In writing this epistle, John had two purposes on mind: first, to expose and address false teaching (Gnosticism) that was creeping into the Church <see 1 Jn.2:26>; secondly, to assure believers of their salvation; “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” <1 Jn.5:13 (NIV)>.
The Subject matter of the book counters false and erroneous doctrine, and encourages the reader to live in the knowledge of truth. The important theme is fellowship with God <1 Jn.2:28>; showing the Basis of fellowship <1 Jn.1:1 – 2:27>, and the Behaviour of fellowship <1 Jn.2:28 – 5:21>. The Basis of fellowship is further divided into Conditions, Cautions, and Meaning of fellowship. The Behaviour of fellowship is also divided into Characteristics, Consequences, and Manifestations of fellowship. It also speaks to Abiding in God’s light and love.
“One of the most dangerous heresies of the first two centuries of the church was Gnosticism. Its central teaching was that spirit is entirely good and matter is entirely evil. From this unbiblical dualism flowed five important errors:
- Man’s body, which is matter, is therefore evil. It is to be contrasted with God, who is wholly spirit and therefore good.
- Salvation is the escape from the body, achieved not by faith in Christ but by special knowledge (the Greek word for “knowledge” is gnosis, hence Gnosticism).
- Christ’s true humanity was denied in two ways: (1) Some said that Christ only seemed to have a body, a view called Docetism, from the Greek dokeo (“to seem”), and (2) others said that the divine Christ joined the man Jesus at baptism and left him before he died, a view called Cerinthianism, after its most prominent spokesman, Cerinthus. This view is the background of much of 1 John (see 1Jn.1:1; 2:22; 4:2-3).
- Since the body was considered evil, it was to be treated harshly. This ascetic form of Gnosticism is the background of part of the letter to the Colossians (2:21-23).
- Paradoxically, this dualism also led to licentiousness. The reasoning was that, since matter-and not the breaking of God’s law (1 Jn. 3:4) -was considered evil, breaking his law was of no moral consequence.
The Gnosticism addressed in the NT was an early form of the heresy, not the intricately developed system of the second and third centuries. In addition to that seen in Colossians and in John’s letters, acquaintance with early Gnosticism is reflected in 1, 2 Timothy, Titus, and 2 Peter and perhaps I Corinthians.” [Source: The NIV Study Bible]
A study of 1 John 1:1-4
Beginning his letter, John speaks to the unique experience which he and the other disciples (apostles) shared; they had a personal contact with The Word of life, God’s eternal Son, they saw Him in person, they observed, they watched every action, they listened to His teaching; they missed nothing: “…we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched” <1 Jn.1:1 (NIV)>. He references this to what has been recorded in the Gospel of John chapter 1 where he speaks to the coming into the world of Christ the eternal Son of God, The Word of God: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” <Jn.1:14 (NIV)>.
The Word – God’s Son, became a human being – “….Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man…” <Phil.2:5-8 (NIV)>. This was in God’s plan of salvation, someone had to die for sin, and that sacrifice had to be perfect and sinless, and was portrayed in the O.T. Burnt and Sin offerings <see Lev.1:6-8; 4:1-5>. But we are told that animal sacrifice is not capable of removing our sin, it only covered them from God’s sight for a period of time, and that is the reason why these sacrifices had to be repeated continuously; so, there had to be a better sacrifice <see Heb.10:3-7; 11-12>. Since there was no perfect (sinless) human being, God had to send The Perfect sacrifice in the person of His Son. Faith in God’s sacrificial provision gives us the salvation from our sin that we need <1 Jn.2:1b-2; Jn.1:12>.
The twelve disciples (apostles) had the privilege of His presence, His teaching and His miracles for three years of His ministry on the earth, so John is able to give an actual report of all that Jesus said and did. Because of his close encounter with Jesus Christ – The Word of God – he is able to declare; “…we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us.”” <1 Jn.1:2-3 (NIV); cf Jn.1:1-2, 14>, so that we all can have fellowship with Christ and each other, as believers in Christ.
Thus, the basis of our Christian fellowship is our faith in Christ for which we have received eternal life, and this gives us communion with God and a friendship that can be shared and experienced wherever we meet other believers in Christ.