By Dr. Robert R. Seyda


CHAPTER FIVE (Lesson XXVI) 11/17/22

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

It is not the mere fact of having received the Divine birth that John insists on, notes Plummer, but the permanent results of that birth.[1] This is the victory that overcomes! Better, the conquest that subdued the world is this victory won once and for all.[2] So faith, which is “the proof of things not seen,”[3] which “are eternal,”[4] has conquered the visible world and, is on its way out.[5] Faith is both the victory and the victor by the faith that has won a decisive victory, the believer conquers.[6]

A prolific writer on the Epistles, George G. Findlay (1849-1919) notes that it was a dismal world the Apostle John surveyed – a world with Roman Domitian for its emperor, Juvenal for its poet, and Tacitus for its historian. People lay crushed beneath the tyrannies and evils of that age in all directions. Nowhere, except in the Christian camp, are John and his comrades standing erect and free, confident and resourceful. So, cries the Apostle, “Who are they that overcome the world?” Then he answers his question, “none except those that believe Jesus is the Son of God!” Victory is the word in which, at this threatening hour, the last of the Apostles sums up his personal experience and records the issue of the first grand campaign of the Anointed One’s kingdom, during which its future course and history had been rehearsed. He sees “the darkness of ignorance passing away, and the true light of the Gospel already shining.” That is why Jesus was bold enough to say, with Gethsemane and Calvary beckoning Him, “Be of good cheer: I have overcome the world!”[7] [8]

In agreement with the Apostle John’s goals, William Macdonald Sinclair (1850-1917) finds that one of the difficulties believers encounter in keeping God’s commands is coping with worldly opposition and influence. Nevertheless, you are a faithful child of God. You fight as a conqueror because God is in you; God overcame the world in the Anointed One and is still conquering evil through His sons and daughters: so that all His mandates are friendly.[9] The Apostle John then injects a new thought suitable to the mood of the passage, which establishes that faith is the measure of love. As human instruments achieve the conquest that is overcoming worldliness, its agent may be regarded as our faith, which appropriates the Anointed One’s work, and carries it out for Him and through Him.[10] [11]

Undoubtingly, says Charles Gore (1853-1932) the victory which overcame the world represents “our faith.” But the context shows that the faith the Apostle John is thinking of is an assurance resting upon facts of experience – the truths of the Anointed One’s human life, which justifies the belief in the divine sonship of those born again. The victory of our faith depends upon the triumph by Him in whom we have believed. It is His victory appropriated by us.[12]

A Church Pulpit Commentary contributor Archdeacon Henry Edward James Bevan (1854-1935) an English Anglican priest explains that “faith” has two meanings in the Final Covenant. The Apostle John uses it in a concrete sense of a definite form of belief embodied in a Christian Creed such as “One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism.” But more commonly, it is used in an abstract sense, of the moral quality of the soul – a quality which may be, and which is, as frequently employed in the secular life as in the spiritual. Just as the art of painting is related to a particular painter or picture, so is faith as a moral quality related to a specific group or teachings. Our Lord likens the moral quality called faith to the vital force which lives and works in nature: “‘If you have faith the size of a mustard seed … nothing will be impossible to you.[13]

We must also recognize that faith is a quality that ensures a believer’s growth and maturity. It does not operate suddenly or make instant miraculous changes; it takes time like the mustard seed, it is faith that removes mountains of difficulty, that overcomes the multiple dangers, oppositions, weaknesses, and impossibilities, of this mortal life of ours, and casts them into the sea of human triumph. When we examine intellectual effort, it points out the difference between competent and incompetent teachers. The truth is that one believes, and the other does not believe in how practical their training and instruction areee to their students. A good teacher believes that their efforts will never be wasted no matter how unpromising the soil on which the good seed is sown.[14]

Beyond doubt, Alonzo Rice Cocke (1858-1901) agrees that the specific form of life that God filled us with is to defeat worldly temptations, and the one source for victory is faith. The Apostle John does not say by faith we attain success. He says faith is itself the victory that overcomes the world. Faith gains strength in victory by withstanding worldly conflicts. When faith remains steadfast in its quiet, healthy process of development, the whole subsequent Christian life is nothing else than a continuation of the victory over the world. The Anointed One says not that He will, but He has overcome the world,[15] and bids believers rejoice in this assurance; so, faith, by fellowship with the Anointed One, thus sharing in His victory over the world. Therefore, we must be distrustful of all efforts to cure the evils of the world that do not rest upon this foundation; even though they may accomplish single reforms, a radical cure of the disease is not to be affected by such means. The Anointed One gained this victory, and harvesting its fruit is still going on.[16]

In reviewing the Apostle John’s theme here, Archibald T. Robertson (1863-1934) states that God’s commandments are not heavy because of the power that comes with the new birth. Jesus won the victory over the world,[17] and God in us[18] gives us the victory. Even our faith. Our faith in Jesus the Anointed One is shown by our confession and conduct.[19]

In characteristic fashion, Alan England Brooke (1863-1939) sees in verse four the power each Christian has in virtue of the new birth from God. The Apostle John emphasizes the power of the new delivery rather than its possession by each individual. Everyone born of God has within themselves a force strong enough to overcome the resistance of all the world’s evil powers, which hinders them from loving God. Our faith that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah, the Son of God, is accepted not as an intellectual conviction but as a principle of life, overcoming the powers of the world, which contend for a different lifestyle. John must be thinking of the conversion of each community member. The most natural reference is to the definite withdrawal of the false teachers from the fellowship of the Church. There is no apparent reference to the victory of the Anointed One over the world,[20] which His followers share in virtue of their faith in so far as they unite themselves with Him.[21]

With an eye for detail, David Smith (1866-1932) proposes that the reason why “God’s commandments are not heavy” is that our faith conquers the world by clinging to God’s eternal principles and realities. We must believe that, despite our appearance, we are God’s, and God is in us and working His saving will in us. The Apostle John begins with “conquering” because the fight is in progress, then “overcoming” because the victory is assured.[22]

As a spiritual mentor, Ronald A. Ward (1920-1986) feels that the Apostle John’s message in verse four is that everything born of God conquers the world. So that leaves the question do they overcome? One thing John know is that it is not the properties but the persons. John emphasizes the totality and the experience. This means that the key to winning was faith. In addition, John sees the victory as in the past “the victory that overcame the world,[23] and in the continuous present “overcomes the world.”[24] [25]

In a somewhat confrontational way, Peter S. Ruckman (1921-2016) points out that in the KJV the Apostle John says, “whatsoever,” not “whosoever.” The Greek adjective pas means each, every, any, all, everyone, and everything. Collectively, pas implies some of all types. In his Lexicon, Strong tells us that in verse four it is neuter meaning “anything and everything.” From the context, John is not referring to trees, animals, mountains, etc., but to each child of God since they have God’s power against the evil one and his world.[26]

As a capable scripture analyst Ian Howard Marshall (1934-2015) questions that in light of all the Apostle John has said so far, how can the believer keep God’s commandments to perfection? The Apostle answers that God has given believers the power to conquer the forces of temptation that would hinder them corm carrying out His will. Everyone born of God has defeated the world by the power given to them that enables them to vanquish false prophets[27] and also empowers them to subdue the world with all its temptations. And what is this power? Faith fuels our victory. The fact that we hold steadfast faith in our hearts is the means whereby the new world’s power operates in us and allows us to subdue the world’s attractions.

It is striking that John says that we have gained control over the world. Perhaps he is thinking of the completed victory of Jesus, which repeats itself in the life of the Christian.[28] Or maybe we should take John’s meaning to be: “this is the means of victory, namely what we believe about Jesus who has already overcome the world.” To believe that Jesus has been victorious is to have the power that enables us also to win the battle, for we know that our enemy is already defeated and therefore powerless. And it is precisely faith that we need.

Sometimes, the power of evil appears uncontrollable to the natural eye, and to the weak Christian, the force of temptation seems irresistible. It requires a firm belief in Jesus to motivate us to dismiss sin’s enticing, uncontrollable evil as an illusion to escape the conflict. But that is far from the truth; it is right in the middle of evil’s display of power that the believer confronts its challenge and proclaims the superior might of Jesus. Such faith is far from being a wish fulfillment or sheer illusion. On the contrary, it rests squarely on the truth that Jesus the Anointed One has triumphed over death, and anybody who can defeat death can destroy anything.[29]

[1] Cf. John 3:6, 8

[2] Ibid. 16:33

[3] Hebrews 11:1

[4] 2 Corinthians 4:18

[5] 1 John 2:17

[6] Plummer, Alfred: The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges, op. cit., First Epistle of St. John, pp. 156-157

[7] John 16:33

[8] Findlay, George G: Fellowship in the Life Eternal: An Exposition of the Epistles of St. John, op. cit., p. 359

[9] Cf. 1 John 3:9; 4:4; John 16:33

[10] Cf. 1 John 2:13-14, 23; 4:4; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57

[11] Sinclair, W. M: New Testament Commentary for English Readers, Charles J. Ellicott, (Ed.), op. cit., Vol. III, pp. 490-491

[12] Gore, Charles: The Epistles of St. John, op. cit., p. 195

[13] Matthew 17:20

[14] Bevan, Henry Edward James: The Church Pulpit Commentary, op. cit., Vol. 12, The Victory of Faith, pp. 316-318

[15] John 16:33

[16] Cocke, Alonzo R: Studies in the Epistles of John; or, The Manifested Life, op. cit., p. 123

[17] John 16:13

[18] 1 John 4:4

[19] Robertson, Archibald T., Word Pictures of the New Testament, op. cit., pp. 1966-1967

[20] John 16:33

[21] Brooke, Alan E., Critical and Expository Commentary of the Johannine Epistles, op. cit., pp. 130-131

[22] Smith, David: Expositor’s Greek Testament, op. cit., p. 194

[23] See 1 John 2:13

[24] Ibid. 5:4; 5:5

[25] Ward, Ronald A., The Epistles on John and Jude, op. cit., p. 54

[26] Ruckman, Dr. Peter S., General Epistles Vol. 2 (1-2-3 John, Jude Commentary), op. cit., loc. cit. Kindle Edition

[27] 1 John 4:4

[28] John 16:13

[29] Marshall, Ian Howard: The Epistles of John (The New International Commentary on the New Testament), op. cit., pp. 228-229

About drbob76

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