The Ninth in a Series of Sermons on John's Epistles
I think it safe to say that most people would identify “love one another” as the primary ethical teaching of Christianity. No doubt, the love of neighbor is an apt summary of those things required by the second table of the law (commandments 5-10). Jesus even spoke this way in Matthew 22 when he summarizes the law. But whenever the Bible directs us to love our neighbor, we must never forget that the context for this commandment is always God’s prior love for us. As the Apostle John puts it in verse 10, of the fourth chapter of his first epistle, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” It is because of God’s prior love for us–a love which moved God to send his son to suffer and die to take away the guilt of our sins–that we, in turn, are to love our neighbors. The indicative–the gospel, i.e., what God does for us in Christ–must be properly related to the imperative–the necessity of obeying God’s commands. Understanding this distinction is vital if we are to make full sense of 1 John and the Apostle’s stress upon the necessity of obeying the commandments of God, specifically the command to love others as we would ourselves.
We continue our series on the Epistles of John. As we have seen throughout this series, understanding the specific historical circumstances which prompted John to write these epistles is essential if we are to understand why John addresses the particular topics in the way that he does. These three epistles of John most likely were written late in the first century to Christians throughout Asia Minor (in and near the city of Ephesus), where John was an elderly man and the last living apostle.
Having composed his gospel (likely a year or so earlier), John must now respond to a group of false teachers who had departed from the faith, having supposedly gained insight into the secret teachings of Jesus. Having imbibed from what John calls the spirit of antichrist (a form of proto-Gnosticism), these individuals were denying that Jesus was God manifest in the flesh. While affirming that Jesus is truly God, the false teachers also affirmed that Jesus merely took the form of a human–explaining his physical appearance as recounted in the gospels. This fully divine but not truly human Jesus, flies directly in the face of everything John had taught in his gospel, which depicts Jesus as the eternal word manifest in the flesh. The denial of Jesus’ human nature poses a great threat to the church, which explains why John opens this epistle with the declaration that he himself had seen Jesus in the flesh, that he had heard Jesus preach, and that he had even seen Jesus perform miracles. Jesus was no docetic phantom without flesh, blood, and bones. Jesus is God manifest in the flesh. As we have seen, to deny Christ’s true human nature is to deny Christianity. It is to embrace the spirit of antichrist.
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