eluding our idols: 20 questions on 1 John 1.1-4 & 5.21

This coming Sunday (Dec. 7) at 9:00 a.m., some of our adult classes at MoSt Church start the winter class quarter and will focus on a study of John’s letters entitled Eluding Our Idols. This study’s schedule, in the class I’ll lead (the combined 20/20 and builder-boomer class), looks like this:

1.1-4; 5.21  –  Dec. 7, 2014
1.5-2.6  –  Dec. 14
2.7-11; 3.13-24  –  Dec. 21
2.12-17  –  Dec. 28
2.18-27; 4.1-6  –  Jan. 4, 2015
2.28-3.12  –  Jan. 11
4.7-16a  –  Jan. 18
4.16b-5.5  –  Jan. 25
5.6-21  –  Feb. 1
2 John  –  Feb. 8
3 John  –  Feb. 15
summation (or catch-up)  –  Feb. 22, 2015

To start this study, we’ll reflect on two texts that stand like bookends to John’s first letter: 1 John 1.1-4 and 5.21. Two statements in these texts will powerfully shape our whole study of 1 John (and for that matter, all three of John’s letters). Those statements are “Our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ” (1.3b) and “Little children, guard yourselves from idols!” (5.21)

To help you get ready for this encounter with God’s word and our discussion of it, following is: (1) the text of 1 John 1.1-4 and 5.21 and (2) twenty questions and exercises go along with this reading. Catch this word from God’s Spirit and be challenged!

receiving this word in our mind

We announce to you what existed from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have seen and our hands handled, about the word of life. The life was revealed, and we have seen, and we testify and announce to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us. What we have seen and heard, we also announce it to you so that you can have fellowship with us. Our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our joy can be complete. (1 John 1.1-4 CEB)

Little children, guard yourselves from idols! (1 John 5.21 CEB)

wrestling with this word with our mind

1. What does an “idol” look like today in the 21st century United States? What are some of the most common idols in our society today?

2. What are some idols to which you have found yourself strongly allured or have even served … or still sometimes serve?

3. This text (1.1-4) sounds like it was written by an eyewitness. How important is it to you that the person making these statements was a literal eyewitness of Christ? Why?

4. The apostle John is commonly understood to be the author of the letter we know as 1 John. What are some of the accounts recorded in the Gospel of John that come to your mind as to what John heard, saw with his own eyes, or touched?

5. Which is more real for you: things you’ve experienced with one or more of your “five senses” or things you experience beyond the realm of those five? Make a list of some matters that are real to you that you have never seen, heard, touched, tasted, or smelled.

6. Was it easier for someone who had actually seen, heard, and touched Jesus to believe? Is it easier or more difficult for us today to believe Jesus, not having literally seen, heard, or touched him? Why?

7. Read and reflect on John 1.1-5. What connects do you sense between it and 1 John 1.1-4?

8. What, or who, is this “word of life” in 1 John 1.1b? How do you know?

9. The Greek word translated “announce” (“proclaim” or “declare”) in 1 John 1.2-3 is the word anangello. What does word this word remind you of and why?

10. What, or who, is this “eternal” in 1 John 1.2 that has been revealed to us? Does the “life” mentioned in vs. 2a and the “life” mentioned in vs. 2b refer to the same thing or person or do they refer to different matters? Explain.

11. What does it mean, in this context, to have “fellowship” (1.3)?

12. Is it possible to have fellowship with the Father, but not his Son, or vice-versa? (vs. 3b) Explain. Why might a God-seeker even want to have fellowship with one, but not the other?

13. In vs. 3b, Jesus is specifically referred to as God’s “Son” and as the “Christ.” What does it mean for Jesus to be God’s “son?” What does it mean for Jesus to be “Christ?”

14. There is a question as to the exact wording of the original text of 1 John 1.4. The text could read “We write these things so that our joy can be complete” or it could read “We write these things so that your joy can be complete.” How does this small difference (“our” vs. “your”) shift your understanding of what John is saying here, or does it?

15. How might the joy of the author and the original audience not have been “complete” if it (1 John) had not been literally “written” down (vs. 4)? That is, what does the author fear could happen had he not penned this letter?

16. In vs. 4, the author of 1 John says that it is “these things” that makes for complete joy. He is thinking very specifically and apparently “these things” compose something like the greatest elements of Christian faith. Enumerate what all the author specifically has in mind in vs. 1-4 that makes up “these things.”

17. Consider vs. 4. What does complete joy in Christ look like? What is it about?

18. The Greek word translated “guard” (or “keep”) in 1 John 5.21 rarely appears in the writings of John. He used it on only three other occasions, all of them appearing in his Gospel and always on the lips of our Lord Jesus. Read the other passages in which this word (phylasso) appears: John 12.25,47; 17.12.

19. “Little children” (5.21). John was writing to adults, just like you and me. Why would he use this sort of phraseology? In what ways are you a “little child?”

20. What exactly must a Christian do to guard themselves from allowing anything to take God’s place in their life (i.e. – idolatry)? How are you coming along with your guard duty?