WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER THREE (Lesson LXXIX) 11/01/21

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;

Many people confuse these four loves and end up extremely hurt as a result. Often a person will tell another, “I love you,” meaning one kind of love, but the other person believes they represent a different type of love. Often a man tells a woman, “I love you,” when all he has is a selfish physical attraction for her. Sure, there were strong feelings in his heart, but only for what he wanted.[1] It goes against the definition of love as “giving” instead of “getting.”

Peter Pett (1966) sees the Apostle John drawing our attention to how agape love functions. First, we recognize it through experience (“we know”). It is the love Jesus practiced in His life and by which we all benefit. Pett points out Jesus gave us an example by laying down His life for us. He did the opposite of Cain. Instead of taking a life, He gave His life. It is, therefore, a sacrificial love. It is an unrestricted and unchanging love.

Secondly, it is the kind of love that concentrates on doing good for others. Indeed, if we genuinely love, we will be ready to risk our lives for others, especially those who bring us the truth. But the thought goes deeper than that. Here, John links love for others with the love that propelled Jesus to the cross. It is Christian love coupled with the cross, a love that is unlike any known before. The love that gave itself on the cross to bear our sins, love that takes part in the Anointed One sacrificing Himself for us to put into action.[2] Thus, love is dead to sin and lives to demonstrate true Christian faith.[3] [4]

For David Legge (1969), demonstrating brotherly love proves the presence of eternal life.[5] The Apostle John’s illustration contrasts with that of Cain, and it is our blessed Lord Jesus the Anointed One who “‘laid down His life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for other members of God’s family.” The Anointed One is the only source of true agape love. John says that Calvary is the only measure and standard of that love. Let us make note that the Final Covenant seldom mentions the love of God without also speaking of the crucifixion of our Lord Jesus.[6] Thus, even in this epistle, we see where John says: “We see what real love is: it is not our love for God but His love for us when He sent His Son to satisfy God’s anger against our sins.”[7] [8]

Douglas Sean O’Donnell (1972) implies that before we explore our acts of love toward fellow believers, we must understand the definition of love illustrated by the Anointed One’s death. The theology of this offering reflects that Jesus’ love is not merely self-sacrificial but also atoning: “His life was made an offering for our sins.”[9] Thus, Jesus’ death is not simply an ethical model; it is a genuine example, an honest giving of His life. We also see that the language of verse sixteen is also reflective of where Jesus as “the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”[10] John also commends love for each other based on Jesus’ love.[11] So from his Gospel, John makes the transition to his epistle this way: “We know what real love is because Jesus gave up His life for us. So, we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters.”[12] [13]

3:17a Let’s suppose that someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion – how can God’s Love live in such a person?

EXPOSITION

This idea of having sufficient resources to meet one’s needs but having no compassion for those who possess little or nothing to keep them going, forcing them to beg, borrow, or steal to stay alive, is traceable back to Torah.[14] Not only that, but king Solomon says that what we offer to those in need is the same as giving it to the Lord.[15] And the prophet Isaiah passed on what the Lord said to him about sharing food with the hungry, helping the homeless, or clothing those who have little to cover themselves.[16] John the Baptizer told those who were reluctant to give that the ax was ready to cut down God’s chosen Olive tree – Israel, and they wanted to know what to do. He replied, they needed to learn how to share.[17]

The same went for the believers in Corinth.[18] And Paul also taught Timothy to instruct those who have many material blessings not to be boastful. Tell them to put their hope in God, not their money. God takes care of us with His riches. He gives us everything to enjoy. So, tell those who are wealthy to be rich in good works. And tell them they should be happy to give and ready to share.[19] In fact, all believers should be reminded not to neglect to do good for those in need, even if they must sacrifice something they could use for themselves.[20] As King Solomon saw it, ignoring the needs of others will result in one’s prayers not being answered by God.[21] It is only when a person fails to do this or even takes time to contemplate another person’s distress that the doors to heaven close.

Earlier, the Apostle John pleaded with Christians to willingly sacrifice their lives for others. Now he transitions to something more routine – helping another Christian in need.  Our love’s standard is measured not only by supreme sacrifice but also by ordinary sharing. If God expects us to give our lives for one another, surely, we could offer something of lesser value. Verse seventeen contains the only specific ethical shortcoming of John’s readers in the entire letter.

What does John mean by “this world’s goods?”  They include either possessions or property. We could translate “goods” as something a person needs to live a simple life. Anyone who has resources for the maintenance of life has something to give to others. It does not require great wealth. It includes everything you have more of than you need or something you’re willing to sacrifice for their good.  

John reminds his readers of this principle in verse sixteen. That is, believers should be willing to sacrifice for fellow Christians. Sacrifice should include meeting physical needs as well as spiritual needs. The word “sees” is more than observation and consists of contemplating need and refusing to close the door to one’s heart to them. The Greek verb kleiō means “shutting and securely locking a door.”[22]  The idea here is if a Christian refuses to show compassion; they do not have a heart for someone in need. So then, any Christian possessing more than they need slams the door of kindness in the face of the needy believer who has far less.

We’re told that a believer’s “heart” is the seat of their emotions. A Christian who shuts up their heart has no empathy.[23] The Greeks used the word splagchnon (“bowels”) because they believed they were the source of passive and violent passions. Even today, you might hear someone say, “I have a gut feeling.” It included anger and love, and the Jews saw them as the fountain of tender affections, especially kindness, benevolence, compassion – tender mercies, attachments, etc.[24] The Final Covenant uses this word both literally for the intestines and figuratively for the seat of the emotions.[25] The principle here is, either our possessions control us, or we control them.

But suppose some Christians hold back their compassion for those in need. These are Christians who live for personal comfort and not people who love their fellow believers. Loving everyone, in general, can be used as an excuse for loving no one in particular. It is very easy to verbalize or talk love, but it is another thing to give love. Counterfeit faith does not share without expecting something in return.[26] It highlights the principle that the believer who responds positively to divine love continually inspires their fellow Christians by showing such devotion.

By this, we see that hardheartedness keeps compassion from being shone to fellow believers. It is the exact opposite of pouring out one’s life for friends. In fact, the willingness to give can be a test of our spirituality because it allows God to use us as channels of mercy in the lives of those who come across our path. Of course, the source of this compassion comes from our fellowship with the Lord. Love involves both the great accomplishment of sacrifice and the everyday responsibilities of kindness. It means that the greater incorporates, the lesser. If we refuse to do something simple, how can God expect us to do something great?[27]


[1] Guzik, David – Enduring Word, op. cit., pp. 60-61

[2] Galatians 2:20

[3] Cf. 1 John 4:9-10; John 10:15-18

[4] Pett, Peter: Truth According to Scripture, op. cit., loc. cit.

[5] 1 John 3:16-18

[6] See John 3:16; Romans 5:8; Galatians 2:20

[7] 1 John 4:10

[8] Legge, David: Preach the Word, 1,2,3, John, op. cit., Part 10

[9] Isaiah 53:10

[10] John 10:11

[11] Ibid. 15:12-13

[12] 1 John 3:16

[13] O’Donnell, Douglas Sean, 1–3 John (Reformed Expository Commentaries), op. cit., Kindle Edition

[14] Deuteronomy 15:7-11

[15] Proverbs 19:17

[16] Isaiah 58:7-10

[17] Luke 3:11

[18] 2 Corinthians 8:9, 14-15; See 9:5-9

[19] 1 Timothy 6:17-18

[20] Hebrews 13:16

[21] Proverbs 28:9

[22] Acts of the Apostles 5:23; cf. Deuteronomy 15:7

[23] Luke 1:78; 2 Corinthians 6:12; 7:15; Philippians 1:8; 2:1; Philemon 7:12, 20

[24] Acts of the Apostles 1:18

[25] See 2 Corinthians 6:11-12; 7:15

[26] James 2:14-18; 1 Timothy 6:7-10

[27] 1 Timothy 6:17-19

About drbob76

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