1 John 1:1–2:2comment (0)
June 4, 2009
By Steven R. Harmon
Related Scripture: 1 John 1:1–2:2
Bible Studies for Life
Associate Professor of Divinity, Beeson Divinity School, Samford University
1 John 1:1–2:2
Relationship is everything and everything is relational. That is what the triune God reveals about the nature of reality. From eternity, God is persons in relationship — Father, Son and Spirit. Human beings created in the image of God are fundamentally relational beings. God has created us as people made for relationship, in relationship with Him and each other. What really matters in and beyond life is our love for the God who creates, redeems and sustains us and our love for other people. That is what Jesus taught when He summarized the whole Bible with two commands: “Love God” and “Love your neighbor” (Matt. 22:34–40). That is also what St. John sought to teach with the entirety of the first letter that bears his name.
The Ground of Fellowship (1:1–4)
Like the prologue to the Gospel of John (John 1:1–18), the first four verses of 1 John provide a concise summary of the story of God’s salvation. The “Word of life,” God’s living revelation about the essence of life, is eternal. This Word was “in the beginning … was with God … and was God,” and “all things came into being through Him” (John 1:1–2 NRSV). God revealed this Word of life in such a manner that it could be seen, heard and touched. The purpose of this revelation is that people find purposeful connections — “koinonia” in Greek, commonly translated as “fellowship” in English but connoting something like active sharing or joint participation in a common life — with God and one another in the community of the Church.
John emphasized the palpability of the Word that in the words of the Nicene Creed, “for us and for our salvation came down from heaven, by the power of the Holy Spirit became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man.” He did so because the doctrine of the church in Asia Minor late in the first century was being threatened by a heresy that denied Jesus Christ had really assumed human flesh. A heresy is not merely a wrong-headed idea about God — we all entertain wrong-headed ideas about God this side of heaven. Strictly speaking, a heresy is the divisive public teaching of an account of the divine story that is so distorted that it is really an altogether different story from the one told at length by the Bible and summarized concisely by the ancient creeds of the Church like the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed. The heretics combated by John met that definition of heresy. They held to a dualistic understanding of reality according to which the material order and fleshly existence are inherently evil. They taught that materiality and flesh were unworthy of being assumed by God and therefore that Christ only seemed to be human as an accommodation to human ways of thinking. They came to be called “Docetists,” from a Greek word that means to “seem” or “appear.” While the Docetists flourished in the late first and second centuries, John’s teaching against them continues to be relevant. Whenever we emphasize only the spiritual dimensions of salvation to the neglect of seeking the social, economic, political and ecological justice that belong to God’s just ordering of things, we fall prey to the same inadequate account of the divine story taught by the Docetists.
The Life of Fellowship (1:5–7)
A life grounded in the fellowship of the triune God will be as discernibly different as light contrasted with darkness. It will be outwardly different in that fellowship with God will lead to fellowship with other people, and it will be inwardly different in that fellowship with God will lead to the experience of forgiveness through the saving work of Jesus, His Son.
Fellowship Rent and Restored (1:8–2:2)
The irreducible effect of sin is the rending of fellowship. The universal human condition is that because of sin, we do not experience fellowship with God or other people. If we deny that this is true of us, then “we deceive ourselves.” Yet because Christ has done what is necessary to reconcile us to God and transform us into people who seek reconciliation with our enemies, we can be forgiven sinners. That is God’s desire for “the whole world.”