NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
By Dr. Robert R. Seyda
FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN
CHAPTER FIVE (Lesson CXXXIX) 05/25/23
5:20 And we know that God’s Son has come and given us understanding. So now we can see the true One and live in union with that true God. We are in His Son, Jesus the Anointed One. He is the true God, and He is eternal life.
It is the very thing that will crush your Christian life. It is one thing to have faith in God, but it is another to be faithful to Him. We claim God’s Son as our Savior, but we reject His sovereignty over our souls. We give ourselves to entirely different value systems. Anything that deflects us from Jesus the Anointed One as the center of our spiritual life is an idol. What we devote ourselves to is our idol. The more we cultivate our loyalty to God and His values, the freer we are from our false personal gods.
John now affirms this principle with his last word “Amen.” “Amen” means “so be it,” or“believe it.” Faithfulness to the truth is a maxim for maturity in the Christian life. An idol is any substitute for the real thing. It imitates reality, but it is not truth. Whatever robs our worship of God is an idol. It is anything that comes between God and us. It does not have to be a statue, but anything we worship over God. It might be our job, our family, or our success. If we think more of these things than we do of the Anointed One, we commit idolatry. God will not take second place to anything or anyone. This is the greatest threat to our spirituality. As the well-known saying goes, “If the Anointed One is not Lord of all, He is not Lord at all.”
At this point, all believers should be praying in complete confidence: what we ask for is already ours (vv.14-15). One specific thing we should request is the conversion of a sinning spiritual brother or sister unless they’ve made the horrible decision to reject God and His message of salvation which is unforgivable. (vv.16-17). We who are born of God, however, will not backslide into sinning as long as we stay shielded by the Anointed One, part of God’s sphere and not of the devil’s compound, to whom the anti-God world belongs (vv.18-19). We cohabit with the Father and the Son, author of eternal life. John has one final word – guard yourselves against being conformed to a godless society.
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.
God’s servant with the heart of a champion for Christianity and an aggressive critic against heresy, Quintus Tertullian (155-225 AD) maintains that the Apostle John did not tell us to keep away from worship, but idols, that is, from their very likeness. It is wrong for you, created in the image of the living God, to become the image of an idol and a dead person.
With great assurance, early church ecclesiastical teacher Didymus the Blind (313-398 AD) asks, why is it that after everything else he has said to his hearers during his letter, John should keep this warning about idols to the very end? I think it is because the Apostle John addresses the church in general. There must have been many in that assembly who were former idolaters, and he adds this caution for their benefit.
Hilary of Arles (401-449 AD) notes that the letter ends as it began, with a warning to worship the one true God alone. Everything else that the Apostle John says is contained in this one golden rule.
With a studious monk’s spiritual insight, Bede the Venerable (372-735 AD) hears the Apostle John saying to his readers, you who know the true God, in whom you have eternal life, so you must keep yourselves away from the teachings of the heretics, which lead only to eternal death. In the manner of those who made idols in place of God, the dissidents have corrupted the glory of the incorruptible God with their wicked doctrines, which bear the stamp of corruptible things.
Respected Reformation writer, Matthew Poole (1624-1679) believes that from close association with the Gentiles in their worship and festivals in their temples, these pseudo-Christians felt enough leeway, as reported by the Apostle Paul’s discourses (especially if any danger so required); wherein, instead of that communion with the Father and the Son, which he was inviting them to, they should have fellowship with devils, as that other apostle tells his Corinthians. And he might also have reference to the peculiar idolatries, which these sorts of people are noted to have been guilty of towards their great sect master.
Isaac Barrow (1630-1677) quotes what the Apostle Paul said to the Athenians that their altar to “AN UNKNOWN GOD” is the God who made the whole world and everything in it. He is the Lord of the land and the sky. He does not live in temples built by human hands. Therefore, we being the offspring of God, ought not to think that the Godhead is like gold, or silver, or stone, the engravement of art and man’s device: in which place, as the forming any image to represent divine things is manifestly prohibited, so the reasons which we touched against such practice are discernibly enough insinuated.
Neither should we omit that this law is confirmed in the Final Covenant, and there made a part of God’s new law: for we are commanded to flee idols, not to be idolaters, to shun idolatry as a most heinous crime, of the highest rank, proceeding from fleshly depravity,  consistently with good conscience, and to expose to meaning and the notion of idolatry in which places, why should we understand it otherwise, then according to the plain sense of the word, which is the worship of images, or resemblances? Why should we take it otherwise than as being opposed to God’s Law, then in force? Why should we otherwise expound it according to the common notion and acceptance of God’s people at that time?
Influenced by his Arminian view of salvation, Daniel Whitby (1638-1726) says that by saying “stay from the idols,” that is the false gods of the heathens among whom they lived. They were to turn away from idols to the true and living God. Thus, an idol is not a true god because there is but one true God. Consequently, to eat things offered to idols is to eat them with the apprehension that there was somewhat of power or virtue in that god to whom it was presented. Nevertheless, because these false gods were still represented by and worshipped and thought necessary to worship their deities, the apostle use the word idols and equally forbids that way of honoring the true God.
William Sherlock (1641-1707) was a protestant church leader in England. In 1669 he became rector of St George’s, Botolph Lane, London, and in 1681, appointed prebendary of St. Paul’s Church. His response to the Apostle John’s message in verse twenty goes, “If we reflect upon the holiness of God, and His hatred of sin and iniquity, and begin to fear that He can never be reconciled to sinners; let us take courage; the work is difficult, but God’s Son has undertaken it; and how great the distance between God and us is, yet through the Son we have access to Him.” Sherlock indicates that if we are still unsure about ourselves, all may be lost through our weakness and inability to do good; even for this, help is at hand; the Spirit of God is our support; He is the pledge and evidence of our redemption.
With these being essential for salvation, it was necessary to reveal to a godless society the doctrines concerning the Son and the Holy Spirit: and the belief in these doctrines is crucial to every Christian as far as the correct use of the means depends on true faith and confidence in the principles. Since we can only come to the Father through the Son, denying the Son is to cut off all communication between the Father and us. The same may be said of the blessed Spirit, who we are in the Anointed One. The Apostle Paul said, “Remember that those who do not have the Spirit of the Anointed One living in them do not belong to Him at all.” Our blessed Lord told us, “This is the way to have eternal life – to know You, the only true God, and Jesus the Anointed One, the one You sent to earth.”
With a spiritually contemplative mind, Matthew Henry (1662-1714) sees all humanity divided into two parties or colonies, those who freely belong to God and others enslaved by the wicked. True believers are God’s possession: they are of God, and from Him, and to Him, and for Him; while the rest, by far the more significant in number, are in the power of the wicked one; they do his works and support his cause.
This general declaration includes all unbelievers, whatever their profession, station, or situation, or by whatever name they may be called. God’s Son leads believers to the Father and is loved and favored by both and in union with both by the indwelling and working of the Holy Spirit. Happy are those who know that God’s Son has come and have the heart to trust in and rely on Him, the true One! May this be our privilege; we shall thus be shielded from all idols and false doctrines, and the idolatrous love of worldly objects, and be guarded by the power of God, through faith, unto eternal salvation. To this living and true God, be glory and dominion forever and ever! Amen.
An Anglican priest opposing the monarchy of Church and State in favor of a constitutional parliamentary system, Thomas Pyle (1674-1756) hears the Apostle John closing this chapter with words to conclude: While the rest of the obstinate and unrepenting world continue enslaved to ignorance, idolatry, sin, and Satan, we Christians are fully and happily assured, that we are members of the church of the true God, by sincerely believing in Jesus the Anointed One His Son, who came into a godless society to teach us the way of true religion, and, being made man, suffered and died, to ensure our eternal life and happiness.
With meticulous Greek text examination and confirmation, Johann Bengel (1687-1752 focuses on the Apostle John’s warning in verse twenty to “keep yourselves” in my absence, that no one deceives you. The elegance of the active verb with the reciprocal pronoun is more expressive than “be on your guard” in verse twenty-one, “from idols,” and not only from their worship but also from all communion and appearance of fellowship with them. 
With all the Apostle John’s themes in mind, John Wesley (1703-1791) states that since there is no firm foundation for the love of our brethren except the love of God, there is no possibility of loving God except we keep ourselves from idols. The first thing to consider is the idols of which the Apostle John speaks. The second thing is to inquire, “How will we keep ourselves from them?” Thirdly, Wesley asks, “What do they profess is their intention in the reverence they give to images and pictures?” Do they declare that the honor given to the image is for the persons the statue represents, whether God the Father, the Anointed One, angels, or saints? And when they kneel before the sculpture, do they worship God, the Anointed One, an angel, or a saint? And what about worshipping an image representing a divine person on the holy ones’ behalf? Is their worship due to the person depicted, or given to the image in the holy ones’ absence?
To give one honor to the person and another to the image is to worship them, not have that idol to pass on to God. But if they intend to pass their worship to the person represented through the image, then we know the falsehood involved when they kiss, uncover their heads, bow to, and worship an image. That’s why we all have a reason to remember the Apostle’s advice: “Keep yourselves from idols.”
Furthermore, Wesley responds to criticism from a reader named Mr. Hill concerning one of his sermons. Mr. Hill says Wesley “has struck out some words, and put in others, into the sermon.” Wesley responds this complaint is with Mr. Hill, so it is necessary to explain it. I generally abridge what I answer, which means striking out all unessential words. And I typically put into quotations from my writings such comments as I judge will prevent mistakes. Now to the contradictions: — “‘If we say we have no sin’ now remaining,” (I mean after we are justified) “we deceive ourselves.” I believe this: “Sinful tendencies will always remain in our flesh.” Again: “Many infirmities do remain.” I believe this; and accept “He that is born of God” (and “keeps himself,” whether in act, word or thought. I likewise believe that in those perfected in love, “No wrinkle of infirmity, no spot of sin remains.” 
With scholarly meditation, James Macknight (1721-1800) states that for the meaning of the Greek word eidōlon (“idols”), see what the Apostle Paul warned the Corinthians about. The Apostle John cautioned his disciples against going with the heathens into the temples of their idol gods, to eat of the sacrifices which they offered to these gods provided at their feasts, and against being present at any act of worship given to these idols, because, by being present at the worship of idols, they participated in that worship. John’s appeal to the brethren to keep themselves from idols shows that this epistle was intended for the converted Gentiles and the Jews in Samaria.
After skillfully scrutinizing the Apostle John’s theme, John Brown of Haddington (1722-1787) exclaims, “What trustworthy testimonies concerning the Anointed One are revealed to us to encourage and establish our faith in Him!” Therefore, nothing can be more highly reasonable than to rest in Him, assured of our eternal life in and through Him as the gift of God. And it is highly criminal and ruinous to our souls by discrediting His gospel declarations and promises to call Yahweh’s solemn witness a lie when it is a sure ground of hope in our pleading for every necessary blessing that the Anointed One has purchased and intercedes for it, and God has promised, for His sake, to grant it. But dreadful, as well as unpardonable, is the crime of desperate and willful rejection of the Anointed One and the Gospel. Christians have a great need to guard against every approach and ensure their regeneration by God’s Spirit, as an effectual preservative against it. Thrice happy are they who conscientiously improve their assured knowledge, faith, and hope, in carefully keeping their heart and life for God alone, in opposition to every idolatrous rival.
 Cf. Romans 12:2
 Tertullian: Ancient Christian Commentary on the Scriptures, Bray, G. (Ed.), op. cit., Vol. XI, p. 2289
 Didymus the Blind: Ancient Christian Commentary on the Scriptures, Bray, G. (Ed.), op. cit., Vol. XI, p. 229
 Hilary of Arles: Ancient Christian Commentary on the Scriptures, Bray, G. (Ed.), op. cit., Vol. XI, p. 229
 Bede the Venerable: Ancient Christian Commentary on the Scriptures, Bray, G. (Ed.), op. cit., Vol. XI, p. 229
 1 Corinthians 8:1-13; 10:14
 1 John 1:3
 1 Corinthians 10:20-21
 Poole, Matthew. Commentary on the Holy Bible – Book of 1st, 2nd & 3rd John (Annotated), Kindle Edition
 Acts of the Apostles 17:24
 1 Corinthians 10:7, 14
 Ibid. 5:10, 11; 4:9
 Galatians 5:20
 Revelation 9:20; 21:8; 22:15
 Barrow, John: The Theological Works, op. cit., Vol. VII, An Exposition of the Decalogue, Second Commandments, p. 448
 1 Thessalonians 1:9
 2 Corinthians 8:4
 Whitby, Daniel: Critical Commentary and Paraphrase, loc. cit., p. 472
 A prebendary is a member of the Anglican clergy, a form of canon with a role in the administration of a cathedral or collegiate church. Prebendaries sit in particular seats when attending services, usually at the back of the choir stalls, known as prebendal stalls.
 Romans 8:9
 Sherlock, William: Lange’s Commentary on the New Testament, op. cit., Vol. IX, p. 168
 Henry, Matthew: Concise Commentary on the Bible, op. cit., pp. 2060-2061
 Pyle, Thomas: A Paraphrase of the Epistles in the New Testament (1725), op. cit., p. 403
 Revelation 2:14, 20
 Bengel, Johann: Gnomon of the New Testament, op. cit., Vol. 4, p. 154
 Wesley, John, The Works of Vol. 6, Sermon 78, Spiritual Idolatry, p. 462
 1 John 5:18
 Cf. Ephesians 5:27
 Wesley, John, The Works of: Vol 10, Section 3, Of Divine Worship, pp. 117, 472
 1 Corinthians 8:4
 Macknight, James: Apostolic Epistles with Commentary, Vol. VI, p. 127
 Brown of Haddington, John: Self-Interpreting Bible, N. T., Vol. IV., p. 507