In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 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 4:9-10)
I recently found Robert Law’s commentary on 1 John, called the Tests of Life, available online (pdf). In reading through it I enjoyed how Law dealt with 1 John 4:9-10 and wanted to share it.
‘there are five factors which here contribute to the full conception of Divine Love‘
- The Gift: the magnitude of its gift is set forth. “His Son, His Only Begotten.” … The essence of the manifestation is in the fact, not that God sent Jesus, but that Jesus, who was sent, is God’s Only-Begotten Son. Continue reading
In part 1 (which you might want to read if you haven’t already) I suggested that how we understand the community and false teachers (two of the three groups) addressed in the book shapes which interpretive framework we will use to interpret 1 John. This proposal is based on John’s writing containing a series of tests, which are written out as a comparison of competing claims. One set of claims is made by John (and the apostles). The other set of claims is made by the false teachers.
For example, the test for whether a person’s claim to know God is true or false is based on obeying the commandments (2:3-4) and the test for whether a person is abiding in the light is based on loving and hating others (2:9-11).
In posing the tests in this way John is asking the community – who do you have more in common with – the apostles (who know God, abide in light etc) or the false teachers (who do not know God, abide in light etc)? Whom you choose to partner (or fellowship) with (1:3-7) through shared beliefs and common practices will speak volumes about you. It will be the basis on which you may know whether you are saved (Test of Life) or mature (Test of Fellowship). This idea of asking the community to choose who they are partnering with draws some support from 2 John 1:7,10-11 as well. Here John warns the community not to partner with the same false teachers.
If both the community that John writes to and the false teachers whom he refutes are both considered reborn and in possession of eternal life then the Test of Fellowship framework, which evaluates our spiritual walk and maturity, fits the book.
However, if John assumes that the false teachers are unsaved and writes to encourage the community, whom are saved but struggling with assurance because of the counter claims of the false teachers, then the Test of Life view, which evaluates whether we have eternal life or not, is a better framework. Continue reading
Reading through and interpreting 1 John can be a challenge. The author would make a good software developer as he deals with things in a very binary way. His statements are absolute, black and white leaving little wiggle room for readers. However, this writing is very repetitive in nature, echoing the same themes, and saying the same thing over and over. In the software world, we would say that this writing needs some major refactoring (changes that are made to improve readability and eliminate complexity and duplication).
There are two major views on how to interpret 1 John. One view is known as the Test of Life, the other view is commonly identified as the Test of Fellowship. Both views acknowledge that John is providing his readers with a series of tests. They differ on what these tests are being used to evaluate.
The Test of Life view focuses on salvation. The tests are given to help the readers have confidence that they possess eternal life. Failing the tests would indicate that one is unsaved (or at a minimum should have very low assurance that they are).
The Test of Fellowship view focuses on our relationship with God. It starts with the premise that the readers are already saved. The tests are given to determine the strength of our relationship with God. Failing the tests means that one has a weak relationship with God and lacks maturity (but still possesses eternal life). Continue reading