I John 5:21
In a Nutshell
John introduces a combative term to complete his letter: keep watch, guard yourself.
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Is John's letter an endorsement of a passive life?
21 Little children, keep yourselves from idols.
In conclusion to his letter, John uses a word that is also found in his account of Jesus' prayer on the night of His betrayal. That prayer is often called the High Priestly prayer. In that prayer, Jesus used this same word that John now uses here. The word signifies a "duty of care" and in His prayer Jesus says that:
… those You gave to me I have kept (John 17:17).
As we read that prayer now we realise that it is a prayer filled with an immense sadness. Jesus recognises the loss of the one who betrayed Him but He had exercised "due care" for those His Father had given Him. As the scripture had required of Him, He had then fulfilled its requirements (John 17:9). He had protected [EPHULAXA] them.
Now, in the context of the protection provided by God's Son, John still sounds due warning: "Children protect [PHULAXATE] yourselves from idols!" There is a real threat that needs to be warded off here. The power of idolatry may well be part of the world that is passing away. But as an idol goes on its way it hijacks those who are unwary of its nature as it rolls along on the road to destruction. Those who are failing to exercise a duty of care for their own safety need to hear this word - they need to hear the good news calling them to serve the Living God and to cast away all no-gods, all god substitutes. Jesus Christ also came for such vulnerable people so that they could become members in His extended family as His brothers and sisters.
"Protect yourselves from idols" is the negative way of saying what he had said previously:
All who cultivate His considered advice are at home with Him, and He is at home in their midst. It is by this that we know He abides in our midst by the [presence of the] Spirit that He has bequeathed to us (1 John 4:24).
This life is worth protecting. It is of such value that we will stand guard and keep watch. We will avoid the spiritual homelessness that is the worship of idols now that we are truly "at home" with the Lord since the Son of God put in His appearance (1 John 5:20).