Life Application Commentary—First John 1:1-4
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.
- John is a faithful witness of what he is proclaiming to us.
- What John is proclaiming (the word of life) is not something he made up.
- He is a faithful witness of the things he is telling us about.
- He will also explain what he saw, heard, and handled.
- The word of life is not simply the Bible. It is that, but it is also the one who became flesh and dwelt among us. This is why John said he touched him. He heard him, saw him, and touched him. Jesus is more than a concept or an idea. He is personal, present, and wants to be integral to our lives.
- He is not trying to manipulate his readers.
- He is not calling their attention to him, but to someone else, to the one who gives life.
- His goal is that the readers have life, fellowship with God and John (and with one another), and that their joy will be perfected.
The first application of this text is that we believe what John says. But can we believe something we have not observed ourselves? We learn things from other people all the time, without actually seeing it ourselves. For example, until a few years ago, I had never visited Holland, but I believed it was there because people had told me about it. In fact, most of our knowledge is based on the testimony of others. The key to whether we should believe the testimony is whether the witness, or witnesses, are credible or not.
It isn’t clear, in our text, who the ‘we’ is (I believe he was referring to the Apostles, but it could have included everyone who observed Jesus’ resurrection. Cf. 1 Cor. 15:6), but what is clear is that ‘they’ heard, saw, and touched the word of life. There was more than one person to check things out with than just John. John said he heard the word of truth, they saw the word of truth, they touched the word of truth, and now they are telling their readers (us) about that word of truth.
What we are to believe is what the rest of the letter is about. So, keep reading, pay attention to what faith is, what John wants you to know, and what he wants you to do with what you believe and know.
Second, because, or since we have met the same Jesus, we have life in ourselves. Because we have the same life that John had, our goal should be the same as John’s—that we share the good news with everyone we come in contact with.
Like John we can attest to what have seen and heard. We have seen the changes in the lives of others who have believed this message throughout history. We have seen the changes in those around us who are walking with God. We have seen the changes in our own lives as we have walked with God.
While we cannot say that we have literally touched Jesus, but we can say that we have experienced his presence in our lives because he has come into us and changed us from the inside out.
As we move through 1 John we will see that in many many ways, we have seen heard and touched the one who loves us. We can bear witness that the word of life is real, gives us fellowship (more on what fellowship later), and fills us with ever growing joy.
Third, the fact that when we talk about the “word of life” we are not talking about a concept or an idea means that Christianity is not a philosophy, a set of ideas or an ethical system, it is a relationship with the living God. This means that everything we do has more to do with relationship, with God and man, than it does with what we do or don’t do; with what we think or don’t think; with what we feel or don’t feel. This separates Christianity from psychology, where they best they can do is medication, or cognitive/behavioral therapy. It is true that when we realize our sinfulness we repent, which means change our minds, but we do it in relationship with God, not as an act of our wills. God in us, God with us, God for us, and God loves us should permeate everything we feel, think, do, and say. The command of God, coupled with the power of God, combined with a loving spirit and a desire to please and glorify God is what causes us to be like Christ and to have that perfect joy that John introduces us to in these verses.
Fourth, also like John, because we know Jesus, we can share what we know out of a spirit of love and joy rather than an attitude of spiritual elitism, or pride. We were given a gift and we are simply sharing that gift with others who desperately need it.
We do this by talking about what he has done, rather than what we have done. We point to him, rather than to ourselves. We make him famous, not ourselves.
Finally, we make the person we’re talking to our goal. In other words, we are not trying to win an argument or some kind of trophy or prize. We are to focus on sharing good news with people who need good news. They need life, so we express life. They need fellowship, so we show them how to fellowship. They need joy, so we live lives of joy in front of them.
If we get into a situation where we can talk freely, like John did in his letter, we imitate him in that. We ask God to give us an attitude of kindness and grace, and then we tell the person we are talking to about Jesus in a way that, as far as we are responsible, they will want to hear what we are saying. We present the living Christ to dying people, who refuse to admit that they are empty and dying. More on this as we go along.
However, if we are in a situation where we do not know that the person we are talking with wants to hear what we have to say, we approach the situation in a different way. We take the principles we’ve seen John expressing here and apply them in our lives first. We walk with God, we listen to him, we watch him in others and in our own lives, we feel him changing us and living through us. Then, when we talk with others we make it more about relating to others than trying to preach a sermon to others. This means that instead of telling them what we know, we live what we know in front of them in an open, natural, and free way.
Let’s say that you are invited to lunch with several of your co-workers. This sounds like a great idea, so you accept. Go, praying that God would give you opportunities to share your faith with one, or all of them. Otherwise, don’t do or say anything other than what you would do if the group were a church group. I wouldn’t ask everyone to bow their heads and thank God for the lunch, but otherwise, enjoy the food and the conversation.
If the conversation shifts to telling dirty jokes, don’t join in, but don’t make a grumpy face and wander off either. Don’t laugh, unless you can’t help yourself (sometimes dirty jokes are funny). Don’t get on your high horse and tell everyone to clean it up. Just be polite and if there is an opportunity to graciously change the subject, do so. But don’t be the nerdy Jesus freak.
You may feel like you’re being a terrible witness for Christ, but over a short period of time, others will notice that you’re different. They will notice that you didn’t join in on the joke jamboree. The will notice that, at the office, you don’t join them in the drinking fountain gossip, or the sexual things that happen. They will notice when you read your bible during breaks, that you are wise in other areas of life, that you family loves you, and that you them. Your co-workers will also notice that you love them and that you do it in a completely new and amazing way. Then, they will begin to ask about the differences.
When this happens, you’re back to 1 John. Then you can begin to say things like John did:
Let me tell you what I’ve seen, what I’ve heard, what I know experientially. Let me take the spotlight off of me and shine it on the one who made me different, who motivated you to ask that question. Let me share with you about the word of life and let me tell you in a way that will give you fellowship with God and with Jesus and with your wife/husband and your kids. Let me tell you how you can have real joy.
I wouldn’t tell them all this at the same time. But this is your goal—the word of life, who gives fellowship and mature joy.