WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R. Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER TWO (Lesson XXXIII) 05/07/21

2:9 Someone might say, “I am in the light,” but if they hate any of their brothers or sisters in God’s family, they are still in the darkness. 

F. F. Bruce (1910-1990) writes that since the requirement to love others is the proper demand for the age of grace, the test of obedience is preeminently a test of love. The claim to be “in the light” – introduced by the phrase “they who assert” – is a claim to have fellowship with God. John insisted that such a claim is incompatible with walking in darkness; and insists that such an assertion is inconsistent with loveless behavior. No one is allowed to imagine that they can get away with a claim to love God on the ground that this is an inward attitude, invisible to others. The twin commandments of love for God and one’s neighbor are like a lamp fixture and a light bulb; one is essential to the other. Alleging to live “in the light,” enjoying fellowship with the God of Light, must be proven by testing a person’s treatment of their neighbor. It is necessary to emphasize the word “treatment” because, as John makes clear later, it is not a matter of sentimental feelings and language, familiar in specific methods of devotion, but of love “in deed and truth.”[1]

John Stott (1921-2011) notes that in the preceding section, the Apostle John recorded three false claims of the heretics, each introduced by the phrase “if we claim.” He now expresses two right and positive assurances which the true Christian may have, presented by the formula “by this we know that.” They occur in verse three as “we know that” and five, “this is how we know.” Each of these statements is in the first-person plural, we know, and followed by an application in the third-person singular. The Greek ho legōn means “he who says.”[2] Indeed, there is a third ho legōn in verse nine, although the NIV obscures the fact by translating each occurrence differently (the man who says, verse 4; whoever claims, verse 6; and anyone who claims, verse 9). The New Living Version translates ho legōn as “says” in all three places. The repetition is emphatic.[3] We have a similar example in American street language today. People often start an explanation by saying, “You know.” And when expressing an opinion, they usually begin with, “I know.”

Stephen Smalley (1931-2018) talks about John saying that those who hate their fellow believers live in darkness. Another way to put it is that they are living a lie. The moral character they claim to have in the Light is the reverse of the conditions under which they operate. So, their claim and conduct do not match; they are disputing one another. And the reason they avoid the Light is not only because it exposes their lie, but they are required to obey God’s commandment to live in the Light. Unfortunately, they would rather live their lie than change.[4]

2:10a Anyone who loves a fellow Christian brother or sister has the Light living in them and does nothing to destroy the faith of those who have the Light residing in them.

EXPOSITION

Here is another principle that John wants to get across to his listeners. Did not the prophet Hosea say something to the same effect when he preached: “Let us know, let us strive to know Adonai. We know the LORD is coming, just as we expect the day to dawn. He will come to us like the rain, like the early spring rains that water the fields.”[5] And this spiritual rain will help all believers cope with difficulties that arise between others in the assembly. Paul gave out a similar warning to the Romans.[6] And the Apostle Peter was of the same mind when he wrote that the Lord knows how to get godly people out of trouble while He lets the ungodly pickle in their sinful brine until the day of judgment. And He is especially hard on those who follow their old sinful tendencies in lusting for filth and despise authority. They are proud and arrogant, daring even to scoff at supernatural things without seeming to care that they are insulting angelic beings.[7]

Whether they know it or not, they failed because they tried to make themselves right by doing good deeds. Instead of trusting God to make them right, they stumbled over the Stone, causing some of them to fall.[8] And of course, that Stone is none other than the Anointed One – Jesus the Messiah.[9] And for the Apostle Paul, it was his prayer for the Philippians that a stumbling stone can become a Stepping Stone so that their love would grow more and more and that they would keep on growing in knowledge and understanding of who He is and who they are. More than anything else, Paul wanted them to understand what matters in this life so that they might live pure and blameless lives until the day of the Messiah’s return.[10]

COMMENTARY

Theophylact (1050-1108) notes that the Gentiles always accepted the law or command that appears to derive from nature to do good to our peers. It is because man is a rational and social animal who cannot exist without mutual love. Ancient tales relate that many people were prepared to sacrifice themselves on behalf of others, and the Savior says clearly, “Greater love has no one than this, that person willingly lays down their life for their friends.”[11] [12]    

Augustine of Hippo offers what he calls “Commendations of Love.” He notes that The Apostle Peter, likewise, says, “Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins.”[13] The Apostle James also says, “You do well when you obey the Holy Writings which say, “You must love your neighbor as you love yourself.”[14] So also, the Apostle John says, “So now we can tell who is a child of God and who belongs to Satan. Whoever is living a life of sin and doesn’t love his brother shows that he is not in God’s family.”[15] Then he says again, “This is His commandment, that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus, the Anointed One, and love one another.”[16] Once more: “And God gave us this command: Those who love God must also love their brothers and sisters.”[17] Then shortly afterward, he adds, “In fact, this is love for God: to keep His commands. And His commands are not burdensome.”[18] While, in his second Epistle, John writes, “I am writing to remind you, dear friends, that we should love one another. It is not a new commandment, but one we have had from the beginning.”[19] [20] These seven guidelines would make a beautiful wall plaque. But then again, the Apostle John might suggest we write them on the wall of our heart.

Thomas Aquinas is discussing whether one’s level of charity increases by addition. In other words, the more charitable deeds you do increases in meaning and value and results in you gaining a better understanding of the need. In other words, the volume of your charitable works increases by addition. Just as the increase may be in respect to numbers, it may be according to virtual quantity. Now increase in portion results from accumulation. The questioner then invokes the Greek philosopher Aristotle, who says that “increase is in addition to pre-existing magnitude.”[21] Therefore, the increase in charity, which is according to virtual volume, is by addition.

But Aquinas answers: on the contrary, Charity is a simple thing. Nothing more significant results from adding up good deeds. Therefore, what we do out of love does not increase by addition. Every person added to our list is different. That makes each act of kindness and compassion unique in itself. God can increase the capacity by increasing its magnitude, having never existed before in that manner.[22] Put into context, Aquinas is trying to say that it doesn’t matter how many people we claim to love in the Lord, only those we love with agape-love count in God’s eyes. We can also compare our Lord’s miracle feeding of the 5,000. Whether the crowd would have been five, fifty, five hundred, or five thousand, the wonder would be the same. The only difference is the number blessed by the same miracle. So, the quality is not in quantity but in the act itself.

Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) states that all faithful saints are of a loving, caring, and kind temperament; the Scripture is very plain and abundant. Without it, the Apostle Paul says, “I may speak in different languages, whether human or even of angels. But if I don’t have love, I am only a noisy bell or a clanging cymbal. I may have the gift of prophecy, I may understand all secrets and know everything there is to know, and I may have faith so great that I can move mountains. But even with all this, if I don’t have love, I am nothing.”[23] And no one virtue or disposition of the mind is so often and expressly insisted on in the Final Covenant to identify a true Christian. For people to know the disciples of the Anointed one, says Edwards, the Holy Spirit gives various signs that are peculiarly distinguishable and by which they can accept as positive evidence. The Anointed One calls it the law of love, by way of prominence as His new commandment.[24] None of the other Apostles stressed the importance of love and loving one another more than John.[25]


[1] Bruce, F. F., The Epistles of John, op. cit., (Kindle Locations 983-991

[2] See verses 4 and 6

[3] Stott, John. The Letters of John (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries), op. cit., p. 94

[4] Smalley, Stephen, S., Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 51, op. cit., p. 60

[5] Hosea 6:3

[6] Romans 14:13

[7] 2 Peter 2:9-10

[8] See Isaiah 8:14

[9] Romans 9:32-33

[10] Philippians 1:9-10

[11] John 15:13

[12] Theophylact of Ohrid: Bray, G. (Ed.), op. cit., 1-3 John, p. 181

[13] 1 Peter 4:8

[14] James 2:8

[15] 1 John 3:10

[16] Ibid. 3:23

[17] 1 John 4:21

[18] Ibid 5:3

[19] 2 John 1:5

[20] Augustine: A Treatise on Grace and Free Will, addressed to Valentinus and the Monks of Adrumetum, Written in 426 A.D., The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 5, Ch. 35, pp. 1104-1105

[21] Aristotle and Mathematics, Treatment of Mathematical Objects, Precision, 7.2

[22] Thomas Aquinas: Summa Theologica, Vol. 3, pp. 279-280

[23] 1 Corinthians 13:1-2

[24] John 13:34; See 15:12; 13:35

[25] Works of Jonathan Edwards: A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections, Part 3, pp. 962-963

About drbob76

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