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).