“If any man sin, we have AN ADVOCATE with the Father…”
It cannot be denied that some of the writers of Scripture were regarded as unlettered men, unqualified to be accepted as authors. The four fishermen, the writings of two of whom, Peter and John, we have in Scripture, would fall into that category. That they were successful in the pursuit of their business cannot be disputed, but men of their day asserted that they were but “unlearned and ignorant men” (Acts 4:13). Unlike Saul of Tarsus they had never sat at the feet of rabbis nor, as students of the great teachers of their generation, sharpened their intellect in the cut and thrust of debate. Yet William Webster states, “The writers of Galilee, unlearned and ignorant men, have employed the language of Thucydides, Plato, and Xenophon to give us a story which in subject matter throws into shade the choicest specimens of classical literature.”
Webster was referring to the gospel records, but we can apply his comment to embrace not only the gospels but also the epistles from the pens of these “writers of Galilee.” Their command of language was not deficient and can stand beside that of Paul in the richness of words that they use and phrases they employ.
It is from the beloved disciple, John, one of those “of Galilee,” we learn that “we have an advocate from the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1). This word (paraklsis) he also used in his gospel when he quoted the words of the Lord Jesus, “And I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you forever” (John 14:16, see also 14:26; 15:26; 16:7). Vine states that this word bears the meaning of “called to one’s side” and “is primarily a verbal adjective, and suggests the capability or adaptability for giving aid.” The word could be used for an advocate in a court of law but in a more general sense of one who draws alongside to give help and succor and who intercedes on behalf of another. In the Gospels it is used with reference to the Holy Spirit, but in 1st John is applied to the Lord Jesus.
John gives the reader one of his reasons for writing when he states, “…these things I write unto you that ye sin not” (2:1). He carefully phrases his words to mean “that you do not commit one act of sin,” and follows this with, “If any man sin.” He does not say “when” but “if,” emphasizing that sin in the life of a believer will occur, but it is not inevitable and should be an abnormal act. But what if we do sin? He has already written that “He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins” (1:9), but clearly the reason stated here for writing is that no one should live carelessly with a light view of sin. Such a view would be based on the reasoning that “It will be forgiven anyway, so what damage is done!”
But, sin does damage! We know that the believer will never endure the penal judgment of God. That has been dealt with at the Cross – this “payment” is not required twice. But John’s epistle is the epistle of the family. The court for penal judgment has been set up in Romans and the matter of the believer’s guilt dealt with. In the Ephesian letter, we enjoy heavenly blessings; in the Hebrews we can come boldly to the throne of grace. John, however, deals with us as being in the family of God. The point at issue, if we sin, is our relationship to our Father.
We can all remember when we were young and disobeyed our father. This did not result in our being banished from the family into which we entered when we were born. We were still the children of our father and that natural relationship could not be altered. Similarly, we cannot be banished from the spiritual family into which we entered when we were born again.
But what took place when we disobeyed? We remember that it affected our relationship with our father. His displeasure with us altered the relationship inasmuch as it was not as close as in former days. This is what takes place if we sin. We are not subject to penal judgment, but we are subject to parental chastisement. Our relationship with our Father is not as it was. We are aware that it is not as close as it had been. His purpose is not to “create an atmosphere” but rather to discipline us so that we will long for recovery. We may be keenly aware of His chastening hand in our life. If we value that relationship (there is a serious spiritual problem if we do not) our desire will be to confess our sin.
This is where the work of our Advocate is vital. He is not standing beside us in a legal court, but He is working for us to restore the warmth and intimacy of our family relationship with our Father. He Who, in stilling the storm and in ridding Legion of the many demons that tormented him, revealed Himself as the restorer of lost harmonies, is working today as the restorer of warm, close relationships. He draws near to aid those who desire it. But to avail ourselves of His work it is necessary to mourn our failure, to feel the keenness of distance caused by an intimacy lost, to be aware of His displeasure, and to long for the enjoyment again of the warmth of the Father’s smile. The man who enjoyed the closeness of leaning on the breast of the Lord would have us as close as that to the Father. Genuine confession will enable us to experience the truth, coming from the pen of the man who understood the value and joy of close communion, that “we have an advocate with the Father.”