1 John 2:3–11, 15–17comment (0)
June 11, 2009
By Steven R. Harmon
Related Scripture: 1 John 2:3–11, 15–17
Bible Studies for Life
Associate Professor of Divinity, Beeson Divinity School, Samford University
KNOW THAT YOU KNOW GOD
1 John 2:3–11, 15–17
In 1 John 1:1–2:2, we learned that the triune God reveals that relationship is the essence of reality. In 1 John 2:3–17, we learn that our knowledge of God is defined and demonstrated in terms of our relationships — our relationship with Christ, our relationship with other people and our relationship with “the world” that is opposed to God’s purposes.
The Knowledge of God and Obedience to Christ (3–6)
The apostle John defined being in right relationship with God as “knowing” God. This knowledge of God is not the same as knowing that the Earth is spherical or two plus two equals four. Knowledge in this biblical sense is relational knowledge — not “knowing about” something but knowing someone in the context of intimate relationship. The language of the Old Testament uses the verb “know” to refer to the most intimate act of love between a husband and wife, and the New Testament writers had this usage in mind when they wrote of being rightly related to God as “knowing God.”
God has chosen to be known in the person of Jesus Christ and be in relationship with the world He created and the people He created in His image. Therefore the character of our relationships with Christ, other people and “the world” demonstrates how well we really know God. First our relationship with Christ, in whom God has made Himself known, is qualified by our obedience to His teachings and example. The early church understood the Christian life as one that obeyed Christ’s commandments and followed His example; thus it produced the canonical Gospels as manuals of discipleship that preserved not only His sayings but also narrated His actions so that His followers might “walk as He walked.” If we know Jesus, then we will do what He has commanded and exemplified. If we do not do what Jesus has taught and modeled for us, then that demonstrates we do not truly know God.
The Knowledge of God and Love for Others (7–11)
Second our love for people created in God’s image provides evidence that we know God. Even though human beings are fallen and the image of God has become grossly distorted by sin, God still regards them as His own image. In Genesis 9:6 — long after the fall of humanity in Genesis 3 — the fact that human beings are still considered to be the image of God is the theological rationale for the prohibition of murder. We can declare that we are in right relationship with God, but we do not truly love Him if we do not love a person created in His image. While some English translations suggest that the references to loving or hating a brother or sister in this section have in mind other believers, these are interpretive translations. That is they translate the language in such a way as to make more specific what is ambiguous in the Greek text. The Greek text, however, simply mentions love or hate of “a brother.” While it is true that our love for a fellow believer is evidence of our love for God, it is also true that our love for a person who is not a believer in Christ is also evidence of our love for Him.
The Knowledge of God and Love for the World (15–17)
Third the nature of our relationship to “the world” says something about the degree to which we know God. It is important at this point to understand what John meant when he wrote about “the world or the things in the world.” It is true that the world is God’s good creation, and if we love God, then we will love the world He made and all that is in it. Yet when John wrote of “the world,” he had a more specialized theological meaning in mind. “The world” in the Johannine sense refers to all the aspects of the present order of things that are opposed to God’s purposes for the world — especially the people and power structures that deliberately seek to influence people away from His goals for the world. If we love things that fall under the categories of “the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride in riches,” then there is evidence that we do not really know God.