Background of 1 John

What Is the Book of 1 John About?

Time: 5 Minutes

Hey Friend!

Our editorial team wrote this book introduction for you. We hope it helps you find your bearings in the Bible story, and inspires you to open this book of the Bible!

If you had to describe God using just one word, what would it be? Try finishing the sentence, “God is ______?”

What word did you choose?

In his letter, John writes, “God is love” (1 John 4:8). John uses other words and images to help us understand God, but ultimately love is the one word that best sums up who God is. John celebrates God’s love, and he urges his hearers to love God in return by obeying his commands and by loving others (1 John 4:11; 5:2-3).

It’s clear from their style and content that the three letters of John were written by the same man who wrote the gospel of John. Before you read 1 John, it might help you to look back at John’s Gospel about Jesus’ life because his letters assume we already know his larger work, and they build upon it.

John wrote his gospel so his readers could “believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” (John 20:31). Now, he writes his first letter to people who have already believed. His purpose in writing 1 John is to help followers of Jesus find complete confidence and joy in their new life in Christ (1 John 1:4). They can be confident that they have been saved when they see God’s love working in them to produce obedience, love for God’s people, and service to others.

Though we include the book of 1 John with the other letters of the New Testament, it’s more like a reflection than a letter. Today it would probably be a blog post. One of the difficulties of reading 1 John is that John doesn’t follow middle-school rules for writing by starting with a topic, giving support, and marching forward to a conclusion. Instead, he makes a point and then circles back to make the same point again in a slightly different way. Then he circles back again… and again to a main theme—that those who have been saved by God’s love will live in a distinct way.

His purpose in writing 1 John is to help followers of Jesus find complete confidence and joy in their new life in Christ (1 John 1:4).

This big idea becomes clear as we read 1 John: God is love and this truth will transform our lives. Sometimes Christians mistakenly treat believing in Jesus as a golden ticket to heaven which will be important someday but is irrelevant to our lives now. While it’s true that all we must do to receive God’s offer of salvation is to repent of sin and trust Jesus, John writes to show us that those who truly believe in Jesus depend upon God’s love, live obediently to God’s commands, and are full of joy.

John urges fellow children of God to abide in God. (1 John 2:24-25; 3:9-10). Abiding in God means depending upon him like fruit depends upon the vine for nourishment (John 15). John circles back repeatedly to the idea that we are dearly loved children and that we also should love one another (1 John 3:16-17, 23; 4:7, 20). If we truly abide in God and love God, we will obey him, and our obedience can often be measured by how we love others.

As you read 1 John, consider what it means for God to be love. How do we see this truth through the life and person of Jesus? How do we see God’s love in our everyday lives? Finally, hear John’s call to a life that is transformed by God’s love. Our belief in Jesus is never just an intellectual box we tick. It reshapes our own loves—our values, priorities, and ambitions. Most importantly, God’s love forms how we love others. Abiding in God’s amazing love is the secret to complete joy now and forever!