WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

by Dr. Robert R. Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER ONE (Lesson XXXIX) 11/26/20

Greek writers use the noun phōs (“light”) as a metaphor in Greek literature, for delight, deliverance, and victory. They apply it to certain persons as a term of admiring affection. It is a common remark to hear someone say, “You are the light of my life.” On seeing his son, Telemachus, the Greek god Ulysses says, “You have come, Telemachus, sweet light of my eyes.[1] And Electra, greeting her returning brother, Orestes, “O light! O blazing chariot of the sun!”[2] No modern writer has developed God’s idea as light with such power and beauty as Italian Dante Alighieri (1265-1321 AD) expresses in his Divine Comedy “Paradise Lost.” It might truthfully be called a study of light.

Light is the only visible expression of God. Radiating from Him, it disseminates through the universe as the principle of life. We hear this key-note struck at the very opening of Paradise Lost. “The glory of Him who moves everything penetrates the universe and shines more on one part than on the other. I was in heaven, where most of His light radiates. I saw things which only He, the One who descends from above, can reproduce or know.[3] [4] The reason I mention these secular writings is to show that using “light” as enlightenment or glory was not an outdated concept of the Apostle’s John. We even use it today in that fashion.

John James Lias (1834-1923) offers insight into one final characteristic of light that claims our attention. It is one of its essential properties to communicate itself. It cannot remain folded and be effective. So, in the beginning, God began imparting His work of creation. And so forever He gives Himself to His creatures, creating, sustaining them, filling them with Himself. We must never neglect in explaining a passage that, as Dr. Haupt remarks, is intended to convey to us a conception of the Divine Essence.

On the other hand, states Lias, we should not fail to observe that darkness is the precise opposite of all this. It is the absence of warmth, motion, life. It is the blackness of utter nothingness. It is even impossible for misery to exist in its chill embrace; discomfort is the initial symptom of its approach. And therefore, it is utterly incompatible with the Being of Him, who is all joy and warmth, boundless energy, and unceasing love. And once more, darkness is the opposite of light in its communicative property. Darkness cannot communicate itself; it has nothing to display. And so, though evil example has, in a sense, a tendency to spread, yet the children of darkness have in reality nothing to give, or if they had, they would not provide it. A cold, hard, barren selfishness, which frets at another’s good, and rejoices only in their misfortune, is characteristic of the kingdom of evil. It is the incarnation of incarnation. It can be called, not of love, but hate.[5]

Lias also claims that God’s children must announce an obvious truth when declaring the Gospel to others. It does not require any formal training or endorsement. At least we think so theoretically, although many of them fail to realize it. It is because the Church does not accept the idea that every Christian bears this responsibility. In choosing times and places, we ought to seek Holy Spirit’s guidance from on high and within. Don’t let the spirit of pride assume that this calling involves questioning and lecturing everybody on matters of the most profound privacy or the highest moment. That is a form of Pharisaic pride rather than of Gospel humility. Yet, on everyone’s shoulders remains the duty, at the proper time, of handing on to others the message they received. And let it not be forgotten that the most effective way of doing this is by helping with our utmost strength and ability to spread Christianity at home or abroad.[6]

Augustus Strong (1836-1921) indicates God’s character, moral purity as revealed, as producing joy and life, as contrasted with doing evil, lost in darkness, being in a state of moral decay. The universal human conscience is itself a revelation of the holiness of God, and the joining everywhere of suffering from sin is the revelation of God’s justice. The wrath, anger, jealousy of God shows that this reaction of God’s nature is necessary. God’s heart is itself holy, just, and right. Holiness is not replaced by love, as Protestant theologian Albrecht Ritschl (1822-1889) holds since there is no acknowledgment without affirmation. Purity does not make demands solely in law but imparts them through the Holy Spirit; Holiness is not a complicated term designating the aggregate of the divine perfections. On the other hand, the notion of holiness is, both in Scripture and in Christian experience, straightforward and entirely distinct from that of other attributes.[7]

William Macdonald Sinclair (1850-1917), Archdeacon of London, states that here is the essence of Christian theology, the truth about the Deity as opposed to all the imperfect conceptions of Him embittered the minds of the wise. All of what John says here sums up what the First Covenant and our Lord said about the Almighty Father. The Light was God’s garment from the Psalms to the prophet Ezekiel.[8] Likewise, we see the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord’s brightness to the prophet Habakkuk.[9] Furthermore, detect His brilliance in the children of the Light whom the Anointed One called the sons of God.[10] And in the book of Hebrews, the Anointed One was the refracted ray of the Father’s glory. “the express image of His person.”[11] To the Apostle James, the Almighty is the Father of all lights.[12] Then, to the Apostle Paul, He dwells “in the light that no man can approach,”[13] and to the Apostle Peter, being a Christian implies an admission “into His marvelous light.”[14]

John comprehends these ideas as showing that God is Light. Natural light – He called everything first out of the darkness and proceeds all health and perfection. Intellectual light – He is the source of all wisdom and knowledge, and in His mind exist the ideals, after which all things strive. Moral light – His perfection shows that the difference between good and evil is not merely a question of degree, but fundamental and final. The life of the Anointed One exhibited that contrast sharply: once and for all. Thus, this declaration depends on the whole doctrine of sin: sin is not mere imperfections. It is hostility to God. There can be no shades of progression, uniting excellent and evil: in Him is no darkness at all. Good and evil may be mixed in an individual: in themselves, they are contrary.[15]

Alan E. Brooke (1863-1934) believes that describing God as “light” is the best. The Greek noun phōs suggests light in some particular relation.[16] Phōs describes His nature as He is; the description is correct so far as it goes, though not complete. The primary idea suggested by the word in this context is ”illumination.” It is of the nature of light and makes visible. God’s heart is such that He must make Himself known, and that knowledge reveals everything else in its true nature. That this thought is present here is suggested by what John says in 2:3ff. That God can be “known,” and by those to whom the author is writing, is one of the leading ideas on which he lays particular stress. But because of the use of the metaphor of light and darkness in the Bible generally, and especially in John, and of the immediate context in this Epistle, it is impossible to exclude the ethical meaning from the word’s significance here. The context shows that this is the idea which John is most anxious to emphasize. The Word – logos must suggest the notes of Holiness and Purity as essential to God’s nature.[17]

Harry A. Ironside (1876-1951) points out that we have darkness presented in four Scriptures: There is the natural darkness, “having the understanding darkened[18] – this is true of all men by nature. No man by nature understands God. No man naturally loves holiness and purity. That’s why they worshipped the creation instead of the Creator.[19]

Have you ever noticed that you do not to teach little children how to tell lies, but you should advise them to tell the truth? You never have to instruct them on how to lose their temper, but you must tutor them on to control it.[20] You never have lecture them to be disobedient, but you do have to train them to be obedient. Why is this? Because men naturally are children of darkness. As we look into babes’ faces, we do not like to think that we find the same sinful tendency in ourselves in their little hearts, but it is there nevertheless. Therefore, there is the necessity of the spiritual light of regeneration: “You must be born again.”[21] [22]


[1] Homer, The Odyssey, Bk. 16, Verse 23

[2] Eurípides, Electra [870], p. 1043

[3] Alighieri, Dante: Divine Comedy – Paradiso, Canto 1

[4] Marvin R. Vincent: Word Studies, op. cit., pp. 312-313

[5] Lias, John J, The First Epistle of St. John with Exposition, James Nisbet & Co., London: 1887, pp. 34–35

[6] Lias, J. J. (1887). First Epistle of John Homiletics, op, cit., pp. 34–36

[7] Strong, Augustus H. Systematic Theology, op. cit., Vol. 1, p. 488

[8] Psalm 104:2; Ezekiel 1:2

[9] 1 John 3:3

[10] John 12:36

[11] Hebrews 1:3

[12] James 1:17

[13] 1 Timothy 6:16

[14] 1 Peter 2:9

[15] Sinclair, William Macdonald: Epistles of John, New Testament Commentary for English Readers, Charles John Ellicott (Ed.), Vol. III, Published by Cassell Petter & Galpin, London, 1878-1901, p. 475

[16] 1 John 1:5-9

[17] Brooke, Alan E. International Critical Commentary, op. cit., pp. 11-12

[18] Ephesians 4:18

[19] Romans 1:21

[20] Revelation 8:12

[21] Ibid. 9:2

[22] Ironside, H. A. The Epistles of John and Jude (Ironside Expository Commentaries) (Kindle Locations 176-181), Kindle Edition

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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