Presently, we are living in a time in which many people are afraid and have doubts about the future. I’ve often found television news to be depressing and anxiety building, but it’s gotten even worse. With many people not being able to go into work, losing their jobs, or worried about their financial future, it’s very easy to be consumed by that doubt and anxiety. At all times, but especially at times like this, it’s important to cling to the truths and promises of God’s Word. Like the fact that, Jesus’ resurrection from the dead means that we will one day be raised with Him – this world is not all there is.
The Apostle Paul reminds us, “If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:19). This verse encourages us to remember that our ultimate hope in Christ is not for the here and now. As the Nicene Creed puts it, “We look forward to the resurrection of the dead, and to life in the world to come.” At the same time, notice that while 1 Corinthians 15:19 reminds us that our hope in Christ in this life is not ultimate, we do actually have hope in Christ in this life!
This is what we’ve seen, as we’ve been considering the major themes and background of 1 John. If you remember, John’s purpose in writing this letter was to help believers gain assurance of salvation: “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13). And, throughout the letter, John seeks to build up believer’s assurance of this salvation and eternal life.
The way to gain assurance and joy in this life is not by focusing on this life (just turn on the news and see if that helps). The way to gain assurance and joy in this life is by remembering and considering the eternal things of God, His promise of eternal life and our future hope.
Consider Jesus, the Word of Life Made Flesh
And that brings us to the first four verses or prologue of 1 John. Consider how John begins this letter:
1 What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life–
2 and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us—
Right out of the gate, John seeks to lift our thoughts from this world and this life to consider says Jesus Christ, who is eternal life. He basically says, “The eternal Word of Life, Jesus Christ (God’s Son) was from the beginning – He pre-existed creation. But then, He was revealed to us, and we are witnesses. We heard Him. We saw Him. We touched Him. Based on this evidence of our eye-witness testimony, we proclaim to you: Jesus is the Word of Life. Jesus is the eternal life.”
Note that John is here refuting the Gnostic notion of spiritual-physical duality – the idea that the physical world is evil and that the spiritual world is good. In contrast, John is saying, “What I tell you about Jesus is not a myth, it’s not speculation, it’s not something that I came up with on my own. What I tell you about Jesus in this letter is what I learned directly from Him – the eternal Word of God who became flesh!”
Fellowship in the Truth
Now, consider 1 John 1:3:
3 what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.
False teachers were causing divisions and drawing believers out of the church. Here, John wants to restore the fellowship and unity of God’s people that the false teachers had sought to sever. And, the only way that he knows how to restore the unity of God’s people in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, with the Father and the Son, is telling them the truth as to what he knows – “What we have seen and heard we proclaim to you!”
In the first two verses, John draws a distinction between other believers and himself as a specially called Apostle and eyewitness to Jesus. Note that John here in verse 3, however, he emphasizes the unity and equality of spiritual fellowship among God’s people. He refutes the Gnostic notion that salvation is only for an elite few who have obtained a special knowledge. John says, “We all [that is, all believers] have the same fellowship together with each other, and together with the Father and the Son of God, Jesus Christ.”
That Our Joy May Be Made Complete
Try and imagine what it would have been like to be a Christian during the 90s AD, being subjected to itinerate, false teachers who were telling you all sorts of lies. These false teachers added burden upon burden upon you until you were so weighted down, you were depressed beyond belief!
I mean, think about it, these teachers are saying, “Jesus didn’t really have a body, and he didn’t really die, so he really didn’t rise from the dead.” The Apostle Paul warns in 1 Corinthians 15 that if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, and your faith – also is vain. Your faith would be pointless and Christians would be the most pitiable people on earth.
Add to that this whole idea that salvation is obtained through a special knowledge that only some people get to understand. Believing and trusting in Christ, His death and resurrection, is the only way of salvation; however, the false teachers in the first century were saying, “No. You need to have a private vision of the heavenly wisdom.” I don’t know about you, but I’d be like, “Have a private vision of the heavenly wisdom? I don’t even know what that means!”
Imagine how depressing the message of these false teachers would be: “It’s not about Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection – that didn’t really happen anyway. Really, it’s about escaping the created realm through special knowledge that is imparted to you by osmosis, in some mysterious way.”
But, you know, you don’t really have to imagine too hard what that would be like. All you have to do is tune into any number of preachers on TV who talk about the “power of positive thinking” or any of the new-age philosophers and teachers who want to teach you how to tap into the spiritual “life-force” of the universe, and you’ll know exactly what it was like to be inundated by these wacky teachings in the first century.
If you ask me, it’s all very depressing. And, that’s why John concludes his introduction to the prologue to this letter in this way. 1 John 1:4:
4 These things we write, so that our joy may be made complete.
As we’ve noted already, near the end of this letter, John tells us that his purpose in writing is so that those who believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God may know that they have eternal life (1 John 5:13). Here at the beginning of this letter we seem to be given a different purpose for the writing of this letter: joy. But, if you think about it, it’s actually the same purpose: when you know and have assurance of eternal life, your joy will be complete!
No doubt, you’ve probably heard Johnny Lee sing, “Lookin’ for Love in all the wrong places.” Well, we – like the first century Christians who first received this letter – go looking for joy in all the wrong places.
But John says, “These things we write – this letter was written – so that our joy may be made complete.” So, as we study this letter, we’re going to learn how it is that true joy comes from a right doctrine – knowing and believing the truth – that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day…according to the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).
We’re going to see how it is that true joy comes from a right morality – living according to God’s commands – that it is true what the Scriptures say – “How blessed is everyone who fears the LORD, Who walks in His ways” (Psalm 128:1).
And, we’re going to see how it is that true joy comes from right relationships – learning to love one another as Christ loved us. We’re going to learn how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity (Psalm 133:1). For we know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren (1 John 3:16).