NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
By Dr. Robert R. Seyda
FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN
CHAPTER TWO (Lesson XIX) 04/19/21
2:3 If we obey what God has told us to do, then we are sure that we know Him.
Edward J. Malatesta (1932-1998) points out that the original Christian Gospel proclaims not only that Jesus died for the sins of us all, but that He did so precisely as the “righteous for the unrighteous.” He also died as a “lamb without blemish or scar;” “He never sinned, He spoke no deceptive words;” as our high priest who is “holy, blameless, unstained, separated from sinners, exalted above the heavens.”
Therefore, John reminds his readers that the Gospel declared that Jesus came to do away with our sins. That’s why the titles of Advocate and “Holy One” designate the perfection of Jesus as one who fulfilled all the commandments of the Law and privileged to live in constant communion with God. The key here is that while the Anointed One was from the beginning with God and was God, even after going through all He did to pay the ransom for our sins as a human, never lost that divine status with the Father. The ultimate purpose was that we, who were first and foremost human, might be allowed to be transformed into His likeness before the Father.
James Montgomery Boice (1938-2000) makes a great point here in John’s first test for a Christian’s salvation assurance. He does not say, “And by this, we may know that we are born again,” or “By this, we may know that we are Christians.” Instead, the idea behind this assurance is knowledge. That’s why John says, “We know that we have come to know Him if we obey His commands.” So, a person may repeat the “sinner’s prayer,” join the church, become a member of the praise and worship group, or even teach a Sunday school class. But only until they are comfortable obeying God’s Word will they truly know that they are an authentic child of God. This John makes clear in verses five and six.
Daniel L. Akin (1957) points to a well-known hymn sung in most Churches in recent decades. The opening verse and refrain read as follows:
When we walk with the Lord in the light of His Word,
What a glory He sheds on our way!
While we do His good will, He abides with us still,
And with all who will trust and obey.
Trust and obey, for there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.
Akin believes that the Apostle John would have liked this song. I’m sure he would have agreed with its message. To trust Him, you must first come to know Him – know Him as the One whom God sent from the beginning. You must also know Him as the One who is the Word of Life and the Eternal Life; to know Him as the Son of the Father in whom there is no darkness at all; to know Him as the cleanser and forgiver of sins, and to know Him as our Advocate and Atonement. And when you do, you will experience joy in Jesus that will indeed be the glory He sheds on your pathway.
2:4a If someone claims, “I know God,” but doesn’t obey God’s commandments, that person is a liar and is not living a truthful life.
The Apostle James agrees with John’s assessment here and expounds as follows: “My brothers and sisters, some people claim to have faith but do nothing. As a result, their faith is worth nothing.” That kind of faith cannot save anyone from punishment. Suppose a brother or sister in the Lord comes to you in need of clothes or something to eat, and you say to them, Shalom, stay warm and get plenty to eat without bothering to give them some food to eat or clothes to wear, your words are worthless.
How closely this echoes the thought found in Hosea where ELOHIM says: “Now Israel pleads with me, ‘Help us, for you, are our God!’ But it is too late. The people of Israel have rejected what is good, and now their enemies will chase after them.” In other words, those who refuse to help others out of their goods that exceed more than they need will find out their faith is of no value, and then they will cry out to God for help. The question is, should God help them when they didn’t help others? The Apostle Paul’s answer: “They claim to know God, but their actions show they don’t even listen to Him. They are disgusting people, they refuse to obey, and they are useless for doing anything good.”
In his letter to Presbyter George and Deacon Theodore of the Church in Constantinople, Pope Gregory the Great (540-604 AD) shared what he heard from his deacons. They were saying that “When our Almighty Lord and Savior Jesus the Anointed One descended into hell, He saved all who acknowledged Him as God and delivered them from the painful punishment due to them.” Pope Gregory asked them to reconsider. For, when the Anointed One descended into hell, through His grace, He rescued only those who both believed that He would come and find His Word in their hearts.
For it is evident, says Gregory, that after the incarnation of the Lord, even of those who hold His faith, who live by faith but do nothing by faith, can be saved. Furthermore, in verse four, John says the same about that those who boast of knowing Him but do not obey His words. James also, the brother of the Lord, writes, Faith without works is useless. If salvation does not come without good deeds, how were unbelieving and godless people saved from hell by our Lord without good works? Therefore, sinners who never saw the incarnation of the Lord are better off than those born after the mystery of His embodiment in the flesh. As we can see, salvation by works rather than by faith was taught in the Roman Church. I would love to have asked Pope Gregory, what about the thief on the cross, the woman caught in adultery, the woman at the well in Samaria?
Catholic scholar Thomas Aquinas says that in the exercise of moral virtues, the rougher the battle, the more magnificent the victory. Now there are certain kinds of objectives that a person may deny themselves for God’s sake. Fulfilling the want of things is the least significant; the body’s desires are in second place, the needs of the soul are still higher, and the matters of the will are on top. It is by a person’s will that they make use of all these other things.
Therefore, says Aquinas, the virtue of obedience, whereby we subject our will to God’s will for His sake, is more praiseworthy than the other moral virtues. That’s why any other acts of virtue are meritorious before God through being performed out of obedience to God’s will. If out of compliance to His Word, we were to suffer martyrdom or give all we have to the poor, unless it’s aimed at fulfilling God’s will for our life, none of it is praiseworthy. The same goes for charitable works, which cannot be valid unless prompted by obedience to God’s will.
Daniel Whitby (1638-1726) has an insightful observation about verse four as it applies to the Jews. Many of them had a somewhat anxious hope that their knowledge and belief of the true God would be sufficient for their justification and acceptance with Him. That’s why they appear as glorying in God and understanding His will. As a result, they anticipated that justification would be theirs based on their belief in One true God. It might have caused the Apostle John, then, to be diligent in teaching them that the fundamental knowledge of God consisted in doing what He commanded us to do.
James Macknight (1721-1800) makes an observation that applies to the Church today. He says that the Apostle John is dealing with the influence of the Nicolaitans and the Gnostics, who affirmed that the only thing necessary to eternal life was the knowledge of the true God. It led to their constant living in the most immoral sensual indulgences while boasting that they were the objects of God’s love and sure of obtaining eternal life merely because they possess the knowledge of the true God and of His mercy in forgiving people’s sins. With such boasting, John declares them as liars, either because they spoke what they knew to be false, or at least, what was in itself primarily wrong.
 See 1 Peter 3:18
 Ibid 1:19
 Ibid. 1:22
 Hebrews 8:26
 1 Jn 2:1; cf. 3:7
 Ibid. 2::20; cf. 3:3
 Malatesta, Edward J., Analecta Biblica Investigations Scientificae in Res Biblicas, Interiority and Covenant Romae, E Pontificio Instituto Biblico, Italy, 1978
 Boice, James Montgomery, Epistles of John, op. cit., p. 45
 Akin, Dr. Daniel L., Exalting Jesus in 1,2,3 John, op. cit., Kindle Locations 654-658
 James 2:14-16
 Hosea 8:2-3
 Titus 1:16
 In the New Testament in 1 Peter 4:6, it states that the “good tidings were proclaimed to the dead.” The Catholic Catechism interprets Ephesians 4:9, which states that “[Christ] descended into the lower parts of the earth,” as also supporting this interpretation.
 James 2:20
 Register of the Epistles of Gregory the Great, Bk. 7, Epistle 15, p. 919
 Aquinas, Thomas: Summa Theologica, Vol. 3, p. 1182
 Romans 2:17-18
 James 2:19
 Whitby, Daniel: On First General Epistle of John, op. cit., p 459
 Macknight, James: First Epistle of John, op. cit., p. 42