A Few Practical Lessons from 1 John
Light, Life, and Living It
“That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3).
The first epistle of John can be broken into several parts, each of which has its own set of practical lessons.
(1) 1 John 1:1 to 1 John 2:11
John starts his letter with references to light, very similar to chapter one of his gospel. He had seen the light and testified about it to build up the fellowship that listened. “That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3). “This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5).
This is practical lesson number one. If we have seen the light, then we need to talk about it — first and foremost to our brotherhood. When we gather together to worship, it is to talk about our wonderful God and his Son and the indescribable hope that we have been invited to. It is tempting sometimes when we get together to talk about the daily vicissitudes of life — our job, our families, our health, etc. But while there is a place for these things, our focus in our fellowship ought to be our faith. We build up our faith by discussing the truth we share and the experiences that holding to the truth brings us. If we have seen the light, then let us declare it to one another. We need that constant reinforcement.
Seeing the light also brings a special responsibility to declare it to the world. Again, there is a time and place to declare the truth, but let us be sure that we do not neglect the approp- riate and necessary sharing of the Kingdom message with the world who so much need it. Paul understood this responsibility just as John did when he wrote in Romans 10:10, “For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”
Practical lesson number two follows logically from lesson one. If we preach the truth, we have to live the truth. “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another” (1 John 1:7).
The world has a saying, “if you talk the talk, you had better walk the walk.” The light of truth is not merely an academic exercise. It is a paradigm of life. If it is not, then we are hypocrites and not acceptable to our righteous God. Yet, this is the case with some of the Lord’s people. We need only look at the criticism leveled at the Church of Laodicea in Revelation chapter three. They claimed to be of the church of Christ, but were blind and wretched. This is the essence of nominalism — i.e. in name only. John says we must “’walk in the light.” We need to examine ourselves daily to insure that we are doing so. The tendency of the flesh is to swerve away from the light; so we need daily course corrections. Walking in the light means we have fellowship and help from those who are likewise endeavoring to walk in it.
This brings us to practical lesson number three. We fail! 1 John 1:8-10, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”
Seeing the Light, preaching the Light, and walking in the Light does not make us perfect. We still fall due to the inherited imperfection which attaches to all things human. We cannot help it. So from a practical standpoint, what are we to do?
First, the Apostle tells us that we have a means to be cleansed from sin. The latter half of verse 7 says “the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.” God knew that we could not serve him sinlessly. We simply can’t! But he arranged a means to have us cleansed and covered from sin through the merit/blood of Jesus. This simply means we have to believe that our sins will be forgiven, and we can be accepted by God in Christ Jesus. When we recognize a sin, we pray for the Heavenly Father’s forgiveness through the merit of Christ’s sacrifice. Does that mean we should simply accept sin as a normal component of our lives? No! We must never accept the sin in us. We acknowledge it, but we wage daily war against it. We should see it as an abnormal part of our lives and never make a treaty with it. We should never sin willfully! But when we sin, we should take heart:
“My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1). This is the arrangement God has made for us, and by faith we apprehend it and are cleansed by it. But apart from the stumbling into sin caused by the fallen flesh, we are to strive diligently to be obedient to the commandments of God. Such obedience will bring joy and peace to us and cause us to know the love of God which is behind every commandment.
This brings us to practical lesson number four: Love of God means we will love our brethren. It is a part of walking in the light. How do you love someone if you find your personalities clash and you are continually at odds? One way is to remember how much God loves that one! God sees in him and in you, and in every one who has ever walked the narrow way, a great potential to be used for the blessing of others. If we get past the traits of the other person’s flesh which annoy us or try us, and see what God sees, we will truly discover the power of love.
Part 2: 1 John 2:12 to 1 John 2:29
In this section John discusses the power of evil and the opposition of the Adversary. We often talk about the three enemies of the new creation: The World, The Flesh and the Devil. In the previous section John wrote about the difficulties of the flesh. Now he expands to include the World and the Devil, whom he calls “the wicked one” (verse 14).
We live in this age of sin and death. The influences of the world are all around us, constantly trying to get our attention and time. These influences can be very seductive and effective. That is no surprise considering the Adversary is the designer of many of these.
Practical lesson number five is derived from John’s counsel: “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15). The practical application here is simply that devotion to God, the love of him and his will, will crowd out a love of the things in the world. When a Christian makes a concentrated effort to focus on the things of God, there is no room left nor desire for the things of the world. Of course the converse is true. If the love of God and the things of the truth wane, then the beckoning of the world grows stronger. God may let us have what we really want! Eve showed what she really wanted, and God let her have it with all of its consequent woes. So it is with any test of our desires. There is a choice we have to make, and our choice will be demonstrated before God and men.
Practical lesson number six is a sad truth. Some in our fellowship will reject the truth and leave. “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us” (1 John 2:19).
It was true in John’s day and has been true during the entire Gospel Age. Practical means applicable. How do we apply this? By recognizing that there is the possibility to lose one’s faith, to go into darkness and deny the truth that saved us. This is sobering and should motivate us all the more to stay close to our God, the truth, and our fellowship. In a herd of sheep, the wolves pick off those at the perimeter, those that start to stray from the safety of the fold. If we lose interest in being with our brethren and lose hunger for things spiritual, then we are in danger. By contrast, retaining our first love will preserve and protect us from seducers.
“Let that therefore abide in you, which ye have heard from the beginning. If that which ye have heard from the beginning shall remain in you, ye also shall continue in the Son, and in the Father. And this is the promise that he hath promised us, even eternal life. These things have I written unto you concerning them that seduce you” (1 John 2:24-26).
Part 3: 1 John 3:1 to 1 John 3:24
This chapter has some of the most practical suggestions in the whole epistle. Practical lesson number seven is from chapter three verse 14: “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death.”
All love is vivacious, but godly love is life-giving. Remember how alive you felt that first time you fell in love? Everything in the world was beautiful and wonderful to you! When we see the life-giving work that God is doing among the body of Christ and we love them because God loves them, we are really passing into the godly life. The comfort, consolation and healing that we experience among God’s people is what God intends life to really be. If you want to experience the joy in life that God has for you, then love the things God loves and love the people God loves. Considering the wonderful characters we see among the Lord’s people truly brings joy.
One of the most comforting scriptures in the Bible is found in verse 20: “For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things.” Because of our imperfection, there is often a disconnect between our minds and our emotions. One of the rampant illnesses in the world today is clinical depression. This depressed state of mind can be brought on by imbalances in the biochemicals of the body. One simply feels terribly depressed even if for no good reason. This can be an especially difficult trial for the Lord’s consecrated. If a brother or sister is clinically depressed or just emotionally depressed, they may feel great guilt because they believe that with God’s holy Spirit and all of the precious promises they have, they should not feel the way they do. So the guilt compounds.
This text from John is marvelously encouraging: “if our heart condemns us.” This covers the feeling of guilt for no reason or depression for no reason. The antidote is that “God is greater than our heart and knoweth all things.” We have a God who understands! While this may not lift the depression, it should lessen the load of guilt. This is practical lesson number eight.
Part 4: 1 John 4:1 to 1 John 5:21
Practical lesson nine is derived from 1 John 4:1-3. “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.”
The lesson is: Study God’s word and make the truth your own. Most of the history of Christianity is characterized by a presumptuous few telling everyone else what to believe and do. This results from the clergy-laity distinction that arrived on the scene early in the Gospel Age. The Apostle John is here counseling all believers to study carefully the doctrines of truth (“try the spirits”) because there are false doctrines which circulate. Do not believe any teaching without thoughtful study and prayer, and good discussion with those of like precious faith.
Practical lesson number ten is about fear. “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18).
If we really believe the truth and really believe God is overruling every experience in our life, then we can rest in God and rest in the faith that all things will work out for good. Most fear is a fear of the unknown. In this case we are casting the ‘unknown’ into God’s capable hands and thus relinquishing our fear. It is a matter of faith. When faith is strong enough, it leads to unimaginably good things. Take for instance God’s command to Abraham to slay his son as a sacrifice. Fear could have incapacitated Abraham and frozen him from carrying out God’s command. Instead, Abraham took God’s promise as true — that his son Isaac would be the father of many nations. Abraham believed it! His faith brought him to the conclusion that God could raise up Isaac from the dead. His faith deduced the resurrection!
Likewise with us, God has promised us wonderful things if we will be obedient unto death. We will be capable of great acts of courage, if we believe this and are not hampered by fear.
Last Practical Lesson
John’s epistle ends with “Little children, keep yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21). This might seem to be a strange ending. But its strangeness should be a flag of importance. Idolatry is putting anything in the place of God.
Idolatry is placing a thing, a person, or an idea into a governing position in our lives. Perhaps we have in this idea a common denominator in the case of everyone who has ever lost the crown. Each has substituted something for God.
One could make a very long list of possible idols. But the lesson for us should be to examine everything in our life that takes on some importance. We must insure that its importance does not displace God.
The worship of idols can indeed be subtle. So due diligence should be made to insure that we love God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength. If we find anything for which we have more affection than is appropriate, we should take immediate action to remove it from our lives.
John wrote this epistle at an age of almost a hundred years. With the wisdom of so many years behind him, we trust that the practical lessons of his letter were items he deemed important for the spiritual health of the brethren.
There are more lessons in John’s epistle than the few that are examined here. His epistle remains a fruitful mine for further gems of truth.