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What are the idols to which John refers (1 Jn 5.21)?

This short and solemn warning is, "Little children, keep yourselves from idols". It would be easy to think that John is referring to heathen images or gods, but the context here seems to demand a wider sense for the word "idols". An "idol" is anything that is a counterfeit of God or takes the place due to God. The clue to what is meant by idols is the reference in the previous verse to our Lord Jesus as "the true God". He is no mere creature; He is the Son of God and wrong views of Him are dangerous. The command then to Christians is not generally to keep themselves from idols, but from well-known objects of devotion and in particular false conceptions of God which were being taught by a man in John’s day called Cerinthus. He held that Jesus was a creature, merely the son of Joseph and Mary, but Christian teaching is that Christ is the true God. John puts these false views of Christ in the same category as pagan images and false gods. At the same time it would be right to say by way of application that any object outside of Christ that man’s heart sets up and cleaves to, Satan makes into an idol. They may not be gold or silver, or stone or wood, but of a subtler character.

As believers we need more than ever to give heed to this command. Note it is a last command, a comprehensive warning that is probably the latest appeal of Scripture. This gives it an added seriousness and appropriateness for our lives.

The decisiveness of the command should also be noted. The tense used indicates that the exhortation has the force of a once for all command that should be obeyed without hesitation. Have we obeyed it?

Last but not least is the fact that it is an embracive command. John addresses all believers here, for the term "Little children" does not just take in young converts, but every believer, whatever stage of spiritual development they are in. It is a term signifying endearment and not immaturity, and John uses it in 2.1,12 & 28. Thus the appeal applies to all believers whether young or old, brethren or sisters, overseers or preachers – no Christian is excluded.

John J Stubbs

In John 15.2 are the branches that are taken away representative of believers or unbelievers?

Those whom the Lord Jesus was addressing here were the eleven disciples; Judas Iscariot had already left the company. Thus these words were spoken to believers. The disciples were accustomed from the Psalms and the prophets (Ps 80.14; Is 5.1-7; Jer 2.21; Hos 10.1) to think of Israel as the vine. God had in various ways tested Israel through years of longsuffering and patience, seeking for fruit from the nation. It is appropriate that the vine should be used as the figure when fruitfulness is in view; other trees may be useful apart from their fruit, but with the vine this is not so (Ezek 15.2-4).

Israel had proved to be a failure as far as fruit-bearing for God was concerned, but Christ now says, by way of contrast, "I am the true (genuine) vine, and my Father is the husbandman" (Jn 15.1). In the Old Testament, God is represented as the proprietor (or owner) of the vine, but here the Father is seen as the husbandman, the cultivator or vinedresser, the one who cares for the vine.

It should be noted that the Lord Jesus says here to the disciples, representing believers, "…ye are the branches" (Jn 15.5). The point is underlined in the verse alluded to in the question, "Every branch in me…", i.e. in Christ – clearly the reference is to a believer.

Two kinds of branch are spoken of in v.2: i) one "that beareth not fruit", and ii) one "that beareth fruit". The first kind is "taken away" (AV); the Greek verb airo used here has, among other meanings, the sense of taking or lifting up. A vine has weak branches that may sink into the ground; these tend to take root and become earthbound and thus fruitless. The Father causes such branches to be lifted away from the influence of the world, so that fruit can be produced in the lives of these believers.

The second kind of branch is "purged" – perhaps a better idea is "cleansed". The allusion may be to the washing off of deposits of moss, and insects and parasites that may infest the vine so that such branches can "bring forth more fruit". The water the divine husbandman uses in cleansing the branches is the word as John 15.3 tells us, albeit v.2 has reference to the believer’s state, whilst v.3 is concerned with his standing.

David E West

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