posted on Aug, 25 2017 @ 05:00 PM
When John writes his first epistle, he is not, like Paul, addressing himself to a specific church under particular circumstances.
He writes, on behalf of himself and his fellow teachers, to anyone in the Christian body who will take his advice. Though his first readers were
probably in Ephesus and that region of Asia Minor.
His purpose is to teach these Christians, or remind them, that they are dwelling in God, through Christ, and to show them how this knowledge should be
affecting their conduct.
In particular, there is a need to be in fellowship with one another, made both possible and necessary because we abide in God together.
In the fifth chapter he arrives at the question of faith, which determines our abiding in God.
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is a child of God, has been begotten by God (v1).
Therefore, of course, they will love their parent. But they will also love the other children begotten in the same way. All the children belong
John has previously said that we may know our love for God by the fact that we love his children, our brethren.
But now he reverses this sign (v3). That is, we may know that we love his children “by this”, namely by the fact that we love him and keep his
Because, of course, his commandment is that we should love one another, so the two things go together.
This commandment is not difficult or burdensome because those who are born of God have already overcome the world which would have provided an
And the key to this victory is our faith. It rests on the fact (returning to the thought in the first verse) that we believe Jesus to be the Son of
This faith needs a foundation, which is to be found in the Witness.
The first Witness is Jesus Christ himself, the one who has just been affirmed as the Son of God.
As Witness, he came to us “through water and the blood” (v6).
“The blood” refers to his death on the Cross.
“The water” refers to the act of baptism, through which (at least, in symbolism) we receive the Holy Spirit and the knowledge of his death on the
So these are the two elements of our access to Christ, and John names them in the order in which we receive them.
Then he repeats that we need both elements. Christ does not come to us “with the water only” (v6)
In other words, it is a fundamental mistake to leave the his death out of consideration.
Presumably he needs to emphasise this point because there are (already) teachers who are trying to do just that.
The same point is implied in the symbolic event in which mixed water and blood emerge from the body of Christ (John ch19 v34).
The Spirit of truth is a further witness. As he has previously mentioned, the Spirit is truth.
Together with the water and the blood, that makes a total of three witnesses to Christ.
These three witnesses are EIS TO EN- “to the one”. That is, they are directed towards one end, they are teaching the same truth. “They agree”
in some translations (vv7-8).
All this adds up to the witness provided by God, and the testimony of God is obviously greater, more valuable, than the testimony of man (v9).
Anyone who believes in the Son of God has God dwelling within himself, as we learned in previous passages.
Therefore he also has truth dwelling within himself, and the testimony of God confirming the truth about his Son.
Conversely, anyone who denies this truth is rejecting the testimony of God himself and calling him a liar (v10).
To sum up, then, the content of this testimony;
The key point is that God has given us eternal life, and this life is bound up with the gift of his Son.
So anyone who has the Son has life.
And anyone who does not have the Son does not have life.
This brings us to the summary of John’s purpose in writing this letter.
He has written to those who believe, so that they may know, with absolute certainty, that their belief has given them eternal life (v13).
In this knowledge, they may have boldness to pray, knowing that he always hears them.
This comes with the important qualification “If we ask anything according to his will”.
With that reservation, we know that he hears anything we ask, and we may therefore know that we have obtained what we ask (vv14-15).
This applies in particular to one very important topic of prayer, involved in our love towards the brethren.
If we see our brother committing sin, we are to pray for them, that they may not lose the life which God has given.
This applies to the majority of sin, the sin which is not “unto death”.
However, there is a kind of sin which is “unto death”, in that it separates from Christ. John does not specify further, but we may guess that it
relates to the “unforgivable sin” of Matthew ch12 v32, and the “deliberate sin” of Hebrews ch10 v26, which are incurable because they entail
the rejection of God and his gospel. John does not tell his readers to pray for that kind of sin- presumably because a prayer which could not be
granted would be a prayer wasted.
With that exception, sin may be forgiven and should be prayed for (vv16-17).
John draws the letter to a close (from v18) by offering a sequence of three “things which we know”.
The first is that the one who is begotten by God “does not sin”. This does not mean that he never commits any sinful acts. It means, rather, that
he is not, even so, in a sinful state in the eyes of God. The character of his life is not one of sin.
This is so because God preserves him, prevents him from being touched by the evil one.
The second point relates to the fundamental division which is the background to the first. We know that we belong to God while the rest of the world
belongs to the evil one.
Then the third piece of knowledge is the reason why we belong to God.
It is because the Son of God came and made it possible to know his Father.
We are “in God” because we are “in” his Son Jesus Christ.
Finally the last verse of the letter offers the instruction “Little children, keep yourselves from idols”.
At first sight, this looks like an almost irrelevant anti-climax.
However, I suggest that what John is doing here is offering (by implication) a redefinition of that original commandment.
The command “You shall not make images” is a natural extension of the first and most important command, “You shall have no other gods but me”.
(Exodus ch20 vv3-4).
This is about rejecting everything that is not-God.
And everything that John has been talking about in this letter, respecting our need to abide in God, to know his Son, and to love our brethren, his
other children, is the totality of what is meant by the command “not to have idols”.
It means belonging to God, and not to the evil one, rejecting what is not-God.
When we dwell in God through Christ, that is how we are keeping God’s law and keeping ourselves from idols.