WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

by Dr. Robert R Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER FOUR (Lesson XXVIII) 02/23/22

4:4        My dear children, you belong to God, so you have already defeated these false prophets. That’s because the One in you is more powerful than the one in the world.

EXPOSITION

John did not need to look far to find corroboration for this statement. No doubt he remembered when Jesus said at the end of the last supper, “Now is the time for the world to be judged. Now the ruler of this world will be thrown out.”[1] And later in the Garden of Gethsemane, when He was about to be arrested, Jesus said, “I cannot speak with you much longer. The ruler of this world is coming. He has no power over Me.”[2] So, then, Jesus told His disciples about the role of the Holy Spirit. He told them not to fear interference from unbelievers because the Spirit will use them to show the world “how wrong their judgment is because their leader has already been condemned.”[3]

The readers of this epistle belonged to God’s family and, as such, had God’s resources to fight false teaching. For one thing, spiritual rebirth has an intimate closeness with the truth. Regenerated people owe their allegiance to their Father, their Procreator. There is correspondence between the message of God and the people of God. John’s readers overcame the false prophets and teachers with all their deception. It does not mean they overcame error with apologetics or clever arguments. They had no comprehensive course in cult awareness. The Apostle John tells them how they found their power – “He who is in you is greater.” It harmonizes with the message John received in his revelation: “They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.[4] The one who is “in” them is the Holy Spirit.[5]  He is the foundation of their victory over false prophets and is far greater than satanic power (he who is in the world). And as John will say later: “We know that we are children of God and that all the rest of the world around us is under Satan’s power and control.”[6]

Thus, we see the Apostle John’s emphatic opposition to the false teachers in his day.[7] They are on one side and his readers on the other, and it is from this standpoint that John urges them to “prove the spirits.” John knows nothing of any neutral position from which we can criticize with absolute impartiality the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error. As Jesus said, “Whoever is not with Me is against Me, and whoever does not gather with Me scatters.”[8] This assumed neutral position is already within the margin of error. When John says, “You have overcome them,” he is speaking of false teachers; but in what sense have John’s little children overcome them? He may be speaking in anticipation; confident of the victory, he writes of as an accomplished fact.[9] But it is better to take the statement literally. The sheep have conquered the wolves by refusing to listen to the false teachers: the seducers have “gone out,”[10] unable to hold their own within the fold. Consequently, one side has God with them, the other Satan.

COMMENTARY

I like what early Church scholar Hilary of Arles (401-449) said about the believer’s advantage: “God’s power to save is always much greater than the devil’s power to cause harm.”[11]  And Medieval monk and scholar Andreas points out that there are three who live in the believer: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and there is only one in the world, Satan.[12]  So guess who outnumbers who?  It makes me wonder why so many believers today still fear the devil.  Maybe it’s because the presence of God in their lives is not that strong.

Gregory the Great (540-604) encourages us that whatever we see in this world that goes against the truth, we are to trust in the grace of Almighty God. Remember the voice of the Truth, which says, “Greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world.”[13] Therefore, whatever must be done, do it with the utmost confidence. Although we are not always protected from the spiteful arrows of our enemies, it is a disgraceful thing when we lose faith because of such scoundrels. To give in to such awful people will undoubtedly result in losing all faith.[14]

Bede the Venerable (672-735) states that by believing that Jesus the Anointed One has come in the flesh, you have already overcome the antichrist. “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”[15] But how could the Son of God have laid down His life for us if He had not taken on human flesh, which made it possible for Him to die? Therefore, anyone who violates God’s Law of Love denies by the way they live that the Anointed One has come in the flesh. So, no matter what they might claim, this person is antichrist.”[16]

Theophylact of Ohrid (1050-1108) says that true believers overcome the false prophets because the God who is in you is greater than the one by whom the false prophets have chosen to live. However, there is another sign of false prophets: they make simple believers remorseful through their misinformation. Therefore, many believers must be extremely disappointed when they see these so-called prophets awarded the highest honors while being treated disrespectfully by other Christians and the world.[17]

John Calvin (1509-1564) says we must observe why the Apostle John added the words, “because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.” He did so to counteract our tendency to give up even before we engage an enemy. It comes from being so engrossed in believing everything we hear that we are open to all kinds of misconceptions because Satan is an artful deceiver. Even if we were to hold out for one day, yet a doubt may creep into our minds as to what might be the case tomorrow; that would leave us in a state of perpetual anxiety. Therefore, John reminds us that we become strong, not by our power, but by God’s power. Subsequently, he concludes that we cannot be conquered any more than God, who has armed us with His power to end the world. But in this whole spiritual warfare, this thought ought to dwell in our hearts, that it would be all over with us immediately were we to fight in our strength; but that as God repels our enemies while we wait and trust Him to act, victory is certain.[18] [19]

James Arminius (1560-1609) reacts to the Apostle John’s statement that we have overcome the world. He notes that the opposition’s greater capability, or at least of one equal, makes it possible to overcome the influences of the world that come against us. That was how Uzziah was prevented from burning incense when the priests resisted his attempt to do so.[20] In the same way, our bodily passions are hindered from doing what it pleases, “because the spirit wants what is contrary to the flesh,”[21] and because “greater is He that is in us, than he that is in the world.”[22] [23]

Arminius then focuses on the Holy Spirit’s role in assisting us in coping with our reborn spirit’s tendency to break God’s Law. He distinguishes the Spirit’s work as He prepares a temple for Himself, and the same Spirit as He inhabits that temple when it is sanctified. The question is: Whether these acts and operations may be attributed to the Spirit, the regenerator, not as He regenerates, but as He prepares the hearts of believers to admit to His efficiency of regeneration and renovation. With that being said, Arminius believes that it is generally clear that this opinion is not contemptuous to the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, it cannot take away from the Spirit anything attributed to Him in the Scriptures; but that it only indicates the order according to which the Holy Spirit disposes and distributes His acts and gifts.

However, Arminius says that we may disrespect the Spirit of adoption who dwells in the hearts of the regenerated by having such contrary inclinations in our reborn spirit. Sometimes, our reborn spirit develops an attitude of self-will. In other words, let me do this my way, not God’s way. But unfortunately, this often fails to produce anything positive and becomes defective, being conquered by the sinful tendencies that dwell within. As such, this is in opposition to the declaration of what John says here in verse four. Arminius also does not think that this attitude of self-will is the result of what the Apostle Paul told the Romans.[24] In that case, the subject under investigation is a man confronted by grace; for it is one thing to feel or perceive some effect of preparing grace; and it is another to be under grace, or to be ruled, led, and influenced by grace.[25]

John Trapp (1601-1669) comments that what the Apostle John says here about becoming victors is not that we have become overcomers with the help of the Holy Spirit in thinking about the Anointed One. On the contrary, we are more than conquerors by His sweet habitation because we are sure to overcome and triumph.[26]


[1] Hebrews 12:31

[2] Ibid. 14:30

[3] Ibid. 16:11

[4] Revelation 12:11

[5] See 1 John 3:24; 4:2

[6] 1 John 5:19

[7] Cf. Ibid. 2:20

[8] Matthew 12:30; cf. Luke 11:23

[9] Cf. John 16:33

[10] 1 John 2:19

[11] Hilary of Arles: Commentary on 1 John, loc. cit.

[12] Andreas: Catena, op. cit., loc. cit.

[13] 1 John 4:4

[14] Gregory the Great, op. cit., Epistles, Bk. 1, Epistle 20, p. 821

[15] John 15:13

[16] Bede the Venerable, Ancient Christian Commentary, Vol. XI, Bray, G. (Ed.), James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John

[17] Theophylact of Ohrid, (Bray Ed.), James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude, op. cit., loc. cit.

[18] Calvin, John: Commentary on the Catholic Epistles, op. cit., loc. cit, Footnote 84: “The world” is in this verse identified with “the false prophets;” true Christians had overcome these for this reason, because greater was He that was in them than he that was in the world, that is, in the unbelieving and ungodly, of whom the false prophets formed a part. Hence it follows, “They are of the world,” that is, they are of the number of those who are ungodly and wicked, who make up the kingdom of darkness.

[19] Calvin, John: Commentary on the Catholic Epistles, op. cit., loc. cit.

[20] 2 Chronicles 26:18, 21

[21] Galatians 5:17

[22] 1 John 4:4

[23] Arminius, James: op. cit., Disputation 9, p. 442

[24] Romans 7:18-19

[25] James, Arminius: op. cit., Vol. 3, A Dissertation of the True and Genuine Sense of the Seventh Chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, First Part, pp. 281-282

[26] Trapp, John: op. cit., p. 476

About drbob76

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