By Dr. Robert R Seyda


CHAPTER FIVE (Lesson XXIV) 10/31/22

5:4 because everyone who is a child of God has the power to win against the world.

German Reformed theologian Richard Rothe (1799-1867) hears the Apostle John explain why faithful Christians do not find God’s love-commandment complex or burdensome. For him, the last part of verse three should be joined to verse four, making it a single verse. What makes the keeping of God’s love commandment so confusing and taxing for many is the world’s evil spirit’s opposition to their reborn spirit. This war goes on around us physically and inside us spiritually. The main component of this conflict is those things contrary to God and His will. These must be the object of resistance and repulse for every believer. But this worldly antagonism has been overcome by the devoted Christian, in so far as being a Christian; they are a person born of God. It allows them to possess an abiding principle of the Anointed One, which is mightier than the world and its changing opinions.[1] In order to encourage his readers, John reminds them of the fact that they are born of God.[2]

Consistent with his research style, Heinrich A. W. Meyer (1800-1882) agrees with Dr. Rothe that the punctuation mark at the end of verse three cannot determine the promise of keeping God’s love commandment. Therefore, it is better to read in conjunction with verse four. We immediately see that the first clause of verse four is connected with the last words of verse three and presents why the command is not grievous or burdensome – namely because the one born of God overcomes the world. The Apostle John’s point here is that love for God motivates keeping His commandment, making them easy to carry. Overcoming the force that stands in opposition to God places the believer in a new position. The hostility which belongs to the world has faded, and love has taken its place. The spirit of love conquers all opposition; the command is complied with in love which is not a burden.[3]

According to Robert Jamieson (1802-1880), Andrew R. Fausset (1821-1910, and David Brown (1803-1897), they explain the reason why God’s commandments are not severe or painful is that God’s children obey Him and defeat sin and sinful pleasure by trusting the Anointed One to help them. Therefore, although there is conflict in keeping them, the goal for the regenerated congregation[4] is victory over every opposing sinful influence. Meanwhile, there is a present joy in each believer who supports them, making them “no burden.” As it were, the heavenly Father approved His Son’s prayer that everyone He gave Him join with Him in executing the divine plan: overcoming the world. The world consists of all that is opposed to keeping the commandments of God or draws us off from God, including our corrupt flesh, on which the world’s flatteries or threats act, and Satan, the prince of this world.[5] This is the victory that “overcomes” (Greek verb nikaō, aorist tense) has already overcome the world. Therefore, success (where faith is) implies “already obtained.”[6] [7] Our victory over the world’s attempts to draw us away from God and Faith is ours. Therefore, it is not our’s to win but to lose.

Without overlooking what’s crucial, Johann E. Huther (1807-1880) understands that the information in verse four confirms the initial thought in verse three. He also notes that John uses the Greek neuter verb gennaō (“born”) here as well as in his Gospel.[8]  It serves “to designate a general category.”[9] Accordingly, it is not to describe the character but the person.[10]

Using his poetic eyes and mind, songwriter and theologian Christopher Wordsworth (1807-1885) – nephew of the great lake-poet, William Wordsworth,  concludes that the Apostle John no doubt wrote this challenge in opposition to the Cerinthians. They separated the man Jesus from the divine Anointed One. Regardless, our regeneration derives from the generation of the Son of God through His incarnation. Since Jesus is the midwife, so to speak, we cannot be born and delivered to God as one of His children unless we believe Jesus is the only One who gives spiritual life. This way, we are fully united with God through His divinely human Son. How else could we have communion with God? And the benefit of being in union with the Anointed One and the grace of His anointing is maintained by feeding on Him because He is the only one who can sustain our eternal life.[11] That’s why John could confidently say that obeying God through the Anointed One’s teaching is not burdensome.[12] As such, those whom God births continue to be energized by the principles of their new life imparted to them in regeneration.

Therefore, by faith, we professed the Anointed One to be our Savior, and through that faith, we can overcome the world’s constant temptations. The writer of Hebrews tells us that all the past saints had great faith. And with that faith, they defeated kingdoms. They did what was right, and God helped them in the ways He promised. With their dedication, some people closed the mouths of lions.[13] These “lions” are understood figuratively. For instance, King Richard of England was called the “lionhearted,” and King William I of Scotland the “Lion.” Just like the Lion is the king of the jungle, we have the Lion of the Tribe of Judah,[14] and for this reason, Christian champions of faith became Kings of the world of kings. So, John is saying that the belief we profess in the Anointed One not only has conquered but will conquer. That’s why we often call faith “victory” because He who gave us confidence was a Victor.[15] And it is this same faith that unites believers to the Anointed One, the Universal Conqueror and Giver of Victory.[16] [17]

There are lines in one of America’s patriotic songs that read: “He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat. . . So be swift, my soul, to answer Him! Be jubilant, my feet! Our God is marching on.”[18]It is what the Apostle John is trying to convey to his readers, many of whom were still struggling to live a Christian life in a sinful and dying world. And the same call goes for us today because retreat is never an option.

Professor of Ancient Languages at Wesleyan University in Connecticut, Daniel D. Whedon (1808-1885), studied law, then had years of pastoral experience, artfully mentions that overcoming the world is key to John’s revelation.[19] It implies that the hostile world seeks, both by temptations and persecutions, to seduce or destroy God’s children. Remember, faith in the Anointed One constitutes the victory of the faithful over all the distractions of the world. Commencing this verse indicates that it gives a reason why our Lord’s love commandment is not grievous but joyous. Faith and victory render exultant obedience to His commandments a delight. Confidence in their leader and assurance and enjoyment of success motivates Christian soldiers to be joyously obedient to their Commander in Chief’s orders.[20]

In line with the Apostle John’s thinking, English churchman, theologian, textual critic, scholar, poet, hymnodist, and writer Henry Alford (1810-1871) explores why God’s love commandment is not a burden we must carry against our will. First, he makes note that in the phrase, “all that is born of God,” The Apostel John used the neuter verb for “born” as a collection of all believers together under the category “spiritually birthed by God.” So, John uses a comprehensive class to show that there are no believers who are not born by God’s Spirit. Just as the angel said to the Virgin Mary, the “Holy Spirit will come upon you,” so in our new birth; it is the Holy Spirit who comes upon us to bring about our spiritual birth.

The argument then is this: God’s love-commandment is not grievous, says Alford: for, although in keeping them there is ever a conflict, yet that fight results in universal victory: the whole mass of the born-of-God class conquer the world: therefore, none of us need to contemplate failure or faint individually because the struggle is a hard one. Moreover, Jesus already triumpht over the world’s sinful temptations; all we have to do is exercise the same authority in His Name. But, says John, we keep our sinful tendencies from falling prey to Satan’s trap by “faith.” By “faith,” John means confidence in our belief system based on the work of Jesus the Anointed One. Knowing what He did for us should be a sufficient reason for rejecting what the world is offering. But, unfortunately, although our minds may be agreeable, our bodies and passions are not. God will not take control of our overcoming; we must accomplish that through the power and authority of the Holy Spirit abiding in us. The Apostle Paul lists it as one of Love’s fruit produced in our reborn spirit. It is called “Self-Control.”[21]

I can tell you from personal experience that I have always loved anything connected with cheese. But when I discovered I had several clogged arteries that restricted blood flow, I could have prayed day and night for God to take away my love of cheese, but it would have done me no good. That had to be my decision. Was I going to keep my habit of overeating cheese and shorten my life, or say goodbye to cheese and live longer to serve God? With the help of my persistent and faithful wife, I was able to overcome the constant and use it moderately temptation of cheese. It’s the same way with the “sinful cheese,” so to speak. God will not implement that choice for you, but you can make it with God’s help and others who love you. Alford adds that John’s crediting victory to the faith, which won, is a concise and emphatic way of linking the two inseparably virtues so that wherever there is faith, there is victory.[22] [23]

Irish Presbyterian minister William Graham (1810-1883) focuses on the substance of verses three, four, and five. The fourth verse shows the connection this way: “The love of God and the keeping of His commands are possible, but this cannot be done without faith; and His commands are not burdensome, because whoever is born of God overcomes the world.” This world-conquering faith in God and His Word makes God’s commands easy to obey. But, on the other hand, God’s commands are burdensome for those not born of God and even impossible for those who remain fascinated by what the world offers. But for the sincere and humble Christian, born from above in whom the spirit of love dwells, the commands of God are not overbearing.[24] [25]

English churchman and academic, known as a classical scholar William Edward Jelf (1811-1875) states that the Apostle John now gives a reason why God’s commands, including the most difficult of all, love for others instead of love of self, are not heavy and problematic; even though most people would think and say so. The reason is that Christians, born again of Divine seed into the Divine nature, have power from above so that believers can live and move in the natural world and sphere of self and have their existence as children in God’s family.[26] [27]

[1] 1 John 4:4

[2] Rothe, Richard: Exposition of the First Epistle of St. John, op. cit., The Expository Times, 1895, p. 177

[3] Meyer, Heinrich A. W., Critical Exegetical Handbook New Testament, op. cit., pp. 811-812

[4] John 3:6; 6:37, 39

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

[6] 1 John 2:13; 4:4

[7] Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, One Volume, op. cit., p. 1509

[8] John 3:6

[9] See Meyer, Heinrich A. W., Critical Exegetical Handbook New Testament, John 3:6, p. 125

[10] Huther, Johann E., Critical and Exegetical Handbook on the General Epistles, op. cit., p. 502

[11] See John 6:53

[12] See Matthew 11:30; Philippians 4:13; 1 Corinthians 15:10

[13] Daniel 6:22; 2 Timothy 4:17; Hebrews 11:33

[14] Revelation 5:5

[15] Cf. John 11:25

[16] 1 Corinthians 15:57; Revelation 6:2

[17] Wordsworth, Christopher: New Testament of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Vol. II, p. 122

[18] The Battle Hymn of the Republic, written by Julia Ward Howe, 1861

[19] Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 26

[20] Whedon, Daniel D., Commentary on the New Testament, op. cit., p. 275

[21] Galatians 5:23; cf. 2 Peter 1:6

[22] See 1 John 2:13; 4:4

[23] Alford, Henry: The Greek Testament, op. cit., Vol. IV, pp. 497- 498

[24] See Romans 14:23; John 6:37, 39; 17:2

[25] Graham, William: The Spirit of Love, op. cit., p. 311

[26] Acts of the Apostles 17:28

[27] Jelf, William E., Commentary on the First Epistle of St. John, op. cit., p. 70

About drbob76

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