Exegesis 1 John 2:7-14

Peyton King

From the time of my birth to the age of sixteen, I was an attendee of Bethany First Church of the Nazarene (BFC) in Bethany, Oklahoma. BFC was mainly traditional in nature of everything besides worship (in which we did not sing hymns every Sunday). I was an active participant on both the Sunday morning worship team as well as the youth group worship team, I attended small groups and I went on many mission trips and retreats. But after having conflict with the head pastor of the church, my family and I realised how stagnant the teaching had become. While nothing was inherently wrong about what was being preached, we were not being fed anything besides the basic teaching of “be like Jesus” at its most shallow and basic form. We were not taught how to be like him, just simply to do it. So, we decided to leave BFC and try out Life.Church NW Oklahoma City.

Long story short, my whole family loved it. Although it did take some time to get used to the on-screen preaching, we were being spiritually fed both in teachings and in day to day applications. So we decided to stay and I’ve been attending Life.Church to this day. I’m an advocate for Life.Church because, despite how strange watching a screen seems to be, there are ways to get plugged in at your location with individual campus pastors and staff members. On top of this, I have never attended a service in which I got nothing out of it. Now, I don’t say this to shame other small non-network churches in any way. I believe any church that actively spreads the love of Christ can be beneficial for anyone needing the gospel. That said, though, I have not received the same feedback from small church attendees when the subject of network megachurches arises.

As a member of a network “megachurch” attending OBU — where the students are mainly members of small, local churches — I have witnessed a strong sense of discrimination against large church bodies with multiple locations and a streamed message from the main pastor. Honestly, I have never understood it and have tried to plead my case since I have seen the debates arise. But in light of COVID19, I believe people are finally getting to learn what it’s like to learn from a broadcast message. Hopefully, this experience will open people’s minds and allow them to remember the call to have only love between believers, as expressed in 1 John 2:7-14.

Of all the exegeses I have completed, the text criticism I conducted (or, attempted to conduct) on 1 John 2:7-14 was the least fruitful search for differences in wording between translations thus far. I assume this is due to the basic but profound wording that has been recognized numerous times by scholars when studying the writings of John the Son of Zebedee (specifically 1, 2, 3 John). Upon reading various translations of 1 John 2:7-14, readers will find the only significant discrepancies occur in John’s address of the recipients of his letter in 1 John 2:7.

In the New International Version (NIV) and the New Living Translation (NLT) of the passage, John uses the words “Dear friends,” to kick off his passage. In the King James Version (KJV), John calls the believers “Brethren.” In the English Standard Version (ESV), American Standard Version (ASV) and New American Standard Bible (NASB) translations, though, the recipients are addressed as “Beloved.” All of the above are derived from the Greek word “ἀγαπητός”, which can be translated as “beloved, esteemed, dear, favourite, worthy of love.” Judging can easily be based off of the numerous uses of the word ἀγαπητός in the Bible as well as John’s other affectionate addresses for the people of Ephesus (i.e. “My little children” is used repeatedly in John’s letters). So it is safe to assume “Beloved” is the most accurate interpretation because of its implications on John’s feelings towards the people and their position as believers in Christ.

This recognition is significant because without the knowledge of John’s relation to the Ephesians, as well as the knowledge that they are Christians, the affection shown in his letter wouldn’t make sense. On top of that, the purpose for writing would be hopeless. If John had been writing to a group of nonbelievers, instructing them on how to be good believers, there would’ve been no use in it — he would’ve been preaching to deaf ears.

1 John as a whole serves as a reminder to the people in churches in and around Ephesus that the most important commandments are to, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” as Jesus said in the gospel of Matthew.

In light of the recent departure of false teachers from the churches in Ephesus, after they had been realised through the Letter of Jude, John the son of Zebedee wrote 1 John sometime between A.D. 90-95 to the people so they may remember the two criteria necessary for a community of believers: belief in Jesus as the Son of God and loving one another. After the occasion of Jude, the believers of Ephesus were left wondering how to distinguish true believers from false teachers. Gnostic teachers such as Cerinthus had confused the believers by feeding them false teachings on the nature of Jesus, making them question even the words of Jesus as truth. So John wrote in order to set the record straight, teach the Christians how to determine which teachings are false and which are true and at the same time teach them how to be the community of faith they are called to be.

1 John 2:7-14 begins with the heart of the message when John writes:

7 Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning. This old command is the message you have heard. 8 Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and in you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining. 9 Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister[a] is still in the darkness. 10 Anyone who loves their brother and sister[b] lives in the light and there is nothing in them to make them stumble. 11 But anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness. They do not know where they are going, because the darkness has blinded them.”

He addresses this in order to point out the hypocrisy false teachers are bound to show. As Jesus says in Matthew 7:18, “A good tree cannot bear bad fruit and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.” So, the people of God will be able to distinguish the false teachers from the true by observing the way they treat others. If they love their brothers and sisters, you can trust they are in the light and know the righteous path — you can follow them with faith. But if they do not, it would be like closing your eyes, grabbing a hold of a blind man and trusting he will lead you in the right direction.

In verses 12-14, John explains how this teaching applies to believers both young and old by explaining how the elders, “fathers”, are wise in their knowledge of the character of Christ. Likewise, the young believers, “little children” and “young men”, have the youth and strength to learn from these teachings and apply them by driving out the false teachers.

If they love and listen to one another, by working together the community of believers can eradicate false teaching as a whole. But if they do not first love each other, they will not be able to see the faults of the Gnostic teachers, nor will they be able to join together as a united front.

David M. Scholer put it well when he said, “The lack of love among those who follow Jesus Christ is not only a problem we know in our experience; it has beset the Church from its earliest days as 1 John so clearly evidences. The command that we should love one another is a dominant theme in the powerful theological essay we know as 1 John,” when he wrote on 1 John 4:7-21. While we don’t know the specific climate between the Ephesian believers at the time of 1 John, we can assume that small debates between believers (similar to those of today) had driven the church members apart. This was likely a direct cause of the confusion between believers and nonbelievers; therefore weakening the fight against false teaching. So John reminds the people of their highest calling: to love.

In his lecture on John and Christian love, Bill Mounce put John’s point like this: “See, our love for one another is part of our assurance that we truly are Christians; that we look the fact that our lives have changed so that we love now in a way that we could not love before because now we love as a conduit of God’s love flowing through us to one another.” In order to form a strong front not only against false teachers, but against all evil in the world, Christians need to be able to join together. The only way that can be done is by starting with loving one another. If we are called to love all people of the world, surely we need to be able to love our fellow believers. If we can’t accomplish that, there’s no way the fight against evil will prevail.

1 John 2:7-14 serves as a reminder of this critical part of the Christian mission. So just like the Ephesians needed a reminder, the Christians all around the world today need it to refresh our memories on how to complete the call given to us by God. In light of the Coronavirus shut-downs, I hope my fellow believers will be given this reminder by God either through their reading of the Bible, an online sermon or even through a post on social media. What better time to regroup and share the word than now? I pray this isolation will encourage believers to open their hearts, join together and spread the word while we have such a great opportunity to reach the people who often make themselves too busy to listen. But the first step we need to take is loving each other unconditionally, no matter what your differences are; because you can’t fight the good fight with a divided army.

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