About fifty years after the death and resurrection of Jesus, an aging John, beloved disciple and apostle, distilled key truths about God, Jesus, and authentic Christian life in this short letter, circulated among churches in the Roman province of Asia (now modern Turkey). The distillation occurred over a long life of devotion and service to Jesus. In this letter, it resulted in strong, bold strokes of truth and exhortation contrasting right and wrong belief and behavior.
Why did John write this letter? Some people in those churches believed, taught, and lived serious errors. They held that the material world was intrinsically evil, while the spiritual world was good. They denied the incarnation – that the Word of God had come in the flesh. The Word had come in spirit. At most, the Word appeared to come in the flesh in Jesus. This denigration of the material world extended to the physical aspects of human existence. Ironically, for some it meant that what they did in the flesh did not matter. A person could behave without regard for God’s moral direction. Only the interior, spiritual disposition of a person really mattered. John wrote, firmly but lovingly, to counter those errors and call people back to right belief and behavior.
Thus we understand John’s opening moves in this letter. First, he proclaimed the truth of the incarnation. John affirmed that he, along with others, had heard, seen, and touched the Word of God in the person of Jesus. The incarnation was real and good! Second, he emphasized the chasm between light and darkness, between behavior consistent with light and behavior consistent with darkness. God is light; there is no darkness in God. A life spiritually aligned with God bodies forth in the light, not in the dark. To deny the incarnation and to live in darkness will impair, and even negate, our fellowship with God.
These are strong, bold strokes which contrast beliefs and practices! On one side of the chasm are light and life. On the other side are darkness and death. John spoke truly, but it sounds so fearsome. I gladly walk in light in many ways, but I also walk in darkness at times. John knew this. In hearing, seeing, and touching Jesus, John realized his own darkness. Yet John also realized that Jesus forgives, cleanses, and transforms us when we confess our darkness. Let us then confess our darkness, for therein we have fellowship with God through Jesus, with light and joy abounding in heaven and on earth!