Where is the Love? Lessons for Students from the Letters of John
We are excited to announce the release of new curriculum on Rooted Reservoir this summer. In addition to the curriculum already available, now you will find six new offerings: Genesis, Exodus, James, 1 Peter, 123 John, and Jude. Whether you’re a parent who wants to study the Bible with your family, or a youth minister looking for curriculum for your small groups, large groups, or Sunday school teaching, we’ve built this flexible curriculum to help you disciple the teenagers in your life.
As a whole, John’s three letters tucked away in the back of the New Testament often get overlooked. Given their miniscule size, 2 and 3 John are especially relegated to the shadows, but even 1 John typically receives the silent treatment. Admittedly, John’s circular reasoning and seemingly disorganized structure can make these letters a challenging chunk to bite off, but when we take the time to sink our teeth in, we learn some remarkable and relevant truths.
Written sometime between 85-95 AD, these three letters represent some of the final pieces of the New Testament puzzle. When he was younger, the apostle John was known as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 21:20). Now, in his old age and as the last surviving disciple, he’s simply known as “the elder” as he offers some final words of wisdom to the earliest churches (2 John 1).
With a lifetime of following Jesus under his belt, John writes to divided congregations facing a theological crisis. As Christianity has spread, false teachings have also popped up, and John seeks to simultaneously condemn heretics while uplifting the faithful. Nearly two centuries later, John’s letters to the churches still offer wisdom, warning, and encouragement for God’s people. For students in particular, John addresses several common questions that may arise.
Jesus is Exactly Who He Says He Is
John bookends his letter by reminding us about the person of Jesus. As a disciple, John lived with Jesus on the road for nearly three years. He saw Jesus sleep, eat, and drink. He saw Jesus get tired, grow frustrated, and even weep. John probably knew the Incarnate Son of God as well as any human on earth ever has, so when false teachers began to slander Jesus’ name, John had to speak out.
In the late first century, whispers began spreading that maybe Jesus wasn’t really a full human. Maybe he was just spirit disguised like a man. People struggled to believe that God could take on human flesh (cf. Phil. 2:6-11). Likewise, today, our students will hear all kinds of lies about Jesus. “You can’t possibly believe he was a real person” or “he was a moral teacher with some good things to say, but he definitely wasn’t God” or “you don’t really believe in those miracles and the resurrection, do you?”
Our world always has and always will pepper us with lies about Jesus. But John reminds us of the truth. In the opening verses of 1 John, he explicitly refutes any notion that Jesus wasn’t a real, historical human being: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands…the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us—that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you…” (1 John 1:1-3).
In other words, this Jesus was fully God, with the Father from the beginning, but He also came to earth and was fully human. John and the disciples saw Him. Heard Him. Touched Him. And now John proclaims Him to us today.
Likewise, at the end of the letter, John returns to the person of Jesus. Just as John’s testimony in 1 John 1:1-3 proclaimed Jesus’ humanity, John says that “the Spirit and the water and the blood” also testify to Jesus. In other words, the Spirit (the Holy Spirit), the water (Jesus’ physical baptism), and the blood (Jesus’ crucifixion) all reveal Jesus’ true identity. He was fully God, but also fully man.
God is Love
By middle school, all our students will have heard the slogan, “love is love.” By high school, many of them – and likely most of their friends – will consciously or subconsciously buy it. But catchy as it may be, whenever someone says, “love is love,” they’re usually suggesting two things. First, they say it to justify homosexuality and same-sex relationships. Second, and more subtly, it supports an even more fundamental idea: that love is God.
Both among Christians and non-Christians, love (specifically romantic love) has been elevated to god-like status. Romance drives so many of our movies and tv shows and even just basic conversations because we’re all obsessed with love. And if we treat romantic love like it’s the most important thing in a person’s life or the highest good we can find on earth, then to deny that to someone would be inhumane and hateful. We act like without romantic love, life is somehow less complete.
While the slogan is catchy (and undeniably effective), John reels us back in and tells us the even better truth: God is love. Whether our students are single or dating, struggling with heterosexual or homosexual lust, or have dreams to marry or stay single for life, this is the best possible news. When we take the pressure off our romantic love, we refocus on the One who loved us first (1 John 4:19).
Moreover, John shows us that all human love derives from God and that “love is from God…because God is love” (1 John 4:7-8). There is no higher love than God’s love for us, which He demonstrated perfectly at the cross: “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10). God’s love for us is always first, and His love is the well from which all other love draws from. As a result, John concludes, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11).
Living as a Christian
Connected to his conversations on Christian love, John also dedicates a significant portion of his letter to how Christians should live in love on earth. God’s unconditional love for us isn’t the get-out-of-jail-free card to go and sin as we please, but the basis by which our lives are transformed. Because He loved us first, we can love Him, and we can love one another.
As a result, John calls Christians to “walk in the light” (1:7), “keep his commandments” (2:3) and “walk in the same way in which he walked” (2:6). Most fundamentally, this means “believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another” (3:23; c.f.2:7-11). Rather than loving “in word or talk,” he urges us to love one another “in deed and in truth” (3:18). In other words, the Christian life is defined by love: God’s love for us, our love for God, and our love for others.
All in all, John summarizes the purpose of his first letter at the very end: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13). As youth pastors and parents, what more can we hope for our teenagers?
Check out Rooted’s 6-week 123 John curriculum at rootedreservoir.com.