1 John 5:1-6


The epistle selections for the six Sundays in the Easter season of Series B are taken from 1 John. Today's selection is well chosen because it speaks of victory. Easter means victory over death. But the Christian already has victory in life. Because of the fallen nature of man the world is much opposed to the Truth, the Truth about God, about man, and about man's destiny. Christian live in a hostile world. They need constant strength and encouragement. This text will do just that for the people.

Twice in the previous chapter John writes: "God is love" 4:8,16. We learned about this love through His Son whom God sent as the payment for our sins. There is so much hatred and unrest in the world. Perhaps Christian sometimes get the idea that it is not really true that God is love. Or perhaps individual Christian get the idea that the love of God is for others but not for themselves. In one way or another Christian ought be reminded in every sermon of the love of God in Christ. Our text does not speak of the love of God as such but rather tells us what results from this love of God.

1 John 5:1 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well.

"Believe" is a substantival participle. It is present tense. Faith is a constant state. It is the source and gateway of all Christian living. The object of faith is: "Jesus is the Messiah." He is the One whom God promised and sent into the world to suffer, die, and rise for every sinner. "Born" is perfect passive. The rebirth of the Christian results in a condition, a constant state. "Of" denotes source.

Do we ever wonder whether or not we are really Christians? This question bothers people far more often than they would like to admit. They themselves can answer this question from what John says here. A Christian feels his sins. True. But he also responds with "yes" when asked whether Jesus is the Messiah. Much is said in our day about "born-again Christians." What do people mean by that? Very often they claim to find proof in themselves. It is true, of course, that love is proof of rebirth. See 1 John 4:7. It is true, of course, that refusal to live in sin is proof of rebirth. See 1 John 3:9. But the Christian gives all credit to God for these things. He does not attract attention to his rebirth as if he was responsible, at least in part, for his rebirth. There are times in the life of the Christ when he does not feel love or when he does not experience the power to fight sin. At such times he must rivet his attention on these words: "Everyone who is believing that Jesus is the Messiah has been lastingly born of God." 

Now for the second part of this verse. RSV, TEV, and NIV render the second part of this verse thus: "Everyone who loves the parent loves the child." We think that KJV, NKJV, NASB, and AAT are preferable. In one way or another they say: "Whoever loves the Father loves the child born of Him." With the verb tenses Paul emphasizes the constancy of love, the momentary character of conversion, and the punctiliar-durative nature of conversion.

Faith produces and is active in love. See Galatians 5:6. That is assumed in this verse. Faith causes the Christian to love his heavenly Father. He loves Him with his whole heart, soul, and mind. That is essentially trust and confidence in God. This causes him also to love anyone who has been converted. He may not like that individual. But his love causes him to overlook the other person's faults and to regard him as a fellow redeemed person.

At this point the Christian may have feelings of remorse because he does not love either God or his neighbor as he should. But that is normal. Let him be assured that by faith he has the forgiveness of these sins and then goes on to love toward God and fellow Christian. When we speak to God we ought ask for  "faith toward Thee and fervent love to one another" as we do in the prayer after Communion.

1 John 5:2 This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands.

Some commentators think that the words "This is how" point back to verse 1. The majority think that these words point forward. We agree with the latter. "Know" denotes knowledge that has been learned. A better translation would be: "we realize." It is an intimate knowledge that is based on what has been revealed to us.

The next words mean: "We love those whom God has begotten." John is very likely dealing here with something which often bothers Christians. Christians have a sinful nature and therefore they are bothered by their sins of omission. It is not abnormal for a Christian to ask himself: "Do I really love those who have been converted as I have been?" The remained of this verse gives the repentant Christian assurance. "By" means "whenever." Bengel rightly suggests that from here on we have a sort of hendiadys. If Bengel is correct (and we think he is) this part of the verse means: "Whenever we love God by doing His injunctions." How does a Christian love God? By regarding God as his loving Father through Jesus Christ as his Savior. Why does a little child love its parents? Because the parents mean everything to the child. The child loves the parents even though the child feels nothing. We are not speaking here of an emotion. We are speaking of a relationship.

And now to the "hendiadys" idea. In the writing of John "commands" means far more than law or command. For John this word is similar in meaning to the synonyms in Psalm 119. When John says "we do His injunctions," he is speaking of the entire Word of God and the Christian's attitude concerning this Word. In other words the second part of this verse means: "Whenever we love God by having a good attitude toward His Word." 

1 John 5:3 This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome,

The Greek text begins with "you see." "Love for God" is found frequently in the writings of John. It means more than my actions and attitude toward Him. It denotes a mutual relationship between God and me. It means that I regard Him as my loving Father in Christ Jesus. He made me. He redeemed me. He preserves me. He comforts me. We are saying that "for God" is both subjective and objective genitive.

The second phrase is explanatory. To keep His injunctions is almost identical to that in verse 2. It means far more than law. It includes all of the Word of God, Law and Gospel. We suggest that the phrase begin "and don't forget that, etc." "Burdensome" is "grievous, too hard for us." That is so because of the loving nature of God, the converted nature of the believer, and the nature of the Word of God itself. Man-made religions are burdensome. See Matthew 23:4 and Luke 11:46. But Jesus' yoke is easy and His burden is light. Matthew 11:30. The unconverted consider God's Word burdensome. They ridicule a six-day creation. Homosexuals run the risk of contracting AIDS because they can't abstain. They consider the sixth commandment burdensome. Even today the Jews consider the Gospel rank foolishness. Many other examples could be cited. A Christians's attitude toward God goes hand in hand with his attitude toward His Word. If he has a good attitude toward the Word, he should be assured that he loves God. It's as simple as that.

1 John 5:4 for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.

Kretzmann: This fact, that to a Christian the commandments of God are not burdensome, is now explained more fully.
Stott: The reason why we do not find the commandments of God burdensome lies not, however, only in their character.

In other words, "for" means more than "because." KJV, RSV, and NIV translate with "for." Notice the verb "born" is a perfect passive participle, punctiliar-durative. Likely it is neuter because "child," verse 2, is neuter: "Every child which has been lastingly begotten of God." The Gospel converted this person. The Gospel gives him the strength to fight himself and life's battles. He delights in the Law of God according to the new man. He uses the Word of God as his weapon just as Jesus did when tempted and as He must have done countless times in His earthly ministry. The Christian overcomes and conquers the world insofar as it is opposed to Christ.  "World" is here used as at Galatians 6:14 and John 16:33. Jesus has conquered the world. He has conquered all that is Christless in the world. The Christian and that which is Christless are now at utter odds. The Christian conquers and overcomes all that is Christless. He finds it within himself, around himself, everywhere.

By the way, perhaps at the end of verse 3 we have a litotes. Not only are the injunctions of God not burdensome to the Christian; he even delights in them. David said: "His delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night."  Psalm 1:2 NKJV. He has "the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God." Ephesians 6:17. But the worldling is dead in trespasses and sin. He considers the Word of God burdensome. He is part of the sinful "world" and cannot conquer it.

And now for the last part of verse 4. "Faith" is placed last for the sake of emphasis. The participle adjective "victory" has its own article which makes this word stand out, something like: "This is the victory which truly conquers the world." Likely the participle is aorist in view of the fact that Jesus has already conquered the world. John 16:33; 1 Corinthians 15:57; Romans 8:37. In all trials and troubles Christians are more than conquerors through Christ who loved them. On the word "faith" note Galatians 2:20. Christianity guarantees victory in advance. Nothing can take me out of the hand of Jesus. John 10:28. The great crisis already lies behind me. See John 12:31-33.

1 John 5:5 Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.

Verse 4 introduced the element of victory through faith which is continued in this verse. This verse amount to a rhetorical question which easily answer itself. The verse begins with a light conjunction, not translated by NIV; it's almost narrative "now." In verse 4 John spoke of the converted person as the one who conquers the world by faith. Verse 5 continues the thought.

Note that the verbs are all in the present tense. The existence of the converted person and that of Jesus, the Son of God, is constant. The conquering and the believing are constant. This is important for the beleaguered Christian. It is so easy for a Christian to put himself down because he is not living up to his own expectations. In verse 2 we had the believer who believes that Jesus is the Messiah. Here we are told that he believes that Jesus is the Son of God. That means that Jesus is true God. The heresy of Cerinthus (that Jesus is not truly God) appears in every generation of history. If Jesus is not true God then our faith is for nothing. Then there is no forgiveness of sins and salvation. Only he who confesses and believes that Jesus is the Son of God conquers the world. That needs to be stressed in our day. There are denominations and cults which deny the divinity of Jesus.

1 John 5:6 This is the one who came by water and blood--Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth.

Here we are told more about Jesus Christ. He is called "the One who has come." This expression evidently covers His entire person and work for sinful human beings. He came by water and blood. Most commentators conclude that by "water and blood" John is speaking about Jesus' baptism and crucifixion. By being baptized He fulfilled all righteousness. Matthew 3:15. By His crucifixion He atoned for the sins of the world. 2 Corinthians 5:19. Note that we have the prepositions  "by" and "in." They are likely used with no difference in meaning. Whether we call these means, agency, or manner makes little difference. KJV, NKJV, AAT, and NIV render all with "by." RSV and NASB have "by, with, with, with." 

The middle clause in the verse has the article with the nouns, likely the article of previous reference. Commentators point out at this point that very likely Cerinthus taught that Jesus became God when He was baptized but at the time of crucifixion ceased to be God. John is saying that Jesus' baptism and crucifixion attest to the fact that Jesus is truly God. Furthermore, "came" points to the pre-existence of Christ.

Now we come to the final clause in verse 6. Not only are Jesus' baptism and crucifixion proof of what He claimed to be but also the Spirit was constantly attesting to all that Scripture says about Christ. TEV translates: "And the Spirit himself testifies that this is true, because the Spirit is truth." John describes Christ as "the One who came" and the Spirit as  "the testifier." The Holy Spirit testified already to Christ in prophecy. 2 Peter 1:21. He came upon Christ after His baptism. And since Pentecost He has constantly been testifying to Jesus. John 15:26. John 14:17 calls Him "the Spirit of Truth." Here we are told that the Spirit is the Truth. Jesus likewise called Himself the Truth. John 14:6. What does the beleaguered and repentant Christian need? The Truth. The Truth about himself and the Truth about God, the Truth about Jesus and the Truth about the Holy Spirit. The Spirit's primary activity is to testify to what Jesus was, is, has done, still does, and will continue to do.

We began this study by speaking about victory, the victory of Easter and the constant resultant victory in the life of the Christian. The pastor ought preach this text in such a way that each day is a victorious Easter for the believer in Christ.


Adapted from Exegetical Notes, Series B, Festival Season Sundays Epistle Texts, by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1987, pp. 87-90. Used with permission.

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