By Dr. Robert R. Seyda


CHAPTER FIVE (Lesson CV) 04/06/23

5:15 He listens to us every time we ask Him. So, we know that He gives us whatever we ask from Him.

After studying the contest surrounding this verse, John W. (Jack) Carter (1947) says those who teach that God is unreachable; therefore, He is uninterested in us as individuals and pays no attention to our prayers.  John counters their heresy with a statement to assure the faithful that the LORD hears and responds to our prayers.  However, some have taken this verse out of its intended context, creating a “name it and claim it” heresy that holds to the idea that God will do if one’s faith is great enough, whatever we ask. 

Consequently, this is a heresy that only serves to discourage the faithful. John declares that our prayers to the LORD can be stated in great confidence that He will respond, but He does insert a necessary disclaimer: that what we ask is “according to His will.” For certain, we can pray a self-centered prayer that solicits God for some great blessing, and if it is the LORD’s will, He certainly can provide it.  Unfortunately, some misunderstand this passage and become disappointed or disillusioned when they do not hear or understand God’s response to their prayers.[1]

A man who loves sharing God’s Word, Robert W. Yarbrough (1948) notes that the “if” part of verse fifteen is conditional. It is followed by the “then,” the consequence. If we know that God hears, regardless of what we ask, “we know that we have the requests that we requested from Him.” On the face of it, there are two ways to understand John’s assertion that whatever believers ask if they feel they know that God hears, they can count on God granting their requests if they have sufficient faith. This is a mistaken interpretation. Believers can certainly have faith that God will hear their prayer, but only if it is presented to Him according to His will can they be sure of an answer.[2]

Skilled in Dead Sea Scroll interpretation and New Testament writings, Colin G. Kruse (1950) sees verses fourteen and fifteen as linked with verse thirteen by the conjunction “and.” Unfortunately, the NIV omitted this in verse thirteen. Nevertheless, the conjunction’s presence suggests that John wants to say that believers also experience confidence in their relationship with God, particularly in prayer and the assurance of eternal life. This is our confidence in approaching God: He hears us if we ask anything according to God’s will.

The NIV translates the KJV “in Him” as “in approaching God.” The Apostle John is speaking about the confidence believers have “in the presence of God,” which is further described as the knowledge that “if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.” This statement recalls the promise of answered prayer made by Jesus to His disciples in the upper room.[3] [4]

Believing that Christians can fall away from the faith, Ben Witherington III (1951) concludes that “prayer” is not a device for employing the resources of omnipotence to fulfill our desires but a means by which our desires may be redirected according to the mind of God and made into channels for the forces of His will. Prayer within the context of these fulfilled conditions will be effective prayer. In verse fifteen, John boldly says, “We know that we possess the requests we have made.” So, we not only possess but already possess. This may well be John’s interpretation of the secret for genuine godly prayer: “In proportion, as it becomes real prayer, it carries its answer within it.”[5] [6]

With her crafted spiritual insight, Judith Lieu (1951) believes we can affirm that God hears requests made according to His will, for the verb “to hear” regularly implies active response.[7] But the Apostle John now secures that affirmation as one of the foundational certainties that unite the readers with him and all those who share their refrain, “if we know.” Such certainties have already been signaled by the “you/we know,”[8] which was a Johannine testimony formula.[9]

It presupposed that no argument was necessary, although it may have referred back to an earlier demonstration; it is not surprising that at the climax of the epistle, “we know” becomes the leading motive of the passage and holds together the different elements within it.[10] Here the shared knowledge that God hears their prayers is at the same time a shared knowledge that they already possess those things that they have requested. For God to hear is for God to act. The present tense (“we possess”) leaves no room for doubt or hope alone: confidence anticipates reality; the perfect tense “we have made” also acknowledges that this relationship of request and response is repeated.[11]

Emphasizing the Apostle John’s call to Christian fellowship, Bruce B. Barton (1954) states that this confidence – that a believer can approach God and that He listens to their prayers – is based on the belief that they are His children and have eternal life.[12] Assurance means boldness of freedom to speak openly to the Anointed One.[13] This promise focuses on prayer; it specifies that what believers ask for must be according to God’s will, not their wishes.[14]

So, how can believers pray that way? How do they know what God’s will is? This happens as a part of their growth in their relationship with Jesus the Anointed One. When people choose to place their will in line with God’s will, the Holy Spirit in them will teach them to understand God’s will more completely. The Holy Spirit reveals God’s will as taught in the Bible. The Holy Spirit, in turn, helps them pray in line with God’s will.

Therefore, in communicating with God, believers do not demand their wants or what they should have. Instead, they discuss what He wants for them with God. When believers align their prayers to God’s will, He hears them. And if they know what He hears in their prayers, they can be sure that He will give them a definite answer. Praying in line with God’s will is the key to getting whatever believers ask. They should not think they can obtain anything they want merely to benefit themselves. As the following verses illustrate, prayer in line with God’s will is for the benefit of God’s kingdom.[15]

A scholar who truly inspires Christian missionaries, Daniel L. Akin (1957) states that it is not that with the assurance of eternal life comes the confidence of heard and answered prayer. The Apostle John addressed prayer earlier;[16] there, he informed us that God answers our prayers when we are (1) keeping His commandments and (2) doing those things that please Him. Now the Apostle adds the third requirement (3) we must ask “according to His will.” John says we can be confident toward God with these three keys in place as we pray. Indeed, we can know He hears us as we ask, and we “know what we asked for is what we need to fulfill His will for our lives.

We might ask why anyone would want something contrary to God’s will. He knows what is best for us: His glory and our good. God desires to give us what we would wish to have as long as we are willing and wise enough to choose it. God’s will may differ from what we want, but we must believe this: it will always be better than what we treasure. As the Apostle Paul told the Roman believers: God’s will is “good, pleasing,” and “perfect.” Therefore, our attitude should be that we only want what God wants.[17]

With a classical thinking approach to understanding the scriptures, Bruce G. Schuchard (1958) says that in the first instance of this verse, the Apostle John stipulates the implications of the certainties of the faith that can and must be known. And if we know that He hears us. The second of three instances in verses thirteen to seventeen of a conditional sentence expresses no uncertainty as it has previously.

The second of three references to “knowing that” suggests that knowing God hears us is to believe that He will provide and already has provided whatever we asked. The parenthetical “whatever we ask” fully amplifies John’s definition of the breadth and the depth of the abundance that the Father desires for His children to possess. We know that we have the requests that we have asked of Him. With the last of three references, “knowing that,” John exhorts again to the certainties of the faith, to solid confidence, whose implications are of the utmost importance.[18]

Great expositional teacher David Guzik (1961) notes that first of all, God wants us to ask in prayer. Many prayers fail because they never ask for anything. God is a loving God and a generous giver – He wants us to ask of Him. Secondly, God would have us ask anything in prayer. Not to imply that anything we ask for will be granted, but anything in the sense that we can and should pray about everything. God cares about our whole life, and nothing is too small or too big to pray about. As Paul wrote to the Philipians, “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need and thank him for all he has done.”[19]

Next, God would have us ask according to His will. It is easy for us only to be concerned with our will before God and to have a fatalistic view regarding His will (“He will accomplish His will with or without my prayers, anyway, won’t He?”). But God wants us to see and discern His will through His Word and pray His will into action. When John wrote this, John may have had Jesus’ words in mind, which he recorded in his Gospel: “If you stay in me and obey my commands, you may ask any request you like, and it will be granted!”[20] When we stay in union with Jesus – living His life in us day by day – then our will becomes more and more aligned with His will, and we can ask what we desire, and more and more be asking according to His will. Then we expect answered prayers.

Some may ask, “If something is God’s will, why doesn’t He just do it, apart from our prayers? Why would He wait to accomplish His will until we pray?” It’s because God has appointed us to work with Him as the Apostle Paul: “workers together with Him.”[21] That means bringing our will and agenda into alignment with His. He wants us to care about the things He cares about, and He wants us to care about them enough to pray passionately about them.[22]

As an expert in highlighting the crucial part of a biblical passage, Marianne Meye Thompson (1964) comments that the Apostle John is ready to summarize the heart of his concern in these closing sentences. He does so by assuring his readers that they have eternal life. His primary purpose in writing has been to offer pastoral encouragement and instill confidence and hope by reminding his readers of the fellowship with God and each other that they now enjoy. He has comforted them with the thought that, despite the defection of some community members, his readers can be assured of inheriting eternal life. Therefore, he urges them to stand fast and remain loyal to their commitment to God.

By analogy, just as God heard Jesus’ prayers because of His obedience and unity, God hears the faithful believer’s prayers, for they belong to Him. But in the context of our passage, one specific kind of request is heard: the petition on behalf of a sinning community member. The threat to the possession of eternal life is sin that leads to death.[23] Even as Jesus prayed for the perseverance of His followers and continues to intercede for forgiveness, so too is the community charged with the role of interceding for those who need to confess their sin, God will answer these payers, and the sinner will be forgiven and kept safe in eternal life.[24]

Thus the general statements about prayer in verses fourteen and fifteen provide the rationale and basis for the particular requests in verses sixteen and seventeen. The prayer for the spiritual life of another believer who is committing a non-mortal sin is not just one example of the kind of petition God hears; it is precisely the prayer that God wants to hear, even as He answered Jesus’ prayers that His followers kept spiritually alive. It is the heart of God’s will to grant eternal life to those who believe.[25]

[1] Carter, Dr. John W. (Jack). 1,2,3, John & Jude: (The Disciple’s Bible Commentary Book 48), op. cit., p. 131

[2] Yarbrough, Robert W., 1-3 John (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament), op. cit., pp. 300-301

[3] John 16:23-26

[4] Kruse, Colin G., The Letters of John (The Pillar New Testament Commentary), op. cit., loc. cit., Kindle Edition

[5] See Matthew 7:7; Mark 11:24

[6] Witherington, Ben III, Letters and Homilies for Hellenized Christians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on Titus, 1-2 Timothy and 1-3 John, op. cit., loc. cit., Kindle Edition

[7] Cf. 1 John 4:6

[8] Ibid. 2:20-21; 3:2, 14-15

[9] John 3:11; 21:23; cf. 19:35

[10] 1 John 5:15, 18-20

[11] Lieu, Judith: A New Testament Library, I, II, & III John, op. cit., p. 224

[12] Cf. 1 John 5:13

[13] Hebrews 4:16

[14] John 14:13-14; 15:16; 16:21-24

[15] Burton, Bruce B., 1,2,3 John (Life Application Bible Commentary) op. cit., pp. 114-115

[16] 1 John 3:22

[17] Akin, Daniel L., Exalting Jesus in 1,2,3 John, (the Anointed One-Centered Exposition Commentary), op. cit., loc. cit.

[18] Schuchard, Bruce G., Concordia Commentary, 1-3 John, op. cit., pp. 572-573

[19] Philippians 4:6

[20] John 15:7

[21] 2 Corinthians 6:1

[22] Guzik, David: Enduring Word, 1,2, & 3 John & Jude, op. cit., pp. 97-98

[23] Cf. 1 John 5:16-17

[24] Ibid. 5:18

[25] Thompson, Marianne M., The IVP New Testament Commentary Series, 1-3 John, op. cit., pp. 139, 141

About drbob76

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