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I John 1-5 Listen
An introduction to I John
While not specifically identified, hints in this book tell us that the author was the Apostle John, the son of Zebedee. There is no way to fix the date of the writing of this letter. Opinions by scholars vary from as early as 55 A.D. to as late as 90 A.D. John is on a very specific mission in this letter - combating false prophets. Understanding that mission is essential to understanding the statements made by John in this epistle. Actually, John uses the term "false prophets" only once in this letter (4:1). However, make no mistake about it, they are front and center with regard to John's comments throughout.
FALSE PROPHETS! FALSE PROPHETS! FALSE PROPHETS! FALSE PROPHETS!
This letter is about resisting false prophets, so let's look at the characteristics of these false prophets by looking at the statements John makes about them throughout this epistle:
As you can see, this campaign against these particular false prophets extends through all five chapters. Therefore, one must conclude that I John is all about identifying and resisting these particular false prophets. When the reader understands this about John's mission, certain verses in I John that may have seemed confusing, no longer are confusing. Let me explain what I mean by quoting I John 2:3, "And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments." Without understanding that the mission of John here is to distinguish between godly and false prophets, one might build a skewed doctrine of salvation upon this verse by pulling it out of context. However, in context we understand that John is differentiating between prophets - in this case, those who follow Christ's commandments are compared to those who don't in the very next verse 4, "He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him." Neither verse is intended to be a comprehensive view of the salvation experience, but rather is designed to distinguish between good and false prophets. Those prophets who preach about Christ AND keep his commandments are to be respected as Believers while shunning the rest. That's the mission of I John - warning against false prophets. As we look at the rest of the Book of I John, we'll be referring back to this mission from time to time to make certain we are understanding in context.
This looks a lot like John 1 (I John 1:1-4)
1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life;
2 (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;)
3 That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.
4 And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full.
I've always been amused with the similarity this chapter has with the first chapter of the Gospel of John. Both talk about our life in Christ and Christ's relationship with the Father. Both talk about the light that comes from Christ. In verses 3-4 here, John explains that his epistle is designed to foster "fellowship" and "joy" among Believers.
The first four verses have an interesting construction in Greek. The primary subject and verb do not actually appear until verse 3 when John says, "That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you..." Verses 1-2 describe "that which we have seen and heard." John goes to great pains in these verses to make certain his readers know that this is not hand-me-down knowledge he's passing on here. He experienced Jesus Christ with his very own natural senses. The purpose is clearly seen in verses 3-4 - to establish fellowship based upon Jesus Christ and to fulfill their joy.
However, I think there's a little more to John's opening remarks in these four verses. Since John's mission in this epistle is to combat false prophets, establishing his own credentials as an eyewitness to the ministry of Jesus Christ is of utmost importance. In essence, John is establishing that none of these false teachers have credentials worthy enough to supersede the plain teaching of John himself.
What is John's purpose here? (I John 1:5-10)
5 This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.
6 If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth:
7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.
8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
After establishing his credentials in verses 1-4, John then begins to focus in on the purpose of writing this epistle - walking in the light. The similarity here with the first chapter of the Gospel of John is striking. Really, studying the first chapters of the Gospel of John and this first epistle of John is quite enlightening. Let's take a look at the number of times John uses the word "light" in the first chapter of the Gospel of John:
In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.
(John 1:4-9, see notes)
I counted six occurrences of "light" in just those six verse in the Gospel of John 1. That's intense, but what does John mean when he talks about the "light" in reference to Jesus. Perhaps the clearest answer to this question is found in the Gospel of John 3:19-21 (see notes):
And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.
Well...there it is; John indicates it's a "deeds" thing. Who controls your life? Evil men do evil deeds; evil deeds are not the product of the Holy Spirit who indwells Believers at salvation. Now take a look at I John 1:5-7:
This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.
This much is clear: Fellowship (Greek: "koinonia") with Jesus Christ is not possible when one's deeds are in defiance against Holy Spirit guidance. However, when one is led by the Holy Spirit, he naturally has fellowship, not only with Christ, but other Believers also. Verses 5-7 give us John's first direct shot at these false prophets and their "darkness" lifestyle and teaching. It would appear from verses 8 and 10 that these false prophets taught something akin to the sinless-perfection doctrine of the gnostics in that era which maintained an essential separation of matter and spirit, the former of these being essentially evil, and the source from which all evil has arisen. Therefore, these gnostics believed that it was only one's body that sinned; the spirit inside man was sinless - kind of a mind-over-matter doctrine, you see. As a result, we are told that these gnostics justified godless living by dismissing it as a product of flesh not accountable to the spirit. How convenient! For more information on gnosticism, click here.
However, notice verses 8-10 where we see the inevitability of our (Believers) shortcomings after salvation (all Believers sin, verses 8, 10), and what we should do when it happens (confess our sins). Verses 8-10 dismiss that gnostic doctrine as unfounded. Consider I John 1:9 a guarantee, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." Make no mistake about it; THIS VERSE IS NOT A SALVATION VERSE. This verse is addressing the relationship of Believers with their Father, God. When (as Believers) we sin, we should confess that sin to God in prayer and move on with complete confidence that God has promised us that we have complete forgiveness of that sin.
Perhaps a scriptural definition of sin for the Believer is in order here. James 4:17 (see notes) says it all, "Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin." According to I Corinthians 12:13 (see notes) and Romans 8:1-11 (see notes), each Believer has the Holy Spirit inside, prompting him to obedience to God. When a Believer violates that leadership of the Holy Spirit, that's sin. An explanation of Spirit-led living is to be found in Galatians 5:16-25 (see notes).
Let me further address the inconsistent teaching that I John 1:9 is not for Believers, but rather provided as instruction for lost people to get saved. While you may have heard it preached, show me in the scripture where entry into salvation in Christ requires us to "confess our sins." Read the epistles of the New Testament very closely, and you will see that a simple acknowledgement of our need for a savior because of our sin (our sin nature) is all that is indicated in the process of our salvation experience - not a comprehensive prerequisite to "confess our sins." To indicate that a confession of sins is a prerequisite to salvation is to create a whole new extra-scriptural barrier an unsaved person must penetrate in order to have eternal life. Click here to read the article I've written entitled, "What The Bible Says About Eternal Life." Secondly, take a look at the commentary on Galatians 2:15-21 (see notes). It's very important that people not place an extra-scriptural requirement on lost people as a process for getting saved.
Christ is our mediator (I John 2:1-2)
1 My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous:
2 And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.
These first two verses complete the doctrine of forgiveness which began in 1:8. Falling short in one's Christian life (sinning) is inevitable. Verse 1 is enlightening in this respect: Don't sin, but if you do, here's the source of your forgiveness: Christ is the "propitiation" (verse 2) for our sins. The Greek word for "propitiation" ("hilasmos") holds the connotation of making us righteous before God. Verse 1 identifies Jesus as our "advocate with the Father." That Greek word, "parakletos" literally means that Jesus represents us before God himself. It's the same word translated "Comforter" in reference to the Holy Spirit in John 14:16, 26 (see notes), John 15:26 and 16:7 (see notes). There you have two powerful words with their associated concepts: Jesus is not only our means of being seen as righteous before God, but he's also our advocate before God.
Clear identifiers for these false teachers (I John 2:3-14)
3 And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments.
4 He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.
5 But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him.
6 He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked.
7 Brethren, I write no new commandment unto you, but an old commandment which ye had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word which ye have heard from the beginning.
8 Again, a new commandment I write unto you, which thing is true in him and in you: because the darkness is past, and the true light now shineth.
9 He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now.
10 He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling in him.
11 But he that hateth his brother is in darkness, and walketh in darkness, and knoweth not whither he goeth, because that darkness hath blinded his eyes.
12 I write unto you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for his name’s sake.
13 I write unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning. I write unto you, young men, because ye have overcome the wicked one. I write unto you, little children, because ye have known the Father.
14 I have written unto you, fathers, because ye have known him that is from the beginning. I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one.
Beginning with verse 3, John directly deals with the specific problem plaguing these Believers - false doctrine being taught by those he categorizes in verses 18 and 22 (see below) as "antichrists." Interestingly enough, John is the only New Testament writer to use that term. He sets the stage for dealing with these false teachers in verse 3, "And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments." In other words, when Believers follow the commands of Christ, they demonstrate that they know Christ as Savior. There's a shift between verses 3 and 4; that shift is the plural pronoun "we" in verse 3 and the singular Greek present active participle in verse 4 translated "He that saith." Then we have a perfect active Greek verb that holds the connotation of a past profession that says, "He that says I have known him..." Here's the deal on that distinction in grammar: The antichrists mentioned later in this chapter are described in verse 19 like this, "They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us." So, verses 3-4 set up the rest of the chapter by warning that there are those false teachers who have no respect for the commands of Christ, and their actions demonstrate such. See the Introduction to I John above before you read this by clicking here.
What are those actions that identify these particular antichrists:
We see in verse 5 that an adherence to the established doctrine of Christ results in a natural maturing of love toward God. That expectation is seen in verse 6, "He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked." These antichrists did not walk in this manner. Jesus said in John 13:34-35 (see notes), "A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another." We see in verses 7-11 that John differentiates these antichrists by demonstrating their violation of John 13:34-35. It can be derived from these comments that these false teachers (antichrists) demonstrated animosity toward other teachers of the faith and perhaps Believers in general. Verses 12-14 are grammatically curious - first a declaration in present tense indicating the reason for writing to the "children" (verse 12, presumably all recipients of this letter), "fathers" (verse 13), and "young men" (verse 13). Then John repeats similarly, but uses the aorist tense for "write" indicating a past action all over again in verses 13-14. Most scholars seem to conclude that this is just stylistic, and that no differentiation is to be seen, but rather is restated to stress the importance of what is being written.
Who do you love? (I John 2:15-17)
15 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.
16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.
17 And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.
A spirit-led Believer loves Jesus Christ over the world...naturally. So, loving Christ is a result of being controlled by the Holy Spirit. It comes back to Paul's explanation of Spirit-led living in Galatians 5:16-25 (see notes). Jesus had been very direct regarding the hypocrisy of the Jewish leaders on this subject in Matthew 6:19-34 (see notes). He plainly told them that they could not keep one foot in the world and the other one in Heaven.
Note particularly the following verses from Matthew 6 (see notes):
Matthew 6:19-21 Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
Matthew 6:24 No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.
Matthew 6:33 But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.
John is simply emphasizing the clear teaching of Jesus in these three verses (15-17). These false teachers ("antichrists") were apparently identifiable by their love for the world. The doctrinal disconnect between actions of the body and one's spirit taught by the gnostics of the day may be in view here.
A general warning about antichrists (I John 2:18-29)
18 Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time.
19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.
20 But ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things.
21 I have not written unto you because ye know not the truth, but because ye know it, and that no lie is of the truth.
22 Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son.
23 Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father: (but) he that acknowledgeth the Son hath the Father also.
24 Let that therefore abide in you, which ye have heard from the beginning. If that which ye have heard from the beginning shall remain in you, ye also shall continue in the Son, and in the Father.
25 And this is the promise that he hath promised us, even eternal life.
26 These things have I written unto you concerning them that seduce you.
27 But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him.
28 And now, little children, abide in him; that, when he shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before him at his coming.
29 If ye know that he is righteous, ye know that every one that doeth righteousness is born of him.
I'm certain that these antichrists are at the center of the entire discussion that began with verse 3 of this chapter. John is warning against those false teachers who set themselves up against Christ; he calls them "antichrists" in verses 18 and 22. As a matter of fact, John is the only writer who actually uses the word "antichrist(s)" (I John 2:18, I John 2:22, I John 4:3 and II John 1:7). Actually, the Beast of Revelation 13:1-10 (see notes) who is generally known as the antichrist, is never really called "The Antichrist," and the usage of the title by John in these verses doesn't seem to be identifying a particular prophetic individual like that prophetic Beast. John does use the term "antichrist" in the context of those who stand against Christ. In that respect, many feel comfortable in applying that reference to the beast of Revelation 13, and you may even see that I've done so from time to time. It's interesting that John concedes that some of these antichrists had once attached themselves to the fellowship of Believers when he says in verse 19, "They went out from us, but they were not of us." Remember: Even an antichrist has enough truth in his message to make it enticing to immature Christians. He acquires it from having hung around with real Believers. If you think that's disingenuous, devious, crafty, dishonest or just plain ol' wrong, me too! But unless you are mature in God's Word, you're an easy target for these righteous-sounding, yet devil-pleasing FALSE TEACHERS. Nobody ever accused Satan of fighting fairly! Notice the warning in verse 26, "These things have I written unto you concerning them that seduce you." Satan uses deceitful, seductive practices to mislead Believers.
Don't be confused by verse 23 here. It's paired with verse 22 and should not be separated. These antichrist false teachers denied that Jesus is the Christ. "Christ" (Greek: christos) means Messiah. He who was prophesied in the Old Testament as the Messiah was to come in the flesh (Isaiah 9:6-7, see notes). To deny that Jesus is the Messiah of Isaiah 9:6-7 constitutes a complete denial of the very mission of Jesus. Therefore, weed them out by the test of verse 23 by determining their doctrine of Jesus before you offer them your attention. Continuing in the faith is the emphasis of verses 24-25 before the warning of verse 26.
Verse 27 speaks of the Holy Spirit in every Believer...alerting us to false teaching as we abide in Christ when it says, "But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him." Jesus had said in John 16:13 (see notes) regarding the Holy Spirit's influence on Believers, "Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth." Verse 27 applies that promise. In order to understand the exact meaning of verses 28-29, you must understand that John is still talking about those false teachers. Don't let them derail you (verse 28), and understand that if they were really teachers/prophets from God, their lifestyle would reflect the righteousness of God (verse 29).
What about teachers/prophets who teach and practice rebellion against God? (I John 3:1-10)
1 Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not.
2 Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.
3 And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.
4 Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.
5 And ye know that he was manifested to take away our sins; and in him is no sin.
6 Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him.
7 Little children, let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous.
8 He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil.
9 Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.
10 In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother.
The groundwork is laid in verses 1-3 to establish the norm for Christians - the pursuit of a godly lifestyle. Because the world (Greek: kosmos i.e. world order) does not acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah, they won't identify with those of us who do. We are in pursuit of Jesus, knowing that one day we shall be with him and like him. For that reason, Believers who are focused on this future outcome pursue a lifestyle pleasing to Christ.
What about the Gnostic-style teaching of these false prophets that lifestyle doesn't matter? That's dealt with in verses 4-10. Gnostics felt a need to supplement commonly established orthodoxy with components of Judaism, oriental mysticism and philosophy. Many scholars maintain that Gnosticism existed before the ministry of Christ. Gnosticism infiltrated Christianity with their doctrine that actually held the deity and Messianic mission of Jesus of little or no value. That's the point of chapter 2 when John says in verse 22, "Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son." So, before we deal with verse 4 here, let's establish the big sin that is being dealt with in John's epistle here - THE DENIAL THAT JESUS WAS THE CHRIST (MESSIAH).
Understanding that sin of Jesus-as-Messiah-denial, let's deal with verse 4, "Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law." The original construction of verse 4 in its Greek format is important here. First of all, let's do a word-for-word substitution from Greek to English, and then polish up the sentence in English. Here it is: "Each one doing THE sin, also the lawlessness does, and THE sin is the lawlessness." You may find the occurrence of the definite article ("the") in front of "sin" each time to be kinda weird by English standards. That definite article used here with the singular form of "sin" (Greek: hamartia) is unique in this epistle in this respect: Except here and in verse 8, all other occurrences in this epistle of "sin" with the definite article are plural i.e. "the sins of us." In other words, John is here (verses 4 and 8) identifying a particular sin, the sin of denying the Messiahship of Jesus Christ. Moreover, the Greek word "anomia" means lawlessness, a common New Testament term indicating a disregard for God. I am completely confident that a reference to the Mosaic Law IS NOT to be found in this verse. So, here's the polished and enhanced version of what is intended in verse 4, "The one who practices the sin of denying the Messiahship of Jesus Christ is lawless, because this denial is lawlessness."
But wait...there's more! That sin is revisited in verse 8. The one who is "doing THE sin" of denying the Messiahship of Jesus Christ is "of the devil." Whoa! It's devil doctrine! To thwart Jesus' mission was Satan's intent from the very beginning, and Jesus was manifested to put away Satan's deception once and for all.
Now, sandwiched in between verses 4 and 8 are some qualifiers regarding this lawless doctrine:
Verses 9-10 follow the same theme. This sin of verses 4 and 8 of denying the Messiahship of Jesus Christ is not compatible with the born-again experience. When you have Jesus ("his seed") in you, you have acknowledged that Jesus is exactly who he said he was, having been born of God. Verse 10 sums it up: Satan's doctrine denies the identity of Jesus, God's doctrine acknowledges that Jesus is the Messiah.
Love for other Believers characterizes Believers (I John 3:11-24)
11 For this is the message that ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.
12 Not as Cain, who was of that wicked one, and slew his brother. And wherefore slew he him? Because his own works were evil, and his brother’s righteous.
13 Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you.
14 We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death.
15 Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.
16 Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.
17 But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?
18 My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.
19 And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him.
20 For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things.
21 Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God.
22 And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight.
23 And this is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment.
24 And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us.
So, what about the so-called Believer who demonstrates animosity toward other Believers? READ VERSES 3:1-10 AGAIN. And then pay close attention to verse 15 when it says, "Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer." There's the Greek present active participle again used with the word "hateth." It speaks of a continual attitude of deep-seated hatred toward a fellow Believer. It presents a hypothetical; the Holy Spirit indwelling one Believer simply will not yield hatred toward a fellow Believer. This whole chapter completes a theme. Believers have a love for other Believers. To hate other Believers is to rebel against God. It would appear that these false prophets being addressed by John demonstrated an animosity toward John and other true followers of Christ. From the attention it gets in this epistle, I think we can conclude that one very distinguishing mark of these false prophets was a fellowship disconnect with true Believers that at least bordered on animosity...so much so that this attitude is attributed to Satan himself (verse 12) as the one who inspired the hatred of Cain leading to his brother's death (Genesis 4, see notes).
The exact Greek adjective ("poneros") is used twice in verse 12 by John, first to describe Satan ("that wicked one") and then to describe Cain's actions leading to the sacrifice he made before God ("works were evil"). Let's face it, this was no mistake...no inadvertent shortcoming on Cain's part; Cain was our first example of outright rebellion against God. There's a lesson about the unregenerate life to be found here. Did Cain disobey because he lacked faith that God was God? Nope! He knew exactly who God was, and he still disobeyed.
John's driving home a point here with regard to brotherly love through the end of this chapter. Let's make another link back to the Gospel of John here. Before we do, notice verse 23, "And this is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment." As a matter of fact, John was present on the evening of Jesus' last Passover meal with the disciples when Jesus said in John 13:34-35 (see notes), "A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another." John wants us to understand that Believers love other Believers, and those teachers who do not "believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ" are not Believers, but false teachers.
Don't believe false teachers (I John 4:1-6)
1 Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.
2 Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God:
3 And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.
4 Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.
5 They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them.
6 We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error.
Here we are again. Don't follow false teachers. If what they teach does not line up completely with God's Word, don't heed their teaching. "Try the spirits whether they are of God" (verse 1) is the admonition given. John is warning that the false teachers are denying the deity of Jesus Christ. However, I'll take the liberty to extend his admonition here to say that we should reject the teaching of anyone who denies the fundamentals (the essentials) of our faith.
What are the fundamentals of our faith?
Believers cannot tolerate the teaching ministries of those who do not hold to all of these essential fundamentals. Those who teach otherwise are false teachers. These are what I call deal breakers. Of course there are other very important doctrines in addition to these, but a denial of any of these is a denial of the very essence of our faith in Jesus Christ.
In verse 1 these false teachers are specifically referred to as "false prophets" (Greek: pseudoprophetes). Make no mistake; these are the same people about whom he is talking throughout the whole letter. However, the usage of this term "false prophets" introduces the means whereby they supposedly came by their false doctrine, spiritual guidance. Of course, they lie about that...they're false prophets. In I Corinthians 12 (see notes) we see that real prophecy comes from the Holy Spirit. That's why John warns in verse 1, "...believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God..." We get a glimpse of these particular false prophets' message in verse 2 when he says, "Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God:" The inverse is stated in verse 3. These false prophets about whom John is speaking apparently preached a message that Jesus was all spirit - no flesh - a gnostic doctrine. For more information on gnosticism, click here. We do know from chapters 2 and 3 that they did, in fact, deny the Messiahship of Jesus. There are a host of foundational doctrinal truths that stand in jeopardy when it is denied that Jesus took on the form of a man. In his Gospel account, John wrote in John 1:1, see notes, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." Then he proclaims in John 1:14, "And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth." As a matter of fact, Paul clearly establishes the exact relationship of Jesus to God and man in Philippians 2:1-11 (see notes).
Spirit led Believers are able to resist these false prophets (verse 4) because of the Holy Spirit's direction in each Believer's life. Those without Holy Spirit leadership (the "of the world" people) are susceptible to this false message proclaimed by these false prophets (verse 5). Truly Spirit-led Believers only respond to the "spirit of truth" and resist the "spirit of error" (verse 6).
7 Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.
8 He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.
9 In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.
10 Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.
12 No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us.
13 Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit.
14 And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world.
15 Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God.
16 And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.
17 Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world.
18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.
19 We love him, because he first loved us.
20 If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?
21 And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.
Have you noticed that we're still talking about the same subject (brotherly love) that began back in 3:11 (see above)? Unlike Islam, whose founder based his religion upon war and hatred, our faith is characterized by love. Verse 8 says, "God is love." That translates into love for God as well as love for one another...Believers, I mean. So, what about the so-called Believer who hates another Believer? The operative word here is "so-called." Read this passage and see that love is the natural attribute of a Holy Spirit-led Believer. Moreover, the first of the list of attributes in Galatians 5:22-23 (see notes) is "love." That kind of settles it, don't you agree?
We see the example of love in verses 9-10 with the willingness of God to sacrifice his "only begotten Son" on the cross. Notice John's diligence in making it clear that Jesus died a physical death as a "propitiation for our sins" (see above on "propitiation"). Of course, that flies in the face of the false doctrine being preached by these false prophets. With that demonstration of love, we naturally, as Believers, should love one another (verse 11). Verse 12 contains the same statement that John made in John 1:18 (see notes) when he says, "No man has seen God at any time." Jesus proclaims to the Samaritan woman that "God is a Spirit" (John 4:24, see notes); as such, no man has ever seen God in His essence, His Spirit-being. I'm convinced that the only body that God ever had was that of Jesus Christ. Therefore, Old Testament manifestations of God in human form would have been those of a pre-incarnate Christ. For more information, click here to see the article on Melchisedek.
The presence of the Holy Spirit in each Believer is the indicator that we dwell in Christ (verse 13); Paul validated this concept in great detail in I Corinthians 12:13 (see notes) and Romans 8:1-11 (see notes). In verses 14-15, John again emphasizes the differentiation (the deal breaker) with the doctrine of these false teachers, their teaching that Jesus did not take upon himself the form of a man (the Messiahship of Christ). Then in verse 16-21 John emphasizes the love that brethren will have toward one another. We draw from these verses that these false teachers/prophets were mean spirited. Finally, John says it yet another way in verse 20, "If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar." That's ol' plain-talkin' John for you with a double up on that emphasis in verse 21.
We are given some additional hints regarding the content of this false doctrine being preached by these false prophets in these verses:
John goes on with his test of love for God (I John 5:1-12)
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.
2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments.
3 For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous.
4 For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.
5 Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?
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.
7 For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.
8 And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one.
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.
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.
11 And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.
12 He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.
John continues his thoughts from chapter 4. As a matter of fact, verse 1 tags onto the end of verses 4:20-21. Notice the wording here; it's the inverse of I John 2:22 "Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son." There the definite article (the) is used as here in reference to "Christ" (Messiah). See the discussion above for the significance of that declaration. Actually, the whole book of I John is one long discussion on the same subject. Here we see that Believers are overcomers, and their lives should reflect the love of Jesus Christ. Obedience is the natural process that comes from the internal leadership of the Holy Spirit in each Believer's life.
Therefore, don't let verse 1 throw you; read it in context. Here's the context of the preceding chapters: These false teachers deny the Messiahship of Jesus Christ. They can't be born of God with that Satan-inspired doctrine. John intended for that verse to be understood in that context. It would be incorrect to view the criteria of verse 1 as the only condition for salvation in Christ. The Greek word for "commandments" (entole) in verse 2 might easily be misidentified to mean the Ten Commandments of Moses. Actually, "entole" is a general word which means "command" or "precepts." Our New Testament is full of precepts that guide the Believer as he serves God, but the one in view here is the precept that Jesus is God in the flesh - the Messiah.
Referring back to chapter 4, verses 16-19 indicated that these false teachers were preaching a doctrine of fear and uncertainty rather than faith and confidence. Verses 4-5 tell us that because of our faith in Christ, we are overcomers...not folks to be living in fear.
In verse 6 we see that Jesus came by water (his baptism - Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22 - see notes), which was really his public consecration for his earthly ministry. The "blood" refers to his crucifixion. The phrase "not by water only" emphasizes the necessity of the sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross. The three bearing witness in Heaven are seen as the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit (Greek: pneuma - Spirit). We know from John 1:14 (see notes) that Jesus is "the Word." In verse 8 John again makes reference to the "water" and "blood," but also adds the witness of the Spirit; that's the Spirit that dwells within Believers. The Spirit protects Believers from false doctrine, a greater witness than that of mere men (verse 9). Again, John emphasizes the error of these false teacher in verse 10 when he points out that they do not accept the Messianic mission of Jesus.
This passage contains a simple statement of who Believers are in verses 11 and 12. It's simple: If you have Christ, you have eternal life; if you have no Christ, you have no eternal life. It reminds you of Christ's words in John 14:6 (see notes), "Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me."
A great relationship (I John 5:13-15)
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.
14 And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us:
15 And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him.
A relationship between Believers and God is characterized by a confidence in God's ability to answer prayer. This abiding relationship, the theme of I John, makes us realize the father/child relationship is one where God cares for us like a father, and we naturally want to please him. That's the key to prayer we find here in verses 14-15. When we pray "according to his will," he will always answer that prayer. Of course the key here is to pray "according to his will." How does one know he is doing that? The key to praying "according to his will" is to be found in James 1:5 (see notes), "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him." You can pray with absolute assurance that you are praying "according to his will" when you first pray for wisdom. "Wisdom" in this context is knowing the will of God. After I have prayed for wisdom, I will be impressed by the Holy Spirit with a knowledge of the will of God; that's what wisdom is. Then, I can pray specifically and with confidence in exactly the way God has shown me to pray. That's the key to a successful prayer life.
What is a sin unto death? (I John 5:16-21)
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.
17 All unrighteousness is sin: and there is a sin not unto death.
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.
19 And we know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness.
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.
21 Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen.
This whole epistle is about standing against false teachers and continually emphasizes the importance of Believers acting like Believers. What if a Believer doesn't act like a Believer? I mean what if a Believer is rebellious against God? John closes out this epistle by dealing with just this scenario - the unrepentant, rebellious Believer. In the first chapter he told Believers in verse 9 that all we had to do after sinning, was confess; some people, however, refuse to do so. Paul told us in Hebrews 12:6-8 that chastisement, just as a father chastises a son, follows UNCONFESSED disobedience. This chastisement is manifested in the lives of the disobedient Corinthian believers in I Corinthians 11. (Click here to see the summary on the chastisement from God in I Corinthians 11.) Because of their continued rebellion, verse 30 of that chapter says that some of these Corinthians actually died. There are some limited-scriptural-knowledge Believers who believe that God would never bring sickness or death on Christians. Let me put this as tactfully as is appropriate: THEY'RE WRONG! Read Exodus to Deuteronomy and see how God eliminated a whole generation by judging their disobedience with sickness and death. Well, here's a sin unto death; I'm convinced that it's a reference to repeated rebellion - probably in the context of those who have followed the teachings of those false prophets in denying the Messiahship of Jesus Christ. So, do you just pray that God will reward them anyway despite their rebellion? No, not according to verse 16! John's theme throughout I John is that Believers don't get away with continued rebellion. He simply closes out his epistle by telling us what does, in fact, happen to those Believers. You may also find helpful the article entitled, "Trial versus Chastisement."