While John was an apostle of the circumcision and his ministry was primarily to Hebrew believers, he was also a minister of God's earthly kingdom purposes and this must involve the Gentile as well, otherwise this kingdom can never become world-wide. The Gentile was certainly incipient in God's promise to Abraham and his seed (Gen. 12:1-3). This will become a reality at the Lord's Second Coming, and finally the whole earth will be filled with the knowledge and the glory of the Lord (Isa. 11:9; Hab. 2:14), so much so that He will then be the 'King over all the earth' (Zech. 14:9). We should not be surprised then that John, in this epistle we are studying, reveals 'that the Father has sent His Son to be the Saviour of the world' (4:14), not just the Saviour of Israel, (which of course He is). Although Israel are first in God's earthly kingdom purposes, as the agents who will bear the good news of this kingdom to the world, they are not first and last, and it is completely unscriptural to restrict it to the Jewish nation.
It is significant that the phrase 'the Saviour of the world' is confined to John's writings, and is found in his Gospel (4:42) as well as his First Epistle. The words in the Gospel were spoken by Samaritans who had no interest in the promises concerning Judah, but were very interested in promises that revealed a world-wide salvation. We shall remember too that in chapter 2 of this Epistle he presents the Lord Jesus as the propitiation for all the world. Those who keep these facts in mind will have no problems with the word 'world' in John's ministry, nor will they ignore it in any way, for it is a vital part of God's purpose for Israel as well as for mankind as a whole.
If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. (verses 15,16 N.I.V.).
The apostle has told us that God abides in the believer if he loves his fellow believers (verse 12), and now he points out that God also abides in (or 'lives in' N.I.V.) us if we confess or acknowledge that Christ is the Son of God. Noting His special relationship to the Father, it is a confession of His deity.
And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. (verse 16).
John makes much of the knowledge that comes from belief and trust in the Son of God. It is out-poured love of God that constantly spends itself for us and in us, leading us to deeper and deeper satisfaction. For God is love and this love eclipses anything that the world can produce with its empty and cheap sentimentality. God's love becomes an eternal and never failing bond, linking the believer for ever with the Lord Jesus. As the hymn writer puts it, 'I am His, and He is mine'.
In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like Him. (verse 17).
In this way, love is taken to maturity, and in it there can be no fear or terror. And that is true even if we look to the future day of judgment. It is essential that we understand the Scriptural teaching concerning judgment for the believer in Christ, otherwise we shall be in bondage to fears that should not and need not exist. This is not a judgment for sins committed when we were unsaved, for John 5:24 is for ever true:
"I tell you the truth, whoever hears My word and believes Him Who sent Me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life."
This is because the penalty for those sins has been borne by the Saviour. 'The Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all' (Isa. 53:6; 2 Cor. 5:21). But we must remember that we are 'saved to serve'. There is witness and service for the Lord Who has saved us and we are deciding every day what kind of service and response we are offering to Him. Are we faithfully passing on the truth from His Word that He has revealed to us? He saves us and calls us to witness for Him. How are we responding in practice? 1 Corinthians 3:6-15 needs careful study here for it sorts out good and faithful service which will be rewarded by the Lord, and its opposite, bad service, or no service at all and the loss of such a reward. The apostle Paul makes clear this does not touch salvation (verse 15), but how can the Lord be pleased with bad or lazy servants, even though they are His children? The parable of the talents explains this (Matt. 25:14-28), and is another important passage on this subject.
The judgment seat of Christ is not in connection with sins as such, but service for the Saviour, If we have faithfully witnessed and served Him in our Christian lives there will be no need to dread the day of judgment. Instead we shall get His smile and His commendation 'well done, good and faithful servant', and who can desire or expect more than this? We shall indeed have 'boldness in the day of judgment (for service)', and this can be the experience of every believer, if he serves faithfully now. Let us remember that we serve One Who was and is the faithful servant of the Father. In fact His Name is called Faithful (Rev. 19:11), and He is ready to strengthen and guide us so that we can render to Him acceptable and faithful service, for in this way we show our love for Him and in this divine love there is no dread or fear. If there is, such love has not reached maturity.
We love because He first loved us. If anyone says, "I love God," yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, Whom he has not seen. And He has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother. (verses 19-21).
Our love is in response to God's love, not the other way round. And in doing this, we inevitably love His children. It is impossible to love God and hate one's brother. If anyone does this, John declares him to be a liar. This is blunt language, but although he was the apostle of love, John does not hesitate to use plain language. He did not believe in calling a spade an agricultural implement. True love faces up to facts. The Lord Jesus had no time for love that did not express itself in corresponding actions. He said, 'If you love Me, you will keep My commandments' (John 14:15 R.V.), and stated that, as a new commandment, they should love one another, and by this everyone would know that they were real disciples (John 13:34,35).
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves His child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out His commands. (verses 1,2).Again John attacks the Corinthian antichristian teaching that denied the identity of Jesus and Christ, and he insists on the full sense of belief that accepts Christ as Lord and Saviour. It was not sufficient to own Him as the promised Messiah. Personal faith in Him leading to personal union with Him is what the apostle consistently taught And only those who had taken this step could count themselves as one of the family of God (John 1:12). Love to God and love to His children are facets of the same thing. Both should be in evidence in the believer's life. One is not fully true without the other, and they both lead to obedience to God's commands. We have seen how the Lord Jesus links our love for God with this practical obedience (John 14:15 R.V.). No one is honest who claims to love the Saviour and at the same time disobeys Him. Some may point to kindness in the world which is the expression of humanism, but this cannot compare with the love that John is writing about, for such love is devoid of love for God.
This is love for God: to obey His commands. And His commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. (verses 3-5).
His commands are not heavy (literally), that is they are not a burden to carry out. Love for God lightens His commands and makes the carrying of them into practice a real joy. Not only this but when a person is born of God, His almighty power is given to him so that he can 'overcome the world'. Here the word 'world' means the world system that is energized by Satan. Later on John is going to tell us that 'the whole world is under the control of the evil one' (5:19), but the triumph of calvary means the defeat of Satan and his world-wide system. Christ could say 'I have overcome the world' (John 16:33), and because of His victory every believer can be victorious too as he relies on Him by simple faith, for united with the Son of God His victory becomes theirs. John has already reminded his believing readers of this victory (4:4).
This is the One Who came by water and blood -- Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit Who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement. (verses 6-8).
If comparison is made between the translation of verse 7 by The New International Version and the Authorized Version, it will be noted that a number of words have been left out. On the surface it looks as though the Greek Text has been tampered with, but this is not so. The following words are a spurious addition -- 'in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost, and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness in earth', (A.V). These words are found in no Greek manuscripts except two late ones of the fifteenth century, and another written about 1520! This is now in the library of Trinity College, Dublin.
Erasmus did not have the words in question in his first edition. He rashly offered to insert it if a single Greek manuscript contained it, and one numbered 34 was produced in which the words occurred. In order to keep his promise, he included these words in a following edition, although he knew they had no real backing. Evidently a Latin scribe had written the words in the margin of his text, and so it got into the Vulgate and finally into the Textus Receptus and the Authorized Version through Erasmus' foolishness. The point is that no truth has been lost by omitting them. The doctrine of the Trinity does not depend on these spurious additions, but is clearly taught in other Scriptures.
There are various interpretations of the 'water' and the 'blood', but the soundest sees them referring to the two important incidents, the Lord's baptism, and the offering of Himself and His life on the cross. At His baptism Christ was formally set apart to His great Messianic work by the coming of the Holy Spirit upon Him and the Father's audible witness. At the cross, His redemptive work reached its culmination, 'It is finished' (completed), and this resulted from the shedding of His blood and the giving of His life for the putting away of His people's sins.
We accept man's testimony, but God's testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which He has given about His Son. Anyone who believes in the Son of God has this testimony in his heart. Anyone who does not believe God has made Him out to be a liar, because he has not believed the testimony God has given about His Son. (verses 9,10).
The apostle's reasoning is now unanswerable. We all have to accept and believe the witness of other people at some time or other, without knowing whether they are truthful or not, but God's testimony is always true, for it is impossible for Him to lie. This being so, there are no grounds whatever for disbelieving Him. John puts it bluntly; he who does not believe God makes Him a liar and thereby puts himself under condemnation straight away. To reject the Son is to reject the Father, for they are so closely united. Moreover the Father has testified so clearly that the Son came into this world with one object -- to save it from sin and eternal death. Those who reject this through unbelief automatically cut themselves off from this wonderful deliverance.
And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. (verses 11,12).
The words of the second sentence are so simple that any child can understand what they mean. Do we have Christ? If so, we have this life that never comes to an end, but is full of everlasting joys that eternally satisfy. Not to have Him is to be cut off for ever from all this -- there is no middle position, it is one or the other. But how do we 'have Christ'? The answer is, by putting our trust in Him alone and all He has done for us in His life with all His promises, culminating in His atoning death for us on the cross, and His resurrection three days later. Then instead of being a Saviour, He becomes our Saviour, and we can say as the apostle Paul did:
I live by faith in the Son of God, Who loved me and gave Himself for me. (Gal. 2:20).
There is nothing more wonderful than this, for always He waits to be appropriated by such simple faith and trust.