The Way to Love
1 John 5:1–12
1 John 5:1–12
After participating in this lesson, each student will be able to:
1. Describe how love for God and love for others are related.
2. Give an example of how to show love for God and an example of how to show love for others.
3. Apply the two examples from lesson aim #2 in the week ahead.
How to Say It
Daily Bible Readings
Monday, Mar. 19—Jesus Calls Disciples (Mark 1:16–20)
Tuesday, Mar. 20—God’s Love Saves Creation (John 3:16–21)
Wednesday, Mar. 21—Jesus Seeks the Father (John 17:1–5)
Thursday, Mar. 22—We Belong to God (Romans 8:9–17)
Friday, Mar. 23—We Are God’s Heirs (Galatians 4:1–7)
Saturday, Mar. 24—Love God’s Children (1 John 5:1–6)
Sunday, Mar. 25—God Gives Eternal Life (1 John 5:7–13)
This is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.
—1 John 5:11
Why Teach this Lesson?
Your students are bombarded with secular images of (supposed) love. Which of these are pleasing to God, and which are distortions of his will?
A youth minister tells of being last in the cafeteria line on the first day of camp. The only seat left in the cafeteria was directly across from a skinny teenage girl. She had buck teeth, stringy hair, and hunched shoulders. The young minister made small talk during the meal, but the girl seemed quite withdrawn and self-conscious. The young minister was disappointed to hear that the same cafeteria seats would be assigned for all meals during the coming week. But through the mealtime conversations, he discovered a wonderfully spiritual and perceptive Christian beneath that unattractive appearance. They became friends.
When the week-long camp came to an end, the girl hugged the minister and thanked him for his care and friendship. And that minister learned a lesson about how God views his children. The Lord reminded Samuel that, “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). Learning to love as God loves is a part of our Christian journey. Today’s study will sort through the confusion on how to live and love God’s way.
A. The Way to Do It
“No, here’s the way it’s done.” The father, a skilled craftsman, is teaching his son the right way to do a job. If the youngster is too stubborn to listen, he will be slow to make progress. But if he has confidence in his father’s ability and pays careful attention, he will learn his lesson well.
God has tried to teach his children the way of love. At the beginning he provided generously for Adam and Eve. He even allowed them to exercise their freewill choice. Time and again in the history of Israel, he lovingly rescued his people from oppression. When they sinned, he corrected them. When they repented, he forgave them. When they prayed, he opened the windows of Heaven to pour out blessings on them. Most of all, he sent Jesus to die on the cross for them. No greater example of love has ever been known.
We have been shown the way to love. Will we be stubborn, or will we learn?
B. Lesson Background
This is the final chapter in John’s first epistle, written near the end of the first century AD. The special problem of those who originally received the letter was a heresy called Gnosticism, or at least an early version of it. This teaching placed little value on faith, love, or obedience. Instead, the gnostics said that secret knowledge was the way to Heaven. (The word gnosis means “knowledge” and is found within the English words diagnosis and prognosis.) As John brings his teaching to a conclusion, he puts all his emphasis on being in the right relationship with Jesus Christ. This includes having love for all God’s children.
I. Foundation of God’s Way (1 John 5:1–3)
Living God’s way involves every part of our lives. As John has indicated previously in this epistle, this includes head, heart, and hands. With our minds we believe the truth; with our hearts we love God and his children; with our hands we do all that righteousness requires. The three areas are inseparably linked as God’s design for us to live.
A. Faith and Love (v. 1)
1. Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well.
John begins this section with a focus on faith. Anyone who is truly born of God will have faith that Jesus is the Christ. This faith is not merely an idle opinion about Jesus’ identity. It involves sincere confession and commitment to Christ (see 1 John 4:2, 15). It is a trusting, ongoing faith (as shown by John’s use of the present tense in the word believes). True faith is vital for a lifelong relationship with Jesus.
Everyone who has the proper faith relationship with Jesus, within the biblical plan of salvation, is a child of God. John’s immediate point here is that every such child should be an object of our love. After all, if we love the father, then we should also love his child.
B. Love and Obedience (vv. 2, 3)
2. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands.
John has said that if we love God we will love his children. And how do we know that we love the children of God? It is by loving God and carrying out his commands. These ideas are reciprocal and complementary as they show both sides of an important truth: we honor God by loving his children; we love his children by loving God as we honor his commands.
The previous verse showed the inseparable connection between faith and love; this verse shows the connection between love and obedience. All three elements must be present to produce the Christian life.
3. This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome,
John sees nothing surprising in linking our love for God with our obedience to him. It may truly be said that the love of God necessarily, even automatically, requires that we obey his commands. This is the inherent truth of a right relationship with God. How could anyone think he or she loves God while ignoring or disobeying what God says? “If you love me, you will obey what I command” (John 14:15).
What Do You Think?
Some claim to believe in God, yet do not exhibit a lifestyle that acknowledges God’s commands. How do you share with someone of this mind-set what a relationship with God really involves? How do you prepare yourself for a “do not judge” response?
John is quick to add that God’s commands are not burdensome. Jesus himself said, “my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:30). God’s commandments have never been burdensome. This is borne out by Deuteronomy 30:11, 14: “Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach.… No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.” It was the teachers of the law and the Pharisees who made obedience to God a burden. “They tie up heavy loads put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them” (Matthew 23:4).
What Do You Think?
Without giving trite, prepackaged answers, what would you say to a believer who is struggling with obedience in some area?
None of this should be construed that John is talking about salvation by works or salvation by law keeping. It comes down to motive. We obey God as a loving response to the salvation that is already ours. We do not obey in order to earn a salvation that God dangles in front of us.
A Lost Score
A Japanese music professor announced recently that part of a Bach wedding cantata had been found in the estate of a Japanese classical pianist. J. S. Bach (1685–1750) was a pioneer in classical music, and this cantata had been lost for 80 years. Musicologists believe “Wedding Cantata BWV 216” was copied by students Bach was teaching at the time he composed the piece.
The score contains only the alto and soprano portions of the cantata, and experts believe they were used in the original (and only) performance of the piece played at a wedding in 1728. Historians who specialize in Bach’s music hope the lost score can help them reconstruct the full composition so it can be performed as it may have sounded originally.
We can draw a parallel in that the apostle John and the other New Testament writers have given us the “score” for a piece of divinely inspired “music.” Believing in Jesus as God’s Son, loving God, loving God’s children, and keeping God’s commandments are the recurrent themes in this composition. If we “lose” the score by neglecting to read it and meditate upon it, then we should not be surprised to find the themes missing from our lives. Those who truly love God will honor him as a composer who deserves to have his “music” played the way he wrote it. —C. R. B.
II. Victory of God’s Way (1 John 5:4, 5)
God’s way—the way of love—is the right way. It is the way that brings victory. All the children of God will share in this victory because they have put their faith in Jesus, God’s Son. Their faith is an overcoming faith, the kind of faith that trusts in an overcoming Savior.
A. An Overcoming Faith (v. 4)
4.… for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.
In context the phrase the world refers to the powers of evil that take their stand against God. This is what Jesus had in mind when he said, “I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
By being born of God, we share in his victory over the world. As members of God’s family, we have an overcoming faith. It is a faith that separates us from the fallen world and gives us victory over the temptations of the world. We live in this world in a physical sense, but we are not of the world in an ethical sense (see John 15:19; 17:6, 14–19). Even though we struggle on a daily basis to live godly lives, we can take heart in the fact that the victory has already been won. The outcome is already decided. We are on the winning side.
What Do You Think?
The next time you face temptation, how will it help you to know that everyone who is born of God overcomes the world?
B. An Overcoming Savior (v. 5)
5. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.
When we overcome the world, it is not because we ourselves are so powerful. The true source of our victory is the object of our faith: Jesus, the Son of God. Through our faith in him, we are assured that we overcome this world. “But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:57).
Because we have put our trust and confidence in Jesus, “we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:37). Even though we wrestle against the forces of spiritual darkness and wickedness (Ephesians 6:12), our final victory is secured. By faith we have chosen to join the victors.
III. Basis of God’s Way (1 John 5:6–10)
Christianity stands or falls with Jesus. Either he is who he claimed to be, or he is an imposter. If he is not God’s Son, his moral teachings are groundless. If he has not risen from the dead, all Christian faith is in vain. Everything hinges on Jesus. For this reason John emphasizes the testimony to Jesus’ identity as God’s Son as well as the response to Jesus that we must make.
A. God’s Witness to His Son (vv. 6–8)
6. This is the one who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth.
Our Lesson Background notes the gnostic heresy that was beginning to emerge in the late first century ad. One element of gnosticism was another false teaching called Docetism. This word means “to seem” or “to appear to be.” This false teaching denies that Jesus came in the flesh, only that Jesus seemed to appear in the flesh. John is very concerned about this kind of error: “Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist” (2 John 7).
To counter such falsehood, John presents his own, firsthand evidence. From the beginning of Jesus’ ministry to its very end, Jesus displayed his deity in bodily form (compare Colossians 2:9). Jesus came by water into his public ministry when he was baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan River. Jesus came by blood to the conclusion of his ministry when he was nailed to the cross. The real humanity of Jesus is clearly shown by water and blood.
What Do You Think?
John writes these verses to refute a heresy that claimed Jesus had not come to earth “in the flesh.” What other false ideas do we deal with today? What makes some false ideas more serious than others?
In addition to the testimony of water and blood, the Spirit of God also testifies to Jesus. When Jesus was baptized, the Holy Spirit descended from Heaven in the form of a dove and rested upon Jesus. It should not be overlooked that the Father testified about Jesus at that baptism (see Matthew 3:16, 17). The Father bore witness again by raising Jesus from the dead (Galatians 1:1), and the Spirit bore witness through the four Gospels. The veracity of the Gospels is assured by the Spirit who inspired them, for the Spirit is the truth.
7, 8. For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement.
The record borne by the Spirit, the water and the blood is powerful! These three witnesses fulfill the requirements for legal testimony as stated in Deuteronomy 17:6; 19:15. Jesus had important things to say about the role of the Spirit, who followed after and confirmed Jesus’ earthly ministry (see John 14:26; 15:26). Blood has the same meaning here as in verse 6. The blood signified both payment for sin and the reality of Jesus’ flesh. The three give unanimous testimony; they are in agreement. Jesus is the Son of God who came down to earth in human form.
B. Our Response to His Son (vv. 9, 10)
9. We accept man’s testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son.
The idea of testimony is important to John’s thought (see John 5:31–34, 37; 8:18). Most people routinely accept man’s testimony, especially in court cases. How much more necessary is it to accept the testimony of God!
The Father testified to the identity of his Son on several occasions. We have already mentioned the Father’s testimony at Jesus’ baptism. At the transfiguration, God said, “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” (Mark 9:7). Most important of all, “God has raised this Jesus to life.… Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:32, 33).
10. Anyone who believes in the Son of God has this testimony in his heart. Anyone who does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because he has not believed the testimony God has given about his Son.
The response that God requires is that we must believe in the Son of God. We are to trust him, rely on him, and put all confidence in him. The person who does this has accepted the Father’s testimony and put it in his or her heart. On the other hand, if a person does not believe what God has said about Jesus, then he or she pronounces God to be a liar. Such a person hears the testimony God has given about his Son but rejects it as false. Ultimately, these are the only two responses we can make to the message of God: believe it as true or reject it as false.
Visual for Lesson 4
Point to this visual as you ask, “How will the truth of this passage influence the way you live?”
IV. Outcome of God’s Way (1 John 5:11, 12)
God’s way promises the right outcome. Those who walk the path of faith and love have the promise of eternal life. Those who do not walk this way, however, receive a stern warning: because they have not chosen God’s way, they will not have life.
A. Ironclad Promise (v. 11)
11. And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.
God’s testimony about his Son reaches a wonderful conclusion: God has given the gift of eternal life. We do not earn or deserve this reward; it is a gift. Eternal life is not just an unending quantity of life. It is something far better. It is a whole new quality of life. It is life that is in his Son.
This life begins as a person comes to know God. It begins when he or she experiences God firsthand and enters a saving relationship with him (see Acts 2:38; John 17:3). This is the testimony—the promise—of God.
B. Ironclad Certainty (v. 12)
12. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.
John does not want his readers to be confused in any way by the false teaching they are hearing. Thus this verse is almost a repeat of John 3:36. John’s readers can know this fact for a certainty: he who has the Son has life.
The believer can count on receiving life as the gift from God. But whoever does not have the Son of God in heart and life should be warned of this fact: he or she does not have life. The certainty of reward or punishment on Judgment Day is determined by whether or not a person follows Jesus.
What Do You Think?
How does today’s text help you witness to someone who believes in God but feels that insisting on Jesus as the only way is too exclusive? How do cultural trends lure people into this trap?
Insurance or Assurance?
Each area of the world has its distinct threats of natural disaster. In the American West, one of those threats is wildfires. Some years are worse than others for these disasters. October 2003 witnessed an especially terrifying fire season in San Diego County, California. The wildfires raged on several fronts for many days, consuming 2,400 houses in the process. The largest of the fires burned over 273,000 acres—that’s more than 425 square miles!
The most expensive home to burn was a 20,000 square-foot structure valued at $4,366,000. The house contained the owner’s vast art and music collections plus a movie theater. It was all fully insured, but the owner—a self-made millionaire—didn’t bother to insure the house he owned next door because, as he later said, it contained only 4,000 square feet and was worth only $1,500,000!
Most of us don’t have the kind of resources that enable us to be that blasé about our earthly possessions. But whether rich or poor in this life, our ultimate hope must be for riches in the life to come. Here is where John’s message carries its real significance. God has offered us eternal life through Christ, his Son. If we have the Son, we have life. If we don’t have the Son, we don’t have life eternal. In that case, we don’t really have much worth talking about, no matter how much we possess.
—C. R. B.
Jesus is the way. He is God’s way, the right way. In fact, he is the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through him (see John 14:6). If Christianity is criticized for claiming to be the only true religion, it is only repeating the claims of its founder. It may not be politically correct these days to say there is only one way to Heaven, but that is what the church must say to be faithful to her Lord.
Victorious faith enables us to love as Jesus loved. A review of today’s text shows us what this includes. Verses 1 and 2 say that we should love all God’s family. When Jesus walked this earth, he extended his love to all who would respond to God’s call. We follow Jesus in this way of love.
Verse 3 says that we should keep all God’s commandments. Jesus “humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:8). “Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him” (see Hebrews 5:8, 9). We remember that following the way of love includes obeying God’s commands.
Verses 4 and 5 say that we are to have faith to overcome all this world’s opposition. When Jesus faced opposition, he put his trust in the Father. He faced the temptations in the desert, for instance, by relying on God’s Word. He faced the prospect of death on the cross by turning to God in prayer in the garden. We can be more than conquerors through this kind of overcoming faith.
Verses 6 through 10 say that we are to believe all God’s testimony. When Jesus quoted Scripture, he showed that he believed it to be true. He used Adam and Eve to establish what is right in marriage (see Matthew 19:4–6). He used Noah and the flood to teach about the second coming (see Matthew 24:37). He used Jonah to teach about his own resurrection (see Matthew 12:40). Jesus accepted these accounts as true. We should have the same view of God’s Word as Jesus did: “Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35).
Verses 11 and 12 say that the person of faith will receive God’s reward. When Jesus put his trust in God and did as his Father told him, God raised him from the dead. “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (see Philippians 2:9–11).
Today, “Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us” (Romans 8:34). We should take God at his Word and never doubt his promises. Then we will have eternal life in his Son.
Thought to Remember
The way of love is the way to life.
Father, we thank you for sending Jesus to live on earth as a man and to purchase our salvation. We praise you for the gift of eternal life we have in his name. Help us to have the faith to love as Jesus loved and to overcome this world. In Jesus’ name, amen.
Underwood, Jonathan ; Nickelson, Ronald L. ; Underwood, Jonathan: New International Version Standard Lesson Commentary : 2006-2007. Cincinnati : Standard Publishing