Series: A deep dive into 1 John
Theme: Love and Life
Bible Reading: 1 John 1:1-4
Preacher: Rev Phil Swain
This week we are doing a deep dive into 1 John – a short letter from the bible that explores love and life and light and eternity. Taking the exegetical approach, we will be stepping through the passages line by line, but at the same time pondering how they can relate to us and what God might be saying in these words. We will also explore a gem of a Greek phrase Aeon Zoe and how this could just be the secret to abundant life. A great time of worship and teaching.
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Today we are starting one of the longest sermon series we are going to be doing here at TUC – a 12 week series looking at 1 John. But don’t get overwhelmed … this 12 week deep dive into the letter of 1 John is not going to be in a single block but in bite sized blocks scattered over the next 6 months or so.
So why 12 weeks and why 1 John? Simple answer, because of the young people at Night Church. You see, the young adults approached me and asked if I could do some exegetical preaching; if I could do some sermons where we go through a book of the bible line by line, going deep into the text and how it applies to our lives. It is not my usual preaching style, but I accepted the challenge. The catch with this approach is that it takes time to go in deep and it is usually only possible to do a handful of verses per sermon. Hence the estimate that to exegete 1 John (which is only 5 chapters or 105 verses long) might take 12 weeks. But I am trusting the wisdom of the young adults that experiencing this type of exegetical approach might bring us a deeper understanding and spiritual growth.
So, why 1 John? Three reasons:
- It is one of the shorter biblical books.
- I have previously done some work in studying 1 John, which will make my life a little easier in the prep work.
- 1 John is a great letter about love and life. It is full of profound insight and teaching. If we are going to deep dive into a book of the Bible, 1 John is a good book to dive into.
But I guess the biggest reason why we are doing this is because the young adults are passionate about it, and I think that by following their lead on this, we too will be blessed.
So, have I sold the idea? Ready to jump in?
Before I start with verse 1, lets put this letter into context. The letter of 1 John was written by … John. And that is important to remember. John was one of the 12 apostles of Jesus who wrote five different books of the New Testament:
- The Gospel of John
- The letters – 1 John, 2 John and 3 John
- And the last book of the bible: Revelation.
There is a fancy word for these 5 books – The Johainne Corpus! But the reason why this is important is that when we study the letter of 1 John, we cannot understand it without the gospel of John. The gospel gives context. John is clarifying, amplifying the message which comes through the gospel of John.
The gospel of John is different from the other three gospels. Where as Matthew, Mark and Luke focus was telling the story of what Jesus said and did – a bit like a newspaper reporter – John had a different approach. The gospel of John has a more like creative writing feel about it. John purpose in writing the gospel was to weave a narrative in a way to reveal the amazing truth that Jesus is the Messiah, the one who brings life. He says as much in John 20:31 – But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
The letter of 1 John in written in a similar way. John is hoping that as you read this letter you might have these “a-ha” moments where things click and you will see and know and experience the fullness of life and love that Jesus offers.
Now, if we are going to do an exegetical deep dive into 1 John, where do we need to start? 1 John chapter 1 verse 1.
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.
Huh? What a complicated sentence to start a letter with? Who starts a letter like that? That’s John for you.
But let’s step through this. “That which was from the beginning.” It sounds similar to the opening verse of John’s gospel. “In the beginning…”
John is straight up reminding us of the bigger picture. Whatever he is talking about is not just something that is happening now, but has existed from the beginning.
And this “thing” is something that they have heard, and seen and touched. Whatever John is referring to here, it is not a concept or an idea … but it is something that is real, and tangible. It is not something that they just learnt or read about – it is something that they knew and experienced.
What is John talking about? The Word of Life. (And another link back to the gospel of John 1:1). John is talking about the Word of Life. Note that the Word of life … Word is capitalised. Why is this? Well the interpreters of the NIV make the assumption that the word is referring to Jesus. Therefore make it a capital so others know it is talking about Jesus.
But the Bible was not written in English with Capital letters. It was written in Greek and the Greek is less direct. Although it can be interpreted as the “word of life” it can also be interpreted as the “message of life” or “message about life”.
With this understanding … right from the first verse John is saying that he is writing a letter primarily about the nature of life. John in verse 1 is setting it up. I want to tell you about life, what life is really about. And John hints, that this message about life is connected with Jesus; given by Jesus. Jesus said in the gospel of John (and remember that there is a unique like between John and 1 John) … Jesus said in John 10:10 … “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
John is writing in the first verse of 1 John … you know that life that Jesus talked about … We want you to know we have experienced the kind of life Jesus said was possible. We have heard about it, we have seen it with our own eyes, and we have touched it … we have experienced it. And that is what we proclaim … this message about life.
The beginning part of verse 2 picks up on this theme. It says that the life appeared. The Greek word for appeared is fanero/w (Phan-er-o) which also means to reveal or to make known.
I think this verse 2 makes more sense translated with the word “revealed”. John is writing … we have heard, seen and touched is message about life. This live has been revealed to us – who by? Jesus. Throughout all of John’s writing he is very insistent that the life that Jesus came to show us was not created … this life was already there. It was with the Father from the beginning and has been now revealed. Jesus came to reveal to us this life, this abundant life that was already available to us.
John goes on … Jesus revealed to us this life, and we have seen it and testify that we have experienced it and now we proclaim it to you … it is the message of eternal life.
Let’s just pause for a moment. Eternal Life. What do we mean when we say Eternal life? Right … Eternal life is something that is after we die and is a succession of minutes, hours, days, and years which never end. But that is not how John understood eternal life. Let’s break this down … start with LIFE
I have to say … I think that our English language lets us down here a bit. When it comes to the noun LIFE – unfortunately our English does not make the distinction between the different types of life … but the Greek language does!
Let’s go back to the gospel of John and I will show you these two different types of life … John 10:11 – The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep – psyche
In this case, psyche life is referring to our physical life. The stuff from the time we are born to the time we die which makes us who we are … our job, our relationships, our material possessions. That is our psyche life. So, if the good shepherd lays down his psyche … he physically dies.
But there is another Greek word for life … Zoe. What is Zoe? Zoe is the life which Jesus came to bring. It is the word in John 10:10 … it is the life which John refers to in 1 John … it is what life is all about.
Greek word Zoe is nearly always matched with the Greek word aeon or eternal. But let’s be clear, in the Greek, eternal is not something that last in time forever … but rather it is something that exists outside of time, independent of time, something which has no beginning or end, something that always was and will be. Aeon Zoe – this eternal life – is something which exists in a different realm to the created realm. It is beyond the physical
Summary of Eternal life or Eternal Zoe
- It is an experience, not a concept. That is why John said … we have seen it, heard it, touched it but not learnt it etc
- Does not have a beginning and end, eternal Zoe is independent of time. So when does it start? It ahs already started! That means it’s happening now.
- This is what Jesus came to reveal
Therefore … The Aoen Zoe Life is an experience which is happening now which Jesus came to reveal. Zoe life doesn’t come after our psyche life – they run concurrently. And this is where the catch comes in, … people can be experiencing psyche life and think that this is all the life that there is … and never get to experience the fullness of zoe life.
Let me share an analogy that for me highlights this difference between Pscyhe and zoe life.
The weather by its nature changes … it doesn’t change the same. The weather will never stay the same forever … the rain will end. What is fascinating is that above the clouds is the sky … and the sky does not change. It is always sunny.
Psyche is like the weather … always changing … sometimes good, sometimes awful. But Zoe life is like the whether about the clouds … open, endless, perfect.
Or like waves on the ocean … on the top it can be calm or rough depending on what is happening. But Jesus says that “I know you think that this is what life is all about … changing, uncertain, unpredictable … but I have come to show you life, zoe life
… but you will need to go down into the depths of the ocean … down to a place which is not affected by what is happening on the surface. It is like going down to a protected place, safe place – where there is certainty and stability.
V3 – John we have experienced this life … and you can have it too.
V4 – We write this to make our joy complete. [conflict with early manuscripts … some says our, some say yours. It doesn’t it really matter … because the result is joy.
John is proclaiming that he want you to know he has experienced the kind of life Jesus said was possible. They have heard about it, tasted it, experienced and … and you can too.
So I guess that is the challenge of the first four verses of 1 John. Sure, we all know what psyche life is like, but the question is … have you ever tasted the zoe? It is real and it is here right now.
It is my prayer that as we continue to work through 1 John, that we all will not only hear about, but we will touch and experience this zoe life which Jesus reveals to us. I am so excited about what is still to come …the learning from 1 John but more importantly, the fullness of life that is being revealed to us. Amen.