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Thursday, July 18th, 2024
the Week of Proper 10 / Ordinary 15
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Bible Commentaries
1 John 5

Grant's Commentary on the BibleGrant's Commentary

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Verses 1-21

“Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and everyone that loveth Him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of Him.” The faith that Jesus is the Christ is here seen to correspond with the confession of Him as the Son of God (cf. ch.4:15). The two must go together, as Peter well knew when he so unhesitatingly answered the Lord, “We believe and are sure that Thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God” (John 6:69). As Christ He is God’s anointed Prophet, Priest and King, and the Old Testament had clearly foretold that the Messiah the Christ must be Himself the Eternal Creator, God manifest in flesh (Isaiah 9:6-7). This belief therefore is a real, honest faith in the Person of Christ, no mere lip service; and everyone who possesses such faith “is born of God.” Moreover, everyone of whom this is true, and who therefore loves the One who has begotten him, is possessed of a nature that loves every other child of God. This is an essential of the new nature.

But it is necessary that love be further tested, that we may not in any way be deceived by what appears to be love. “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep His commandments.” Love toward the children of God is rooted in true love for God and obedience to His Word. To love them as the children of God, I must certainly put God’s rights first. If my love for them would induce me to be indulgent toward them in their disobeying God, this is not really love. If in pleasing them I displease the Lord, this is not love for them at all, however they may feel it to be so. Children may seem very happy together and indulgent toward one another, but if in a state of disobedience to their parents, this is not family love at all: it is mere selfish indulgence. If the spirit of love and honest obedience to God prompts the action of love towards the children of God, then this is love.

“For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments: and His commandments are not grievous.” Mere assertions of love for God while ignoring His expressed will can be nothing but hypocrisy. The love of God, as we have seen, is not merely love for God, but God’s love having entered the heart, and producing a fitting response. The proof of it is therefore in my keeping His commandments. Moreover, love will fully agree that His commandments are not grievous. If one were merely serving God for wages, he might no doubt feel this to be irksome service, as all legal bondage is; but if serving from unfeigned love, no resentment will be present. Indeed, the servant who accused the Lord of being hard and austere was himself hard and cold, and did nothing for his master’s sake (Luke 19:20; Luke 19:26). He disobeyed the master because he callously and falsely imputed his own cold character to his master, who was actually characterized by love and grace.

“For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.” Love is the very spirit of overcoming; and the soul born of God possesses that blessed energy of God’s pure love that surmounts all the world’s barriers. This love is not defeated by the obstacles that an unbelieving world, a world of sight and sense, erects with the very intention of discouraging faith. Every believer is in principle an overcomer, because he has the root of the matter in him. Let us therefore be overcomers in practice also. Faith is the victory that overcomes the world, with its innumerable temptations. Since we possess faith, let us therefore use it consistently. If unbelief argues that the difficulties in the path of faith are too great, faith simply responds, “I believe God.” Thus faith and love work hand in hand: they are a team of living joy and of strength.

“Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?” Thus the faith of which he is speaking is no mysterious, elusive thing that only some unusual saints are able to grasp. It is quite simple and real: it takes facts as they really are: it believes truth because it is truth: it believes the revealed word of God preeminently concerning His Son, Who is the very Touchstone of all truth. There are no involved, specious reasonings here, but plain facts which faith in the living God gladly receives. And the believer in Jesus as the Son of God, overcomes the world. Of course, the eternal Godhead glory of the Lord Jesus, without beginning, without end, is fully implied in this blessed Name, Son of God, as the epistle has already taught us. Overcoming then is vitally connected with the Person of Christ, based upon the fact of Who He is, and of His having overcome the world (John 16:33). In every moral respect the world was under His feet: His entire path was one of overcoming: no temptation by the world could draw Him in the least degree from the path of faith in the living God. Here is overcoming in its sublime principle and in every detail of practice. Faith in Him therefore is the very principle of overcoming, a principle certainly which is for practical application.

“This is He that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth.” This may seen to be the introducing of an unconnected subject, but it is not so. For the power and reality of the new life, in overcoming, in assurance, in living truth before God, depends upon these two great characteristics seen in the Lord Jesus. First, He came by water. Water speaks of absolutely divine ministry “the water of life,” “born of water and of the Spirit,” “the water of the Word,” “a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” Hence in this the Lord is presented as the Life giver, “the true God and eternal life.” But this is not all: He also came “by blood.” “Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, He also Himself likewise took part of the same; that through death He might destroy [annul] him who had the power of death, that is the devil; and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (Hebrews 2:14-15). This is grace stooping to man’s estate: the Lord Jesus has become true Man, and a Man who has in grace shed His blood for the remission of sins. Here is perfectly human ministry, the cleansing of guilt by blood. These are absolute essentials. As the eternal Son of God He provides the living water to both meet the thirst of the soul and to cleanse morally. As the Son of Man He has provided His own precious blood to cleanse judicially from the guilt of our sins, to set the conscience free. Here is the provision for overcoming a guilty conscience and the power of sin. And the Spirit of God is immediately here introduced as bearing witness. Sufficiency of provision is therefore strongly emphasized. We cannot of course but recall here the result when the soldier pierced the side of the Lord Jesus: “Forthwith came there out blood and water” (John 19:34). Beautiful picture of that marvelous twofold ministry of the Lord Jesus so blessedly flowing from His mighty work of redemption!

As to verse 7, reliable manuscripts have proven that it is an unwarranted addition inserted by some early copyist: it was not in the original. There is certainly no need of a witness in heaven: it is here that witness is required. And there is an abundance of Scriptural testimony to the fact of the Trinity, without the necessity of adding man’s witness.

“And there are three that bear witness, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one.” Perfect concord exists in this threefold witness to the fact of eternal life being a present possession, in Christ the Son of God, of every believer. First, the Spirit of God dwelling in the believer, and who makes real the truth of God to the heart, is Himself a Witness that the believer has eternal life. For, “if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His” (Romans 8:9). Secondly, the Word of God itself, “the water of the Word,” “the living water” is plain and clear in its testimony; and the believer, laying hold upon this Word, as one drinking in its fresh ministry of life, finds it an assuring, solid witness to his present possession of eternal life. Thirdly, the blood of Christ having been shed at Calvary is the witness of a perfectly accomplished redemption, sins having been fully atoned for, so that eternal life, rather than death, is the present result for the believer in the Son of God. Who can destroy such blessed solid, true, united witness as this? Will God throw out of court such witnesses, and instead accept the witness of man’s works, man’s experience, man’s feelings? Certainly not. None of these latter can be depended upon in the least, but all of the former are thoroughly unimpeachable. Blessed resting place for faith!

If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater: for this is the witness of God which He hath testified of His Son. He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself. he that believeth not God hath made Him a liar; because he believeth not the record [or witness] that God gave of His Son.” In normal circumstances men will commonly receive men’s witness concerning matters of which they have been witnesses. How much more ought we to receive God’s witness! Indeed, we have seen that God’s witness is a threefold one, clear and unquestionable. And primarily this witness is concerning His own Son, with Whom blessing to mankind is vitally connected. God bears witness to Him as coming by water and blood, as the eternal Creator providing moral cleansing; as the Son of Man bringing judicial cleansing; and the Spirit of God attesting the truth of this both in His own history on earth and in the results of His grace at present in souls. Only callous unbelief will dare to fly in the face of so clear a witness. But the believer has the witness in himself. The Spirit of God makes these things a living reality in the souls of saints.

On the other hand, the unbeliever is grossly guilty of rejecting valid and true witness, and places himself in the dreadful position of making God a liar. Is God’s witness not true? If one coldly despises this, he is accusing his own Creator of falsehood. Well might such a statement shock the unbeliever into a decided change of mind! And the believer too should consider how important it is that he should wholeheartedly receive the Word of God as true. But God’s witness of His own Son is a matter near indeed to His heart; and rejection of this is in God’s eyes inexcusable wickedness. How rightly so!

“And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.” How clear and positive such language, and how marvelously blessed to the child of faith! The witness is that God has given to us eternal life. Faith therefore believes this utterly, and of course rejoices in the fact. “This life is in His Son,” inseparably connected with His coming “by water and blood”; but it is a present, real bestowal of eternal life upon every redeemed sinner. In receiving Him, the soul receives eternal life. Therefore, on the one hand, he who has the Son has life, eternal life: on the other hand he who does not have the Son of God has not life. Clearly here, it is either eternal life or no real life at all. From this viewpoint man’s natural life is looked at as mere existence, for after all it is a dying thing, subject to decay and corruption. Eternal life is living, vital, untainted, far above and beyond all that is mortal. Wonderful to know that the believer, having the Son of God, has this life.

“These things have I written to you that ye may know that ye have eternal life, who believe on the Name of the Son of God” (JND). It may easily be the case that one may have eternal life, and yet not know it. For this very reason John has written. Not that this is the only reason, for other definite reasons are also mentioned in ch.1:3; 1:4; 2:1. The Father desires none of His children in doubt as to the precious reality of their possessing now the matchless gift of eternal life. Apart from the Word of God we could never have this assurance: it is a Divine revelation, not by means of personal introspection, feelings, or experiences, but by the written Word. This alone gives certainty. If one truly believes in the Name of the Son of God, he has eternal life, whether he realizes it or not. Scripture says so; and by Scripture alone can he realize it, and be absolutely assured. What matchless grace then that God has given us His Word!

“And this is the confidence that we have in Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He heareth us: and if we know that He hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of Him.” The knowledge of His faithfulness and the absolute truth of His Word of course inspire utter confidence in Him; so that prayer the very breath of the new life is the expression of confiding dependence: the soul draws upon the pure love of the Father’s heart, not with fleshly effort to persuade God to our point of view, but with honest confidence that His will is far better than the best our own wisdom might devise. How precious is such a calm, tranquil, living persuasion that we are perfectly cared for by an active love that works ceaselessly for our greatest good, however to the contrary outward appearances may seem when judged on the basis of present advantage. And before any answer appears for the observation of our natural senses, we may yet be absolutely certain we have the petitions we ask if we have asked according to His will. For faith certainly knows that the will of God will triumph; and if our requests are not according to His will, then certainly in the final analysis we should not want them fulfilled anyway. If in anything we are disappointed as to an answer, this is necessary training, to lead us to judge that which is mere personal desire rather than the will of God, and to give fuller, purer joy in “that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” How important then to have a proper, well balanced view of prayer; and to pray “in the Spirit,” with wholehearted desire to know and prove in experience the sweetness of the will of God. Simplicity of faith, honest unquestioning confidence in His unfailing love, must always be present if we are to pray in the Spirit. In this there are no unseemly demands, no fleshly haste or impatience, but the very real “peace of God” keeping the heart and mind.

Now a direct, practical example is given us as to prayer: If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and He shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it.” Let us observe that this single example as to our praying is one that is calculated to exclude selfish motives. No personal advantage is involved here at all, not even the honor of being used of God in the conversion of a soul or some such good work seen by other eyes. But sin in the case of a brother, a child of God, is seen to be dreadfully serious, so as to call for the real concern of our own hearts. But some sins are more serious than others, some “unto death,” some “not unto death.” Possibly sickness may take place in the latter case, however, and in answer to prayer, God will “give him life,” that is, restore to a measure of health at least. Not all sickness is because of some sin however. Epaphroditus was “sick nigh unto death” for the sake of the work of Christ (Philippians 2:27; Philippians 2:30). And no doubt it would be much easier for us to pray for an Epaphroditus than for a weak, wayward brother. But we must not ignore such painful needs.

On the other hand, if the sin was “unto death,” that is, of such grievous character that God had purposed to take the offender’s life from the earth, no amount of prayer could change this. A believer may have gone so far in such a case that the only resource of God’s mercy would be his removal from the earth. Certainly, this would not infer that we cease praying for the person, for his spiritual good, and for his restoration of soul to God; but to pray for his recovery to health would be ineffectual.

“All unrighteousness is sin: and there is a sin not unto death.” The perfection and beauty of our eternal relationship with God and with His children has been declared to us fully. Unrighteousness is simply inconsistency with relationship. The least thing inconsistent then with this holy relationship is sin, however it may be glossed over as an error, a slip, or whatever else. God intends no trifling or excusing of sin. Yet on the other hand, “there is a sin not unto death”: the degree of seriousness differs: and we are called upon to be exercised to discern things which differ; for there is no list of things put in either category: this will require communion of soul with God.

“We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not; but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not.” Again, it is pressed upon us that, as born of God the believer does not sin: the new nature abhors and turns utterly from sin: by the power of this nature he keeps himself, and the power of the wicked one is by this overcome: Satan has no foothold. How painstaking in this epistle is the Spirit of God, by the apostle, to repudiate sin of any sort as utterly foreign and repulsive to the true nature of one born of God! Consistency with this nature is an absolute protection from the seductions of the wicked one. Let us take this to heart, and abhor all that is contrary to it. But the fact is first true, in order that we may take it to heart.

However, it is quickly shown that this verse is not intended to sow doubts in a true believer’s heart, for he immediately adds, “And we know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness [or in the wicked one].” Blessed to have assured knowledge as to this first assertion, “we are of God.” But the second is just as certain: the whole world has been taken captive by the cunning deceptions of the wicked one, lying idly in his hands, given up to this with no energy to change it. How clear and vivid a contrast then is the position of the world and that of the children of God. How well for us to know it, and to know it well! Nor must we miss the awesome fact that the whole world is that which is so captivated by the dread power of Satan. Stern test indeed for individual faith! Has God lost control? Never! But He has allowed Satan this dominating power for the time being, that faith may only shine the brighter in contrast to it. If the multitude does evil, faith refuses this as an excuse to follow the evil. Weakness and unbelief argue that the great majority cannot be wrong, and so drifts with the crowd, or in other words, gives itself up to sluggishly lying in the arms of the wicked one, no faith, no willing, ardent affection for the Lord Jesus, no vital, active energy of divine life.

As the epistle draws to a close, summing up the grand truths of which it has spoken, how fitting that verses 18, 19, and 20 should use those words, “We know,” an expression we have seen to be so characteristic of John. He would leave the children of God in a position of absolute certainty. But verse 20 is a magnificent statement, in brief compass, of the entire basis of Christianity; the revelation of God in the Person of Christ, and the vital eternal blessing in Him that this means to every believer. “We know that the Son of God is come.” This is put in present tense, for the precious abiding character of this revelation is emphasized: it is for our present joy and blessing. “And hath given us an understanding.” In this is marvelous, mysterious power, for mere human intellect is blinded to these things. Spiritual discernment comes only from the Son of God, by the power of the Holy Spirit, and the Word of God is thereby understood. It is real, solid, sober, infinitely superior to fanciful imagination. “That we may know Him that is true.” Here the object of such an understanding is communicated: not to acquire great stores of knowledge beyond others, but to know Him. This object gives true progress, for it discards the selfish motive of pride and gives undivided honor to Him Who alone is entitled to it. The mere accumulation of knowledge tends to self exaltation; but the knowledge of God does the opposite.

“And we are in Him that is true, even in His Son Jesus Christ.” By virtue of new birth “we are in Him that is true.” The branch abides in the vine by reason of having the life of the vine. By nature we were “in Adam” because of partaking of the life of Adam, a corrupted, temporary life. By new birth we are in Him that is true, in His Son Jesus Christ, partaking of His incorruptible, eternal life. Yet, let us notice again that the expression “in Him that is true” evidently refers to the Father, for “in His Son Jesus Christ” is added. Indeed, it is evident the Father and the Son are both intended to be included here, yet the distinction between them obscured. Is this not designed to draw out the adoration of our hearts for both the Father and the Son in their absolute, essential unity, in recognizing that the important matter here is Eternal Deity? “This is the true God, and eternal life.” Could there possibly be a more absolute declaration of the Deity of the Lord Jesus Christ? The true God is found nowhere else save in this wondrous manifestation of Himself in flesh. Let every heart respond with profound persuasion of faith, in the words of Thomas, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28).

In view of so transcendent a revelation of the glory of God, the light and love of His blessed nature made known to us for our eternal blessing, how morally needful it is that the closing words are in the form of an appealing, urgent warning, “Children, keep yourselves from idols.”

Bibliographical Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on 1 John 5". Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lmg/1-john-5.html. 1897-1910.
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