The author of this epistle was John son of Zebedee, the youngest of the apostles, who survived them all. It is called a "general epistle" because it is not addressed to any particular church or person. It is written to Christians in general! It is written chiefly to promote brotherly love, to oppose worldly living of the part of believers, to deal with the doctrine of the Trinity, to deal with the deity and humanity of Christ, to encourage assurance and to set forth the gospel of God's grace in Christ.
v. 1. "That which was from the beginning" refers to the deity and eternity of Christ. He existed from the beginning (John 1:1,2). Jesus Christ is God (John 10:30-33; 2 Cor. 5:19; Acts 20:28; Heb. 1:8). God appeared in the fulness of time in human flesh. We saw him, heard him, looked upon him and touched him. He is called "the Word of Life" because he has life in himself; he is the author of life. He came to restore spiritual life lost in Adam (John 1:4).
v.2. "We announce to you and bear witness that we are eye-witnesses and ear-witnesses to the fact that the beloved Son of God, who was with the Father in all eternity, who is life itself, the fountain of eternal life, the cause, author and giver of life, was manifested in human flesh! He has come that we might have life (John 10:10,11; 1 John 5:11-13; Gal. 4:4,5).
vv.3,4. He repeats the words "seen and heard" the third time, that there be no doubt of the certainty of his doctrine. "We declare this glorious truth to you for two reasons: that you might participate in this glorious body of Christ, united to God in acceptance, communion and fellowship, and that you might enjoy the complete and perfect happiness of eternal life in Christ."
Being in union with Christ, we become partakers of him and of his blessings. We are brought into an intimacy and fellowship with him and with the Father as sons of God. His banner over us is love. He lives in us and we in him. This is true joy (Rom. 4:7,8; Ps. 103:1-5; 1 Peter 1:8,9).
v.5. "This is the message, the promise, the gospel which we have heard from Christ the message that we declare unto you that God is light." He is light as opposed to the darkness of sin. He is pure and holy. He is righteousness and truth. He is just and exact in his judgments. In him there is "no darkness at all," no alloy, no compromise. He requires absolute perfection and can accept no less than pure holiness. Christ is our righteousness and sanctification. It is in him that we are accepted, and in him we have fellowship with God.
v.6. If any says he knows and has fellowship with God but walks in the darkness of sin, unbelief and ignorance, he lies, and does not act truthfully (John 14:6; 12:35,36). This is also true of the man who professes to believe in Christ. We walk no only in the light of Christ as Justifier, but in the light of Christ as Lord and Master of our lives.
v.7. If we are enlightened by the Spirit with a true sight and sense of sin to know our Lord Jesus and the way of salvation through his obedience and sacrifice, and we are growing in grace and knowledge of him, then we have fellowship with God and the blood of Christ gives us complete justification, pardon and deliverance from all sin. This cleansing is perpetual and for ever!
v.8. No one is free from sin either from a sinful nature or from the sin that proceeds form the nature of evil (Rom. 3:9-12,23). To make such a claim is to be deceived and to be filled with lies.
v.9. If we own our sins against God, confess them in sincerity and indeed seek forgiveness through the merits of Christ, God "is faithful" to his promise (Rom. 4:20-25) "and just" (Rom. 3:25,26) "to cleanse us from all unrighteousness!" (Col.1:19-22).
v.10. He goes still further and declares that those who profess purity and freedom from sin blaspheme God, for he everywhere represents the whole race of man as guilty (Rom. 3:19).Top Of This Page
v.1. "My little children." This general epistle is addressed to all believers. "I write unto you that you sin not." John does not hold out the possibility that any man can be totally free from sin. This would be contrary to his own words in 1 John 1:8-10 and contrary to all Scripture. But he is saying, "I write this epistle to you that you might not live in sin, indulge the flesh, walk in disobedience and behave like the world of unregenerate men." The will of God is our sanctification and holiness in spirit, word and deed. The true grace of god in a man's heart does not condone or excuse his sin, but condemns it and gives him a continuous desire to be like Christ and glorify his Lord. True believers mourn their sins, confess them and seek to avoid them.
"And if any man sin....." as every man does, even every one that walks in light and fellowship with God, believes on Christ and is justified by his blood. As much as we hate sin and see to avoid it, we are still inn this flesh and in this world (Rom. 7:18-25).
Under no circumstances does a believer excuse sin, justify it, or permit it to go unjudged and unconfessed simply because it is atoned for by Christ. But we do have an Advocate with the Father, a great High Priest, who makes intercession for us, pleads for us whose sins have been laid on him and has made full satisfaction for them; therefore, our sins should not be laid to our charge. He is the Advocate "with the Father," against whom all sin is committed and to whom satisfaction is made. Christ is the only Mediator (1 Tim. 2:5). He is Jesus Christ the righteous! It is his righteousness that is imputed to us (Rom. 5:19; 10:4; 8:31-34; 2 Cor. 5:21).
v.2. "He is the propitiation for our sins." Propitiation means "to cover, to atone for, to pardon and reconcile." In order that the wrath of God be appeased, his justice and holiness satisfied so that he can forgive sin, be just and Justifier, Christ died for us (Heb. 9:22; 1 John 4:10). He is the propitiation (sin offering) not just for the Jew, but for Jew and Gentile believers, not just for this generation, but for believers of every generation, not just for those who read this epistle, but for every believer throughout the whole world. Our Lord has a people out of every tribe, tongue and nation. As he is not the Advocate or Mediator for unbelievers, neither is he a propitiation for them (John 17:9).
v.3. Throughout this earthly journey believers struggle with inward sin, doubts, fears, trials and attacks from Satan, and often are heard to say with Newton,
John says, "This is how we discern daily by experience that we are coming to know him: if we bear in mind, observe and practice the teachings precepts and words of our Lord Jesus' words and commandments of Christ in regard to faith, love, forgiveness, humility, works of charity, kindness, giving, witnessing and all that relates to our daily walk (1 John 5:3). The love of Christ and the words of Christ are our rule of life.
v.4. The person who says, "I know and am acquainted with Christ in a saving interest," but has no love for his teachings and commandments, is not telling the truth, and the truth of the gospel is not in him. For if any man be in Christ, he is a new person. He is a bondslave of Christ and his whole life and desire is to become more deeply and personally acquainted with him. This is done through his words and teachings (1 Peter 2:1,2).
v.5. He who treasures the Word of Christ, who bears in mind the precepts, who observes his message in its entirety, in him has the love of God and for God been established and it is reaching maturity. This is the way we know that we are in Christ: we love him, his Word, his will, his presence. You cannot separate Christ and his teaching, or Christ and his commandments.
v.6. He that says that he and Christ are one ought to walk as Christ walked, love as Christ loved, forgive as Christ forgave and be humble as Christ was humble! (John 15:4,5).Top Of This Page
v.7. This is referring to what John has written in the preceding verses:
3. Those who know God love him and keep his Word and commandments, and those who abide in Christ seek to walk as he walked.
This is no new teaching or commandment but dates back to the beginning. We have no new gospel, but he ancient, eternal gospel of God's grace in Christ, the principles and commandments of which are always the same (Rom. 1:1-3; John 8:56; 5:46).
v.8. John speaks here of brotherly love and refers probably to the words of Christ in John 13:34. This is no new commandment in the sense that it has been recently formulated and brought into existence; Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. His gospel, his law, his teachings and all the same, but this commandment to love one another is
1. Newly explained by him and purged from the false teachings of the scribes and Pharisees (Matt. 5:21,27,38,43).
2. Newly exemplified by Christ in his love for us;
3. Newly enforced by the argument, "How can we love God and not love our brethren? How can we be new creatures in Christ and not be like Christ?" That which is true in Christ is true in you who are in Christ.
The "darkness" or dimness of the ceremonial law is past and the clear "light" or Christ shines. The darkness of sin and ignorance is past and we have been enlightened by the Holy Spirit.
vv. 9-11. The person who says that he has been illuminated by the Holy Spirit, has a true knowledge of the gospel and walks in the light of fellowship and union with Christ, yet who hates his brother (by creation, as all men are brothers, or by regeneration, as brothers in Christ) is still in a state of unregeneracy and ignorance. He is still in darkness as far as the gospel is concerned (Matt. 5:43-48).
He who loves reveals a work of grace in his heart, for love is of God, not the product of nature (1 John 4:7,8). Love does not lead to sin as hate does. Love is the rule of life (Rom. 13:8-10; Gal. 5:14) and produces obedience.
He reminds us in verse 11 that whatever appearance of excellence or merit we may show, if love is absent it is all sinful darkness and to no avail (1 Cor. 13:1-3; 1 John 4:7-11).
vv.12-14. This commandment of love to God and one another the apostle writes to believers (distinguished as little children, young men and fathers) and urges them to obedience from the consideration of God's blessings which are peculiar to them.
"Little children" are not infants but babies in Christ. Nothing stimulates men to love God and walk in holiness more than when they are properly taught and knowledgeable of the blessings of forgiveness in the name and by the merits of Christ. "You are sinners by nature and practice, but your sins are all forgiven" (Rom. 4:7,8). "You know the Father." This spirit of adoption gives the children assurance and a sense of security; and as our gracious Father we love, honour and obey him.
"Young men" are those who are in the flower of their spiritual age. "You are strong in faith, strong in purpose and principle! You have overcome the world, which is particularly difficult for men in their prime. Your strength is not in the flesh nor in your determination, but because the Word of God abides in you, both the living Word and the written Word!" (Ps. 119:9).
"Fathers." Most children refuse to learn, most young men are occupied with other pursuits and most older people excuse themselves because they are weary. But the fathers in Christ have known him that is the Ancient of Days, the eternal I Am! There is no growing old in Christ, but an eternal youth (Ps. 103:5). Christ grows sweeter every day, and the fellowship with him causes us to lose interest in the things of the world. The more we walk with Christ, the less interested we are in the fashion of this world.Top Of This Page
v.15. "Love not the world, nor the things that are in the world." The believer loves relatives and friends in the world, he loves and pities all people in the world, he loves the blessings of fellowship and the good things that God gives to us and enables us to enjoy in the world, but he does not love the world nor the things of the world above God and Christ. He doesn't take satisfaction or contentment in the;, nor make idols of them, nor prefer them to heavenly and spiritual things! His citizenship and interests are in the kingdom of God. His true family is the family of God and he knows that the fashion of this world passes away. He prefers nothing and no one in this world to Christ.
If a man's affections and interests are set upon the world, the things of the world and the companionship of the worldly people, it is clearly evident that he does not have the love of God in him. No man can serve two masters (2 Tim. 2:19; Luke 14:25-33).
v.16. All that is in this world, connected with it, or identified with it (under three headings), will pass away.
1. "The lust of the flesh" or the body all carnal and sensual desires, unchaste thoughts, intemperance in food and drink, costly apparel, luxurious and wasteful living, fine homes and indulgence of our fleshly appetites toward materialism and self-satisfaction.
2. "The lust of the eyes" after unlawful or unspiritual objects, covetousness after gold, silver, land and the possession of visible things. Achan said, I saw it, I coveted it and I took it."
3. "The pride of life" ambition, honour, worldly fame, the chief places and the high seats. Seek not the honour and praise of men, for these things are not of the Father but of the world (John 5:44).
v.17. There is nothing in this world or connected with it that is not temporary and will not finally pass away. The word "lust" means that which is coveted or desired, or that which captivates the desires of carnal men in this world. That which is most precious, important and valuable in this world is marked for destruction. But those who seek God, his kingdom and his righteousness shall abide for ever. Our spiritual family will never die, our heavenly home shall never decay, our new body shall never grow old, the glory of Christ will never fade and we shall be for ever satisfied in his likeness (Ps. 17:15).
v.18. "It is the last time." So many ages have passed since the death of John that one might say his prophecy is not true, but we must understand the design of the apostle!
1. All things are accomplished; nothing is prophesied, typified, or promised concerning redemption that is not fulfilled in Christ; nothing remains except the coming of Christ to gather his own. This is indeed the last dispensation.
2. If the eternity of God's kingdom is kept in mind, both prior to Calvary and afterwards, the time between Christ's death and Christ's return will appear to us as a moment.
"You have been warned that antichrists shall come." Those who suppose that would only be one man are mistaken, for John says, "Even now there are many antichrists." Some day this evil defection will prevail through the whole visible church (2 Thess. 2:7,8). From the day of our Lord's death we have moved steadily toward that day of apostasy and the day of his return. These are indeed the last days.
v.19. These false professors, antichrists, find and have found their way into the church and for a time keep up their masquerade, living and acting under false pretences. But sooner or later they will fall away and depart from the fellowship of the gospel and the church. Their departure clearly reveals that hey were never members of the body of Christ, never truly regenerated and in love with Christ; or they no doubt would have continued in the faith and fellowship! If their hearts had been right with God, they would have remained steadfast to him, his gospel and his church (Job 17:9; Jer. 32:40).
God permits these trials, for they are useful and necessary to his church. The church is like a threshing-floor the chaff must be blown away while the wheat remains. The tares will grow among the true grain, that it might be more evident to us that salvation is of the Lord. Nothing will reveal more clearly to us that salvation, sanctification and righteousness are the work of God in us and for us that to observe those who try to do this work themselves (Eph. 2:8-10).
We have been taught by the Word and by the Spirit of God that it is the Lord who chose us, called us, revealed Christ to us, keeps us by his power through faith and works his will and grace in us (Gal. 2:20; 1 Cor. 4:7). This truth is more clearly revealed to us when we observe first-hand those who try to establish their own righteousness, merit the approval of God by their own works and faith, and forever boast of their decisions, experiences and personal spirituality. They all finally fall, wilt under trial and depart from the faith. As we watch them depart, we are impressed to cry, "Salvation is of the Lord!" "I am what I am by the grace of God!"
v.20. "You have the anointing of the Holy Spirit; you are the Lord's anointed ones, true believers, and you know the truth." His anointing is not only a quickening one but a teaching one! It enlightens the understanding. You know the living God, you know the nature of fallen man, you know the grace of the Lord Jesus, you know the true gospel and you can discern false teachers and their message!Top Of This Page
v.21. If these believers had not known the Father, who is the God of truth, Christ, who is truth itself, the Spirit, who is the Spirit of truth and the gospel, which is the Word of truth, there would have been no reason to write to them about antichrists, false prophets and false professors who would infiltrate the visible churches. But because they did know the truth, it was proper to establish them, to encourage them and to warn them against these deceivers.
Sometimes a lie is so mixed with an element of truth that it is difficult to discern, but if you will remember, nothing false, no deception, no compromise, nor part gospel is of Christ, the Truth!
vv.22,23. "Jesus is the Christ." He is the true, eternal Son of God. There cannot be a father without a son, or a son without a father. He that honors not the Son as such honors not the Father. He is the very Christ and true Messiah spoken of by the prophets, typified in the sacrifices and looked for by Old Testament saints. He is the God-man, Mediator and Saviour. He is that Prophet, our great High Priest and sovereign King. He is our sin-offering, propitiation and atonement! Anyone who denies this, no matter what high office, position, or praise he gives to Jesus Christ, is a liar, an antichrist, and does not know the Father or the Son. Jesus of Nazareth is either the Christ and all that is written, promised, prophesied, typified and expected of the Christ, or he is an impostor! If he is the Christ and we compromise, deny or take away any aspect of his total deity, humanity, office, work, or glory, then we are impostors, liars, antichrists!
v.24. This is the gospel which they heard from the apostles, for the apostles began their ministry with the deity, sonship, lordship and messiahship of Christ (Acts 2:36). We believers have been baptized in the name of the Father and the Son, standing in such a relationship as Father and Son to one another and we in Christ (Acts 9:20; 8:37).
"If this gospel of truth remains in your heart and you remain in this gospel, you shall continue, accepted in the Beloved by the Father." Here is the fruit of perseverance, that they in who God's truth remains remain in God! (Heb. 3:6,14).
v.25. "This is....eternal life." We cannot live apart from Christ. The Father put this promise of life and all other promises into the hands of Christ. Christ himself is life, and the sum of the gospel is that all who believe in him have eternal life. John insists that the beginning of life is to be found in Christ, the continuation of that life is continuing in the faith of Christ and the ultimate perfection of that life is in being made like Christ eternally (1 John 3:2).
v.26. God's elect may be staggered, tossed to and fro and subject to doubts and fears but they cannot totally and finally be deceived. But some will try to seduce them. These people lie in wait to deceive, walking in craftiness and handling the Word of God deceitfully. Therefore, that they might be known, shunned and avoided, the apostle points them out and shows who they are.
v.27. "The anointing which you have received" is the "unction from the Holy One" (v.20), or the grace of the Holy Spirit, who quickens us, convicts us, teaches us and abides in us (Rom. 8:9; 1 John 3:24). His Spirit abides in us, it is an eternal abiding and can never be taken away. "Ye need not that any man teach you" does not deny pastors and teachers, for John himself taught them and this very epistle was teaching them, but man is not our authority! The teaching of men which is contrary to the Word of God (inspired by the Holy Spirit and revealed to our hearts) is to be rejected (John 16:12-15; Acts 17:11). The Holy Spirit of truth; abide in his teaching.
v.28. "Abide in Christ" (John 15:4-7). Exercise faith in him, hope in him, walk in him, look to him, that when he shall appear the second time, we shall not be put to shame as those will be who refuse his lordship and redemption. We have this confidence that if we are washed in his blood and clothed in his righteousness we shall stand before him without spot, fault or blemish.
v.29. Christ is righteous as God in his nature, as man in his obedience, life and work, and as Mediator in faithfully discharging the work he undertook. He is the author of eternal righteousness, which is revealed in the gospel, imputed by God and received by faith. So everyone that lives upon and by the righteousness of Christ and is obedient to his words is born of him!Top Of This Page
This passage has a twofold theme. Believers will live holy lives and they will love one another. Faith is always connected with a righteous life (James 2:20) and a spirit of love for all men, especially all believers (1 John 4:7). Several arguments or reasons are presented for godly living on the part of believers.
I. ch. 2:29. The first argument for holiness of life is that if you know that Christ our Lord is absolutely righteous (obedient to the Father's will in his thoughts, actions and words), you know that those who are begotten of him (in like manner) will seek to be like him in righteousness and obedience to the Father's will. To be born of God is to have the nature of God, the grace of God and the presence of Christ formed in us, causing us to love and desire the will and ways of God.
II. v.1. The second argument for holiness of life is the love of God which has been bestowed upon us. "Behold" take notice with wonder and astonishment, what matchless, amazing and wonderful love the Father has given freely and graciously to us! The more abundantly God's goodness has been manifested to us, the greater are our obligations to him (Rom. 12:1). "That we should be called sons of God." This is a privilege and blessing that exceeds all others. Children of wrath are now children of love; rebels and traitors are now sons; enemies are now heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ. How can we serve self and sin when we are recipients of such love and grace?
The reason the people of this world do not recognize and acknowledge us as children of God is that they do not know God. They did not know Christ but treated him with ridicule and contempt. It cannot be inferred (by natural men) from our present condition and state that God is our Father (John 6:42).
v.2. Though the world may not recognize us as sons of God, though our present condition is very short of God's glory, though our bodies are flesh and death is before us, though we are subject to many miseries, temptations and trials, though we are aware of the sin and evil within us now, at this very moment, we are the sons of God! We are foolish to estimate what we shall be by what we are now. But we know from his Word of promise that when Christ comes again, we shall be changed into his glorious image! (Rom. 8:29; John 17:24; 1 Cor. 15:45-54; Phil. 3:20,21).
III. v.3. The third argument for holiness of life is that every person who has this hope in him (that he will one day be like Christ, perfectly conformed to his imaged), who ahs a real desire to be like Christ (Ps. 17:15), will make every effort to be like Christ now! It is foolishness for a man to say, "I want to be like Christ some day, but not now! I want to fellowship with God in eternity, but not now!
IV. v.4. The fourth argument for holiness of life is that every person who practices sin (designs a course or life of sin, "for there is no one who doeth good and sinneth not"), who excuses or justifies himself in the liberty of sin unrestrained and unregulated by the commands of Christ, is lawless and hateful to God, for sin is the breaking and violating of God's law. No true believer can be happy outside the will and fellowship of God.
V. v.5. The fifth argument for holiness of life is the office and work of Christ to take away our sins.
1. In Christ the believer has no sins (John 1:29; Rom. 4:7,8).
2. But the main though of this verse is that Christ came to destroy the reigning power of sin in the believer (Rom. 6:5-16; 8:5-14).
VI. v.6. The sixth argument for holiness of life is that those who know Christ and abide in him do not habitually and deliberately practice a life of sin. They hate sin in them and about them. They grieve over their falls and their lack of grace. They desire and strive to manifest the fruit of the Spirit in word and deed.
Those who live in sin and continue to practice hate, intemperance, indifference, covetousness, greed, drunkenness and dishonesty have not seen the redemptive glory of Christ with eyes of faith and have never know Christ (2 Cor. 5:17).Top Of This Page
v.7. Do not be deceived by false prophets and wicked persons who preach that it does not matter how a person lives, provided he believers the gospel, or that knowledge of theology is sufficient without obedience to the lordship of Christ in conduct. This is not true. One cannot separate faith and conduct. As Christ our Lord showed himself to be a righteous man by doing good, obeying the Father and demonstrating love and compassion, so those who are united to him by faith, justified by his grace and regenerated by his Spirit will seek to imitate their Lord. As a tree is know by its fruit, so a righteous man is know by his works. Good fruit does not make a tree good, but shows it to be good; so good works do not make us righteous (only Christ can do that), but show us to be so (James 2:14-20,26).
v.8. A man who practices sin, dishonesty, drunkenness, malice, envy, lies and disobedience to the commandments of Christ is not of God, but takes his character form the evil one, for Satan has violated the way and laws of righteousness from the beginning. He imitates Satan, not Christ, and resembles his parent as children do their parents (John 8:41,42). Christ came not only to put away our sins in regard to the penalty of them and the curse of the law, but to deliver us from the power of Satan and the practice of ungodliness (Rom. 6:12-18).
v.9. He that is regenerated by the Spirit of God, in whom Christ is fo9rmed, who is a new creature in Christ, does not make sin his practice and course of his life. He is not without the motions of sin within, nor free from thoughts, words and deeds of sin in his life, but he does not give himself up to sin, excuse it, nor continue in it as a servant of sin. God's nature and the grace of the Spirit abide in him and he cannot practice a life of sin; he is born of God! A life of sin is distasteful to him who pants after holiness and desire to be like Christ.
v.10. By attitude, conduct and daily walk it is made perfectly clear who are those who take their nature from God and are his children, and who are those who take their nature from the devil and are his children. No one who does not practice and seek godliness and righteousness, who does not seek to be conformed to the will of God in purpose, thought and deeds, is of God. A man who does not love others is not of God either. A godly walk and a spirit of love and mercy are evidences of grace and faith. The absence of these is evidence of the absence of grace.
v.11. The reason we can be so emphatic on this score is because this is the message sent from the Father by Christ, it is what his ministry declared and is the commandment which he often taught (John 13:34,35; 15:12,17).
v.12. Let us not be like Cain, who took his nature and got his motivation from Satan and killed his brother. This was the first instance and example of hatred of the brethren. What was the cause of this hatred? What moved him to hate and kill his brother? Abel attributed everything to God all mercy, righteousness, forgiveness, acceptance and all grace. Cain attributed everything to himself. The controversy was over salvation by grace alone or by works! Cain hated his brother on this account. While his brother looked to God alone for salvation, Cain sought acceptance on the basis of his righteousness and works. So carnal men today hate those who find righteousness in Christ alone.
v.13. "Therefore, do not be amazed and surprised if the world (especially the religious world, as most men are) detest you and persecute you. Your faith in Christ condemns their self-righteousness and exposes their false hope!" How often we have heard this claim: "If what you preach (meaning sovereign grace in Christ) is true, then I'm not saved!" Yes, if what Abel believed and did is true and the only way to God, then Cain came the wrong way and was rejected. This was the cause of his hatred.Top Of This Page
v.14. Genuine love for the brethren is an evidence of redemption. It is not the cause but the sign, for no one sincerely loves his brethren unless he is regenerated by the Spirit of God. It is God's Spirit who sheds abroad God's love in our hearts (Rom. 5:5; Gal. 5:22). The love of the natural man is self-love (Luke 6:31-35). "He that loveth not" continues in a state of spiritual death.
v.15. Anyone who hates another in his heart is a murderer, for out of the heart proceeded evil thoughts, murders, adulteries (Matt. 15:19,20; 5:21,22). An attitude of hate and a spirit of malice reveal an unregenerate heart, for salvation is a heart work. A man may keep his hands from mischief, but if he neglects the keeping of the heart he is in danger of condemnation (Prov. 4:23).
v.16. John now shows what true love is. For an understanding of perfect love, he sets before us the example of Christ. He laid down his life for those whom he loved. This is the mark to which he bids us advance. Our love is approved when we transfer the love of ourselves to our brethren, forgetting ourselves and seeking the good and welfare of others. It is certain that we are far from being equal to Christ, but John recommends that we imitate him (Phil. 2:3-5; Rom. 15:1-3; 12:10).
v.17. John now speaks of the common duties of love.
1. No one truly has the love of God in him or a love for the brethren unless he really demonstrates that love and care when the occasion occurs. "If you are in need, what I have is yours," says love.
2. As far as anyone has the means, he will assist his brethren because he realizes that the Lord has entrusted us with what we have for the good of his kingdom and people. It is not ours at all, but his (1 Chron. 29:14).
3. It is our responsibility to see that everyone's needs (in the family of God) are met, not grudgingly or of necessity, but rejoicing that we are privileged to glorify our God and his grace in this way.
v.18. Let us not merely profess with our tongues that we love one another, but prove it by deeds; for this is the only true way of showing love. We read in Scripture of the work and labor of love. Talking about love is mere show! Demonstrating love in meeting the physical, material and spiritual needs of others is love in truth.
v.19. Christ, not our love or works, is the object of our faith. Christ's obedience and sacrifice, not our love or works, are the foundation of our faith. His Spirit, using his Word of promise, bears witness that we are the sons of God; and love is an aid, an accessory, a prop for our faith, not the foundation! If we in truth love our brethren, we have an evidence that we are of the truth and can have a good conscience and assurance before him! Peter's heart was clear before Christ when he said, "Lord, you know all things, you know that I love you."
v.20. But if we do not find a genuine love for the brethren in our hearts and our hearts and consciences trouble us and condemn us over the absence of this love, what will be the judgment and condemnation of God against us? He is infinitely greater than our hearts and knows our feelings and thoughts perfectly. If our consciences (in their limited capacities) condemn us, think how he must judge and condemn us.
v.21. We are not talking here of having no sense of sin or awareness of our imperfections (Ps. 51:3,4; Phil. 3:12); but, staying with the context, if we know that we love and trust Christ alone, that there is in our hearts a love for the brethren, a desire to be like Christ and a confidence in his person and work, then we can have assurance and confidence of life eternal.
vv. 22,23. These two things are always connected confidence toward God and prayer (Heb. 11:6). No one can really pray except those who have a sense of sonship in Christ and rightly worship God with a sincere and true heart. God hears those who believe on his Son and love one another. This is his commandment (John 6:29; 13:34). Our confidence in prayer is not founded on our works, but the absence of faith in Christ and love for the brethren indicates an absence of that sonship which gives us the privilege of prayer.
v.24. This is what John has been saying throughout this entire chapter. Faith and conduct cannot be separated; belief and obedience are always found in the same heart. When his Spirit and his Word governs our hearts and lives, it is evident that Christ dwells in us and we dwell in Christ. Whatever good works are done by us proceed from the grace of his Spirit who dwells in us.Top Of This Page
In this chapter the apostle warns against evil seducing spirits, advises us to examine and try the spirits, gives rules by which evil spirits are recognized and then returns to his favorite subject brotherly love!
v.1. "Beloved, believe not every spirit." The word "spirit" signifies to a man who claims to be endowed with the gift of the Spirit to perform the office of prophet, preacher, or teacher. God's Word is received from the mouth of man, but some who claim to speak for God are false preachers and are sent by Satan to deceive and disturb the church. There were false teachers among Israel, there were false teachers in the days of the apostles and there are false teachers today (2 Peter 2:1-3; 2 Cor. 11:13-15). Let this fact be fixed in our minds that, from the time the gospel began to be preached, false prophets immediately appeared, and we must not be dazzled by everybody who claims to be holy, to speak for God, to work wonders and to be a minister of righteousness. We must try these spirits (these preachers and religious leaders).
v.2. Let all preachers and religious leaders be tried by the Word of God first (Acts 17:11; Isa. 8:19,20). This will expose most of them, for they do not preach the Word of truth at all. Their messages are full of free will, human righteousness, life by law and works, the advocacy of Mary and saints, God's weakness and inability, sabbath keeping, rituals and holy days, infant salvation and all manner of tradition and open error. By John lays down a special mark by which we can easily distinguish between true and false prophets. Christ Jesus is the object of true faith and the whole foundation of acceptance with God. Therefore, he is also the stone at which all heretics stumble, and his person and work will be the place where error will be most evident.
1. When the apostle says Jesus Christ "is come" we conclude that he was, before he came, with the Father, co-equal, co-eternal. He is very God of very God (Isa. 9:6).
2. By saying he came "in the flesh," he means that Christ, by putting on flesh, became a real man, of the same nature with us, that he might become our Brother, except that he was free from every sin and corruption (Heb. 2:14-18; John 1:14).
3. And lastly, by saying that he came, the cause of his coming must be declared, for the Father did not send him here for nothing (Matt. 1:21; Luke 19:10; Isa. 53:10-12; Rom. 3:25,26; Gal. 4:4,5). As some heretics depart from the faith, denying the divine nature of Christ, and others depart from the faith denying the effectual, sufficient and substitutionary work of Christ, leaving the final redemption of men's souls up to their own free will, works, or co-operative efforts (Heb. 10:11-18).
v.3. This attack on the person and work of Christ, whatever direction it may take, is satanically inspired, for it robs Christ of his merit and glory! It is the spirit which motivated Cain to reject the blood atonement, the Galatian heretics to preach circumcision, the Catholics to enthrone Mary and fundamentalist of today to say, "Christ has done all that he can do; now salvation is up to you" (Rom. 8:28-34). This spirit is not anti-religion, not anti-morality, not even anti-good works; it is anti-Christ! (Col. 1:14-20).
v.4. "Ye are of God. You are born of God (John 1:12,13), and by the power of God ye shall discern error and overcome false preachers." The Spirit of God in us is greater than the spirit of evil and error in the false prophets.
v.5. There is no reason for us to be disturbed. These heretics are of the world system of which Satan is the prince, and it is not unusual that those under his direction should listen to him.
v.6. "We are of God" true preachers, true believers and the true gospel of Christ. All who are of God know God, are chosen of God and will hear God's Word (John 10:24-28; Acts 12:48). "Hereby know we the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error," by the answer to this question: "What think ye of Christ?"Top Of This Page
In this verses John enforces brotherly love for the following reasons:
This is the epistle of the doctrine of faith and the exhortation to love, and the apostle continually passes from one to the other.
vv.7,8. "Let us love one another" not just our friends and those who love us, but all people, especially all believers (Luke 6:32-35; Gal. 6:10). "For love is of God." That is, love not only is the command of God, according to his will and well-pleasing in his sight, but love comes from God (Rom. 5:5). It is the fruit of his Spirit (Gal. 5:22) and is the evidence of regeneration, for everyone that truly loves is born of God!
"God is love." His nature is to love, to show mercy, to forgive. God is the fountain of love and this effect flows from him. A person who is born of God has his nature regenerated in him, knows God in a personal, intimate relationship and will by the presence of this new nature love others. If this fruit of love is absent, then God is not there at all and this person, though he professes to know God, does not know God at all.
vv.9-11. God's love to us is revealed and manifested in many ways, but particularly in two.
1. "God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him" (John 3:16; Rom. 5:8). This is the principal evidence of God's love for us and far surpasses all others. It ought to fill our minds with wonder and amazement. He subjected Christ to all the sorrow, grief, suffering and death of this world that his wounds might restore us to life.
2. "He loved us; we did not love him" (Rom. 5:10; Eph. 2:1-5). He freely loved us when there was no return of love on our part. In order that sinful men may possess life and happiness, it was necessary that their sins be paid for and an atonement made for them, that the justice of God should be honoured and satisfied (Rom. 3:25,26), that peace and righteousness be reconciled. Christ's death did not make God love us but was because God loved us. His coming into the world was the effect of God's love.
"Beloved, is God loved us so freely, so sacrificially, so infinitely, we ought also to love one another." It should not be difficult for one who is the object of such love to manifest it toward others! It should not be difficult for one who has been forgiven so freely to forgive! It should not be difficult for one who has received such mercy to show mercy!
vv.12,13. "No man hath seen God at any time." The same words were spoken by John the Baptist in John 1:18, but they have not the same thing in view. In John 1:18, the Baptist is saying that God cannot be known, except as he reveals himself in Christ, and the apostle is saying here that a man cannot know that God dwells in him by seeing God or talking to god, but he can know that God dwells in him when the Spirit of God produces in him the nature of God and the fruit of God, which is faith and love. If we truly believe in him and sincerely love one another, we have good evidence that God dwells in us (1 John 3:24).
"His love is perfected in us." This grace of love will not be perfect and complete until we are perfectly conformed to his image in glory, when faith and hope shall be no more; but the sense is that this grace of love is growing in us. It is sincere and genuine, not in word and tongue but in deed and truth. The fruit of the Spirit is present in every believer, but as believers grow in the knowledge of Christ and his Word, they grow in grace and the fruit of his Spirit.Top Of This Page
v.14. When John declares that "We have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son," he refers chiefly to himself and the other apostles. They were eye-witnesses to his glory (1 John 1:1-3). They had seen his works and miracles; they had seen him dying, rising and ascending to glory.
"To be the Saviour of the world" not of the Jews only (1 John 2:2), but of the Gentiles as well. He is the Redeemer of all who believe on him, without distinction of nation, sex, age, state, or condition. He came to save us from the power of Satan, from the bondage and curse of the law and from wrath to come. He is the only Saviour of sinners (Acts 4:12).
v.15. We are united to God only by Christ. The Father has vested all things pertaining to life eternal in the Son, Jesus Christ (Col. 2:9,10; 1 John 5:11-13; John 14:6). He that hath the Son by faith hath the Father! (1 John 2:12; 2 John 9). This confession, that Christ Jesus is not a mere man but the everlasting god in human flesh (Isa. 9:6), is not merely a mouth creed, but a heart belief (Rom. 10:9,10).
v.16. It is the same as if he had said, "We know the love of God for us by believing. Such knowledge is only attained by faith! The love of God is in Christ (Rom. 8:38,39). No man knows or can be certain of the love and mercy of God to sinners except as he believes in and knows Christ (Matt. 11:27). We go from faith to love; by faith in Christ God dwells in us, and God is love. Then wherever God abides, love will be there. Hence it follows that he that exercises love to God and to men dwells in God and God in him.
v.17. John begins to show the fruit of God's love to us and our love for God; we can dare to stand boldly before God, now at the throne of grace (Heb. 10:19) and later at the final judgment. By nature we dread the presence of God, and justly so, for our sins hold us guilty; therefore, condemnation and hell must come to our minds when we think of God. Natural man has reason to fear and shun the presence of God. But the believer does not fear the Day of Judgment; on the contrary, we approach death and judgment confidently and cheerfully because of his love to us in Christ. As Christ is the Son of God by nature, we are sons of God by adoption. As he is loved by the Father with an everlasting and unchangeable love, so are we loved by him with the same kind of love even while we are in this world (1 John 3:1,2). As he was a man of sorrows, afflicted, tempted, hated and tempted by Satan, so are we! Moreover, as he is now in heaven, so are we reprehensively in him (Eph. 2:6).
v.18. When the love of God in Christ is seen and known by faith (how God can be just and justifier, how God is reconciled in Christ, how sins are purged, cleansed and forgiven by Christ's obedience and death), peace is given to our hearts, so that we no longer fear the curse of the law and the condemnation of God (Rom. 5:1; 8:1).
Genuine, sincere and believing love does away with slavish and servile fear (Rom. 8:15-17). When a person still fears the curse and condemnation of the law and justice and is tormented by a dread of wrath and judgment, it is quite certain that he is filled with unbelief concerning the person and work of Jesus Christ. He does not believe and trust Christ.
v.19. Lest love to God and so to one another should be thought to be a product of our own nature, the apostle reminds us that God's love to us preceded our love to him. Our love for him and our love for the brethren is a gift of his grace shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. I am what I am, have what I have and do what I do by the grace of God.
v.20. Nothing can be more contradictory than for a man to say, "I love God and hate my brother." This is a lie that he speaks and a thing impossible. A man cannot love God and hate the image of God before his eyes, for God is before us in those who bear his image and the likeness of his Son.
v.21. This is another argument for brotherly love drawn from the authority and commandment of Christ. He not only commanded us concerning the love of the Father, but commanded us to love one another (1 John 3:23,24).Top Of This Page
The twofold theme of this epistle, saving faith and brotherly love, continues in this chapter as the apostle deals with the nature of faith and love and Christ, the object of both. Saving faith cannot be separated from love.
v.1. All who are born of God believe that Jesus is the Christ. The title, "the Christ," signifies "anointed" and includes all the offices of the Son of God. To believe him to be the Christ is to believe him to be that Prophet Moses said should come, who has declared the whole mind and will of the Father. It is to believe he that Priest that should arise after the order of Melchizedek and make atonement for sin and intercession for transgressors. It is to believe that he is that King whom God hath set over all things.
This believing is not a mere assent to the fact nor merely acknowledging it as the devils have done (Luke 4:41). It is to believe with the heart (Rom. 10:9,10). It is to look to Christ, trust in him and receive him as our righteousness, to rest in his blood for cleansing, to lay hold of him as our only Saviour, Redeemer and Mediator.
Such faith is far above the reach of the human mind. It is the gift of God; it is the result of regeneration and a new birth, for we must be drawn to Christ by the Father (John 6:44,45).
Those who are born of God will love all who are born of God. Some understand this to be Christ, and it is true that Christ is the object of faith and love (John 8:42); but the apostle is saying, as in 1 John 4:7,12,20, that all who love God love one another!
v.2. In this verse John shows what true love is, the nature of true love! True love is when God holds the supremacy and pre-eminence! We may profess love to someone because of natural relationship, or social friendship, or from a benefit of favour received, or from a natural attraction; but this is not brotherly love, spiritual love, or continuing love. True love for others springs from true heart love for God. Carnal love stops when the relationship, the attraction, or the favors stop. This is self-love. But when we love God, we love them that belong to God and will never cease to love him or them.
v.3. Keeping God's commandments is an evidence of love to God. This shows that love is not in word and tongue (in profession only) but in deed and truth (1 John 3:18). If our hearts are really devoted to our Lord, then our chief desire will be to do his will and obey his Word.
The commandments of Christ are not burdensome, heavy or disagreeable to one who is born of God and loves God (Matt. 11:28-30; Rom. 7:22). While we struggle with the motions and desires of the flesh, and while there is always a conflict between the flesh and the spirit, the difficulty does not arise from the commandments of Christ, or our love for them, or our desire to be like him, but from our corrupt flesh (Rom. 7:21-24; Ps. 17:15).
v.4. "Everyone that is born of God is victorious over the world, and this is the victory even our faith."
The word "world" has a wide meaning: it includes whatever is contrary to the Spirit of God. The corruption of our nature is part of the world; all lusts, all the crafts of Satan, all evil are of the world. Though we are exposed to these, yet the Spirit of God declares we are already victorious; the enemy has been defeated and put to flight and in Christ we are more than conquerors! Our warfare continues through life, our conflicts are daily, but in Christ we have the victory (1 Cor. 15:57,58).
v.5. Who has this victory? Who has this confidence and assurance? Who has this eternal life and deliverance? No one but the person who believes in, receives and trusts in the Lord Jesus Christ. Faith in Christ obtains the victory - not trust and confidence in self, or in works, or even in our faith, but only in Jesus Christ. It is seeing the Son in the glory, fulness and suitability of his person, office and grace; going to him, trusting and living upon him. This shows that the victory over the world is not owing to the faith itself, but to its object, Christ, who has overcome it and made us conquerors in him.Top Of This Page
v.6. In order that our faith and confidence may rest safely and securely on Christ (as stated in verse 5), John says that he is the complete substance and fulfillment of all that is typified in the ceremonial law. In the Levitical law we meet continually with water and blood by pure water all filth was washed away, so that men might come before God pure and clean, and by blood expiation was made, that men might come before God reconciled and justified! The whole perfection of sanctification and justification is fulfilled in Christ! (1 Cor. 1:30). Christ's side became the fountain of blood and water (John (john 19:34) in order that believers may know that cleansing (of which the ancient baptisms were types) is found in him and atonement (of which the ancient sacrifices were types) is found in him. He is our righteousness and redemption.
The Holy Spirit of truth, whose authority is unquestionable, bears witness in every believer to the sufficiency of Christ, that our faith might not vacillate and that we might have confidence before God (Rom. 8:16). We do not go to the blood of Christ for justification and to the law for sanctification, but to Christ for both.
v.7. God, in order to confirm our faith in Christ as the Son of God, our Redeemer and eternal Lord and Saviour, bring forth the proper witnesses (Deut. 19:15; 2 Cor. 13:1; John 5:31). The heavenly witnesses of Christ's sonship and redemption are the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, and these three are one in essence, unity, purpose and testimony. At the baptism of Christ, all bore witness (Matt. 3:16,17); John 1:32-34) to his sonship and glory.
v.8. There are some that believe that these three on earth, that bear witness to his sonship, his redemptive work and his glory, are water baptism, the Lord's table and the gospel. While it is true that these are witnesses of our Lord's saving office, they are not the earthly witnesses referred to in this verse. Staying with the context, we will have to conclude that on the cross it happened by God's purpose that both water and blood flowed from the side of Christ; so the Holy Spirit bears witness, through the Word of God and the blood of Christ that not only some part of our salvation is found in Christ, but the whole of it. The heavenly witnesses are one and the earthly witnesses are in perfect unison with God's righteousness, justice and purpose the Spirit, the Word and the blood.
v.9. If the witness of a sufficient number of credible men is accepted and believed by us, how much more should we receive the witness of God, which he has testified of his Son Christ Jesus, even the witness of the Father, the Son, the Spirit, the water, the blood and the spirit in our hearts! (John 5:31-39). God has not left himself without a witness. We have sufficient witnesses for a firm and strong faith in the Lord Jesus.
v.10. He who believes on the Lord Jesus as the eternal Lord, who came in the flesh, obeyed and honoured the law, brought in everlasting righteousness and justification for all who believe, has the witness of God in himself. His faith is not just a religious creed but a heart experience, not just a set of facts accepted but a living Lord revealed in him by the Holy Spirit. He knows his sin against God, the insufficiency of his own righteousness, his inability to please God or atone for sin and that without Christ he can do nothing. He has experienced the peace, joy and rest that come from finding all in Christ (Col. 2:9,10).
He who does not believe on Christ is guilty of the greatest blasphemy. It is God (not men) that he does not believe, and he has made the God of truth to be a liar because he refuses the heavenly witness concerning Christ! Some wonder why God commends faith so much and condemns unbelief so severely. The glory of God is implicated in this. It is God who has borne witness of salvation Christ.Top Of This Page
vs.11. This is the record, the sum and substance of all that is declared, written and preached. God, out of his pure free grace, because of his sovereign will and pleasure, is pleased to give to some of the fallen sons of Adam eternal life! This life is the spiritual life lost in the Fall, the life of God, the life of glory and fellowship with God, the life of righteousness and happiness and freedom from sin, sorrow and death forever.
This eternal life is in Jesus Christ not only the promise of it, the purpose of it and the purchase of it, but life itself is in Christ (Col. 3:4; John 14:6; 11:25; Gal. 2:20). Three things are included here: firstly, we are al dead until God in grace restores us to life; secondly, this life comes to us through a vital union with Christ by faith and, thirdly, we cannot otherwise partake of this life except in Christ.
v.12. The person who has Christ (that is, a spiritual and experimental knowledge of him, true faith in him and in whose heart Christ dwells) has eternal life. He possesses it now has a right to that good hope of the fulness of the inheritance (1 John 3:1,2).
The person who has no saving knowledge of Christ (no faith in him nor enjoyment of him) is dead in sin, alienated from the life of God and shall dies the second death (John 3:36).
v.13. The things that are written concerning salvation in Christ are not only written to encourage sinners to believe on Christ and come to him that they might be saved, but they are written to confirm and give confidence and assurance to those who already believe on Christ. There ought to be a daily progress in faith, a growth in faith, grace and the knowledge of Christ. How is faith confirmed? How is faith increased? Even by having the person and work, the office and power of Christ explained to us again and again. Eternal life is to be found nowhere but in Christ, and in order that those who are already in Christ might have assurance and make progress in faith, the preacher is to magnify over and over again the grace of Christ.
v.14. This is the confidence that we have in Christ (our Saviour, Mediator and Redeemer) that we dare to call boldly on God (Eph. 3:12; Heb. 10:19-22). We dare to call God "Father" (Rom. 8:14-16; Heb. 11:6).
"If we ask anything according to his will." This passage is added to remind us that there is a right way or rule of prayer. Even when we subject our own wishes to the will of God we come to God only through Christ, we are persuaded that our prayers are heard (that he is to be believed) and we pray according to his will! (Rom. 8:26).
v.15. Since we know that God hears us we have his promise, we are commanded in Scripture to pray, we are taught by our Lord to pray ("When ye pray say, Our Father") and we have the example of the apostles, who were men of prayer we can be sure that in God's own time and way we shall have everything that we ask which is in accordance with his will (Luke 18:1; Phil. 4:6; 1 Thess. 5:17,18; 1 Tim. 2:8; James 5:16).Top Of This Page
v.16. John has been writing about prayer and encouraging believers to pray with confidence that God will hear us and grant those petitions that are according to his will. Those who have an interest at the throne of grace should make use of it for others, and especially for weak brothers and for those who are overtaken with sin. We are encouraged to pray for the lost, that God will save them (Rom. 10:1); but this verse says if a brother (a born-again member of the church) is observed to sin (as the best of men do in word, thought and deed) or falls into sin, we are to pray for him! God will hear and give the brother life, by which may be meant comfort, peace and causing him to live cheerfully and not be swallowed up with sorrow and despair. Of course, the brother does not continue in the sin; he has a sense of it, a sorrow for it, is ashamed of it and forsakes it. "There is a sin unto death," which is not only deserving of death, as all sin is, but which shall certainly lead to death for all who commit it, with exception. John Gill says, "This sin unto death is the sin against the Holy Spirit it is sinning wilfully, not in a practical, but doctrinal way by denying the truth of the gospel of Christ." John Calvin says, "This sin unto death is not a partial fall or a transgression of a single commandment, but apostasy, by which men alienate themselves from Christ and surrender themselves to Satan. We ought not rashly to conclude that any professed believer has apostatized; love should make us believe the best; but if one has departed, let us not contend with the justice of God or seek to be more merciful than he is!" We are not urged to pray for apostates.
v.17. All unrighteousness is sin against God and is deserving of death; yet all unrighteousness is not unto death, firstly, because of the grace of God, secondly, because of the blood of Christ, by which we are justified and freely forgiven and, thirdly, because of the mercy of God. David's sin, Jacob's sins, Peter's sins were not unto death. They enjoyed repentance unto life and a fresh application of pardoning grace. Weak believers may read the preceding verse and be overcome with despair, so John adds, "There is a sin which is not unto death" (Heb. 8:12; 1 John 1:9; 2:1).
v.18. We know that those who are regenerated by the grace of God, (who have Christ formed in them and are partakers of the divine nature) do not sin the sin unto death, which is apostasy, or a denial or the gospel of substitution and free grace. They do not fall away from the grace of God. They keep themselves in the fear of God, the faith of Christ and do not suffer themselves to be led away by Satan and surrender themselves to the deadly wound of Satan (Heb. 6:4-6). All true believers sin, else why would we be taught to pray "Forgive us our sin" Why should we be instructed to confess our sins? But true believers never deny Christ, his person, or work.
v.19. In order to be prepared for the contest of life, for the allurements and attractions prepared by Satan to draw men away from God, for the trials and difficulties ahead, we need to know two things: firstly, that "we are of God," born of God, loved of God, redeemed by God, called of God, sons of God and seated in Christ; and secondly, that "the whole word lieth in the wicked one," or is under the dominion of Satan. Therefore, we do not hesitate to shun the world, we do not fear its enmity and we do not covet its honors, because we are of God and the world is alienated from God.
v.20. The second person in the Godhead, equal to the Father and of the same nature with him, is come from the Father into this world, in the flesh, to work our salvation for his people by his obedience, suffering and death. He has given us a knowledge of spiritual things, of himself, of God in him, of the truths of the gospel and the mysteries of grace, that we may know the Father, the true and living God (John 17:3), and that we may know we are in Christ by covenant mercies, by faith and by the will of God. Christ is the true God and Christ is eternal life (1 John 5:11-13).
v.21. "Little children, keep yourselves from false gods, from anyone and anything that would occupy the place in your heart due to God; keep yourselves from traditions, superstitions, images and religious practices and observances introduced by those who call themselves Christians, if these things are not according to the Scripture and glorifying to God.