceeds it.
And this is what John is saying about Jesus Christ. Jesus was “from the beginning.” He is the divine one, who existed before creation with the Father.
But Jesus Christ is not just the eternally, divine Spirit. He is also the one who has a full blooded human nature. John says that he saw him. He looked at him. He heard him. He handled him. And you’ll notice that John emphasizes this a number of times. He repeats it in three of the four verses we read.
So John is stressing the fact that Christ was not some ethereal being that floated around Israel for a limited amount of time. He was indeed the one who was made manifest to us by virtue of his incarnation.
There was a sect in the church called docetism for a time that believed this. It may be exactly what John is dealing with here. Docetism comes from the Greek word “doceo” which means “to seem.” A docetist said that Jesus only seemed to be human. He appeared on earth, but he never really had a body.
I like to call this the Casper the Friendly Ghost heresy. That’s essentially what it is. Jesus, according to this view, was so spiritual, so divine, that he basically was a phantom. He only appeared in human form, but did not really take on flesh and blood.
It’s funny to think how the pendulum has swung to the other side. In more recent history things have been turned around. We emphasize the material side of things, rather than the spiritual. Docetism seems like a pretty farfetched thing to us today.
I remember when I first heard about this in college. I thought it was quite odd. I wondered how in the world one could imagine that Jesus didn’t have a real body like ours.
But that’s where we are today. Back in John’s day they favored the spiritual side of things. The spiritual and divine side of things was more real than the physical world. And it was even superior to the physical realm. So they said that it was absurd to think that a spiritual being like God would dare have flesh and blood. So a belief arose that Christ only appeared in a human form, but he was never really and truly flesh and blood.
Now-a-days things are reversed. In our context the spiritual side of things is thought to be absurd. A lot of it is no doubt due to the influence of the Enlightenment and the materialism in evolution and Darwinian theory. So, in our day, we end up stressing the human nature of Christ over and against—or to the neglect of—his divine nature.
It is important for us to understand though, that a balance is needed between the two. The fact is, when it comes to the gospel, one cannot be stressed over the other. We must affirm that, Yes, Jesus is the eternal Son of God, possessing all the properties belonging to diety. But along with his divine nature, he also possesses a very real human nature, like ours.
John is very adamant that we recognize this. He does not want this to be brushed aside as silly dogmas or frivolous doctrines that simply divide Christians. As I said at the outset, this is of primary importance to John. This is of such priority that it takes preeminence in this letter.
Why is that? Why is it urged like this? Why does John find it so necessary to be concerned with such details when it comes to the Person of Jesus Christ.
In one sense you could say that it is because it is Jesus Christ. Christ is the subject of our adoration. Being that he is who he is, you don’t want to muddy how he is perceived. If someone says to you, “Your mama wears combat boots,” how would you take that? That would be an offense to you, wouldn’t it? You would be a bit perturbed by such a thing. Why is that? It is because it is your mother! You love your mother and it is a crime to have her degraded in such a way. You wouldn’t stand to have her even spoken of in such a way.
And that is what we do when we don’t conceive of Christ in the right way. When we don’t perceive him as he is revealed in Scripture, we malign him and make him out to be something he isn’t. And of course, that is much worse than calling your mother a combat boot wearer!
But there is another reason John stresses these distinctions. He knows that there is so much riding on them. If we do not get the facts straight, we will not be able to enjoy the fruits of the gospel.
II. John is concerned that we enjoy the fruits of the gospel
In this passage, John lays out for us some of the blessings that come to us as a result of the gospel. Certainly, this is not an exhaustive list. But he does highlight three very important fruits that the gospel produces.
The first of which is eternal life. You see this in verse 2. Verse 2 begins by saying, “The life was manifest.” And he goes on to say that he “proclaims to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and made manifest to us.”
Now you notice that John doesn’t use Jesus’ name here. Instead of calling him Jesus, he calls him “life.” It is as if to say that the two are synonymous. Eternal life is so bound up with the God man, Jesus Christ, that you can use the terms interchangeably.
And essentially, what John says is that if you want to enjoy eternal life, then you must believe in this Jesus that he is presenting.
What a far cry from the things you hear today! The mantra today is that there are many roads to God. It doesn’t matter what you believe or who you believe, all religions will get you eternal life in the end.
That’s not what John says, though. He says, “If you want to live forever—if you want to enjoy life in heaven when things on earth are done, then there is only one way to do it. It is through the incarnate Son of God.
But the gospel not only produces eternal life, it produces fellowship.
Look at verse 3. It says, “that which we have seen and heard we proclaim to you, so that you may have fellowship with us, and indeed, our fellowship is with the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ.”
Basically John says that it is only right that these people have left the church. It is natural because the fellowship of believers is based on the gospel. The word fellowship is informative here too. The word fellowship is the Greek word koinonia, which means “to share together.” It means having something in common. And that commonality that we have is found in the truth of the gospel.
So if you want to have fellowship with Christ and his church, then you have to have fellowship with the truth of the gospel. You can’t have one without the other. You cannot build a church based on ham buns. Neither can you build a real church based on particular programs, as a lot of churches do today. Their pitch is that they can get you in with a certain youth program or ministry to such and such niche perceived need. Sure, you might be able to get a lot of people in the pews. But you won’t have a true church or any real fellowship in the Biblical sense.
The only way you can have true unity in the church—the only way you can experience the radical, mystical fellowship that the Bible talks about is by means of the gospel.
The last thing that John mentions is joy.
In verse 4 John says, “We are writing these things that our joy may be complete.” You may notice that there is a textual variant here. Some manuscripts have “your joy,” others have “our joy.” I don’t think it really matters either way. Either way you take it the meaning is the same. If you want joy, then the only way you can have it is through the gospel that I have laid out for you.
Now, isn’t this exactly what you want? I know it is because it is what is advertised in every single commercial that I see on the television. The marketers are all over this one. You want joy? Then use this soap! You can’t imagine how much joy you’ll have if you just shower up with this.
Every advertisement preys on this deep seated longing in every human being. And every religion does too. Every religion promises joy and happiness. Your life will be overflowing with joy once you embrace this or that philosophy.
But all these only give you a false sense of joy. True satisfaction, that sense of exultation, that deep rooted feeling of power and triumph, despite the sorrows of life, comes only through the Spirit of God in the gospel. No other religion can offer this. All the other philosophies are lacking in some sense of this joy. You either have to conjure it up yourself—which is rather cheap, or it comes and goes like the ocean tide.
Not so with Christian joy. This joy, as it says here, is full. He writes that your joy may be full. You will not lack any supply of joy when you embrace the Lord Jesus Christ as he is offered to you in the gospel. Yes, you will have sorrows. You’ll no doubt still find life to be overwhelmingly miserable. But despite the circumstances, down in your soul there will be an ever flowing stream of joy.
There was an old man who once was asked about his new found faith in Christ. His reply went something like this, “I am more happy now when I am sad, than ever I was when I was the happiest before.”
That’s something of the true nature of Christian joy. That gets at the deep seated nature of how full our joy can be because of the gospel.
So there you have it. Now you see why John is so adamant about these distinctions. He presses the facts of the gospel so that you might be sure to enjoy the fruits that proceed from the gospel.
Don’t let yourself teeter on these things. If you want true fellowship, then it has to be found here. If you want to experience the fullness of joy, then you have to embrace the gospel. If you want to live forever and enjoy the wonder of eternal life, then your faith must lay hold of the God-man Jesus Christ. It is only in him that these things can be found.
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.