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Bible Commentaries
1 John 5

Pett's Commentary on the BiblePett's Commentary

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Verse 1

‘Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is begotten of God, and whoever loves him who begat loves him also who is begotten of him.’

Those who have a true faith in the crucified and resurrected Jesus Christ as both God and man are begotten of God. Pause for a moment to consider the wonder of that. They have received new life imparted to them by God, the are a new creation, they have received a life of such quality that it is called ‘eternal life’. And it goes without saying that we will love Him. But, says John, if we love the One Who begat us we will also love those whom He has begotten. For they are one with us in Christ, they share the same life as we do, they are our brothers, and our future lies together.

Verses 2-3

‘Hereby we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and do his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not grievous.’

And how will we know that we love our brothers? By the fact that we love God and obey His commandments, those commandments which show how we should live towards our brothers and the world, those which give the detail behind the commandment ‘you shall love your neighbour as yourself’ (Matthew 19:19; Matthew 22:39; Romans 13:9-10; Galatians 5:14; James 2:8 - he calls it ‘the royal law’). If we fulfil these we are loving our brother in the way required. We note that the loving of our brother has now come within the wider commandments. God has not forgotten the world.

‘And his commandments are not grievous.’ Here we are told that God’s commandments are not ‘weighty, heavy to be borne’. The idea here is that they are not ‘burdensome’ or ‘difficult’. As Deuteronomy 30:11-14 stresses, they are near and not far off. They are in their mouths and hearts, because they love God. Compare Matthew 11:30, ‘My yoke is easy and My burden is light’. In contrast Jesus spoke of the Pharisees in Matthew 23:4 as those who ‘bind heavy loads, hard to bear, and put them on men’s shoulders.’ So the reason that they are not burdensome is because we love God and delight to do His will, and because they are a response to God’s love, carried in the heart, and not a way of earning it.

Verses 4-5

The True Christian Overcomes By His Faith in Jesus the Son of God (1 John 5:4-5 ).

‘For whatever is begotten of God overcomes the world. And this is the conquering power that has overcome the world, even our faith. And who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?’

Being begotten of God not only results in our loving those who have been begotten by Him, but enables us also to overcome the world. Those who are begotten of God do not follow the ways and desires and hopes of the world, rather they triumph over them. And what causes them to triumph? Even their faith, their faith in the human crucified and resurrected Jesus as being also God’s Son.

Indeed this faith has already enabled them to overcome. It is the conquering power that has already given them the victory, because He in Whom they believe has gained the victory. We are more than conquerors through Him Who loved us (Romans 8:37). We commence from a position of victory, because we commence in Him..

Thus the true Christian is a guaranteed overcomer. He overcomes the Evil One (1 John 2:14), he overcomes antichrist (1 John 4:4), and he overcomes the world. This is because his faith is set on Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Who lifts him above the world, gives him conquering power, and reveals to him the inadequacy of the false teaching about the non-human, mythical ‘Christ’ of the false prophets, and the deceitfulness of the Evil One. He enjoys royal protection.

Verses 6-9

Through The Coming of Jesus God’s Son, Which Was Well Testified To, We Can Know That We Have Eternal Life (1 John 5:6-13 ).

‘This is he who came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ, not with the water only, but with the water and with the blood. And it is the Spirit who bears witness, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three who bear witness, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood, and the three agree in one. If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater, for the witness of God is this, that he has borne witness concerning his Son.’

Here John now establishes what he has been saying about Jesus the Son of God. Jesus Christ did not just come by water (either through His natural birth or more probably through His baptism), but through water and blood (through the water and blood that flowed from Him at His death - John 19:34). His natural birth/baptism was one way in which He presented Himself, but equally He presented Himself through His physical death. It was a tenet of various false teachers that ‘the Christ spirit’ had come on the body of Jesus at His baptism and had left Him before His death. No, says John, He was the Christ in His death as well as in His life. It was the Christ Who died on the cross.

Indeed this is borne witness to by the Spirit, for He is the Spirit of truth. He came on Jesus with power at Jesus’ baptism, where Jesus was testified to as the only Son and the Servant Who was pleasing to God, and He came to Him powerfully in His death when He raised Him from the dead (Romans 1:4). So all three agree in their witness to Jesus as the Christ, the Spirit, the water and the blood, and all are agreed together and are one in revealing Him as the Christ. In both His life and His death he was the Christ.

The Spirit further bears witness to Christ through God’s witnesses, first the Apostles, then those whom the Apostles appointed, and then through the leaders of the true churches.

But God Himself is also the witness to His Son. He Himself bore witness, for it was he Who sent the Holy Spirit on Him at His baptism, and made His declaration of Who He was as His Son, and how pleasing He was as His Servant, and it was He Who powerfully raised Him from the dead through His Holy Spirit at His resurrection. And His witness is greater than any witness of man.

So if we accept the witness of men, the witness of those who knew Jesus and knew Him in His life and who saw these wonderful events, we must even more accept the witness of God Who not only gave Him His Holy Spirit, Who was both with Him in His baptism and in His death and resurrection, but has also from that time given Him the power to give life to whom He will. For God’s witness is that by this He has borne witness to His Son.

Verses 10-12

‘He who believes on the Son of God has the witness in him. He who does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the witness that God has borne concerning his Son. And the witness is this, that God gave to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has the life. He who does not have the Son of God does not have the life.’

So the one who believes on the Son of God has the witness in Him. He too was a witness. He witnessed to the truth while He was on earth. He witnessed to the truth after His resurrection. And He witnesses to the truth by imparting eternal life to His own and indwelling them. Thus the one who has believed on Him has received eternal life, and has the witness within himself. He has received the Spirit without Whom a man cannot be Christ’s (Romans 8:9). He has received Jesus Christ Himself. On the other hand the one who does not believe God and accept His testimony concerning His Son, is making God a liar, is indeed making out that God is a liar like the Evil One, and this because he does not believe God’s testimony concerning His Son.

For finally this is God’s witness concerning His Son, that He has given us eternal life, and that that eternal life is only receivable through the Son. The one who has the Son has life, and the one who does not have the Son does not have life. It is as simple as that. Eternal life is found only through the Son. It cannot be received from the Father without the Son’s participation.

So arriving at the end of the letter we come back to the beginning. The Word of life has come (1 John 1:1) and His commandment is eternal life (John 12:50 with 1 John 2:7). This is central to everything. It is the Gospel. All must be born from above (John 3:6). And this life is received by those who believe, not on a human being, not on a phantasm, but on God’s true Son, Who came as a human being, died on a cross providing cleansing (1 John 1:7) and propitiation for sin (1 John 2:2) and rose again from the dead. Such people then have the witness in themselves, the witness of the anointing, of the Holy Spirit and the word, and the witness of the life within them.

This life is not available to the false teachers. They deny Jesus His Sonship. They reject God’s full testimony concerning His Son. They make Him a liar. For them there is no means of propitiation. For them there is no life. For it is they who are liars, and preach lies. They believe ‘the Lie’ (2 Thessalonians 2:11). God’s testimony to His Son lies in the fact that He demonstrated His lifegiving power by raising Him from the dead as the Son by the Holy Spirit, and enabling Him thereby to give life to those who believed in Him.

And those who do believe on Him receive life. This lifegiving power is in the Son, so that he who has the Son has life, and he who does not have the Son does not have life. Thus those have the Son who believe in Him and have been given life by God through His Spirit. Those who have not believed in the Son do not have life.

Verse 13

‘These things have I written to you, that you may know that you have eternal life, even to you who believe on the name of the Son of God.’

And these things are written to his hearers and readers so that they might know that they have eternal life (John 5:24), because they believe on the name of the Son of God. This faith in Him and all He has done for them, has produced eternal life now within them. They are born from above (John 3:6; James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:23; 2 Peter 1:4). They are children of God (1 John 3:1-2; John 1:12-13). They have eternal life. And it comes through belief in what He essentially is (His name) as God’s Son.

Verses 14-15

They Are to Continue In Prayer As They seek To Establish God’s Kingly Rule (1 John 5:14-15 )

‘And this is the boldness which we have towards him, 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 the petitions which we have asked of him.’

Our knowing of Jesus Christ through the Spirit by the Father then fills us with boldness. If He is with us who will say us nay? Thus we know that we can approach Him (God/Jesus Christ) in prayer and know that He hears us. He is our Father Who has begotten us to Himself and when we come as His children, seeking only His will, we can be sure that, whatever we ask, He will both hear and respond, so that we can also know that we will receive the petitions we ask. It need hardly be said that this is not a blanket cheque. Prayers for the things that are in the world can only be displeasing to Him and will rightly be rejected. They may well prove that we are children of the world and not of God. But prayers concerned with the spread of His word and the establishing of His Kingly Rule will certainly be heard, and we will have them in the end. The answer may not come as we expect, or as we desire, but come it will. This is very much a statement that we can have full confidence that in the end the Gospel will prevail through our prayers.

Verses 14-21

Conclusion (1 John 5:14-21 ).

John concludes his letter with four major points.

1) The certainty that Christians can have of victory through prayer. In the face of all that confronts them they can be bold for they have access to the All-powerful One Who hears their prayers as they go about doing His will, and will respond to what they ask which is within His will..

2) This is an extension of 1). That they must pray for each other when they fall into sin. For Christians must be ever watchful, and they can be sure that their prayers will be mightily effective in the delivering of one another from the sin that could drag them down.

3) That that they must keep their eyes on God, and on Jesus Christ, and keep themselves from sin, recognising that they are begotten by Him and in Him have eternal life. Thus will they be kept safe from the Evil One in whose arms the whole of the world lies.

4) That they be on their guard and keep themselves from the Evil One and from all taints of idolatry in a world where idolatry lies at every hand seeking to entangle the unwary.

Verses 16-17

They Are To Be watchful For One Another And continue Instant In Prayer For One Another (1 John 5:16-17 ).

‘If any man see his brother sinning a sin not unto death, he shall ask, and God will give him life for those who do not sin unto death. There is a sin unto death. Not concerning this do I say that he should make request. All unrighteousness is sin, and there is a sin not unto death.’

As John had made clear at the beginning he knew that Christians would still continue to sin. Indeed he insisted that all Christians recognise that this failing in them would continue (1 John 1:8-10). But they were not ‘sins unto death’, for they could come to Him in the light and be cleansed (1 John 1:7). Thus, he says, we should be observant for our brother’s failings as well as our own. Not in order to gloat, or to be self-satisfied, but in order to pray for their restoration. We may see a fellow-Christian burdened down by sin, entrapped by it, finding release difficult. For such a brother we are to pray to God, and God will grant us his restoration. His promise is that He will accordingly restore such. God will give him life for those who do not ‘sin unto death’, rather than the death that without Christ they would have deserved.

What John is stressing here is our repsonsibility to pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ, especially in the church of which we are members. The early church had a deep sense of their responsibility for one another.

In a sense, of course, all sin is ‘unto death’. 'The soul that sins will die.' But for such there is forgiveness available in Christ. However there is a ‘sin unto death’ for which there is no forgiveness because those involved have so hardened their hearts that they are permanently closed to Christ. They refuse to believe. They see what should convince of them of the truth and still refuse to believe. They invent false arguments in order to avoid believing. Finally such becomes an attitude of heart that nothing can change. Their arguments have solidified in their hearts so that they cannot change. They have put themselves beyond repentance. They have 'sinned unto death.'

John is here concerned that we direct our prayers wisely. Our brothers and sisters who are in fellowship need our prayers, and our prayers will be effective for them because their ears are open to God's voice. But there are those who have hardened themslves and for whom our prayers will probably not be effective. In the end we cannot carry the whole weight of the world on our shoulders.

Consider for example,

1) The Pharisees who accosted Jesus who were in danger of committing it (Mark 3:28-30). They saw incontrovertible evidence of Whom Jesus was. But they continually closed their minds to it and shielded their minds by inventing false evidence. One day their minds would be closed to any reasoning. Then they would have no hope.

2) The false prophets and false brothers, were in danger of committing it. The writer to the Hebrews warned of the danger for those who had outwardly professed to be Christians over a long period but who had refused to let Christ truly work in their hearts. They still had chance to repent even though they had become ‘Gospel hardened’. But if they were so hard that they could turn away from Christ to another religion, thus declaring Him an impostor, they would have finally rendered themselves incapable of true repentance (Hebrews 6:4-8; Hebrews 10:29).

3) Peter describes those who who have seen something of the truth of Christ, and, impressed by the morality of the Christian church in contrast with paganism, have begun to build up a 'true knowledge' (epignosis) of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ (it took some time for pure polytheistic pagans to begin fully to appreciate Christian truth), only to turn away to the defilements of false religion (2 Peter 2:20-22). These too were in danger of committing it.

All these are those who have deliberately and persistently closed their minds to what in their hearts they knew to be true. The idea is that there is no binding commitment on Christians to pray for such (as there is for those who are 'in the faith'). They have taken themselves beyond the reach of mercy. They are, as it were, outside the sphere of those for whom we should be constantly praying because they have demonstrated that they are not our brothers and sisters in Christ. Prayer for them is not forbidden, only not required, for they are not true brothers, while prayer for true brothers is required.

It should be noted that we have said 'in danger of'. We can never ourselves know whather a person has passed the point of no return. And some may feel that they should pray for such, especially if they are well known to them. But John is looking at our basic responsibilty of prayer for all true believers, and at who should enjoy the main burden of our prayers. He is not, however, forbidding prayer for them.

In the end, of course, all unrighteousness is sin, and thus Christians still sin, and we must bear one another’s burdens and so fulfil the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2). But there the sin is not ‘unto death’, because while the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23), their sins have been borne by Another (2 Corinthians 5:21). It is only the sin unto death that puts a person outside the necessity for our prayers.

Verses 18-20

They Are To Look To The One Who Has Begotten Them to Eternal Life Through Jesus Christ And Keep Themselves from Sin And From The World (1 John 5:18-20 ).

‘We know that whoever is begotten of God does not continue in sin, but he who was begotten of God keeps himself (or ‘him’), and the evil one touches him not. We know that we are of God, and the whole world lies in the evil one. And we know that the Son of God is come, and has given us an understanding, that we know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life.’

John concludes by stressing what we can know with assurance. The first thing we can know is that those who are begotten of God do not continue in sin. They hate sin. They long to be rid of sin. They mourn over sin. They bring it to God and agree with His condemnation of it. (1 John 1:9) They seek its removal by cleansing in the blood of Jesus Christ (1 John 1:7). Thus do they keep themselves within His love and His Kingly Rule so that the Evil One cannot touch them. Alternately the meaning may be that ‘He Who was begotten of God keeps him’, that Jesus the One Who was uniquely begotten of God acts as his Saviour and Redeemer.

The second thing that we know is that we are of God, while the whole world lies in the Evil One. This was indeed the picture portrayed at Jesus temptations, where the Devil had such unseen power that he could control nations (Matthew 4:8-9). The world thinks that it gets its own way. In fact it is deceived and led along by the Evil One. He is the hidden, but true ruler of this world. It is in his arms. Yet not because of his supreme power, but because man in his foolishness chooses for it to be so. Worldly behaviour and trends and attitudes come because of the deceitful activity of the Evil One. And those who love the world are of him, and can only be delivered by response to Jesus Christ and being begotten of God.

The third thing that we know is that the Son of God is come, and has given us an understanding (through the Spirit) so that we know Him Who is true, in contrast with the deceit and lies of the Devil. We have come to the light. And we have entered into Him Who is true, dwelling in Him Who is true, even in His Son Jesus Christ. Notice the closeness of relationship between Father and Son. To dwell in One is to dwell in the Other. This (the Father and the Son) is the true God, and eternal life.

So he finishes with this huge contrast. On the one hand the world. Lying in the Evil One, (not ‘in him’ but as good as), deceived, without understanding, alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them because of the hardness of their hearts (Ephesians 4:18), existing in darkness, dead in trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1), lulled into a false sleep. And on the other being in the One Who is true, given understanding, knowing the truth, dwelling in God, and in His Son Jesus Christ, walking in the light (1 John 1:7), enjoying in and through Him eternal life. This is what the true believer has to rejoice in over against the false ‘believer’, the fact that he has life, spiritual understanding and knowledge of God. Indeed this last situation is the reason for the final exhortation.

Verse 21

They Are To Keep Themselves Out Of The Arms Of The Evil One (1 John 5:21 ).

‘Little children, guard yourselves from idols.’

It is regularly said that this comes as a rather strange comment at the end of the letter, almost unattached from the remainder. But that is to miss the point. For having given the great contrast between believers and unbelievers he wants to warn believers against what in those days was a major danger (and can be so in some countries today) for all ex-Gentile Christians, the lapse into contact with idolatrous practises.

You are hid with Christ in God, he as it were says, beware of being caught up again in your former ways. For let them not doubt that what men sacrifice to idols they sacrifice to devils, yes, even to the Evil One (1 Corinthians 10:20; Deuteronomy 32:17). Thus they must guard themselves lest the subtlety of Satan drag them back into what once entangled them, thus preventing their remaining in God and in Jesus Christ. He knew that idolatry (including mascots and talismans, fortune telling, and seeking to spirits and witches) had many subtle fascinations, whether for the lover seeking the love of his beloved, or the rich man seeking wealth, or the farmer seeking the fruitfulness of his fields, or the young man seeking strength and vigour. And they could seem so innocent. But they were dangerous, for they were the beginning of the slippery slope that led back to being in the arms of the Evil One. They took their eyes and their hearts away from God. And the false prophets too would seek to entangle them again in such things. For that was where all false religion led in the end (Romans 1:18-23). So let them guard themselves against idols, both visible and invisible, and keep themselves only to God.

Bibliographical Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on 1 John 5". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pet/1-john-5.html. 2013.
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