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"Praying for the Sinning Brother"
1 John 5:16-17
Wednesday AM Bible Study
March 8, 2006
Our passage this morning is a call to us from the majestically holy Lord
Jesus Christ - issued to us through the apostle John - to make use of the
resources He has entrusted to us, and to do our duty to peruse one another's
holiness. It's a part of our ongoing study of First John; and it is, in
many ways, an exhortation that the whole of John's little letter has been
leading up to. It brings all that he has said in this letter thus far -
concerning the tests of genuine faith, the assurance of eternal life, and
the confidence we enjoy of fellowship with Jesus Christ - together into a
single, practical exhortation of the utmost importance to the agenda Jesus
Christ has for us.
It can be summed up in three principles:
PRINCIPLE #1: ALL UNRIGHTEOUSNESS IS SIN (v. 17b).
A. In the original language of John's letter, the matter is emphatic:
(literally) "All unrighteousness SIN is . . . "; placing the emphasis on the
1. It may have seemed at first as if John was saying that some sins are not
as bad as others; but the point he wishes to establish clearly to us is that
all sin is - at the most fundamental level - an act of unrighteous rebellion
2. It is defined as "lawlessness" in 1 John 3:4-9. It is an act of
rebellion against the Lawgiver.
B. It's wise to remember this. Jesus saves completely, and sets us free
from the guilt of sin. But we should never forget that He had to die in our
place in order to do so. The wages of sin is always "death" (Rom. 6:23).
All unrighteousness is sin; and all sin is lawlessness. It will always be
an offense to a holy God.
PRINCIPLE #2: ALL SITUATIONS OF SIN DO NOT LEAD TO THE SAME ULTIMATE
CONSEQUENCE (vv. 16-17).
A. The above principle is worded carefully. It is not meant to say that
all sin does not lead to the ultimate consequence of death; because it has.
It resulted in death entering the human situation (Romans 5:12ff); and Jesus
had to die in our place because of it. But it does not all lead to our
experiencing the situation of death personally or ultimately. All
unrighteousness is sin; but there is sin (literally) "not toward death".
B. There have been many ways of interpreting this.
1. Some have suggested that John is speaking of sins that result in the
literal death of the sinner. We read of such stories in Acts 5:1-11 and 1
Corinthians 11:30. They serve to remind us that sin is serious. But if
that were what John was speaking of, we wouldn't be able to know a "sin
toward death" until the sinner actually died - and then, it would be too late
to say that we shouldn't pray for them.
2. Some have suggested that it is speaking of the unpardonable sin that
Jesus taught about (Mark 3:28-29). But this seems to be a matter of
resisting the Holy Spirit by attributing the miracles Jesus bodily performed
to the devil - a sin that seems to be something that could not be repeated.
3. The best way to interpret this is by looking to the context:
a. The context of this book is an assurance of our fellowship with Christ
through the three tests of "obedience" (1:6; 2:3-4; 3:10), "love" (2:9-10;
3:14-15; 4:8, 20); and "belief" (2:23; 4:3-4, 15; 5:10).
b. All sins can be understood in one of these three categories: i.e, open
disobedience to God's commands, hatred and resentment toward a brother, or
refusal to believe and confess the apostolic testimony about Christ. All
three - if held on to with a hard heart and without repentance - will result in
ultimate death (2:17; 3:14; 5:12).
c. A sin not leading to death is one in which we are confronted with our
sin, and turn from it - confessing it as sin in such a way as to demonstrate
that we truly have life (1:8:2-2).
PRINCIPLE #3: WE ARE TO PRAY WITH DISCERNMENT FOR THE SINNING BROTHER
A. Our sinning brother or sister is our responsibility. We are to pursue
them (Luke 15:4; James 5:19-20). One of the ways that Christ has ordained
that the holiness of His church be brought about and protected is through
our ministry to one another.
B. This doesn't mean that we should not pray for those who are sinning in a
hardened and unrepentant way. John does not 'forbid' such prayers. He
simply says that, in the matter before him, that is not what he is talking
about. "There is a sin leading to death. I do not say that he should pray
about that." That's a different subject from what he is addressing at the
moment. Rather, he is addressing the matter of a sinning brother:
1. We pray for him or her as one professing a faith in Jesus, but trapped
2. We are so involved in their lives that we can tell when they are
3. We are to ask; and the Giver of life will give US life for the sinning
brother! It's a gift to us for them!
C. We know a sin that is not leading to death by the fact that the brother
or sister repents when confronted (Matthew 18:15-20).