In this circular letter to the churches, John drops the opening and closing introductions and greetings common to the other epistles. He launches directly into his message. I find three themes in this book: the incarnation of Christ and true spirituality, knowing the truth, and love.
The Incarnate Christ and True Spirituality
Christianity firmly asserts that Jesus Christ is God and at the same time that He was incarnated as a man. He lived and died and was resurrected. He wasn’t resurrected as spirit, he was resurrected bodily. John adamantly reiterated that this is not only the doctrine of the church, it is something he witnessed personally.
This teaching has consequences for Christian living. We are not pure, undefiled spirits residing in sinful, depraved bodies. We are body and spirit together. The actions we take with our bodies have spiritual consequences. Likewise, if we are godly in our spirit, it will show in our actions.
John’s writings on this subject may be a reaction to Gnosticism. It seems that teachers of some form of Gnosticism or some other beliefs were attempting to infiltrate the church. They taught a strong duality between spirit and body, so that the spirit was pure, good, and untouchable, so one could do as they pleased in the body, which was inherently bad, lesser, and corrupt. In their view, the resurrected Jesus was as spirit and shed the corruption of flesh to become pure.
Throughout the Bible, you will not find a concept that material is bad and spirit is good. In Genesis, God called the material world he made good, along with everything, man, animal, plant, and mineral, in it. Satan and the demons are spirits, but they are evil. The Bible assures believers that they will be resurrected bodily, like Christ, and that their resurrected body will be everlasting, good, and incorruptible.
Knowing the Truth
Knowing the truth is a Christian’s defense against false teaching. John writes a lot about knowing in this letter. That knowing is founded in the revelation of Christ and in God’s Word. We can know that we know God (Chapter 2). We can know that we have a new, everlasting life in Christ (Chapter 3). We can know that God loves us (Chapter 4). We can know that God hears our prayers (Chapter 5).
Knowing the truth allows us to test ourselves, what we hear, and who we hear it from. Do we affirm the gospel, including the divinity and bodily resurrection of Christ? Do we strive to keep God’s commandments? Do we recognize when we sin and repent? Do we love others and act on that love? Jesus Christ said we could know a tree by its fruit, and John is encouraging us to look around and see if the fruit of would-be teachers is good or not.
John is sometimes called the “Apostle of Love.” Love is a theme of all his writings preserved in the Bible (yes, even Revelation in my opinion).
God loves us and we should love Him. If we are Christians, we will love Him. If we love Him, we will obey Him (Jesus said if we love Him, we will keep his commandments). If we love Him, we will love others, especially our brothers and sisters in the church (Jesus said we would be known know for our love for each other). Love is the God’s response to us, even when we were sinful and far from him, as evidenced in the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Christ. The appropriate response to Gods love is to love Him and love the others He loves.
John also wrote the Gospel of John.