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Photo: Martha G. Brady

Why was I John written?

Whenever you read a book of the Bible, you want to ask this question.  It took me years to figure this out!  When GOD was giving us a book to reveal Himself and decided to do it with 66 books over many centuries in a variety of genres, there had to be a reason for each one.

Each book has its own unique place in revealing GOD to us.  We need to dig to find it.  Often, a good study Bible will help us, but we shouldn’t take their word for it.  We need to study to be sure that’s what Scripture says.  It is written simply enough that we should be able to understand it…not always the first time we read it, but often after thinking about it, over time, GOD will give us insight.

You want to know what the reason was.  You also want to know the genre of the book because that will give you clues to understanding and interpreting the meaning of the words.  When you read poetry, you don’t interpret it as concretely as you would a historical book or a book of didactic teaching.

This book is one of didactic teaching.  It is written by one of the oldest living disciples at the time…most likely toward the end of his life.  He lived to be 90 and wrote his last book, Revelation while exiled on the island of Patmos.

James Montgomery Boice, the author of the commentary I have been reading this summer (and there are many good ones), suggests that there are three reasons for the writing of this book.

The first and clearest reason, is found in I John 5:13 (NIV): 

I write these things to you who believe

in the name of the Son of God 

so that you may know that you have eternal life.

This is written to believers so they can have absolute assurance that they belong to the family of GOD.  This contrasts with the purpose for the gospel of John found in John 20:31 which was written to non-believers so they could believe.  That was the purpose of his book!

When you think about it, what good does it do a person to be a Christian if she is spending all her time wondering, is she or isn’t she?  Can you imagine anything less empowering?  What would give Satan more joy than to have believers who instead of living out their calling, are sitting around wondering, “Am I part of the family or not?”

As you can imagine, this is a crucial question for people to settle.  That is what John writes about in this short book!

Three tests of  faith are mentioned throughout this book to keep us from being presumptive about it:

  1. moral test-this is the test of practical righteousness (not perfection) or obedience.
  2. social test-the test of love or the Christian’s relationship with other Christians.  Do you love them?
  3. doctrinal test-the test of belief in Jesus Christ…that He existed before He was born in Bethlehem…that He is one of the Trinity and is in fact the prexistent Son of GOD!

The second purpose of the book was to introduce this faith as one rooted in history.

He was teaching against early forms of Gnosticism that taught that our salvation is primarily in the realm of some superior knowledge we possess and has nothing to do with our conduct.  It also taught that there is a complete distinction between spirit and matter.  All that is material is evil, all that is spiritual is good.

John was teaching that Jesus was a historical figure at the root of our salvation.  When we hear the historical basis of our faith questioned or our salvation is considered to be anything other than what GOD did through Jesus for our redemption and sanctification, we need to realize I John has much to say regarding this topic.  Listen to what he says in the opening verses of the book.  It is as relevant today as it was back then!

That which was from the beginning, 

which we have heard,

which we have seen with our eyes, 

which we have looked at and our hands have touched—

this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.  

The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it,

 and we proclaim to you the eternal life, 

which was with the Father and has appeared to us.  

We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, 

so that you also may have fellowship with us.

And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.

I John 1:1-3 NIV

The final reason for the book: Celebration of the new command “Love One Another”

John reiterates Jesus’ farewell words to His disciples:

 “A new command I give you:

Love one another. 

As I have loved you,

so you must love one another.

John 13:34

Throughout this book, John has this mentioned over and over in different ways.  If you sit down and skim the book or listen on Bible Gateway or some other form of listening method, you can listen to or read it in about 1/2 hour more or less.  Pay attention to the themes.  Especially now that you know what you are listening and watching for.

This last one is and probably always has been a difficult one practically speaking.   Learning to love people who are different from you is not easy.  Imagine what the early church was like!  It wasn’t all sweetness and light.  It never has been.  There have always been difficult people to love in the church.

We disagree on doctrine.  We often tell ourselves it is due to their being wrong.  But it is rarely that simple.  Learning to love fellow Christians involves learning humility,  learning to listen to their perspective instead of putting my perspective of their view on top of it all.  Often, it is about control.  Sometimes, it even involves trusting GOD to manage the situation that has fallen apart, not because I walked away, but because I fought until I realized it was time to leave.  The fight was now up to Him.  There are times when attempts at reconciliation don’t work out the way we want.  But in the process GOD changes us anyway.

I recommend this short commentary by James M. Boice.  It is well-written and goes into much more detail.  I think you will find it helpful for your devotional reading and encouragement.

Are you confident you are a child of GOD based on I John?

Is your faith in a Jesus who was both prexistent in the Trinity and a historical person, Jesus who lived here on earth?

Are you growing in your ability to love other believers?


edited 9/9/14 by Martha G. Brady