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The First Epistle of John (5)

(Chapter 3:17 to 4:14)

If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in Him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth (verses 17,18 N.I.V.).
We may not be called upon to go so far as to give our lives for someone else. There are other ways of showing our love in a practical way. We may encounter those who suffer material hardship and need assistance. It is then a privilege to help them, and show that our love works in practice and is more than just words. It is so often true that actions speak louder than words. If a believer turns away from those in need, when he is in a position to help, what is the use of talking about the love of God? It is just empty words. James put this vividly in chapter 2:15 and the verses that follow:
Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead (James 2:15-17).

The same thing can be said about love without action; it is empty and hypocritical. Warm words should be accompanied by warm deeds.

This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in His presence whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and He knows everything (verses 19,20).

If this is our response to God's truth, then in His very presence we can have assurance, for He understands and knows everything about us, and we enjoy peace of mind and conscience.

Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from Him anything we ask, because we obey His commands and do what pleases Him (verses 21,22).

Here is another occurrence of a text which seems to teach that we can pray for anything we want and get it, but this is never true. In the context there is always a conditional statement, for our heavenly Father is too wise and loving to give us anything, for this might include things which would be to our hurt. Later on in the fifth chapter, John is going to give us the secret for answered prayer (5:14), and we shall comment on that verse when we reach it.

And this is His command: to believe in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as He commanded us (verse 23).

The name of the Lord Jesus here stands for all that He is. Bishop Westcott calls it 'a compressed creed', and the Father's commandment relates to faith and love. Faith in Christ is the first step in the new life, and this leads to a life of love to Him and to one another (John 13:34; 15:12).

Those who obey His commands live in Him, and He in them. And this is how we know that He lives in us: We know it by the Spirit He gave us (verse 24).

Those who obey the Lord's commands prove that they are linked with Him and that they dwell in Him. It is also true that He abides in them by the Holy Spirit. He is the Spirit of Truth in chapter 4 and the Spirit of witness in chapter 5. Both the Father and the Son make their home with the believer (John 14:23), an inestimable privilege for the one who trusts in Christ.

Chapter 4

Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world (verse 1).
The devil is not slow in his battle with God. Whenever God gives a revelation of His truth and His gracious purposes, Satan is there with his deceiving spirits straight away as he seeks to nullify what God has done. There have always been Satanic deceptions since the fall, and the Lord Jesus had warned people against them (Matt. 7:15).

In Old Testament days there were two ways that the children of God could sift the true from the false. (1) If the word given by a prophet failed to come to pass or come true, then the Lord had not spoken that word. (2) Even if the word was truthfully fulfilled, yet the prophet tried to lead his hearers astray to serve other gods, that person was a false prophet (Deut. 13:1-5; 18:22), and the penalty for such falsehood was severe: he was put to death and in this way Satan's lie was prevented from spreading (Deut. 13:8-11).

In early New Testament times, as an additional protection, there was given by the Holy Spirit the gift of discernment of spirits (1 Cor. 12:10), and those who had this gift knew immediately whether doctrinal statements were true or false. The apostle John added yet another safeguard, as the following verses show:

This is how you can recognise the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world (verses 2,3).

These words were a direct attack on gnosticism, which taught that all matter was evil, and so Christ's body was not real; it was only a phantom one. This denial was a sure sign of the antichrist, and if true, the doctrine of the atonement on the cross would be impossible. Phantoms cannot shed blood and die! Satan knows how to cover his lies and deceit with a semblance of truth, so it did not matter how attractive or plausible his doctrines sounded, they must be rejected. And so it is with false and antichristian teaching today. These lies are found in the world of religion and the only protection is the Word of God in control of the mind. Without this every believer is in a position of grave danger.

You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the One Who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world (verse 4).

The believers to whom John was writing had overcome the false prophets, not because they were more clever than these false teachers or stronger than them in themselves. It was because they had received the truth by the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit, and were abiding in it. The Holy Spirit Who was in them was greater than 'he that is in the world', and this in the final sense was Satan, 'the prince of this world' (John 12:31; 14:30), the 'god of this age' (2 Cor. 4:4). He is very powerful, but not almighty.

They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognise the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood (verses 5,6).

There will always be a complete division between the world system devised and energized by Satan, and the Lord Jesus Christ. He, most certainly, is 'not of the world', neither are His faithful disciples (John 17:14). The false prophets and the world are in perfect harmony. The next verse is in sharp contrast. We (emphatic in the Greek) are in tune with the Lord and therefore all who are likewise listen to us. There is no need for believers being duped by the 'spirit of error' or falsehood. They have only to cling closely by faith to the One Who said 'I am the Truth' (John 14:6), to be safe against deception, and thus are able to recognize it.

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love (verses 7,8).

John repeats the old commandment of 2:7-10. We cannot stress too much that the love mentioned here and in the Bible as a whole is that self-giving love that constantly spends itself for others, as we have already considered. The world system knows nothing of it. A false conception of it prevails today, and even enters the world of religion with its excitement and emotionalism. True faith cannot exist in such an atmosphere, and it so easily deceives those who indulge in it and imagine they are experiencing the lasting joy of the Lord.

The real love of the New Testament is, as Professor F.F. Bruce says, 'a consuming passion for the well-being of others'; and if we have this constantly in our minds and express it in action, then we are getting to know God more and more, for 'God is love' (verse 8). To know the God of love is to manifest that love, as these verses assert.

It is noteworthy that the Bible contains only three statements telling us what God is, and they are found only in John's writings. 'God is Spirit' (John 4:24); 'God is Light' (1 John 1:5); 'God is Love' (1 John 4;8), and what a treasury of truth these statements contain! The following sentence makes clear the constant quality of the love of God, which is expressed by the gift of His Son, and what this cost Him we shall never know in this life. The apostle Paul reminds us that 'He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all' (Rom. 8:32), shows how great was His love in giving His all for us and for our salvation, calling and hope.

We can only show our gratitude by a persistence in loving Him. This is expressed by the present tense of the word 'love' both in indicative and participle. We should 'keep on loving' and expressing this in action. The person that does not do this, does not know God (verse 8), however much he professes to be a Christian.

This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins (verses 9,10).

Again the apostle stresses the fact that divine love is not expressed just by words, but by unselfish action, and this is why God sent His only Son to mankind (the world), because its basic need is spiritual life, and that eternal life is only found in Christ (John 1:4; 1 John 5:12). The sending of the Son was the supreme act of God's love. To live eternally in absolute bliss becomes our certain hope when we rest our faith on Him and all He has done in removing our sins by bearing the penalty of them Himself on calvary's cross.

He did not wait for our love before acting. He died for us while we were His enemies (Rom. 5:8,10). We now can love Him because He first loved us (1 John 4:19). He was the propitiation (atoning sacrifice N.I.V.) for our sins. John repeats this from the second verse of chapter two. This is foundation truth on which salvation rests. We need to beware of the teaching that regards the cross merely as an example to us, and not an atonement for sin. It is part of the apostasy we see all around us.

Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No-one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and His love is made complete in us (verses 11,12).

The adverb 'so' (houtos) is emphatic. If God loves us like this, then we certainly ought to love each other. We are His children, and the children should reflect the Father. Romans 5:5 tells us that the Holy Spirit has poured the love of God into our hearts and this should be the dominant force in our lives.

No one has ever seen God Who is Spirit (John 1:18; 4:24), but if God's love is seen to be in our lives then others can see what is God-like. The Lord Jesus has now returned to the Father, but in His absence we can make Him known by exhibiting love in practice. In this way love is 'perfected' or made complete, and brings glory to His name. We must therefore keep on loving one another (present tense), for this is the sign of the indwelling of God in us. Such love cannot be made known in spasms.

We know that we live in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent His Son to be the Saviour of the world. (verses 13,14).

The consciousness of our new spiritual life is due to the working of the Holy Spirit, the Life-giver. We go on after this, through His working, to know more and more about the Lord Jesus, for Christ said, 'when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all truth ... He will bring glory to Me by taking from what is Mine and making it known to you' (John 16:13,14). In other words He is the great revealer of truth and the apostle Paul declares that this truth is 'spiritually discerned', and this is the only way it can be received by human beings. The unsaved cannot get to know it by intellect alone. Only the great Teacher, the Holy Spirit, can give opened eyes and understanding hearts. The reader should carefully consult 1 Corinthians 2:9-14 which is in agreement with this.

The Holy Spirit's chief work is to reveal and teach what pertains to the Lord Jesus Christ, and glorifies Him. Many believers have yet to learn this truth.


Edited on June 21, 1997 / Updated on June 23, 1997
The Alachua Freenet does not endorse or disendorse the content of this document. Everything is the author's private opinion.
Location: http://www.afn.org/~leo/be_1_john_5.html
Contact: Leo Wierzbowski / leo@afn.org

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