Monday, December 31, 2012
1st John Chapter 5 Part 10
5:16-17 If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it. All unrighteousness is sin: and there is a sin not unto death.
John continues to inform his readers in regards to prayer in these verses, this time in reference to praying for fellow Christians who are sinning. There are some key words to take note of in this passage, and also an absence of some key words that should be brought to light. Verse 16 begins with “if any man see his brother…” clearly inferring that this in reference to saints caught in sin. I would like to begin by citing correlating passages that help to shed light on this difficult topic.
“Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ,” Galatians 6:1-2.
“Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins,” James 5:19-20.
“And on some have compassion, making a distinction; but others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire, hating even the garment defiled by the flesh,” Jude 1:22-23.
I have presented here intercessory passages regarding a Christian’s responsibility and duty toward another Christian when we go astray. John specifies that the sin must not be “unto death.” That is, the sin in particular is one in which the Lord requires that the saint in question must be disciplined to the point of death for the sin committed. This may either mean divine chastisement directly applied as in Acts chapter 5 with Ananias and Sapphira, or simply permitting the consequences of said sin to bring death to fruition in that believer’s temporal life, 1st Corinthians 11:29-31; Galatians 6:7-8; James 1:14-15. I am convinced that John is presently referring to physical death as a consequence of unrepentant sin, not spiritual death, since John has taken such pains to demonstrate the permanency of the gift of eternal life given to us in Jesus Christ. James almost mirrors John’s words when he writes that a saint who intercedes to turn a fellow believer from his sin will save their soul from death. In layman’s terms, we would save the (physical) life of that erring saint.
John has written extensively concerning false teaching and false teachers in his epistle. We have learned that these false teachers especially denied the person of Jesus Christ as sinless man and fully God. They do not teach and practice Christian charity but espouse “another gospel” and have infiltrated the church with its message. This may be the “sin to death” of which John writes, warning the saints that there is a difference in sinning not unto death, and sinning unto death. Though he makes this difference, he categorizes all sin resulting from the same source: unrighteousness. All unrighteousness is sin, see 1st John 3:4. Here we have a very truncated definition of sin according to the Holy Spirit. All sin is unrighteous, but there is sin that will not lead to God’s discipline unto death, see Hebrews 12:3-11. One point of this divine discipline is to yield the fruit of righteousness in those trained by it. It may be that those who have turned from their first faith and espoused “another gospel” are disciplined by God as He attempts to correct their flawed views of Him and to bring them to repentance and reconciliation. Those who stubbornly resist may well be some of those whom John says “I do not say that he should pray about that.”
Please note however that the apostle does not give a mandate. He is not commanding that Christians refrain from praying for erring saints that have gone far astray. That is left to our conscience and the will of our God as to whether it is right to lift them up in prayer. Paul warns that we must take care, lest we likewise fall into the temptation that ensnared them, Galatians 6:1-2. Sin easily ensnares us, Hebrews 12:1. Jude cautions that we hate the garment defiled by the flesh; that is, we hate the corruption that carnal conduct causes, Jude 1:22-23. In a sense Jude gives the same warning Paul issues for the Galatian Christians, save with more force. We must approach with due caution, lest we likewise be defiled. James tells us that we ought to stand in the way of one who “wanders from the truth.” This appears to be addressing doctrinal error, especially as it relates to the person of Jesus Christ since He is the Truth, John 14:6. Both apostles caution that if we win our brother they shall be given life (1st John 5:16) and saved from death, James 5:20.
The NKJV renders verse 17 as “there is sin not unto death.” The article “a” is dropped from the verse, giving the reader the more correct impression that it is not a single kind of sin that does not lead to death, but there is sin for which God will not chasten unto death. John is not preaching the Roman error of Mortal and Venial sin, but informing us that if a Christian sins it is not a death sentence. He may well in part be simply trying to keep his spiritual children from despairing when they inevitably sin. He cautions that “those who walk according to the flesh in the lust of uncleanness and despise authority” are particularly heinous, 2nd Peter 2:10. Though this passage seems to be directed toward the unsaved, God seems to find certain types of sin especially revolting. The writer of Hebrews likewise speaks about the fidelity of marriage and the awful consequences of adultery and fornication, Hebrews 13:4. Jude brings agreement with Peter’s testimony when he writes of the false teachers who were in the church in his day: “these dreamers defile the flesh, reject authority, and speak evil of dignitaries,” Jude 1:8. God represents the ultimate authority. Rejection of God and His revealed word opens the doors to profligate behavior and an arrogant attitude toward any authority other than their own.