We Have What We Asked- 1 John 5:13-15
As we begin our study of this portion of 1 John 5, we begin with a statement by John telling us clearly what his primary purpose is in writing this letter, which will become much more important as we move further along here in the following posts. He tells us, in verse 13, that “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life”. The these things here refers to the entirety of the letter, which is written to those who “believe in the name of the Son of God”. The Greek word believe here is the present active participle of the verb pisteuo, to trust or have faith in, and the intended audience of this portion of the letter is those who are presently trusting in the “name” of Jesus. In the use of name here, John refers to a name as the primary way in which we identify precisely who someone is, and those who believe in His name are those who understand and accept who Jesus really is, the divine Son of God come in the flesh, not the Gnostic Christ who was being falsely presented by false teachers who had infiltrated the church at this point in time (more on that in our next post). To those in the congregation who have accepted Jesus as He truly is, John writes that they would “know” with full assurance that they have eternal life. The assurance is made full here in the fact that John uses the word “oida” here for “know”, and uses it in the perfect tense, which means he wants them to understand once and for all that they “have” (a present indicative verb), as their present possession, eternal life. Those of whom this is true have, we are told in verse 14, “confidence before God”. The Greek word translated confidence here is parresia, “boldness of speech”, and referred to the fact of Greek culture that any citizen was free to speak whatever was on his mind in the marketplace of ideas. We, then, as believers, are told here that we are free to speak whatever is on our minds in the presence of God, for the context given here for the boldness of speech is in prayer. To proceed further with proper understanding, we must briefly discuss the nature of prayer. Far too often, prayer is understood as giving God our “wish list”, that prayer is like children sitting on the lap of some mall Santa reading off the list of goodies they want to be given. Prayer as John understands it here (and as will become clear as we proceed) is two way communication with God, it is two hearts communing together, spending time with one another and growing to know one another ever more intimately. In the context of this intimate relationship, we are free to bare our souls before God, to say whatever is on our minds, whatever is troubling us, and this is what John means by confidence here. John them tells us something further about prayer, which is rather commonly misunderstood, for He continues as follows: “if we ask anything according to His will He hears us. And we know that if He hears us, we know that we have what we asked of Him”. This is far too commonly interpreted as John telling us we can ask for whatever we want from God and He must give it to us. This “understanding” follows rather naturally from the mistaken understanding of prayer previously mentioned (the wish list). What we must note here is an unusual feature in the Greek text here, which goes untranslated in the English versions. The Greek word “have” in verse 16 is followed by the definite article (“the” in English) and the noun form of the verb “to ask” (aiteo). The addition of this seems completely superfluous, and is therefore not placed in English translations. It is our contention here that these two words are not superfluous, and are placed here by John to tell us something very important. If these are added to the translation, we would then have something which could be approximated by translating as “we know that we have, in the asking, what we asked of Him”. So just what is the point of all of this? The point is that what we believe John is actually saying here is that prayer is the act of bearing your soul before God, spending time with Him in two way communication. It is in doing so (or “in the asking” here) that we grow to know the heart of God, that we grow to know what He “desires” (how John uses the word will here), and as we do so, our desires begin to line up more and more with His, that we more and more clearly begin to see His will for our lives, and end up “asking” for what He desires rather than what our carnal flesh desires. We must then circle back to the beginning of the passage, in which we find that all of the promises of verse 14 and 15 are prefaced by a condition, that we must ask “according to His will” for any of this to be valid, and so we find in this that the answer truly is in the asking, that as we continue to “ask” (spend time in intimate prayerful communion with God) that we come to know and see more clearly His will, ask according to His will, and know more confidently that we will have what we ask.