Love and Prayer
His commandments are not burdensome... (5:3)
• When we read 5:2-4, we may be mislead to think that lovers of God need to keep all the commands found in the Bible. It is important to note the context. In the prior chapters, John is attempting to redefine the commands of God to this simple phrase: "Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister." (4:21) When we love God and others, other commands start to fall into place naturally.
• The commandments of God are not burdensome for those who believe because the citizens of the new creation have come to see the world as God’s kingdom.
• Commandments are burdensome only for those who think that obedience to God runs contrary to the way things really are. For example, it is only difficult to be meek if you still believe that “only the strong survive” or that it is the powerful who really inherit the earth. It is only burdensome to not steal if one still lives in a world where people covet the possessions of the other (and fail to share with the other).
The World (5:4)
• The Greek term translated in verse four as “the world” is the word kosmos (from which we get the English word cosmos). When this word is used in the New Testament, it usually refers not to the physical universe but to an interlocking network of “powers” – political, economic, cultural, and ideological powers – that, from the Scripture’s point of view, have turned their backs on their divine purposes and have idolatrously set themselves up in defiance of God.
• Because the kosmos is rebelling against God’s purposes, the “principalities and powers” that rule the world are often characterized by inequality, patriarchy, economic injustice, hierarchies of power, racism, and nationalism. The whole edifice of brokenness is constructed and maintained by violence. One of the central tenets of the kingdom of God proclaimed by Jesus was a critique of these forms of domination and the proclamation of an alternative reality – the benevolent reign of God.
• In the death and resurrection of Jesus (a death brought about by the powers of the kosmos), the powers have been defeated. The problem, however, is that those who live under the reign of the principalities and powers rarely recognize its defeat. Those who continue to live “in the world” believe that this oppressive arrangement is the nature of things. The system of domination becomes the “real world.”
This is the victory... our faith (5:4)
• The author of the book of Hebrews beautifully defines the nature of true faith: Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (Heb. 11:1).
• Faith is the ability to see beyond the “real world” and recognize the presence of the Kingdom of God. Faith is the willingness to live under the lordship of powers that cannot be seen. It is living in the assurance that Christ reigns.
• John does not think of “conquering” the rulers of “the world” in the terms of a violent overthrowing of the system. To do that would be to continue to live as citizens of “the world.” Those who conquer the kosmos do so by refusing to be bound by the systems, structures, and powers that define “the world.”
Everyone who believes (and loves)... has been born of God (5:1)
• As was made evident in his Gospel, John sees conversion not just as the adoption of a set of cognitive propositions, but also as a new birth. To be Christian is to leave the old way of living and behaving in the world behind and to enter into a whole new frame of existence.
• The one who has been “born again” has come to see the world differently. The new set of convictions that the believer holds orients them away from the old creation and makes them participants in God’s new creation.
Water and Blood (5:6)
• How did Jesus conquer the world? Through water and blood. It is possible that these images and symbols are drawn from the narratives about the spear-pierced side of Christ on the cross. (It is interesting that only John was present to witness this moment in the gospel.) However, it is more likely that the water and blood refer to the baptism and crucifixion of Christ.
• In baptism one puts to death the old world and allows the new world (and the community that lives within this new world) to become one’s reality.
• The crucifixion is the defeat of the powers because in his death Jesus the Christ refuses to be threatened by or succumb to the violent methods of the powers.
The Spirit is Truth (5:7)
• It is ultimately the empowerment of the Spirit that not only enables believers to have the faith to live within the “new creation,” but it is the work of the Spirit within us that testifies to the kosmos that the reign of God is present.
The Father: the Giver of Life (5:7-9)
• All life finds its source in God the Father. “In him was life and that life was the light for all people.”
• For John, “witnessing” or “bearing testimony” is critical for authority. In this text John is arguing that it is the character of God that bears witness to his message.
• There are three elements that, by the end of his letter, have become symbols of God’s activity in the world: water, blood, and the Spirit. Water is most likely the symbol of new life and the blood is the symbol of the costliness of this new life.
• The loving character of God bears witness to the Father’s desire for his creation to experience new life and to be willing to participate in suffering love in order to bring about this new creation.
The Son: the Way to Life (5:10-12)
• The Son, who bears witness to the Father, is the way to eternal life. He is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”
• The life of the Son is the very life in which the believer must participate so that they might live within eternal life. In other words, it is the very way of living demonstrated in the life of Jesus that is the pattern for eternal life.
• If we are to have eternal life, we are to participate in the very life of Jesus in the world. “Jesus did not come to proclaim a social ethic, he is a social ethic.”
Eternal Life (5:11-13)
• In this letter as well as in the Fourth Gospel we are continually reminded of the promise of “eternal life.” John’s understanding of eternal life should not be confined to a quantity of days, for one could live a long time in pain and suffering. For John, eternal life is not merely about living beyond death, it is about experiencing the quality of life (abundant life) that comes from God in our today.
• It is very important in evangelism that the people of God remember that what God offers is a kind of quality of life that breaks into our today and that gives people assurance of our life into eternity.
The Spirit: the Witness to Life (5:6-7)
• The Spirit of God testifies to the truth of eternal life.
• As we live together in the pattern of the Son, the Spirit of God bears witness in the life of the church that the life God’s people are living is “the truth.” The truthfulness of the Christian life is not demonstrated in propositions as much as it is witnessed to in the quality of life believers share together.
• The Spirit is the power of God that makes eternal life together in the body of Christ a possibility.
Confidence in Prayer (5:14-5)
• There is implied in John’s writings a consistency in the Trinity.
• The Father is love, the Son witnesses to the Father’s life of love, and the Spirit empowers believers to walk in the path set by the Son.
• The communication between the persons of the Trinity finds its consistency in the unity of character. “The Father and the Son share the same Spirit.”
• Likewise, when the people of God share in the eternal life of God they have confidence that what they are asking for is consistent with the will and character of God.
• When this unity of purpose happens, the church can live in the complete confidence that its prayers are being heard; because God’s people are participating in the eternal life of God.
Prayer is not asking. Prayer is putting oneself in the hands of God, at His disposition, and listening to His voice in the depth of our hearts. – Mother Teresa