1 John 5:13-17
13 I write this to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you
may know that you have eternal life. 14 And this is the confidence which we
have in him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. 15
And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have obtained
the requests made of him. 16 If any one sees his brother committing what is
not a mortal sin, he will ask, and God will give him life for those whose sin
is mortal. There is sin which is mortal; I do not say that one is to pray for
that. 17 All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin which is not mortal.
John has just been reminding his readers that "God gave us eternal life,
and this life is in his Son." (5:11) God's will, His desire, is to give
us His life, to fill us with this life that is ours in Jesus, His Son. John's
readers may have been seeking assurance that this life that he has been telling
them about is really theirs. After all, it is not yet obvious that we are God's
children (3:1-3), so how can we be sure that He abides in us and is giving us
His wonderful, eternal life?
In this section, John assures his readers and discusses the place of prayer
in our relationship with our heavenly Father. In verse 13 he writes, "I
write this to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know
that you have eternal life." This life God offers us is in His Son, who
gives it to us by uniting Himself to us in His life, death, and resurrection.
When we believe in Jesus, we trust that He is truly the Son of God and our
source of new life and new relationship with God the Father. We are not trusting
in ourselves, our deeds, or even in our own trusting. It is because of who
we are trusting, that we have eternal life.
Now John turns to the subject of prayer. "And this is the confidence
which we have in him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears
us."(v.14) Have you ever wondered if God is really hearing you? Do we
think we need sometimes to pray louder just to make sure He is listening? It
is interesting to notice that in the gospel of John, Jesus is quoted as saying
that he knows His Father hears Him. When Jesus stands outside of Lazarus's
tomb He looks up to heaven and says, "'Father, I thank you that you have
heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of
the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.'"(John
11:41-42) Jesus knows that His Father hears Him. He says this here to help
those listening and looking on to know that Jesus has an intimate relationship
with the Father, He has the Father's ear.
Now here, John tells us that God hears us! We, too, have the Father's ear
as we pray according to His will. We know that His will is to give us eternal
life, that the deepest thing in the triune God is love, and that He wills to
make us truly His children--to know and live in His love, joy, peace, and life.
To pray according to His will is to trust His character and purposes and to
desire more of His life. We may not know how His will accomplishes His purposes,
but when we pray according to them, we are agreeing with them. We really wouldn't
want God to hear those prayers of ours that are not according to His will,
since we can see that His will is for our deepest, most complete good. It would
be foolish to ask for anything less than that!
John is saying that our heavenly Father has a real, intimate relationship
with us. He is listening to us when we pray--He takes up our prayers in His
doing of His will and incorporates them in the outworking of His purposes.
He takes my prayers seriously-- He hears me.
John goes on in the next verse to say that "if we know that he hears
us in whatever we ask, we know that we have obtained the requests made of him."(v.15)
God listens to us and He will have His will be done. He will, in the end, bring
about complete redemption and reconciliation. There will be peace between us
and others. He will fill us with all the fullness of His abundant life. There
are times when we wonder--will God really redeem this situation? Will God give
life? John says yes, we can have confidence--one day it will be obvious that
we are the children of God. It will be clear to us and to others, who we are
and who we belong to. This is our assurance.
It is hard for us at times because we want God to do His will the way we have
in mind and when He does not, we wonder if He really hears us. John wants to
help his readers, and us, to know that God is always hearing us as we pour
out to Him our desire for His life and peace for ourselves and others. When
we do not see an immediate response or the one we hoped for, we can know that
this does not mean that God is not doing His good, perfect, life-giving will
or not listening to us.
In the last 2 verses of this section, John turns to the issue of praying for
a brother or sister who has sinned. His readers may have wondered whether to
or how to pray for a fellow believer who is not trusting God at this time and
who has been acting out of this distrust. John encourages them to pray for
them, saying that "God will give him life for those whose sin is not mortal." We
can and are urged to pray for those sisters and brothers who are not living
now out of a trust in God's character and work in the world.
John makes a distinction between sin that is mortal and sin that is not. It
seems that sin that is mortal is that which leads to eternal death. Jesus warns
in Mark against blaspheming the Holy Spirit (3:28-29). It appears that it is
somehow possible to reach a point of no return, where one has so thoroughly
turned away from God that he actually despises the forgiveness God offers and
does not want His grace at all and that there is nothing that even God could
do to turn them around. This must be what John has in mind when he speaks of "mortal
sin" and he states, "I do not say that one is to pray for that." We
need not pray that God would somehow let off someone who will never accept
God's forgiveness, for that would amount to asking God to something nonsensical:
change someone who will not be changed.
I don't think he is telling us that we can know exactly who has committed
such mortal sin although he acknowledges that there is such an extreme possibility.
Nor is he commanding that we should not pray for someone who seems to have
gone so far. Rather, if there is someone who, regrettably, seems to us so far
gone that we cannot pray for them in faith, we are not under strict obligation
to pray for them. We can hand them over to God and let him deal with them Himself.
For only God knows for certain if something can be done and what needs to be
done to bring that person around. We can hand those people over to God and
let Him do what He will with them.
An example might be John's answer to the question: Should we even pray for
Hitler (assuming he was still alive)? John's answer seems to be: I am not saying
that you must pray for such a seemingly hopeless case. He may have reached
the point of no return. We do not have to pray, if we cannot pray in faith,
for his repentance. God knows whether or not he can and you can leave it totally
up to God. You are certainly allowed to pray if you have a mustard seed of
faith that perhaps, despite all appearances, he has not yet so totally rejected
God, that God could bring him to repentance, even if at the very last moment
of life. But no, you do not have to pray for such a one.
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