WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R. Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER TWO (Lesson L) 06/01/21

2:17 If God’s love is made perfect in us, we can be without fear on God’s judgment day. We will be without fear because, in this world, we act like Jesus.

William B. Pope (1822-1903) points out that the world is a system of desires contrary to God’s will, governed primarily by lust and greed, is even now almost obsolete. Think of it as a decaying piece of wood, food left out on the counter or a corpse. At first, it was alive and vibrant, able to resist and recover. But over time, due to age, wear, and abuse, it begins to decay. Eventually, it becomes unusable and beyond recovery. Its only value is to throw it into the fire to be free of any infection. Even though we live in a complex world, it is one riddled with sin’s mold. However, this rotting disease will not contaminate those who do God’s will. Did not our Lord Jesus say, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but what I’m telling you will never decay?”[1] It is a promise guaranteed to those who remain faithful to the end to experience resurrection and eternal life.[2] [3]

Robert Cameron (1839-1904) says that having considered our relation to God in light and our obligation to Him in a three-fold union of knowledge, life, and light, John proceeds to speak of our attitude toward the world. Incidentally, he mentioned that light and love were but two forms of one essence. Just as heat, light, and motion are three forms of one force in the natural world, life, light, and love are different forms of one energy source in the spiritual world.

Therefore, to be in the light says Cameron, involves love for the newly redeemed believer, walking within its glow. Immediately, in John’s mind, he sees the danger of having love go out to objects, not harmonizing with the “Father of Light.” Hence, in tenderness, he calls the family of faith to gather around him, so he can warn them against loving the world in any of its outward forms or any of its inward passion.[4]

Ernst Dryander (1843-1922) gives us an alarming look into conditions in the world during his era. He tells us that it had become a world of pride, make-believe, vanity, ambition, show, and spectacle, in various forms and appearances on the streets! And this behavior of worldly people is the most dangerous because it has mixed characteristics. It is not wholly corrupt; otherwise, people would find it disgusting. Were it to be outright vulgar; wouldn’t it be revolting to most people? But it mixes the bad with the good.

By that, Dryander means it focuses on ideals and morals. For instance, they say it is quite proper to steal from a rich person because they have more than they need. When, in fact, they are concealing their lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and pride of life. They know how to clothe what is unethical with what is apparently for a good cause. For instance, someone who starts a charity to support a good cause when all along it is only to line their pockets with the proceeds. How often have you heard someone excuse an unnatural act because they have the freedom to enjoy their lifestyle?[5] Does this give us any reason to believe that we live in a better world than Dryander? I think not. Is it permissible for us to love the world more today than they did back then? Absolutely not!

F. B. Meyer (1843-1923), in writing about what the Apostle John means by “the world,” explains that “world” stands for the entire system of human interests surrounding us. It does not refer to what God made by His creative command and molding hands, but to the fireworks, fashions, and fads that interest people. It is used here in the sense in which the devil took Jesus into an exceeding high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them, and said, “This is mine, and I will give it to You.”[6] Had our Lord given in to such temptation, He never would have made it to the cross. The same is true today; if we give in to the world’s lure and false promises, we too will never make it to the cross.

Robert Law (1860-1919) says that the term “world” is used in its broadest sense to support John’s use of the word, but we must look deeply into this term to determine how John came up with his definition. And it seems to me scarcely imaginable, says Law, that the Apostle intended his readers to understand the “world” as some “limited object apart from God” to demand such a concise and practical command as “Do not love the world!” To do so would border on saying, “Hate the world.”

Dr. Law tells us that John Calvin (1509-1564) said, “The world, that is, godlessness itself, through which a person misuses God’s creation.” Martin Luther explains, “It is not an object, an actual tangible thing – it is made from these three cases of abuse of God’s glorious gift of free will to man – the lust of the flesh,” etc. Some say, says Law, we find that our kind of world reflects our image. But the Greek noun Kosmos can scarcely be used to signify such a philosophical idea as representing how the material and spiritual world correspond to a person’s mind. In other words, what is a person supposed to understand when they are called “worldly?”

Law contends, the only meaning we can give to the Apostle’s words is: “We must not love the world’s standards because our sinful tendencies can become subjective and have the effect of exciting the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.” Does not the Apostle Paul say that all things are pure to the person with a pure heart?[7] So the responsibility does not fall on the world but the power of a Christian’s redemption.[8] We were redeemed to be free from the world’s influence, not let us stay free through the same power that liberated us.

Arno C. Gäbelien (1861-1945) talks about what the Apostle John meant when he spoke about not loving the “world.” This world-system in every aspect, whether we call it the social world, the political world, the commercial world, the scientific world, or the religious world. These worlds are not the Father’s work. All of their glory does not go to the Father. The love of the world is, therefore, inconsistent with the love of the Father. That’s because the controlling principles in most of them are lust and greed.

Remember, our Lord speaks concerning this relationship between the believer and the world. He said, “My followers do not belong to the world just as I do not belong to the world.”[9] Grace allowed us to escape this old world with its corruption and placed us in another world where Jesus is the center of attraction.

That new sphere is “our space,” says Gäbelien. The only way to escape this world with its enticing influences is by morally and spiritually separating from it. And that separation becomes real when we get to know Him and find our joy and satisfaction in the Anointed One. If the Apostle John needed to send out this appeal for his day, how much more is it needed today? Today, as never before, the god of this age blinds their eyes that do not believe. Mainly when this world system, in its godless and seductive character, develops a power and attraction unknown before, and when on all sides, professing Christians are “lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God.”[10] [11]

Rudolf Bultmann (1884-1976) sees verses fifteen through seventeen as a parenthetical section since verse fourteen connects easily to verse eighteen. He believes some early church manuscript copier did this. Bultmann bases this on the possibility that the copyist took the message of verses twelve through fourteen as a warning against worldly involvement. It is not the “world” God created but the “world” that humankind fashioned.[12] In this “world,” humanity is separated from God but not necessarily in active opposition to Him and believers.[13] The things of this world are transitory, while in God’s world, they are permanent. The Apostle John explains this in verses sixteen and seventeen.[14] I am surprised that Bultmann adopted this point of view of the “world.” In his Gospel, John records all that Jesus taught about the “world.”[15] So, it is unnecessary to see editing performed by some copier or scribe to make it more relevant to their day.

Priestly L. Greville (1891-1976) points out that we can interpret the word “world” as the secular society of humanism instead of the sacred community of the Church. As believers, we must recognize the customs and manners, standards, and spirits that are contrary to the divine purpose of the kingdom of God. Those in the world are only interested in what pleases themselves, not what pleases God. That’s why John says there can be no compromise and no accommodation of these immoral activities in the family of God. That would make it impossible to love God while loving the world. As Jesus said, no one can serve two masters.[16] If you love one, you must reject the other. John then goes on, says Greville, to outline what the world offers and how we can see these things are not inspired, nor do they please, our heavenly Father.[17]


[1] Matthew 24:35

[2] Ibid. 24:13

[3] Pope, William B: Commentary on the New Testament, op. cit., pp. 301-302

[4] Cameron, Robert: The First Epistle of John, op. cit., p. 72

[5] Dryander, E., A Commentary on the First Epistle of St. John in the Form of Addresses, op. cit., pp. 60-61

[6] Meyer, F. B. Our Daily Homily, op. cit., p. 232

[7] Titus 1:15

[8] Law, R. (1909)., The Tests of Life: A STudy of the First Epistle of St. John, op. cit., p. 147

[9] John 17:16

[10] 2 Timothy 3:4

[11] Gäbelein, Arno C. The Annotated Bible, op. cit., loc. cit.

[12] See 4:17; John 12:31; 16:11; 18:36; 1 Corinthians 3:19; 5:10; 7:31; Ephesians 2:2

[13] Cf. 3:13; John 7:7; 15:18ff; 17:14

[14] Bultmann, Rudolf: The Johannine Epistles, op. cit., pp. 32-33

[15] John 2:15-18; 3:16-17

[16] Matthew 6:24

[17] Greville, Priestly L., The Johannine Epistles, op cit., pp. 58-61

About drbob76

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