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First John is written as a sermon and lacks the opening, greeting, thanksgiving and closing greeting that mark most New Testament Epistles (or pastoral letters). The author’s key purpose is to defend Christian communities against false prophets and to remind them that as children of God they are to live in the light and love one another. The “enemies of Christ” against whom the author warns have apparently left the Church, and have persuaded many members to join them. We don’t hear from them directly, nor do we know exactly what they taught and did (as we only hear one side in this letter, as in all letters) but we can deduce that the division they created is related to the incarnation of Christ, recognizing Jesus as fully human and fully divine, and the consequences of such hope in terms of our own humanity: the way in which live apart and together. In order to warn members of the church community, Christians, against the teachings of these false prophets, the author explains that it means to be a child of God. True Christians live in the truth of God’s light, have faith in God’s son Jesus Christ, believe that Jesus had a human body, obey God, and love others with the kind of love that comes from God. While the language and theology of this spiritual tract directly relate to that of the gospel of John, it’s thought that this was an elder of the Church, and not the apostle, written much later, as it has different literary and preaching goals. The letter addresses pastoral, or church, issues, more than providing a theological gospel explanation of who Christ is.
The letter resonates with our life and the world today in which we are divided over what a life following Jesus looks like in terms of politics, policies, identity and our approach to the ways in which our world is changing. In our diverging opinions, we can be quick to throw around labels such as heretic, blasphemer, true (or fake) Christian, as well as the temptation to divorce this life from the next, distinguishing between what we do with and in our body and what is spirit-tual. These are all questions to which the author of 1st John attempts to provide pastoral answers in view of nurturing faith and encouraging the living-out-of-faith in community.