NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
By Dr. Robert R Seyda
FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN
CHAPTER THREE (Lesson LI) 09/22/21
3:10 So now we can tell who is a child of God and who belongs to Satan. Whoever lives a sinful life and doesn’t love their brother or sister shows that they are not part of God’s family.
Ignatius of Antioch (108-140 AD) asks us to consider those holding a different opinion with respect to the grace of the Anointed One which has come to us, and how opposed they are to the will of God. They have no regard for love; no care for the widow, or the orphan, or the oppressed, or the prisoner, or the free; the hungry, or the thirsty.
We have a challenging thought expressed by Rabbi Hamnuna-Saba (circa 200-300 AD) when he said that just as the spiritual world of Israel is different from the material world of Israel, so the people of Israel have sometimes left the spiritual world for this world. And when the children of Israel correct their actions, they cause the land of Israel to be filled with God’s Light, and He will build her with His Light and unite with her face-to-face. As a result, the children of Israel of our world will be redeemed and returned to their land.
John Tillotson (1630-1694), archbishop of Canterbury, says that we should consider on what grounds do sinful people place their false hopes that everything is well with their souls. (1) Some rely on the profession of the Christian faith and their baptism. But this is so far from being an exemption for a good life, that requires a sincere obligation. (2) Others trust their external devotion; they frequent the church and constantly pray to Him, hear His Word, and receive the blessed sacrament. But this falls short of making amends for the sinfulness of their lives; it spoils God accepting their so-called devotion. (3) Others are insensible and rebellious, depending on their future repentance, especially if they set times for their obligatory request for forgiveness. There is no doubt, but, that sincere repentance will put a person into a godly condition. However, no repentance is genuine but that which produces a real reformation in a person’s life. (4) Others satisfy themselves by exercising particular virtues such as justice, generosity, and charity. And it is not the case that pitying others will make your life holy while keeping other parts from being cleansed. (5) Some who are very careful of their outward appearance are still conscious of great secret vices that lie within them. And when they can find no comfort from the testimony of their conscience, they are apt to find relief in the reasonable opinions of others on how to excuse these shortcomings. But if we know we are inwardly corrupt, it is not the advice of others that can either alter or better our condition.
Trust nobody, says Tillotson, concerning yourself rather than you because nobody can know you so well as you know yourself. Wishful thinking and admiration by others do little good to a person with a bad attitude. (1) Some are afraid that they are already condemned for eternity and therefore cannot be God’s children. But no one who find the marks of rebellion in themselves has any reason to think of themselves as rejected by God – having an evil heart and impure life, either from eternity or in time. (2) Good people are conscious of many frailties and imperfections; therefore, they are ashamed of their condition. But God’s grace considers this and requires no other obedience to accept them just as they are. He is more concerned about what this state of imperfection is capable of doing to them. (3) They are afraid their obedience is not sincere because it proceeds many times from fear and not always out of pure love for God.
The answer to this is made plain in the Scriptures, notes Tillotson; God is aware of several reasons people are obedient: some out of fear, many in hope, and others with love. God intended they should all work together for their good. (4) Another case is that some believing people doubt their born-again state. It comes from a sense of the inconsistent performance of religious duties and the cooling of their affections towards God. But we can take comfort in the fact that God does not measure a person’s sincerity by the rise and fall of their affection. Instead, by their constant efforts to change and the motives for their actions. (5) Another cause of these doubts is that people expect more than a reasonable assurance of their status with God by some particular revelation, an extraordinary impression upon their minds. God may give this when, and to whom He pleases, but there are no Scriptures that make such a promise. (6) As for sometimes feeling downhearted, it is not a top-priority case. Therefore, it does not fall under any particular rule or guidelines.
Likewise, writes Tillotson, some have feelings about being good but don’t possess the desire to put them into action. The proper counseling that should be given to them to bring peace to their mind is, by all means, to encourage them to go ahead and fulfill their resolutions. They must be more attentive and guard themselves against sin and resist it with all their might.
In conclusion, states Tillotson, first we must learn the great danger of sins of omission as well as commission. Secondly, it is evident from what the Apostle John has said that nothing is more foolish than living in sin and pretending to be God’s child with hopes for eternal life. Thirdly, you can see the great indicator of a person’s good or bad spiritual condition: “Whoever does what is right is of God,” and “whoever does not do what is right is not of God.”
Matthew Henry (1662-1714) helps us understand the vividness of the Apostle John’s words when he says that those who are born of God do not sin. It draws a fine line between probable sinning and possible sinning. Every believer must admit that there may be a possibility under certain circumstances, no matter how remote, they would unknowingly break the law. But never would they count that a probability because they lacked the self-control needed to avoid sinning. Henry goes on to say that once born again, that Light in the believer’s mind helps them see more clearly the evil and malignity of sin. Furthermore, there is a particular bias in their heart that motivates them to despise and hate sin; and there is the essential spiritual principle that breaks the force and fullness of their sinful tendencies.
Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) addresses how God now expects everyone to take notice of His hand in this mighty work of Grace. They should also acknowledge His glory in it and greatly rejoice in it, everyone doing their utmost, in the place where God planted them in, to promote it. But unfortunately, there are many instances the zealous promoters of God’s grace have been rejected. The truth is that when people continue to reject the Anointed One and do not confess their belief in Him, no matter how they were awakened to reality, and however strict, conscientious, and devoted they may be in their religion, God’s wrath and judgment await them.
They are now His enemies, says Edwards, and part of the devil’s seed; (as the Scripture calls all who do not confess and converted.) Therefore, it is uncertain whether they will ever obtain mercy. God is under no obligation to show them mercy, nor will He, even if they fast and pray and beg. As incredible as it may seem, they are provoking God by standing against His Son and are unwilling to accept Him as their Savior, though they realize how much they need Him. And seeing this is the truth, someone must tell them to awaken them to the reality of their lost condition.
James Macknight (1721-1800) is of the opinion that the Apostle John uses the term “brother” here to include all of humanity, not just Christians. He acknowledges that the word “brother” in verse fourteen signifies fellow Christian believers, but in verses fifteen and sixteen, John does not point to Christians in particular. Therefore, it is evident that we should take the word brother here in the larger context neighbor. It becomes even more apparent in verse seventeen. It would undoubtedly harmonize with what John wrote about in his Gospel.
Thomas Scott (1747-1821) says that we should notice that all who are not “regenerated” children of God are part of the degenerate in the devil’s brood. Actually, they imitate the devil who has been “sinning from the beginning,” and no doubt if they die unchanged, they will join him in his eternal punishment. For the “Son of God” was manifested to tear down the devil’s empire. Yet, there are many in whose hearts the works of the devil are still active. They continue being proud, selfish, sensual, malicious, envious, and remain alienated from the life of devotion, purity, and righteousness. As such, they cannot receive the unique benefit of the Anointed One’s incarnation.
Charles Finney (1792-1875) discusses the evidence of regeneration, whereby saints and sinners are different. The degenerate sinner is overcome by sin, while the regenerated saint overcomes sin. The Apostle John makes that clear here in verses three through ten and again in chapter five, verses one through four. When correctly understanding these passages and interpreting them would teach that all regenerate souls overcome and live without sin, and that sin is impossible. This last circumstance and other parts of scripture forbid us to change this from a guideline into a mandate. But this much must be understood and acknowledged; overcoming sin is the rule for everyone born of God. The regenerated habitually lives without sin and falls into wrongdoing only at intervals. These incidents are so few, and far between that, we can say that sinning was never their intention. Nevertheless, the spirit of these texts does not imply that “sinlessness” should become a mandate.
 Ignatius of Antioch, Epistle to the Smyrnæans, Ch. 6
 The Zohar, Translated by Rav Michael Laitman, Published by Laitman Kabbalah Publishers, Toronto, 2007, The Letters of Rabbi Hamnuna-Saba, the [Hebrew] Letter Peh, p. 157
 Henry, Matthew: Commentary on the Whole Bible, First Epistle of John, op. cit., p. 846
 Matthew 13:38
 Works of Jonathan Edwards: Vol. 3, Some Thoughts Concerning the Present Revival of Religion in New England, Section 4, Part 3, p. 83
 James Macknight: First Epistle of John, op. cit., pp. 72-73
 John 3:16
 Note Mathew 25:41, 46
 See Galatians 5:19-21
 Ibid. 5:22-25
 Thomas Scott: First Epistle of John, op. cit., p. 495
 Charles Finney: Systematic Theology, 1878 Edition, Lecture 30, pp. 387-388