WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R. Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER TWO (Lesson II) 03/25/21

John addresses Christians in the circle of Churches of which Ephesus, as the center, is a church he loved dearly, and calls them his little children. This Greek term teknion (“My little children”), which the Apostle Paul uses once in his Epistles;[1] and John seven times in this Epistle.[2] It goes along with affection being one of John’s most vital elements and compatible with his advanced age compared to Paul. The personal pronoun “my” is found only here in verse one and in 3:18. In presenting the contrast of “will not sin,” but had John naturally gone on to say, “but if we sin,” it would have the appearance of treating the experience of sin in believers as a matter of everyday life. He, therefore, considers it necessary to insert words that states why he’s writing to them; he doesn’t want them to sin. Because of subsequent statements, it is essential to note that he does not correspond with them as being sinless but as those who have the ideal of sinlessness before them.

Even though a person struggles not to sin, they still experience their sinful tendencies in action. It wasn’t that way with Jesus, who, in attempting to remain perfect, could say, “Can any of you prove me guilty of sin?”[3] No person since the fall of Adam can perfectly keep all God’s commandments in this life. Instead, they find themselves daily dealing with breaking God’s laws in thought, word, or deed. It applies even to those assisted by grace. Our nature is not systematically renewed, and so, as the language indicates here, there are sinful acts we must confess to God.

How, then, with the constantly recurring consciousness of sin, are we to triumph over our sinful tendencies? In the Apostle John’s answer, we must not understand that he excludes our pleas for forgiveness. He repeatedly assumes that we must earnestly pray to God. But, in bringing in the advocacy of Another, he views our advocacy as being insufficient by itself why it’s this way. It involves those things that rise that constantly become recurring acts of sin. It is one and the same disposition that leads us to shut our eyes to our needs and makes us lukewarm in seeking the remedy. We are unfit to be our own advocate, that we have insufficient knowledge of our situation.

We cannot approach our request for mercy with that thoroughness and skillfulness that a trained advocate takes in those cases. We do not know precisely the stage to which we have already come in our deliverance from sin, nor have we an adequate conception of the goal of sinlessness to which we have yet to come. Therefore, we are more or less working in the dark and pleading for ourselves in ignorance. “Should find we profit,” asks Shakespeare, “by losing of our prayers.”[4] We aren’t aware of the blessings we need. We are like children, who ask their parents for many things that are not good for them. Again, it disqualifies us from being our advocate. To be delivered from sin, from particular sins which torment us, the love of sin, is a matter essential to our well-being. We ought to plead for it as for our life and do so continuously. We should not pray as though we would prefer not to receive an answer by starts and stops but in a more earnest tone. But how can our advocacy reach the level of what advocacy should be?  We need to plead for this with the earnestness of the whole soul, and this in every successive moment of life? If then, we are to have perfect advocacy, we must look away from ourselves. We already have an Advocate. His name is Jesus, the Son of God. Let Him handle your case. The outcome will be far different from anything we can achieve by ourselves.

COMMENTARY

Early church scholar Irenaeus (130-202 A.D.) wrote about what the Apostles taught that it was the Holy Spirit that descended upon Jesus as His baptism, giving the reason for this descent. Among others, he points to Gideon, the Israelite chosen by God, that he might save Israel’s people from foreigners’ power. In requesting that the fleece put out should be dry and then wet with dew. He used that fleece to represent the people of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was the dew. This same Spirit, says Irenaeus, God conferred upon the Church, sending the Comforter from heaven throughout the world. That’s why we need the same dew of God, so the fire of persecution does not consume us, nor rendered us unfruitful, and that where we have an accuser, we may also have an Advocate, as the Apostle John says here in verse one.[5]

Tertullian (145-220 A.D.) focuses on what John says here about having an advocate. According to these words, says Tertullian, you critics say, we must admit both that we sin and that we need pardon. What, then, will become (of your theory) when, proceeding (with the Epistle), find something different? He affirms that we do not sin at all, and to this end, he presents the fact that our sins have been once and for all deleted by the Anointed One, not subsequently to obtain pardon.[6] I do not know what Tertullian is aiming at here, but it appears he bases his statement on John saying, “if we sin,” we have an advocate. So, we do not sin unless we want to sin. Upon our conversion and new birth, our previous sins were washed away.

Clement of Alexandria (150-216 A.D.) mentions that just like Samuel was the only one who heard the voice of God speaking; likewise, John and the other disciples heard God speak at Jesus’ baptism. So, says Clement, if God’s voice had been audible, everyone would have heard it. In both Samuel and the disciple’s cases, it was detected by those alone chosen to receive the impression.[7] Clement says when it comes to the Anointed One being our Advocate, even such righteous men cannot deliver their children by their righteous deeds. What confidence should we have if we do not keep the purpose of our baptism pure and undefiled, to enter into the kingdom of God? Or how can we be our advocate unless we can claim holy and righteous works? There is none. Only one can be our Advocate, that is the sinless Son of God.[8]

Early church scholar Origen (184-253 A.D.) asks us to consider whether the title “paraclete” (Advocate) means one thing when applied to the Son and another to the Spirit. Regarding our Savior as a “paraclete,” it denotes an intercessor. In Greek, it implies both a comforter and intercessor. According to the phrase in verse one, He is the atonement for our sins, it seems that it must mean “intercessor” because He intercedes with the Father for our sins. However, when used of the Spirit, the word paraclete is to be understood as a “comforter” and “teacher” because He provides comfort and wisdom for the souls to whom He opens and reveals a consciousness of spiritual knowledge. We might also consider it an additional way. The Holy Spirit intercedes on behalf of the Father to have us come to the Anointed One for salvation. Then, the Anointed One intercedes to the Father on our behalf to be called His child. Another thing to consider says, Origen, how could Jesus have become an advocate and propitiation without God’s power, which destroys our weakness, power furnished by Jesus which flows in the souls of believers.[9]

Early church leader Pope Peter, former Bishop of Alexandria (300-311 A.D.), notes we are to sympathize with the sorrow and affliction of those who grieve and mourn. They are fighting to keep from being overcome by the ever-present influence of sin, manufactured by the devil. Whether it involves the parents, the family, or the children, we should not exclude any of them from God’s grace and mercy. Peter says we know others’ faith has helped those in need to obtain the goodness of God. That includes the remission of sins, the health of their bodies, and the resurrection to come.

Therefore, says Pope Peter the Great always keep in mind the many hardships and distress they went through, and, except for the mercy of the Anointed One, would have continued. But they repented and lamented what they did because of their habits and lusts of the body. Besides this, they tell how the life they led made them feel unwanted by others. So, let us pray together with them and for reconciliation. Through Him, who is our Advocate with the Father, yes, the One who made the atonement for our sins. That is what the Apostle John is saying about Jesus, the righteous Anointed One.[10] Not only that but since the Spirit of the Advocate dwells in us, we too, through Him, can be advocates for others.

Bede the Venerable (672-604 A.D.) says there is no contradiction between what John is saying here and what he has just said in the first chapter: it is impossible to live without sin. He warns us with great foresight and concern for our welfare that we must be aware of our human frailty and not think that we are somehow innocent. Now here, he tells us that if we want to avoid all blame for our sinful state, we must do our utmost to live in such a way that we are not bound by it. Instead, let us distance ourselves from those sinful tendencies as firmly and conscientiously as we can. That way, we can overcome the more apparent faults we have. Remember, the Lord intercedes for us not only by words but by His dying compassion for us. He did this, says Bede because He took upon Himself the sins for which He was unwilling to condemn His elect.[11]

Biblical writer Œcumenius (circa 700-800 A.D.) mentions that the Apostle John calls Jesus our Advocate because He prays to the Father for us. In saying this, he speaks like a human, within a human context, just as elsewhere He says: “The Son can do nothing by Himself.”[12] He puts it this way so that the Son will not appear to be the Father’s opponent. For that, the Son has the power to forgive sins, is clear from the case of the person with paralysis,[13] and by giving His disciples the power to forgive sins, He shows that He can also share His passion and power with others.[14]

[1] Galatians 4:19

[2] 1 John 2:1, 12, 28; 3:7, 18; 4:4; 5:21

[3] John 8:46

[4] Menas in Antony and Cleopatra, Act 2, Scene 1

[5] Irenaeus Against Heresies, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1, Bk. 3, Ch. 17, pp. 884-885

[6] Tertullian on Modesty, Fathers of the Church, Ch. 19, Objections from the Revelation and the First Epistle of St. John refuted.

[7] Clement of Alexandria, Comments on First Epistle of John, op. cit., p. 1162

[8] Second Epistle of Clement of Alexandria to the Corinthians, 6:9

[9] Origen, Bray, G. (Ed.), 1-3 John, p. 176

[10] Peter of Alexandria: Fathers of the Church, Canonical Epistle, Canon 11

[11] Bede the Venerable, Bray, G. (Ed.), 1-3 John, p. 177

[12] John 5:19

[13] Ibid. 20:23

[14] Œcumenius, Bray, G. (Ed.). 1-3 John, p. 177


About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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