The Latter Epistles – 1 John 5

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well.  This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands.  In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands.  And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world.  This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.  Who is it that overcomes the world?  Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.
This is the one who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ.  He did not come by water only, but by water and blood.  And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth.  For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement.  We accept human testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son.  Whoever believes in the Son of God accepts this testimony.  Whoever does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because they have not believed the testimony God has given about his Son.  And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.  Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.
I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.  This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.  And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.
If you see any brother or sister commit a sin that does not lead to death, you should pray and God will give them life.  I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death.  I am not saying that you should pray about that.  All wrongdoing is sin, and there is sin that does not lead to death.
We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the One who was born of God keeps them safe, and the evil one cannot harm them.  We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.  We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true.  And we are in him who is true by being in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.
Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.

  • 1 John 5:1-21

Noted Biblical Scholars, Teachers, and Preachers Comments

1 John 5:2 ‘Love is practical’: “Love is a practical thing.  Love without obedience is a mere pretense.  True love shows itself by seeking to please the one who is loved.”

  • Charles H. Spurgeon, from his sermon notes

1 John 5:4 ‘our faith’: “What is unique about the kingdom of God is that you are assured of victory.  You have won!  You are assured that you will someday stand before the face of God and see the King of kings.  You are assured that someday you will enter a world where there will be no more pain, no more tears, no more sorrow.
“If you have no faith in the future, then you have no power in the present.  If you have no faith in the life beyond this life, then your present life is going to be powerless.  But if you believe in the future and are assured of victory, then there should be a dance in your step and a smile on your face.”

  • Max Lucado, The Inspirational Study Bible

1 John 5:6-9 ‘Faith enhances fellowship’: “The object of faith is Jesus the Christ; witnesses to Christ establish his history (5:6-9).  He came historically by the manner of (or, by the instruments of) ‘water and blood.’  These words may refer to the two ordinances of baptism and communion, the water and blood at the crucifixion (John 19:34-35), the birth and death of Christ, or the termini of Christ’s ministry, his baptism and crucifixion.  The last view is best and argues that Christ is both truly God and truly man.  Also, the Holy Spirit witnesses to his coming, from Old Testament times until the present, in preaching and within the Christian.  The Spirit is the truth (2:27; 4:2), so he is able and constrained to so witness through men (3:24; 4:13).  The water, blood, and Spirit have the character of witnesses (vv. 7-8).  (The longer reading of the KJV [v. 7] is probably a scribal addition to the original text.)  All three witnesses are historical, but the Spirit is chief and hence mentioned first (Matt. 3:16; John 20:22).  The three converge on the same point (‘are in agreement’): to establish the truth that Jesus is both Messiah and Son of God.  The mention of three witnesses reflects the requirements of Jewish law (Deut. 19:15; John 8:17-18).
“Since we receive men’s testimony, we should certainly receive God’s for it is greater in significance, reliability, and consequence (v. 9).  The testimony of God includes both the threefold witness (vv. 7-8), since the three derive ultimately from God, and also God’s own lasting witness given in the gospel (John 1:32; 12:28; Matt. 3:17; 17:5; Heb. 2:1-4).”

  • Walter A. Elwell, editor, Baker Commentary on the Bible

1 John 5:12 ‘he who has the Son has life’: “We cannot attain eternal life through a mere intellectual exercise.  We do not become authentic Christians by intellectually comprehending and accepting the historical facts about Jesus.  Nor do we become authentic Christians by grasping the theological implications of his death and resurrection.  We do not become authentic Christians by adhering to certain moral and ethical standards which Jesus taught.  Nor do we become authentic Christians by trying to relate to God apart from Jesus Christ.
“Our lives must be joined to His life.  We become authentic Christians by asking Jesus to some in as Lord and Master, and by trusting Him to accomplish and fulfill His eternal life in us by means of the Holy Spirit.  When that happens, a miracle takes place – even though that miracle may be of a quiet, almost invisible kind.  A new quality of life – eternal life – is imparted to us and we are ‘made alive in Christ.’  It is this divine action that makes us authentic Christians.  Nothing else can do it.  ‘He who has the Son has life, he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.’ (1 John 5:12)
“It is that simple.”

  • Ray C. Stedman, Adventuring through the Bible

1 John 5:13 ‘so that you may know’: “Every person who believes in the name of the Son of God has eternal life.  We may not doubt this.  It is not a matter of inference and deduction but a matter of revelation from God.  We are not to form an opinion about it but to believe it, for the Lord has said it.  It is right for the child of God to know that God is the Father and never to have a question in his heart as to his sonship.  It is right for the soul that is married to Christ to know the sweet love of the bridegroom and never to permit a cloud of suspicion to come between himself and the full enjoyment of Christ’s love.”

  • Charles H. Spurgeon, from his sermon notes

1 John 5:14-15 ‘God answers prayer’:confidence…  Christians can know with absolute confidence that God answers prayer when they approach the throne of grace (Heb. 4:16). According to His will.  This phrase constitutes a strategic key to answered prayer.  To pray according to God’s will is to pray in accord with what He would want, not what we would desire or insist that He do for us (John 14:13, 14).  John already specified that answered prayer also depends on obedience to God’s commandments and avoidance of sin (3:21; Ps. 66:18; John 15:7; 1 Pet. 3:7).  Since genuine believers know God’s Word (i.e., His will) and practice those things that are pleasing to Him, they never insist on their own will, but supremely seek God’s desires (Matt. 27:39-42).  He hears us.  The word hear signifies that God always hears the prayers of His children (Ps. 34: 15-27), but not always in the manner they are presented.”

  • John MacArthur, John MacArthur Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold/italics)

1 John 5:16-17 ‘sin that leads to death’: “Perhaps someone thinks he has committed this unpardonable sin and is at this moment grieving over it.  If so, it is clear that he cannot have committed the ‘sin that leads to death,’ or else he could not grieve over it.  Whoever repents of sin and trusts in Jesus Christ is freely and fully forgiven; therefore, he has clearly not committed a sin that will not be forgiven.  There is much in this passage to make us prayerful and watchful, but there is nothing here to make a troubled heart feel anything like despair.”

  • Charles H. Spurgeon, from his sermon notes

1 John 5:20 ‘understanding’: “1 John 4:8 says, ‘God is love,’ but this is not a definition of God.  It is most important to understand this.  There are a great many crackpot poets and religious people that are saying that God is love, so love is God and therefore all is love, and all is God.  These people are busy and happy for the time being.  But they’re also very, very confused in their theology.
“When the Scripture says, ‘God is love,’ it is not defining God.  It does not tell us what God is in His metaphysical being.  In the first place, the Bible never tells us what God is in His deep essential being.  No one can conceive what God is (except God), because God is ineffable.  And if it could be expressed, it couldn’t be understood because God is incomprehensible.
“Therefore, to equate love with God is to go way off in your theology.  If God is love in His metaphysical being, then God and love are equal to each other – identical.  We could worship love as God!  Thus, we would be worshiping an attribute of personality and not the Person Himself, thereby destroying the concept of personality in God and denying in one sweep all the other attributes of the deity.  Don’t forget that it also says, ‘God is light’ (1 John 1:5) and ‘This is the true God, and eternal life’ (5:20), but we don’t try to limit his nature to just light or life!
“When it says, ‘God is love,’ it means that love is an essential attribute of God’s being.  It means that in God is the summation of all love, so that all love comes from God.  And it means that God’s love, we might say, conditions all of His other attributes, so that God can do nothing except He does it in love.”

  • A. W. Tozer, The Attributes of God II

1 John 5:21 ‘modern-day idolatry’: “Here is John’s final word, and at first sight it may seem irrelevant in our high-tech, sophisticated age: ‘Dear children, keep yourselves from idols (5:21).’
“We don’t have wooden or stone gods in our homes today, do we?  So we don’t have to worry about idols today, do we?  Wrong.  The fact is, we are more imperiled by idolatry today than ever before!  We so easily give our devotion to things that are lower than God.  Idolatry means loving anything more than God.
“If you took an hour to go through the register of your checkbook and your credit card statements, you would find out what some of your idols are.  What do you spend your money for?  What do you spend your time on?  What do you think about when you wake up in the morning and when you go to bed?  What is most important to you?  Whatever it is, that is your god.  If your god is not God Himself, you are practicing idolatry.
“For some of us, our god may be narcissism, the god of self-love, of self-centered ambition and an obsession with success or self-beautification; of having others admire, desire, or envy us for our beauty or our lovely possessions.  For some of us, our god may be Venus, the goddess of love and sex; or Bacchus, the god of revelry and pleasure, eating and drinking, substance abuse and mind-altering drugs.  For some of us, our god may be Mars, the god of war and competition, vanquishing the opposition, winning at all costs, or cutting the throats of those who oppose us.
“What is your idol?  The danger of idolatry is no less real for us today than it was for Christians in the first century.  Let us be vigilant against the reality of idolatry in our own lives.”

  • Ray C. Stedman, Adventuring through the Bible

1 John 5 ‘reflections’: “In the first epistle of John two words are used over and over, the words they and ye, and they designate two wholly different worlds.  They refers to the men and women of Adam’s fallen world; ye refers to the chosen ones who have left all to follow Christ.  The apostle does not genuflect to the little god Tolerance (the worship of which has become in America a kind of secondary surface religion); he is bluntly intolerant.  He knows that tolerance may be merely another name for indifference.  It takes a vigorous faith to accept the teaching of the man John.  It is so much easier to blur the lines of separation and to offend no one.  Pious generalities and the use of we to mean both Christians and unbelievers is much safer.  The fatherhood of God can be stretched to include everyone from Jack the Ripper to Daniel the Prophet.  Thus no one on Jesus’ breast was not so easily deceived.  He drew a line to divide the race of men into two camps, to separate the saved from the lost, those who shall rise to eternal reward from that shall sink to final despair.  On one side are they that know not God; on the other ye (or with a change of person, we), and between the two is a moral gulf too wide for any man to cross.  Here is the way, John states it:
“’Ye are to God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is he that it in you than he that is in the world.  They are of the world; therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them.  We are of God; he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us.  Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error’ (1 John 4:4-6).
“Such language as this is too plain to confuse anyone who honestly wants to know the truth.  Our problem is not one of understanding, I repeat, but of faith and obedience.  The question is not a theological one, What does this teach?  It is a moral one, Am I willing to accept this and abide by its consequences?  Can I endure the cold stare?  Have I the courage to stand up to the slashing attack of the ‘liberal’?  Dare I invite the hate of men who will be affronted by my attitude?  Have I independence of mind sufficient to challenge the opinions of popular religion and go along with an apostle?  Or briefly, can I bring myself to take up the cross with its blood and its reproach?”

  • A. W. Tozer, God’s Pursuit of Man

My Thoughts

First, John wants to state the essential fact.  We must believe in Jesus as our Lord, Master, and Savior.  Nothing else matters.  But people often get confused by three of the words: believe, Lord, and Master.

When we believe, we do not just recognize the historicity of Jesus, but we rely upon Him.  Not to extract us from the trouble we get into, but we trust in the teaching of Jesus and we try to be more like Jesus.  We have a relationship with Jesus.  Believing is more than an intellectual exercise; it is relational and reliant.

Lord is tossed around as a word of honor and respect, although respect is horribly devalued these days.  You must be, hmmmm, like Jesus to gain any respect.  You know, perfect, and none of us are perfect.  Thus, no one really respects anyone anymore, unless they lift up that person as an idol and ignore their faults.  But Lord in older times meant the person who had total control over your life, a person to which we give our lives as a living sacrifice.  In return, the Lord looks after us.  And the animated hero of my boy’s youth, He-man, might have been the Master of his universe, but Jesus laid down His life so that we might live.  He did that act in servanthood for us and is now our Master.

Thus, with those definitions, John’s simple statement of faith is placed into context.  We belong to God’s kingdom when we believe in God, we love God, and we follow His commands.

As for the water and blood concept, could it not be all the above in the Baker Commentary list of possibilities?  The one that the author liked was baptism and crucifixion, but are not the sacraments of baptism and communion the same?  At least holy communion, the Last Supper, is a sacrament to remind us of Jesus’ sacrifice for our sake, the crucifixion.

And the paragraph on water and blood ends with John’s profound statement that whoever has the Son has life, and whoever does not have the Son does not have life.  But beware, you cannot buy the Son (Jesus).  You cannot work your way to Jesus by good works.  Charles Stanley said, in The Source of My Strength, that we do good deeds because God is in our heart, not to get God into our heart.  “Having Jesus” is a spiritual thing that comes from complete surrender to Him.

And God does not simply write our names in the Book of Life.  God hears us when we pray.  He is with us and within us.  And Rev. MacArthur covered the key points.  We must have confidence.  God really cares about us.  We must not shrug off His promises because we are such insignificant people.  We must boldly ask but ask within God’s will.  We too often tell God what to do.  That won’t work; it puts our heart out of sync with God.  Remember that we are talking to the Lord and Master, not our servant.  But I heard Richard Blackaby in a recent interview say, in regard to repentance, that God hears the politician pompously confess the sins of the nation, but God responds when we fall on our knees, understanding our desperate situation.  It is not the posture, but the heartfelt words and acknowledgement of who God is.

As far as sin that leads to death, the commentary above may not be that helpful.  What is a sin that leads to death?  Other commentaries, such as John MacArthur’s, state it as being the last straw, the ultimate test of God’s tolerance and patience.  No individual sin can be a sin unto death except suicide, but if we cannot rid ourselves of one sin or another, for example, a bad habit that we make no progress toward correcting, or we simply refuse to consider something a sin, then God may run out of patience and it is time to have death end that sin in our lives.  Rev. MacArthur uses the story of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5 as an example.  Yet, for those sins that do not lead to death, the Apostle John asks us to pray for that person.  Notice that he does not say anything about confronting the “sinner.”  We must all pray for one another in that regard, more urgently when we are aware of a specific sin.

Then the Apostle John uses repetition again.  What is the old Yogi Berra quote?  It’s like déjà vu all over again.”  But in all seriousness, John uses repetition throughout this letter.  We must not sin.  There is no wiggle room here.  And the key is what follows in this penultimate paragraph to his first epistle.  God loves us (again repetition, again) and He looks over us.  Why?  The evil one controls this world.  The apostle John starts his epistle with a call to arms against false doctrine, the onset of the Gnostics as most believe, and he puts a face to the false doctrine at the end, Satan.  We must not get angry or hate Satan’s mouthpieces in this world, just what they say, do, think, breathe, etc.  It is not easy to make that separation.  It would be so easy to grab a cudgel of some sort and one swift swing, as my rougher kinfolk might say, “up ‘side the head!”  But we must remember that the person who speaks this poison is a human also, and they are lost, without a rudder, no guidance to the truth.  And God put us on this earth, each of us, with a choice to make.  Will we choose God, or will we choose to ignore God?  We get what we choose, but as Aslan told Polly in The Magician’s Nephew, not everyone likes what they get.

God has patience and so should we.

But one thing is important.  We must not conform to this earth!!  Satan reigns here.  God may have ultimate control, but Satan can run amok.  And Satan does.  The Church, regardless of denomination – meaning those true believers – must seek purity in our walk with God.  Sin must be identified as sin, repented, and excised.  There is no wiggle room for playing armchair quarterback or drugstore lawyer.  We cannot make excuses for sin or simply ignore sin.  Sin is of this world, and we need to prepare for the next world.

And with that in mind, the ultimate paragraph, a single sentence, and a short sentence follows what seems to be the summary of the entire epistle, but is it?  We should guard ourselves against idolatry.  Is this some kind of postscript?  Should John have written a “P.S.” in front?

Nope.  The last sentence before the previous paragraph ties this last sentence to everything else when you see Ray Stedman’s definition of idolatry above.  What do you spend your money on?  I say it often, “Follow the money.”  Now I must look at my credit card statements and reconcile my checking account.  Where did the money go this past month?  Praise the Lord, the only things on the credit card statement were our streaming fees and the cellphone bill, no additional charges.  And pending for next month only adds a couple of books for research and Christian growth.  As for the checking account, it is the usual bills, groceries, pharmacy, and a few gifts for friends, neighbors, and family.  Oh, yeah, the caramel macchiato for my wife after her stress test and EKG, but that was just to have enough strength to get home from the hospital.

It seems safe for this month, but do we need all the streaming services, and we do not have all of them, just four and one provides free shipping on online purchases.  My wife spends too much time watching the streaming stuff, but then she finds the documentaries that get my batteries recharged in one way or another.  It is tough being so exhausted from all her medical issues, any one of which would leave her exhausted.  If I ever get that ill, I want a hospital style table for my computer to be right in front of me and bookcases of reference books on either side of the bed, so that I can continue working.

But even beyond where we spend money, where do we spend our time and energy?  I had always thought of the Venus and Bacchus arguments in the Stedman quote above, but I found it an interesting twist that the Mars idol included competition, making a few of my past essays tie in nicely.  Competition is not bad in itself, but when “winning is the only thing” becomes the driving force, we have a major idol on our hands, and that has nothing to do with idolizing our sports heroes (that is also a problem).

Thus, the Apostle John could rewrite the entire letter and show how idolatry pervades every aspect of our lives and can rob us of that pure love that God provides.

Some Serendipitous Reflections

“1. Using the ‘love test’ of verse 1 (to love God is to show love to his children), how are you doing at loving God?  Using the test from verses 2-3 (to love others means to obey God’s commands), how are you doing at loving others?
“2. What has convinced you that true life is found in Jesus?
“3. What ‘idols’ of the world today tempt you away from steadily following Jesus?  What is one thing you can do to ‘keep away’ from that idol?
“4. What is one major thing you have decided to work on in your life as a result of studying this letter?”

  • Lyman Coleman, et al, The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups

As it is with many of the Serendipity reflection questions, there could be the safe and the deep answers.  In a group setting, you may need to know who you can trust – terrible to say that in a Christian setting, but…  Question 3 is one of those, and the methods of avoiding could be instructive for others.

If you like these Thursday morning Bible studies, but you think you missed a few, you can use this LINK. I have set up a page off the home page for links to these Thursday morning posts. I will continue to modify the page as I add more.

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.

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