v. 1 What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life—
As a writer John is a straight shooter, jumping immediately into the issues at hand. Readers immediately know that this is a letter about Jesus, the Word of Life present with God even before creation yet fully man, written from someone with personal experience rather than secondhand knowledge and philosophical theories. In that day as in modern times believers were exposed and subjected to erroneous teaching. Many were being pulled astray and confused by philosophical arguments and smooth tongues. John confronts this head on with the divine truth he knows firsthand, the very Word of God made flesh.
As John MacArthur said, “Nothing is as important, nothing is as valuable as divine truth. The purest, the most powerful, the most necessary, the most valuable reality in existence is God's truth, the Word from God. It alone provides eternal life, and eternal life is the most necessary thing that exists. Since that is inarguably true, since the greatest reality the world possesses is divine truth, the greatest threat in the world is any idea contrary to that truth. Any high idea invented by men or demons raised up against the Word of God constitutes the greatest threat in existence. Therefore, all faithful servants of God throughout all of redemptive history, all of human history, all faithful servants of God have been given the responsibility to proclaim the truth and point out the error. It is a war between the truth and error. And it rages on today as it has through all of human history way back to Genesis chapter 3 where Satan told Eve that God didn't say something God did say. It's always been that way...the truth of God against the lies of demons and men.”
You may not have practicing Gnostics in your group of friends, but we see similar teaching in modern society. Americans see themselves as “spiritual” or “religious” without any belief in the Word of God or Jesus as Savior. It’s okay to pick and choose tenets from different religions and create your own morality – allowing each person to satisfy sinful cravings while believing in their own ultimate goodness.
v. 2 and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us—
All the apostles but Judas Iscariot were veracious witnesses of the reality of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. They refused to recant even in the face of torture and death. To quote John Piper, “It is not because we lack reliable testimony to the truth of Christ that we are slow to believe. It is because to believe is to be broken and to let the blackness of our hearts be exposed to the light of God's holiness.” As long as Jesus remains a “good teacher” or historical figure there is no threat. But as soon as he is preached the way, the truth, and the life we must deny Him or admit we are consumed by sin, unable to find healing on our own.
v. 3 what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.
Fellowship (koinonia) signifies communion or intimate fellowship. It is the knowledge that fellow believers are together on the important matters and share the values of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. “You believe what they believe and love what they love. And so you delight to spend time together. You love to include them in all that you do. You cherish the thought of spending an eternity getting to know them better” (Piper). This can only come through prayer, memorizing Scripture, and spending quality time with fellow believers rather than in the world.
v. 4 These things we write, so that our joy may be made complete.
John knew firsthand that his joy was made complete in seeing others know the truth of Christ. Do we have the same passion for finding this joy? To quote Spurgeon, “For, here below, we get but drops and dashes of joy, unless we are brought into fellowship with God through Jesus Christ; and, then, we have the very joy of God in our souls…
“What an evidence of our Savior’s deep attachment to his people that he is not content with having made their ultimate salvation sure, but he is anxious concerning their present state of mind! He delights that his people should not only be safe, but happy; not merely saved, but rejoicing in his salvation. It does not please your Savior for you to hang your head as the bulrush, and go mourning all your days. He would have you rejoice in him always; for this end he has made provision, and to this end he has given us precepts…
“You cannot always rejoice, because, although your treasure is not in this world, your affliction is. Poverty will sometimes be too heavy a cross for you to sing under. Sickness sometimes casts you upon a bed on which you have not, as yet learned to rejoice. Losses befall you in business, failures of hope, forsaking of friends, and cruelty of foes; and any of these may prove like winter nights which nip the green leaves of your joy, and make them fade and fall off from your bough. You cannot always rejoice, but sometimes there is a needs-be that you should be in heaviness through manifold temptations. I suppose none of you are so perfectly happy as to be without some trial. Your joy will need to be looked after then, lest these water-floods should come in and quench it. You will need to cry to him who alone can keep its flame burning, to trim it with fresh oil.
“I suppose, too, that you have moods and susceptibilities which make it no easy matter to maintain perpetual joy. If you have not, I have. Sometimes there will be deep depression of spirit; you can scarce tell why or wherefore. That strong wing with which you mounted like an eagle will seem to flap the air in vain. That heart of yours, which once flew upwards like the lark rising from amidst the dew, will lie cold and heavy like a stone upon the earth, and you will find it hard to rejoice.
“Besides, sin will stop the beginning of your holy mirth, and when you would dance for joy, like David before the ark, some internal corruption will come to hamper your delight.
“I dare say you have learned by this time, my beloved in the Lord Jesus Christ, how exceedingly necessary it is that this joy of ours should be abundant. When full of joy, we are more than a match for the adversary of souls, but when our joy is gone, fear slackens our sinews, and, like Peter, we may be vanquished by a little maid. When our joy in the Lord is at its full, we can bear that the fig-tree should not blossom, that the herd should be cut off from the stall, and the flocks from the field, but how heavy our sorrows are to bear, how impatient we become when the chains that link heaven and earth are disarranged, or the communication in any way intercepted. If we can see the Savior’s face without a cloud between, then temptation has no power over us, and all the glittering shams that sin can offer us are eclipsed in their brilliance by the true gold of spiritual joy which we have in our possession Oh! what rapture!
“Let us walk carefully, let us walk prayerfully, that so we may realize perpetually joy and peace even to the full. Let none of us be content to sit down in misery. There is such a thing as getting habituated to melancholy. If we begin to give way to this foolishness, we shall soon weave forged chains for ourselves which we cannot readily snap. Take your harp from the willows, believers. Do not let your fingers forget the well-known strings. Come, let us praise him. If we have looked black in the face for awhile, let us brighten up with the thoughts of Christ. At any rate, let us not be easy till we have shaken off this lethargic distemper, and once again come into the normal state of health in which a child of God should be found, that of spiritual joy…
“‘Love one another’... Well now, when are you happiest? When you feel spiteful and bitter towards everybody else, or when you feel charity towards the faulty, and love towards your fellow-servants? I know when I feel best. There are some people who seem to have been suckled upon vinegar; wherever they go, always see some defect.”