John styles himself “the elder”. He’s the big brother, the trustworthy uncle, the father of the faith, and he’s writing to reassure the rest of his family. They belong together in the family of God and John addresses them as fathers, children and young people in the same family of faith. But whatever people’s role or age within this family, they are bound by the same house rules. Many households have re-learned this in recent months as grownup offspring have returned home for inter-generational lock down. You learn not to flush the downstairs loo when someone is having a shower. You learn to stack the dishwasher in the approved household manner. But John gives house rules of a different order for God’s family, the Church. The house rules involve obeying God’s commandments and living as Jesus did; they involve loving one another within the family of God, just as Jesus loves; it means not loving the ways of the world, but loving God’s ways, and choosing obedience to the will of God in the face of worldly expectations, just as Jesus chose.
But John adds a key rule for the times and challenges of his original listeners. When he warns of antichrists, he is warning them of some who profess faith in Christ, but deny Christ’s divinity: those who talked of Jesus simply in wafty spiritual terms – of a divine spirit inhabiting or haunting the man Jesus. But John warns them that this won’t do, and they have rightly rejected this twisted gospel: wafty, nice, spiritual things are all very beguiling, but Jesus is God and our faith is rooted in his humanity as well as his divinity. John warns them, as he warns us, not to deny Christ for who he truly is: the Son of God, the eternal Word.
“What you have heard from the beginning…”
What did the disciples hear on Easter morning? What was the first thing that the followers of Christ heard that Sunday morning from Mary? The message was “He is risen!”. That is what they heard from the beginning. That is the Easter message. So John writes: “If what you heard from the beginning abides in you” – if the message “Christ is risen” is alive in your heart, “then you will abide in the Son and in the Father.” – then God lives in us and we in God, eternally. That is the message of love which John brings. It was not that a good man called Jesus died and his spirit continued to live, but that Jesus who was the Christ, the Anointed, the Messiah – the Son of Man and the Son of God – vanquished sin and death; and therefore we may abide with God forever.
That truth is what anoints us for God’s service. The Holy Spirit which the Father sent at the request and will of the Son rests upon us and anoints us because Jesus lives, and sends us, his continuing family to bless the world in his name. That is our calling: to abide in the world as God’s family, witnessing to God’s love, and proclaiming Jesus as Lord.