WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R. Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER TWO (Lesson XX) 04/20/21

2:4 If we say we know God but do not obey His commands, we are lying. The truth is not in us.

This same attitude seems to be prevalent today when you hear ministers saying that God not only loves you, but He is in love with you. So, no matter who you are or what you may have done or are doing, God will not withhold His mercy and forgiveness if we just tell Him, “Come into my heart and make me Your child.” The Word “repentance” is seldom used in such “sinner’s prayers.” It was rightly called “cheap grace” by the great German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer.[1] Often people are asked if they want to be saved, but saved from what? They are often asked if they desire to go to heaven, but never if they want to stay out of hell. Consequently, they get the idea that they can sin anytime because God is more than willing to forgive. Fortunately, God looks at the heart and can tell if the person praying is sincere whether they use the right words or not.

Thomas Scott (1749-1821) views both sides of this story concerning what the Anointed One endured to pay the ransom price for our freedom. As Scott sees it, what words can express the praises of the love of God, in causing “manifestation of Life,” even “eternal Life,” which was with the Father, so that we, justly condemned rebels, who were dead in sin, might live by Him! It appears the more admirable when we consider the deep shame and the agonizing sufferings, to which this manifestation exposed the “Incarnate Word,” the “Son of God.” Furthermore, how his very humiliation endured for humankind, to rob Him of His glory, to deny His Deity, and to speak of Him whom “all angels worship,” as if He were one of them![2]

John James Lias (1834-1923) explains that although this letter is written in Greek, John begins this verse with what James calls a popular expression in Hebrew, that is, “the person who goes around saying” – a Hebrew way of expressing an act taking place at the present moment. In other words, while John was dictating this letter, these things were going on in the congregations to whom he was writing. John never imagined that just anybody could say they are intimately acquainted with God, but in fact, they were saying it. So, John had this challenge for them: Prove that you have such a relationship by obeying His commandments. The truth was, they were not keeping His commandments. Therefore, says Lias, to brag that “we have no sin”[3] is proof that the truth is not in us, even if we do so in ignorance. We are only “deceiving ourselves.”[4]

Alan E. Brooke (1863-1939) explains that “knowledge” is never a purely mental process in the Johannine system. It takes all the exercise of our faculties of intellect, heart, and will to acquire it. Fellowship and acquaintance are their related ideas. It develops in the growing experience of interaction. This concept, which dominates the whole First Covenant, of “knowing God” and of God “knowing men,”[5] is similarly developed in the Apostle Paul’s “knowing God,” or rather “being known by Him.”[6] The stress laid in the Johannine writings on the fundamental knowledge of God has certainly connected with the necessity which the author felt in combating certain stages of Gnosticism in his day.[7] [8]

Rudolf Bultmann (1884-1976) asks, “What, then, does it mean ‘to know God?’” He says that John explains that knowledge of God is not theoretical or speculative knowledge but a relationship to God, in which knowing Him begins with His existence. By that, it means being in union with Him through the Spirit to “walk” with Him as our Light – understanding everything that He is. Anyone who claims to know Him but does not walk in union with Him is lying.[9] To claim memorization of Bible verses, attending worship services once a week, and life-long membership in a Church is not enough. God must be a daily part of us, and we are part of Him. That’s why He put His Spirit in us as His constant abiding presence.

Not only that, but Bultmann points out that relationship is not founded solely on acceptance of Him as our Lord and Savior by faith but must operate based on Love for Him and each other. These are not exclusive to one another, nor are they options from which to choose. In fact, we cannot have one without the other because it takes both to prove that “we are what we claim to be,” children of the Most-High God.[10]

Bruce Vawter (1921-1986) says through one’s knowledge of God – an understanding that has nothing to do with merely intellectual attainments. We prove we know Him if we keep His commandments: This practical knowledge of God, which means a life lived following His revealed moral will, echoes the teaching of the First Covenant prophets.[11] The Apostle John is protesting a “Gnostic” approach to religion that would attempt to divorce ethical conduct from intellectual commitment: whoever keeps His word, the love of God has become perfected in them:[12]

Edward J. Malatesta (1932-1998) accepts John’s affirmation that the observance of the Father’s commandments is a principle in gaining knowledge of Him. The text does not say that observing the commandments gains knowledge or leads to obeying the commandments. It does prove that knowledge and observance are correlated. Neither one is more important than the other. So, the whole theme of verses three through eleven is that you cannot live on one or the other. They must work in tandem.[13]

Zane C. Hodges (1932-2008) notes that the Apostle John does not hesitate to declare that the person who says, “I know Him” but does not do what He commands is a liar. Someone may profess a fellowship with God, which their lives show they do not possess.[14] John was not afraid to call this kind of claim what it is: a lie. Furthermore, we can say of the same person that the truth is not in them. In such a person, the truth is not a dynamic, controlling influence. They are seriously out of touch with spiritual reality.[15]

A current faculty member at Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Gary M. Burge, points out that Truth is the principle of spiritual integrity that should accompany all worship that God’s Spirit empowers.[16] Therefore, John is not merely saying that someone who fails to obey has missed the point; instead, such people have disconnected themselves from God. On the other hand, the profile of true Christians is quite the opposite: They keep God’s word. John offers two crucial points. Throughout these verses, he employs the Greek verb tereo (“to keep”) to describe obedience. Burge says that Raymond Brown argues convincingly that this verb means more than observance.[17]

It’s use in the Septuagint (LXX) and elsewhere, says Burge, and implies duration and perseverance: to observe diligently, to guard carefully, to realize a truth suddenly – and to protect it.[18] In other words, “to keep God’s word” goes far beyond mere conformity to law. It expresses an enthusiastic desire to adhere to God’s will. On the other hand, in verses three and four, John used “commands” to describe God’s will, and now in verse five, it is changed to “Word.” John is well-known for his variations in expressing the same thing. However, no difference in meaning exists here.[19]

2:5a But those who obey God’s word truly show how their love has completely connected with His love. By this, people know they are living in union with Him.

EXPOSITION

John further points out how vital their obedience-love connection with God is to their benefit in proving they are in union with Him. This concept had long been a part of Jewish theology. Did not the Psalmist remind Israel to remember this! God led His people out of Egypt, singing for joy; His chosen people marched, singing their hearts out! He made them a gift of the country they entered, helped them seize the nation’s wealth, so they could do everything. He told them that by so doing, they could follow His instructions to the letter. Hallelujah![20] Not only that but there is great joy in doing things the right way for the right reasons because of God’s love.[21]


[1] Bonhoeffer, Dietrich: The Cost of Discipleship, Collier Books, Macmillan Publishing Company, New York, 1959, p. 45

[2] Scott, Thomas: First Epistle of John, op. cit., p. 485

[3] See verse 8

[4] Lias, J. J., The First Epistle of John with Exposition, pp. 67–68

[5] Cf. Amos 3:2

[6] Galatians 4:9

[7] Gnosticism was a prominent heretical movement of the 2nd-century Christian Church, partly of pre-Christian origin. Gnostic doctrine taught that the world was created and ruled by a lesser divinity, the Démiurge, an artisan-like figure responsible for fashioning and maintaining the physical universe, and that the Anointed One was an emissary of a remote supreme divine being whose special knowledge enabled the redemption of the human spirit.

[8] Brooke, Alan E. The International Critical Commentary, the Johannine Epistles, op. cit., p.29

[9] Bultmann, Rudolf: The Johannine Epistles, op. cit., p. 25

[10] Ibid. p. 26

[11] Hosea 4:1-3; 6:4-7; Jeremiah 2:8; cf. also John 13:35; 14:21-24

[12] Vawter, Bruce, First John, The Jerome Biblical Commentary, (Vol. 2) Brown, R. E., Fitzmyer, J. A., & Murphy, R. E. Editors, Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: 1996, p. 407

[13] Malatesta, Edward J., Interior and Covenant, op. cit., pp. 121-122

[14] See 1 John 1:6

[15] Hodges, Zane C., The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Vol. 2, op. cit., p. 888

[16] See 1 John 4:24

[17] Brown, Raymond, The Epistles of John, p. 252

[18] Cf. the use of the verb to describe Jesus’ watchful care over his disciples in John 17:12

[19] Burge, Gary M., The Letters of John (The NIV Application Commentary), op. cit., p. 98

[20] Psalm 105:44-45

[21] Ibid. 106:3

About drbob76

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