WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R. Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER TWO (Lesson XLVI) 05/26/21

2:16 This is all there is in the world: wanting to please our sinful selves, wanting the wicked things we see, and being too proud of what we have. But none of these comes from the Father. They come from the world.

In the Latin language, a bragging individual is called an “alazonia,” which translates into Greek as “boastful.” Greek Philosopher Theophrastus (circa 371-287 BC), in his treatise called “Characters,” describes such a person as an Alazon, “the boastful one.” He introduces this individual by saying that boastfulness would seem to be, pretending you have things you do not truly possess. We can see that Theophrastus’ character is similar to the one the Apostle John presents here as having the “pride of life.” Keep in mind that Theophrastus is describing things as they were 350 years before the birth of Jesus. But the attitude he describes continues until now. Here is his illustration:

The Boastful Man will stand in the bazaar talking to foreigners about the outstanding sums he has in shipping. He will then discourse of the vastness of his money-lending business and the extent of his monetary gains and losses; while thus telling this long tale, he will send off his servant to the bank, where he keeps — one drachma.[1] He also loves to impose on his walking companion a story of how he served with Alexander the Great. He goes on and on about the times he was with him and the number of gemmed cups he brought home, contending, too, that the Asian artists are superior to those of Europe; all this when he has never been outside of Greece.   Then he will say that a letter has come from General Antipater – this is the third – demanding that he meet him in Macedonia. In addition, although he received a license to export timber free of taxes, he has declined it so that no person, whatever may be able to criticize him further for being more friendly with Macedonia. He will state, too, that during the famine, his charitable giving came to more than five talents in presents to the distressed citizens: (“he never could say, No”). And though the persons sitting near him are strangers, he requests one of them to set up the sales counters; while estimating the number needed to sell six hundred drachmas or a mina[2] worth of merchandise. He estimates that each of these will bring in as many as ten talents.[3]   He will say this was what he contributed in the way of charities. Then he adds that he does not count any of the luxury taxes paid or civic duties performed. Also, he will go up to the sellers of the best horses and pretend that he desires to buy, or, visiting the upholstery mart, he will ask to see draperies to the value of two talents and quarrel with his slave for not having come out with gold. When he is living in a rented house, he will say (to anyone who does not know better) that it is the family mansion; but intends to sell it, as he finds it too small for his entertainment.[4]

The Apostle Paul recalls the rebellion by the Israelites in the Sinai wilderness. God supplied them with a guiding cloud by day and a column of fire at night for the rest of their journey. And this occurred as a warning to generations to come so that they would not want ungodly things like those rebels did.[5] Paul referred to this as sinful tendencies warring against our spiritual aspirations. The two are against each other, so we cannot do everything we please. When the Spirit leads us, we do not live for God because of the Law but out of Love. We do these things because we gave up our old selfish feelings and the previous sinful things we used to do.[6]

It was important enough for Paul to remind the Ephesians that once, all of us lived to please our old selves. We gave in to what our bodies and minds wanted. We were sinful from birth, like all other people, and would suffer from the anger of God.[7] That makes it even more astounding that God was still willing to forgive us. With this in mind, Paul gave Titus a narrative for his preaching that no one should rebel against God nor do the evil things the world wants to do. Instead, that grace teaches us to live in the present age intelligently and correctly and in a manner that shows we are entirely devoted to God.[8]

The Apostle Peter was also on board with this same principle of a proactive preventive method to continually live as God’s obedient children, so we don’t slip back into our old ways of living to satisfy our desires. The only excuse we have is that we didn’t know any better back then. When that happens, then a child of God becomes like a foreigner and stranger, even in this world. Therefore, we must keep our lives free from the sinful desires of the flesh. These things fight to get hold of our souls. But Peter didn’t leave it there; he went on to say, we won’t spend the rest of our lives chasing our lustful desires but will be anxious to do the will of God. There was plenty of time in the past to enjoy the evil that the godless lust after.[9]

The Apostle Jude knew of this, and he noted that when believers get into trouble by going back to their old sinful way of living, they complain and blame others as an excuse for doing the wicked things they desired to do. The truth is, they bragged about themselves and flattered others to get what they wanted. That’s why he warns his readers to remember what the Lord Jesus, the Anointed One, and the Apostles said would happen. They told everyone, “In the last days, there will be people who laugh at God and do what they want to do – things that satisfy their ungodly desires.”[10]

So, where and how did all of this begin? It all started in the Garden of Eden when the tree of the knowledge of good and evil caught Eve’s eye and enchanted her.[11] Perhaps that’s why Job asked God to give him the desire to follow His rules, not the desire to get rich. Don’t let him look at worthless things. Help him live God’s way.[12] King Solomon goes so far as to say that those who love money will never have enough money to make them happy. It is the same for those who love to hoard things as though wealth will buy happiness. It all adds up to nothing. The more wealthier people amass, the more so-called friends they will have to help them spend it. So, what do people gain? They gain nothing except to brag about their luxurious lifestyle.[13] It is no wonder the Apostle Paul used Job’s words when he called the lust of money the root of all evil.[14]

But this is only one part of the formula for a depraved life. There is also a factor called the pride of life. In today’s language, it might qualify as egotistical thinking. As a matter of fact, the Psalmist says that people wear their egos like a necklace to go with their robes of pretend morality.[15] It was something that Daniel noticed in Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon.[16] The Apostle James says that this kind of attitude does not come from God but from the world. That means it is not divine but demonic.[17]

COMMENTARY

No doubt, this is why Hilary of Arles (403-449 AD) said that the lust of the flesh is what pertains to our immoral physical appetites. In contrast, the lust of the eye proceeds from sinful thoughts. The pride of life is what relates to the vices of the soul. It involves excessive self-love, which does not come from the Father but the devil.[18]

Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) responds to the question whether or not sins differ specifically concerning causes? As some may say, it would seem that sins differ explicitly relating to their objectives. However, everything takes its identity from its source. Therefore, we classify sins according to their origin.

On the contrary, Aquinas says all sins would be alike since they are due to one cause if this were the case. For it is written, “Pride is the beginning of all sin,”[19] and, “The obsession over money is the root of all evils.”[20] Now it is evident that there are various species of sins. Therefore, sins do not differ according to their different causes.[21] As Jesus said, “A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart.”[22]

In another place, Aquinas quotes Augustine of Hippo’s (354-430) comment on a passage of the Psalms, found in the Catholic Douay Version, “Things set on fire and dug down [stoked] will perish at the rebuke of Your countenance [face].” Aquinas interprets this as saying, “every sin is due either to fear-inducing false humility, or, to love igniting us to unnecessary enthusiasm.” He ties this to what the Apostle John says here about all the pride of life. In the end, it all adds up to this: You may be a proud bragger down here, but up there in God’s presence, you will become a cowardly beggar.[23]


[1] One drachma was worth less than one half of a penny by today’s dollar.

[2] One mina was the amount (or weight) in silver or gold, about 565 grams of silver equal to $18.45 in Israeli shekels.

[3] One talent was the amount (or weight) in silver or gold, about 72 lbs., worth $60,000 today.

[4] The Characters of Theophrastus, The Loeb Classical Library, Trans. J. M. Edmonds, William Heinemann Ltd., London, 1929, pp. 54-55

[5] 1 Corinthians 10:1-6

[6] Galatians 5:17-18, 24

[7] Ephesians 2:3

[8] Titus 2:12; 3:3

[9] 1 Peter 1:14; 2:11; 4:2,3; See 2 Peter 2:10, 18

[10] Jude 1:16-18

[11] Genesis 3:6

[12] Psalm 119:36-37

[13] Ecclesiastes 5:10-11

[14] 1 Timothy 6:10

[15] Psalm 73:6

[16] Daniel 4:30

[17] James 3:15

[18] Hilary of Arles: Bray, G. (Ed.), op. cit., 1-3 John, p. 184

[19] Ecclesiasticus 10:15

[20] 1 Timothy 6:10

[21] Thomas Aquinas: Summa Theologica, Vol 2, pp. 786-787

[22] Matthew 12:35

[23] Thomas Aquinas: Summa Theologica, Vol. 6, pp. 134-135

About drbob76

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