John opens his first epistle by defending and establishing the understanding of the humanity of Christ. “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life…” (1 John 1:1). 1 John is making the bold statement that Christ is, in fact, both eternal with the Father and has come to Earth as a human to unite us with the Father, “…and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3b).
As described by the book Encountering the New Testament, by Walter A. Elwell and Robert Yarbrough, the apostle John had a “vigorous and almost fiery temperament…but as the reality of Christ deepened in his heart over the years he became the great apostle of love, as his writings show.” 2 The reality of Christ is what changes how we understand Christianity and Christian leadership. However, like John, we must first understand Christ.
Unity with Christ
This must be understood first, and is why John presents it first. If Christ was not truly both human and divine, then His sacrifice on the cross would not have been able to unite us with the Father. The rest of John’s epistle speaks of our unity with Christ and the ability to abide in Him and the Father. However, none of this can be accomplished without the understanding of Christ’s humanity and divinity.
The Reality of Christ
Once we understand this portion of who Christ was on Earth, we can then understand how it impacts us as Christian leaders. As stated before, when John realized the “reality of Christ” and what it meant for us, it made him into the apostle of love. In many respects, this is the proper response when coming to the understanding of Christ’s sacrifice and love for us. God’s love compels us to respond in love.
“In this is love, not that we love God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:10,11).
This old commandment of love is echoed throughout John’s epistles. “For this is the message that you heard from the beginning, that we should love one another” (1 John 3:11). It is by this commandment of loving one another that we as Christian leaders must abide by. We must abide in this love so that we may be united in the One that has first shown us this love. Where there is no love there is no unity and it is replaced with evil.
Responding in Love to Those around Us
John speaks to this in his final epistle as he opposes the actions of Diotrephes. In not receiving John and those that were with him, he brings forth disunity. John then warns against this and calls the action of disunity evil. “Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. He who does good is of God, but he who does evil has not seen God” (3 John 1:11).
The church and its leaders, if not careful, have no greater enemy than themselves. A church full of “Christians” that are loveless and disunified, is a church that is broken and full of evil. John seeks for us to abide in Christ so that we may abide in love. Once we are full of the love of Christ, we will then respond in love and love those around us. No greater lesson can be shared with a Christian leader than that of learning to love those he serves as Christ loves them.No greater lesson can be shared with a Christian leader than that of learning to love those he serves as Christ loves them. - Josiah Robles Click To Tweet
The Epistle of James
The Epistle of James does not argue the understanding of deity, humanity, or personhood of Christ. Instead focuses on what Christ does to us in our lives. He speaks to all Christians and how they must live and act after understanding the truth of God. All that James speaks of, is in reflection of the nature of Christ and His actions. All that James calls us to do – have patience in trials, tame our tongue, show our faith through our works – have all been shown to us in the life of Christ.
Therefore, as Christians, those that claim to be of Christ, we must follow His example. This especially pertains to leaders, as James states, “My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment” (James 3:1).
The Life a Christian Leader Must Take
The life a Christian leader must take is the life of Christ, under the understanding that we must live each day conforming to His image. When we do this and live our life in this manner, our actions and works will reflect it. This is one of the great points that James wishes to establish in his epistle. Faith without works is dead, for without works your faith is not justified.
Christians are to understand this as the fact that if the Holy Spirit is truly working within you, you will do the works of the Spirit. However, if you have no works and do not have the fruits of the Spirit, how can you say you have the Spirit? Can you say you have the faith? As leaders, if we know of someone that is in need, we should feel compelled, by the love of Christ, to help them in all the ways we can.
Our Works Justify the Faith We Claim to Have
As James states, what good would it be if a brother that had no food or shelter came to the church and all that the leaders did for him was pray, and then simply sent him on his way? How did they help this man? In praying that God provides, they failed to be the means in which God was going to provide. Our works show and, therefore, justify the faith that we claim to have.
As Christian leaders, we must understand that we are called to a higher standard in all things. Our works must point to our faith and, in that same way, we must be careful not to speak in a way that would cause strife in the church. The voice of a leader echoes louder than many others, and therefore, James wishes that not many be leaders or teachers.
Taming Your Tongue
James equates the tongue to a small fire that sets ablaze an entire forest (James 3:5b,6), as such is the church. In the same way, a leader, with his words, can encourage the church and help guide the people to Christ. Or he can break them down and lead them astray. Leaders bear the weight of taming their tongue and controlling their actions. For if we fail to do this, we will fail to lead correctly and bring disunity to the body of Christ.Leaders bear the weight of taming their tongue and controlling their actions. - Josiah Robles Click To Tweet
James notes and addresses the true nature of Christianity. It is not a free ride to paradise in which one can claim to have the faith and enjoy its reward. James explains that the life of a Christian should reflect and imitate the life of Christ in all things. Furthermore, James warns those that take on the mantle of leader or teacher that they will be held to a higher standard, for Christ was held to the highest standard. In all things, we are to be like Christ and we are to be doers of His work.
This article is adapted from an Integrative Paper submitted for BIS 104 by Josiah Robles.
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- Have questions about how you fit into Christian leadership? Check out these resources:
 Walter A. Elwell and Robert W. Yarbrough, Encountering the New Testament A Historical and Theological Survey, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013), 350.
 1 John 1:1 (NKJV) Unless otherwise noted, all scripture references are from the New King James Version.
Elwell, Walter, and Robert Yarbrough. Encountering the New Testament: A Historical and
Theological Survey, 3rd ed. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013.
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