June 28: 1 John 5:1-4

1 John 5:1-4a

These verses represent the conclusion of the division 4:7-5:4a, which, like the central division 2:28-3:24, has the duty (e)ntolh/) of love as its focus—using this e)ntolh/ to distinguish the true believer (viz., the one born of God as His offspring) from the false. As we have discussed, there actually two aspects, or components, to the great e)ntolh/trust in Jesus (as the Messiah and Son of God), and love for other believers (following Jesus’ own example). These two aspects go hand-in-hand and really cannot be separated. Their interconnectedness has been made clear by the author throughout, and, most notably, here in 4:7-5:4a. I have already pointed out the formal parallel between the wording in 4:7 and 5:1:

    • “every(one) loving has come to be (born) of God” [4:7]
      pa=$ o( a)gapw=n e)k tou= qeou= gege/nnhtai
    • “every(one) trusting that Yeshua is the Anointed has come to be (born) of God” [5:1]
      pa=$ o( pisteu/wne)k tou= qeou= gege/nnhtai

Essentially these two statements bracket the section as a whole, emphasizing both components of the two-fold duty that is required of believers—trust and love.

However 5:1 is just the beginning of a complex unit—spanning 5:1-4a (or 5:1-5)—that both summarizes the thought of the section and provides a transition to the next (5:4b-12). Verses 4b-5 are, in fact, transitional, and can reasonably be connected both with what precedes and what follows. The thematic and formal chiastic structure of 5:1-5 has been illustrated by von Wahlde in his Commentary (p. 172f). Note the following schematic:

    • “Every(one) trusting that Yeshua is the Anointed (v. 1a)
      • has come to be (born) of God… (vv. 1b-2a)
        • when we would love God and do His e)ntolai/. (v. 2b)
          • For this is the love of God— (v. 3a)
        • that we should watch over His e)ntolai/… (v. 3b)
      • every(thing) having come to be (born) of God… (v. 4-5a)
    • the (one) trusting that Yeshua is the Son of God (v. 5b)

To love God (the central theme) means “keeping watch over” (vb thre/w) the two-fold duty (e)ntolh/, plur. e)ntolai/) of trust and love. The aspect of trust is primary, since it precedes our birth as the offspring/children of God. Once we have come to be born, it is love that becomes primary. This dynamic is indicated by the outer and inner layers of vv. 1-5, respectively. The two aspects, however, remain interrelated; note, for example, how this is expressed in verse 1:

“Every(one) trusting that Yeshua is the Anointed has come to be (born) of God; and, every(one) loving the (One hav)ing caused (him) to be (born), [also] loves the (one) having come to be (born) out of Him.”

Consider the parallelism here of the trust and love aspects:

    • “every(one) trusting that Yeshua is the Anointed
      • has come to be (born) of God
    • every(one) loving…loves
      • the (one) having come to be (born) out of Him.”

Loving God also means loving His offspring (i.e., true believers). Indeed, the one who truly loves God is His offspring; it is only natural that one who is His child, will love all the siblings— ‘brothers and sisters’ —all the other children of God. This point has already been made here in 4:20-21. The person who fails to show love toward other believers cannot love God. Indeed, loving God means loving His offspring, and thus fulfilling the duty (e)ntolh/) of love. This is expressed in verse 2:

“In this we know that we love the offspring [te/kna] of God:
when we would love God and do His e)ntolai/.”

The Johannine writings use the singular and plural of the noun e)ntolh/ interchangeably. The use of the plural (e)ntolai/) can be misleading, especially when translated as “command(ment)s”, since it suggests that a set of ethical-religious commands is in view, such as the regulations, etc, of the Torah. However, as I have repeatedly maintained, within the theological and religious worldview of the Johannine writings, there is just one e)ntolh/—viz., one duty/requirement placed on us (as believers) to fulfill. But this is a duty with two components (3:23); thus it can be viewed either as a single e)ntolh/ with two aspects, or as two e)ntolai/. Regardless of the use of the singular or plural, the meaning is the same.

If we, as believers, truly love God and fulfill our duty (e)ntolh/), then we can be sure (“know”) that we do, in fact, love our fellow believers. The love of our fellow believers follows as a natural consequence of our love of God. Again, this principle is expressed by way of the birth/offspring motif—if we love God the Father, as His children, we will also love all His other children (with whom we are related, through the Spirit). In verse 2, loving God and fulfilling the duty of trust/love seem to be presented as two separate, but related, actions; however, as verse 3 makes clear, there is really no separation—love of God is love of God’s offspring, principally because it is God’s own love that we possess:

“For this is the love of God: that we should watch over His e)ntolai/—and His e)ntolai/ are not weighing (heavy on us).”

The qualifying statement in 3c is reminiscent of Jesus’ famous words in Matthew 11:30. The ‘lightness’ here could allude to the fact that just a single (two-fold) duty (or ‘command’) is involved. From the standpoint of the Johannine theology, however, the proper explanation relates to the nature of our union with God the Father and Jesus the Son. Our fulfillment of the e)ntolh/ (or e)ntolai/) is enabled by the abiding presence of the Father and Son in us (through the Spirit). God’s own love abides in us, and thus we are able to love, as long as we remain in Him (and His love). The same is true with regard to the aspect of trust, as the author discusses in vv. 4b-12. The main point at issue, and the crux of the author’s message in 1 John, is the need for believers to remain in God, by remaining the Son—specifically, in the truth of who he is (viz., “trust”), and in his love. The “antichrist” opponents have not remained, but have departed from the truth (and from love); the same may be said for all other false believers.

In the next daily note, we will look at verse 4a (along with the following vv. 4b-5), which brings the section to a close, with a further reiteration of the birth/offspring theme.

References above marked “von Wahlde” are to Urban C. von Wahlde, The Gospel and Letters of John. Volume 3: Commentary on the Three Johannine Letters, Eerdmans Critical Commentary (2010).
See also the same author’s fine study on the use of e)ntolh/ in the Johannine writings, The Johannine Commandments: 1 John and the Struggle for the Johannine Tradition (Paulist Press: 1990).

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