The Beloved John Writes About Love
JESUS himself as a certain man “sowed fine seed in his field.” But as the years went by, that Christian wheat field began to look like a field of weeds. (Matt. 13:24-43) Oppressive wolves were entering the flock and causing havoc, calling to mind Paul’s words at Acts 20:29, 30. Yes, as the apostle John looked about him in the closing years of the first century of our Common Era, he saw that already many antichrists had arisen, giving him proof that this was indeed the “last hour” as regards a pure Christian organization on earth.—1 John 2:18.
It had been more than fifty years since holy spirit first inspired one of Christ’s disciples to write Scripture. John may not have been naturally a writer and it may not have occurred to him, as one of the unlearned ordinary men mentioned at Acts 4:13, that he would one day write a Gospel account of Jesus’ life as did Matthew, Mark and Luke.
But then, while he was on the island of Patmos as a prisoner for Jesus Christ, he received specific instructions to write the Revelation. Apparently this direct command to write so strengthened John as to prompt him to write also his Gospel and three letters.
That John wrote the first of these three letters (although it itself does not so state) there can be no doubt. From earliest times it has been recognized that he was the writer. And the internal evidence is even stronger. When we hear a familiar voice on the telephone we do not need to ask, “Who is it?” The same goes for John’s first letter. To the extent that we are familiar with his Gospel, to that same extent we can see and hear John in this letter. And this applies both to his style of writing, such as sentence structure and vocabulary, and to the subject matter. For instance, only in John’s writings do we find Jesus referred to as “the Word.”—John 1:1; 1 John 1:1; Rev. 19:13.
When did John write his first letter? Since he tells of many opposers or antichrists having arisen, the time must have been quite late. Helpful in this regard is a comparison of this letter with Revelation. There is considerable circumstantial evidence that John wrote that book around 96 C.E. Since it appears that he died about the year 100 C.E., the year 98 is a reasonable date for his Gospel and his letters.
To whom did John write this first letter? There is no mention of any certain group or individual in the entire letter. But that he had certain ones in mind seems to be indicated by his directing his words to “you, little children,” “you, fathers,” “you, young men.” (1 John 2:12, 13) Also, six times he calls those to whom he is writing “Beloved ones,” and seven times “little children.”*
Although the apostle John was the disciple for whom Jesus had special affection and the subject of love looms up more prominently in his writings than in those of any other Bible penman, it would be a mistake to think of John as a weak sentimentalist. Far from it! John’s ardent love for his Master and for righteousness caused Jesus to call him one of the “Sons of Thunder.” (Mark 3:17) Of the fifteen times that the strong epithet “liar(s)” occurs in the entire Scriptures, nine times it is found in John’s writings. Thus, in this letter he tells that if we claim we do not sin, we make God out to be a liar; that if we say we know God and yet do not observe his commands, we are liars; those who deny that Jesus is the Christ are liars; anyone who claims to love God and yet hates his brother is a liar, and if we refuse to put faith in God’s words, we are calling God a liar!—1 John 1:10; 2:4, 22; 4:20; 5:10.
Because of John’s intense love of righteousness he warns his “children” about the antichrist. “These things I write you about those who are trying to mislead you.” Yes, men had crept in who were enamored by worldly wisdom and philosophy and who denied that Jesus Christ was the Son of God that had come in the flesh. If such men ‘had been of our sort they would have remained with us, but they went out because they were not.’ John also warns us to try every inspired expression to see whether it originates with God, for many false prophets have gone forth into the world.—1 John 2:18-26; 4:1-3.
John’s love of righteousness also caused him to enlighten us as to how God views sin: (a) We all sin; by claiming not to sin, we make God to be a liar; (b) we must strive against sin; (c) God has provided Christ’s propitiatory sacrifice so that we can have forgiveness of sins, which sacrificial merit is for the benefit not just of the anointed Christian congregation but of all the world; (d) there are two kinds of sin: the kind that can be forgiven and the willful, deliberate kind that cannot be forgiven and concerning which we are not to pray to God for those committing such sin; (e) those who are true Christians do not practice sin.—1 John 1:8-10; 2:1, 2; 3:4-10; 5:16-18.
“AGAPE,” THE PRINCIPLED LOVE
But, of course, it is the subject of love that John stresses in particular in his letter. Twice he tells us that “God is love.” (1 John 4:8, 16) He tells how God showed his love, by having his Son die for our sins, and by providing for Christ’s followers to become God’s children. (1 John 3:2; 4:10) Because God showed us such love we are under obligation to love our brothers. (1 John 4:11) The love of God means to observe his commandments. (1 John 2:4; 5:2, 3) Perfect love of God throws fear outside, for such fear exercises a restraint. (1 John 4:17, 18) Loving our brothers is not just a matter of words, but a matter of doing something, giving them help in time of need. (1 John 3:17, 18) Getting still stronger, John shows that we cannot love God whom we have not seen if we do not love God’s children whom we can and do see. Anyone who claims to love God but hates his brother is a liar, in fact, a manslayer like the Devil himself and like Cain who originated with the Devil. (1 John 3:10-16) And finally, John also counsels us on what not to love—not to love the world nor the things in the world, its desire of the eyes and of the flesh and its showy display of one’s means of life.—1 John 2:15-17.
Truly the beloved apostle John appreciated the importance of agápē, the unselfish, principled kind of love. Even as in his Gospel he has far more to say about love than has any of the other Gospel writers, so in his first letter he has more to say about love than has any other inspired letter recorded in the Christian Greek Scriptures.
Much as John stresses love he does not overlook the quality that might be said to come right next to it, namely, faith. Thus he writes: “This is his commandment, that we have faith in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and be loving one another.”—1 John 3:23; 5:4, 10.
JOHN’S SECOND AND THIRD LETTERS
John’s second and third letters are the briefest of all the sixty-six “books” of the Bible. One sheet of papyrus was sufficient for each. Not without good reason have they been attributed to the apostle John, for they bear all the earmarks of having been written by the beloved apostle who wrote the Gospel bearing his name in the heading and his first letter. Representative of him are the comparatively frequent appearances of such words as “truth” and “love.” There is also every reason to hold that he wrote these two letters about the same time that he wrote his first letter, that is, about the year 98 C.E.; and also that he was living at the time in the city of Ephesus.
The second letter was written to “the chosen lady.” Who was she? That question cannot be answered dogmatically. It could have been a Christian woman whom John commends for rearing her children in the way of the truth. She could have been a sister by the name of Kyria, that being the Greek word for “lady.” Then again, John may have been using a figure of speech and may actually be referring to a Christian congregation.
In this letter John stresses the truth and the commandment that has been heard from the beginning, namely, that “we love one another.” As in his first letter, he speaks out against opposers, calling them an “antichrist.” (Compare 2 John 7 with 1 John 4:3.) Those apostates who teach false doctrines are not to be welcomed in our homes or even given a greeting. In this letter we again see John stressing love and at the same time expressing righteous indignation against the wicked.
John addresses his third letter to Gaius. Just who this Gaius is cannot be ascertained with certainty. John rejoices that Gaius is walking in the truth and commends him for the hospitality and love he extends to the brothers, evidently those sent forth to build up the various congregations. He instructs him to send these brothers “on their way in a manner worthy of God,” doubtless meaning, well supplied with material necessities. And here also John not only stresses the course of love but expresses his righteous indignation at Diotrephes who is proud, selfish and rebellious and whom John will reprove upon his coming to visit Gaius.
Truly John’s letters are most timely for our day. For it is more important than ever that Christians show love toward one another and at the same time be on guard against all who would draw them away from the pure worship of Jehovah God.
This expression “little children” could be freely rendered “dear children” or “beloved children,” for it is the diminutive as an expression of love. Thus in the Greek tekna means “children,” but teknia means “little children” or “dear children.” It occurs nine times in the Christian Greek Scriptures and is always used in a figurative sense once by Jesus, once by Paul and seven times by John.