NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
By Dr. Robert R. Seyda
FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN
CHAPTER FIVE (Lesson XXXI) 11/24/22
5:5 But who could fight and win this battle except by believing that Jesus is actually God’s Son?
But the appeal the Apostle John so confidently made in his time is valid today. We may ask, as he did, where is there one who shows that they have obtained a complete victory over the world, except the faithful Christian? Barnes also wants to know whether there is anyone whose aim is not to stay alive. Furthermore, is there anyone who shows that their purposes regarding this world are subordinate to the world to come?
Surely, there are those now, as there were then, who break away from one form of sin and their circle of sinful companions. Yes, some change the enthusiastic passions of youth for the soberness of adult life; some see the folly of partying, carousing, and overindulgence; there are those who are disappointed in some ambitious endeavor and who withdraw from social contacts; there are those who, oppressed with the way things are going in the world are satisfied with sticking to their habits, and there are those whose hearts are crushed and broken by losses. If such sorrows and disappointments are surrendered to the Savior, as they sometimes do; if they lead the troubled mind to seek peace in His blood and support in the hope of heaven, then a real victory is obtained over the world. Then, when the hardship is over, they will see that there has been a work of grace in the soul that has effectually changed all its feelings and secured a triumph that shall be eternal.
With impressive theological vision, Richard Rothe (1799-1867) sees that verse five contains an expressed proof of the position that faith in Jesus as the Anointed One is the real power whereby they that are born of God overcome the world. The Apostle John appeals directly and boldly to his readers’ immediate consciousness and experience and asks them the question, “Who else than those that believe in Jesus as the Son of God overcomes the world?” It is a question of triumphant confidence in the indisputable truth of his assertion. Who can claim, like the Christian, to have overcome the world? The natural man lays no claim to such a victory. On the contrary, they regard themselves as one that must serve the world and do so with pride. However, Christians maintain that the world must serve them, not them serving the world.
Christians, however, are confident they can overcome the world; indeed, they know that by faith, victory over the world’s temptations involves a thoroughly reasonable manner. Their faith is the faith that Jesus is the Son of God, and as a man, a fellow human being, fought His way to perfect fellowship with God and has overcome everything in Himself that could have given the world any power over Him. Knowing this Jesus as the Conqueror and Lord of Satan’s empire in perfect fellowship with God, believers know that they belong through faith to this Jesus and that Jesus’ power, like His life and crown, are their own.
No doubt, faith in Jesus, which should regard Him, not as God’s Son, but only as a man, such as we all are, could not impart to us the consciousness of possessing the power to overcome· the world. That is why John lays such stress upon the fact that Jesus is God’s Son. How important it is in the interest of our religious, ethical confidence, and joyfulness to find in Jesus that which He is, namely, the Son of God, is very clear from this verse. Anyone to whom a Savior is unimportant will certainly also live a nasty and beggarly Christian life. In proportion, as the Savior is grand and lofty in our estimation, our Christian life will also be full of power and glory. To attempt to rob humanity of this sole true God-man is the most heinous crime committed against it.
Consistent with the Apostle John’s theme, Heinrich A. W. Meyer (1800-1882) notes that John introduces faith as the victory which overcomes the world. Faith is a critical factor because it is necessary in overcoming the world. When people believe, they turn around their life’s ambitions from the world to God. The necessity of faith is emphasized here in verse five, by an important question, “Who is he,” (KJV), “Who is it” (NIV), which is equivalent to “There’s no one else except the those,” who believe that Jesus is the Son of God can overcome the world’s attractions. Hence, the person who believes is born of God with love. Faith works through love; it puts into action the love force, which is self-contained in faith.
With noticeable comprehension Henry Cowles (1802-1881) observes the logic for connecting these first five verses with the introduction of “by” in verse two. We keep His commandments and do not find them “burdensome” because everyone born of God conquers the world. Observe next the use of whatsoever instead of whosoever (KJV) — the neuter pronoun in place of the more usual and natural masculine. The exact usage appears in John’s Gospel. The neuter seems to be chosen to bear the sense of universality more decisively — absolutely all in its totality.
Then the word “overcometh,” in verse four, translates the common Greek word for being victorious, gaining the victory, which has the ring of War, battle, and triumph. The Apostle John used it in this epistle earlier concerning the Christian young men who had conquered the Evil One. What, then, does John affirm here? Every soul, a newborn of God, becomes victorious over the world; being thus victorious keeps God’s commandments and does not find them difficult. When the world’s power over the heartbreaks, we obey God’s commandments with case and delight — find them no burden.
How is this victory over the world achieved? John has but one answer – by faith, which he explains to be “believing that Jesus is the Son of God,” and of course, taking hold of His strength as such, we can conquer the world because Jesus can give us this triumph and will if we trust Him by faith. So, first, John affirms this; then boldly challenges every opponent to show a case of such victory over the world achieved by any other force than this.
So, let all the human philosophies, educational forces, or social powers be summoned; can they produce one human soul lifted by their training and their boasted energy into real victory over the world? Such take to be a fair exposition of these precious words. Will the reader accept the suggestion that this truth is intensely, gloriously, and practical in the best sense? It comes to us in our moral weakness; finds us encompassed with temptations from without; weakened perhaps by moral defeats from within; put to complex conflicts against many a subtle, stubborn foe, and sometimes not a little discouraged – yet what does it say? Its words are not many, but they are wonderfully pregnant with meaning – “victory over the world;” and “victory through faith in God’s Son!” The truth put into these few words meets our case perfectly. Let it scatter our fears to the winds and lift our souls into the calm assurance of trust, peace, and victory.
Called a giant and rare thinker, Frederick Denison Maurice (1805-1872) perceives how the Apostle John transitions from love to faith in these first five verses. Formal writers on Theology or Ethics would have stopped to announce the beginning of a new subject. They would probably have told us they had been discussing one of the great Christian virtues or graces; now the time had come to explain the nature and signs of another. If we find no such hints in John’s epistle, we must not hastily conclude that he is uninterested in the method. Perhaps he is more careful of it than those writers mentioned above. Maybe he knows better than they what is the process of the human spirit, what is God’s method of awakening and directing the different energies with which He has endowed us.
But we cannot overcome the world by calculating the embarrassments we have undergone or predicting those we must yet go through. The only victory that overcomes the world is by faith, not faith in its weakness, but God’s strength; loving faith that embraces the world and subdues it to the believer’s will. However, John appears to be worried about his grand language leading to pride. The Church might be proud of its promised victory over the world, proud of the faith that was its to win. So, John must remind his disciples in whom they placed their faith, and what they believed: ‘Who are they that overcomes, only those that believe Jesus is the Son of God?’ Therefore, it is not a unique charm called faith; an endowment conferred upon particular favorites of Heaven that could give them a victory over the world.
On the contrary, the notion of such an endowment might make them into another world more selfish, less godly, than that which they denounced. Only by believing that Jesus, who died for all humanity, is the Son of God, and only by seeking fellowship with all people could they receive the Holy Spirit and be the conquerors of the world’s Spirit. And what was true for them is true for us. By believing in Him, we can declare that the meanest child on earth can become a child of God. Believing in Him, we can be members of that spiritual society that will grow wider and more blessed when the world and its selfish works burn up in the flames of the last day.
After looking things over, Robert S. Candlish (1807-1873) states that our union with the Father and joint possession of the new life is faith in the Anointed One. This faith is also a sign of spiritual life. “Whosoever believes that Jesus is the Anointed One is born of God.” “Believing” is used here in its complete and definite sense. In the third chapter, the Apostle John expresses belief in the revelation made concerning the Anointed One, and in chapter four, faith in the love manifested through Him. But here in Chapter Five, he expresses the personal relation of a believing soul to the Anointed of God. In addition to this truth about the Anointed One and the love He manifested, the reliance upon Him brings the believer into vital contact with Him. The one who believes that Jesus is the Anointed of God for the purposes of salvation not only admits an intellectual truth but receives all that is involved in that truth.
The Apostle John has previously considered the confession of the Anointed One concerning society, but he has here in mind solely the faith of a soul in the person of the Anointed One without any regard to another. It is a person meeting God in the Anointed One and with heart and mouth echoing God’s testimony about themselves and their Savior. It is the very essence of what is needed to make someone God’s child. It is more than assent to a proposition or a truth. It is even more than the expression of a fact. It is the naked contact of a soul with God through the Savior.
Candlish also comments that John brings in the “world,” and he does so during a singularly high estimate of the believer’s standing and character. He places them in a relationship of close intimacy with God and serious responsibility regarding the special duty that implies. For what is brotherly love, as John describes it? It is our letting the same love with which God loved us flow, through us, to all mankind, and our embracing all who accept that love as fellow believers in the Lord. John associates this exercise of love on our part, not only with God’s practice of love to us but also with our obligation of loving obedience to God.
 Barnes, Albert: New Testament Notes, op. cit., 1 John 5, pp. 4874-4975
 Rothe, Richard: Exposition of the First Epistle of St. John, op. cit., The Expository Times, January 1895, p. 178
 Meyer, Heinrich A. W., Critical Exegetical Handbook New Testament, op. cit., Vol. 10, p. 812
 John 6:39; 17:2
 1 John 2:13,14
 Cowles, Henry: The Gospel and Epistles of John: with Notes, op. cit., pp. 353-354
 Maurice, Frederick D., The Epistles of St. John: A Series of Lectures on Christian Ethics, op. cit., Lecture XVI, p. 266
 Candlish, Robert S., The First Epistle of John, or, God Revealed in Life, Light, and Love, op. cit., pp. 207-219