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That We May Know the Word of Life

June 30, 2024

Teacher: John McLeod
Scripture: 1 John 1:1-4

Sermon Points

  1. The Author’s First Letter
  2. The Author’s Testimony
  3. The Author’s Fellowship and Joy


1 John 1:1–4 (ESV)

  • (1) 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—
  • (2) 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—
  • (3) 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.
  • (4) And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.


Report from the Wilds

Took 25 teens to Youth Camp this week.

  • Romans 6
  • Put off — renew — put on
  • kids did great. you all should be very proud

The Power of Personal Testimony

Let’s do a mental exercise together. Imagine you have several buckets in front of you. Consider all of the things that you “know.” Now put all of those things into a bucket labeled for how you came to know the thing. I’m not trying to use highly technical categories from the field of Epistemology (the study of how you know what you know); I’m just want us to have a few categories in our mind.


  • Personal experience bucket (I saw; I tasted; I heard; I touched)
  • Logic bucket (I deduced; I figured out; I reasoned)
  • Intuition bucket (I felt; it ought to be…. This is a little less rigorous than “logic”.)
  • Testimony of others bucket (a friend told me…; my parents taught me…; a coworker told me…)


  • The Best Sandwich (Sean of the South)
  • Grits vs. Cream of Wheat
  • Mac vs. P.C.
  • Calvinist vs. Arminian
  • Baptist vs. Presbyterian

Now consider your buckets again. How many of the things in your “personal experience,” “Logic,” or “Intuition” buckets first began in the “testimony of others” bucket?

For Example, some of you know the glories of a tomato sandwich in the summer, but you only tried it because of the testimony of someone else.

Why this series, “That You May Know”?

We are beginning a new series this morning from the First Letter of John in the New Testament. We’re calling the series, “That You May Know.” The goal is for each of us to have certainty about two very significant things. Certainty about Christ and certainty about eternal life (Stott, TNTC).

The goal is that you would eventually know these through personal experience in your own relationship with God. But, the Apostle John is going to begin by sharing his on personal testimonies with us, and encourage us to believe based on his own personal experiences.

We did a short series on “assurance” nearly two years ago, and the elders thought we should spend more time on the topic through the book of 1 John.

We will be spending 10 weeks in this letter. I think you’ll find this letter easy to read, but not always as simple to understand or apply. John uses simple vocabulary, but profound truths.

We’ve taken our series title from John’s own words in chapter 5.

1 John 5:13 (ESV) — I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.

Sermon Points:

After exploring some of the basics of John’s first letter, we’ll look at:

  • The Author’s Testimony
  • The Author’s Fellowship and Joy

Pastoral Prayer

  • any struggling with the assurance of salvation

I. The Author’s First Letter

The author

Unlike many of the letters in the new testament (we sometimes call these “epistles”), there is no greeting that names the author or the recipients. For example, here is the greeting in the book of Colossians:

  • Colossians 1:1–2 (ESV)Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ at Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father.

That really simplifies things. We don’t get any such greeting in John’s first letter. 2 John and 3 John both name the author, but not with his name directly. They both begin “The elder…”

However, we can deduce that the Apostle John is the author of this letter, along with 2 John, 3 John, Revelation, and of course, the Gospel of John.

Some scholars have claimed that there was a different “John” called “John the Elder” that was different than the disciple of Jesus. But, overwhelmingly, the consensus is that the Apostle John wrote all five of these books in our new testament. The similarities in vocabulary, themes, writing style, as well as the testimony of the early church, all point to John as the author.

The time of writing

Our best guess for the timing of the writing of 1 John is somewhere in the mid-90s AD, making it one of the later books in our NT. The Gospel of John was likely written a few years before this letter, and Revelation a few years after.

History records that John outlived most or all of the other disciples. This is interesting considering the last few verses of John’s Gospel.

  • John 21:20–24 (ESV) — Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who also had leaned back against him during the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” So the saying spread abroad among the brothers that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?” This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true.

It is interesting to consider the timeline. This could have been 30 years after the martyrdom of Paul. It was also at least 20 years after the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. There has been enough time for false teachers and doctrinal heterodoxy to enter the church.

The audience

As we said earlier, we do not have a greeting that tells us to whom this letter is addressed. History points to John having an extended time of ministry in the city of Ephesus. It seems reasonable to conclude that he wrote this to be some kind of circular letter or brochure that would have been spread to the church in Ephesus and the surrounding areas. There are seven mentioned in the book of Revelation: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.

Some would refer to this audience as the Johanine community, those who had been under the influence of John’s teachings.

The occasion

We don’t know the exact situation, but we can piece together some of the details.

There seems to be a group of believers breaking away from the church community, teaching different doctrines than John.

1 John 2:18–19 (ESV) — Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.

One of the purposes of John’s letter is to write against these false teachers (whom he calls antichrists). One of the main issues seems to be that some were teaching discrepancies about the nature and person of Christ, as well as the place of Christian obedience and ethics.

The letter has traditionally been read as a polemic against these false teachers—a correction to their teachings and lifestyles. That is certainly one of the effects of his letter.

But, we must not view the letter as strictly an argument against the false teachings or false teachers. There is a much more positive aspect to this letter. John makes it clear that he is actually writing to give the true believes in the community assurance and confidence in their salvation. His primary purpose is to encourage the church. This is a very important point to remember as we read the book.

The overall structure

We’ve already mentioned that John’s first letter is different than other letters in the New Testament, lacking the greeting, thanksgiving, and closing remarks.

But we also notice differences in how he structures his writings. It is different from Luke-Acts where Luke carefully records and reports historical events in a systematic way. It is also very different from Paul with his systematic, linear, logical arguments.

Instead, 1 John is written with some rhetorical devices, common in Greek culture, used to drive a point home.

One of the main structural aspects that you may notice is that John comes back to the same set of topics over and over again. This makes an expository series through the book a little tricky, but we’ll do our best to navigate it with you. The author circles back, amplifying his themes again and again.

The rhetoric of 1 John is challenging. John rarely sustains a clear line of argument for more than a few lines or verses. He wanders from subject to subject, unencumbered by any discernible outline. Yet if he has no plan, he does follow a pattern: after leaving a subject he often returns to it. His style of thought has been termed circular rather than linear. It has also been termed symphonic, in that he states themes, moves away from them, and then revisits them with variations.

  • The ESV Study Bible

What to look for: the main themes

As you study the book at home, in preparation for Sunday sermons, what should you be looking for?

As I already pointed out, John has given us a statement of why he wrote the book.

1 John 5:13 (ESV) — I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.

The question for us to consider is, what are the “these things” which he has written for us. What does he want us to consider in order to have assurance?

There are three main areas that John will go back to over and over again, and represent the bulk of his content. These are what you should be looking for as you read through his letter.

  • Doctrinal fidelity (doctrine of Christ) — Right Belief
  • Ethical Fidelity (obey // stop sinning) — Right Behavior
  • Relational Fidelity (love one another) — Right Relationships

Later, we will explore how those themes tie into assurance, but for now, just know that you’ll be looking for them.

II. The Author’s Testimony

1 John 1:1–2 (ESV)

  • (1) 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
  • (2) 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—

John jumps right in. No small talk. No niceties. Just testimony about the reality of Christ. Before he makes any direct argument, before he talks about their circumstances, we observe that John is most keenly aware of the REALITY of the word of life. This reality frames his life. This reality frames his letter. He wants this reality to frame our life, too.

Remember that John is an aged man by this point. As far as we know all of the other apostles had already died. But, he remembers the One that changed his life forever. It is front of mind. When he thinks back over what is important to him, Jesus comes to mind. In a letter in which John will tell us how to live and how to love, he begins with the word of life.

  • 1 John 1:1–2 (ESV) — 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—

Peter has a similar response in his second letter.

2 Peter 1:16–18 (ESV) — For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain.

Both Peter and John are appealing to their personal encounters with the Lord Jesus Christ. They were eyewitnesses. They are not relying on the testimony of others. This is not third hand. They were there. And, they were changed.

John appeals to hearing, sight, and touch, perhaps referencing the event at the end of his gospel.

John 20:27 (ESV) — Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.”

This is around 65 years after the events of the cross and resurrection.

What does John tell us about Christ in these verses?

from the beginning

He begins, “That which was from the beginning…” What are the actual things which could be described this way? I guess that depends on what we mean by beginning.

The beginning of what? Eternity? Creation? The Ministry of Jesus?

Certainly John experienced the Lord during his earthly ministry, but I think John is referring to something before that. It reminds us of the beginning to his gospel.

John 1:1–4 (ESV) — In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men.

John 1:14 (ESV) — And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Right here at the start, John is reminding his readers that the Christ was not merely an earthly man. He existed before all time with the Father.

In verse 2, John says this life was “made manifest.” He was revealed. He became visible.

Testify AND Proclaim

Once the eternal life was revealed in the person of Jesus Christ, John testifies to it and proclaims it. Testify is more personal and individual. He bears witness. Proclaim is public. John didn’t keep this message to himself.

His message is supremely concerned with the historical, audible, visible, tangible manifestation of the eternal. He could hardly have conveyed his meaning more forcefully. He is vouching for his message from his own personal experience. It consists not of ‘cleverly invented stories’ (2 Pet. 1:16), but of a historical revelation verified by the three highest of the five human senses: hearing, sight and touch.

  • John R. W. Stott, The Letters of John, TNTC, 30.

word of life

The message that John proclaims is concerning the “word of life.” It’s not until the end of verse 3 that John identifies the “that which” and “word of life” and “eternal life” as Jesus Christ himself.

This “Word” has existed from the beginning. He is eternal life. and John heard, saw, and touched him during his earthly ministry.

III. The Author’s Fellowship and Joy

1 John 1:3 (ESV)

  • (3) 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.

Now John gives us one of the reasons he is testifying to the Word of Life. He gives us a “so that” statement, which is really helpful.


John wants his readers to have fellowship with him and with the Father and Son.

Fellowship can take on several senses in the New Testament, and we add a few in our own context. We often use the word as a substitute for “spending time with” or “being friends with.” It becomes shorthand for Christians getting together. This not totally inappropriate, but we should be careful not to cheapen the term.

It’s used in the NT to indicate sharing money or resources with someone.

  • Hebrews 13:16 (ESV) — Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

It’s also used to talk about being partners in a gospel endeavor together.

  • Philippians 1:5 (ESV) — because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.

John is using it more broadly here to indicate participation in the body of Christ together, similar to Paul saying that we are “members” of one another and members of the Body of Christ.

Christian fellowship is not the sentimental and superficial attachment of a random collection of individuals, but the profoundly mutual relationship of those who remain “in Christ,” and therefore belong to each other (cf. 3:23–24).

  • Stephen S. Smalley, Word Biblical Commentary, 12–15.

Part of what John is doing is excluding the false teachers, with their wrong teachings about Christ or obedience from this fellowship. John is reminding his readers, that it’s those who embrace the truth about Jesus who share in fellowship with John and with the true church.

John doesn’t want them to be led astray by false teachings about Jesus that cannot deliver fellowship with God or deliver eternal life.


1 John 1:4 (ESV)

  • (4) And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.

How will John’s joy be made complete?

  • by those he is responsible for spiritually holding to the true, revealed Christ unto eternal life.

3 John 4 (ESV) — I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.

But, it’s not just John’s joy, it’s “ours” as well.

Conclusion / Application

Have you believed the testimony of John and the other apostles?

  • 2 Peter 1:19–21 (ESV) — And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
  • Romans 10:17 (ESV) — So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

Have you personally experienced the Word of Life?

  • John 17:3 (ESV) — And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

Do you personally give testimony to what the Word of Life has done in your life?

  • The place of personal testimony. Many of us came to faith because of the testimony of others (pastor, Sunday school teacher, parent, friend)

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