This commentary is offered with the working presumption that the author of 1, 2, & 3 John is the apostle John who also penned the gospel according to John and the Revelation. Further, while some have sought to reconstruct the occasion for John writing this postcard of an epistle, the frank reality is that there is precious little to truly build a definitive case.
Slightly different from 2 John which dealt with those who oppose the truth, in 3 John the apostle is going to give us the answer to what to do with those who love truth. This epistle is much more pointed as John names the person opposing the truth (Diotrephes) and much more personal as he names members of the church who support the truth (Gaius & Demetrius). 3 John provides us a glimpse of early church practice & faithful brethren. The take away is that Christian is to be an encourager of those devoted to truth not an inhibitor.
Outline of 3 John:
I. The Perseverance of Gaius the Exhorter (v.1-8, 13-15)
A. John’s Prayer for Gaius (v.1-2)
B. John’s Praise of Gauis (v.3-8)
C. John’s Plan Concerning Gaius (v.13-15)
II. The Pride of Diotrephes the Egotist (9-11)
A. The Wickedness of Diotrephes (v.9-10)
B. The Warning about Diotrephes (v.11)
III. The Profession concerning Demetrius the Example (v.12)
A. His Associates’ Testimony (v.12a)
B. The Apostle’s Testimony (v.12b)
3 John (ESV)
1The elder to the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth.
The Elder: John. Tradition tells us that he was a bishop (i.e. overseer) of the church in Ephesus. Since he is “the elder” this could suggest that he is the last survivor of the Twelve. However, could simply mean older man.
To the beloved Gaius: called “beloved” or “dear friend” (NET, NIV) in v.2, 5, 11. All that we know about this Gaius to whom John wrote is what is contained in this epistle.
Whom I love in truth: No definite article before “truth.” “[John’s] love is governed by this truth even as his love is that of true comprehension and corresponding purpose” (Lenski). John loves this brother affirming it repeatedly since Diotrephes didn’t.
2Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul.
Beloved: Common title of address for those whom John loves (v. 5, 11; 1 John 2.7)
I pray…good health: John’s constant prayer (pres. Tense) for Gaius is that 1) lit. his journey would go well (meta. Success or prosper), even 2) his health would be good (or he would be safe and sound). This is similar language to contemporary letters of general well wishing in all things and/or health.
As it goes well with your soul: John knows that Gaius is spiritually healthy.
3For I rejoiced greatly when the brothers came and testified to your truth, as indeed you are walking in the truth.
For: Gk. gar, here is how John knows that Gaius is in spiritual vitality…
I rejoiced…brothers came: a recent visit from some traveling missionaries from Gaius was an occasion for celebration on John’s behalf.
Testified to your truth: lit. witnessed (Gk marturounton) of you in the truth or of your truth. The report about Gaius is an excellent one; he is a spiritual pillar. Coupled with his love (v.6) he is a balanced Christian with the proper mix of truth & love.
As indeed…[the] truth: He has been faithful to the apostolic doctrine of Christ, refusing Gnostic intrusion and heresy.
4I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.
I have no greater joy: nothing fills John with such cause for rejoicing
Than to hear that my children: “The elder” refers to all of those Christians younger than him as his “children.” This is the fatherly affection John has for his brethren.
Walking in [the] truth: the definite article is found in some mss (eg. Alexandrinus) but is absent is others (eg. Sinaiticus). Given the construction in v.3 as well as 2 John 4, it seems that John did not include a definite article when he wrote this. Members holding fast to the apostolic teaching of Christ in spite of heretical attacks fills John with much joy
5Beloved, it is a faithful thing you do in all your efforts for these brothers, strangers as they are,
Beloved: affectionate term of endearment John regularly uses for his recipient.
It is a faithful…these brothers: “All his conduct towards the brethren, even when they were not previously known to him, was such as became a faithful Christian” (Pulpit Commentary). In Gaius, philadephia and philoxenia are combined; he loves the brethren and strangers.
Strangers as they are: “he treated brethren who were entire strangers to him, not as strangers, but as brethren” (Pulpit Commentary). He did not pick and choose whom to show hospitality and neglect the rest; every traveling missionary was sure to be received by Gaius.
6who testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on their journey in a manner worthy of God.
Who testified…before the church: those who had experienced the hospitality of Gaius came back and reported to the assembly of saints about what this Christian man had done on their behalf. (cf. Matt 25.38, 40)
You will do well…worthy of God: It is a faithful & beautiful thing to send forth missionaries with all they would need for the journey. They should be fully supported. Since they are representatives of God, treat them as such (cf. John 13.20). Send them out as if you were sending out Jesus as a missionary.
7For they have gone out for the sake of the name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles.
For they have…of the Name: Gk. gar, John explains that since these missionaries went out on their mission on behalf of the one & only Name in John’s mind—Jesus!
Accepting nothing from the Gentiles: these missionaries support was not solicited (as a policy) from non-Christians. If offered, they might accept, but not solicited.
8Therefore we ought to support people like these, that we may be fellow workers for the truth.
Therefore…like these: this is the proper deduction. We owe it to them (indebtedness is implied) to help & show hospitality to these missionaries.
That we…[for] the truth: by supporting these missionaries, we work together with them with the Truth (cf. 1 Cor 3.9).
9I have written something to the church, but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority.
I have written something to the church: 2 John or a lost epistle?
But Diotrephes: name means “nourished by Zeus.” Probably a church leader.
Who likes to put himself first: present participle (Gk. philoproteuon); lit. the one loving first [place]. He is diametrically opposed to the teaching of Jesus (Mk 10.43-44). “Not doctrinal heresy but personal ambition was the cause of the trouble” (Morris 229). If Diotrephes is first, where does that put Christ (Col 1.18)?
Does not acknowledge our authority: Lit. does not welcome/obey us. Diotrephes does not welcome, accept, or obey apostolic authority. Is he trying to take their place? If nothing else, he is not in compliance with divine injunction.
10So if I come, I will bring up what he is doing, talking wicked nonsense against us. And not content with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers, and also stops those who want to and puts them out of the church.
So if I come: John desires to come (v.14) and visit these brethren and also…
I will bring up what he is doing: John will confront Diotrephes’ unholy desires and the challenges to John’s apostleship, perhaps reminding him but certainly remind the church of his apostolic authority. “The root of the problem is sin” (Morris 230).
Talking wicked nonsense against us: “malicious gossip” (NIV) & “wicked words” are the product of this perverted presbyter. The se were senseless & wicked words.
And not content…the brothers: those brothers who are with John are unwelcome
And also…the church: Diotrephes says who’s in and out and those who disagree with him, wanting to welcome (support) their brothers are thrown out
11Beloved, do not imitate evil but imitate good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God.
Beloved: favorite affectionate address of John for those to whom he writes, here Gaius.
Do not imitate evil, but imitate good: Gk. mimou, comes mimic. Follow after that which is spiritually & morally beneficial, not what is deficient. Demetrius is an example of the good to imitate; Diotrephes is a bad example to follow. Don’t follow Diotrephes.
Whoever does good is from God: present participle. The one whose habitual practice is to do good is from God (cf. 1 John 3.9-10). Not mere kind acts every so often.
Whoever does evil has not seen God: present participle. The one whose habitual practice is toward what is displeasing & disobedient to God hasn’t experienced God.
12Demetrius has received a good testimony from everyone, and from the truth itself. We also add our testimony, and you know that our testimony is true.
Demetrius…everyone: all we know of this man is what is found in this single verse. Nevertheless, he is a member who does what is spiritually & morally beneficial. Probably unknown to Gaius, therefore the three-fold testimony (everyone, truth, us) to let him know that this leader/letter bearer is on the level (not a Diotrephes). He has received in the past and continues to receive even now a good testimony (perf. Tense); remains valid
And from the truth itself: definite article before “truth.” The Word is an objective witness of Demetrius for his life conforms to the Truth, which is Christ.
We also add our testimony: the apostolic college commends Demetrius. That is, John speaking on behalf of those apostles who have already gone to be with the Lord.
And you know…is true: perfect tense, have come to know and continue to know this
13I had much to write to you, but I would rather not write with pen and ink.
I have much…pen and ink: this short volume on a single sheet will suffice for now
14I hope to see you soon, and we will talk face to face.
I hope…face to face: John hopes to set the record straight in person (v.10).
15Peace be to you. The friends greet you. Greet the friends, each by name.
Peace be to you: a Hebrew greeting with new meaning in light of Christ’s resurrection. Peace is much needed with all the strife brought by Diotrephes.
The friends greet you: unique designation for Christians harkening to Jesus – Jn 15.13
Greet the friends, each by name: Sheep should know one another by name.
Let us imitate the example set by these men of truth like Gaius and Demetrius and walk in truth, willing to support those who walk in truth as well.
While there are several sensational theories about the authorship of the epistles of John, this commentary is offered with the working presumption that the author of 1, 2, & 3 John is the apostle John who also penned the gospel according to John and the Revelation. Further, while some have sought to reconstruct the occasion for John writing this postcard of an epistle, the frank reality is that there is precious little to truly build a definitive case.
The church of Christ is the pillar & foundation of truth. What does it mean for the church to be pillar & foundation of truth? The apostle John in 2 John explains that as the pillar & foundation of truth, the church promotes, practices, and protects truth. In the opening verses, John Promotes Truth as having been received by and remaining with the church of Christ. The remainder of the epistle is devoted to the practice of Truth among the church and the protection of Truth from the corrupt.
Outline of 2 John:
I. The Church is to Practice Truth (v.4-6)
A. John sees those that walk in truth (v.4)
B. John seeks these to walk in love (v.5-6)
II. The Church is to Protect Truth (v.7-11)
A. John tells Christians in danger to beware (v.7-8)
B. John teaches Christians the danger of befriending (v.9-11)
2 John (ESV)
1The elder to the elect lady and her children, whom I love in truth, and not only I, but also all who know the truth,
The Elder: John. Either Tradition tells us that he was a bishop (i.e. overseer) of the church in Ephesus. Since he is “the elder” this could suggest that he is the last survivor of the Twelve. However, could simply mean older man.
The elect lady: person or personification; individual or institution? lady is Gk. kuria, which is the feminine form of Lord (kurios). Here is the Bride of Christ, reigning with Him in the heavenly realms. (note v.13, an elect sister’s children = sister congregation of the Lord’s church). Children = members
Whom I love in truth: John loves the church. “Christian love rests in Christian truth”
Not only I…all who know the truth: definite article before “truth” seems to indicate that this is the Truth, i.e. Jesus Christ. Knowledge of the Truth sets one free (John 8.32). The possessors of knowledge (gnosis) v. those who know false knowledge.
2because of the truth that abides in us and will be with us forever:
Because of the truth: again definite article before “truth” indicates this is the Truth, i.e. Jesus Christ. Through the Truth John loves the brethren and knows truth.
That abides in us: present active part, truth is abiding in us (i.e. the church). Some scholars identify the indwelling Holy Spirit here.
And will be with us forever: Truth is never going away. It is permanent, eternal. That is, the Word is eternal
3Grace, mercy, and peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ the Father’s Son, in truth and love.
Grace, mercy, and peace…: Grace covers the sins of men; mercy relieves men of their miseries; peace follows both. Similar greeting to Paul (see Rom 1.7; 1 Cor 1.3; et al) with the insertion of mercy. These “will be with us” (fut. Mid). As truth remains and is never going away, so too grace, mercy, and peace. John is acting as prophet (v.2 also).
From God [the] Father and from Jesus Christ the Father’s Son: the Father and the Son are the single source of these three gifts. John affirms what he has already established about the Son in his gospel, namely He is begotten of God (1.14; 3.16). The miraculous conception of Jesus is in view which the Gnostic would have denied.
In truth and love: to receive these virtues, one must remain in the God’s truth and love God’s people.
4I rejoiced greatly to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as we were commanded by the Father.
I rejoiced greatly: a recent occasion was cause for happiness and well-being for John
To find [some] of your children: certain members of the church possibly visited John. Or through missionary work he came to find and still finds (perf. Tense).
Walking in [the] truth: “In the specific context of 2 John the phrase [“walking in truth’] refers to true Christians who are holding fast to an apostolic Christology in the face of the secessionist opponents’ challenge to orthodoxy.” (NET)
Just as we were commanded by the Father: i.e. through the Son (1 Jn 2.6).
5And now I ask you, dear lady—not as though I were writing you a new commandment, but the one we have had from the beginning—that we love one another.
And now I ask you, dear lady: John has a request of the church to which he writes.
Not as though…from the beginning: this is not new revelation but reminder of what they know. Cf. Jn 13.34-35; 15.12—when Jesus gave it, it was new. Now, approx. 60 yrs later, it is that which is “from the beginning” of the Christian age.
That we love one another: Present active tense. Here is the request John has for the Lord’s church to whom he writes. Love is explained next.
6And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, so that you should walk in it.
And this is love, that we walk according to His commandments: living in active obedience to God’s commandments is love (cf. John 14.15, 21, 23, 24; 15.10).
This is the commandment: i.e. love one another with the love of Christ. This is a love not merely in word or talk, but in deed and truth (1 John 3.18).
Just as you have heard from the beginning: they’ve heard once for all (aorist tense) since the first publication of the gospel.
So that you should walk in it: so that it is your present, habitual, continual direction. A walk is a career, lifestyle. Implies direction, progression, separation.
7For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist.
For: hoti, John begins to explain why walking in love & truth is so vital.
Many deceivers have gone out into the world: deceivers are equated with antichrist at the end of the verse. This is repetition of 1 John 2.18, 19. They left wandered away from the church, roving about as imposters. Their message?
Those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in [the] flesh: Not some shadowy political figure rising up out of a reborn European Union; this is one who assaults the nature of Christ by denying He came in flesh. They do not speak the same word concerning Christ as the apostolic college. When Christ came from heaven to earth, He came (lit.) in flesh. John affirms that Jesus retains His humanity (“coming” present part.), which Docetics would deny. These deceivers deny the incarnation. If Christ did not come in the flesh, He could not have died for sin. If He did not die for sin, there could be no blood atonement. Without blood, there is no forgiveness.
Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist: John uses the strongest language possible to classify these false teachers. They are opposed to Christ.
8Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward.
Watch yourselves: present imperative. Beware! Look out! “When error abounds in the world, our first duty is not to attack it and make war upon it; it is to look to the citadel of our own souls, and see that all is well guarded there.” (Barnes)
So that you may not lose what we have worked for: some debate concerning mss but it seems this is correct reading. Beware of allowing our work in you to be undone.
But may win a full reward: alla is strong contrast. Rather than a grievous loss, there is a full day’s wage (Gk misthon, cf. Mt 20.8). This reward is God Himself (see v.9). Hence, there can be no partial reward; either it is enjoyed in full or lost entirely.
9Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son.
Everyone…teaching of Christ: to “go one ahead” is to go beyond established boundaries of teaching and doctrine. The implication is failure to obey. Specifically, the teaching concerning the humanity of Christ, which Docetics and Dualists would deny in their attempts to progress beyond simple facts and simple moral teaching of the gospel.
Does not have God: present active indicative with negative. “They had advanced so far that they had even left God behind” (Morris). One cannot reject Christ and retain God.
Whoever…and the Son: Remaining in the apostolic teaching keeps one in God & Christ. Cf. 1 John 2.22-23, to acknowledge the Son is to possess the Father (and Son).
10If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting,
If anyone…this teaching: John is not presenting a hypothetical; indicative mood points to this being a fact—people are coming and bringing this doctrine. When they do…
Do not receive him into [your] house: present imperative (pl.). Understand: 1) John refers to teachers of false doctrine, not merely believers; 2) John refers to “official” visit, not merely private hospitality; 3) John seems to indicate that this is in regards to the church (lit. in house), not merely in-home policy; 4) John refers to teachers of false doctrine of the incarnation, not merely those who disagree with our pet traditions.
Or give him any greeting: seems to indicate an “official” welcome into services.
11for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works.
For whoever…works: Here is how serious John is about this. This is tantamount to fellowship with the works of darkness. No encouragement is to be given to the propagators and promoters of doctrine which will separate people from God and send them to eternal ruin!
12Though I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink. Instead I hope to come to you and talk face to face, so that our joy may be complete.
Though…face to face: John has written what was of urgent importance to prevent fatalities in the body. Seems John has written with his own hand (cf. 3 John 13).
So that our joy may be complete: “Complete joy is the result of fellowship.”
13The children of your elect sister greet you.
The children…greet you: members of another congregation wish these Christians well.
Truth decay can still happen in the Church today. As the body of Christ, the chosen lady, let us practice and protect the eternal truth spoken to us by God through his Word.
Sometimes we wonder what the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are doing up in heaven right now. Sometimes that actually causes us to miss what the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are doing right now in us. Nevertheless, the Son has a specific ministry He is accomplishing even as you read these words and He is working that on your behalf. In John 5.18-21, we get a glimpse of what the Son is doing in His present ministry at the right hand of God.
18We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him.
We know that everyone who has been born of God—”we know” (Gk. Oida) is absolute (positive) knowledge. “Everyone who has been born of God” is perfect passive participle. Past completed action, present continuing results. We were born (baptistery) and stand begotten of God (children).
Does not keep on sinning—present tense verb. The ESV captures the import of the Greek. There is no habitual practice, career of sinning in the child’s of God life.
But he who was born of God—aorist tense participle. The perfect participle “expresses him who came to be, and still continues to be, a son of God. The aorist participle occurs nowhere else in St. John: it expresses him who, without relation to time past or present, is the Son of God” (PC).
Protects him—some mss. do have “keeps himself” with the reflexive pronoun (Gk. Heauton), however, “auton is preferable.” Calvin says, “were any one of us the keeper of our own salvation, it would be a miserable protection.” There is some debate about who the Protector is: God or Christ. One school of thinking is “The One born of God (Christ) keeps him (the Christian).” Another theory is “The one who is born of God, he protects him,” that is, God protects the begotten one. Certainly either would acceptable both theologically, grammatically and contextually
And the evil one does not touch him— “the evil one” is Satan, our adversary who would love nothing less than to rob us of life. But since we are kept or guarded (carefully watched) by Christ/God, he cannot lay a finger on us. We are in the grip of Christ/God and safe from the grasp of Satan.
19We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.
We know that we are from God—again, positive, absolute knowledge of whom we are out of/from: God. We who? Apostles may be a little awkward to make work. Christians in general seems best. In addition, John seems to be contrasting Christians who are “out of” God (born) and the “whole world” which is “in” the evil one.
The whole world lies in the power of the evil one—while we are presently “from God,” the whole world “lies” (present, middle/passive) in the grip of Satan. What is pictured is a reclining, with no struggle to be free. Just nicely laying there passively.
20And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.
And—one final assertive declaration: whatever philosophy and the world may claim…
We know that the Son of God has come—again, positive, absolute knowledge (Gk. Oida) that Jesus, the Son of God, has come. Present tense of a root that has a perfect sense; hence, KJV “is come” however this is better understood as a perfect tense verb. Therefore, in one sense Jesus has come in the Incarnation. In another, He is still present (“is come”) as He is present in His church.
And has given us understanding—perfect tense; he gave in the past and we continue to posses understanding. “Us” are the people of God, Christians. Some point to the anointing of ch.2. It is the power to know, the capacity for knowing.
So that we may know—Gk. Hina, introduces the purpose of Christ coming and giving us understand: “we may know.” This is gnosko kind of knowledge, that experiential knowledge.
Him who is true—or real, or genuine. As opposed to the false prophets and antichristian spirits (ch.4). John in this epistle has detailed exactly who the real Jesus is in contrast to the false Jesus of the Gnostics.
We are in him who is true—we (Christians) are in the real one presently. So long as Christ is God, the Son of God, came in the flesh, etc. then He is the real Jesus, the Jesus the apostles knew and preached and the only one to be in.
In His Son Jesus Christ—John makes it plain that “him who is true” is Jesus, the Son of God, the Christ. This is the only genuine one among all the imitations and imposters.
He is the true God and eternal life—This same Jesus is also genuine and real God. Every other god is an idol. Every other Christ that the false prophet and antichrists may bring are idols also. In Him (and only in Him) is eternal life (5.12), indeed, He Himself is the embodiment of eternal life (1.2; Jn 14.6).
21Little children, keep yourselves from idols.
People look at v.21 and think “This doesn’t fit” or we’ve only got a portion of the letter of 1 John, the last portion lost over time. However, if you have tracked with John through this entire epistle and understand his true v. false argument, it is exactly where we should end up. The Jesus of history is the “true God.” Any other Jesus preached by Gnostics (or whoever) is a “false god,” or an idol. John’s final admonition to his “little children” is to stay away from the false prophets and antichrists who teach another Jesus, a false god.
Little children—aged John’s favorite affectionate term to describe his audience.
Keep yourselves from idols—follow and cling to the true God, Jesus the Christ, the Son of God. Make every effort to stay away from these idols being presented by the Gnostic teachers. The word’s usage outside of the Bible is for watchmen who stood on guard to protect the city during the night. The picture for Christians is clear: be awake, alert, on duty and watchful for the city of God, the heavenly Jerusalem, the church of Christ. Hold fast to the true God and shun the idols the world and philosophy invent.
Just a casual reading of the gospel of John and then the epistles of John will undoubtedly strike the reader with similarities between the gospel and epistles. There is however a marked difference in the purpose of the gospel and this first epistle: the gospel is intended to produce faith in Christ so that one might have eternal life in his name (Jn 20.31) and the epistle is written so that Christians might know (fully) that they have eternal life.
13I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.
I write—lit. “I wrote” or “I have written” (NET), i.e. in the sum of this epistle. This corresponds directly to 1.4 (“I write”): completed joy = full knowledge of having eternal life.
These things—contained in this epistle: walking, obeying, antichrist, love one another…
To you who believe in the name of the Son of God—i.e. Christians, those begotten-ones of God (5.1; Jn 1.12). “In the name” is eis to onoma (Greek). “The name” points to the very character or nature of the person; this is the object of faith. To “believe in” the name is to put your full trust/faith in the nature and character of that person; here it’s Jesus. To those who continue to put their faith and trust in the full character of Jesus, the Son of God John has written…
That—or “so that”; here is the purpose of John’s having written this epistle to these Christians.
You may know that—perfect subjunctive of oida, that full and absolute knowledge. John has developed a tight and detail argument for these Christians and against the anti-christians. It is all for the purpose of convicting and convincing his brethren to true knowledge. Know for certain!
You have eternal life—present indicative. These Christians have (present real possession) eternal life. We right now possess eternal life. This is the real possession of eternal life. You have it and continue to have inasmuch as you continue to trust in the Son of God.
14And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.
And this is the confidence—or “boldness.” This is the freedom to speak. Prayer is speaking to, talking with God. John says we have freedom to speak to Almighty God. This has been a common theme of this epistle (3.21; 4.17) – the confidence of God’s people before God, both on the day of judgment (2.28; 4.17) and in prayer (3.21; 5.14).
That we have toward him—This is nearly identical grammatical arrangement as 3.21. Hence, we have (present indicative) this confidence “before Him” who is God.
That if we ask anything—”that” is explanatory. In other words, this is our confidence. Even as “we ask” whatever it may be, “he hears” (both pres. Tense). There is no timidity and we can present before Him “anything.”
According to his will he hears us—so, if what we ask for isn’t according to His will, He doesn’t hear us? I thought He always hears us. So then wouldn’t this exclude “anything”? We can only ask for those things which are “according to his will” as revealed in His word.
15And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.
And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask—”know” is oida that absolute knowledge. And we do know that he hears us, v.14, no matter what we ask.
We know—oida, full and absolute knowledge.
That we have the requests… – present indicative. “requests” or “petitions” is the noun form of the verb “to ask.” We ask and we have our askings. In other words, He answers.
We have asked of him—perfect tense verb. We have asked and continue to ask, continue to bring it before God (cf. Lk 18.1ff). Don’t lose confidence in prayer or in God’s ability to answer
John will next illustrate this point in v.16 when he seems to treat the greatest thing one could for—a brother in sin. Implies we shouldn’t sweat the small stuff (like gold Cadillacs).
16If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life—to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that.
If anyone sees his brother—It seems John is resuming the style common in this epistle for exposing religious error. It is somewhat akin to “If we say..” earlier in the epistle. ”Brother” is fellow Christian, not your brother of the world community. “Sees” is aorist tense—if you happen to see on some particular occasion.
Committing a sin—lit. sinning [a] sin. This is a sin that is becoming a habitual practice. Is this person lost? No, he is still your brother; fellowship exist. But this sin can jeopardize his salvation.
Not leading to death— lit. sin unto/toward (Gk. Pros) death. Pros is a directional preposition; this brother is not “toward death” but is toward life, light. This brother is striving to please God, however there is some sin in his life that could eventually be “unto death.”
He shall ask—”Anyone” shall ask, a Christian who sees his brother sinning will pray (intercessory) for his brother. John picks the greatest thing a Christian can pray for to illustrate v.15: God hears us whatever we ask. This asking is urgent pleading, even demanding.
God will give (to) him life—lit. “he shall ask and he shall give.” First, who is “he”? Seems to me that whoever “he” is both asks and gives life. In other words, once you have finished praying, go to your brother and tell him his sin. If he listens, you have won your brother (Mt 18.15; cf. Lk 13.6ff; James 5.19-20). What should we ask for? Strength, words. To whom is life given? “Anyone” or the “brother”? Seems like John makes it clear that “anyone” is giving life to his brother.
There is sin that leads to death—rather, “there is sin unto death.” Sin that is toward death, facing death. In other words, sin that is committed outside of fellowship with God/brethren.
I do not say that one should pray for that—This person has walked away from God. He has been told repeatedly to repent and has not. Fellowship has been broken on earth for fellowship was broken in heaven (Cf. Mt 18.15ff)
17All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that does not lead to death.
All wrongdoing is sin—or all “unrighteousness” is sin. John does not downgrade the utter terribleness of sin. Sin is terrible. However, there are sins unto death and sins not unto death.
But there is sin not unto death—it depends on which direction you are facing: toward death or toward life; toward light or toward darkness. This is a fellowship thing also. These are sins committed when in fellowship with God/brethren and of which Jesus’ blood cleanses us.
Verse 21 of chapter 4 ended with this statement: “whoever loves God must also love his brother.” The question may arise: Who is my brother? Well, it makes sense that if we are a family, even the family of God, a birth must have taken place. John picks up where he left off addressing this question (so it seems) of who is my brother.
1Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him.
Everyone who believes—present active part. Everyone who keeps on believing that…Here’s your brother, O Christian!
Note: John isn’t talking to unbelievers about what they must to be saved; he’s speaking to Christians under heretical assault.
Jesus is the Christ—that is He is Messiah, the subject and fulfillment of OT prophecy. To believe anything about other than Him being the Messiah is antichristian (2.22; cf. 4.3). Indeed, Cerinthain Gnostics denied this key doctrinal point (from Cerinthus), the identity of Jesus.
Has been born of God—”has been born” is perfect tense (past completed action, present continue results). It is in the passive voice (meaning we are being acted upon [by God]). We are born “out of God.” Here is my brother: the one who has been born of God believing Jesus to be the Messiah.
Everyone who loves the Father—present active part. Everyone who keeps on loving God. In this phrase, John focuses on the paternity aspect of God: He is the Father.
Loves whoever has been born of God—If you love the Father, you will also love His children. These have been born of God the same as you. Hence, they are your brothers.
Note: one writer called this verse a sorites, an argument composed of propositions linked together which ultimately unite the first and last. “To believe in the Incarnation involves birth from God. To be born of God involves loving God. To love God involves loving His children. Therefore to believe in the Incarnation involves loving God’s children.” (Pulpit Commentary)
2By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments.
By this we know— “By this” i.e. by what follows in this verse (“when…”). Here is the “proof” (as it were) that we love God’s children. ”Know” is ginosko, that experiential knowledge.“ These are the words, not merely of an inspired apostle, but of an aged man, with wide experience of life and its difficulties.”
We love the children of God—and therefore, our brothers. We desire to Christ formed more perfectly in the heart and mind of our brethren.
When we love God—present tense. Hence, we keep on loving God. What does love for God look like? Verse 3…
And obey his commandments—What commandments? Walk in the light, walk as Jesus walked, practice righteousness, and, of course, love one another.
3For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.
For this is the love of God—that is, the believer’s love for God. This is based on the forgoing verse where the believer’s love for God is evidently under discussion. John clearly defines what it means to love God.
That we keep his commandments—there can be no question about what loving God looks like: an obedient life. Compare 2 John 6. “Love for God is not an emotional experience so much as a moral commitment” (Stott).
His commandments are not burdensome—So many (of the world and even in the church) have the opposite view of John. They see commandments (and commandment keeping) as legalistic requirements and “intolerably burdensome.” God’s commandments are not burdensome or grievous. They were not designed to keep us from being happy, poop our party. They do not produce grief; breaking them is a source of all our grief. It is men who make them burdensome (Scribes and Pharisees, Matt 23.4 same word used for “heavy”); Jesus’ burden is easy (Mt 11.30). God’s will is “good, pleasing, and perfect” (Rom 12.2). Indeed, when our will is united with God’s will, the Christian will not find obedience taxing.
4For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.
For everyone who have been born of God—”For” is hoti, preposition of explanation. Why are the commandments of God not burdensome? Because everyone born of God has overcome (conquered) the world. There is power in the new birth. This is exclusive for the children of God collectively (use of neuter in Gk points to universality of this). Most see John emphasizing the church collectively overcomes the world. We are the born of God ones; we were born of God and we is born of God.
Overcomes the world—present tense, keeps on overcoming. Gk. Nika from which we get Nike (she was the Greek goddess of victory). This is victory. One person has said that Christians have Nike shoes on in which we are outrunning the devil/world. Overcoming the world is vital to the Christian for it is not from the Father (2.16), passing away (2.17), and it lies under the control of the evil one (5.19).
This is the victory—same word as “overcome” (Nike). Unfortunate translation but we get the idea. We (collectively) win and overcome the world. We are victorious people. Only time this appears in NT.
Overcomes the world—above was the present tense. Here, though, is the aorist tense. Past tense snapshot. The victory is pictured as having already taken place. There the assurance we need in this world! We are overcoming, indeed, we have overcome. How? By what means?
Our faith—lit. the faith of us. A singular noun with a plural pronoun. The church gathers around this one banner and by it we gain the victory and are victorious. Faith must have an object. “Our faith” in what/whom? In Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God.
5Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?
Who is it that overcomes the world—Or “Who is it that keeps on overcoming?” Perhaps clarification is needed concerning “our faith.” John does not leave his readers in the dark. You want victory? Who overcomes?
The one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God—Overcoming is tied up in what you believe about Jesus. In v.1 we must believe He is Christ; here John also presents Jesus as the Son of God. Jesus, the man from Nazareth, is (present tense; He’s not stopped being the Son of God) the Son of God. Here is humanity and deity in one person.
6This is he who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth.
This is he who came— “Is” present tense; He still is Christ! Aorist tense. John points his readers to the historical reality of Jesus having come (past), something Gnostics dismissed.
By water and blood—Gk. Dia, through water and blood. See special study.
Not by the water only—”by” or “with” (ASV). Not only at His baptism where God the Father and God the Holy Spirit give their approval and are present.
But by the water and the blood—Again, “by” or “with.” In baptism and on the cross (which Gnostics made light of or even denied), Jesus is the Christ through and through.
The Spirit is the one who testifies—or “the Spirit is the one testifying,” present tense.
Because (hoti) the Spirit is the truth—there can be no higher testimony than the truth.
7For there are three that testify:
Three that testify—under the law, the requirement was two or three witnesses; John is establishing full legal testimony (see Deut 19.15).
8the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree.
The Spirit—some say this is from prophetic word (even John Baptist) others the moment the Spirit lighted upon Jesus at His baptism. Clarke says it is the confirmed written word which is inspired of the Spirit. Either way, the living Divine testimony comes first.
The water—Christ’s baptism, historical reality
The blood—Christ’s death, historical reality
These three agree—lit. “the three into one are.” Bad English, good Greek? They agree that Jesus was/is Christ, second person of the Godhead. “The false witnesses at the trial of Jesus, seeking to discredit him, did not agree (Mk 14.56, 59); the true witnesses, however,… seeking to accredit him, are in perfect agreement.” (Stott) They converge upon one truth.
9If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son.
If we receive the testimony of men— and we do. This can be fallible witness
The testimony of God is greater—this is infallible witness, therefore we should receive it.
For (hoti) this is the testimony of God—It is one and the same with the three: Jesus is the Son of God, the Messiah and was such throughout His entire life.
That he has borne concerning his Son—”he has borne” is a perfect tense verb indicating either that the witness continues or that in the past the testimony was borne and it is on record at present time.
Note: verses 6-9, the Trinity’s activities—the Son came, the Spirit testifies and the Father has testified
10Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son.
Whoever believes in the Son of God—present tense part. “The one who keeps on believing in the Son of God.” Not merely faith in the fact, but faith in the person of Jesus the Christ. This is one who is also begotten of God (v.1), loves God (the Father, v.1) and the other begotten-ones of God (v.1).
Has the testimony in himself—present tense verb. “Continues to have the testimony (of God) in himself.” How? Some say by the indwelling Spirit bearing His witness in us (cf. v.6). Others say this testimony of God abides in the heart of the believer “as an additional source of evidence, supplementing and confirming the external evidence” (PC). Still others say faith is this testimony, serving as its own witness in the hearts and minds of Christians and confirmed in the objective evidence God has provided in the Spirit, water and blood.
Whoever does not believe God—present (reality) rejection of the Son-ship and Messiah-ship of Jesus which God has testified to objectively/historically.
Has made him a liar—perfect tense verb, permanent/present condition as a result of past failure to trust the testimony.
Because he has not believed in the testimony—perfect tense verb, points to a past act which perpetuates itself in the present condition of the unbeliever. He disbelieved God in the past and continues to disbelieve the testimony at present.
That God has borne concerning His Son—namely, His Son-ship and Messiah-ship.
11And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.
And this is the testimony—John explains the content of the testimony of God and which the three (Spirit, water, blood) bear witness to.
That God gave us eternal life—aorist tense points to the historical fact of the giving of eternal life. God is the giver and we receive this life from Him through the Son. When did God “gave” us eternal life? Some say in the giving of His Son, either at birth or on the cross. Others says it is when the believer first put Christ on in baptism.
This life is in his Son—only! There is no other person, god, or Jesus (Gnostics) who can supply us with life eternal. Our possession of eternal life in His Son is present reality (v.13).
12Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.
Whoever has the Son has life—Present tense part. Followed by a present tense verb. John indicates the present reality of the believer’s possession of life eternal. Its ours now! The possession of the life is emphasized in this phrase. In the next, the life is emphasized.
Whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life—No man can have “the life” (RSV) apart from the Son for this life is found only in the Son (v.11). This was the message of Messiah while on earth (Jn 5.24; 14.6). You can lose possession of the life (v.16b).
John has exposed religious error (specifically Gnostic teachers) and called upon his brethren to reject that heresy. Now he turns his attention to strengthening the fellowship of the saved through the love of God (4.7-21).
1 John 4:7–21 (ESV)
7Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.
Beloved—tender term of endearment from aged John; but also a possible play on words: “Beloved…love one another.” Since you are loved (of God) love one another.
Let us love one another—14 x’s in NT you have this command (Jn 13.34; 15.12, 17; Rom 12.10; 13.8; 1 Thess 4.9; 1 Pt 1.22; 4.8; 1 Jn 3.11, 23; 4.7, 11, 12; 2 Jn 5). Important? Yes! Why love one another?…
For love is from God—or love is out of God. This has to do with origin; love originates in God, He is its source, author. Not only that, He is love. Based on the continuing love of God, our loves continues (present tense).
Whoever loves has been born of God—If love originates from God, it makes sense that those who practice love are “from” or “out of” God. We were begotten and stand begotten before God. And we love the other begotten ones of God, our brothers and sisters. ”Love is the one characteristic of the Christian religion which it is impossible to counterfeit!” (Woods 294) We cannot have new life without love.
And knows God—present tense, we continue to know God through the manifestation of brotherly love. “Know” is Gk. Ginosko, that knowledge which comes through experience.
8Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.
Anyone who does not love—settled, habitual practice of no brotherly love (hatred).
Does not know God—aorist tense; has not once know, hence, has never known God.
God is love—”and love thus becomes the infallible test of the birth from above.” – Woods. This idea (God is love) is very anti-Gnostic; The Gnostic would agree with God is spirit (immaterial being) and God is light (immaterial), but God is love is foreign to Gnostic philosophy.
“The anarthrous predicate suggests a qualitative force, not a mere abstraction, so that a quality of God’s character is what is described here.” (NET). So no interchangeability (love is God).
We can wrap ourselves in all the trappings of religiosity, but it is ultimately void and hollow without love not only for God, but for one another. Love is a sign that we have truly been born of God and know God (1 John 4.7). Love was manifest in the man Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, the Son of God (4.9-10). And when we love one another as we should, even as Christ loved us (John 13.34-35), the love of God is perfected in us and God lives within us (4.11-12). What a fantastic concept! How vitally important this is for the church today!
“A wicked man may have baptism. He may have prophecy. He may receive the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ. All of these things a wicked man may have. But no wicked man can have love.” (Augustine quoted in Woods 294).
9In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.
In this (what follows “that”) the love of God… – Here we have the heart of God on full display. God revealed His love for man, a love that existed even before time began. It existed and from it sprung the eternal plan of redemption.
Was made manifest—aor. Passive, ind.; He appeared (cf. 3.5) once and stands revealed.
Among us— lit. in us. In our midst, reminiscent of John 1.14.
That (hoti) God sent his only (begotten) Son into the world—herein is the love of God manifested. The root of “sent” is the same word we get “apostle” from. Jesus emphasized in His ministry that He had been sent from heaven (John 5.23; 6.29; 8.29, 42). One commentator says that this verse might serve as a summary of John’s gospel. But the perfect tense is used in pointing to the permanent mission of the Son. There are permanent abiding results from God’s sending of His unique Son. “Only begotten” (monogenes) points to the fact that although God has begotten many children (2.29; 3.9; 4.7), Jesus the Son is unique from His brothers and sisters (even as Isaac was unique from Abraham’s other sons (Heb 11.17). “Only” seems as a partial translation of this word, implying God (Abraham) has no other children.
So that we might live through him—Jesus’ death was vicarious, for us. We might have eternal life (even now) only through the Life, the Lord Jesus Christ.
10In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
In this is love—that is, in what follows in this verse.
Not that we have loved God—Perfect v. aorist tense; some mss have perfect, but oldest mss (Sinaticus) has aorist. Point: it does not matter whatever kind of love man may have for God, you don’t find the true nature of love in man’s love for his Maker. Rather, you find it in God’s love for man.
Sent his Son—aorist, points to the completed mission, accomplished in Christ’s life.
To be propitiation for our sins—John has called Christ “propitiation” before (2.2); it is the means of forgiveness, Christ being the sacrifice for (concerning) our sins. Whatever obstacles may have hinder/inhibited fellowship have been removed by the cross.
11Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
If God so loved us—or “since God so loved us.” It is a matter of fact.
We also ought to love one another—”ought” has come up before (2.6) and points to a debt, something we owe one another (cf. Rom 13.8). Because/since God has sent Jesus to die for us, we live through Him by expressing agape love for one another.
12No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.
No one has ever seen God—”God” is emphatic. Further, there is no article before “God” (common in NT to see o theos). Here just theon, no one has ever seen Him. God’s character/nature/essence is emphasized and stressed. No one has ever seen deity in its essence.
If we love one another—obedience to the commandment of Christ. We don’t have to…
(1) God abides in us—God dwells in His people (collectively). This is fellowship language.
(2) His love is perfected in us—Perf. Pass. Part. Love “has been made perfect or complete and exists in its finished reality” (Wuest). God brings it to completion (passive). God’s love manifested among brothers. God is revealed in His people if and when we love one another. In us (the people of God collectively) is brought to maturity/completion, finds fulfillment when we love one another. God’s love is perfected is us only when it is reproduced “among us” in Christian fellowship.
13By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.
By this (what follows “because”) we know (present) that we (collectively) abide in him (God) and he in us (body) – Further, “know” is ginosko, that experiential knowledge. We know God lives in us and we in God because we have experienced the Spirit of God.
Because he has given us of his Spirit—”he has given” (perfect tense); he has given and we currently possess God’s Spirit. “This gift of God is proof of our fellowship with God” (Robertson). God gives, we receive (Acts 2.38). Reception takes place at the baptistery and we possess God’s Spirit.
14And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.
And…and—kai…kai in the Greek translated “both…and’ in English.
We have seen—perfect tense; the apostles saw in the past and presently experience results from it. This has to do with the manifestation of the Son coming in the flesh.
Testify—present tense; John, with the apostolic college in total, is bearing witness (Gk. Martureo) to the coming of the Son as Savior of the world.
The Father has sent his Son—perfect tense, same as v.9. There are permanent abiding results of the Father having sent His Son on a mission into this world. Namely…
To be the Savior of the world—salvation. The lost-ness of the world is implied; the world was/is in need of a Savior. Indeed, Jesus is propitiation for the sins of the whole world (2.2). John is the only one who uses this title for Jesus (see 4.42).
15Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.
Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God—(aorist) agree with, speak the same word as God about Jesus: He is the Son of God. “Whoever has once for all taken up the position of confessing” (Pulpit Comm.) or the position that Jesus is Son of God. This characterizes people who have accepted the witness/testimony of the apostles.
God abides in him, and he in God—John has tied this fantastic thought throughout this section that we can have the abiding presence of God, enjoying close fellowship with God. This is the present reality for the one confessing Jesus as the Son of God. God has taken up his residence in the individual.
16So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.
So…and—kai…kai in the Gk again. Should be “Both…and”
We have come to know—perfect tense; came to know in the past and continue to know at present. Know what? The love of God. Ginosko root, experiential knowledge.
To believe—or “trust” or “rely on.” Perfect tense; we came to trust and continue to trust. Trust in/rely on what? The love of God.
In John’s writing, knowledge and belief are often coupled in the same context (see John 6.69). “It appears that the author considered both terms to describe a single composite action.” – NET
The love that God has for us—should be “in us” or “among us.” Through the manifestation of love in the believing body we experience and depend on the love of God. In other words, we need the love from one another. Without it, the greatest dimension of our faith is removed.
God is love—seen this before in v.8. Is this important? Absolutely. But be careful with this; so many people get caught up in “God is love” and forget that there are other descriptions of God elsewhere in Scripture: vengeance and judging (Heb 10.30-31), light (1.5 which exposes darkness/sin), consuming fire (Heb 12.29).
Whoever abides in love abides in God—or “the one abiding in love.” The one who’s practice is to demonstrate love (for one another). “Live in love” – Stott. It makes sense that if “God is love” then to live in love would be to live in God. Again, fellowship with God.
God abides in him—He (presently) takes up his residence in us. The residence of God in the individual is highlighted here but it points to the community (v.17).
17By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world.
By this (what follows “because”) is love perfected with us—This idea of perfected love has come up before (v.12). Love “has been made perfect or complete and exists in its finished reality” (Wuest). God brings it to completion (passive). God’s love manifested among brothers. “With us” emphasizes cooperation, that is man’s cooperation with God. Participation in the love of God. “If saints have this agape love habitually for one another, that shows that this love which God is in His nature has accomplished its purpose in our lives.” (Wuest)
So that (purpose) we may have confidence… – We have seen this concept of confidence on Judgment Day in 1 John already (2.28). Confidence is the freedom to speak. Even on Judgment Day, we who have had love perfected in us, within us have nothing to fear. Here is the assurance Christians have: you don’t have anything to worry about come judgment day.
Because (hoti) as he is so also are we in this world—Here is the reason love is perfected with us. “He” who? Jesus (based on Greek ekeinos which John uses often to speak of Jesus; see 2.6; 3.3, 5, 7, 16). How is He? Pure (3.3), righteous (3.7). Christians resemble Christ. Indeed, only because we are as he is (present tense) do we have love perfected with us and therefore confidence on Judgment Day. No man can look forward to that Day with confidence without these.
18There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.
There is no fear in love—many commentators point to “servile fear” as the fear being spoken of here pointing to Rom 8.15. Possibly. But the word used here is phobos, which is a word used for fear in general. Dread and terror accompany it. It can also mean “reverence.” But there is no dread or terror of judgment in love. That’s the context.
Perfect love casts out fear—this complete/perfect love casts/throws out the dread and terror of judgment and this is replaced by confidence (v.17). The Gnostic has cause for fear; his love is not perfected. Indeed, the Gnostic hates and is a liar. The Christian, though, has no fear but confidence even in the presence of the Judge.
For (hoti) fear has to do with punishment—lit. “fear has punishment.” “Punishment” implies severe suffering, torment even (some translations have “torment”). Jesus is the only other person in the NT to use this word (Mt 25.46). Even now, presently, fear has punishment in its anticipation of the punishment. Or fear carries a special punishment in itself; “Fear is always revolving in the mind the punishment deserved.” (JFB)
Whoever fears has not been perfected in love—lit. the one fearing. This is tied directly to “No fear in love.” From the abstract (no fear in love) John makes it personal (whoever fears). What is your habitual practice, career? One of fear? Or one consumed with love for God and brethren? John says the two cannot coexist (like love and hatred).
19We love because he first loved us.
We love because he first loved us—KJV, NKJV, Young’s Lit.: “We love him…” Vulgate: “We love God…” The earliest mss do not have “him”; it is just “We love” the love being quite general, i.e. there is no object. Present tense: “We keep on loving…” Subjunctive or indicative mood? Subjunctive: “Let us keep on loving.” Indicative: “We keep on loving.” Is it an exhortation or expressing reality? Either is fine, but it seems John “states as fact what ought to be a fact” (Pulpit). Love who? Certainly God. Brothers; in context (v.20-21), it would seem John may emphasize the brethren. We Christians do not fear; we love. To not love after what God has done for us out of His incredible love for man would be monstrous. Our love is in response, then, to His love for us “first.” “All human love is preceded and generated by the love of God.” – Vincent. “This is the foundation of our love to God” – Clarke. Christ was not sacrificed so that God could love mankind; Christ died because God already loved mankind.
20If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.
If anyone says—this seems to be a variant of John’s tool to expose error we saw earlier in the epistle (“If we say…”; 1.6, 8; 2.4, 9). John exposes the person who’s profession does not match his practice. Instead of practicing Christianity, this person is pretending at it.
“I love God” – any and every Christian would profess this. This is very similar to the person of 2.9. To claim to know God, love God, make God your aim/standard for conduct and yet walk in darkness/disobedience to God’s commandment (“Love one another”) makes one a (monstrous) liar. Loving God necessitates loving God’s children (brethren).
Hates his brother—lack of love or even indifference toward his brother. Present tense: keeps on hating his brother. Again, settled practice, career of brotherly hatred.
He is a liar—what a scathing rebuke from the apostle of love! John has called many people liars (1.6; 2.4) and contrasted this with God’s word (cf. 1.8, 10) and the anointing from Christ (2.27b). Basically, John says the profession (“I love God”) is false if the accompanying action is in contradiction to the commandment of God.
For (gar) he who does not love his brother—lit. the one not loving (or the unloving one) his brother. That is, the one hating his brother. Here is direct disobedience to the command of God (love one another). Your brother is your fellow Christian.
Whom he has seen—perfect tense; has seen and continues to see (even daily, cf. Acts 2.46; 5.42). They didn’t “go to the church” because they were too busy being the Church. They saw their brothers daily. John says, if you hate this person (your brother) whom see constantly…
Cannot love God whom he has not seen—one has not seen nor presently sees God (as opposed to your brother). John’s argument is somewhat akin to what Jesus does in the gospel accounts: which is easier? Sight aids one in love; it is easier to love something/someone you can see. No one has ever seen God (v.12) but you see your brother constantly. So if one cannot do the easier of the two, he cannot perform the more difficult. “To affirm one’s love for the unseen while failing to love the seen is to enter the realm of fantasy” (NBC). Love for one another is the best indicator of love for God.
21And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.
And this commandment we have from him—Just as God given the greatest commandment (Mark 12.30), obligatory to obedience to this command is obedience to the command “love one another.” Each is just as binding. From whom have we this command? God.
Exegetical note: there is a hina that belongs between “from him” and “whoever” which the NET translates epexegtically to “this” at the beginning of the sentence.
Whoever loves God must also love his brother—lit. the one loving God, again present tense pointing to habitual practice, career. You’re a God-lover, then you had better also love your brother. This is, though, a positive command. We are privileged to love our brother, children of the Father. And better yet, we are privileged to love the Father.
John has made known the present reality of these Christians: they are begotten of God (3.1-3). They need to understand that position, then live accordingly (3.4-10), i.e. practice righteousness and true love for one another (3.11-24). He now warms them of the the clear and present danger of false teachers (4.1-6).
1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.
Beloved—aged John’s term of address which also points to endearment. Also v.7, 11
Do not believe every spirit—This is a present imperative. “Stop believing every spirit” because every spirit is not “from God.” It would seem that some of the members of the body were following after the Gnostic teachers/spirits. Spirit: “not so much the personal teacher as the principle or tendency of the doctrine” (PC). “Every teacher claiming inspiration of the Holy Spirit” (JFB).
But test the spirits…- Also a present imperative. All believers (individually and collectively) were/are to “test the spirits.” Test: Originally to test metals and their worth, this means to test, scrutinize , prove the genuineness of a thing, in this case the message brought by the spirit. They did this either by miraculous means (see 1 Cor 12.10) or by comparing it to the apostolic revelation (Jesus has come in the flesh, v.2). In context, the latter seems best.
From God—what’s the origin? If these spirits have their origin in God, they will “speak the same word” as God about Christ (v.2). If not, they are the words of a “false prophet.”
Many false prophets have gone out—even Jesus predicted these were coming (Matt 24.24). John says they were already come and are still present in the world. Perhaps these have even come as if they are from God; John makes it clear they are not.
“Nowhere else in the NT is there so strong an emphasis as here on trust in the πνεῦμα who works in the community, who needs no official authorisation (sic), who bears witness, not by bringing new and unheard of revelations, but by bringing the old message.“ – TDNT, V.6, p.449
2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God,
By this you know the Spirit of God—John will give the test by which one can identify the Spirit of God. The Gnostic teachers claim to have this Spirit and even call themselves “spirit-people” or “soul people.”
Jesus Christ has come in the flesh—what doctrine would have denied this core fact of the gospel message? Gnosticism certainly, but specifically the docetic flavor which Jesus only seemed to have a body of flesh. The Spirit of God would not deny this core fact. Where would this idea that Jesus did not have a body of flesh come from? Platonic philosophy which said that matter is evil and therefore a bodily incarnation is impossible. Augustine (theologian 4th cent.) said he find parallels between Platonic philosophy and the NT in everything except “The Word became flesh.”
Has come—or “is come”; lit. having come, perfect tense participle. Past completed action with present continuing results. The effects—benefits and blessings—continue.
From God—this message/word concerning Jesus’ humanity originates in the mind of God. The personification of the mind of God (Gk. Pnuema), the Spirit, reveals it. Indeed, only in the mind of God could something so fantastic originate that God could be with us, dwell among us, put on flesh and die for us. This message is too fantastic, incredible to have its origin in the mind of man
3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.
Every spirit that does not confess Jesus—”confess” is Gk. Homologeo, (1.9) which is lit. “same word” or “speak the same word.” In this case, a spirit that does not speak the same word as God about Jesus (humanity, divinity, Messiah-ship, etc.) does not have its origin in God.
This is the spirit of the antichrist—”spirit” is supplied in nearly every translation (Darby: power). Lit. “This is that of the antichrist.”
You heard was coming—perf. Tense verb, you heard (past) and continue to hear (present) or you heard (past) and therefore know (present). Either way, they were warned of antichrists coming.
Now is in the world already—not a future prospect but an existing condition. Not a mysterious political figure rising out of the revived Roman Empire, i.e. the European Union who (even now) is yet to be revealed. John says they’re here, now (1st cent.) and they are messing up the faith of people with their heretical doctrine. The stuff these antichrists are saying does not have its origin in God.
4 Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.
Little children—again, a favorite expression of John regarding his readers.
You are from God—”you” is emphatic and stands in opposition to “them” who are the Gnostic teachers/antichrists who propagate a message not from God. It is also plural pointing to this being a body thing. The Christian community is “from God.”
Have overcome them—perf. Tense, overcame (past) and continue to overcome (present). One writer says, “past completed victory…present state of being a conqueror.” How? Various ideas: 1) as a body, they have driven the errorists out and keep them out; 2) by their refusal to listen to the heretics heresy; 3) repudiation of the heretics doctrine. See also 2.13b, 14b where the young men overcame the evil one.
He who is in you—God the Holy Spirit. These believers have the Spirit (3.24) and He is in them, taken up his residence, fellowship language. Note that “you” is plural; this is a body thing. The Spirit is in their midst. Not only that, He is greater than that spirit that is in the world.
Is greater than he who is in the world—Spirit of antichrist, Satan. Though the Devil has some power, compared to the power of God…there is no comparison.
5 They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them.
They are from the world—those Gnostic teachers who are promoting doctrine that is antichristian in nature. The Gnostic community is from the world, from that system that is under the subjection to the Devil (evil one, 5.19).
Therefore they speak from the world—they get their inspiration from the world; the character of what they speak corresponds to its origin. It is worldly.
The world listens to them—Hence, the world readily hears them. Contrast with Jn 15.19
6 We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.
We are from God—apostles. The teachers of truth (inspired by the Spirit of truth) as opposed to the teachers of error (inspired by the spirit of error).
Whoever knows God listens to us—What does it mean to know God? John has already discussed this concept (2.3) and clearly defined that a person who keeps the commandments of God is one who knows God (and knows he knows). In other words, a person who listens to (keeps on listening to) the voice of God, His Word. So a person who listens to God, obeys His Word, will naturally listen to “us” (the apostolic college).
Whoever is not from God… – an example of this would be Diotrephes (3 John 9). He refused to heed apostolic address. But it begins with a refusal to hear and heed God’s revelation.
By this—lit. from this. Based on the foregoing.
We know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error—”The test of a prophet of God is not only that he recognizes that the Christ has appeared in the person of Jesus of Nazareth but that his teaching agrees in the essentials of faith and practice accepted by Christians from the beginning” (Sweet Commentary, 18:110). John says we can identify truth and error. If its truth then it lines up with God’s revelation in Christ and God’s revelation in apostolic doctrine. If it is error, it will not match God’s revelation by the Spirit.