Devotions on First John
THE FIRST LETTER OF
The Word of Life
1 John 1:1-4
We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— 2this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us— 3we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.
As we have just finished reading the gospel of John together, let us go on to the “letters” of John. I put “letters” in quotation marks because it is questionable that this first letter is a letter at all – there is no greeting, no salutation, none of the usual Greek form of letters that we find in Paul’s epistles, for example. It may be a letter, or a sermon sent to a particular community. By whom was it written? Obviously, it is called “1 John” because it has been thought that it was written by the author of the Gospel of John. Remember, it has no signature, and there is no claim within the letter (or in the Gospel for that matter) that it was written by the Apostle John. The titles were assigned later, and not a part of the original manuscripts. But the similarity of language makes us think that it was written by the same person, or by someone closely related in the community. The letter is dated about a decade later than the gospel, around 90 – 100 CE.
The letter begins with a declaration – “We” (whoever we is) declare to you what was from the beginning, (that is, the beginning of the Christian community, or the first followers of Christ). The author(s) declare as witnesses – what they have seen, heard, and touched – to the word of life. This is a claim to direct experience with the word of life, the gospel message. The word of life revealed to them was eternal life. Here, again, as we saw in the Gospel of John, “Eternal life” refers not just to life after death, but to a quality of life lived in the present, made possible by God’s revelation in Jesus Christ.
The revelation of Jesus Christ, and the gospel message, is not just a story they have heard; it is the Word of Life revealed. It has changed their lives by real, lived experience. It is to this reality that they testify. All these years later, we can testify as well to that reality!
The writer(s) send this testimony to a church community – we do not know where – so that they may also experience life, in fellowship with the writers, and in fellowship with the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ. The joining of those to whom they write into this fellowship and in community will make their joy complete.