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Letters of St John

The three let­ters of St John were writ­ten by the Lord’s beloved apos­tle who also wrote the fourth gospel. They were writ­ten at the close of the first cen­tu­ry and have as their gen­er­al theme a fer­vent polemic against the hereti­cal “antichrists” who were chang­ing the doc­trines of Christ and deny­ing His gen­uine appear­ance “in the flesh” for the sal­va­tion of the world, deny­ing there­by both “the Father and the Son” (l Jn 2:22, 4:3, 2 Jn 7).

The first let­ter of St John is the sim­plest and deep­est expo­si­tion of the Chris­t­ian faith that exists. Its clar­i­ty con­cern­ing the Holy Trin­i­ty and the Chris­t­ian life of truth and of love in com­mu­nion with God makes it under­stand­able with­out dif­fi­cul­ty to any­one who reads it. It is the best place to begin a study of the Chris­t­ian faith gen­er­al­ly, and the Bible in particular.

The first let­ter begins in the same way as St John’s gospel to which it is most sim­i­lar in its entire con­tent and style.

That which was from the begin­ning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, con­cern­ing the Word of Life… we pro­claim also to you, so that you may have com­mu­nion with us; and our com­mu­nion is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. And we are writ­ing this that our joy may be complete.

The first let­ter of St John pro­claims that Jesus is tru­ly “the Christ,” the Mes­si­ah and Son of God who has come “in the flesh” to the world as “the expi­a­tion of our sins, and not ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (2:2). Those who believe in Christ and are in com­mu­nion with Him and His Father have the for­give­ness of sins and the pos­si­bil­i­ty not to sin any more (1:5–2:12). They “walk in the same way in which He walked” (2:6) being the “chil­dren of God” (3:1, 5:1). They know the truth by the direct inspi­ra­tion of God through the anoint­ment [chris­ma] of the Holy Spir­it (2:20–26; 6:7). They keep the com­mand­ments of God, the first and great­est of which is love, and so they are already recip­i­ents of eter­nal life, already pos­sess­ing the indwelling of God the Father and Christ the Son “by the Spir­it which He has giv­en us” (2:24–3:24).

Beloved, let us love one anoth­er; for love is of God, and he who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God; for God is love. In this the love of God was made man­i­fest among us, that God has sent His only Son into the world, so that we might live through Him.

In this is love, not that we loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the expi­a­tion of our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one anoth­er. No man has ever seen God; if we love one anoth­er, God abides in us and His love is per­fect­ed in us.

By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has giv­en us of His own Spir­it. And we have seen and tes­ti­fy that the Father has sent His Son as the Sav­ior of the world. Who­ev­er con­fess­es that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him and he in God. So we know and believe the love God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him (14:7–16).

The hatred of oth­ers is the sure sign that one does not love God (4:20) and is “in the dark­ness still” (2:9–11). The one who hates his broth­er is “a mur­der­er, and you know that no mur­der­er has eter­nal life abid­ing in him” (3:15). Those who love God are hat­ed by the world which is in the pow­er of the evil one” (5:19, 2:15–17).

The first let­ter of St John is part of the Church’s lec­tionary, with spe­cial selec­tions from it being read at the feast of the apos­tle John.

The sec­ond let­ter of St John is addressed to the “elect lady and her chil­dren” which is obvi­ous­ly the Church of God and its mem­bers. Again the truth of Christ is stressed and the com­mand­ment of love is emphasized.

And this is love, that we fol­low His com­mand­ments; this is the com­mand­ment, as you have heard from the begin­ning, that you fol­low love. For many deceivers have gone out into the world, men who will not acknowl­edge the com­ing of Jesus Christ in the flesh; such a one is the deceiv­er and the antichrist. Look to your­selves, that you may not lose what you have worked for, but may win a full reward. Any­one who goes ahead and does not abide in the doc­trine of Christ does not have God; he who abides in the doc­trine has both the Father and the Son (6−9).

The third let­ter of St John is addressed to a cer­tain Gaius prais­ing him for the “truth of his life” (3) and urg­ing him not to Imi­tate evil but imi­tate good” (11). “No greater joy can I have than this”, writes the beloved apos­tle, “to hear that my chil­dren fol­low the truth” (4).