Outlining 1 John 2:15-17 – Part 1

by Dr. David L. Allen
Dean of the School of Theology
Professor of Preaching
Director of the Center for Expository Preaching
George W. Truett Chair of Pastoral Ministry
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

How would you determine your sermon outline for 1 John 2:15-17? In a two-part post, I will attempt to answer this question.

Linguists now point out the fact that meaning is structured beyond the sentence level. When the preacher restricts his focus to the sentence level and to clauses and phrases in verses, there is much that is missed in the paragraph or larger discourse that contributes to the overall meaning and interpretation. The paragraph unit is best used as the basic unit of meaning in expounding the text of Scripture. Expositional preaching of the New Testament letters should, at minimum, deal with a paragraph.

For this post, it will be helpful for you to have a Bible in front of you. First John 2:15-17 is the seventh paragraph unit in John’s epistle (based on the Greek text) and the passage is clearly demarcated as a paragraph unit both structurally and thematically. Notice there is one imperatival verb in the paragraph and it occurs at the very beginning. This turns out to be of some significance for the meaning and structure of the paragraph, and thus for our outline. Linguistically, an imperative outweighs other indicative verbs on the prominence scale. When an imperative occurs in a paragraph, it is almost always diagnostic of hortatory genre – that is, a text which is issuing a command to do something or to refrain from doing something. Usually, such an imperatival clause will function as conveying the most prominent information in the paragraph from a semantic standpoint.

How many sentences are there in the Greek text of 1 John 2:15-17? According to the UBS fourth edition Greek New Testament, there are three: sentence one is verse 15a, sentence two is vv. 15b-16 and sentence three is v. 17. If you are working from an English translation, most have four sentences: sentence one is v. 15a, sentence two is v. 15b, sentence three is v. 16 and sentence four is v. 17.

The key goal in exegesis for sermon prep is to determine the structure of the passage. The key procedure in this process is to identify the independent (main) clauses and the dependent (subordinate) clauses and analyze their relationship grammatically and semantically to one another. Sentence one (v. 15a) is clearly an independent clause composed of a present imperative followed by a compound direct object.

Sentence two (vv. 15b-16) is introduced by a conditional clause “If anyone loves the world . . . .” Verse 16 continues sentence two since it is introduced with the conjunction gar in Greek which is usually translated “for” and which always introduces a clause, sentence or even paragraph that is subordinate to the previous clause, sentence or paragraph.

Verse 17 constitutes sentence three and is introduced by the coordinating conjunction kai in Greek which is normally translated “and,” although it can be left untranslated in certain circumstances when it begins a new sentence or paragraph. Note that this sentence is a compound sentence joining two clauses with the adversative conjunction de in Greek translated “but.”  “The world is passing away” conjoins “the one who does the will of God abides forever” with the adversative conjunction “but” expressing semantically the notion of contrast. The first clause in this sentence has a compound subject: “the world and everything in it” which is “passing away.” The second clause in the sentence has an articular participial clause “The one who does” followed by the direct object “the will of God.” This entire clause “The one who does the will of God” functions as the subject of the verb “remains.”

Sentence one (v. 15a) contains a single compound independent clause: “Love not the world neither the things in the world.” Sentence two (vv. 15b-16) contains a dependent conditional clause “if anyone loves the world” followed by a contrasting independent clause “the love of the father is not in him.” This is followed by a third dependent clause introduced in Greek by hoti, “because.” This third clause is rather lengthy, however a little reflection will bring out the syntax clearly. The subject of this clause is “All that is in the world.” This subject is followed by what is called an “appositive” phrase in grammar: “the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life.” This triple compound phrase further defines the meaning of “all that is in the world” and functions as an equivalent phrase, which is the meaning of “appositive” in grammar. Sentence three (v. 17) contains two independent clauses conjoined by “but.”

In order to develop a text-driven sermon outline, we need to answer three questions:

1. How are these three sentences related to each other syntactically and semantically?

2. Which of the three sentences contains the most prominent information?

3. What is the main theme expressed in the paragraph?

Part two of this post will begin with these questions and move to developing a text-driven outline for 1 John 2:15-17.