If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask and God will for him give life to those who commit sin not leading to death. There is a sin leading to death; I do not say that he should make request for this. (NAS)
I brought up this verse during a discussion with a friend about the unpardonable sin. She claimed there is no unpardonable sin. I don't remember if I cited or showed her other scriptures, but when I showed her 1 John 5:16, she at first claimed it refers to a sin which leads to the (physical) death of another person. After she reread the verse, she said, "no, that's not it either." She acknowledged she didn't know what it meant, but insisted I was wrong.
I couldn't find anything on these forums or in the articles on this website that discusses the meaning of 1 John 5:16. In Bible commentaries on other websites I found differing interpretations. One person claimed John was referring to people who reject Jesus as the Christ (i.e., Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, atheists, etc.). In my mind, that leads to a problem when considering the many divisions of Christianity. Obviously, people can call themselves Christians while rejecting any of Christ's teachings or following a watered-down version. Paul admonished the Galatian church for following a distortion of the gospel in place of the true gospel of Christ (Galatians 1:6-9), and encouraged the Corinthian church to remain steadfast in his doctrine should someone preach to them a different (i.e., false) Jesus or spirit or gospel (1 Corinthians 11:4).
Elsewhere, the interpretation was that John was referring to blasphemy against the Holy Spirit or the person who continues in sin. I had understood John to mean a combination of these, because a person who refuses to repent of sin rejects the conviction and power of the Holy Spirit. One place included the explanation that we are not to pray for forgiveness of the sin of an unrepentant sinner, but we can pray that the person come to repentance.
Can we truly know what John intended? Are there certain people we should not pray for? Is there an unpardonable sin? If not, what did Jesus mean in Mark 3:29? What then is meant by Hebrews 6:4-6 and 10:26-29?
Sorry for the incredibly delinquent response. I do not see anything in the text that would indicate John was speaking sarcastically, tongue-in-cheek, hyperbolically, or figuratively in any other way, such that we should not take his words at face value:
John, an apostle of Jesus Christ, wrote:Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him. 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. All unrighteousness is sin, and there is sin not leading to death. (I John 5:14-17)
First, please notice that John is not saying that prayer is a blank checque, so you can receive any wish you want from God, as if He was a genie. No, prayers must be asked "according to His will"; therefore, they will be spiritual in nature, not focused on satiating our lusts:
James wrote:Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures. (James 4:1-3)
Of course, God wants us to bring sickness, sadness, and other grievances - all our cares - to Him (Philippians 2:25-27; II Corinthians 12:7-9; Acts 12:11-12; I Peter 5:6-7; Philippians 4:6), but all things must be holy and asked with purest motives, and we must be willing to accept a negative answer (II Corinthians 12:7-9).
However, in the context of the ultimate expression of praying against His will, we cannot pray someone into heaven. ... This climatic application is simply an extension of praying in "accordance to His will".
Although God is "longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance" (II Peter 3:9; see also, I Timothy 2:1-6), there comes an obvious point that our lost loved one simply is "unwilling" (Matthew 23:37). Given that the epistle of I John is largely written in response to Gnostic false doctrines, it may most directly apply to false teachers and those carried away by them, despite our pleadings.
Now, John's purpose is not to explain or describe that point, except that it is simply "a sin unto death". We will have to go elsewhere to identify such sins. John's writing assumes we already know (or can elsewhere learn) what such sins look like. John's point is to remind us - or simply teach us of this fact, so that we will not continue to pray against God's will.
Second, all sins may ultimately be "unto death". This passage is definitely not referring to a list of big, damnable sins and little, safe sins. There are no little sins (I John 3:4-10; James 2:10). However, some sins may ultimately lead to spiritual death and damnation, if we fail to repent! Compare this same wording to a similar phrase from John's gospel:
John, an apostle of Jesus Christ, wrote:When Jesus heard that, He said, "This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it." Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when He heard that he was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where He was. ... These things He said, and after that He said to them, "Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that I may wake him up." Then His disciples said, "Lord, if he sleeps he will get well." However, Jesus spoke of his death, but they thought that He was speaking about taking rest in sleep. Then Jesus said to them plainly, "Lazarus is dead." (John 11:4-14)
Did Lazarus' sickness lead to death? Yes, he died! However, it did not ultimately lead to his death, because he was resurrected by Jesus 4 days after this death. Likewise, the sins discussed in I John 5:14-17 refer to those that ultimately lead to death, unrepented sins.
Third, not praying for some people should not be too strange of a concept. For example, we already know from other passages that there comes a point, when we must cease fellowship with an unrepentant brother:
Paul, and apostle of Jesus Christ, wrote:I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people. Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner -- not even to eat with such a person. For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside? But those who are outside God judges. Therefore "put away from yourselves the evil person." (I Corinthians 5:9-13)
Do we break fellowship as soon as someone sins? No, we know to try to teach and warn (I Thessalonians 5:14; Jude 22-23), but if someone is belligerent, unrepentant, or flagrantly rebellious, then we must ultimately "deliver such a one to Satan" (I Corinthians 5:1-5).
Furthermore, there comes a point, when we must not only cease fellowship, but we need to also cease teaching!
Matthew, an apostle of Jesus Christ, wrote:Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces. (Matthew 7:6)
We bring only heartache upon ourselves and loss of potentially reaching open-minded souls, when we continue to try to restore those who have proven they neither care nor value such restoration.
Therefore, if there comes a point when we cease fellowship and another point (possibly the same) when we cease teaching, it should be no surprise that John tells us there comes another point (possibly the same point), when we should cease praying for people. Now, does this mean we stop caring, wanting, or seeking their salvation, if the opportunity should present itself? No, God forbid! God never stops wanting all to be saved (II Peter 3:9), even though few there be (Luke 13:23-24; Matthew 7:13-14; 22:14). However, there comes a point in time, when we must move onward and stop praying for additional time to work barren ground:
Luke, the inspired historian, wrote:He also spoke this parable: "A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. Then he said to the keeper of his vineyard, 'Look, for three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree and find none. Cut it down; why does it use up the ground?' But he answered and said to him, 'Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it. And if it bears fruit, well. But if not, after that you can cut it down.'" ([b]Luke 13:6-9)
I believe this vineyard keeper's prayer perfectly represents the kind of prayer John has in mind, which we must continue to do - until a point. There comes a point after we have "dug around it and fertilized it", and it still "bears no fruit", that we must move on to tend other trees. This is a prayer that - although it represents the hope and desire of the one praying - it more fundamentally relates to the prayer and effort taken to delay judgment through patient teaching and waiting for repentance and growth.
For example, God instructed the prophet Jeremiah:
Jeremiah, an inspired prophet, wrote:"For according to the number of your cities were your gods, O Judah; and according to the number of the streets of Jerusalem you have set up altars to that shameful thing, altars to burn incense to Baal. So do not pray for this people, or lift up a cry or prayer for them; for I will not hear them in the time that they cry out to Me because of their trouble." (Jeremiah 11:13-14)
There comes a time for judgment and rebuke, a time when patience is rightly exhausted and further tolerance does more harm than good. John is tearing away our naivety, desperation, and possibly even selfishness that keeps tending a tree that is "without fruit, twice dead, pulled up by the roots" (Jude 12).
God certainly may change things in response to our prayers (James 5:16-17); however, John is helping us to not continue in prayers that will never change God's mind, because the object of our prayer has already evidently made up his or her mind.
So, does that mean there is no hope, and we should not even look for opportunities to reach some people? Sometimes, yes, I think. I think there are some people so far gone, we only hurt ourselves to continue worrying, praying for opportunity to help them. And, I think this is the ultimately the point of this passage: Do not let such thoughts dominate your mind and prayers, lest you worry about what you cannot change and what is opposed to even God's will (Matthew 6:27, 34; Philippians 4:6).
I think it is better to relinquish trying for now, trusting that God may yet providentially work in their life (Hebrews 12:5-11; I Corinthians 5:5; ), maybe bringing them low, to the so-called "rock-bottom", so they may at last repent, as did once vile King Manasseh (II Chronicles 33:9-23). However, such efforts lie in God's hands, and in no better hands could they remain.
Ultimately, I think there are 2 applications: 1) If we are continuing to tend dead trees, we need to pray one last time and move on. 2) If we have opportunity to tend dying trees (i.e., people with sins "not unto death"), let us get busy tending them with loving prayer, patient teaching, and thoughtful warning.
Blasphemy and sin of the Holy Spirit? That is a question for another day.
I'm sure these thoughts could use some polishing. How do you read?