By: Raymond Harris
Regarding Scripture: First John 5.13
Note to the Reader
I encourage you to invest additional time reading the Epistle of First John in conjunction with this article.
Seeing is believing. What if reading is believing? Since the arrival of the World Wide Web it seems that we are more skeptical of the things we read, if the reader is not, then this author certainly is. After all, any one can claim any thing, at any time, any where in the world. What is interesting is that it has been true throughout human history. This dilemma is not unique to our time. Yet somehow when it is in print, it becomes more real, more tangible, more believable.
The Writing: Has Purpose
It matters not the author, nor does it matter their material, the author always has a purpose for writing. In First John the thirteenth verse of chapter five, John stated that his purpose was for his audience to “believe on the name of the Son of God.” In order for the audience to believe, (whether the original audience or modern, or whether of many people or one individual) the audience has to be convinced of the veracity of the written material.
In order for any audience member to believe the author’s content, the audience has to first give some kind of credibility to the author. In other words, the audience has to esteem the author as some kind of authority (like an expert, if my audience will permit) which means the audience has given permission to the author to put thoughts into the audience’s collective and individual minds. If the audience does not permit the author authority to speak, then it matters not what the author states, their material is rejected. Yet, every author has a purpose for writing, even this author at this moment.
We cannot claim that everyone that has read John’s First Epistle was open to his ideas about the Messiah. We as believers acclaim Holy Spirit inspiration to him and that gives extra authority with his letters and thus his letters have double importance to us as believers. But not everyone comes to John’s First Epistle with such conviction.
An audience is usually a mixed bunch. Authors write knowing that their audience can be friendly or hostile, analytical and critical, careful or cynical, believing or unbelieving. Authors write in order to inform, or to persuade, to convict of wrongful thought, to persuade to alternate belief structures or to edify and uplift. Sometimes authors state their objectives, other times they do not and therefore the audience has to determine the author’s motive as best they can. But John did not leave us uninformed, he did tell us why, in order for his audience to “believe on the name of the Son of God.”
The Focus: Eternal Life
We know that John wants his audience to “believe on the name of the Son of God” but did we realize that John made an assumption that his audience already believes on the name of the Son of God? Consider the arrangement:
These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God
John has already assumed the “you” (his audience) to believe that Jesus is God’s son and they believe on the name of Jesus. It is interesting to me that he knows this, assumes this, yet tells them he writes so that they:
may know that ye have eternal life,
and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.1
As an audience, it is important that we believe that John is communicating truth, but that he is also communicating truthfully. It is interesting that he does not simply work from an assumed similarity of background, he wants his audience to “know.” Know is an odd word, because it can mean just about every type of awareness and knowledge that one can have. Take for example my knowledge of electricity.
I know what electricity is, but I don’t know electricity. In fact, I know that electricity can kill me if handled improperly, so I stay away from it, and don’t learn much about it. I trust those who work with electricity to wire my house correctly, to wire my electrical devices properly so that all I have to do is plug the cord into the outlet and things work. Since those have worked for me (the experts doing their job correctly, and my devices work for me when I need them to) and I know that electricity makes the device work, does not automatically mean that I know how electricity works, how it flows or why it does what it does.
In what way does John want his audience to know eternal life? Simple awareness? Full functioning knowledge? To keep with the electricity example, does John just want his audience to plug in and use the electricity, or does John want his audience to know that there is more to know. It seems proper to conclude that if John’s letter is working against Gnostics and their special knowledge, then John is wanting his audience to have something more, beyond just being plugged in. Being plugged into God’s electric current is awesome and wonderful, but learning why it works and the way it works allows one not to be afraid of something that can kill by casting one into the second death.2 May the LORD bless us in knowing eternal life.3