1 John 5:16-17 Engaging In A Process That Will Help Us Understand This Text
Our text today is 1 John 5:16-17 but we will read 1 John 5:13-17 for context.
I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life. And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.
If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God[a] will give him life—to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that does not lead to death.
1 John 5:14-15 speaks about how a Christian who has assurance will be able to pray confidently. John reminded us that if we will pray according to the will of God that He will hear us and if God hears our prayers we will have the requests that we have made to the LORD.
One of the applications that we took from that text was that we need to pray according to the scriptures. It is wise for you and I to go to the Word of God and determine how we ought to be praying about certain things. A believer can pray confidently concerning anything that is God’s will. Therefore, we should search the scriptures as we are praying to determine what the Lord’s will is in all things.
I mention this because in 1 John 5:16-17 we will see that there is a similar responsibility. Let’s take a moment to read 1 John 5:16-17, “If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life—to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that does not lead to death.”
There are many questions that you and I may have concerning this text. For example, we might ask...
What is the sin that leads to death?
Is the sin that leads to death a reference to one sin or to a habitual sin that is allowed to continue in heart hardening un-repentance?
It is clear that John is speaking to believers in verse 16, but is he still addressing a believer in verse 17 concerning the sin that leads to death?
Is John speaking about how this sin leads to physical death or is this about spiritual death?
How will we know when we should not pray for someone?
To be honest, this text leaves most commentators never fully able to give the answers to some of these questions definitively. I will admit to you that over the last month my thoughts concerning this text have gone in different directions. One moment I view it one way and the next moment my thoughts are shifting in the other direction.
When we come to a text like this it probably should not surprise us that we have a lot of questions about God’s righteous, justice and equity and how it all works under these sort of conditions. Texts like this one can make us pause and scratch our heads as we consider the implications of what John has said. I venture to guess that there are some here who are already wondering if they have committed the sin that is unto death.
So how are we to understand a text like this when it is so difficult to ascertain exactly what John was saying?
Let me give you four of my presuppositions as I look at a text like this.
First, I do not believe that scripture teaches that a genuine believer can loose their salvation. I do not believe that John is teaching that a believer can loose their salvation in this text when he has just said in 1 John 5:13, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.”
Secondly, there are examples in scripture when a Christian can become sick and even die prematurely because of some sin. For example…
Acts 5:1-11 – Ananias and Sapphira
1 Corinthians 11:27-32 – Taking communion in an unworthy manner
Thirdly, there are examples in scripture where unbelievers will experience discipline so severe that it leads to their death. For example…
Luke 12:20 – The parable of the rich fool
Acts 12: 20-23 – The death of Harod
Fourthly, scripture does teach that there is a sin that cannot be forgiven – blasphemy of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:31-32).
Fifth, scripture also teaches that anyone who repents and turns to the LORD will be forgiven of their sins (Acts 3:19; 1 Timothy 1:15-17).
Over the last month I have often wondered why God did not see fit to give us a clear answer to these questions in this text?
I have concluded that there must be value in the process that God desires that every believer commit to engage in to know exactly how to deal with these things in every situation that they may encounter. Similar to the father that I talked to recently who told me that God was giving him the grace and wisdom that he needs every day as he walks through his families troubles.
What is the process that each of us should be willing to engage in if we are to understand how to pray for believers and unbelievers that we see are committing some sin?
I’d like to consider Proverbs 2:1-15 which shows us the process we must engage in if we are to understand God’s righteousness, justice, equity and every good path.
There is a process that must be engaged in because understanding God’s justice, righteousness and equity are not innate to you and I. We do not understand these things naturally since our fall into sin. Rather, if we are to understand these things we must be taught these things by the LORD. Proverbs 2:6-8 makes this very clear when we read “For the LORD gives wisdom; from His mouth comes knowledge and understanding; He stores up sound wisdom for the upright...”
Consider Proverbs 2:9-10. We read, “Then you will understand righteousness and justice and equity and every good path; for wisdom will come into your heart and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul; discretion will watch over you, understanding will guard you, delivering you from the way of evil, from men of perverted speech, who forsake the paths of uprightness to walk in the ways of darkness, who rejoice in doing evil and delight in the perverseness of evil, men whose paths are crooked, and who devious in their ways.”
Let me make two observations about these verses. First, notice that verse nine begins with the conjunction ‘Then’. Solomon says, “Then you will understand righteousness and justice and equity and every good path…”. This means that there is something that proceeded this verse that showed us how to receive understanding concerning righteousness, justice, equity and every good path.
Secondly, notice that the word ‘and’ appears before righteousness, justice, equity and every good path. It says, “Then you will understand righteousness and justice and equity and every good path…”. This means that all four of these things are equally important and that all of them will come to the person who goes through this process as a package deal. It is impossible to appreciate these things if our understanding is in any of these things get removed from the context of the others.
We actually saw something similar to this in 1 John already but I did not draw your attention to it when we addressed that text. We saw it in 1 John 5:7 which states, “For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree.” These three witness are equally important and necessary. Their testimony is equally weighty and are each to be received as true. Together they give a clear and undeniable truth concerning God’s testimony concerning Jesus Christ.
And this knowledge will be pleasant to your soul. So, you may leave here today and say, ‘I do not really like the idea that we are not supposed to pray for someone who has sinned!’ or ‘I do no like the fact that there is a sin unto death.’ If you feel this way, there is a process that you need to engage in so that this teaching will be pleasant to your soul. How often we simply say that we do not like something in scripture and then fail to go through the process of seeking God’s wisdom and understanding concerning these things. By failing to do so we fail to grow and mature in our transformation concerning these things.
Let’s look at Proverbs 2:1-5 and 7 and we will begin to see the process through which one will gain this wisdom from God. We read,
My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God…
He stores up sound wisdom for the upright;
He is a shield to those who walk in integrity...
There are five characteristics that need to be cultivated in a person who will be given wisdom, understanding and knowledge concerning the righteousness, justice, equity and every good path.
Observation #1: Notice the first two words, ‘My son’. To understand righteousness, justice, equity, and every good path we must have a relationship with the LORD. We must be born again and have the Holy Spirit dwelling inside of us. God will only give his children understanding of such things. An unbeliever will never understand God’s righteousness, justice, equity and every good path until the Holy Spirit enlightens them to come to Jesus Christ.
Observation #2: Believers need to receive truth, receive the Word of God, treasure the commands of God and incline their hearts to understand the things of God. We read, “My son, if you receive my words up my commandments with you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding…”.
There are many biblical doctrines that a believer will initially struggle to accept but they must receive the teachings of scripture into their hearts. The apostles struggled early on to accept many of the things that Jesus taught like: marriage and divorce, Jesus’ teaching concerning His death and resurrection, His teaching about drinking his blood and eating his flesh; but they received his words and treasured up His commands and eventually their understanding of these things became more in line with the truth of Christ’s teaching. We must do the same if we are to understand God’s righteousness, justice, equity and every good path.
Observation #3: Part of the process of understanding God’s righteousness, justice, equity and every good path is to be a person who prays for wisdom. Solomon says, “Yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding…”. Don’t let your questions about 1 John 5:16-17 keep you from praying for someone in sin. Engage in praying for them. It is part of the process to knowing what to do next.
Observation #4: Don’t be passive in the process; rather, engage actively in these things. John says, “...if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God.” Do not be challenged by a text like this and then walk away today and forget what we were told to do. Seek wisdom and search for understanding.
Observation #5: To understand God’s justice, righteousness, equity and every good path we must be sincere in uprightness and integrity. Sin blinds us but integrity helps us to see clearly. Sin brings confusion but a person who is upright will understand the holiness of God properly. Solomon says in Proverbs 2:6-8, “For the LORD gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding; He stores up sound wisdom for the upright; He is a shield to those who walk in integrity, guarding the paths of justice and watching over the way of His saints.” Those saints who will walk in the light will walk in the truth of God.
Consider 1 John 1:5-10, “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with Him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. iut if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.”
I wanted to look at Proverbs 2:1-15 and encourage you to be about the process that produces wisdom, knowledge and understanding. I could attempt to answer the questions that a text such as this brings up but in the end we would be robbed of the most important thing- a dependence upon God and intimacy with Him concerning these things. I would rob you of an intimate and personal leading of God personally and in these types of situations.
Are you willing to engage in this process?
Are you born again?
Does your heart have assurance before God?
Is the disposition of your heart seeking wisdom, understanding and insight in the Word of God?
Are you seeking these things from Him or from your own understanding or from the understanding of others (Are they Christian or unbelievers)?
Are you living a life of integrity and holiness and repenting when you sin? If not, you will not understand accurately God’s righteousness, justice, equity and every good path.
A believer would be very foolish to approach a text like 1 John 5:16-17 and respond without being discerning about what the will of the LORD is concerning others. Only by engaging in a process such as is laid out in Proverbs 2:1-15 can we discern the will of the LORD in the myriad of cases that we will encounter with believers who are caught sinning and with unbelievers who are hardened to the gospel and the message of Scripture.
Charles Spurgeon spoke about the discernment that is needed in these moments when he spoke of the difference between leading sheep (Christians) and dogs and swine (the anti-Christ’s, deceivers, liars and unbelievers that John has addressed in this letter).
“It is true that certain troublesome heretics need to be rebuked sharply that they may be sound in the faith, but discretion is needed, and a loving spirit to guide the discretion; the sheep must not be driven as if they were swine. The tendency of stern orthodoxy is to act toward an erring one as cruel fathers do when they whip their boys without mercy, for they drive ten devils in while they think they are whipping one out. A doubter may be worried into a heretic before we are aware of it. Certain minds will learn anything from those they love, and nothing from those who are masterful with them. The gentleness of Christ is a choice qualification for a person dealing with the sins of others. Heretics are better kept out by a full gospel then driven out by fierce controversy. Sheep may be worried into worse straying, but they can be held back by their teeth most securely if they are led into a plentiful pasture. O for the Holy Spirit’s direction in dealing with weak and unstable minds.”
As we celebrate communion together this morning I would like for every person here to reflect upon what we have learned today.
Are you a child of God? Have you repented of your sins and trusted only in Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins.
Are you receiving the Word of God into your heart and treasuring up His commands within you?
Are you praying and crying out to the LORD for grace?
Are you walking in holiness or are there sins that you need to repent of and forsake as you follow after Christ?
If you can take communion this morning after having gone through this process you will enjoy the blessing of the gospel and receive the grace of God into your soul.
Read 1 Corinthians 11:27-32
TIME OF REFLECTION BEFORE COMMUNION
Communion: 1 Corinthians 11:23-26