NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
By Dr. Robert R. Seyda
FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN
CHAPTER FIVE (Lesson XCXI) 03/31/23
5:14 We can come to God with no doubts. This means that when we ask God for things that agree with what He wants for us. God cares about what we tell Him.
The truth of this verse is not a shallow statement but a pronouncement of profound principle. Christians can live lives of victory in the face of powerful, daily pressures from the world system. They march to a different drummer with enough conviction not to be swayed by worldly living. Spiritual Christians have a distinct and independent procedure for evaluating life’s purpose and meaning.
We overcome the unbelief inherent in worldliness, devoid of genuine trust in the eternal Son of God in all the fullness of His deity. Something in our new life in the Anointed One allows us to respond to God’s order of values and reject Satan’s scheme of corrupt morals. We overcome worldliness when we own God’s principles and live in harmony with those values. If we do not live in accord with those ideals, discord comes to our spiritual lives.
True faith, then, does not believe despite the circumstances but in spite of the cost. It acts on what God says as truth. It is not the faith of years ago when we first came to the Anointed One for salvation. It is the faith of moment-by-moment trust in God’s counter principles for life. The Word of God has a revelatory function in our spirituality. It shows the control of sin and the power of the Anointed One to counteract corruption. Faith in God’s provisions in His Word provides the ability to overcome sinful tendencies.
COMMENTARY AND HOMILETICS
This verse has comments, interpretations, and insights of the Early Church Fathers, Medieval Thinkers, Reformation Theologians, Revivalist Teachers, Reformed Scholars, and Modern Commentators.
With apostolic overtones, Œcumenius, (died 990 AD), tells us that intellectual faith in an abstract idea or object does not overcome the world. Instead, as John makes plain, it must be complete faith in Jesus the Anointed One.
Monastery supporter, Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) states that when it comes to believing in Jesus as God’s Son, “What could result from the contemplation of compassion so marvelous and so undeserved, favor so free and so well attested, kindness so unexpected, clemency so unconquerable, grace so amazing, except that the soul should withdraw from all sinful affections, reject all that is inconsistent with God’s love, and yield herself wholly to heavenly things? It is no wonder that the bride, moved by the perfume of this unction, runs swiftly, all on fire with love, yet reckons herself as loving all too little in return for the bridegroom’s love?”
From his perspective, Juan of Ávila (1499-1559), Spanish priest, preacher, academic author, and religious mystic states that “There is no book so effective towards the instructing of a man in all virtue and abhorrence of all sin as the Passion of God’s Son.”
From humble circumstances, Teresa of Ávila (1515-1582), also called Saint Teresa of Jesus, a Spanish noblewoman who answered the call to convent life in the Catholic Church wrote, “I wish to mention, that the affliction is but little, in comparison with the far greater gain which is acquired when the works correspond with the acts and words mentioned; and that she who cannot do all at once, should do it gently, and by degrees; and if she wishes to derive any benefit from prayer, she should also bend her will; for even in these little retired spots, she will not want many occasions of exercising patience. Remember that this is much more important than I can express: Fix your eyes on your Crucified Lord, and everything will seem easy to you.”
Respected Reformation writer, Matthew Poole (1624-1679) states that our belief, that is, our faith in Jesus as God’s Son and the Anointed One, fills the soul with great insights concerning Him and the reason for His coming among us and what we are to expect as a result. But, on the other hand, it makes it easy to turn this world into a shameful pretender and rob it of its former power.
From his strategic viewpoint as a biblical expositor and educational pioneer, William Burkitt (1650-1703) notes that the Apostle John has spoken of the usefulness of faith in the former verse. First, it overcomes the world;next, it discovers the object of this faith: the proposition that Jesus is God’s Son.The faith which overcomes the world is belief in the divinity and sonship of Jesus the Anointed One. We overcome the world by believing in Him that conquered it, Jesus the Anointed One, who purchased, promised, and prepared a better world than what we see, or can see, with our bodily eyes and made us joint heirs of the Anointed One’s eternal glory.
Let us notice that some reason for the Holy Spirit descending upon Jesus bears witness to the truth of His doctrine, the reality of His miracles, and the certainty of His mission. So, the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scriptures, breathing in the believer’s conscience, bears witness to their soul, that Jesus the Anointed One came to save them by the water of sanctification, as well as with and by the blood of redemption; and that this witnessing Spirit is the Spirit of truth.
With a spiritually contemplative mind, Matthew Henry (1662-1714) tells us that true love for the people of God may be distinguished from natural kindness or party attachments in being united with God’s agápē and obedience to His commands. The same Holy Spirit that taught divine love will have taught submission also, and that mankind cannot genuinely love God’s children, who, by habit, sin or neglect their known duties. As God’s mandates are holy, just, and good rules of liberty and happiness, those who are born of God and love Him, do not count them grievous but lament that they cannot serve Him more perfectly. Self-denial is required, but true Christians have a principle that carries them above all hindrances. Though the conflict is often sharp, and the regenerate may be cast down, they will rise and renew their combat with resolution.
But all, except believers in the Anointed One, are enslaved in some respect or other, says Henry, to the world’s customs, opinions, or interests. Faith is the cause of victory, the means, the instrument, and the spiritual armor that helps us overcome. Faith sanctifies the heart and purifies it from those sensual lusts by which the world obtains sway and dominion over souls. It has the indwelling Spirit of grace, which is greater than he who dwells in the world. The honest Christian overcomes the world by faith; they see in and by the life and conduct of the Lord Jesus on earth that this world is to be renounced and overcome. They cannot be satisfied staying in this world but look beyond it, still tending, striving, and pressing toward heaven. After the Anointed One’s example, we must all overcome the world, or it will overcome us to our ruin.
With scholarly meditation, James Macknight (1721-1800) tells us that the Jews universally believed their Anointed One or the Anointed One was God’s Son. We see this in many passages of scripture. Therefore, the Jews sought to kill Him because He broke the Sabbath and said God was His Father, making Himself equal with God. The Jews’ response was not to stone Him because of His miracles, but for blasphemy, and because being human, He made Himself out to be God. Then we have Jesus’ confrontation with the High priest and Sanhedrin, who demanded a reason He should not be killed for claiming to be the Anointed One, God’s Son. After all, the high priest, and the council composed of men of the highest rank and learning among the Jews, believed that the coming Anointed One was God’s Son and that God’s Son Himself is God; otherwise, they could not have reckoned Jesus a blasphemer, for calling Himself the Anointed One God’s Son.
After skillfully scrutinizing the Apostle John’s theme, John Brown of Haddington (1722-1787) states emphatically that it is only by believing in the Anointed One as the true Anointed One and only begotten Son of God, and depending on Him, by a living and effectual faith, for justification, sanctification, and complete salvation, that any person, Jew or Gentile, can be weaned from the spirit killing things of this world.
For example, a man with a heartfelt friendship with hymn writer John Newton (1726-1807), Thomas Scott (1747-1821) explains that “That which is born of God” refers to the heavenly nature communicated in regeneration. This divine spirit motivates the believer toward God and holiness with earnestness. Furthermore, it includes in its essence spiritual judgment and holy affections. This unique essence is found in those made victorious over the world. They succeeded in overcoming both their natural love for the world’s honors, riches, pleasures, awards, and friendship and their fear of the world’s displeasure, rage, and contempt. As a result, they are prepared for losses, exercising self-denial, and enduring affliction in the cause of God. As a result, believers learn to disregard the maxims, fashions, customs, and opinions of ungodly people, however well-known, numerous, or powerful.
The heart’s desire of even the youngest of those born of God is to gain victory over all that kept them in sinful bondage in the world. Though the conflict of grace with corrupt nature, and the allurements and terrors of the world, is often very sharp; and the regenerate person may be baffled, cast down, and wounded in battle: yet “His seed remains in them,” and the divine life, being again invigorated by the Holy Spirit, will excite them to rise and renew their fight, with redoubled fortitude and resolution. In the end, their victory will be definite; and they will stick to the truth and do God’s will no matter what loss, suffering, disgrace, or hardship may follow. According to Scott, in acquiring this honorable “victory,” faith is principally concerned. It comes by realizing the truth in God’s testimony regarding invisible and eternal things.
According to Robert Jamieson (1802-1880), Andrew Fausset (1821-1910), and David Brown’s (1803-1897) way of thinking, the Apostle John is asking, who could fight and win this battle other than by believing that Jesus is the true Son of God? They find this verse as confirming, by a triumphant question defying all contradiction, as an undeniable fact, that the victory which overcomes the world is faith, for it is by believing that we become one with Jesus, God’s Son, to partake of His victory over the world. Thus, there lives in us One greater than he who rules the world. It poses the question, can anyone in the world be found who has overcome the world by any other means than faith?
In his classical style, Sir John Robert Seeley (1834-1895), a liberal British Historian and political essayist stated, “He who has a faith, we know well, is twice himself.” The world, the conventional order of things, goes down before the weapons of faith, before the energy of those who have a glimpse, or only think they have a foretaste, of the eternal or customary order of things. So it appears that some in the world did listen.
With his Spirit-directed calculating mind, Alfred Plummer (1841-1926) agrees that God’s commandments are not grievous for two reasons: 1) Because He gives strength to bear them. 2) Because love makes them light. They are not like the “mandatory laws to be obeyed,” which is the legal precision of the Pharisees laid on people’s consciences. Here again, we have an echo of the Master’s words; “My yoke is easy, and My burden is light,” which is the reason why keeping even the difficult commandment of loving others rather than oneself is not a grievous burden. The world and its ways, says Plummer, make the Divine commands distressing, and the new birth involved in faith gives us an unworldly nature and a strength which conquers the world. It is the person’s new birth from God that triumphs.
Straightforward preacher Charles Simeon (1759-1876) declares that since Christianity is at war with sin and Satan, every follower of the Anointed One is, by profession, a warrior. The enemies they combat are worldliness, the flesh, and the devil. It is one of these, especially, that the Apostle John speaks about: the world. Humanity at large is led captive by it. The Christian combats and overcomes it. In this respect, they differ from and surpass all the human race. John affirms these things in verse five. He offers a rule to regulate our conduct: “We must be as dead to the world,” even as our Lord Himself was. And does this appear unreasonable or impracticable? Let anyone imagine several angels sent down from heaven to occupy different stations in the world for a season: how would they conduct themselves? First, they would take each station, whether to rule a kingdom or sweep the streets. They would look with contempt at all the world’s vanities from a far distance to avoid its contamination. Finally, they would be intent only on serving God in their respective places so that they might be approved by Him when called to give their report.
 Romans 8:37; 2 Corinthians 2:14; Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 26; 3:5, 12, 21
 Œcumenius: Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Bray, Gerald, ed., op. cit., Vol. XI, p. 222
 Bernard of Clairvaux, De Diligendo Deo (On Loving God) Published by Catholic Spiritual Direction, Ch. 4, p. 9
 Teresa of Ávila, The Interior Castle, Trans. by the Rev. John Dalton, T. Jones, Paternoster Row, London, 1852, p. 194
 Poole, Matthew: Commentary on the Holy Bible – Book of 1st, 2nd & 3rd John (Annotated), Kindle Edition
 Burkitt, William: Expository Notes, op. cit., Vol. II, pp. 735-736
 Henry, Matthew: Concise Commentary on the Bible, op. cit., p. 2058
 John 10:33
 Matthew 26:59-67
 Macknight, James: Apostolic Epistles with Commentary, Vol. VI, pp. 104-105
 Brown of Haddington, John: Self-Interpreting Bible, N. T., Vol. IV, p. 506
 Newton, John: Composer of “Amazing Grace,”
 1 John 3:9
 Scott, Thomas: Commentary on the Holy Bible, Vol. VI, pp. 405-406
 1 John 5:4
 Ibid. 4:4
 Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, New Testament Volume, op. cit., p.729
 Seeley, Sir John, Natural Religion, Macmillan and Co., London, 1882, p. 35
 See John 8:47; 1 John 4:6
 Philippians 4:13
 Matthew 9:30
 Plummer, Alfred: The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges, op. cit., First Epistle of St. John, pp. 156-157