This month we begin a study of the first letter of the apostle John. We learn from Paul that it was the task of the apostles to preach the gospel and lay the foundation of the church. But each of the apostles has a specific function in laying this foundation. Paul does not do the same thing as John. Peter has a different task from Paul or John, and Jude is called to yet another ministry.
Watchman Nee, in his very helpful book What Shall This Man Do?, suggests that these three ministries of John, Peter, and Paul can he distinguished by, and are characterized by, the tasks that each of these men were performing when God called them.
Peter, for instance, was called as a fisherman, and we are told in the gospels that the moment of his call occurred when the Lord found him casting a net into the sea. That work of fishing for men is characteristic of the apostle Peter. He is always beginning things, initiating new programs. To the apostle Paul, however, was committed a different task. When Paul was called, he was a tentmaker. He built things. This was the ministry committed to the apostle Paul. He not only lays the foundation, but he builds upon it. He calls himself
an expert builder (1 Corinthians 3:10).
But John is different from both of these. When John was called, he was found mending his nets. John is a mender. His written ministry comes in after the church has been in existence for several decades and at a time when apostasy has begun to creep in. There was need of a voice to call people back to the original foundations; John calls us back to truth. When we begin to drift, when some false concept creeps into our thinking or into our actions, it is John who is ordained of the Lord to call us back, to mend the nets, and to set things straight.
John, Peter, and Paul all have different ministries. It was Peter's task to talk about the kingdom of God and Paul about the church of God, but John is concerned with the family of God. These are all the same thing, but they are viewed from three different angles. It is into the intimacy of the family circle that the apostle John takes us. Therefore, this letter can be properly described as introducing us to life with the Father, the intimacy of the family circle of God.
If you read through the letter, you will find there are four different reasons John gives for writing this letter. One is in chapter 1, verse 4:
We write this to make our joy complete. Then in chapter 2, verse 1, he says,
My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. And in chapter 2, verse 26, he gives us the third reason:
I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray. In chapter 5, verse 13, he gives us the fourth reason:
I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.
If you think about these four reasons for a moment, you will find something remarkable about them. He is first concerned about the joy of companionship, which is, of course, the solution to the problem of loneliness. There is nothing more helpful in curing loneliness than a family circle. When you get lonely, where do you want to go? Home! To the family! So John writes,
We write this to make our joy complete, answering the fear and problem of loneliness. Then he says,
I write this to you so that you will not sin. Here he is dealing with another great threat to human happiness, the problem of guilt. Again, he says,
I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray. In other words, he is writing to protect us, in order that we might be free from deception. Here is another great problem area of life: Where do we get answers? How do we know what is true? That is what this letter is written for, that we might be free from deception. Finally, he says,
I am writing this to assure you—that you might find security, freedom from failure. Who of us is not concerned with that? How do you find your way through life successfully? How do we know we are not going to fail? John says,
I write this in order that you might have assurance, be secure, free from failure.