WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER THREE (Lesson LXXV) 10/26/21

3:16 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;

COMMENTARY

Ambrosiaster (circa 300-400 AD), in his writing about what Paul said to the Ephesians, notes that the apostle wants everyone to duplicate God the Father’s kindheartedness and mercy, so they can replicate His Son’s love. That way, just as He loved us and gave Himself for us, we might also give our lives for one another. This is echoed by what the Apostle John says here in verse sixteen. In other words, when we give our lives for our fellow believers, we do so following the Anointed One as an example.[1]

Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) says we may speak of a righteous act in two ways.  To begin with, the type of activity, as compared to the integrity prompting it. In this way, martyrdom cannot be the most perfect of virtuous acts. Any endurance of death is not praiseworthy in itself, but only in so far by directing it toward some good cause. It includes faith or love for God so that, in the end, one’s intentions make things better for others.[2]

John Calvin (1509-1564) teaches how two natures constitute the character of the Anointed One as our Mediator. Calvin mentions that when the Word became flesh and blood, we must not understand it as if God changed from a spirit into a human being or His divinity became diluted by His humanity. It is clear that the Anointed One chose the Virgin’s womb as a temporary temple where He was clothed with flesh. Nevertheless, people sometimes attribute divine qualities (Son of God) to His humanity and human attributes (son of man) to His divinity. In other words, God cannot die, but humans must. In other words, when the son of Mary died on the cross, the Son of God stayed alive. After His resurrection, these two elements were joined again, and that was His essence He took back to heaven with Him. Sometimes qualities that embrace both natures do not apply to either one in particular. Such a combination of His God/man nature is expressed in such a way that He appears to be talking about Himself.[3]

According to Calvin, we place little dependence on these statements unless proven by numerous passages throughout sacred scriptures that men did not make them up. What the Anointed One said about Himself[4] was very foreign to His humanity. There is a communication in God-language when the Apostle Paul says that God purchased the Church “with His blood[5] and that the Jews crucified the Lord of glory.[6] In like manner, John says, that the Word of God was “handled.” God certainly has no blood, does not suffer, and cannot be touched with hands. But since the Anointed One, who was truly God and truly man, shed His blood on the cross for us, the kind acts He performed as a human also included His miracles.

Calvin then points out a similar example where John says here in verse sixteen that God laid down His life for us. Hence, we see a property of His humanity communicated with His divinity. But, on the other hand, when the Anointed One was still living on earth, said, “The only one who has ever gone up to heaven is the one who came down from heaven – the Son of Man.”[7] Therefore, although regarded as a human being, which He willingly put on, He was not at that moment in heaven. However, since He was both Divine and human, the union of His twofold nature attributed what belonged to one belonged to the other.[8]

In his commentary on verse sixteen, John Owen (1616-1683) says that God willingly and voluntarily became the Anointed One to make atonement for us out of His abundant goodness and love. And accordingly, we find this undertaking ascribed to that love He exercised in doing so.[9]  Moreover, He clothed Himself with human nature to be like us, and we had nothing to do with it. We did not elect or appoint Him to that role, yet He took responsibility for doing what He came to do. He did it as though we asked Him to do it. For that reason, regardless of what He and the Father agreed to, He volunteered to be our Redeemer.[10] He could do so by becoming one of us, which was the formal reason for His installation in that office.[11] [12]

Owen then has more to say about the Anointed One giving up the same kind of life we have to save ours. He became human when He “came in the flesh.”[13] These are just some passages where the person of the Anointed One is revealed to our faith that we may believe in Him as the Son of God and have eternal life. There is no need to counter the objections of our adversaries against this divine revelation, nor do we need to defend ourselves against their strange antichrist concepts.[14] The day will come when they are proven wrong, and we are confirmed to be right.     

John Flavel (1627-1691) discusses the implications of truth proven by the fact that Jesus the Anointed One devoted Himself to the work of a mediator for our sake. One of those is the pattern of love for the saints. That is, calling all those in union with the Anointed One to imitate Him to the point of giving up self-service to the service of others, as the Anointed One did. We cannot duplicate what He did but can do what we are capable of. So, you see how His heart was affected by us that He would offer Himself as a redeeming sacrifice on our behalf.[15]

In his sermon on the Anointed One being an example for ministers, Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) refers to what the Lord said on giving them an example to follow: “do as I have done to you.”[16] The Apostle John insists on following this great example the Anointed One gave us. In the discourse the Anointed One had with His disciples, this same night, He said: “And so I am giving a new commandment to you now – love each other just as much as I love you.[17] Later, during the Last Supper, Jesus told His disciples, “I demand that you love each other as much as I love you. And here is how to measure it – the greatest love is shown when a person lays down their life for their friends.”[18] And so here in verse sixteen, we observe the love of God because God laid down His life for us; and we ought to be ready to do the same for our brothers and sisters.”[19]

Thomas Scott (1747-1821) states that a Christian may grow more knowledgeable of our love for God and others when our selfish passions subside. As heavenly love increases, pride and anger become less apparent. Then believers can manifest love that is patient, kind, not envious, bragging, or puffed up, thinks no evil, rejoices over the truth about good and evil.[20] In other words, love, when shown in both word and deed, will flourish when heavenly wisdom and deep humility make a Christian ashamed of pretending to love.[21]

Scott also says that genuine love’s efforts toward our fellow believers are required. We might understand this by considering “God’s love” for sinners. The reality and vastness of His love were apparent, especially in that He, the Anointed One, was also called Emmanuel – God is with us. He laid down His “life” for His people to compensate for their sins and ransom their souls.

Scott then points out that in the Authorized Version (KJV), the first line of verse sixteen reads: “the love of God.” By putting “of God” in italics, they show it is missing in many Greek manuscripts. However, it is implied because Jesus, who is God, laid down His life for us. Therefore, our love for Him should make us willing to lay down our lives for Him and our brothers and sisters when the situation is urgent; we gain something honorable by doing it. So, if we are willing to give up our life for God and others, how much more for less costly and meaningful things. Therefore, beware of anyone who claims they would die for their Lord but is unwilling to give up a coat, shoes, or a meal for a needy fellow believer.[22]

Charles Simeon (1759-1836) gives a profound meaning to the Apostle John’s statement in verse sixteen. In contemplating Christianity as a system, the apostle states that we scarcely know how to admire more, the depth of its mysteries or the height of its requirements. Of all the secrets specified in verse sixteen, the death of our incarnate God for the sins of mankind is beyond comprehension. Yet, on the other hand, of all comparisons that require greatness, there is none so demanding as having the willingness to lay down our lives for any fellow believer. The two taken together portray Christianity in a most endearing way and exhibit it as motivation to the spiritual perfection of our nature and the completion of our joy.[23]


[1] Ambrosiaster: Ancient Christian Texts, op. cit., p. 54

[2] Thomas Aquinas: Summa Theologica, Vol. 4, pp. 27-30

[3] Cf. Mark 2:5-7; 10:17-18; John 6:38-39; 8:31, 48; 10:30-33, 36-39; 14:6

[4] John 13:58

[5] Acts of the Apostles 20:28

[6] 1 Corinthians 2:8

[7] John 3:13

[8] John Calvin: Institutes, Bk. 2, Ch. 14, p. 506

[9] Galatians 2:20; 1 John 3:16; Revelation 1:5

[10] Luke 22:42

[11] John Owen: Doctrine of Justification by Faith, p. 269

[12] John Owen: Of Communion with God, p. 88

[13] 1 John 4:2-3

[14] John Owen: The Doctrine of the Trinity and the Person and Satisfaction of Christ, p. 69; See also: A Vindication of Some Passages in a Discourse Concerning on Communion with God, p. 66

[15] John Flavel: The Fountain of Life, p. 93

[16] John 13:15

[17] Ibid. 13:34

[18] Ibid. 15:12-13

[19] Edwards, Jonathan, Works of, Vol. 6, Seventeen Occasional Sermons, Sermon 16, p. 1666

[20] See 1 Corinthians 13:4-8

[21] Scott, Thomas, Theological Works, op. cit., p. 115

[22] Ibid. Commentary on the New Testament, op. cit., p. 699

[23] Simeon, Charles: First Epistle of John, op. cit., p. 445

About drbob76

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