Writing in broad but profound strokes in this section of his letter – in keeping with his style and emphases throughout – John highlighted three issues which face followers of Jesus. He pointed to the challenge of consistency in belief and practice. He warned of false teachings and beliefs about God, Jesus, and spirituality. He distinguished two fundamental points of view about truth and goodness.
In terms of belief and practice, John urged followers of Jesus, as individuals and as communities, to live their love for others in specific, concrete ways, not just in the emptiness of words. The world is full of easy promises and assertions of love, many of which go unfulfilled. True love for others arises from Jesus’ sacrificial love and bodies forth in small and large acts.
As for teachings and beliefs, John counseled followers of Jesus to assess the swirl of “spiritualities” around them against the life and teaching of the historical Jesus (recorded in narratives and sayings we now have as the four gospels of our New Testament). The world is full of spiritualities which make light of, ignore, or deny God’s Word incarnate. True spirituality affirms and expresses the life and teaching of Jesus, who lived in the flesh and who continues to live in risen glory.
With respect to world views, John contrasted two sharply different perspectives for understanding and living life. One stems from the Spirit of God; it leads to truth, goodness, and life. The other comes from the spirit of the world; it yields falsehood, evil, and death. The world is full of easy compromises and appearances of compatibility among world views. Yet the Spirit of God and the spirit of the world are essentially not compatible, not in origin and not in end. True faith and discipleship live in, from, and for the Spirit of God.
For all his clear and even stark contrasts and challenges, John wrote not to discourage and tear down, but to encourage and foster maturity and integrity of faith. His tender addresses – dear children, dear friends – attest to his motives and to God’s loving, nurturing purposes for us. Even more, John’s affirmations that God is greater – greater than our inconsistencies and failures, greater than false spiritualities, greater than the spirit of the world – provide deep and durable encouragement in our hearts and lives. We can, in God’s Spirit, grow more loving, more true, and more whole – in sum, grow more like Jesus.