First John, an Introduction

crossexamined.org
ST JOHN THE EVANGELIST by Pompeo Batoni (1708-1787) from Basildon Park. The Italian painter born in Lucca was celebrated for his portraits.

First John is my favorite epistle. I have always loved John, he is one of my favorite disciples, and I was recently struck by his writing style.

One of my favorite things about John is how he writes about himself in his gospel account. There is never really a point where he says, “that’s me.” He never gives an inclination of being special or out of the ordinary. The only time there is any assertion of John’s identity is John 13:23:

One of them, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him.

Church history tells us that the disciple whom Jesus loved is John the Apostle. John the Evangelist. John the Revelator. John the beloved.

At first glance, saying that you are the disciple whom Jesus loved seems pretty arrogant. Jesus loves me! It makes it seem like he is asserting that Jesus did not love the other disciples. But by reading all of the Gospel of John and all of his epistles, we learn John’s character.

John has some major themes which are in both his Gospel and epistles: light and dark, remaining in Christ, and love. For John, be in the light and not in the dark was remaining in Christ and to remain in Christ was being love. These were themes all believers had the opportunity to live in. All could walk in the light. All could remain in Christ. And all would be loved.

So when John called himself the disciple whom Jesus loved, he was not rubbing it in the other disciples faces – or our faces – or showing Himself to be more special. John knew he was walking in the light. He knew we could walk in the light. John knew he was remaining in Christ. He knew we could remain in Christ. John knew he was loved. He knew we would be loved too.

Saint Jerome, who lived in the late fourth and early fifth centuries, was a priest and historian. In his commentary on Galatians he tells the story of John at a very old age:

The blessed John the Evangelist lived in Ephesus until extreme old age. His disciples could barely carry him to church and he could not muster the voice to speak many words. During individual gatherings he usually said nothing but, “Little children, love one another.” The disciples and brothers in attendance, annoyed because they always heard the same words, finally said, “Teacher, why do you always say this?” He replied with a line worthy of John: “Because it is the Lord’s commandment and if it alone is kept, it is sufficient.’ He said this because of the Apostle’s present mandate: “Let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the household of faith.”

St., Jerome, et al. Commentary on Galatians, Catholic Univeristy of America Press, 2014.

Whether or not this event actually happened or is just church tradition, as Jerome says, it is “worthy of John.” And whether or not this actually happened, there was enough of an emphasis on John preaching love in the 5th century that it should be of emphasis of us today.

In John 3:16, John teaches that the whole Gospel was because “God so loved the world.” In his first letter, John moves from God’s love of His children to God’s children loving another, highlighted in 3:10-24.

But what is love? Why did God so love the world? Why did John write “that we should love another”?

This passage is worth studying because love has so many meanings, not only in our current culture but throughout history. To truly serve, worship, and obey God as well as interact with our neighbors, we need to love them, but without knowing what love is, we will never be able to do that. 1 John 3:10-24 demonstrates that love is instrumental to the identity of the children of God and a believer cannot separate right belief and self-sacrificial love. 

Join me over the next couple of weeks as I dive in to the epistle of 1 John to gain an insight into different themes such as light and dark, remaining in Christ, and love.


All Scripture used on Oregon Christian Girl comes from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.®  Unless otherwise noted.

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