posted on Jul, 7 2017 @ 05:01 PM
When John writes his first epistle, he is not, like Paul, addressing himself to a specific church under particular circumstances.
He writes, on behalf of himself and his fellow teachers, to anyone in the Christian body who will take his advice. Though his first readers were
probably in Ephesus and that region of Asia Minor.
His purpose is to teach these Christians, or remind them, that they are dwelling in God, through Christ, and to show them how this knowledge should be
affecting their conduct.
His pastoral attitude towards his readers is reflected in the different ways that he addresses them.
For example, in the opening portion of the second chapter he calls them “little children” [TEKNIA].
Later in the chapter he will be calling them “little ones” [PAIDIA].
The first thought is about kinship, the second is about their need for protection.
In the first chapter, John was establishing the importance of this fellowship with God.
The main point was that God is light, and therefore we need to be “walking in the light”, in order to maintain our place in him.
He explains to them now that his purpose in writing the letter is “that you may not sin” (ch2 v1).
And if anyone should sin? We have an “advocate” in the presence of the Father, in the person of Jesus Christ himself.
This is the same word that is used in the final discourse of the gospel, when Jesus promises to send the Holy Spirit and calls him “another
advocate” (John ch14 v16).
It serves the same purpose as the explanation in Hebrews, which portrays Christ in heaven as an interceding priest.
Though these are different images, the underlying teaching is the same.
That is, the courtroom advocate and the heavenly priest are alternative ways of depicting the continuing work of the living Christ,
mediating between ourselves and the Father.
Christ is qualified to act as our advocate because he is “the righteous”, the one who has lived in accordance with God’s will.
John elaborates this point in the next verse by calling him the “expiation” for our sins.
This translates the word HILASMOS,which is normally used to describe the act of offering sacrifice to deal with the fault of sin.
In older translations and liturgies, the word was rendered as “propitiation”.
Despite looking up the definitions of propitiation and expiation, I really struggle to understand what the difference is supposed to be.
It seems to come down to the fact that the word “propitiate” has entered into common use, acquiring overtones of “appeasement of anger”.
Modern theology thinks those overtones are inappropriate.
Whereas the word “expiate” has never entered into common speech at all, which leaves it more “neutral” and free from unwelcome
Either way, it serves as a convenient one-word summary of the teaching that our sin is no longer, thanks to the death of Christ, obstructing our
relationship with God.
This is also done “for the whole world”. In other words, the benefit is available and on offer to everyone, in principle (though the Calvinists
balk at this conclusion).
An Arabian proverb says that “he who knows, and knows that he knows, is wise…”
We receive the benefits of the advocacy of Christ when we know him, when we belong to him.
But how can we know that we know him?
John says we may know with certainty that we have come to a knowledge of Christ “by this”; viz. the fact that we keep his commandments (v3).
Therefore anyone who disobeys his commandments, and yet claims to know him, “is a liar and the truth is not in him” (v4). That is the same
judgement which the first chapter passed on those who walk in darkness, away from God’s light.
The better option is to be the one who “keeps his word”- that is, his commandments as they have been revealed. It can truly be said that God’s
love has been made perfect in such a person (v5)
The RSV says “love for God”, but the phrase “the love of God” really means (according to Westcott) the love which is characteristic of him,
and which we learn from him.
Putting it another way, we may know that we abide in Christ “by this”;
Namely, by walking in the same way that he walked- as anyone who makes that claim ought to be doing (v6)
In other words, having fellowship with Christ means living in harmony with his nature.
But what is this commandment, what is this “word”, which we need to be keeping?
John addresses his readers as “beloved” (which may be a clue), and tells them that what he is writing is not a new commandment, but an old one
It is “old” in the sense that it goes right back to the beginning of the gospel preaching. It is not something that John himself has just
At the same time, it is also a new commandment (v8).
It is new in the sense that the gospel itself is a new development. The gospel has changed the world, in that the old darkness is passing away and the
new light is shining. The new commandment is one aspect of this new gospel. It’s all in “the word” of Christ.
But John does not specify the content of this new commandment.
He seems to assume that his readers will recognise the words of Jesus quoted in the gospel;
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another” – John ch13 v34
This commandment accompanied the light of the gospel.
Therefore anyone who fails to love his brother, anyone who hates his brother, still walks in darkness (v9).
And we know from the first chapter that those who walk in the darkness rather than the light do not know God.
If we are out of fellowship with those who are in fellowship with God, if we are not part of that goup, then we cannot be in fellowship with God
So our love towards the brethren is the test that confirms whether we truly belong to God.
The image of “walking” in the darkness or in the light suggests the possibility of “stumbling” (vv10-11).
We have a choice.
If we know God’s love, which must include loving the brethren, then we are walking “in the light”, and the danger of stumbling does not
But the man who continues walking in darkness will be so blinded that he cannot see where he is going.
And he will certainly be moving away from God, ready to trip over any obstacles.
Part of the message of the first chapter was that “abiding in God” demands also an “abiding in Christ”.
We are now beginning to discover what will be a major theme of this letter, that abiding in Christ involves abiding in fellowship with those who
belong to Christ.