The letters attributed to John include two short letters and a sermon. The author of 1 John does not mention his name, but in the two shorter letters the author refers to himself as "the elder." In 1 John the author tells us, "It was there from the beginning . . . the Word which gives life." This "eternal life" was "with the Father and was made visible to us." Furthermore, "It is this which we have seen and heard that we declare to you" so that you "may share with us in a common life," which "we share with the Father and his Son Jesus Christ." The author says, "We are writing this in order that our joy may be complete."
Clearly, the perspective of this letter is close to that of the gospel of John, which is why the letter is attributed to the same name. It may have been written for the same community of faith for which the gospel of John was written. The message of the letter, which the community claims to "have heard from him," is that "God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all." We are called to live in this light and by doing so "share a common life" and are cleansed "from all sin" by "the blood of Jesus."
Like Paul, the author of 1 John knows that we are not free of sin. "If we claim to be sinless, we are self-deceived and the truth is not in us." We may, however, "confess our sins" because God "is just and may be trusted to forgive our sins." Jesus Christ has sacrificed himself to atone not only "for our sins" but also "for the sins of the whole world." The letter recognizes that false teachings threaten the integrity of the Christian witness. "Anyone who denies that Jesus is the Christ is nothing but a liar. He is the antichrist, for he denies both the Father and the Son." In these harsh words we hear echoes of the argument of John 8 against the Jewish Christians who refused to accept that Jesus is the Messiah.
The first letter reveals that there has been a split in the community of faith following the teachings of John. The "antichrists" who "have already appeared" include those who "left our ranks." The author says they "never really belonged to us; if they had, they would have stayed with us." In the second letter these antichrists are described as "deceivers" who "have gone out into the world, people who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh."
The measure of the community's faith, the letters of John tell us, is love. "The message you have heard from the beginning is that we should love one another." Nevertheless, the author's emphasis is not on loving our enemies, as in the gospel attributed to Matthew, but on loving other members in the church who reject the false teachings of the antichrists and deceivers. "This is how we know what love is: Christ gave his life for us. And we in our turn must give our lives for our fellow-Christians."
The letters tell us God's commandment is simply "that we should give our allegiance to his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as Christ commanded us." The good news of the gospel is that "God is Love." If we dwell in love, then we will dwell in God and God in us.