1 John 5:16

Friday, 12 June 2020

If anyone sees his brother sinning a sin which does not lead to death, he will ask, and He will give him life for those who commit sin not leading to death. There is sin leading to death. I do not say that he should pray about that. 1 John 5:16

John now presents a supposition concerning a brother in Christ and the remedial action for what is proposed. He begins with, “If anyone.” It is speaking of any believer in Christ. Should a believer fall into this category, John has words of instruction to follow. This instruction is that if any believer “sees his brother sinning a sin.” The verb is a present participle. The person is actively engaged in committing sin.

John next describes that sin as one “which does not lead to death.” The Greek is more strictly stated, “not unto death.” The person is sinning a sin that will not result in his death. What does that mean? It is not speaking of something that could lead to spiritual death and separation from God. This is certain because Paul has already instructed the church on this matter. In 2 Corinthians 5, he said –

Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, 19 that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.” 2 Corinthians 5:18, 19

In Christ, God is no longer imputing sin to a person. What this means is that a believer may commit sin, but it is not recognized as such. This is evident for two reasons from the hand of John. First, John speaks of a brother “sinning a sin.” Therefore, believers can commit acts which are sinful. Secondly, however, John will say in just two verses “that whoever is born of God does not sin.” He is referring to what Paul says in 2 Corinthians. In God’s eyes, even if sin is committed, it is no longer imputed.

What John is then speaking of now is an act of unrighteousness being committed by a believing brother that could lead to his physical death, not his spiritual death and a resulting return to separation from God. The salvation is secured and can never be lost, but a loss of life in the act of sinning can occur. In such a case, the person seeing the sin is given instruction. John says, “he will ask.”

In this, the verb is in the future tense. As Vincent’s Word studies notes of this, it “expresses not merely permission (it shall be permitted him to ask), but the certainty that, as a Christian brother, he will ask. An injunction to that effect is implied.” It is the believer’s responsibility to pray for other believers who are found to be “sinning a sin” which does not lead to death. In this, a promise is made, saying, “and He will give him life.”

Who the “he” is referring to is not completely discernible from the Greek. The NKJV capitalizes it, signifying they believe it is God. However, it could be referring to the petitioner. His actions through prayer are what lead to life (see James 5:20). Either is possible, but the more likely rendering is that it is God who is being referred to.

John again stresses the fact that this injunction is “for those who commit sin not leading to death.” In this, John has gone from the third person singular to the third person plural – from “him” to “them.” He has now made the proposition a general statement. In other words, anytime such an event occurs, the believer is to pray for a person whose sin does not lead to death. Therefore, all believers are to pray for their brothers who fall into this category. It is an expected part of the conduct of those in the church.

John then turns to the exception stating, “There is sin leading to death.” It is rightly translated. Some versions say, “There is a sin leading to death.” This is incorrect. It is not speaking of only one sin that could lead to death. Rather, it is a general proposition concerning any sin that leads to death. If a believer is sinning a sin that leads to death, John says, “I do not say that he should pray about that.”

The words, “a sin that leads to death,” are the most difficult of the words of this verse, and there are various views on what is meant. The words of the final clause give insights into it. First, the words of the Greek Old Testament in Numbers 18:22 speak of incurring a death-bearing sin. It is a sin that leads to death. In a translation from the Hebrew, that verse says –

“Hereafter the children of Israel shall not come near the tabernacle of meeting, lest they bear sin and die.” Numbers 18:22

The idea here is one of physical death caused by one’s disobedient action in relation to the holy things of God. In overstepping their position within Israel by violating those holy duties, they would incur guilt and die. Paul speaks of this type of thing in the New Testament –

“But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. 30 For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep.” 1 Corinthians 11:28-30

The believers at Corinth had committed sin which leads to death. This is perfectly evident from the context of Paul’s words. They had partaken of the holy things in an unworthy manner, and they had gotten sick and/or died. This was a “sin leading to death.”

This can also be referring to an ongoing and habitual sin. In 1 Corinthians 5, there is the account of someone committing an immensely degrading sin. Paul said to hand that man over to Satan for the destruction of his flesh (sin which will lead to death if not terminated) so that his soul may be saved on the day when Jesus visits us. Such a sin leads to death. Therefore, any sin which will result in death is included.

John says, “I do not say that he should pray about that.” He does not say we cannot pray about that, but that it is not to be expected or anticipated.

In such a case, when a believer – knowing that his actions are unholy – continues in that unholy manner, he then brings discredit upon the holy things of the Lord. Rather than prayer, he needs instruction and to be called out for his actions. If he continues in his inappropriate behavior, why would anyone pray for that?

Again, this is not – as so many scholars attempt to define it – speaking of a loss of salvation. It cannot be, because believers are no longer being imputed sin. As noted, John will confirm that in just two verses. This is referring to the physical death of a believer for sin which leads to that physical death.

Life application: If you treat the holy things of the Lord improperly, Paul indicates that you may actually die from that conduct. If you sleep around, maybe you will get AIDS or get shot by someone’s husband. If you drink heavily, your liver is going to go, and your life will end. If you rob a bank to feed your family, the security officer may send you off to the check-out counter of life.

As you can see, sin leading to death is obviously something that brings discredit upon the name of Jesus who saved you in the first place. John says that we don’t necessarily need to pray about this type of thing. In such cases, our fellow Christians have made their own beds and are now destined to lie in them. Choices like this bear the due penalty they deserve. Prayer for them is not necessary or expected.

Lord Jesus, each of us has sinned since we came to You. We also see fellow Christians doing the same. In times when this sin isn’t active and with a high hand, give us the sense to pray about it for restoration. When the sin is an active affront to You and Your honor, may You judge according to Your wisdom and bring about whatever will lead to the most glory for You. Amen.





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