1 John Study Notes“And by this we know we have come to know Him…” (1 John 2:3)
False teachers during John’s time placed knowledge as a high priority in their philosophical worldview. Today, knowledge also rates very high in our contemporary world. In both of these cases, knowledge is superficial with a focus on self-advancement. In John’s time, knowledge emphasized self, mystery, secrets, and initiations into a special group. It placed theory and speculation above the truth of God. Today, knowledge assumes similar qualities. God takes a back seat to secular philosophy, theory, speculation, and self-knowledge.
False teachers then and those of today turn knowledge upside down, placing the knowledge of God lower than alleged knowledge of ourselves. Consequently, a large gap exists between the knowledge of our world (and ourselves in it) and God. This gap has led to the rejection of God and His relationship with the world. The speculations of atheism and evolution express this divide. Both reject God as the source of the world and its moral structures. Therefore, knowledge according to the world has little if anything to do with God and relating to Him. For this reason, John writes,
And by this we know we have come to know Him…” (1 John 2:3)
John saw through the false teachers’ erroneous view of knowledge and sought to correct it. His corrections also apply to the present time. John’s correction of knowledge took a 180-degree turn from the false teachers. The Gnostic philosophy began with self and self-knowledge. John said that there is a great divide between the claim of knowledge of false teachers and the knowledge of God. John turned from the inward (subjective) to God (outward/objective). He declared the knowledge of God has greater importance.
Gnosticism, on the other hand, focused on experience and the spiritual. However, the spirit had a very different meaning than the biblical one. It referred to the deeper level of an individual: the intuitive and unconscious. It was highly subjective, non-specific, and vague. It was within this subjective deeper level one connected with the incomprehensible and undefinable God. Gnostics believed one cannot make the journey toward knowing God until one became an initiate or those spiritually ready to listen to the masters who knew the mysteries or secret traditions. Knowledge consisted of coming to terms with the divine spark within and the escape from ignorance and intellectual error. Knowledge is coming to terms with our origins (true spiritual nature) and destiny. However, we cannot know God and ourselves completely while we dwell in the present material world. He is inaccessible to us in our present material state. According to one view of Gnosticism (Valentinian),
“…God is incomprehensible and cannot be known directly. Therefore he defies accurate description. He is infinite, without beginning or end and is the ultimate origin of all things. He encompasses all things without being encompassed. Everything including the world lies within the deity and continues to be part of it. The Godhead manifests itself through a process of self-unfolding in the subsequent multiplicity of being while maintaining its unity” (“A Brief Summary of Valentinian Theology,” The Gnostic Society Library, http://bit.ly/22jEBk5).
One can see the vagueness of knowledge, because it dwells in the mysterious and in secrecy.
John says NO to this type of knowledge. He claims that knowledge is not vague or secret at all. Rather, God is accessible and knowable while we live in the world. Knowledge does not consist of an inward journey but faith in specific and clear evidences. There is no divine spark within. Knowledge does not begin with the subjective self but it beings with God’s objective revelation and His work in us through the new birth (1 John 3:9; 4:7; 5:1, 4, 18).
John associates knowledge with several other key truths. These key truths act as John’s rebuttal toward false teachers. The table below shows these truths and the assertions they refute:
John’s Key Truths
Claims of False Teachers (Gnostics)
|Keeping God’s Commands||Seeking the divine inner spark|
|Love God||Self-love; self-awareness; self-knowledge|
|Abiding in Christ||Becoming an initiate into secret knowledge|
|Truth||Intuition and consciousness|
|Light||Enlightenment from inward divine spark|
|External objective knowledge||Internal subjective knowledge|
|God is accessible and knowable||God is inaccessible and unknowable|
|Knowledge is concrete, specific, and clear||Knowledge is vague, non-specific, and secretive|
These key truths give evidence of knowledge. When we think of evidence, we associate it with specific observable data, such as evidence in a court of law or for scientific theory. We view it as that which supports a claim or argument for events. For example, the evidence for gravity is the event of dropping a heavy object, and it drops to the ground (unless it is a helium balloon).
Although John does not use evidence in exactly the same way, it is analogous. The evidence for knowing God is keeping His commandments. When people see that we live by what God says in the Bible, they say, “That person must know God. He gives evidence by following God.” The same holds true with evidence of love, truth, and light. Enlightenment comes from following the light, which is the nature of God. When we walk into the light, it shines all around us, and we are walking in it. That light makes our way clear, and we do not want to go off the path into the darkness. We know what is true when we follow it. Truth, light, and love are objective qualities found in God. Those who keep God’s commandments show they know the truth and that it dwells in them. Those who love God and others give evidence that they know God’s love:
“In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).
God’s love shines from them. We do not fall in love. God’s love is no romantic notion that makes us swoon. Love is not a feeling we learn, simply words on a Valentine card, ecstasy, an inspiration, or a poem as Plato claimed. There is no vagueness or mystery about love. John makes clear about love and brings it out of the realm of some mystery into the light where we can know it. Since God is love, the new birth grants us knowledge of His love so that we may share it with others (1 John 4:7).
After correcting the teaching of false teachers, John turns to its dimensions in the lives of those to whom he writes. He recognized that those in his audience were at different stages of their Christian lives. He wanted to address all of them in a way that highlighted what they knew, what was important in their knowledge, and that knowledge leads to spiritual progress. He also wanted them to understand the primary reason for him writing them: their progress rested on clear knowledge at all stages of their lives. According to John, knowledge and it practice were inseparable. It found its source in God’s commandment of loving one’s brother (1 John 2:7-11). Such love is true enlightenment as opposed to the elusive and mysterious false enlightenment of seeking the divine spark within. Self-seeking rather than loving another motivated this false enlightenment. It was an “all about me” philosophy. John claimed emphatically that love was all about God and others. It did not begin from within. Rather, it began with God loving us, showing that love committed oneself to God and others.
Those he wrote were real people at various stages of spiritual growth. He wanted to address how knowledge of God expressed itself in various stages of their lives. Within his audience were fathers, young men, and children. The fathers were those who had known God for a number of years and they had well established faith. These young men knew the Scriptures well and applied them in becoming strong in faith. These children had come to know God as their Father and His loving forgiveness. He wrote to them as one congregation with one message: Knowing and loving God is the highest pursuit for believers for all ages and stages of spiritual maturity. To both the fathers and children John points to God the Father. To the young men, he stresses the practice of biblical faith and its results: strength in God’s Word and overcoming “the evil one” (2:13-14).
What do we learn from John’s teaching? The knowledge of God depends on truth. This means rejecting false teachers, and embracing and growing in the knowledge of God. This growth involves focusing on God the Father and the word of God. A sixteenth theologian wrote the following:
“…no one can look upon himself without immediately turning his thoughts to the contemplation of God…it is certain that man never achieves a clear knowledge of himself unless he has first looked upon God’s face, and then descends from contemplating Him to scrutinize himself” (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, McNeill Edition, pp. 35, 37).
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