Monday: Read 1 John 4:1-21
If the letter to John were broken into two sections the first section of the letter would emphasize “this is the message,” namely that “God is light” (1:5). The second part of the letter then emphasizes that “this is the message” that “God is love” (3:11; 4:8). In both parts of the letter, John stresses that the people of God are to walk in the light or in love as evidence that they remain in Christ. After all, “everyone who loves is born of God and knows God” (7).
1 John 4 opens with a question that has been relevant for people of God in all ages. That is, how do you discern a Spirit-inspired prophet from one who merely claims to be Spirit inspired (1)? False prophets abounded in the OT era and the NT era has not proved any different.
John begins by affirming, “Many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1). As a result, it is necessary to “test the spirits” (1). For John, the test is to discern whether or not the spirit acknowledges that Jesus has come in the flesh (2). Those that do not acknowledge Jesus’ incarnation in the flesh are the “spirit of the antichrist” (3). That the false prophets “have gone out into the world” (1) suggests that they have broken away from the house churches that John was overseeing.
It is critical to recognize that John’s words were meant to encourage his readers. He states emphatically, “You are from God” (4). John knows that they are from God because they love God and are loved by God (10).
Love is critical for John and this section provides one of the classic descriptions of love. For John, love begins with God because “God is love” (8) and He “first loved us” (19) in that He “sent His Son” (11). John then concludes that since “God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (11).
Questions to ponder/discuss:
- It appears that John’s stress on loving God had two goals. First, he wanted to comfort and assure his readers that their faith was genuine in light of their love for God. Second, he wanted to identify the false teachers and those who were causing trouble in the churches.
- It is important to recognize that John’s test to discern true and false spirits was a result of the fact that some were denying that Jesus has come in the flesh. In other words, the test today might be different because false prophets might be claiming something different than those in John’s day.
- With this in mind, what test do you think John would apply to your context?
Tuesday: Read 1 John 5:1-21
For John, to love God is to love and believe in Jesus. Thus, John continues his effort to encourage his readers by reminding them that those who believe that “Jesus is the Christ” are those who have been born of God (1). He adds that those who love God also love Jesus (1). And they are those who “observe His commandments” (2). As a result, they are those who “overcome” (4).
John then provides confirmation as to who Jesus is (6-12). Namely that Jesus is the One who has come by water (birth) and blood (death) (6).
That the letter was written to encourage John’s readers is evident from the closing remarks in 13-15. John begins with “These things I have written to you who believe” (13). Then he adds, “so that you may know that you have eternal life” (13).
The letter closes with a remark about the power of intercessory prayer (16). John provides an exception, however. Namely, that there is no need to pray for one who commits a sin “leading to death” (16-17). The difficulty in determining what John means is two-fold. First, it is likely that John’s readers knew what he was referring to and so he had no need to expound upon it. Second, there is nothing in the rest of the NT that explicitly indicates what constitutes a sin leading to death.
The letter closes with more words of encouragement and a reminder of the security of salvation for those who put their hope in Christ: “And we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life” (20).
Questions to ponder/discuss:
- What is the sin that leads to death? Some suggest that John has something like the blasphemy of the Spirit in view (Mark 3:28-29). This, of course, is difficult to determine and is dependent on a particular understanding of what constitutes blaspheming the Holy Spirit. What is important for our understanding is the gravity of sin. As John says, “All unrighteousness is sin” (17).
- John likely has in view that there is a state in which some have come to in which they are so hardened against God that they cannot be forgiven. Since, however, God judges the heart we should be careful about judging others and their ability to be forgiven by some standard that we have established. Sometimes the most hardened opponents of Christ become some of the most dynamic Christ-followers.
- Spend some time in prayer by first acknowledging that Jesus is Lord. Then thank Him for His grace by which we are saved and the assurance that comes with this. Then ask for His Spirit to empower you to be faithful in obeying His commands—especially His command to love others. Then pray for those whom the Lord has placed on your heart that they too might find forgiveness.
Wednesday: Read 2 John 1-13
The author identifies himself as “the elder” (1). Whoever he was, he was overseeing a network of community churches. With this in view it is difficult to discern who the “chosen lady and her children” were (1). She was either a woman Christ-follower and her children or a local community of Christ-followers (more likely the case). That it was a church to whom John (“the elder) was writing gains support from the closing greeting: “The children of your chosen sister greet you” (13).
John notes he has a great joy that some of the Christians in the community to whom he was writing were “walking in truth” (4). As with 1 John, this letter defines walking in truth in accord with the carrying out of the command to “love one another” (5).
As with 1 John, there were some who were not walking in this command (7-11). John’s concern was that they had failed to recognize the gravity of the false teachers’ errors. When he says, “do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting; for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds” (10-11), it is the false teachers, welcoming them into the church, and the giving of them a platform to teach that John has in mind.
The brevity of the letter is due in part to John’s intent to visit them and deal with matters directly (12).
Questions to ponder/discuss:
- 2 John has led to some misunderstanding and at times an inconsistent ethic. We know that we are to love even our enemies. Yet, some have read this letter and concluded that Christians who do not hold to a certain standard (usually a doctrinal standard, but it could be an ethical standard) are not to be welcomed in the church (some even say that we should not welcome them into our homes, but this fails to recognize that the ”home” John has in mind was the local house church). The result is an attitude of arrogance and even a measure of disdain for others who do not align with them.
- How do we reconcile this? We do so by understanding that John has the local church and false teachers in view. That is, we are to love everyone and treat everyone with the same measure of love that Christ gave us. We are not, however, to give everyone a platform in the church to teach and influence the community with false teachings. Everyone is welcome and loved. This does not mean that they are to be given a platform to teach.
- What are some ways in which this principle might manifest itself in your community?
Thursday: Read 3 John 1-15
Again the author identifies himself as “the elder” (1). The recipient of this letter was a man named Gaius (1)—which was a very common Roman name and hard to identify with any particular known person. It appears that Gaius may have come to Christ through John’s work (“children”: 4). And that he was leading a house church.
John has received a report that Gaius was remaining faithful (3, 6). Gaius’ faithfulness was manifested when he welcomed those whom John sent to him—even though they were strangers to Gaius (5).
John now wants Gaius to send them out well—that is, to provide for some of their needs (6). For John, the church “ought to support such men, so that we may be fellow workers with the truth” (8). If the church doesn’t provide for its own then they would have to find support outside the church (i.e., the “gentiles”; 7), and the church would be considered as those who do not care for their own.
John also writes to Gaius to encourage him to not be like Diotrephes (9-11). It appears that Diotrephes did not listen to John’s encouragement about receiving those whom he sent by providing them with support. In fact, Diotrephes even kicked those who did support John’s delegation out of the church (10).
John commends Demetrius who was likely the letter carrier (12). John thus wants to ensure Gaius that Demetrius is to be welcomed and trusted.
As with 2 John, the brevity of this letter is due to John’s intent to visit and deal with matters directly (13-14).
Questions to ponder/discuss:
- Caring for one another in fellowship as well as financial support is critical for the body of Christ. Those who teach and lead in the church often sacrifice “good-paying jobs” in order to serve in the church. The church thus has the responsibility to reciprocate by providing them with support.
- Why do you suspect that Diotrephes refused to welcome the delegation that John sent? And why would he kick those who did support them out of the church?
Friday: Read Jude 1-25
The letter to Jude often sits untouched at the back of the NT. There are a number of reasons why but the most notable is the fact that Jude quotes writings outside of the Bible (the Assumption of Moses: 9; the Book of Enoch: 14).
The author of this letter is believed to be Jude the brother of Jesus—though many doubt this because the Greek of Jude is very polished and it is questionable how a Jew from rural Galilee could have written in such fine Greek. Of course, it is always possible that Jude used a scribe.
The letter of Jude is considered one of the “general letters” in that it is addressed “to those who have been called” (1). At the same time, verse 3 suggests that it was written to a particular group and the rest of the letter certainly appears to have a particular issue and a particular group in mind.
The date of the writing is uncertain, but it does appear that this letter was written before 2 Peter. In fact, it is quite likely that Peter had Jude in front of him before he penned 2 Peter.
The letter was written to address some who were introducing destructive teachings in the church. Jude says that he wrote in order to encourage his readers to “contend earnestly for the faith” (3).
It is hard to discern precisely what the heresy behind this letter was. It seems to have been similar to the problems addressed in the letter to the Colossians. If so, then the issue was that there were some false teachers who claimed to be the recipients of visions (8). As such, these false teachers rejected angels because they considered themselves as among the spiritual leaders. Jude has strong warnings against these false teachers (5-16).
The letter closes with further warnings against the teachers and with words of exhortation to his readers (17-25). Jude tells his readers that they are to remember what the apostles taught (17). The apostles had said that such teachers would come (18-19). In addition, they are to build themselves up (20), pray in the Spirit (20; which may mean to pray in accordance with the will of the Spirit), keep themselves in God’s love (21), and wait for Jesus Christ (22). This includes having “mercy on some” (22), and to “save others” (23).
The letter closes with a fabulous doxology reminding them of God’s ability to keep them “from stumbling” and “to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy” (24).
Questions to ponder/discuss:
- What do you think of the fact that Jude quotes non-biblical Jewish writings? (note: Paul quotes pagan poets in Acts 17:28).
- What are some things we are to do that would assist us in being built up in the faith and help us to stay in the love of God (20-21)?
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 This guide is meant to be done either as a group study over the course of 2 or 4 meetings (Day 1-5; 6-10; 11-15; 16-20), or as a private devotion over the course of 4 weeks (or a calendar month—5 lessons per week).