1 John 5:1-6
This is a pastoral letter to churches in conflict––written to address the conflict and to prevent its spread. A number of scholars think of this as a sermon in written form.
The problems in the churches were caused by false teachers who had left the church (2:19). These false teachers were haughty and unloving. They denied the Incarnation and the deity of Jesus and claimed not to be sinners. They may have been precursors of the Gnostic heretics who plagued the second century church.
These false teachers remained influential. The danger was that they would persuade neophyte believers to accept their heretical teachings.
1 JOHN 5:1. WHOEVER BELIEVES
1 Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God. Whoever loves the Father also loves the child who is born of him.
“Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God” (v. 1a). In these words, John directly refutes the false teachers who, because of their dualism (the spiritual is good but the material is bad) cannot accept the deity of Jesus––the man––the human being. They cannot accept that Jesus (the man) is the Christ (the messiah, the spiritual entity). They cannot accept that Jesus (the man) was “born of God.”
“Whoever loves the Father also loves the child who is born (gennao) of him” (v. 1b). There are different words in the Greek for giving birth (by the mother) and begetting (by the father). Tikto is the word for giving birth by the mother. Gennao is the word for begetting by the father.
We could translate this as “Whoever loves the Father also loves the child who is begotten or sired by the (Heavenly) Father.”
John ended the last chapter by saying:
“This commandment we have from him,
that he who loves God should also love his brother” (4:21).
Now he gives a solid reason why anyone who loves the Father will also love Christian brothers and sisters. They are God’s progeny––God’s offspring. God loves them as a loving father would love his children––far more than any earthly father loves his children. If we have any love for the Father, we need to honor his love for his children by sharing his love for them.
Again, this directly refutes the attitude of the false teachers, who are haughty and look with disdain on those who do not share their spiritual vision.
1 JOHN 5:2-4a. BY THIS WE KNOW
2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep his commandments. 3 For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. His commandments are not grievous. 4a For whatever is born of God overcomes the world.
“By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep his commandments” (v. 2). See the comments on verse 1b above.
This verse adds a new wrinkle. We can know that we love the children of God (our Christian brothers and sisters) if we (1) love God and (2) keep God’s commandments.
What does keeping God’s commandments have to do with loving the children of God? Quite a lot!
- As one example, the Ten Commandments are divided roughly half and half between those having to do with honoring God (Exodus 20:2-11) and honoring other people (Exodus 20:12-17). This latter group of commandments includes a requirement to honor father and mother (v. 12) as well as prohibitions against murder, adultery, theft, false witness, and covetousness (vv. 13-17).
However, even the first group of commandments (honoring God) includes this provision:
“You shall not do any work (on the Sabbath),
you, nor your son, nor your daughter,
your male servant, nor your female servant,
nor your livestock,
nor your stranger who is within your gates” (Exodus 20:10).
While the primary purpose of that provision is honoring God, it has the secondary benefit of protecting several groups of vulnerable people.
- As another example, both the Torah (Leviticus 19:18) and Jesus (Mark 12:31) command us to love our neighbor. In the Markan passage, the verb is agapao, which is the kind of love that is concerned about the welfare of the other person.
Agapao is an action rather than a feeling verb. Jesus wasn’t calling us to have warm feelings for our neighbor, although that would be good. He was calling us to act in loving ways toward our neighbor, regardless of our feelings toward him/her.
Therefore, when we keep God’s commandments, our conduct will demonstrate that we love the children of God.
“For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments” (v. 3a). When we keep God’s commandments, we not only demonstrate that we love God’s children (v. 2), but we also demonstrate that we love God.
Jesus said much the same thing: “If you love me, keep my commandments…. One who has my commandments, and keeps them, that person is one who loves me…. If a man loves me, he will keep my word” (John 14:15, 21, 23). He also promised, “If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love” (John 15:10).
“His commandments are not grievous” (Greek: barus) (v. 3b). The Greek word barus means burdensome, heavy, or difficult. Jesus reflected this sentiment when he said,
“Come to me, all you who labor and are heavily burdened,
and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me,
for I am gentle and lowly in heart;
and you will find rest for your souls.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light”
That was certainly true when compared with the legalism of the scribes and Pharisees, who added their many traditions to the law. The complexity became impossible. Also, the scribes and Pharisees had no compassion for the people whom they had been sent to serve. They were the elite, and they showed little regard for more ordinary people.
Our experience has verified what John and Jesus were saying. The person who goes through life keeping God’s commandments will avoid many pitfalls that accompany the lives of spiritually undisciplined people.
Also, faith casts out fear. Many have been the nights when I have finally been able to go to sleep only when I have prayed and turned my problem over to God.
But there is another side to that coin. Paul talked about the difficulty he had with doing the right thing. He said:
“For I don’t know what I am doing.
For I don’t practice what I desire to do;
but what I hate, that I do….
For the good which I desire, I don’t do;
but the evil which I don’t desire, that I practice.
But if what I don’t desire, that I do,
it is no more I that do it, but sin which dwells in me” (Romans 15-20).
We have all experienced the frustrations of which Paul spoke.
“For whatever is born of God overcomes (Greek: nikao) the world” (kosmos) (v. 4a). The Greek word nikao means to be victorious, to prevail, or to overcome.
The sons and daughters of the Heavenly Father––those begotten of the Father––can expect to achieve victory over the kosmos––the world opposed to God.
That won’t always be self-evident:
- When Jesus was struggling with the weight of his cross so that the Roman soldiers had to require Simon of Cyrene to help him (Mark 15:21), no one would have said, “This man is in the process of achieving victory over the world.”
- When members of the council were stoning Stephen––hurling large stones to crush his head (Acts 7:54-60)––no one would have said, “This man is in the process of achieving victory over the world.”
- When we try to do right, but have it thrown back in our face, we won’t be inclined to say, “I am in the process of overcoming the world.”
But the victory is in God’s hands, and will happen through God’s power. The reality of victory might come slowly, but it will come. We might not be there to see it, but it will come. God is at work behind the scenes. We need only to play our role in God’s great drama as faithfully as possible––whether we have a leading role or a bit part. In either case, God will multiply the effects of our faithfulness to make us an important part of his story.
Sometimes we will see the victory, however dimly, in the midst of our adversity. When Bull Connor directed the use of fire hoses and attack dogs against civil rights marchers, the faithful sang “We Shall Overcome”––and they did.
1 JOHN 5:4b-6. FAITH IS THE VICTORY
4b This is the victory that has overcome the world: your faith. 5 Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? 6 This is he who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ; not with the water only, but with the water and the blood. It is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth.
“This is the victory (Greek: nike) that has overcome (Greek: nikesasa––from nikao) the world: your faith” (Greek: pistis) (v. 4b). For “victory” and “overcome,” see the comments on verse 4a above.
In the New Testament, pistis (faith) has to do with the person’s response to the kerygma (the proclamation of the Good News of Jesus Christ). In other words, Christian faith is faith in the Lord Jesus––steering the ship of our lives by Jesus’ star.
John says that faith is the key to victory over the world (the kosmos––the world opposed to God). As long as we have faith in the Lord Jesus and steer the ship of our lives by Jesus’ star, we can be assured that we will overcome the world. That might happen quickly or slowly, but it will happen.
The Greek word nikesasa (overcome) is aorist, pointing to an overcoming that has already taken place. In the case of these new Christians to whom John is writing, he might intend to reassure them that they have already overcome the predations of the false teachers––or that God has already given them the victory over kosmos temptations.
“Who is he who overcomes (Greek: nikao) the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (v. 5). In verse 4b, “has overcome” was aorist tense, pointing to a completed act. However, in this verse nikao is present tense, indicating an ongoing action––an overcoming of temptation that must take place daily in the lives of believers. The kosmos world, powered by Satan, floods us with temptations.
Some of those temptations will involve sex, money, or power. Others will tempt us to doubt our faith. Still others take the form of opposition to faith from people, such as employers or governmental officials, who exercise power over us.
But whatever the temptation, the person “who believes that Jesus is the Son of God” is the one who can and will overcome. Faith will enable faithful people to avoid the temptations that would threaten to undo them.
When John says, “Jesus is the Son of God,” he intends to refute once again the false teachers who deny the Incarnation (God in flesh in the person of Jesus) and Jesus’ deity.
“This is he who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ; not with the water only, but with the water and the blood” (v. 6a). What does John mean by “water and blood”? There are several possibilities, but most likely water refers to Jesus’ baptism and blood refers to his death.
Once again, John is directly refuting the false teachers, who would not accept that the Christ (the Messiah) could be associated with the physical elements of water and blood.
“It is the Spirit who testifies” (Greek: martureo) (v. 6b). Martureo is one of several similar Greek words from which we get our word martyr. Martureo actually means witness or to bear witness, but those who bear witness to Christ often pay a high price for their faithfulness––sometimes even martyrdom.
But in this case, it is the Holy Spirit who bears witness. While John doesn’t specify what it is to which the Spirit testifies, it is almost certainly to Jesus, who came by water and blood to save the kosmos world.
Shortly before his death, Jesus promised his disciples, “When the Counselor (Greek: parakletos––the Holy Spirit) has come, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will testify about me” (John 15:26).
“because the Spirit is the truth” (Greek: aletheia) (v. 6b). Aletheia (truth) is that which is real, untainted by falsehood. That is true of the Holy Spirit, God’s Spirit dwelling among us and within us. God’s Spirit is untainted by falsehood, and is therefore a trustworthy guide. The disciples can trust the Spirit to lead them rightly and faithfully.
Jesus is truth personified––truth in human form––“the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). Jesus promised, “If you remain in my word, then you…will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:31-32).
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
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Copyright 2017, Richard Niell Donovan