A MANUSCRIPT FROM 1 JOHN 1:1-4
CH (CPT) JUSTIN DUBOSE
DL C4 (H-RC) FY16 CLASS 412
August 16, 2017
Let’s begin our time together by reading the opening text of this powerful letter:
“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. We write this to make our joy complete.”
The natural question that emerges when beginning to read a letter is, “To whom is this letter addressed”? This book of 1 John provides us with no introduction to the author of the letter, nor an introduction to the recipient. Therefore, the answer to our initial question remains unanswered. Scholars will generally rest their inquiries with the answer of “Christians in general”.
The apostle John is the author – and how do we know this to be true? There is no introduction of the speaker, as we have established. Nowhere in the letter does the author reveal himself, either by description or name. Let this discussion commence with the understanding that the content of the letter is the scale by which this epistle is to be judged. In this regard, authorship, while not directly revealed to us, is incapable of taking away from the contents of the letter. However, there are internal evidences that can help us narrow our discussion by determining who the author is most certainly not.
As we get into examining these few verses together, I want you to pay attention to what John is saying to us. In these verses, he is contrasting joy to happiness. He is contending that since Christ came, and we can know Him, that we can have joy which sustains through even unhappy circumstances. Have you ever been through “hard times”? Perhaps you are in the middle of them now, even as we speak. We all can identify with this concept, and so we can all learn from John here. Pay attention as we go through these verses to the joy that Christ offers us, and I pray it will secure your heart this morning.
V.1 – The opening verse of this letter is eerily similar to the opening of the Gospel of John. (John 1:1;14 - In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.)
The author of this book is clearly someone who was present while Christ was on Earth in human form. Not only this, but the author was someone who saw Jesus, heard Jesus, and touched Jesus. This person had no ordinary relationship with the Savior – they were familiar with Him on a much more personal level than the average Israelite.
Additionally, note the reference John makes in this verse to “the Word” as being something that was “from the beginning” and being the source of life – his words being “the Word of life”. Other similarities exist throughout the letter that parallel the Gospel of John – the tone of apostolic authority, stylistic similarities, vocabulary and theological emphasis. There is certainly nothing present which would cast doubt upon the authorship of John. In fact, one really has to work harder to attempt not to grant authorship to John.
V.2 – In this verse, John really builds upon his foundation in verse one. He states that “the life”, which was from the beginning, and is the Word of life, appeared. This, in and of itself, is certainly a statement worth noting. John says that the eternally existent God, who is the source of all life, appeared to men. Now, imagine if you are reading this letter and had no awareness of such knowledge. How striking! How overwhelming! The ever-existing God appeared to men? This is the uniqueness of our religion: that God loves men enough to become one and dwell among them and with them.
This is certainly corroborated elsewhere in Scripture – most notably in Philippians 2. Speaking of Jesus, we read in verses seven and eight that “he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!”
No matter how familiar you are with this knowledge, no matter how many times you have read this verse, no matter how many different times and places you hear it, do not let yourself lose that “child-like” astonishment at such knowledge. However, don’t let mere astonishment be the final destination of such knowledge either.
John says that he “testifies to it” and that he “proclaims the eternal life” which has appeared to man. May I suggest to you that the greatest catalyst in taking someone from ambivalence to testifying and proclaiming is that child-like astonishment?
If you remember, in Matthew 18, the disciples are arguing about who among them is the best. I can almost see and hear them now listing their own pedigrees, ranking their own accomplishments, and downplaying those of their competitors. When frustration boils over, they take their cases to the Judge – they go to Jesus. “Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?”, they ask. Jesus then pulls a little child amongst them and says, "Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
Child-like astonishment is often laughed at. It’s “cute” when an adult acts like a child – not exactly respectable. My most vivid memory of child-like astonishment comes from Lanae when I was trying to unlock the doors here at church one evening.
She and I walked up to the door, and I pulled on it, fully expecting it to open. It didn’t. For whatever reason, I was a little perturbed and Lanae said, “Daddy, let’s pray that God will open the door.” I let Lanae do the praying while I fumbled for my keys. Right about the time I found them, inserted them in the keyhole, unlocked and opened the door, Lanae opened her eyes. “Daddy!” she said, “God opened the door for us!” I was instantly humbled.
V.3 – This astonishment compels us to proclaim, but to what end? Do we have an ultimate purpose in our testifying and proclaiming, or is the testifying and proclaiming the purpose itself of us being the possessors of such knowledge? One claim that we can make with certainty is that the proclamation itself does not take place without the “seeing” and “hearing” that John talks about. John himself proclaims what he has “seen and heard.” So the logical question that follows for the reader to ask themselves is this: what have I seen and what have I heard? Is it Jesus?
As Christians we are called to “go and make disciples,” as Jesus Himself commands in Matthew 28:19-20. This mandate presupposes a proclamation of the Gospel by the “goer and maker.” So then, what are we proclaiming? I ask again: is it Jesus? How do you know? Have you “seen and heard” from Jesus lately? Obviously, this will not be in the same physical sense that John saw and heard Christ. But Jesus, before His ascension, tells His followers in John 16:10, “I am going to the Father, where you can see Me no longer.” But, just a bit later, in verse thirteen, He says that the Holy Spirit will come, and that He will “speak.” He will “tell you what is yet to come.” Also, in John 14:26, Jesus tells these same followers, of whom John is one, that the Holy Spirit will “teach” them “all things.” So, though it is not in the same physical sense that John himself would have seen and heard Jesus, we can see still see and hear the Holy Spirit at work in our own lives, which, again, presupposes our proclaiming of that which we see and hear.
Let us return to the original question and try and answer it: do we have an ultimate purpose in our testifying and proclaiming, or is the testifying and proclaiming the purpose itself for our being the possessors of such knowledge? John seems to tell us that there is a larger purpose in our proclaiming of the gospel message: it is to bring others into fellowship; and that fellowship is with the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. Let us first never forget the child-like astonishment that we should have at this knowledge, and second the relationship aspect of seeing and hearing what the Lord – through His Word and the Holy Spirit – has to say to us, and third the proclaiming of that which we see and hear, and finally, the purpose of all of it: bringing others into fellowship with us through the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ.
V.4 – John says that those things which he just wrote “make [his] joy complete”. This brings us to an interesting concept: what makes our joy complete? Is it this gospel message that John writes about, or is it something else? David Guzik makes an interesting distinction between fullness of joy and fullness of happiness. He says, “this joy is an abiding sense of optimism and cheerfulness based on God, as opposed to happiness, which is a sense of optimism and cheerfulness based on circumstances.”
I would add to that that one is either looking to God or circumstances, not both, and that fullness of happiness is less than a “quarter of a tank” of joy. How often do we experience fullness of happiness? I would contend that we can experience fullness of happiness quite often. When dating, fullness of happiness seems to always be there, and, when it is absent, one seems to be completely empty of happiness. I can remember many basketball games where I had fullness of happiness one minute – hitting a big shot, making a great pass, coming up with a big defensive play – and then complete emptiness the next. All it would take was for the other team to do to my team exactly what I just did to their team, and my happiness was completely gone. With happiness, circumstances, which are among the most unreliable of foundations, dictate emotional fullness or emptiness. Let us contrast that with fullness of joy, which John speaks often about.
Fullness of joy, because it is founded in the God of the Gospels, transcends circumstances. This is not to say that it will not be assaulted by circumstances – for we are fallen human, fleshly beings living in a fallen, human, fleshly world. Circumstances will constantly assault our joy in the Lord, but, praise the Lord, they cannot remove it unless we let them. The best biblical examples of this principle can be found in Job and David. One could certainly say that during his trials Job was completely void of happiness. One need not read any farther than the third chapter of Job to discover this. This entire chapter is a lamentation of Job about his life and circumstances. And yet, in all of his sorrows, in all of his suffering, He never cursed God. For he knew the God whom He served, and He knew of His attributes. He certainly cursed His circumstances, and his circumstances certainly assaulted his joy, but he understood that God transcended all of that. This is why he could say, in the middle of his intense suffering, “To God belongs wisdom and power; counsel and understanding are His” (Job 12:13). David is much the same as Job. Throughout the Psalms, you find David cursing his circumstances, and yet finding joy in knowing the Lord.
So, now let us revisit our initial question: what makes our joy complete? Do we find our joy in the words of Scripture? Do we rest our joy in the Gospel message? Is the completion of our joy found in God alone? If not, I would encourage you to examine the circumstances of your life and ask the Lord to help you find your joy in Him. Just because you are a Christian does not guarantee this fullness of joy, and, you can meet many Christians who seem to have little joy or none at all, and this is a very tragic thing. For, you see, this gospel message brings great joy to the hearer and believer and, if any person in the world is to be filled with joy, it ought to be the Christian.
Let us put together all that we have built up so far in studying these four verses, but let’s work our way backwards. The first is that Christians ought to be full of joy all the time. The reason this is the case is because we have and we know the Gospel message that John himself had. When we know the God of the Gospels we are free from relying on things as fluctuating as our own circumstances for the completion of our happiness. When we know the God of the Gospels, we can transcend mere happiness and move into the realm of joy. We can find not just joy in our Lord, but the complete fullness of joy that is available to mankind from God the Father.
Shortly after writing this letter, John himself would have a Job-like and David-like experience. He would be boiled alive in oil, but would survive. He was then exiled to the island of Patmos, in about AD 95, where he authored the book of Revelation. It is evident from his writing in Revelation that John, who could easily have been empty of happiness, never lost his joy in the Lord. What a great example for us.
How do others know that we are filled with joy as a result of our relationship with the Lord? One way that they can know is from our proclaiming to them the goodness of God and the relationship we have with Him. In my apologetics class, I was often reminded by my professor that being a “smart” Christian would convert no one. Being a faithful witness, however, and telling of what the Lord had done for me personally, and living in such a way that others could see this relationship, could be used greatly by the Lord in bringing others into fellowship with Him.
It should be our joy that drives us to proclaim the Gospel message of Jesus Christ, and this joyful proclamation, coupled with a joyful Christian lifestyle, is what will bring others into fellowship with us in the Lord, which is itself why we proclaim the message of Christ. This proclaiming of Christ and the living out a Christian lifestyle is maintained only by our relationship with the Lord.
As was true for John, and is true for everyone, we can only proclaim that which he have seen and heard. If you have not seen or heard from the Lord lately, you will only be proclaiming either that which someone else saw or heard, or that which you saw and heard a long time ago. In either case, these proclamations are about effective as trying to fight a twenty-first century war with eighteenth century weapons. So what is it that keeps us going back to the Lord for a deeper and deeper relationship with Him?
There are many things, but one of the most effective, I think, is the child-like astonishment we have at the Lord. It is much the same principle as those who follow great athletes. I can remember when I was younger and the most exciting thing in my life was watching Michael Jordan play basketball. Why was this? It was because he never failed to amaze me and leave me in utter astonishment. It was my child-like astonishment at his play that made me unable to turn of the T.V. So it is in our relationship with the Lord. The more we learn of Him, from the basics of the Gospel message onward, the more we want to learn.
So, now, we get to the “So, what?” part of the message. All of this is good and well, you say, but why do I care? What difference does any of this make in my own life? Well, the first thing is that as Christians we are called, we are mandated, we are ordered by the Lord to proclaim His message to the world around us. And while the proclaiming itself is of great importance, it is also of equally great importance how we proclaim that message. Do we proclaim it while being void of joy? Do we proclaim it while being full of happiness – placing emphasis on things rather than God? Or, do we proclaim this message with complete joy in our hearts and minds, knowing that we know the Lord and have seen and heard from Him lately and regularly. There is never a better time than the present to do some self-analysis and ask yourself if a) you have been proclaiming, in life and word, the Gospel of Christ and b) the status of your heart when you are proclaiming that message. A few list of questions to ask yourself this week:
1) What is the current status of my relationship with the Lord and do I approach him with child-like amazement?
2) Is my spirit more joyful in the Lord and my relationship with Him or “more happy” in my things and circumstances and my relationship with them?
3) Which of these elements – joy or happiness – is most evident to me and others around me?
4) Do I find complete joy in the Lord?
5) Does that joy sustain me through difficult circumstances?
Can you imagine the difference in our lives if we lived them with complete joyfulness in the Lord? Can you imagine how much less of a “big deal” everything would seem to be? If we can reach this point in our walk with the Lord, we would have such a powerful witness, that there would be, I think, no limitations to what the Lord could do with us. Let’s ask the Lord tonight to help us find our joy in Him, and use that joy to bring others into fellowship with Him.
NG, LR, NCU, USAR
My collection of personal papers written over the years