the First Epistle of
1 John 5.3‑5
"For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments; and his commandments are not grievous." (vs. 3.)
Somehow one is reminded of the words of King Solomon here. "Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter. Fear God, and keep his commandments; for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil." (Eccl. 12. 13‑14.) Man was created in order to give glory to God. He was constituted the climax and head of all God's earthly creation so that there might be one more place in His universe from whence joy and happiness and sincere worship might radiate and testify to His all abounding goodness. He asks only one thing - obedience to His laws of righteousness, the laws which alone can guarantee the perpetual continuance of this that His hands have fashioned and made. Solomon says that to observe these laws is the duty - the whole duty - of man. Micah the Morasthite had perhaps a little clearer discernment of the Father's own outlook on this when he declared in his impassioned tones "He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good,' and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy. and to walk humbly with thy God." (Micah 6. 8.) This is coming very near to our Lord's own interpretation of the Law. "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets." (Matt. 22. 37‑40.) And that in turn is very plainly the basis of John's words. Love of God and love of fellow; these two embrace everything, and if this truth is re ceived into the heart there is no longer any need of the Decalogue, for we know the law even without having it recited to us. His commandments are not grievous, burdensome, heavy, the Greek means says John. "What doth the Lord require of thee" asks Micah, as much as to say, "He does not ask much". Perhaps one of the lessons behind the apparently trivial prohibition placed upon our first parents in Eden is that God does not really ask much of us, and what He does ask is well within our power to render, if we will. To love God; to love our brethren His sons; these things ought to be easy. And once we have attained this position we have kept his commandments. It is as simple as that!
"Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" invites Jesus. "Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me ...and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."
(Matt. 11. 28‑30.) Here is an invitation the acceptance of which is not burdensome, a commandment obedience to which is not grievous. It is indeed the very contrary; the entrance into this condition of love toward God and love toward fellow-men, so far from being a grievous burden, actually means a lightening the burden already borne. "Ye shall find rest unto your souls." That is the final outcome of that faith which is so exercised as to lead us to answer our Father's invitation by the full presentation of ourselves in lifelong consecration to Him, even unto death.
That is the thought which comes next into John's mind as he pursues his theme. In this chapter he has reflected on the truth that believing in Jesus the Christ, we are born of God; that in loving the one who has thus become our Father we naturally and obviously love those His other sons our brethren and in so doing find that this dual love has brought us within the circle of those who keep His commandments, commandments that are by no means burdensome. But it is also true that he who keeps the commandments is an overcomer, and so John declares "Whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world" - is an overcomer - and then by a swift extension of thought "and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith". (vs. 4.)
That latter phrase is the one that we very frequently quote in our communion one with another, in our devotional studies, in the word of exhortation from the platform or pulpit. Do we as often realise the connection'? The "faith" of verse 4 is intimately associated with the "love" and the commandments" of verses 1 to 3. We are born of God because we believe, because we love God and our brother, because we keep the commandments. and because we have faith. All these factors enter into our overcoming and without any one of them we cannot retain that "Spiritborn" condition. The Spirit can be -and is—bestowed upon us, and can be withdrawn. We are exhorted to be "filled with the Spirit" but also warned that we "quench not the Spirit". "Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God" cries the apostle "whereby ye are sealed unto the day of deliverance" (Eph. 4. 30) where "grieve" is - lupeo, the same word that in Mark 10. 22 is applied to the rich young ruler, who on being told by Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life "went away grieved; for he had great possessions". So does the Spirit go away grieved when rejected by one in whom the light has become darkness. Always, at all times, we have to remember that God has made man a creature of freewill, capable of accepting light or darkness, good or evil. That choice will be put before the world of men in the next Age, the Millennial Age, but for we, who have heard the call of this Age, the choice is before us now, and we have liberty to walk in the light of the glory of God and find that it leads us into the heavenly Kingdom at the end, and liberty to turn aside from that light and find out, too late, that we are back again where we started. There are many called, but few are found chosen - choice, elect, fitted for the purpose for which God has called us all.
So, finally, John comes right back to his first position and asks the question to which he immediately gives his own answer. "Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?" (vs. 5). We are born of God if we believe in Jesus, that is the intimation of verse 1. We overcome the world if we are born of God' that is the theme of verse 4. Therefore, says John in verse 5, we overcome the world if we believe in Jesus. The act of belief is our part in the process; the being born of the Spirit is God's part; the having overcome the world is the product of both parts. Again we are brought up against this incontestable truth that our salvation depends upon two parties, upon the Father and upon ourselves. He will be faithful; He cannot deny Himself; He will not of His own volition let us go. But we also must be faithful; and that is by no means so assured a thing as is the faithfulness of God. He will not be unfaithful to us; but we may insist on being unfaithful to Him. John, recognising that fact, adds his own factor to the argument by pointing out in verse 4 that in the last analysis the victory is entirely dependent upon our faith.
So it all comes back once more to the old familiar theme - belief. If ye believe! Those of old never entered in because of unbelief. There remains to us a promise of entering into his rest; the achievement depends upon our belief, our faith. We are made partakers of Christ, says the writer to the Hebrews, only if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast unto the end. Even although there is that promise and opportunity of entering into his rest there is the possibility and danger that some of us will come short of it, fail to enter it. So real is that danger that we are exhorted "Let us therefore fear, lest. .." We are bid to "labour', that is, to strain our best energies, to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after Israel's example of unbelief. How vital, then, how important it is, that the one who overcomes the world is the one who believes, and fulfils all the implications of his belief, that Jesus is the Son of God.