1st John Chapter 5: Believing in Jesus, Prayer, Sin Unto Death

Dec 12th, 2009 | By | Category: 1st & 2nd & 3rd John, Verse by Verse --Studies led by Br. Frank Shallieu (Click on Book name)

1st John Chapter 5: Believing in Jesus, Prayer, Sin Unto Death

1 John 5:1 Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and every one that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him.

“Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born [i.e., begotten] of God.” Even to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the promised Messiah, was a favorable sign because of the evil and doctrinal darkness that prevailed during John’s ministry. Incidentally, when we consider the first period of the Church, of which Paul was the “angel,” the larger part of those brethren had already deceased at the time this epistle was written (Rev. 2:1). Thus by now, a new generation was carrying on in a pagan world in Smyrna, the second period of the Church, of which John was the “angel,” and he was up in Asia Minor (Rev. 2:8). Very few believers remained in Israel, relatively speaking, for the Diaspora of AD 69-70 (the dispersion, the scattering) had already occurred. In this pagan world, to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, was a very clear demarcation, for the second period of the Church is pictured from a doctrinal standpoint. The “red” horse signified the prevailing pagan doctrine (Rev. 6:3,4).

To truly believe that Jesus is the Christ is a miraculous conception, for Satan blinds men’s minds to this truth. Not the pope, the nominal Church, or Mary—no one and nothing else—is the Savior or the Mediator.

Comment: John wrote in his Gospel, “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name” (John 1:12).

Reply: The thought is “to them that believe into his [Jesus’] name,” meaning they made a formal consecration to be a Christian. Such have taken up their cross and are following Jesus.

1 John 5:2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments.

In order to know that we love the brethren, we must love God and keep His commandments (plural). To love God back there was something different, whereas today no distinction would be apparent, for most people in so-called Christian countries would say they believe in and love God. Today millions professedly believe in Christ and God but not in John’s day, when it was unusual to believe in the God of the Old Testament, Jesus’ preexistence, and the fact that when Jesus began his earthly ministry, he was the true Messiah. Thus that type of expression could be used as an indicator of who did and who did not have the truth.

To not only  “love God” but also to “keep his commandments” was a more serious dedication and application. God’s commandments and precepts are mostly in the Old Testament.

1 John 5:3 For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous.

John repeated the thought that to love God is to “keep his commandments.” Then he added, “His [God’s] commandments are not grievous [burdensome].” Jesus said, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:28-30).

Comment: The love of the brethren is, first, the love of God and His commandments. In other words, if we love God and obey His commandments, then we are loving the brethren.

Reply: Yes, to properly love the brethren means that we love those who are in the family of God, those who have made a consecration.

1 John 5:4 For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.

If verse 4 is read, “Whosoever is begotten of God overcomes the world,” it needs qualification, for it does not prove “once saved, always saved.” We must continually overcome the world, or the seed of life (begettal) will be quenched by the worldly spirit. However, if the word “born” is used instead of “begotten,” then the statement is true in regard to the Little Flock and the Great Company, for those who are born will have previously overcome the world. The victory that overcomes the world is our faith.

1 John 5:5 Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?

If one believes today that Jesus is the Son of God, is that a proof he has overcome the world?

No, but it was a proof in John’s day. Back there the distinction, or difference, between the world and the Church was very glaring and obvious, externally speaking. Again, though, the overcoming was an ongoing situation until the end of one’s earthly course.

John wrote on a higher plane, which assumes that we know more than we actually do. From that assumed standpoint, John’s writings are misunderstood because he did not go into the details. He made statements that are qualified by what we are supposed to already know. The statements are true—but they are true based on what he had in mind.

1 John 5:6 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.

Verse 6 requires a little more examination. “This is he that came by water [baptism] and blood [crucifixion, death], even Jesus Christ.” Jesus began his ministry with water baptism. At that time, John the Baptist made a startling announcement, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Earlier John had said he was not worthy to stoop down and unloose the latchet of Messiah’s shoes (Mark 1:7). The start of Jesus’ earthly ministry was quickly noised abroad in Jewry. “Water” was the start of his ministry, and “blood” was the conclusion of his ministry, when he died on the Cross. Both events were startling, and both were accompanied by signs.

1. When Jesus was baptized, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17). John was told in earlier life that Messiah’s coming would be in relationship to when he was baptizing people, and at that time, a dove would come down upon the individual who was to be the Messiah. Subsequently, John testified that he had seen the dove come down and that Jesus was the Messiah.

2. When Jesus died on the Cross, the outstanding signs included the earthquake, the rending of the Temple veil, and the awakening of some of the sleeping saints (Matt. 27:51-53).

The third witness of Jesus’ being the Son of God was the Holy Spirit. “The Spirit [itself] … beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth.” Jesus said, “But when the Comforter is come,  whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth fromthe Father, he [it] shall testify of me” (John 15:26).

Notice the sequence: (1) Water baptism started Jesus’ ministry, (2) blood finished his ministry,  and (3) the Holy Spirit came on the disciples at Pentecost. Moreover, the Holy Spirit came in a dramatic fashion with the sound of a ”rushing mighty wind,” the shaking of the house, tongues of fire, and the ability of the disciples to speak in various tongues (Acts 2:1-4). Thus there were marked manifestations pertaining to the aftereffects of Jesus’ ministry.

Q: John 19:34 reads, “But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water.” Was John now referring back to that incident?

A: We do not think so, although there is an added significance in principle. The blood and water flowing out when the spear pierced Jesus’ side showed, from a natural standpoint, that the cardiac sac had been broken beforehand. Otherwise, only blood would have come out, not water too.

The following commentary was given in the 1982-1983 study:

How did Jesus come “by water and blood”? He was introduced to the nation of Israel by water baptism, and he is introduced to us by his death (crucifixion). Many believed in Christ not during his ministry but subsequently.

The Christian consecrates to death (and then life), whereas the world’s consecration in the Kingdom will be just to life. Down through the Gospel Age, many have felt that the suffering of Paul and others was not necessary and that the Christian in the present life is in a ruling or reigning state. It is true that Christians walk in “newness of life,” but these others viewed the “newness” in a radical sense (Rom. 6:4). They could see the “water” aspect but not the “blood” aspect. However, for the consecrated Christian, the narrow way is a new walk but unto death, and Christ was the exemplar of both. Christians are baptized into his death.

“And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth.” John’s vocabulary is different because of its repetition, which goes forward and backward and is both positive and negative. At Jesus’ baptism, an audible voice said, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Also, John saw a dove come down and abide on Jesus. John was convinced that Jesus was the Messiah and introduced him accordingly.

The Holy Spirit testified to John that Jesus was the Messiah, and John in turn testified to others, for the multitude did not see the dove. Just as the heavens were opened to Jesus at his baptism, so the Holy Spirit opens our eyes of understanding. The Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness to further study and dedicate himself to what his ministry would be, and so it is with us in principle. For those who actually grab hold of the call, their minds are opened, and as they respond to the call, they are driven to reflect seriously and to consecrate. They try to clarify what their purpose henceforth will be. Flesh and blood does not reveal that Jesus is the Christ; rather, it is God who does the revealing with His miraculous power, or Spirit (Matt. 16:15-17).

Some twist the meaning of the Spirit and look for all kinds of witnesses and testimonies. John was not referring to a feeling or emotion, a dream, or a charismatic atmosphere. He said simply, “The [Holy] Spirit is truth.” He stated a general principle of how the Holy Spirit testifies to us. We love to tell the old, sweet story, but its power comes because it is TRUE.

1 John 5:7 For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.

1 John 5:8 And there are three that bear witness in earth, the spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one.

As rendered in the King James Version, verses 7 and 8 are confusing, but most of the reading is spurious, not being found in almost 200 manuscripts earlier than the seventh century. The correct reading is, “For there are three that bear record: the Spirit, and the water, and the blood; and these three agree in one.” (The RSV and the NIV support this rendering.) The Holy Spirit, the water, and the blood are the three witnesses, or essentials, that John was emphasizing. The Spirit is really the understanding of the Word of God; it is enlightenment.

Again John was repeating himself, but the repetition is helpful, for we have to dwell on these points in order to assimilate them.

The correct sequence for the Christian is (1) heart baptism, (2) Spirit begettal, (3) literal water baptism, and (4) faithfulness unto death (resisting unto “blood”). Incidentally, the Jews who accepted Christ needed this sequence too, whether or not they had John’s baptism.

1 John 5:9 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.

The “witness of God” is that He has testified of His Son. What was John referring to? God’s voice from heaven testified at Jesus’ baptism, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well  pleased” (Matt. 3:17). And again, at the Mount of Transfiguration, a voice out of the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him” (Matt. 17:5). Peter said, “We actually heard this voice, which came from heaven, when we were with him in the holy mount” (2 Pet. 1:18 paraphrase). Although John did not mention Jesus’ glistening garments in his epistle, we can be sure that he had told the account to others on many occasions during his life and ministry. In other words, by this time, it should have been common understanding that John, Peter, and James had heard God testify. At the time of Jesus’ baptism, only John the Baptist and Jesus heard the voice, but on the Mount of Transfiguration, the three apostles and Jesus heard it. Therefore, John only had to make a brief remark here for the recipients of the letter to know what he was referring to.

Comment: John 8:18 reads, “I am one that bear witness of myself, and the Father that sent me  beareth witness of me.” John 5:36 states, “But I have greater witness than that of John: for theworks which the Father hath given me to finish, the same works that I do, bear witness of me, that the Father hath sent me.”

Reply: Jesus raised the dead, healed lepers, restored missing limbs, etc. All of the miracles were testimonies.

The following commentary was given in the 1982-1983 study:

“If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater.” Undue respect was not to be paid to some who said, for example, “I knew the Apostle Paul,” but did not base their continued reasoning on the Word of God. Instead they actually led away from the Word, the all-important testimony.

In the Book of Hebrews, Paul spoke of the sure Abrahamic Covenant of God. He reasoned that if what man confirms by an oath is important, then God’s confirming the covenant of promise with an oath constitutes a sure and immutable testimony (Heb. 6:13-18).

Q: Was the “witness of men” about Jesus or about others?

A: It applies to both. For example, the false element, such as the Gnostics, came and testified they knew Christ, but then they branched off into another philosophy that was contrary to the Word, the testimony of God. However, some, like the Apostle Paul, were true witnesses who had had contact with Christ. John said, “We have seen, heard, and touched the Word of God.” That was a testimony of men but also the testimony of an apostle, one appointed of God. (Incidentally, the word “gnostic” means “I know,” and “agnostic” means “I do not know.”) We should not prejudge what a person will say, but what we hear has to be weighed against the Word of God to see whether the testimony is true. Thus we have to go to the Word to prove what is true with regard to Jesus. Other philosophers used their own human reasoning, whereas the Word is a revealed utterance of God, and not a product of man’s own inductive reasoning.

1 John 5:10 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 that God gave of  his Son.

“He that believeth on [into—see Diaglott] the Son of God [that is, consecrates] hath the witness [of God] in himself.” Next the son of thunder said, “He that believeth not God hath made him [God] a liar.” Why? “Because he believeth not the record [the Old Testament prophecies of Jesus plus the New Testament fulfillment of those predictions] that God gave of his Son.” John spoke gently and sweetly, but he also had the needed characteristic of strength and power. He loved righteousness and hated iniquity.

1 John 5:11 And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.

John frequently emphasized life. Verse 11 combats the pagan thought that the present life is the only life: “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” The gospel teaching pertains to the afterlife—a life beyond the grave. Of the other religions which teach of a life hereafter, the ideas are usually so nebulous that they are really meaningless. For example, the doctrine of transmigration of the soul teaches that one returns to earth in another life form—a donkey or a beetle or something else—depending on how he lived the present life. To the contrary, the gospel teaching is that the same entity, the same individual, lives again. Even with the divine nature, the individual is the same but on a higher plane of life. John scotched many different theories that were rampant at that time. For the most part, fear was the motivating factor.

1 John 5:12 He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.

What a positive statement! He who has Jesus has life; he who does not have Jesus does not have life. There is no other name under heaven whereby one can be saved (Acts 4:12). The Greek philosophers considered this concept of salvation in and through one person to be very dogmatic and narrow. The Catholic Church bypasses the Son and emphasizes the Mass, novenas, contributions, statues, saints, Mary, medals, etc.—anything to take the focus off sole dependency on the one and only Savior, Jesus Christ.

The gospel was so miraculous and there was such a paucity of believers in John’s day that a definite mark of demarcation existed between the Christian and others. A cost was involved for those who believed in God and were being faithful. In contrast, it does not cost a person anything at the present time to say he believes in God. What persecution do we get for such a statement? At most, we might be called a religious fanatic. However, to live in the Roman Empire and make that claim would be blasphemy. Therefore, there was a cost just for believing in the Hebrew God and in Jesus Christ, a Jew, as the Messiah. All of Asia Minor was under Roman control at that time. When the Jewish nation rebelled earlier, Vespasian and Titus went down there and destroyed the city of Jerusalem and killed millions of people.

To the second period of the Church, Smyrna, Jesus did not give one word of criticism.

“And unto the angel of the church in Smyrna write; These things saith the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive;

“I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich) and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan.

“Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.

“He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death.” (Rev. 2:8-11)

1 John 5:13 These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.

John addressed the relative paucity of believers in Smyrna, the second period of the Church, in a very intimate fashion. He spoke in this simple way because those who believed in God and in Christ and retained their belief did so at such a great cost that they got life—not necessarily the crown of life but eternal life. John was the right messenger for that peculiar period of time. Verse 13 is a summation. Like many of John’s statements, if this verse were taken out of context, one could draw a wrong conclusion. The background of John’s day has to be considered lest one think “once saved, always saved.” Only if we fulfill our part and continue faithful and obedient to the end with this conviction of belief can we be confident of obtaining eternal life.

Some were beginning to forget about Christ. Previously John gave certain symptoms to indicate that one had the doctrine, or spirit, of antichrist. Then he gave characteristics to show whether a person had the true spirit, for example, the belief that Jesus is the Son of God. Such a simple statement inferred that some were starting to forget the primacy of Christ—that he is the only means of salvation. Only through his blood and the vicarious nature of Jesus’ sacrifice are all sins forgiven. John was saying that we know and can be assured we are going in the right direction if we retain our identity with Jesus in these matters and look to him for instruction.

By inference, some did not believe “on the name” of Jesus. They all knew he existed, but they had lost sight of the importance of continued identity with him and doing things in his name. Jesus said, “Whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do” (John 14:13). In other words, one has to petition God and ask for forgiveness through Jesus.

The last part of verse 13, “and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God,” is omitted in some of the early manuscripts, but it may be genuine.

1 John 5:14 And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us:

1 John 5:15 And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him.

Verse 15 should not be taken out of context. The key words are in verse 14: “according to his will.” “If we ask any thing according to his [God’s] will, [we can be confident that] he heareth us.” Prayer, then, becomes a testimony of the Spirit. John had said, “No man has to teach you whether you are in the right way, for you know what God has done for you.” In the Smyrna period, it was especially appropriate for Christians to have the inner conviction that they were on the right road of understanding and belief if they remained faithful to the counsel of the Apostle John.

For our prayers to be answered, we must (1) be consecrated and (2) ask in harmony with God’s will. At least we can have confidence that God will hear us if these two conditions are met. Of course an answer to prayer might be no. For example, if we earnestly pray for understanding on a difficult Scripture, we will not get an affirmative answer if the due time for understanding that specific text has not yet come. However, if we pray generally for wisdom to understand God’s Word, we will get increased knowledge. Either way, God is pleased if we ask. The principle is shown with Daniel, who was called “greatly beloved” for his desire to understand, even though the words were “closed up and sealed till the time of the end” (Dan. 9:23; 10:11,19; 12:9).

John used the word “heareth” in verse 14 in the sense of approval—that God listens with approval. A Christian goes through various experiences in his life, one example being a “cloud,” which he may or may not be aware of. A cloud comes because one is not rendering proper obedience, and his prayers are not “heard” as a result. Only Jesus could say with confidence, “I know the Father heareth me always because I do the things that please Him.”

Even in regard to continuity of devotion to the Lord, a Christian may not be in a proper heart condition either momentarily or for a period of time. Surely during such a time, the Lord is not looking favorably and approvingly upon the individual. For example, when Nadab and Abihu offered “strange fire” before Jehovah, they apparently approached Him in a drunken condition. Because they did not give due respect to the principles of the Law in the Tabernacle services, they were struck dead. With mankind being fallen, there may be times when God withholds a feeling of intimacy for an individual’s good. Feeling alienated and estranged from God, he repents and prays more earnestly for the feeling of nearness to be reaffirmed. The statements of John’s epistles are meant to be general rules. Consider verse 15: “And if we know that he [God] hear us, … we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him.”

The qualification is, “If we ask … according to His will.” If we come to God with a petition, we know that He will give it serious consideration. He will “hear” our prayer but not necessarily answer the specifics we attach to it. For example, Jesus asked, “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt” (Matt. 26:39). The “cup” did not pass from Jesus, yet he was “heard” in that he got God’s approval for humbly praying contingent upon not his own will but the Father’s. Jesus submitted fully to God under the extreme experience. Then the Father, who appreciates childlike dependence, gave Jesus assurance, strength, and heavenly peace.

1 John 5:16 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.

In John’s day, it was so rare to be a believer that the believers were genuine and the fakers left. John was not saying that Christians in his day were guaranteed life, but he was saying that the great majority would be saved because of the severity of the conditions that existed. Those who went into Second Death were very obvious by the vulgarity of their departure from the faith in either doctrine or moral deportment. Therefore, the prayers of faithful individuals at that time were more meaningful, even though the only way for one to receive forgiveness when grievous sins were committed was through repentance. However, the prayers of the faithful might produce an experience to alert or awaken the sinner to the danger of his situation. As a result, he would, hopefully, take the proper procedure for forgiveness, which is always repentance. Generally speaking, the brethren were in such a holy attitude in the hostile world of that day that their prayers along that line were answered in a remarkable fashion.

Comment: Verse 16 shows we should watch our brethren from the standpoint of blatant sins that are committed. We do have to make a judgment on the degree of sin.

Reply: Yes, the very fact there is “a sin unto death” indicates that we have to make a judgment in order to know when to pray and when not to pray. We have known some individuals—but very few—who definitely went into Second Death. One such individual, formerly an elder, wrote a book against God. At the end of the book, he said that he would be willing, as a test of his conviction, to curse God with an upraised fist to see if he would die. That book is one of the most damaging we have ever seen. We have never shown it to anyone because the arguments are so subtle that it is almost as if the Adversary himself were the author.

Comment: After Job’s restoration to health, God said to Eliphaz (and indirectly to the other two comforters), “Therefore take unto you now seven bullocks and seven rams, and go to my servant Job, and offer up for yourselves a burnt offering; and my servant Job shall pray for you: for him will I accept” (Job 42:8). This instruction shows the sinner has to ask forgiveness.

Reply: Yes, certain laws, both spiritually and naturally, have to be followed because they are of divine origin.

To see a brother “sin a sin which is not unto death [Second Death]” means we must make a judgment as to whether or not the sin is revocable. If we can see that a person has not sinned unto Second Death, then we should also be able to see when a person has sinned unto death. In other words, each Christian should try to develop the perspective whereby he can reasonably ascertain when a person has committed a sin unto Second Death and has thus gone beyond the barrier of forgiveness.

Some brethren go through their entire Christian walk without being able to make that discrimination. In fact, they are not even interested in making that distinction. We do not think such brethren will attain the Little Flock and be future judges over the world of mankind, for they are shirking important issues during the practicing period of the present life. Brethren should not be evasive and excuse such gross sins in either self or others by saying, “Perhaps his consecration was not accepted.”

Verse 16 is discussing the situation where, as far as we can see, a brother has committed a grievous sin but has not sinned the sin unto Second Death. What, then, is one’s responsibility?

The observing brother should pray to God on behalf of the sinning brother. “And he [God] shall give him life for them that sin not unto death.” The thought is that God will give the sinner life if he repents. To receive forgiveness, the sinner must take the necessary step of asking a brother (or an ecclesia or a congregation depending on the circumstance) to pray for him. (Of course, even if one does not ask, but we know he has sinned, we can generally ask that he be made aware of his sin through whatever experiences the Lord chooses to give him.) According to the principle of James 5:14,15, a person who realizes he is sin-sick should come to the brethren and say, “I have sinned greatly before God, and I feel that my prayers are not being answered. I am not able in my own strength to get relief. Therefore, I come to you and pray that you will help me in obtaining relief from this burden that is on my soul.” Under that circumstance, the person will be healed because he has evidenced contrition by humbling himself to ask the brethren for help.

In places where brethren are not available, the sinner could go to a close friend, an individual brother or sister in Christ, who is very sincere in his devotion and conviction to the Lord. The sinner would say, “I come to you for help because I have a problem.” He would then request prayer for his restoration to God’s favor. The brother or sister in Christ could then pray with faith and confidence on behalf of the sinner, and the prayer will be answered. Reinstatement will occur for that circumstance. In other words, if the sinner repents, he will get a temporary reprieve. However, he will get life only if he is henceforth faithful to the end of his course.

Here, as in so many other places in John’s epistles, the statements must be modified.

“There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it.” In continuing to pray for someone who is going further and further into gross sin and is not asking for help, we would be more loving than God. In other words, if we have already taken certain steps and we find that there is no response, we would give up after a while. But then, should some circumstance happen subsequently and the consecrated one return repentantly, our interest would immediately be aroused. In the Parable of the Prodigal Son, the son went to a far country and squandered all his goods. The father was very compassionate, but he did not send messengers to the swine pit to try to persuade his son to return, for the son had made his decision.

However, once that son retraced his steps back to the father, showing that repentance and a change of heart had taken place, the father received him gladly. The prodigal son said, “Father, I am not even worthy to be considered your son. I have sinned against heaven, and I have sinned against you.”

Where gross sin is involved, we have to be careful. It is one thing to snatch someone out of the fire, but we must not go into the fire lest we ourselves become contaminated (Jude 22 and 23). In doing the snatching, we are to stand outside the perimeter of the fire and hate “even the garment spotted by the flesh.” We cannot meddle with either doctrinal error or mixed fellowship without getting contaminated.

We can be sure that if a “righteous” person asks something of God, the Father will give it very serious consideration. How wonderful it is to think that we can pray for another from that standpoint! However, we have to be reasonable in our expectations.

1 John 5:17 All unrighteousness is sin: and there is a sin not unto death.

There are different degrees of both righteousness and sin. “All unrighteousness [disobedience] is sin,” but there are both black sins and gray areas. The worst sins are unto Second Death. In verses 16 and 17, the emphasis is on conduct rather than on doctrine, for John said, “If any man see his brother sin a sin.”

The word “and” should be “but”: “All unrighteousness is sin: but there is a sin not unto death.” Now John was positive. If we see someone who, as far as we can reasonably tell, has not committed the sin unto Second Death, we should pray for him and be concerned for his spiritual welfare. As David said, “Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me: then shall I be upright, and I shall be innocent from the great transgression [unto Second Death]” (Psa. 19:13). The “great transgression” is a sin that, once committed, can never receive forgiveness—the person can never have a recovery. Once that step is taken, all the prayers in the world cannot effect a deliverance.

Most sins are “not unto death,” but on the other hand, “Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Gal. 6:7). Also, there is a saying: “Sow a thought; reap an action. Sow an action; reap a habit. Sow a habit; reap a character. Sow a character; reap a destiny.” The statement “all unrighteousness is sin” means that with regard to sin, nothing should be dismissed or treated lightly. All unrighteousness is dangerous, and repetition creates a habit, which eventually reaches a destiny.

Comment: There seems to be a contrast between the beginning and the end of verse 17. The realization that “all unrighteousness is sin” could cause one to be very despondent. However, there is hope because not all sin is unto death.

Comment: The RSV reads, “All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin which is not mortal.”

1 John 5:18 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.

Whosoever is begotten of God does not practice sin or, from another standpoint, does not really at heart consent to, or approve of, the sin. The individual is overtaken in a fault, but he does not agree with the sin or practice it. In judging self, one who is truly begotten of God constantly tries to nip sin in the bud lest it overcome him.

“He that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one [Satan] toucheth him not.” This statement is directly contrary to the statement in the first chapter, “If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar” (1 John 1:10). John also said that if we do sin, the blood of Christ cleanses us and that we have an Advocate, Jesus Christ the righteous (1 John 2:1). Thus John said (1) there is a sinning and (2) we do not sin. The point is that if we do sin, we are to ask for forgiveness, but one who is begotten of God does not give consent to or practice sin.

Q: Would this verse also make sense if the Greek word gennao is left as “born”? “We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not.” Some claimed they did not sin, but wasn’t John saying that whoever is actually born of God will not sin? While we are still in the begotten stage in the present life, we must keep ourselves and not practice sin.

A: Yes, that is true for the first part of verse 18.

The second part of verse 18 reads, “But he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not.” Here “begotten” is the correct thought, pertaining to the present life, for all whom God will reward and honor with the divine nature will be “virgins …which follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth” (Rev. 14:4). They voluntarily ask for forgiveness, thus keeping their robes clean, whereas the Great Company will be taken out into the wilderness so that they will come to their senses and then ask for forgiveness. Those who will be of the Little Flock do not countenance sin, but nevertheless, sin is in their members, for they are born in sin and shapen in iniquity. However, as soon as the sin is revealed to them, they repent and ask for (and receive) forgiveness.

The thought of “keeping” oneself includes self-examination. The one who is truly begotten of God and wants to please Him examines himself to see if he is making progress or is slipping backward. Taking self-inventory should be done on a regular basis. In one sense, we ask forgiveness for sins at the end of the day. However, another type of self-analysis is more critical; namely, we should sit back and think about what we are doing and examine our motives. “Keeping” ourselves is also working out our “own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12). As Jesus said, especially in regard to the end of the age, “Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matt. 26:41). We are to watch events as well as self. As portrayed in Pilgrim’s Progress, sin is very beguiling and enticing. In Greek mythology, sin is likened to a group of sirens whose singing seduced mariners on the water. As the sailors approached, they hit the rocks and became shipwrecked. “That wicked one toucheth him not.” In the final analysis, Satan will not get a real hold on one who does not practice sin. Sometimes the Lord allows us to have an experience where Satan “touches” us. However, it is one thing to be “touched” and another thing to be “embraced.”

The Wicked One does not clutch the faithful Christian or get him in his grasp. He may touch us by causing a condition in which we actually fall for the moment, but to stumble and recover our steps is different from getting in a bear trap, where we are seized and grabbed.

Comment: For a test of endurance, the Lord sometimes permits the Adversary to come in like a flood. God wants to see how we will bear up. We may not always be successful and victorious in shaking the Adversary, but the experience will keep us constantly in prayer. That part alone may be what the Lord is pleased with. Therefore, our prayers may not be answered right away, for God sees the necessity for us to have the severe test.

Reply: A practical example is what happened to Job. James used the experience of Job in a spiritual sense. “Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy” (James 5:11). Satan did touch Job in the sense that everything was affected—his children, health, property, flocks, etc.—but not his life. Since the Adversary was not successful in destroying Job’s integrity before God, he did not get a victory. Just as Job’s testing did not come because of anything he did wrong, so it can be with the Christian. Sometimes Satan is allowed to bring experiences upon the Christian to prove and test him. As a result, the individual will come forth even better than before and will magnify the Lord’s purpose. However, with other Christians, partial guilt may be the basis for God to allow the testing.

1 John 5:19 And we know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness.

In verse 19, as in verse 17, the word “and” should be “but”: “And we know that we are of God, but the whole world lieth in wickedness.”

Comment: The RSV ends verse 19, “The whole world is in the power of the evil one [Satan].”

1 John 5:20 And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may 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.

Not only do we know that God is true, but also we are in Him by recognizing Jesus’ role, which was being lost sight of in John’s day. In addition, we are in Jesus Christ, God’s Son. The departure from the primacy of Jesus began to take place back there, and that is why many later idolized the Virgin Mary. For Christians to give Mary the role of Christ means that earlier there was a neglect of recognizing the need for Christ as the only way of coming to the Father. Jesus was more than a way-shower. Papacy could not have developed with the pope claiming to be the vicar of Christ if Jesus’ role had been retained.

“The Son of God is come … that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true.” John purposely used the word “true” twice because erroneous ideas were abroad. He was saying, “Jesus is the way; this is the truth,” whereas others were claiming to be the way of truth. John also emphasized this theme in his Gospel, saying that Jesus is the only door to the sheepfold, that he is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). John was discussing the principles of truth in a generalized, broad sense. Once we try to take generalized principles and squeeze them down to specifics, we have to watch lest we make creeds, for example, in judging a brother’s standing with God based on his view of the Lord’s presence or chronology. Of course these are important doctrines, but we should not establish creeds.

“This is the true God, and eternal life.” Trinitarians like to say that the word “this” refers to Jesus—“This [Jesus] is the true God”—but the context of verses 18 and 19 refers to God. Also, the pronoun “him” in verse 20, used twice, refers to God. John was saying, “Consider your experience when you accepted Jesus Christ—the conviction that it brought to your heart and the life that you subsequently led in believing in Christ as the Son of God. Such reflection on the past miraculous providences of God is a part of taking stock of yourself. Some of those providences were very favorable, and some were warnings. Will you now listen to some glib oratorical goat, who is expounding error?” Those who differed with John felt that they had superior understanding, and they wanted to disclose their hidden mystery. However, neither God nor Jesus was in their reasoning. For instance, one school of thought taught that there were different gods in heaven and that the God of the Old Testament was not the supreme God. By not understanding the permission of evil, these false teachers found fault with Almighty God for creating a being that became corrupted. To many Christians in the past, this thinking was a thorny, troubling problem, whereas we are blessed with The Divine Plan of the Ages, which gives several reasons for the permission of evil. Job withstood a severe testing without having this understanding. No wonder he is mentioned by name in the Old Testament as being exemplary (Ezek. 14:14,20).

When we hear something new, we have to be careful. Yes, there is a growth in understanding, for the light of truth shines more and more unto the perfect day, but we should analyze that which is new and try to square it with the Word of God. Through a familiarity with Scripture in daily study, the Holy Spirit helps us to discern right from wrong. Thus John was saying to those under his influence, “Sit back and consider what you have learned. Be swift to hear, but advance cautiously.” We should ask, “If I accept this new thought, what will it lead to? Is it profitable? Is it good? Is it helpful?” The false teachers taught fear, and they were uncertain about the hereafter. What a wonderful theme to love the “true God” and His obedient Son!

Comment: The Diaglott clarifies the pronouns. “And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us discernment, that we might know the true One, and we are in the true One— by his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and the aionian life.”

Reply: John did not emphasize immortality in the Smyrna period of the Church. His Gospel, written earlier, records Jesus’ words about immortality. This short epistle was like a sermon, whereas John’s Gospel was an overall perspective of the things Jesus said and did, especially during the last week of his earthly ministry.

1 John 5:21 Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen.

The “Amen” is spurious here. At first, this last verse seems like a rather strange ending to the epistle. We are expecting a climax, and what did John say? “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” What “idols” were the brethren back there to keep themselves from? John was referring to the false teachers, who said that they did not sin and that they knew God. John’s reply was to the effect, “If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth” (1 John 1:6). In other words, the behavior of these Christians, who claimed that they knew God, was absolutely contrary to the principles of righteousness and truth. The reality was that they hated their brethren because they did not grant support, help, and comfort as needed. In time, they left John and went their way. Not only did the false teachers have seductive doctrines that gave the appearance of superior intelligence, but also they prospered materially. The combination made their teaching even more seductive, for material prosperity was associated with their doctrine. The false teachers prospered because the world recognized them, whereas John and his followers were poor in this world’s goods. In reality the false teachers were children of the Adversary.

The world was also an idol. John said, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15). He showed that this worldly spirit, with its philosophy and reasoning, was motivated by Satan.

In other words, there are various idols. Another idol is self—one’s own importance. Inordinate attention to a pleasure is also an idol, for example, music or sports. The particular pleasure might not be necessarily evil in itself, but undue reverence and attention made it an idol. The idolization of another individual was also wrong, for it led to forgetting the importance of God and the primacy of Jesus. The point is that if we die, our hope should be to see God first, Jesus next, then the apostles, and finally others. We can love our husband, wife, child, parent, etc., in the flesh, but God and Jesus must be first. Moreover, desiring the fellowship of a group above purity and principle can be an idol. We must not bend principle to avoid severing a friendship where disfellowshipping is indicated. In summary, “idols” are anything that distracts from God and/or Jesus and our devotion to them. John stressed the Father and the Son over and over. Love for God and Jesus—love supreme—will be the final test on the brethren. Some, either in the brotherhood itself or in the nominal Church, will use John’s epistles to justify their concept of false love. Stated another way, John’s epistles will be used to prove we are wrong.

1997 Study with Excerpts from 1982-1983 Study

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