WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

by Dr. Robert R. Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER ONE (Lesson XLVII) 02/09/21

John Painter (1935) points out that verse six reveals a fabrication of the heretics’ claim of union with God. It is not that such claims are necessarily false. Instead, the author shows what would falsify the claim. The use of “walk” is a metaphor for the Christian lifestyle and is typical of John’s teaching. The Greek verb peripatei (“to walk”)is used seventeen times in John, five times in 1 John, three times in 2 John, and twice in 3 John.[1] These provide ample evidence of the symbolic meaning beyond walking’s physical activity.[2] This walking goes from faith to faith.[3]

Karen H. Jobes (1968-Present) points out that truth is closely associated with facts in our times. But John’s writings show a reality that goes far beyond the facts to interpret the significance and entailments of the facts. The purpose of the signs in John’s Gospel is to narrate Jesus’ miracles and present them so that the astute reader perceives the identity of Jesus as both the long-awaited Messiah and the Savior sent by God to atone for sin.[4] It isn’t that faith replaces facts, but faith engenders confidence in the evidence.

David Guzik (1984-Present) implies that the issue here is fellowship, not salvation. Although a believer may claim to walk enlightened with God, they walk ignorantly in darkness. They may be His child, but they have no fellowship with Him. If they continue to insist on maintaining such a relationship, they do not live the truth. John says they live a lie (see verses eight to ten). It is important then to remember the promise of eternal life is given only to those who continue to stay in union with Him.[5] Since He is the Light, we cannot claim that union if we walk in darkness.[6] What fellowship or comradeship does darkness have with light?

I like what Ben Witherington says about belief being a matter of behavior. The term “walking,” or doing what one is supposed to do, is typically Jewish.[7] It reflects that John does not draw a line between creed and conduct between theology and tenets. Ethics is putting your preaching theology into practical theology, in other words, doing the truth.[8] John is about to tell us that sometimes believers fail to do the right thing. That indeed is sin. John is not trying to be an idealist nor a realist. He’s only making it clear that to do or not to do the truth is not an option. Behavior matters just as much as belief does, and any deviation from the truth in either one’s belief or behavior can sever one from fellowship with God and His community.[9]

1:7a That’s more than enough reason for John to now encourage everyone: We should live in the light where God is… 

EXPOSITION

Here the Apostle John echoes the words of the Psalmist David who thanked the LORD that He saved Him from death at the hands of King Saul; that He kept him from being defeated at the hands of his enemies; and that’s why he will serve Him in the light that only the living can see.[10] And the Psalmist Ethan joins him by telling the Lord that His loyal followers are happy. They live in the light of His kindness.[11] So, the people of God are encouraged to sing a new song because light and happiness shine on those who do what is right. That’s why the prophet Isaiah said with a loud voice: “O house of Jacob, come and let us walk in the light of the LORD.[12]

And why should we seek to have fellowship with the Lord in the light? Because John says, He is in the Light. Listen to how the Psalmist describes Him: “You wear Light like a robe. You spread out the starry skies like a curtain.”[13] The Apostle James offers his thoughts: Everything good comes from God. Every perfect gift is from Him. These good gifts come down from the Father, who made all the lights in the sky. But God never changes like the shadows from those lights. He is always the same.[14] The Apostle Paul chimes in: “God is the only one who never dies. He lives in Light so bright that people cannot go near it. No one has ever seen Him; no one is able to see Him. All honor and power belong to Him forever. Amen.”[15]

As a small boy, I remember picking up several wooden boards laid down outside the back door of my grandmother’s house so she could walk over to the washhouse without stepping in the mud after it rained. I was amazed that there was bright green grass all around these planks, but nothing underneath. I couldn’t understand it until someone explained it to me. Grass couldn’t grow under these planks because they received no light, although they got plenty of water. The same is true of some Christians. There is plenty of spiritual rain and showers of blessings, but they are not growing in the Anointed One and the things of God because there is no light in their lives. For some reason, they are hiding from the Word of God that gives light. This idea may sound risky to some, but I feel that anyone who calls themselves a faithful, committed Christian and child of God would undoubtedly endeavor to read the Bible through at least one time during their lifetime.

COMMENTARY

Richard Rothe (1799-1867) says that we cannot speak of walking in connection with God, but only of a changeless existence. However, our whole being has yet to become light; and to this, it is of supreme importance that we walk in God’s light, which has come to us in its whole truth in the only-begotten Son of God. According to verse five, it is the Light of truth, holiness, and love.[16]

Richard Tuck (1817-1868) makes an excellent point about the believer and sin. It states that there is much confusion caused by accepting that the word “sin” identifies all sins. In other words, whether it be theft, murder, adultery, they are all sins but of a different color, like the M&M candies. But in fact, the word “sin” represents a “violation of the Law.” But there is something else that goes with it, says Tuck, “sin” is also an “expression of our will.” Furthermore, it is evidence of our human frailty. So, to put this in reverse order, because we are spiritually weak, we often carry out the will of our lawbreaking tendencies and thereby violate the Law of God. That makes it impossible to be a sinner unless you give into sin.[17]

John Stock (1817-1884) points out that ravens, contrary to their nature, were sent to feed Elijah[18] because God commanded them to do so. It must have been very humiliating to Elijah. But in like manner, sometimes our lawbreaking tendencies and outward temptations are often controlled by God as a way of feeding His children to keep them humble. It is also another way to keep them from being proud. Suppose a person is guilty of even the smallest sinful thought or desire. In that case, it will prevent them from falling victim to the curse of meaningless vanity and keep them from bragging about their significant spiritual accomplishments.[19] Since no one is permanently free from lawbreaking tendencies, God is working in them to do His will brings Him great pleasure.[20] It’s because all praise is due to God by the happy recipients of His unfailing blessings and provisions and grace.[21]

Stephen S. Smalley (1931-2018) points out that John’s idea of “walking” in the light or darkness is to be loyal to God, as He is faithful to Himself.[22] For God is “light,” and “He Himself” is, therefore, the Light. John’s imagery is sufficiently flexible for the symbol of “light’ to be applied to God in these two directions without confusion.[23] In other words, God is not only Light; He is the Light. That’s why if we walk in the Light, we walk with God. Light is not just something that shines on our pathway but is in us and with us on that pathway. Furthermore, says Smalley, by “living in the Light,” we share fellowship with God and God’s people who also have the Light.[24]


[1] John 6:66; 7:1; 8:12; 11:9, 10, 54; 12:35; 21:18; 1 John 1:6, 7; 2: 6, 11; 2 John 1:4, 6; 3 John 1:3, 4

[2] Painter, John. Sacra Pagina: op. cit., Kindle Locations 3635-3639

[3] Romans 1:17

[4] Jobes, Karen H., 1, 2, and 3 John, op. cit., p. 69

[5] John 15:1-2

[6] Guzik, David – Enduring Word, op. cit., pp. 16-17

[7] Cf. Genesis 17:1; 1 Kings 2:4; 2 Kings 20:3

[8] Cf. John 3:21 with 2 Chronicles 31:20; Nehemiah 9:33

[9] Witherington III, Ben, Letters and Homilies for Hellenized Christians: op. cit., Kindle Location 6011

[10] Psalm 56:13

[11] Ibid. 89:15

[12] Isaiah 2:5 – NIV

[13] Psalm 104:2

[14] James 1:17

[15] 1 Timothy 6:16

[16] Rothe, Richard: The Expository Times, op. cit., March 1890, p. 137

[17] Tuck, Richard H., The Preachers Complete Homiletical Commentary, op. cit., p. 243

[18] 1 Kings 17:4

[19] Proverbs 20:6

[20] Philippians 2:12

[21] John Stock: On First Epistle of John, op. cit., p. 36

[22] 2 Timothy 2:13

[23] Stephen S. Smalley: Word Biblical Commentary, op. cit., p. 22

[24] Ibid. p. 33

About drbob76

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