by Dr. Robert R Seyda


CHAPTER FOUR (Lesson XXXIV) 03/07/22

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

William E. Jelf (1811-1875) says that the difference between the sphere in which the false teachers and Christian teachers move enforces the necessary difference between their teaching and the Church. The false prophets belong to the pagan world and view things from a heathen viewpoint. They teach mere principles of reasoning for belief and conduct. Even in the hands of astute heathen philosophers, they were false and inferior. They were simply secular views and sinful habits acknowledged and acted upon in the practical sense. The world naturally receives and approves these spewed principles, and would probably receive Christianity as a mere human scheme of religious belief and practice if it were the way they wanted it to be.[1]

Johannes H. A. Ebrard (1818-1888) points to the essence of the teaching of those infected with the antichrist spirit. Instead of repentance, they teach carelessness is okay; instead of humility, they advise that pride is alright; instead of love, they explain that lust of the eye is acceptable; instead of renunciation of the world, instruct that pride of life can be tolerated; instead of the crucifixion of the flesh, and they lecture that the lust of the flesh is manageable. And therefore, the core of their teaching, despite all its pretend Christianity, infatuates the whole world. Thus, “the world loves to hear them;” to swallow these so-called theories of wisdom as sweet morsels. It makes them rejoice in retaining its worldly nature while it is secure and receiving double honor – first, the Christian name, and then recognized as a Christian over and above the world. But, indeed, it is only the world which such fanatics can deceive.[2]

William B. Pope (1822-1903) points out that the indwelling God of chapter three, verse twenty-four, by their excellent faith in the strength of Him who is greater than he that is in the world, gave the believers the victory over all the seducers who left the congregation. Its prince is the antichrist spirit. But now, they needed to be warned that this antichrist spirit was attempting to invade the Church. So, the true believer’s victory over this worldly doctrine will be by the same faith that helped them triumph before as taught by those whom the world loves to hear, this kingdom of darkness principles breath the spirit of human reason. So, since they are not of the World, don’t bother to listen to them.[3]

Brooke F. Westcott (1825-1901) says that if we look at the characteristics of those who listen and believe these worldly speakers, we can see through their speech what these speakers’ character looks like. These impostors draw the spirit and the substance of their teaching from the world’s mindset and, therefore, it finds acceptance of like nature. As the old saying goes, “Birds of the same feather flock together.”[4] In the order of the original: “They are of the world, they speak of the world, and the world hears them.” Even today, those so-called religious experts constantly borrow from the world’s logic, philosophy, and ethics yet claim that they are not of the world.[5] They fail the Apostle John’s test miserably.[6]

In speaking of those in the world, Henry A. Sawtelle (1832-1913) calls “being of one nature with the world,” implying that words belonging to false teachers are now expressly stated. They may be enrolled in some church bearing the Christian name; they may profess to be the only consistent expounders of Christianity; they may even claim the anointing of the divine Spirit. But in truth, they are wholly immersed in worldly influence, still unconverted, still in their sins. They may have an intense religiosity, but not God’s Spirit.[7]

Marvin Vincent (1834-1921) says that this verse contains some unclear rendering of the Greek. It might be interpreted as “they speak concerning the world.” But literally: “they speak out of the world.” That is, the character of their utterances corresponds to their origin. The Revised Version has, “speak they as of the world.” The position of the world in the sentence is emphatic: “it is out of the world that they speak.”[8]

Alfred Plummer (1841-1926) says that these false prophets have gone out into the world on a mission of evil from their cave of ignorance. This world is regarded as the sphere in which they are to propagate their repudiations of the Apostle John’s Gospel. This is but one of the many forms in which Scripture sets forth the mysterious conflict between good and evil, with the world as its theater and the witness. The struggle is between (1) the serpent’s seed and Eve’s seed; (2) the Anointed One and the tempter; (3) the Anointed One and the world; (4) the tempter and the individual; (5) error and truth; (6) the Church and the world; (7) the Church and antichrist spirit; (8) the antichristian delegation and the body of believers.[9]

Professor F. F. Bruce (1910-1990) asks why leaders, with their followers, of the opposition party, said to be “of the world,” and is it relevant for today? Yes, he says because the philosophy they endeavor to harmonize with the Gospel, depriving it of what makes it the Gospel, is current secular philosophy, the prevailing climate of opinion; as we say in German, “Zeitgeist.”[10] We have already seen that there is no form of “worldliness” so unfriendly to Christianity as this kind of “restatement.” Such a restatement is pleasant to “the world” because it aligns with contemporary fashion. Nevertheless, it is doomed to pass away because it loses its appeal with a change in style, which the Gospel never does. The Gospel, like its faithful preachers, is “of God,” and the people of God recognize it through the inward witness of the Spirit.[11] They are thus in no danger of confusing “the Spirit of truth” with “the ghost of error.”[12] [13]

John Phillips (1927-2010) notes that a great divide exists between those with secular interests and those with spiritual interests. The Apostle John mentions, first, those with worldly interests. He says here in verse five, “Those people belong to this world, so they speak from the world’s viewpoint, and the world listens to them.” The world is Satan’s sphere of operation. Many are actually lying in his lap.[14] A sharp line was drawn between the world and the Church during the early church days. So long as the world turned a glaring face at those who loved Jesus, it was not hard to visualize the world as a foe. When, however, the world began to turn a smiling face toward the Church, it was not easy recognizing them as foes. For the first three hundred years of the Church, the world sent tidal waves of persecution against the people of God. Then, as a result of the work of Roman Emperor Constantine, after that, the world was in Church. And as a result, the Church’s influence on the world became political rather than spiritual. Thus, John writes in terms of “they” and “we.”[15]

Raymond E. Brown (1928-1998) points out that the phrase, “therefore speak they of the world” (KJV); “therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world” (NIV). It points to “the message they bring is established by where they come from.” It should be no bigger surprise than knowing that a person speaking English comes from Germany, France, England, Australia, or Jamaica by their accent. Likewise, in the case here, says Brown, what these outsiders are saying can easily be detected speaking worldly things because they are using a worldly dialect. This clearly establishes the relationship of speech to the origin of the speaker. And besides affirming that this language belongs naturally to the world, it also helps us understand why the world recognizes it. We had a comparable situation when the Pharisees complained about the success of Jesus in somewhat similar terms: “Look how the whole world has gone after Him!”[16] That was because they recognized His place of origin – Galilee. The same was true of these secessionists in following the worldly speakers. The Greek verb akouō implies “hears” (KJV) “listens” (NIV). Thus, John shifts from “speaking” to “listening,” and that theme will dominate in the next verse.[17]

David E. Hiebert (1928-1995)says that their message defines them because these secular speakers are rooted in the world. They draw the substance of their teaching from the philosophy of the godless world, indicating that they have no connection with the divine fountain of revealed truth. The present tense verb “they speak” portrays them as continually presenting their message from the world’s viewpoint. They confirm the words of Jesus: “The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is from the earth belongs to the earth, and speaks as one from the earth. The one who comes from heaven is above all.”[18] In adjusting and restating the content of their message to harmonize with the spirit and philosophy of the world, they distort and deform God’s message. The truth of the matter is this; there is nothing more harmful to Christianity in this world than their reinterpreting the Gospel.[19]

Simon J. Kistemaker (1930-2017) says that John voices the quiet confidence in these verses of knowing that God and His people are one. However, John does not minimize our responsibility to do God’s will in this assurance. We, who are from God, have received the knowledge of God’s truth has the duty to tell people about it are His representatives. John stresses the word “we” by placing it at the beginning of the sentence. We, who are God’s children, proclaim the Word. When we do so, we receive a hearing from everyone who knows God. John echoes the words of Jesus: “Whoever is born of God listens to God’s Word.”[20] Why do God’s people listen to preachers? Because preachers proclaim God’s Word and that Word has divine authority When the preacher speaks, His people hear God’s voice.

[1] Jelf, William E., Commentary of the First Epistle of St. John, op. cit., pp. 58-59

[2] Ebrard, Johannes: Biblical Commentary on the Epistles of St. John, p.284

[3] Pope, William B., Popular Commentary, op. cit., pp. 314-315

[4] The phrase ‘birds of the same feather flock together’ is at least over 476 years old. It was in use as far back as the mid-16th century. Early British Anglican Reformation leader Dr. William Turner is said to have used a version of this expression in The Huntyng and Fyndyng out of the Romish fox, from the year 1545: “Byrdes of on kynde and color flok and flye allwayes together.” He was speaking of the Roman Catholic Church.

[5] For instance: The Secular City by Harvey Cox; Situation Ethics by Joseph Fletcher; The Nature and Destiny of Man by Reinhold Niebuhr, et., al.

[6] Westcott, Brooke, F., The Epistles of St. John, op. cit., p. 145

[7] Sawtelle, Henry A., An American Commentary, Alvah Hovey Ed., op. cit., p. 47

[8] Vincent, Marvin R: Word Studies in the New Testament, Vol. II, op. cit., p. 356

[9] Plummer, Alfred: First Epistle of John, Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 22, Exposition, op. cit., p. 107

[10] Zeitgeist means the defining spirit or mood of a particular period of history as shown by the ideas and beliefs of the time – “spirit of the time

[11] Cf. 1 John 5:7-11

[12] Ibid. 2:26

[13] Bruce, F. F., The Epistles of John: A Verse-by-Verse Exposition. Kingsley Books, Inc. Kindle Edition.

[14] 1 John 5:19

[15] Phillips, John: Exploring the First Epistle of John, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 133

[16] John 12:19

[17] Brown, Raymond E., The Anchor Bible, op. cit., Vol. 30, p. 498

[18] John 3:31

[19] Hiebert, David E., Bibliotheca Sacra, op. cit., October-December 1999, p.433

[20] John 8:47; cf. 10:27

About drbob76

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