1-3 John: A 12-Week Study

1-3 John: A 12-Week Study


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Over the course of 12 weeks, this study will help readers understand the practical wisdom found in 1–3 John regarding what it looks like to follow Jesus and walk according to his commandments.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781433554896
Publisher: Crossway
Publication date: 10/31/2018
Series: Knowing the Bible Series
Pages: 96
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.24(d)

About the Author

Michael LeFebvre (PhD, University of Aberdeen) is the pastor of Christ Church Reformed Presbyterian in Brownsburg, Indiana, and an adjunct professor of Old Testament at Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He serves as a fellow with the Center for Pastor Theologians. Michael and his wife, Heather, have five children and live in Indianapolis, Indiana.

J. I. Packer (DPhil, Oxford University) serves as the Board of Governors’ Professor of Theology at Regent College. He is the author of numerous books, including the classic best seller Knowing God. Packer served as general editor for the English Standard Version Bible and as theological editor for the ESV Study Bible.

Dane C. Ortlund (PhD, Wheaton College) is chief publishing officer and Bible publisher at Crossway. He serves as an editor for the Knowing the Bible series and the Short Studies in Biblical Theology series, and is the author of several books, including Gentle and Lowly and Edwards on the Christian Life. He is an elder at Naperville Presbyterian Church in Naperville, Illinois. Dane lives with his wife, Stacey, and their five children in Wheaton, Illinois.

Lane T. Dennis (PhD, Northwestern University) is CEO of Crossway, formerly called Good News Publishers. Before joining Good News Publishers in 1974, he served as a pastor in campus ministry at the University of Michigan (Sault Ste. Marie) and as the managing director of Verlag Grosse Freude in Switzerland. He is the author and/or editor of three books, including the Gold Medallion-award-winning book Letters of Francis A. Schaeffer, and he is the former chairman of the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association. Dennis has served as the chairman of the ESV (English Standard Version) Bible Translation Oversight Committee and as the executive editor of the ESV Study Bible. Lane and his wife, Ebeth, live in Wheaton, Illinois.

Read an Excerpt


Week 1: Overview

Getting Acquainted

Paul is sometimes called the "apostle of faith." Peter has been called the "apostle of hope." And John has received the attribution of the "apostle of love." All of the apostles taught Christian "faith, hope, and love" (1 Cor. 13:13). Nevertheless, John's epistles are particularly emphatic regarding the Christian calling to love. Out of 221 instances of the word "love" in the New Testament, 42 (or nearly 20 percent) occur in the brief epistles of John. Even though John's epistles are among the shortest books of the Bible, his first letter alone contains more mentions of "love" (36 times) than does any other book in the Bible, save one: only the book of Psalms contains more references to "love." For good reason, these epistles have contributed to John's reputation as the "apostle of love."

But it is not his own message that John writes: "This is the message we have heard from him," that is, from Jesus (1 John 1:5). It is Jesus who has showed us that God is holy, without sin, and abounding in love. Therefore we who have been made children of God through Christ's atoning work ought to cease from sin and grow in love for one another. John writes these three letters to instruct and motivate us in sanctification and love. The motivational character of John's letters is particularly striking. He writes with an emotive, picturesque, rhetorically amplified style designed to stir our hearts as well as instruct our minds.

The three epistles of John form a single "package," probably designed to be taken together. First John is the main document of the three; it is essentially a written sermon and lacks the normal salutation (compare Rom. 1:1–7) and farewell instructions (compare Rom. 16:1–27) of a typical epistle. However, the short letter we know as 2 John contains the elements of a salutation. And 3 John contains the personal instructions often included at the end of an epistle. All three epistles thus probably formed a single packet delivered together: a cover letter to the congregation (2 John), a cover letter to the pastor (3 John), and the main written sermon (1 John). In this study, we will examine the written sermon (1 John) first and then consider the shorter epistles in their likely roles as cover letters. (For further background, see the ESV Study Bible, pages 2425–2446; online at esv.org.)

Placing 1–3 John in the Larger Story

Initially, the Scriptures used by the church were those of the Old Testament. Since Jesus came to fulfill all that was promised in the Law and the Prophets (Luke 24:44–45), the church grew in Christian faith through instruction in the Old Testament Scriptures as the apostles3 testified to their fulfillment in Jesus (Acts 2:14–36; 4:23–31; 7:1–53; 8:26–35; 13:16–41). However, Jewish leaders outside the church (Acts 4:18) as well as some teachers inside the church (Acts 15:5; 1 John 2:18–19) promoted false teachings about the meaning of the Scriptures and the ministry of Jesus. It was urgent to document the apostles' testimony for the wider church and for future generations. Paul (Acts 20:31), Peter (2 Peter 1:15), John, and others of the apostles (1 John 1:3–4) participated in this crucial project of documenting the apostolic testimony concerning Jesus, resulting in the New Testament, which accompanies the Old Testament to form the complete canon of Christian Scripture.

John, who calls himself "the elder" (2 John 1; 3 John 1), was likely the longest-surviving apostle. His epistles are among the final of the apostolic writings provided to secure the church in the "message we have heard from him" (1 John 1:5) in the face of false teachers (1 John 2:18–26).

Key Verses

"Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. ... The world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever." (1 John 2:15–17)

Date and Historical Background

After Christ's ascension, John continued to minister in Jerusalem alongside the other apostles (Acts 8:1). Early church fathers indicate that he left Jerusalem just prior to the Roman destruction of the city in AD 70. John reportedly spent his later years in Ephesus, until his exile to the Isle of Patmos (Rev. 1:9). Most scholars believe that John wrote his eponymous epistles while laboring in Ephesus. If this is correct, he likely wrote these letters to other churches in the vicinity of Ephesus (see Rev. 2:8–3:22). Alternatively, if John wrote these letters toward the end of his years in Jerusalem, he may have addressed them to the church in Ephesus itself while already anticipating a move there (2 John 12; 3 John 10, 13).


1 John: The Written Sermon

I. Introduction (1:1–2:14) I.

A. John's authority (1:1–4) B. John's message (1:5–10) C. John's reason for writing (2:1–14)

II. Main Exhortation: Love the Father, Not the World (2:15–17)

III. Lessons on Christian Faithfulness (2:18–5:12)

A. Beware of antichrists (2:18–27)

B. Abide in Christ (2:28–3:10)

C. Love one another in truth, taught by God's Spirit (3:11–4:6)

D. Love one another as God has loved us (4:7–21)

E. Victory and life come through Christ (5:1–12)

IV. Conclusion: Know That You Have Eternal Life (5:13–21)

2 John: Cover Letter to the Congregation

V. Salutation to the Congregation (vv. 1–3)

VI. Synopsis of the "Written Sermon" (vv. 4–11)

A. Walk in the truth (vv. 4–6)

B. Abstain from error (vv. 7–11)

VII. Farewell (vv. 12–13)

3 John: Cover Letter to the Pastor

VIII. Salutation to Gaius (v. 1).

IX. Personal Instructions (vv. 2–12)

A. Instructions for Gaius (vv. 2–8)

B. Instructions regarding Diotrephes (vv. 9–10)

C. Instructions regarding Demetrius (vv. 11–12)

X. Farewell (vv. 13–15)

As You Get Started

The apostle John is mentioned 30 times in the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, Acts, and Galatians. John also features as a character in his own Gospel and throughout the book of Revelation, which is also traditionally attributed to him. What do you know about John, his life, and his personality, from previous study of the New Testament?

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Apart from Paul, John was probably the most prolific writer among the apostles. He left us a Gospel, three epistles, and the book of Revelation. Which of these have you read or heard sermons about? What general themes or impressions do you associate with John's writings?

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Of the 12 disciples, John was one of the three (along with his brother James and Peter) who were closest to Jesus and spent the most intimate time with him (see Mark 5:37; 9:2; 14:33). John was also the disciple sitting closest to Jesus at the Last Supper (John 13:23–25), the only one of the Twelve who was present at the crucifixion, and the one to whom Jesus entrusted the care of and for his mother, Mary (John 19:26–27). If you could ask John one or two questions about his experience with Jesus, what would you ask him? What do you hope to learn from him in these three epistles?

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As You Finish This Unit ...

Give thanks to God that he inspired the apostle John to leave us these precious instructions concerning Christ, whom he knew and whom he helps us to know as well. Pray for God's Spirit to open your heart to grow in your love for Christ as you learn about him from John's letters.


Week 2: This Is the Message

1 John 1:1–2:11

The Place of the Passage

First John opens with an introduction to the writer's authority (1:1–4), his message (1:5–10), and his reason for writing (2:1–14). John's authority to declare the message of Jesus is grounded in his own in-person fellowship with the Lord. With vivid imagery, John leads us to reimagine our own church assemblies as participating in those gatherings of Jesus with his apostles. The message of John's letter is that which he heard from Jesus in those gatherings. Jesus taught the holiness of God and the cleansing that he himself provides for our communion with the Lord. It is John's reason for writing that constitutes the longest part of this introduction. He writes to press Christians with the implications of that message from Jesus, namely, to cease from sin and to love one another.

The Big Picture

Jesus forgives sinners so that they can cease from sin and grow in love.

Reflection and Discussion

This passage is divided into three sections below. Skim the whole passage quickly and then read each section slowly before interacting with the questions under each heading. (Further insight is available in the notes on pages 2430–2431 of the ESV Study Bible, also available at esv.org.)

* * *

1. John's Authority: Being with Jesus (1:1–4)

John is an encourager. He writes in a manner that stirs our imagination as he speaks about Jesus. List below the different physical senses John evokes as he recalls the disciples' in-person experiences of Christ.

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John twice uses the term "fellowship" to describe our relationships with Christ, with the Father through Christ, and with one another in his church. How does John's description challenge us to refresh our vision of the church's gatherings?

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Compare the beginning of John's epistle with the beginning of his Gospel (John 1:1–18). List parallels that you note.

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2. John's Message: Retelling the Gospel (1:5–10)

John exposes three incorrect methods that some use in trying to qualify for fellowship with God. What are these three false bases for fellowship with God that John rejects (see the three "if we say" statements in vv. 6, 8, and 10)?

_____________________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________________ In between these three false claims, John weaves two marks of those who are accepted by God. What are these marks of genuine fellowship with God (see the "if we walk" and "if we confess" phrases in vv. 7 and 9)?

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Both marks of those in God's fellowship end with the same glorious promise. What is this promise for those who "walk" and "confess" in the way John describes (vv. 7b and 9b)? How does this promise enable our fellowship with the God of "light," in whom there is "no darkness" (v. 5)?

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3. John's Purpose: Renewing Fellowship (2:1–11)

Next, the apostle presents two purpose statements for his letter, each introduced with a word of address: "My little children, I am writing ..." (vv. 1–6) and "Beloved, I am writing ..." (vv. 7–11). In your own words, summarize the first purpose John gives for writing this letter (vv. 1–6).

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John's first purpose statement addresses sin and forgiveness, but his second purpose statement (vv. 7–11) concerns love. In addition to renewed communion with God, with whom else is our fellowship restored by the gospel?

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John compares the "old commandment" to love with the "new commandment" he heard from Jesus. Compare the Old Testament love commandment in Leviticus 19:18 with the new commandment from Jesus in John 13:34. What remains the same, and what is different?

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* * *

Read through the following three sections on Gospel Glimpses, Whole-Bible Connections, And Theological Soundings. Then take time to consider The Personal Implications these sections may have for you.

Gospel Glimpses

PROPITIATION. John identifies Jesus as both our "advocate with the Father" (2:1) and the "propitiation for our sins" (2:2). The title "advocate" points to the role Jesus undertakes to intercede on our behalf before the court of heaven. The title "propitiation" points to his becoming, by his sacrifice on the cross, the payment required to satisfy the damages caused by our sins and to quench the just wrath of God aroused by those sins. The word "propitiation" comes from the Latin word for "favor" (compare the English word "propitious"). Our sins justly deserve God's wrath, but Jesus' sacrifice provided the payment to satisfy heaven's justice. With God's wrath satisfied, the sacrifice of Jesus is said to "propitiate" or restore favor with God.

HOLINESS. Christians sometimes focus on the joy of forgiveness and neglect the other side of the gospel: renewal in holiness. John reminds us that the marvel of the gospel is that Jesus both forgives our sins and leads us into new holiness. He writes that the sum of God's holy commands is love (2:7–11; compare Matt. 22:37–40; Gal. 5:14). To be restored to holiness is to be renewed to a life of love for God and for one another. Sin breaks relationships. The gospel cleanses us from sin and renews us in holy love.

Whole-Bible Connections

IN THE BEGINNING. John is a serious student of the book of Genesis. He repeatedly references Genesis as he draws lessons and doctrines "from the beginning" (1 John 1:1; 2:7, 13, 14, 24; 3:8, 11; 2 John 5, 6; see also John 1:1, 2; 8:44; Rev. 3:14; 21:6; 22:13). Genesis 1:1 starts, "In the beginning," and uses the same term (arche) in the Septuagint (LXX; the Greek translation of the Old Testament) that John uses in his references to that verse. In this week's passage, John tells us that the man Jesus is more than a mere man. He is one and the same with "the word of life" (1 John 1:1; compare John 1:1) who brought the world into existence. John further points to Genesis when he identifies the love commandment as a commandment that we have had "from the beginning" (1 John 2:7); when he refers to the lesson of Cain and Abel (3:11–12; compare Gen. 4:1–16); and when he mentions the "devil" as the serpent who introduced sin "from the beginning" (1 John 3:8; compare John 8:44; Rev. 12:9; 20:2).

WRITING APOSTLES. The ministry of the apostles was primarily a work of in-person preaching, shepherding, and church planting. Through live proclamation, the apostles related the events and teachings of Jesus over and over. But as they approached the end of their lives, it was important to ensure that their testimony to the works of Jesus would continue. Whatever writing the apostles may have done early in their ministries, there are also references throughout the New Testament to the special urgency to write things down toward the end of their lives. Peter expresses this motivation for his writing (2 Pet. 1:12–15). John tells us that he and other apostles are doing the same (1 John 1:3–4).

Theological Soundings

FELLOWSHIP. John tends to use descriptive terms in his epistles in order to evoke richer experiences of the things he describes. One example of this is his word choice for describing the church in 1:3–4, 6–7. John describes the church as the assembly of those who hear and believe the testimony of the apostles. He uses the term "fellowship" (four times!) to describe these assemblies rather than the normal term "church." The Greek word is koinonia, and it refers to more than casual friendship. The Greek term indicates a partnership in which each member takes a stake in the success of the whole. (The J. R. R. Tolkien novel The Fellowship of the Ring is a good illustration of this concept of a "fellowship.") John uses this term to describe the nature of the church as a society whose members have mutual duties to one another.

SIN. When facing a court deposition, as an inquiring attorney is seeking evidence to condemn, it is natural for a defendant to hide as much as possible. But when talking with a doctor, whose inquiries are made in order to heal, a patient wants to bring every possible symptom and test result into the light. Similarly, John teaches us not to be afraid to acknowledge and confess our sins. Repentance and the resulting forgiveness are beautifully expressed in 1 John. Furthermore, John teaches us something fascinating about the nature of sin: after condemning sin in 2:1–6, John proceeds to show us the opposite of sin inverses 7–11. That opposite is "love." Once we understand this, we ought to yearn all the more to face our sins and repent of them, replacing them with genuine love for one another and for God.

Personal Implications

As you reflect on John's introductory lessons on the church, the gospel, and the beauty of Christian love, consider their relevance to your own life today. Write down your reflections under the three headings we have considered and on the passage as a whole.


Excerpted from "Knowing the Bible: 1-3 John, A 12-Week Study"
by .
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Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
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Table of Contents

Series Preface J. I. Packer Lane T. Dennis 6

Week 1 Overview 7

Week 2 This Is the Message (1 John 1:1-2:11) 13

Week 3 Do Not Love the World (1 John 2:12-17) 21

Week 4 Abide in Him (1 John 2:18-3:10) 29

Week 5 Love One Another (1 John 3:11-4:6) 37

Week 6 Love One Another, Continued (1 John 4:7-21) 45

Week 7 Children of God (1 John 5:1-12) 51

Week 8 That You May Know (1 John 5:13-21) 59

Week 9 Cover Letter to the Congregation, Part 1 (2 John 1-6) 67

Week 10 Cover Letter to the Congregation, Part 2 (2 John 7-13) 75

Week 11 Cover Letter to the Pastor (3 John 1-15) 81

Week 12 Summary and Conclusion 89

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