NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
By Dr. Robert R. Seyda
FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN
CHAPTER FIVE (Lesson CIII) 04/04/23
5:15 He listens to us every time we ask Him. So, we know that He gives us whatever we ask from Him.
With precise spiritual discernment, William Alexander (1824-1911) finds the Apostle John using a particular form of expression here. It implies a strong confirmation of things yet to come, both punishment and reward, to indicate their certainty. Jesus gave a hint of this when He told His disciples they must know the difference between charity and love. He said to them, “If you only love those who love you, why should you get a reward for that? Even the tax collectors do that.” And our Lord warned the doubters and critics that “Anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven. They will always be guilty of that sin.”
Listen to what the Master told Nicodemus: “Everyone who believes in Him will have eternal life.” And the writer of Hebrews told his readers: “Do not let this happy trust in the Lord die away, no matter what happens. Remember your reward!” Alexander then tells us to note two conditions of acceptable prayer in this passage – confidence and harmony with God’s will. If Jesus said it, you could believe it!
With holiness doctrine expertise, Daniel Steele (1824-1914), there may be uncertainty respecting the certainty about whether God will hear and answer our prayer, but not in knowing He will listen. Those whom the Holy Spirit prompts will ask for those only things according to God’s will. They will have them in the assured promise, if not in conscious realization which may come later, or their equivalent, if not necessarily the actual things requested. A saint in need may pray for gold and receive that which is better than gold, the trial of their faith; confidence in God may be tested and strengthened. This finds its most characteristic expression in intercessory prayer, as in the next verse. Fellowship with God implies a sincere interest in our fellowman, especially professed disciples of the Anointed One. But there is one significant barrier to the success of such prayer, “unforgivable sin.”
After sufficient examination, Brooke Wescott (1825-1901) says that verse fifteen’s unusual construction clouds its meaning. It is not that we should we know, nor it should be that we know God’s will in “whatever we ask.” This universal phrase can be substituted for the restricted term used in verse fourteen, “if what we ask.” The believer would not make any prayer that is not according to God’s will. And since a believer made God’s will their will, they have all they seek in immediate and present possession. The substance of the requests may not necessarily be the exact things asked for from God.
Getting right to the point, Hannah Whitall Smith (1832-1911) advises that when we vow that the Lord is our God and walk in His ways and keep His commandments, He will affirm us to be His and will keep all His promises. And from that moment, He takes possession of us. It has always been His principle of working, and it continues to be so. “Everything consecrated unconditionally is especially holy to Adonai.” But if the soul still feels in doubt or difficulty, what the Final Covenant declares approaches the subject from a different side but settles it as definite. Is it according to His will that we consecrate everything entirely to Him? There can be, of course, but one answer “God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases Him.”
This question can also have but one answer, for He has declared it His purpose. You know, then, that these things are according to His will; therefore, on God’s Word, you are obliged to know that He hears you; and knowing this much, are compelled to go further and know that you have the petitions that you have desired of Him. That you have, I say, not will have, or may have, but have now in actual possession. It is thus that we “obtain promises” by faith. This way, we have “access by faith” to the grace our Lord Jesus, the Anointed One, gave us. Thus, and thus only we come to know our hearts are “purified by faith” and are enabled to live by faith, stand by faith, and walk by faith.
With Spirit-led certainty, William Baxter Godbey (1833-1920) proposes that the goal of all Scripture is that all human beings may have eternal life, which is only in God’s Son, the second Adam, who represents the entire human race in redemption, just as Adam the first represented all in condemnation. When the countless millions of Adam’s descendants assembled before the great white throne all will be in Adam the first or the Second, the latter all acquitted with full approval, and the former all turned away into hopeless doom. Here we have another grand and glorious confirmation of prevailing prayer. It is the transcendent privilege of God’s saints to be so cleansed by the blood and led by the Spirit as actually to come in touch with God so as to prevail in prayer, like Elijah.
Noting the Apostle John’s doctrinal implications, John James Lias (1834-1892) says it may be well for us to notice the grounds on which this principle rests. First, we see that it is conditional on abiding in the Anointed One. It also depends upon keeping God’s commandments. Here, in verse fifteen, it stands upon the boldness which comes from the fact that we possess eternal life in God’s Son. In truth, the acceptance of our prayers depends on our offering them in the Spirit of the Anointed One. In other words, on our believing in the Anointed One and consequently living His kind of life. When this is the case, it is the Anointed One’s life, not ours, which God recognizes, and which He receives as pleasing in His sight. We may compare what the Apostle James said, “Anyone who lives the way God wants can pray, and great things will happen.”
Therefore, our petitions must be according to God’s will. As the Apostle James says, “When you ask, you don’t receive anything because the reason you ask is wrong. You only want to use it for your pleasure.” It may be questionable whether we have any right to expect that any petitions will be answered which are dictated simply with a view to our happiness. Such petitions may have been answered, “God was being fair when He held back.” in days when people did not know His Will. And so perhaps chastisements may be removed from us now for which, in our imperfection, we are not prepared.
As John sees it, the utmost that can be permitted is a prayer in the spirit that is not answered because it is a hollow cry due to the weakness of our mortal flesh, which was to be perfected by Divine power. But, at all events, it is not a feeble prayer for us but a strong prayer for others that the Apostle speaks of. He makes the joint possession by Christians of an abundant life the ground for insisting on the necessity of prayer for each other. And this sort of prayer that John wishes us to understand will indeed receive a favorable answer.
Manifestly and distinctly, Erich Haupt (1841-1910) determined that we must consider the idea of God’s hearing more carefully. Are we to limit it to (1) mere hearing or regard it as listening with approval with the intent to answer or (2) hearing and granting being one? The fifteenth verse supports option (1). Because hearing comes first after granting the request, but, on the other hand, this general meaning of the “hear” has its difficulty: in a sense, God hears all prayers, even those not according to His will; consequently, this indefinite kind of hearing could never impart confidence in the petitioner.
Moreover, it is remarkable that only John employs the word “hear” in the sense of hearing favorably or granting. As to the fifteenth verse, we have only to interpret it rightly. It does not mean to indicate the unity of the hearing and the granting of petitions, but the unity of the being heard with acceptance and the reception of what is requested. Many petitions “according to God’s will” are outwardly granted. After a long season, it may be given so that acceptance appears valid. And this is the nucleus of John’s declaration – faith has the thing asked, which probably will not be granted externally for a long time, already inwardly in possession at the moment of asking: in the consciousness that God hears, there is to this believing petitioner the actual “whatever we ask” means possessing the thing requested.
With his Spirit-directed calculating mind, Alfred Plummer (1841-1926) states that one assurance depends upon the other: if we trust God’s goodness, we are confident that our trust is not misplaced. “The phrases “of Him” or “from Him” can be understood as “that we have.”
With regal etiquette, Ernest von Dryander (1843-1922) says that the Apostle speaks of an immediate answer to prayer; it is not the promise of some future act for which he seeks to give comfort. If God accepts our prayers, He will inevitably answer them. The prayer, its acceptance, and its answer belong together. Can there be a more prosperous promise? But what I hear, in John’s response to this question, notes Dryander, is not the joyful reply that there can be no question about receiving the blessing, but rather an objection: Only if we pray according to His will can He hear us. But that seems to say that what is promised by hand is taken away by the other. If we pray only according to His will, then our request is not heard; and if our prayer is always to give way to His will, then, after all, it is immaterial what we ask for; our prayer is of no importance; no miracles are wrought by prayer. Is this objection justifiable?
With his stately speaking style, William M. Sinclair (1850-1917) (15) notes that the goodness of God as Light and Love is so thoroughly established that if our petitions are according to His will, we are confident that He will grant them.
John Albert Williams (1866-1933), an African American preacher whose parents, Henry and Adeline Williams, rode on the Underground Railroad to London, Ontario, Canada, where he was born, comments that prayer is the expression of confidence in God. 1) As the language of want, desire, and necessity. 2) Especially, the language of the soul enlightened by the Spirit of God to discover its necessities and desire what Divine abundance has provided for them. 3) It is intelligent, discriminating, and definite – embracing the exercise of faith in the Divine purpose and integrity.
Our petitions, embodying the soul’s confidences, are regulated by God’s necessary promises to reveal His will. They are principles concerning our progress in holiness to which everything else is subordinate. Thus, the revelation of Divine intention concerns the moral improvement of the soul. Williams also contends that faith brings within the range of our experience the blessings we thus desire. Therefore, faith is not an opinion nor a bare persuasion but an intelligent, active principle. It expects the benefit promised and sought; its moral influence prepares and qualifies the believer to enjoy the promised goods, so love relying on the promise becomes conscious of the blessings received.
After scrutinizing the Apostle John’s urging to live in God’s Light of understanding, Aaron M. Hills (1848-1931) offers this illustration: A man deeds me a piece of property in Boston. It is mine as soon as the deed is recorded. I may not see it for a week. I may not move there for a month, but it is mine. So, if we seek this blessing with all our hearts, believingly, complying with the conditions, IT IS OURS, though we do not have full enjoyment for weeks or months. We have a right on the promise to claim this blessing in faith, and, with or without feeling, we count it as ours.”
Prolific writer on the Epistles, George G. Findlay (1849-1919), verses fourteen and fifteen convey the second lesson of the paragraph, namely, that Christian assurance takes effect in a life of prevailing prayer: “the confidence” of the steadfast and instructed Christian is “that, if we ask anything according to His will, God hears us; and if we know that He hears us and will grant our request.” The Apostle John does not forbid his readers to pray for any sinner. But they would have to know what sin was committed and where to draw the line between this and other wrongdoings. Sometimes, the drawn line is influenced by any case; it is not an obstacle that lies in any general principle or is capable of definition. God may reveal to saints in close fellowship with Him that this or that prayer is out of harmony with His will.
 Matthew 5:46
 Mark 3:29
 John 3:10
 Hebrews 10:35
 Alexander, William: The Holy Bible with an Explanatory and Critical Commentary, op. cit., Vol. IV, p. 344
 Mark 11:24
 Steele, Daniel, Half-Hours with St. John’s Epistles, op. cit., p. 142
 Mark 11:24
 Westcott, Brooke F., The Epistles of St. John: Greek Text with Notes, op. cit., p. 190
 Leviticus 27:28 – Complete Jewish Bible
 1 John 5:14-15
 Philippians 2:13
 Hebrews 6:12
 See Romans 5:2
 Acts of the Apostle 15:9
 Smith, Hannah Whitall: The Christian’s Secret to a Happy life., op. cit., p. 35
 Godbey, William Baxter: Commentary on the New Testament, Vol. II, op. cit., p. 398
 Matthew 7:8; 21:22; John 14:15; 15:7; 16:23-24; 1 John 3:22
 James 5:16
 Ibid. 4:3
 Romans 3:25
 Matthew 26:39
 Lias, James John: The First Epistle of St. John with Homiletical Treatment, op. cit., pp. 398-402
 1 John 3:21
 John 9:31; 11:41, 42
 Haupt, Erich: The First Epistle of St. John: Clark’s Foreign Theological Library, Vol. LXIV, op. cit., pp. 323-325
 Cf. Mark 11:24; Matthew 7:8; 20:20
 Plummer, Alfred: The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges, N. T., Vol. IV, p. 166
 Dryander, Ernst von: A Commentary on the First Epistle of St. John in the Form of Addresses, op. cit., XVI, II, Prayer According to the Will of God, p. 213
 Sinclair, William M., New Testament Commentary for English Readers, Charles J. Ellicott (Ed.), op. cit., Vol. 3, p. 493
 Williams, John Albert: The Biblical Illustrator, Vol. 22, First Epistle of John, op. cit., p. 452
 Hills, Aaron M., Holiness and Power, Ch. 15, pp. 197-198
 Findlay, George G., Fellowship with the Life Eternal: An Exposition on the Epistles of St. John, p. 410