WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

by Dr. Robert R Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER FOUR (Lesson XXXV) 03/04/22

4:5 These people belong to this world, so, quite naturally, they are concerned about worldly affairs, and the world pays attention to them.

History tells us that Jewish rebel Theudas (died 46 AD)[1] came on the scene a few years after Jesus’ ascension, but I’m sure Jesus knew about this, and that’s why He warns His disciples here about false Messiahs.  Jesus wanted to emphasize this difference between Him and those who claimed to know the truth. He said to His accusers once, “You people are from here below, but I am from above. You belong to this world, but I don’t belong to this world.[2] Many believers think that Jesus was the only prophet around during His day, but these scriptures prove otherwise. Jesus knew that these pseudo-Messiahs could persuade others, but He did not want them to mislead His disciples.

False prophets find the source of their teaching in the satanic world system. They do not understand God’s viewpoint on life. God’s apostles are “of God” and speak from God. Note the contrast between “of the world” and “of God.”[3]  These phony teachers talk from the world system perspective. Their message is consistent with the character of its satanic source. Those who reject the Anointed One find comfort in deceitful teaching. These bogus teachers produce proselytes who relate because of shared values. Such misinformed teachers tell people what they want to hear. It makes their message invariably fashionable and popular. The world loves their language, but their ideas never rise higher than human logic. Therefore, dishonest popularists consistently conform to the world system. The source of their character and teaching is the world from which they derive their inspiration. So, once again, [4] we have an echo of the Anointed One’s last discourses: “If you are worldly, the world will love you as one of them.”[5]

COMMENTARY

Bede the Venerable (672-735 AD) seems to summarize verse five very well. He starts by saying that the antichrists are worldly minded; they belong to those familiar with worldly things, who look for the lowest-of-the-low, and who willingly but ignorantly turn their backs on all that God has revealed. Therefore, they talk like sophisticated people, using human reason to oppose the Christian faith. For example, they say that the Son of God cannot be coeternal with the Father. They also reject that a virgin can give birth, that flesh cannot rise again from the dust, that a person born on earth cannot inherit a heavenly home, that a newborn baby cannot be tainted with the guilt of original sin. The world listens to them because they are unable to win spiritually minded hearts away from the simplicity of their faith and call them back into fleshly desires.[6]

John Calvin (1509-1564) tells us that it is no small consolation that they who dare to assault the God in us, only have the world to aid and help them. And by “world,” the Apostle means that portion of humanity over which Satan is the prince. Another consolation is added when he says that the world embraces misleading prophets that it acknowledges as its own.[7] We see what great tendency to self-importance and untruthfulness there are in people. Hence, fictitious doctrines easily penetrate and spread far and wide. Nevertheless, the Apostle John is confident that there is no reason we should let this disturb us, for it is nothing new or unusual that the mistaken world should believe such misleading teachings.[8]

John Trapp (1601-1669) looks at the Apostle John’s mention of those in the world who follow the will of the antichrist spirit. To call them seducers is very appropriate. They are from beneath; we are from above, with faith in the Anointed One.[9] They are like water. Water does not rise (unless forced) above its source. Secular teachers gratify their hearers by always being on their side. The Vatican, in their petition to King James for tolerance, plead this as an argument: Their religion is agreeable to human nature: and indeed, it is an alluring, tempting, bewitching religion, giving way to all licentiousness and lust. Mohammed, in his Koran, tells his followers concerning immorality[10] that God did not give humans such appetites for them to be frustrated; instead, enjoy them. They were made for mankind’s pleasure, not for their torment, and a great deal more of such worthless talk. [11]

Matthew Poole (1624-1679) reminds us that just like the Apostles, our doctrine and methods proceed from God and are only meant to serve, please, glorify, and draw listeners to Him. Therefore, those who personally know God are His children and talk to Him regularly. These words are grateful and delicious[12] because we have no other aim than to promote serious godliness. This is the only way they will be able to spot the spirit of truth and the spirit of error in matters of this nature. The spirit of truth is next to purity, holiness, and a godly life; the spirit of error is related to sensuality and designed only to gratify our animal instincts.[13]

Daniel Whitby (1638-1726) states that the hopes of dominion over the heathens encouraged some of them to get ready for the Messiah and others to fight. See the testimonies of Josephus, [14] and note what the Apostle James had to say.[15] And for this reason, they rejected the true Messiah because His kingdom was not of this world.”[16]

William Burkitt (1650-1703) explains that those worldly teachers preach a doctrine suitable to the lusts and inclinations of sophisticated people, who are anxious to hear them and easily believe them. Ordinarily, our words tell others what we are. But those of the world must speak of worldly, things, for they have nothing else to talk about. So, the envious person speaks with bitterness and the proud individual with conceit.[17]

John Brown of Haddington (1722-1787) alerts us that these imposters’ views, interests, and doctrines are related to the riches, honors, and pleasures of this present sinful world. Therefore, they propagate such secular dominion and grandeur and make it acceptable to nonspiritual people. As a result, it follows that those who listened to this materialistic gospel and placed their happiness in worldly things drink in their false doctrine because it fits the taste of their sinful tendencies’ appetite.[18]

Richard Rothe (1799-1867) notes that the Apostle John tells us that the world listens to these false prophets. Why would they be so interested to hear what they have to say? In the first place, says Rothe, the world understands them, and, secondly, they applaud them. The world only understands the Gospel concept when it is lowered to their level of faulty thinking. The world is unaware of how such flawed thinking can lead to a conflict of thought and miscomprehension of the Gospel. They will find no level ground in which to come to a realistic understanding of the Gospel’s truth and mission. The fact that the world persuades itself that the Gospel is nonsense from the mind of the Anointed One is a delusion. They are not satisfied that the Gospel is bonậfide (French for “good faith”) and can be trusted. It is the world’s responsibility to take that leap of faith and say, “I will believe it until someone proves it false.”[19]

Alfred Plummer (1841-1926) says that the phrase in the KJV “therefore speak they of the world” could also be rendered as “therefore of the world they speak.”[20] The Greek word order is impressive and worth preserving. It literally reads: “they OUT Of-THE-SYSTEM are THROUGH this OUT OF THE SYSTEM THEY-ARE-TALKING AND THE SYSTEM OF-them IS-HEARING.”[21] The remarkable repetition of “the world” is very characteristic of the Apostle John’s writing style.[22] Compare, “the one who is from the earth is of the earth and speaks of the earth.[23] However, “to speak of the earth” or “earthly things”’ is to speak of God’s work on earth, whereas “to speak of the world” is to communicate what is unfamiliar with God’s work and opposed to it. “To speak of” is not the same as “to speak concerning.[24]To speak of the world” is to have the world as the source of one’s words so that one’s inspiration flows from it: and of course, the world “hears” what it loves to hear, logic that defines itself.[25]

Albert Barnes (1798-1870) notes that those the Apostle John implicates as speaking of the world must mean that their conversation pertained to the things of this world. They were influenced by the love of the world in the doctrines they taught, and not by the Spirit of God. The general sense is that they had no higher ends and aims than they have, influenced only by worldly plans and expectations.[26]


[1] Cf. Mark 13:6

[2] John 8:23

[3] 1 John 4:4

[4] See 1 John 3:23

[5] John 15:19

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

[7] Footnote 85: The clause, “therefore speak they of the world,” is hardly a true rendering, “for” never means “of,” in the sense of “concerning.” Macknight renders it “from.” Grotius paraphrases the sentence this way, “They preach things agreeable to the dispositions of the world;” and Doddridge thus, “They speak as of the world, as taking their instructions from it.” But ἐκ, like ex in Latin, sometimes means “according to,” as in Matthew 12;37, “For by (or, according to) thy words thou shalt be justified.” See also verse 34, “but of (or, according to) the abundance,” etc. Then this sentence may be rendered as follows: “Therefore they speak according to the world:” that is, according to the views and principles of the superstitious and ungodly people of the world. — Ed

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

[9] See John 8:23

[10] See Early Modern Tales of the Orient: A Critical Anthology, Ed. Kenneth Parker, Routledge, London, 1999, Ch. 9, Sir Henry Blount, p. 181

[11] Trapp, John, op. cit., p. 476

[12] John 8:47

[13] Poole, John: op. cit., loc. cit.

[14] Josephus, Flavius: The Testimonium Flavianum, Bk. 18, Ch. 1

[15] James 4:1-3

[16] Whitby, Daniel: Paraphrase and Annotations, p. 467

[17] Burkitt, William: Expository Notes, op. cit., p. 730

[18] Brown, John of Haddington: Self-Interpreting Bible, op. cit., p. 1327

[19] Rothe, Richard: The Expository Times, December 1893, p. 125

[20] See John 3:31

[21] See 1 John 3:1

[22] For example: John 1:10; 3:17;1519; 17:14

[23] John 3:31

[24] See 1 John 5:16; John 1:22, 47; 2:21

[25] Plummer, Alfred: Cambridge Commentary, op. cit., p. 145

[26] Barnes, Albert: Notes on N.T., op. cit., p. 4861

About drbob76

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