WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R. Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER TWO (Lesson XXII) 04/22/21

2:5 But when we obey God’s teaching, His love is truly working in us. This is how we know that we are living in Him.

Dryander says the Apostle John, in the lofty flight of his thoughts, reveals to us a new world in the knowledge of the Gospel, which is the means of opening our eyes to a holier, more profound conception of God. At the same time, this mystic Apostle sought to measure the depths of eternity with his profound speculative genius. It is so intensely practical that when he wishes to show the way to attaining knowledge of God, he says, in simple words, “that you do not sin.” Doing this brings a greater understanding of God, which must be the ultimate aim of all Christians.[1]

Alan E. Brooke (1863-1939) tells us that the love of God can be interpreted in three ways: subjective, objective, or qualitative. God’s love for us, or our love for God, or the love which is characteristic of Him, which “answers to His nature” and when “communicated to humanity is effective in them towards the brethren and God.” The love for God of which humanity is capable is only achievable through absolute obedience. At the same time, we must remember the Apostle John’s teaching about God’s love for people is what motivates a person’s response to love God. “We love because He first loved us.”[2] [3]

Henry Sawtelle (1868-1934) comments on how the love of God comes full circle. He explains that the Greek adverb alēthōs (“verily”) means not only in reality but also, in accordance with the principle of truth in the reborn creation, harmonizing naturally somewhat with the similar Greek noun alētheia (“truth”) in verse four. “In him” is literally “in this one” – namely the one who follows the Anointed One’s teachings. Sawtelle tells us that German theologian Johann Bengel says that the love of God is not God’s love for us, and German theologian August Neander states that neither is it our love for Him. Added to that, German theologian Johannes H. A. Ebrard says it is not a term for the reciprocal love between God and us, nor the respect commanded by God. It is the principle of spiritual love in us, which is of God as its source and its nature, which is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit given to us.[4] In short, it is God’s love in us, the divine element imparted to us, the main component of the fountain found in us.

It is not the same thing as the knowledge in verse three, says Sawtelle, even though the spiritual understanding of the Anointed One and this love of God imply each other and do not exist apart from the regenerate believer. This love is perfected in us as we keep the Word of the Anointed One. It develops, matures, finalizes in its end and fullness through obedience. Evangelical obedience is the carrying out and completion of love itself. The vital doctrine taught here is that keeping positive commands is necessary for the wholesome inner life. Trees do not fully develop until they bear fruit; neither does our Christian life. Assuredly, the relationship of faith and baptism in the Gospel of Mark[5] is the same as love and obedience here in First John?[6]

Marvin Vincent (1834-1922) has an enlightening explanation of how God’s love becomes fully developed in the believer. He points out that the Greek verb teleioō in the perfect tense has the Apostle John saying the “the love of God reaches perfection.” The change in the structure of this clause here in verse five is a striking contrast to what John says in verse four. Those who claim to know God, yet live in disobedience, are liars. The counterbalance might be: “Those keeping His commandments are of the truth” or “the truth is in them.” Instead, we have, “In them, God’s love has reached its highest level.” Vincent then explains that the obedient child of God is identified, not by any characteristic trait or quality of their personality, but as the subject of the work of divine love. It is in this context that love accomplishes its complete task.[7]

Earlier, Donald W. Burdick (1917-1996) contrasted knowing with fellowship; now, he does the same with God’s commandments and telling the truth. It involves making a claim that turns out to be a lie. The profession of faith is not enough; facts must back it up. John makes it clear that anyone who attempts such pretense is not only deceiving others but themselves. John tried to be friendly about it, but he ended up calling them what they were – liars![8]

Wendell C. Hawley (1930) addresses the factor of how God’s love reaches completion in believers. Some scholars say that perfection is said to be when God’s love reaches people, or it replaces human love with divine love, or it is a person loving God with all their heart, soul, and mind. All of these are acceptable, says Hawley, but the main point is when God’s love reaches its goal, both in the believer’s maturity and in becoming a light to the world. In the Greek mind, perfection did not mean flawlessness, but rather, more fully developed, matured. The Greek verb teleioō (“perfected”) is in a perfect tense, but, says another commentator, having the force of the present tense in that the fulfillment process already begun is continuing.[9] It’s like a baby’s heart; once it starts beating, it will continue to beat until the end of life. Likewise, once God’s love begins beating in our hearts, it will go on beating until the Lord calls us home.

Ian Howard Marshall (1934-2015) notes that commentators dispute whether “the love of God” means (a) “God’s love for mankind” (the undoubted meaning in 4:9), or (b) “mankind’s love for God” (the probable sense in 2:15 and 5:3), or (c) “God’s kind of love.” The fact is that all three interpretations are possible here. It is, of course, true that our love for God is a reflection of God’s love for us and a response to it so that our keeping of God’s Word could be a sign that God’s love had done its complete work in us.

On the other hand, says Marshall, the parallel expressions in 2:15 and 5:3 strongly support the view that John is thinking primarily of our love for God rather than divine love, which produces this response in us. God’s unconditional love for us is indisputable, but the reflection or uncompromising love for Him is often in question. We can say all we want about loving God, but unless we are fellowshipping and loving other believers in keeping His commandments, our love is highly questionable.[10]

Philip W. Comfort (1950) feels that the newness of Jesus’ command to love one another rests upon the reality it changed our hearts by experiencing the love of Jesus, we reach out in the same fashion to all those touched by such love. When we let that love to shine into the darkness of a lost world or illuminate a believer who has stepped momentarily into darkness, they can find their way back to the Light. Then we know we are living the way Jesus lived, and God’s love comes full circle back to Him.[11]

Karen H. Jobes (1968) offers this insight into the text. She says, by taking the words “love of God” to mean, “God is the direct object of love,” it produces a beautiful, logical flow to John’s thought. It helps us understand the Greek verb teleileōtai (“reached its fulfillment”), a word often translated with an English phrase including “perfected[12] or “perfection.”[13] And the shift in 2:7-11 to explicitly address love for others seems to confirm that here an “objective genitive” [14] used here. In other words, God in the Anointed One has loved us by redeeming us from sin, [15] and that love has a transformative goal in the believer’s life, that they should love both the Father and the Son in expressing love to others.[16] [17]

David Jackman (1973) sees John opening the door closed to keep out the darkness to the other side to let in God’s Light of love. He is saying that the more we obey God’s Word, the more we open the door for His love to accomplish His purpose in our lives. And the more love we let in, the more earnest we are in obeying His Word. The test of living in the light is growing in love. The ultimate proof does not come with heightened emotion of exciting worship but our enthusiast devotion to duty, detail, and discipline. You see, it’s not all in what we say about God but in what we do for Him.[18]

You see, a fountain that receives water from a river or spring lets it flow into the basin, down the drain, and out to a water reclamation plant. A fountain with a self-contained water source like a rain recovery tank pumps it into the sink, where it flows back down into the tank through a filter, making it purer each time. When the water source for the river or spring dries up, it stops running. But the water tank is continually refreshed with each rain and contains enough water until the next storm. Thus, the water never stops running. More or less, this is what Jesus said, “Whoever drinks the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give them will become in them a well of life that lasts forever.”[19]


[1] Dryander, E., A Commentary on the First Epistle of St. John in the Form of Addresses, op. cit., pp. 32–33

[2] Cf. 2:15; 3:17; 4:12; v:5

[3] Brooke, Alan E. International Critical Commentary, op. cit., p. 32

[4] Romans 5:5

[5] Mark 16:16

[6] Sawtelle, H. A., Commentary on the Epistles of John, op. cit., p. 17

[7] Vincent, Marvin: Word Studies of the NT, op. cit., p. 327

[8] Burdick, Donald W., The Epistles of John, op. cit., p. 29

[9] Hawley, Wendell C., Tyndale, op. cit., pp. 337-338

[10] Howard, Marshall I., The Epistles of John, op. cit., pp. 124-125 

[11] Comfort, Philip W., Tyndale, op. cit., p.339-340

[12] See New American Standard Bible (NASB), New King James Version (NKJV), English Standard Version (ESV)

[13] See New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), New Jerusalem Bible (NJB)

[14] The Objective Genitive names the Direct Object of the action contained in another noun.

[15] John 3:16; 1 John 4:10

[16] Ibid. 13:34

[17] Jobes, Karen H., 1, 2, and 3, op. cit., p. 86

[18] Jackman, David, The Message of John’s Letters, op. cit., p. 49

[19] John 4:14

About drbob76

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