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Comments on 1 John 3 – 5

Overview of the General Epistles
Comments on Hebrews
Comments on James and Jude

Comments on 1 John 1 – 2

1 John 3:1-7
1 John 3:1-16
1 John 3:17-24
1 John 4:7-21
1 John 5:1-6
1 John 5:1-6
1 John 5:9-13

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1 John 3:1-7

The Bible has some pretty scary things to say about sin and sinners, and today we're going to read one of them. John says, "Whoever abides in him, does not sin: whoever sins, has not seen him or known him."
Now, first let me say just a little bit about Greek. In English we can say "I sin" or "I am sinning." The former implies that I sin all the time, and the latter means I'm sinning right this minute. Greek only has one present tense, and the translator has to decide which way to bring a present tense into English. Depending both on the translator's translation philosophy and on his theology, this verse can be rendered in a number of ways:
abides/is abiding; does not sin/does not keep on sinning; sins/keeps on sinning.
HUGE theological discussions have arisen from these different ways of understanding this verse – particularly between John Wesley and the Calvinists! To vastly oversimplify, there seem to be two schools of thought:
So this verse kind of scares me, partly because I might not be a "real" Christian, but mainly because I don't like to mislead you.

I searched for this verse on the web and found a comment by Bill Mounce. Name sounds familiar – who is that guy? He's the author of my Greek textbook! And a translator of the English Standard Version! Dr. Mounce points out that John has already said that Christians sin (vs. 1:8), but he was writing to people (us?) who thought (or think?) that it's okay to keeping on sinning. So John "takes a deep breathe and proclaims for all sinners to hear: 'We do not sin.' " Dr. Mounce thinks vs. 3:6 is more in the nature of a goal stated in absolute terms than a fact. In the same way, Wesley's goal was Christian perfection; his fact was that he was always "going on to perfection."

1 John 3:1-16

Christianity is a very hands-on religion.  The way to show that you love God is to do his work.  It's not enough to bless the poor; you have to feed the poor.  It's not enough to love your brother; you must be prepared to lay down your life for your brother.

1 John 3:17-24

Have you ever seen an actual shepherd with an actual flock of sheep? I have, once when I was about 10 and visiting my aunt and uncle's farm. The shepherd was an old guy with a lo-ong beard and hair, a wide-brimmed hat, voluminous loose clothing, and an odor that was a separate clothing item in its own right. He stopped into the house to visit my aunt, because he was a friend of theirs. His enormous flock of sheep did not run away while he was inside, and when he left, they followed him on down the road. They knew who took care of them, so they followed him and did what he wanted them to do. Sometimes I wonder if we are as smart as sheep.
We often wonder what Jesus means when he promises that whatever we ask for in prayer will be given to us (Mark 11:23-24). (We mostly wonder about this when we don't get something we ask for. I've noticed, however, that we rarely wonder about it when we get something good that we didn't ask for.) John explains at least a part of the puzzle. Only when we obey God's commands and do what pleases him are we going to get whatever we ask for. His command is to love each other the way Christ loves us – and Christ loves us so much that he laid down his life for us.
I tell you what. Let's do the experiment. Let's follow Jesus with the same obedient confidence that the sheep followed that shepherd. Let's love each other the way Christ loves us. There's only about 130 of us, so that shouldn't be too difficult. Then let's pray for whatever we want in those circumstances and see if we get it.

1 John 4:7-21 (2007, 5/7/09)

This week we've been looking at the importance of being fruitful servants of God. What does that mean, anyway? Give me some guidelines, preferably with check boxes. Sort of like a food pyramid: each week I need 21 prayers (minimum 5 minutes each), seven Bible readings, three "God bless yous," two good deeds, and one worship service.

As a matter of fact, there are quite a number of checklists in the Bible – both do lists and don't lists. However, John says that in judging your fruitfulness, only two things on the list really matter. 1. Love God. 2. Love your neighbor. Do these two things every day, and you won't need any other guidelines.

John never refers to himself by name in his Gospel, and usually he doesn't mention himself at all. A few times, when the narrative absolutely can't go on without him, he refers to himself as "the disciple Jesus loved." The love of Jesus shines through John's Gospel and letters with a brilliance that makes the other books of the NT seem pale. John's symbol is the eagle, because only the eagle can look directly at the sun without being blinded. John looked directly at God, and what he saw was love.

1 John 5:1-6

God's commandments are not burdensome.  How often do we turn unbelievers away from the love of God by our message of "thou shalt not" and "bring a tithe" and "repent" and "serve on a committee" and whatever other burdensome thing we think they need to hear?  God forgive us!  John sticks to the basics:
Just tell 'em Jesus loves 'em, and tell 'em what he has done for your soul.  Let God worry about their behavior after they get into the kingdom.

1 John 5:1-6  Belief = Love = Obedience = Joy (5/14/09)

The Gospel of John is all about belief.  The pattern repeated over and over is this:  Jesus does a miracle or other sign.  John, as the narrator, explains what it means.  Sometimes there is a debate between Jesus and the Pharisees, scribes, or whoever.  Those who are present make a choice between belief and unbelief.  At the Last Supper, Jesus talks about how important it is that believers remain in his love and obey his commandments; these two ideas are so closely related that they are almost synonymous.  John spends far less time than the other gospel writers on instructions for Christian behavior.  His idea seems to be that if you believe in Jesus, you will love God and your neighbor.  And if you love God and your neighbor, your behavior will not be an issue.

In the letters of John, John is talking to believers, so he concentrates on love and obedience.  Almost as an afterthought, he tells us something incredibly encouraging:  "his commandments are not difficult."  Why?  Because the believer is victorious over the world, i.e., over the trials and temptations that are a natural part of living here instead of in heaven.  How sad that so many people refuse to become believers because they are concerned about the difficulty of following the commandments of God!

1 John 5:9-13 (5/21/09)

Near the end of Moses' life, he spoke to the assembled children of Israel and summarized where they had been and what they'd been through. Then he listed all curses that would fall upon them if they violated God's laws (Deuteronomy 27). On the other hand, he described all the blessings that would be theirs if they stayed in a right relationship with God (Deut. 28). Finally, he offered them the most important choice that they can make:
John offers a similar choice to his readers:  Are you going to believe God or not believe God?  Are you going to choose life in Jesus Christ or not choose life in Jesus Christ?  Choose life!

Copyright 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 by Regina L. Hunter.  All rights reserved.

Opinions expressed on this page are solely those of the author, Regina Hunter, and may or may not be shared by the sponsors or the Bible-study participants.  Thanks to the Holy Spirit for any useful ideas presented here, and thanks to all the readers for their support and enthusiasm.  All errors are, of course, the sole responsibility of the author.

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