WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER THREE (Lesson LXX) 10/19/21

3:14 If we love our brothers and sisters who are believers, it proves that we have left the emptiness of death leading us to hell behind and moved onto the fullness of life leading us to heaven. But those who do not have God’s Love are still dead.

Ernst Dryander (1843-1829) believes there is something to which the Apostle John would point to if he were with us today. Christians have become more worldly in their thinking. It has checked and softened the world’s dislike. Therefore, one can fully understand why a flexible, submissive Christianity, which hurts nobody and makes its peace with everybody, will neither provoke the world nor challenge its opposition. In such a religion, the world recognizes its spiritual mediocrity, something they love about themselves.

Perhaps you have never experienced the bitterness of the world, says Dryander because the world now sees you as one of its own. They saw that you preferred the darkness of being uninformed instead of seeking the Light of truth. It is this type of self-deception, to which all of us so quickly become victims, the Apostle John desires to tear away. It is no doubt the reason why he ignores all halfway steps. He recognizes it’s one or the other of the following: either remain in the world and of the world, and, therefore, remain spiritually dead, or, be in the world yet not part of the world, and consequently alive in the Anointed One. So, it’s either the darkness, corruption, and godless environment of hate or in the bright, pure, and holy atmosphere of love.[1]

I like the way David Smith (1866-1932) paraphrases verses thirteen and fourteen: “Wonder not, brethren, if the world hates you. We know that we have migrated out of the domain of [spiritual] death into the domain of [spiritual] life because we love the brethren. He that loves not abides in the domain of [spiritual] death.”[2] It brings to mind how the children of Israel migrated out of Egypt into the Promised Land. But once in the Land of milk and honey, they went back to their old ways under the heathen Egyptians. So, it seems that some who left the slave camp of sin, into free union with the Anointed One, were acting like sin’s slaves again.

C. H. Dodd (1884-1947) comments that this pagan world reveals itself as an empire of hatred and spiritual deadness. On the other hand, Christians live in a realm of life, whose distinguishing mark is the ethical principles for the “religious experience,” upon which the Apostle John insists, again and again, is made quite precise and grounded firmly in fundamental beliefs found in the Gospel. Love is the cornerstone. The decisive test for all claims to such love lies in our attitude toward fellow believers, and this test is one that we can all apply with less risk of self-deception than any other. Those who fail to show brotherly love remain spiritually dead.[3]

Greville P. Lewis (1891-1976) links having passed from spiritual death into spiritual life by leaving the world and joining the family of God. We no longer are prisoners of Satan and practice his sinful suggestions and give in to his temptations. Instead, we left that loveless world for the fullness of God’s love and His family. That’s why Jesus said that if we believe in Him, He will give us more than a normal lifestyle; it will be abundant and joyful. Unfortunately, not all of God’s family members are that loving. Some are quick-tempered or quarrelsome, ambitious for positions of power, or intolerant of other people’s points of view because of prejudice and bias. But we do not let their immaturity or resentment bother us. At the same time, we find others in the family of God who are far saintlier than we are, but we are not irritated by their spiritual superiority; instead, we are challenged by it. We find a way to love them all, but not in our strength alone. By being born into God’s family, we have received from Him a divine life and a supernatural power to love all mankind.[4]

Rudolf Schnackenburg (1914-2002) notes this verse contrasts a world alienated from God and a people aligned with God, who reveal the Christian’s love and the world’s hate. One is the result of living the sinful life, while the other by living a sanctified life. Hatred is a characteristic of the devil’s brood, while love is a virtue of children belonging to God. Those part of the devil’s empire are bound for eternal spiritual death; citizens of God’s kingdom are destined for eternal life in the spirit. Furthermore, sin’s curse remains on those of the old world, but the blessings of salvation are poured out on those of the new world.[5]

Simon J. Kistemaker (1930-2017) sees the Apostle John’s passing from spiritually dead to spiritually alive seems contrary to nature: all living things pass from life to death, not death to life. Yet, John does not hesitate to use the phrase, “we know.” He includes his readers in saying this because they did know by hearing the preaching of the Gospel.[6] It might be appropriate to note that “life” and “death” here do not refer to the physical world. Instead, John says that some are unresponsive in the spiritual atmosphere of communion with God because their spirit is not responsive. At the same time, for those born again, their spirit is alive in union with God through the Anointed One. But it even extends beyond that. Those who remain indifferent to God’s Spirit will one day die physically, and their souls will be forever out-of-touch with God. Yet, those who have accepted the invitation of God’s Spirit for redemption and salvation will one day die physically but resurrected to everlasting life with God.

Robert W. Yarbrough (1948) tells us that the Apostle John does not cite at this point why he thinks they ought not be upset by the world’s opposition.[7] He merely underscores the certainty of the hostility they face in the world. In verse thirteen, the term “World” denotes the realm of the devil’s influence and human opposition to God; it is not defamation of all God’s creation. Jesus taught his disciples they would be hated by the devil’s brood.[8] He explained that the world’s rejection of His followers resulted from His selection of them and their association with Him.[9] Jesus was hated because He pointed out people’s evil deeds.[10] Even before He passed from the earthly scene, our Lord warned His followers that they would be hated by “the world.[11] Jesus believed that knowing contempt would come on them just as it came on Him would help fortify His followers face it as bravely as He did.[12]

We also see that the words in verse fourteen, “We have passed,” translates a form of the Greek verb metabainō, as “to go, pass over.” Generally, in the Final Covenant, this word is used in a straightforward and literal sense: Jesus “went on from there to teach;”[13] But in its three other occurrences, all in John’s Gospel, [14] it is used figuratively of transferring from the present age or world to the next. In fact, Jesus’s words in John 5:24 are most reminiscent of 1 John 3:14 (NIV).[15] In verse fourteen, John’s affirmation verifies the view that Jesus was John’s teacher.[16]

Colin G. Kruse (1950) points out that following the brief detour in verse thirteen with its warning that the readers will be the objects of the world’s hatred. Here in verse fourteen, the Apostle John returns to his central theme, [17] that is, mutual love as a mark of true children of God. But now, this motto is expressed differently: “We know that we have passed from being spiritually dead to being alive in the Anointed One because we love our brothers and sisters.” The “identifying mark” is the same, the love of fellow believers, but describes the status of those who love otherwise. Now, John pictures them as those who “have passed from being spiritually dead to spiritually alive.”

In John’s Gospel, we see that he defines eternal life as “knowing God,”[18] who is both the source of life and the giver of life to those who come to Him through Jesus the Anointed One. Thus, we find the similarity of expressions and relationships between John’s First Epistle[19] and his Gospel.[20] They support interpreting John’s statement that love for one’s fellow believers is the mark of those who have escaped condemnation because they have come to know God through Jesus the Anointed One.[21]

Judith M. Lieu (1951) points out that we see the Apostle John’s words about life and love as the central bond that holds Christians together – their love for God and mankind. But, hatred from the world does nothing but united them even closer. What seems odd to John is that his readers might be oblivious to this hostile attitude in the world, so he tells them not to be surprised when it’s directed towards them.[22] The same is true today. Numerous believers mingle with people of the world, unaware of their true feelings. However, sinners reveal their dislike when believers bring God, Jesus, salvation, sin, heaven, or hell into the conversation.


[1] Dryander, E. A., A Commentary on the First Epistle of St. John in the Form of addresses, op. cit., pp. 119-121

[2] Smith, David: Expositor’s Greek Testament, op. cit., p. 186

[3] Dodd, C. H., The Moffatt New Testament Commentary, The Johannine Epistles, op. cit., p. 82

[4] Lewis, Greville p., The Johannine Epistles – Epworth, op. cit., p. 85

[5] Schnackenburg, Rudolf, The Johannine Epistles, op. cit., pp. 180-181

[6] Kistemaker, Simon J., James and I-III John, NT Commentary, op. cit., p. 308

[7] Cf. 1 John 5:4

[8] Luke 21:17

[9] John 15:19

[10] Ibid. 7:7

[11] Ibid. 17:14

[12] Ibid. 15:18

[13] Matthew 11:1; cf. 8:34; 12:9; 15:29; 17:20x2; Luke 10:7; John 7:3; Acts of the Apostles 18:7

[14] John 5:24; 7:3; 13:1

[15] Cf. John 13:1

[16] Yarbrough, Robert W., 1-3 John (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament), op. cit., pp. 199-200

[17] See 1 John 3:11-24

[18] John 17:3

[19] 1 John 5:14

[20] John 5:24

[21] Kruse, Colin G., The Letters of John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary, op. cit., Kindle Edition

[22] Lieu, Judith M., I, II, & III John – NT Library, op. cit., pp. 147-148

About drbob76

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