“You shall not make for yourself a graven image” was the second of the commandments given at Sinai, following on from “I am the Lord your God…
You shall have no other gods before me”.
In fact they are the same injunction, expressed in different ways; “You shall be faithful to the One true God” and “You shall avoid all his
This goes back to the most fundamental premise of Biblical teaching, viz. the profound difference between the Creator God and the created world.
The distinction between God and the not-God is basic to the Bible (which makes it incompatible with any kind of monism).
Cleaving to God and cleaving from
the not-God is the essential running theme of the Bible, and the first epistle of John brings it under close
God is light (ch1)
So the starting point, in the first chapter, is the nature of God.
God is Light, the opposite of darkness.
This may be taken as representing a number of distinctions;
God is Truth, the opposite of falsehood.
God is Life, the opposite of death.
God is righteousness, the opposite of sin.
This means that we can only be in fellowship with God, cleaving to God, if we are “walking in the light”.
We are not in the light if we are in sin, because sin is not of God.
On the other hand, we are not in the light if we claim not
to be in sin, because falsehood is not of God.
The solution to this dilemma comes through Christ, who deals with our state of sin.
The old and new command (ch2 vv1-11)
So the key to having fellowship with God is to be in fellowship with Christ.
This means, necessarily, being in fellowship with everyone else who is in fellowship with Christ.
Therefore our love to “the brethren” is the marker which indicates the quality of our union with Christ. They are the visible portion of the group
which contains Christ, and we need to show that we are part of that group.
Do not love the world (ch2 vv12-17)
One way of separating ourselves from God is to get caught up in “the world”, which is by definition the opposite of God. “The lust of the
flesh” is an attachment to something which is not-God, and which cannot live in his presence.
Many antichrists (ch2 vv18-29)
The ”many antichrists” have separated themselves from God more directly, by separating themselves from Christ. The first visible sign was that
they separated themselves from the brethren who belong to Christ. But this was a symptom of the more fundamental separation, that they were refusing
to recognise Christ as
They are denying the Son.
And since they are denying the Son, they cannot be in fellowship with the Father. They have detached themselves from God.
The children of God (ch3 vv1-10)
John’s readers have been told what they need to avoid, in order to remain in fellowship with God, but how can they be sure that they are
Part of the answer comes in terms of the “doing of righteousness”. Since God is righteous, they should know that everyone who “does right” has
been born of him.
They should be resembling Christ in their conduct, and will become even more like Christ when he finally appears to the world and we can see him “as
In the meantime, they need to be improving the resemblance by continuing the process of ridding themselves of active sin. The fact that no-one who is
“born of God” is committed to sin will give them a good start. They are already without sin in God’s eyes, so it becomes a question of living up
to that standard.
The child of the devil (ch3 vv11-24)
An important part of “doing righteousness” is loving the brethren.
They must shun the example of Cain, who hated his brother to the point of murdering him, which qualifies Cain to be called a child of the devil, the
not-God, rather than a child of God.
Instead, they should model themselves on the example of Christ, who loved his brethren to the point of giving up his life for them.
If anyone remains uncertain about their status as children of God, the best answer is that “God is greater” and knows us better than we know
ourselves. Even if our hearts are condemning us and questioning our love, his awareness that we are in fellowship with him is strong enough to
outweigh our uncertainties.
We may know that we abide in God through the Holy Spirit which he has given us.
Test the spirits (ch4 vv1-6)
We must make sure, though, that our guidance comes from the right kind of spirit.
We may know the difference from the fact that the Spirit of God will “confess” that Christ has come in the flesh, while the spirits of the false
prophets will deny that teaching.
That is also the test of the difference between those who belong to God and those who don’t.
Those who know God will be listening to the teaching of the Holy Spirit, but those who are not of God will be listening to the teachers who belong to
Perfect love casts out fear (ch4 vv7-21)
Then John comes back to the importance of love.
We ought to love one another in response to the way that God has loved us, by sending the Son to deal with our sin.
Our love is the guarantee of our relationship with God.
For if we are abiding in God, then God is abiding in us, which means that God’s love is abiding in us.
And if we are abiding in God, we have confidence in facing the day of judgement, because our sin has been dealt with.
And that is how perfect love casts out fear- that is, the fear of judgement.
Faith and witness (ch5)
Finally, John sums up the themes of his epistle.
There is the importance of our love for the brethren.
There is the importance of the fact that sin and “the world” have been overcome.
There is the importance of believing in the identity of Christ, as the Son of God, which ties together the first two themes.
This faith stands on three key witnesses, namely the water (of our baptism), the blood (of his death) and the Holy Spirit.
The key point is that God has given us eternal life, and this life is bound up with the gift of his Son.
So anyone who has the Son has life.
Believing in the Son, and walking in the light, and loving the brethren, are all different aspects of cleaving to God, which is the essence of the
Conversely, denying the Son, and walking in the darkness, and hating the brethren are different aspects of cleaving to the not-God, which is what we
are warned against in the second commandment.
So the final injunction to “keep yourselves from idols” is not an afterthought or a casual anti-climax, but a summary of the real meaning of the
edit on 1-9-2017 by DISRAELI because: (no reason given)