5 Reasons to Preach through 1 John
The apostle John ranks only second to the apostle Paul in the number of letters he has bequeathed to the church across the ages. His Gospel and his apocalyptic book of Revelation are longer than any of Paul’s epistles, while his second and third epistle compete quite favorably with Paul’s shortest ones. In between these extremes hangs 1 John. Like most epistles in the New Testament, 1 John is a good length for a relatively brief series of expository sermons. It’s not too long and not too short.
But that’s not the primary reason why I would commend it. With some gaps to handle other sermons, I preached through it to our congregation from 2014 to 2018. The more I studied it piece-by-piece, the more my appreciation grew. Looking back now, there are at least five reasons why I would commend this epistle to fellow pastors to preach to their congregations.
1. It shows us with freshness the divinity and humanity of Christ.
The opening of 1 John (1:1–4) reminds us of the opening of John’s Gospel. From the start, he introduces us to profound eternal truths. And yet, because of his skillful pen, John makes doctrine put on shoes and walk right in front of you. As a result, the divinity and humanity of Christ are made accessible even to the youngest in the congregation. We see with clarity through 1 John that Jesus Christ—fully divine, yet fully human—is at the center of both the Bible and our salvation. A rich spiritual feast on “the bread of heaven” awaits your congregation.
2. It helps us to search our hearts to see if we are truly in the faith.
It seems as though John’s main goal in writing this epistle was twofold: to assure true believers that they have eternal life (e.g. 5:13), and to search out those who have a false assurance that they may realize they are not true believers in Christ (e.g. 3:10). In that sense, it’s a very searching letter. Regular churchgoers need to be challenged concerning their profession of faith, especially second-generation professing believers who often simply take it for granted that they must be saved. So long as this challenge is done using the contours of Scripture, we can only be the better for it.
3. It helps us to face the blighting effect of worldliness.
Perhaps the most pungent appeal in the whole letter is found in 2:15 when the apostle John writes, “Do not love the world or the things in the world.” In just a few verses, he points out both the opportunity cost and the source of worldliness. Finally, he asserts that the world is a sinking ship. Only those who do the will of God will abide forever. But John goes deeper than just outward behavior. His description of worldliness—“the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life”—help us to see that worldliness is not so much about what we do, but what our heart desires.
4. It enables us to see the importance of sound doctrine.
It seems fairly evident that behind this letter was the need for the church to be protected against gnostic heresies. John wrote about an antichrist who denied the Father and the Son (2:18). He spoke about the need to test the spirits because many false prophets were now in the world (4:1–6). In each case, error and heresy were identified by what the teachers were saying about the person and work of Christ. Simply put, it matters what you believe about Jesus Christ (see Reason #1 above). What’s most comforting to God’s children is to learn from John that those who abandon the truth and go off with false teachers were never converted in the first place. God’s true children are protected by the indwelling work of the Spirit, which John calls “the anointing” (2:20, 27).
5. It emphasizes the necessity of holiness and love in the Christian life.
The most extensive section of this epistle covers these twin subject (3:4–24; 4:7–21). John holds back no arguments to show that holiness and love are indispensable. With our modern emphasis on justification by faith in evangelical circles, this is a helpful reminder. In salvation, God has not only cleaned our records in heaven by the blood of Christ, but he has also cleaned our hearts on earth by the power of his Spirit. It’s vital that these two truths are held in tandem. A faithful exposition of 1 John will not miss this point!
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- The Epistles of John by D. Edmond Hiebert – This was by far my favorite. Hiebert never failed me in his Greek exegesis. Seeing the Greek text being handled so well also gave me a lot of confidence, especially with those verses that are not so clear in the English versions.
- The Message of John’s Letters by David Jackman – As a series of commentaries by conservative scholars in the John Stott mold, The Bible Speaks Today series is a good resource. The divisions in the commentary are sermonic, which is a great help to a preacher.
- The Letters of John by Colin G Kruse – This commentary was very handy because it was the default commentary in my Logos Bible software. It gave me a good place to start when I needed to start consulting commentaries. On the whole, I found it helpful.