1 John is a powerful, vibrant read! There’s a lot packed into this brief letter that disciples need to hear. But as with any other writing, there are a few things about John and his style that are helpful to recognize if we are to glean everything that he has for us.
John’s first letter is macro in scope, not micro. It’s not advanced specialized studies, it’s closer to Following Jesus 101. He writes about Jesus, walking in the light, obeying commandments, loving one another, and knowing God. Nothing is developed in great detail—he more or less states a truth and moves on. That’s not to diminish what John has to say. In fact, the letter is a wonderful statement of first principles for the new disciple (imagine it at the end of Acts 2), and a refreshing reminder for the mature believer of what it means to be a follower of Jesus.
John speaks in sweeping generalizations, he is not nuanced. You’re either walking in the light or not. You’re either keeping the commands or you’re not. If you say you love God but hate your brother or sister—you’re a liar. He’s very matter-of-fact about all of this.
John’s style of writing is more layered than linear. Paul starts at A, moves on to B, then goes to C, etc. Well, that’s a little oversimplified. He starts at A, moves on to B, talks about J and maybe L, then comes back to C. But still, he tends to move in more or less a straight line that you can outline and see the progression of thought.
John’s letter is not like that. Scour the first chapter and you’ll see that he lays down an opening track of truth about Jesus, the message from Jesus (God is light), and how that message relates to the false claims others were making as introduced by the phrase, if we claim (v. 6,8,10). Then in 2:1-2, he gives a conclusion to the section. All of that looks pretty linear and if it ended there it would be, but John spends the remainder of his letter essentially going back over these basic themes. He might say it in a little different context, put a different twist to it, or add a new element, but he’s embellishing what he has already laid down. Evidence of this style can be seen in how John has about a dozen different phrases he repeats throughout the letter (know, love, truth, world, etc.). If you’re a linear person, reading his letter can be a challenge because he seems to just be repeating himself—and he is, but it’s more than that, it is layered and each layer has its purpose.
John addresses issues, but he does it in his own way. He deals with them as they relate to the fundamental themes he wishes to emphasize. Because he’s direct, it’s not hard to see when he’s addressing something (for 2:18ff for example, where he deals with those who were denying the humanity of Jesus). But because he’s committed to his message, they are always addressed in a larger context and never in isolation.
1 John has a wealth of enriching truths for the follower of Jesus!