WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

by Dr. Robert R Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER FOUR (Lesson XXXIII) 03/02/22

4:4 Since you belong to God, my dear children, you have already won a victory over those worldly people because the Spirit who lives in you is greater than the spirit who lives in the world. 

John Phillips (1927-2010) states that the end-time war has already begun. Indeed, it started in John’s Day. John wants us to know two things about this age long, end-time struggle. First, being invincible in this struggle: “You have already won a victory over those people because the Spirit who lives in you is greater than the spirit who lives in the world.” The enemy might still be able to assemble his demons and put on a fair showing, but the real battle is already over. “We have overcome!’’ We have overcome!’’ was John’s triumphant shout. Not even “the gates of hell” can triumph over God’s “little children – what Jesus called His “little flock” in this world.[1] [2]

David E. Hiebert (1928-1995) says that the Apostle John does not stress the identity but the superior greatness of this divine Enabler: “greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.” The masculine article “He” clarifies that the contrast is between two personal powers, while the comparative adjective “greater” emphasizes the superior authority and control of the One in believers. Their opponent, the one in the world, is the devil, “the ruler of this world,”[3] whose work the Son of God came to destroy.[4] Clearly, John “does not subscribe to a dualist system in which the universe is the battlefield of two essentially equally powerful spiritual forces.” On the contrary, the superior rank and power of the indwelling Holy Spirit assure the Anointed One’s victory over the devil on the cross, in the grave, and in the lives of His followers.[5] Therefore, the phrase “You have overcome” must be understood in context. It would be like congratulating a driver on winning a race when, in fact, it would not have been possible without the racecar they were driving.

Stephen S. Smalley (1931-2018) notes that belief and behavior are never far apart in John’s First Epistle. Therefore, John is likely to be saying here that all wrong can be and must be defeated by true Christians. It is not a matter of victory over intellectual rather than moral error, or conquest in a situation of faith rather than practice. John’s point is that living as a child of God necessarily implies the defeat of false belief”[6] and victory over the temptation to behave wrongly;”[7] and also membership of the orthodox Christian community, rather than defection from it (as exemplified by the departure into the world of the secessionists.)[8] [9] [10] Too often, Christians face opposition with the fear of being defeated.  Instead, John says to confront them as overcomers, not by using their tactics, but by God’s agápe-love.

Edward J. Malatesta (1932-1998) notes that verse four is the center of the entire passage. It is a new form of composition, which will continue to verse six. No longer is there a question about spirits, but of persons. They are designated as being motivated by God or by the world. It helps to identify their condition and intent. One clear way was to notice whether they listened to the Apostles’ preaching or the world’s teaching. Whichever one they preferred identified them as being part of that source. If they were on God’s side, they had already overcome these false doctrines. The parallelism between 2:14 and 4:4 makes it clear that the one in the world’s camp was the evil spirit. But, not only have the believers overcome the devil’s scheme, identified as the one who is the ultimate source of deceitfulness.[11] [12]

James Montgomery Boice (1938-2000) notes that verse four begins with “you.” It is a reference to those born of God – Christians. The Apostle John says two things about these persons. First, he says, they have overcome the false teachers. He is not referring to a physical contest, nor even a struggle in the area of morality. Rather, it is an intellectual battle in which the Christians have been victorious. The false teachers sought to deceive believers, but they had not succeeded. Merely by testing them and refusing to be taken in by their lies, the Christians were victorious.

Second, John indicates why Christians were triumphant. It is not that they were stronger themselves – they probably were not. The Gnostics were the intellectual giants. Instead, God was in the Christians and, for that reason, they were stronger than these worldly philosophers. It was similar to the situation with Elisha’s young servant, who was terrified by the armies of Syria who sounded them. Said Elisha, “Don’t be afraid. The army that fights for us is larger than the army that fights for them.”[13] King Aram’s Syrian army consisted of regular men; God’s army was composed of heavenly angels.[14] So John’s audience needed to know their victory was not due to their spirit but to the power of the Spirit within them.

Stanley L. Derickson (1940) proposes that God does not attempt to keep believers from the devil’s intentions, but He does give them all that is needed to walk in the control of the Spirit continually. Job is an excellent example of exposing the believer to the testing of Satan. He will, however, totally isolate us from the devil and all evil on that day when He removes us from this life into His eternal presence. God may allow the devil access to our lives, but He will never allow him to overcome us. So, the Apostle John speaks here in verse four of the false spirits that will confront believers.[15]

Michael Eaton (1942-2017) believes that Christians can be intimidated by the boastful claims of false prophets. “We have all knowledge,” said the ancient Gnostic, and many weak Christians were inclined to believe them. “No unintelligent person can truly believe,” they say. Such boastful claims to possess knowledge were as standard in the ancient world as they are now, but the Apostle John says, “Don’t let yourself be intimidated by the Gnostics. You are God’s children. And His Spirit within you is greater than influence in the world.”[16]Actually, John should not have needed to say this. They had the anointing of the Holy Spirit, and deep within, they knew they were right. But “modem ideas” can be very intimidating to weak Christians. Sometimes, there is a need for someone like John to stand up and boldly declare what the Gospel is.[17]

And such heralds of the Good News are needed today, states Eaton. The enemies of God’s people act as if they have super-intelligence, but in due time they simply crumble. Think of all the great enemies that the church of Jesus has faced. Examine the persecution, the tyranny of antichristian rulers has opposed Christians, the opposition to the church of Jesus that has arisen in the name of science, tolerance, or modern knowledge. It goes on for centuries. Satan raises one adversary after another, the enemy of the church. But today, number one, Christianity is believed and practiced worldwide.[18]

William Loader (1944) points out that the Apostle John’s readers are on God’s side. They belong to God’s family. The false prophets who left the community doubtless pose a major threat to the community and seek to undermine the member’s confidence in the teaching of their leaders. Thus, John reassures them[19] by reminding them that they have the true Spirit, just as he had before. They can hold out against the pressure of these false teachers by trusting the message they received from the beginning about the real Jesus and His very down-to-earth command to love.[20] So, victory was not attributed to debate, defense, or discussion but by the Love that persuaded them to leave the world and come into the kingdom of God.

Robert W. Yarbrough (1948) says that the Apostle John is optimistic. His readers, he asserts, “have prevailed over” the forces arrayed against them. It is not clear whether John has in mind antichrist and allied spirits, evil people in the world generally, those who have left the church, [21] or some combination of these. John declares victory whether he has any or all of these in view. While wrestling with the forces of evil, his readers have already defeated them. There are direct parallels here with Paul’s theology of the cross.[22] [23]

Colin G. Kruse (1950) notes that the Apostle John congratulates his readers having overcome their distractors, not by their unaided efforts, but because the One who is in them is greater than the one in the world. Accordingly, believers are not only “from God,” as this verse indicates, but also indwelt by God, [24] an indwelling initiated by the Spirit. The Spirit of God who indwells the believers is certainly greater than the spirit of antichrist, which operates in the secessionists. John speaks of the antichrist spirit operating in heretics as the “one who is in the world,” identifying with “the prince of this world” mentioned in his Gospel.[25] Having gone out from the community of believers, the secessionists are now part of the world. They have joined that part of humanity that hates the author’s community and is subject to the control of the evil one.[26] Nevertheless, true believers overcome the secessionists because they have God’s Spirit at work in them, so they reject these false prophets’ erroneous teaching.[27]


[1] Luke 12:32; Matthew 16:18

[2] Phillips, John: Exploring the First Epistle of John, op. cit., p. 132

[3] John 12:31

[4] 1 John 3:8

[5] Hiebert, David E., Bibliotheca Sacra, op. cit. October-December 1999, p.432

[6] See 1 John 4:1, 3, 5

[7] Cf. 1 John 3:4, 6, 9

[8] Cf. 1 John 2:19; 4:1

[9] See John 16:33

[10] Smalley, Stephen S., World Bible Commentary, Vol. 51, op. cit., p. 226

[11] Cf. John 8:44

[12] Malatesta, Edward J., Interiority and Covenant, op. cit., pp. 285-286

[13] 2 Kings 6:16

[14] Boice, James Montgomery: The Epistles of John, op. cit., p. 110

[15] Derickson, Stanley L., Notes on Theology, op. cit., p. 855

[16] 1 John 4:4

[17] Eaton, Michael: Focus on the Bible, 1,2,3 John, op. cit., pp 135-136

[18] Religion & Society’s 2020 statistics.

[19] 1 John 2:20, 27

[20] Loader, William: Epworth Commentary, op. cit., p. 50

[21] See 1 John 2:19

[22] Cf. Romans 8:37

[23] Yarbrough, Robert W., 1-3 John (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament), op. cit., p. 227

[24] 1 John 4:12-13, 15

[25] John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11

[26] Cf. 1 John 3:13; 5:19

[27] Kruse, Colin G., The Letters of John (The Pillar New Testament Commentary (PNTC)), op. cit., loc. cit., Kindle Edition


About drbob76

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