By Dr. Robert R. Seyda


CHAPTER TWO (Lesson VIII) 04/02/21

Rudolf Bultmann (1884-1976) says, the author of this Epistle shows his relationship with the readers by addressing them as “my little children.” He further validates this because he tells them “I” write to you.[1] He wrote them so they would not sin. His is quick to refute the false teachings of those who left the congregation to spread their anti-Christian doctrines, he wanted to make sure that his readers knew this was coming straight from him, not some scribe or ghostwriter. That appears to be the exact reason why among the prophets’ writings, they often wrote, “And the Lord said to me.”

Minister Priestly L. Greville (1891-1976) feels that the Apostle John felt significantly motivated to remind his readers that they must accept the fact that they are still subject to sinful tendencies, although they are believers. He did not want them to think that they were somehow inferior or mistake-prone but to assure them that the Anointed One had a remedy for their weakness. His Love dealt with that sin and got them through on the road to wholesome sanctification and holiness. The Anointed One was able to do that because He was their advocate before the Father. After all, He paid to price to cancel sin’s death penalty, and His blood was strong enough to wash away all sinful stains. So, why wouldn’t He be the One to plead their case before His heavenly Father? Greville says, the Advocate says to the Father, “Father, this person has sinned again, but they are still Mine. They’ve committed themselves to Me in faith and love; they identify with Me, and what I have to offer on their behalf should be sufficient to receive forgiveness and cleansing of that sin.”[2]

Donald Grey Barnhouse (1895-1960) shares how a young university professor came to him for counseling. He confessed that while overseas in the military, he got involved with some shady characters and lived a very immoral life. Upon returning to the USA, he reconciled with God and resumed living as a believer. He met a beautiful girl who became his fiancée. He was afraid to tell her about his past because he believed she might call off the engagement, and exposé would now be in the open. Dr. Barnhouse responded with a different but similar story.

He said there was a young gentleman that he told to go and tell his girlfriend the whole truth, which he did, and after their marriage, his fear was replaced by faith when his wife told him this: I know my Bible. I know that Satan will try to put temptations in your way. Although that day may come – I pray that it never will – you may stumble back into sin. Immediately the devil will tell you that you have ruined everything; you are not worth anything now as a Christian, so you might as well continue in sin and enjoy yourself. But, said his wife, I want you to know that this is your home. It is where you belong. I want you to know that there are full pardon and forgiveness in advance for any temptations that may come into your life.

After Dr. Barnhouse finished his story, the young professor lowered his head into his hands. And after a pause, he looked up and told Reverend Barnhouse, “My God, if anything could ever keep a man straight, that would be it.” That is very similar to what the Apostle John is telling his readers here in verse one. Even if we as believers momentarily fall victim to temptation, our Advocate with the Father tells us, “You are Mine. You belong to me, and I will never let you go.” Come to me, and I will plead your case before the Father, and He never turns me down.[3]

Amos N. Wilder (1895-1993), in his interpretation of this verse, says that one reason why ethics in the Final Covenant is never a settled matter for “standing right before God based on good works,” creed or code is because the Spirit interprets our commitment in various situations. But even more necessary, doing the right thing is our motivation and performance. Just like the Apostles Paul and James, John appeals to using the gifts and talents God gave us – faith and love. And here in verse one, John points out that our obedience to God’s Word is the real test of our active faith. Either we walk in His Light and do what honors and pleases Him, or we are still walking in the world’s darkness where every deed has an ulterior motive.[4]

Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981) focuses on the Apostle John’s opening remark in verse one, “My little children, I’m writing these things to you.” He points out that there is nothing more important than the attitude in which we approach what’s written in the Bible, especially dealing with doctrine and theology. Lloyd-Jones mentions two main dangers concerning the approach to doctrinal teaching in the Final Covenant.

First, he says, is their parents’ and grandparents’ position who spent so much time discussing doctrine. They read books on theology in a way unseen among believers today. You could not enter a Christian home without finding books on the various subjects of theology. And when they got together, they would bring up the latest thing they read and discuss the subject. Many of their children and grandchildren feel that their parents and grandparents could have spent more time on important things dealing with child-rearing and discipline methods.

Compare that, says Lloyd-Jones, to the tendency of many Christians today. They seem uninterested in theology or doctrine. [On a personal note. When I met with a close friend and fellow minister after earning my Doctorate in Systematic Theology, he told me I made an unfortunate choice. He felt that I would have been better off if I had studied for a Ph.D. in Guidance and Counseling.] As Lloyd-Jones points out, these second and third-generation believers of today feel that doctrines and theology are unnecessary. They are not against those who take up the study of theological formulae if they have a great interest in those things. But what matters is experience and the kind of life that people live.

Lloyd-Jones then shares that people have told him that they have little interest in various ideas and schools of thought concerning the precise explanation of how the atonement of the Anointed One works. These things are of no concern to them as long as they can say, “Whereas I was blind, now I see.”[5] By living a good life and producing good works for God, the Church, and their ministry, that’s the only thing that matters.[6] All I can say as an expository preacher is that we should never let this discourage us from studying and absorbing what the Word of God has to say in theological and doctrinal matters. The day will come when those who exist on motivational speaking and feel-good teachings will hit a large pothole in their road to spiritual happiness or while sailing on the sea of high expectations will be broadsided by a massive wave of disappointment. They will call out for roadside assistance or go looking for something to rescue them. That’s when their only choice is God’s written Word.

To this, Paul W. Hoon (1910-2000) adds his exposition that John seems to be saying that a significant part of our religion must be a “preventive faith.” It is one thing to cure moral sickness; it is another to prevent it. How often do believers perform activities in life, so people may not sin, and how many do they get involved in that people may sin? After all, is it not the worst kind of sin that causes others to sin, and the next worst sin is failing to do all one can to prevent people from sinning? One is that of commission and the other of omission, but they both are sins. As John says later, anyone who commits either one of these sins and claims to be walking in God’s Light of truth and understanding is deceiving themselves and lying to others.[7]

William Barclay (1907-1978) tells us that the first thing to note in this passage is its element of fondness. John begins: “My little children.” Diminutive nouns carry special affection. They are words often used with a pat on the head or shoulder. In his old age, John has nothing but tenderness for those who are his little children in the faith. He is writing to tell them that they must not sin, but he does not scold. There is no cutting edge in his voice; the Apostle seeks to love them into goodness. In this opening address, the yearning, affectionate tenderness of a pastor for people he has known for long in all their wayward foolishness still loves them.[8]

F. F. Bruce (1910-1990) makes a great point by saying that when a sinner lives in sin, they are hopelessly lost unless redeemed by God’s grace. However, when a believer sins, all is not lost because they have an advocate with the Father. Sin is so uncharacteristic of the Christian life that it should be considered abnormal. Our Advocate does not need to resort to questionable devices to secure an acquittal for those who confess their sin. He is not looking to get a “not guilty” verdict when He knows we sinned. That’s why He is our righteous Advocate because He does the right thing for us and with the Father.[9]

Rudolf Schnackenburg (1914-2002) discusses the Greek noun paraklētos, translated into English as “Advocate.” It is the Anointed One’s role in heaven when we sin. Schnackenburg points out that it does not say that it is His task to defend us against the accusations of Satan as we read in Revelation.[10] In fact, the text suggests that by the time the Anointed One arrived as our Advocate, the devil already controlled the earth. Previously, he passed before God making accusations against them day and night.[11] However, the Lord Jesus now serves before God in His role as high-priest. It is similar to His prayer in John’s Gospel.[12] It was for this reason that He ascended to be at the right hand of the Father.[13] In other words, when Jesus moved in, Satan moved out! The same is true in our lives at the new birth, and John insists it must stay that way.

[1] Bultmann, Rudolf: The Johannine Epistles, op. cit., p. 22

[2] Greville, Priestly L., The Johannine Epistles, op. cit., pp. 33-34

[3] Boice, James Montgomery, Epistles of John, op. cit., pp. 36-37

[4] Wilder, Amos N., The Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. XII, op. cit., pp. 226-227

[5] John 9:25

[6] Lloyd-Jones, Martyn: Life in Christ, op. cit., p. 162

[7] Hoon, Paul W., Ibid. p. 226

[8] Barclay, William: The Letters of John and Jude, Revised Edition, The Daily Study Bible Series, op. cit., p. 38

[9] Bruce, F. F., The Epistles of John, op. cit., (Kindle Location 848)

[10] Revelation 12:10

[11] Job 1:6-7

[12] John 17:6-26

[13] Schnackenburg, Rudolf, The Johannine Epistles, op. cit., pp. 86-87

About drbob76

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