Good morning! Merry Christmas Eve to those who are celebrating today and tonight! We finish up 1 John today with the second half, chapters 4-5. This first continues echoes of the argument about Jesus’ metaphysical identity which arose yesterday. Here the question is whether Jesus was real (in the flesh) or a spirit who only looked real. Christmas Eve seems an appropriate time to grapple with the question of Jesus as divine or human or (somehow, mysteriously) both. Throughout the first centuries of Christianity, different groups formed and broke away from the orthodox faith as they claimed Jesus wasn’t fully divine, or wasn’t fully human. The matter wasn’t “settled” and orthodoxy established until it was literally voted on by all-Christianity councils that formed the creeds in the 300s. This writer stakes the claim firmly to Jesus as God in the flesh, contending that anything else is from “the antichrist”.
The most famous part of 1 John is the praise of love found in chapter 4. Core Christian claims that “God is love”, “love comes from God”, and “we love because [God] first loved us” all arise from this chapter. I’m particularly taken by the assertion that though God is not visible, when we love, God becomes visible in us. Therefore, the call to Christians is to “abide” in love—remaining in it always, as though it were a second skin. Not only does this bring joy and show God to the world, it also drives out fear of neighbor, stranger, brother or sister. So much of the world today could be improved by a greater embrace of 4:18-21! “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because [God] first loved us. Those who say, ‘I love God’, and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.”
The book ends with a final adamant assertion returning to the claim that Jesus is God’s Son, and therefore the hope of eternal life. Believers are encouraged to ask boldly for what is needed in prayer, with the promise that God “hears us”. (I appreciate that 5:14 doesn’t say “answers us”, since so many prayers go unanswered, and knowing that God hears anguish is sometimes the most urgent need for the people in crisis that I talk with.) Christians are to pray for God to forgive and heal sin that’s not “mortal”, which opens the door for tolerance among different Christian sects if one doesn’t assume that all the sins another group commits are deadly. Verses 5:18-20 read like a statement of faith which I can imagine being recited aloud in assemblies. However, I don’t know what to make of the final verse about idolatry, which just seems tacked on at the end with no earlier connection. Shall we consider it a Christmas bonus? 🙂 Happy reading!
Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is 2 John, 3 John, and Jude. Thanks for reading!