Studies in the First Epistle of John
- Introduction – The Facts of the Gospel, issuing in Fellowship and Joy. (vv. 1-4)
- The Nature of God and the consequent Relation of Man to God. (vv. 5-I0 ) Let us first read the chapter through, noting six important words which are here introduced in the same order as in the Introduction to John's Gospel (John 1:1-14).
Let us consider each of these words briefly:
- The Beginning
- The Word
1. The Beginning
This word reminds us of Gen 1:1; but both here and in the Gospel the word carries us back far beyond the time denoted in Genesis, the time of the creation, to the past eternity which our minds cannot grasp. In both the Gospel and the Epistle the eternal existence of the Lord Jesus Christ is plainly stated, and His manifestation in the flesh.
2. The Word
This name of our Lord Jesus Christ is appropriate, as He is the means of communication between God and man. But it was appropriate also before man existed. When we read in Gen 1, "and God said", we are to understand that the creative acts were carried out by the Word (John 1:3). In the Epistle He is called the Word of Life, both because He has life in Himself (John 5:26), and gives life (John 6:33).
In verse 2, Jesus is called "the life" and "that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested unto us." With this we may compare His own words, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life". (John 14:6)
It is in John's writings that we have the three remarkable descriptions of God, "God is (a) Spirit" (John 4:24); "God is light" (1 John 1:5); and "God is love" (1 John 4:8 and 16). I have put a bracket round the word "a" in the first of these, to indicate that there is no corresponding word in the Greek original. There is no indefinite article in Greek, and in translating into English one supplies it or not as the sense seems to require. "Jesus is the true light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world". (John 1:9); or, as He himself put it more briefly, "I am the light of the world". (John 8:12).
"In Him is no darkness at all". Four of the six words we are considering occur in Gen 1, in the following order, the beginning, darkness, light, life. We have seen that the first of these has not exactly the same meaning there as in the Gospel and the Epistle. And neither have the other three. In Genesis they refer to natural things; in the writings of John to spiritual things. "And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not". (John 1:5)
And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest that they are wrought in God. John 3:19-21
Note that in the passage just quoted John does not contrast every one that doeth evil, with every one that doeth good; "for there is none that doeth good, no not one". (Ps 14:3); but with him that doeth truth. He that doeth truth is the person who is honest before God, acknowledging his sin, and therefore gladly receiving the Saviour. Such a person comes to the light, and does not walk in darkness.
Some other Key Words
The words shew in verse 2, and declare in verse 3, represent the same word in Greek. The word declare in verse 5 is a different word from the above. The two words differ only in their prefixes. That of the second word conveys the idea of repetition. We see from verse 3 that the object of this declaration is "that ye also may have fellowship with us." Fellowship here means partnership. The cognate word partners occurs in Luke 5:10, where it is stated that James and John were partners with Simon. The exceeding riches of this partnership which we have with the apostles comes from this, that it is not merely a partnership with them, but with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. If our association with God's people be not completed by our being personally united to the Father through His Son, there is no profit in it.
The last five verses of the chapter have each the word if in the forefront. The conditions supposed are alternately bad and good, or rather blameworthy and commendable. The two commendable conditions are these:
"But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin." We have already seen that walking in the light results from doing the truth. Only thus can we have true Christian fellowship and cleansing in the precious blood of Jesus Christ.
"If we confess our sins, He is faithful and Just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." "Faithful and just" – He can be depended upon to forgive those who come in Christ's name, and in doing so He is only doing what is just, for their debt has been paid. "Sins and ... unrighteousness" – Both actual transgressions and the evil nature are effectively dealt with.