What is the main focus of 1 John?
There is, of course, the idea that his readers are being led astray by teaching which is less than Christian – which is to say, not Christian at all (2:26). There is also the problem of Christians (his readers) who claim more for themselves than they really are (1:6-10). And tied to that is the insistence of John that if you are going to be a follower of Jesus, you must live as Jesus lived (2:6). This leads us, by chapter three, to the repeated emphasis that sin is simply an unacceptable life choice for Christians. It isn’t that we won’t sin, or that we are incapable of sin, but that none of us should consider it an option (note the references to this teaching in 3:3, 6, 9).
But is John just concerned that we not sin, or does he have a specific sin in mind?
While the Apostle specifically mentions a number of sins in this letter, there is a positive life choice he wants his reader to make, and a specific life choice he wants them to avoid: he wants them to love one another, and he wants them to avoid any behavior that would be anything less than loving. There are forty-six references to love in the five chapters of the letter. God loves. Jesus loved. God’s children must love, and specifically, they must love one another – not laying down their lives for humanity (or even their country!), but laying down their lives for one another.
This isn’t often the attitude we find among Christians toward each other – but it should be, for only then can they legitimately claim to belong to the truth and be at peace with God (3:19). If we are going to look for a defining characteristic of the Church, faith must be first. But love for the brethren must be hot on its heels.