WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER THREE (Lesson LXXXII) 11/04/21

3:17 Suppose a wealthy believer who has all the necessities of life sees a poor fellow believer without many basic needs. What if the rich believer does not help the poor one? Then it is clear that God’s love is not in that person’s heart.

Just think, in the last few wars, men and women have given their lives for people they do not know and whose language they do not speak, just because it was their duty as military members. They did so out of hate for the enemy and love for their country. Many of those who did were not Christians, yet they were willing to make such self-sacrifice. So, how much more should we who serve in God’s army be ready to do the same?

I remember visiting the WWII Memorial Cemetery in Manila, Philippines, maintained in beautiful condition. Pride and passion welled up in my heart and soul as I walked by thousands of gravestones engraved with the names of American soldiers, sailors, and airmen. Tears came to my eyes as I thought about what Jesus said in giving our lives for our friends. But to most of these military servicemen and women, they knew very little about Filipinos; most had never been to the Philippines, and perhaps only a few had made friends with these precious people. So, I ask, what do you say about those willing to lay down their lives to protect and free people they don’t even know? As human beings, they laid down their lives for fellow human beings – their friends.

David Legge (1969) says that if we are to demonstrate brotherly love that proves the presence of eternal life, we not only need to lay down our lives willingly but be ready to volunteer in meeting the needs of our brothers and sisters. Legge notes the use of the term “bowels.” He offers the following insight on this: “If we possess life, (bios), we get ‘biology’ from it. If we possess things that give life and sustenance but refuse to share them – the Apostle John says, we ‘shut up the bowels of compassion.’” He notes that the bowels (intestines) were understood to be the seat of affections in the ancient world. It is used as a figure of speech, the same way we use “heart” today. When we talk about someone having a big heart, we do not imply that big red thing that beats in our chest. Rather, we talk about the seat of our emotions. But literally, what John says is, if we possess material possessions and turn off our feelings for the need of others, we’re keeping them from enjoying life. Consequently, God’s love cannot be in us.[1]

Douglas Sean O’Donnell (1972) mentions that one expression of Jesus-like love is self-sacrifice, even the most extreme – the once-in-a-lifetime sacrifice of one’s life to save another. The other expression of Jesus-like love is compassion. It is a practical everyday-of-our-life concern and caring for others. It is what John taught back in verse seventeen. His rhetorical question is similar to Apostle James’ question on the subject.” [2] Ironically, wishing them to “be warmed and filled” is another way of saying, “I wish you well as you take care of yourself” or, more pointedly, “May God feed and clothe you because I certainly won’t.” Unfortunately, these bitter-sweet words are filled with the bitter poison of hypocrisy. Just as faith without works is dead, so God-talk about God’s Love without looking out for the physical and financial needs of our brothers and sisters in the Anointed One is nonsense.[3] [4]

3:18 Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us reveal the truth by our actions.

EXPOSITION

Apparently, the Apostle John took a deep breath and then started again with his instructions on being a good steward of God’s gifts, both material and spiritual, in helping those in need. Jesus once delivered a powerful parable to illustrate this point, where He made it clear that what we do for others in need is the same as doing it for Him. Likewise, not doing what we should expect in denying them any assistance is the same as being unkind to Him.[5] Not only that but don’t pretend to love the ones you are helping if your love is not sincere. In fact, you should hate merely going through the motions to get the applause of your fellow believers.[6] And if you are not sure what real love is, the Apostle Paul gave the Corinthians an excellent definition.[7] Not only that, but God did not send His Spirit to dwell within us and then leave it up to us to decide whether to use the spiritual freedom, He gave us to ignore the needs of others and spend all of our time spoiling ourselves.[8]

God did not redeem and call us out of the darkness of sin, so we could do what we want without paying any attention to what He says He wants us to do. That is why the Apostle Paul told the Galatians that when they see someone doing just that, go to them, alert them, and assist them in getting things straight. As true brothers and sisters in union with the Anointed One, we are not to hurt one another but help one another.[9] And even while he was in prison, Paul called for more unity in the community of believers.[10] What made Paul so sure that this would bring healing to the body of believers? He recalled all the good things for others that the Church had done out of faith and love.[11] So, don’t pretend to care if you don’t. Such hypocrisy will make you look like a two-faced person to your fellow believers.[12] But, on the other hand, real love will prove that you are a genuine Christian.[13]

Among the non-biblical scriptures connected with the Bible is a manuscript attributed to the dying commands of the twelve sons of Jacob. It was part of the Oskan Armenian Orthodox Bible of 1666. Archeologist’s found fragments of similar writings at Qumran. It is generally considered prophetic. The Testaments were written in Hebrew or Greek and reached their final form between 100-200 AD. That made it available to the Apostle John. In this work, we find an appeal that reads: “And now, my children, I exhort you, love ye each one his brother, and put away hatred from your hearts, love one another in deed, and word, and the inclination of the soul.” [14]

This message here in verse eighteen, as in chapter two, [15] introduces the summation of this section. Some inquire whether the absence of “by this” with the first pair “may we not love in word nor tongue” and “but in truthful words” introduces a false antithesis? To them, it sounds like saying, “don’t greet someone with a hug and a kiss, but with a sincere expression of greeting.” One may love in word only, yet the affectionate words may be quite sincere; this is a typical case. People may say kind things they mean at the moment, but afterward, they do not take the trouble to act kindly. But to love with the tongue only is far worse. It is saying kind things that one does not mean and knows to be unreal. Deeds are needed to complete the kind words. Such words require truthfulness in order to correct an insincere tongue.

My little children.” John uses this term of endearment here because he is about to chastise his readers. He genuinely cares about their spiritual condition. John now calls for continuing love that demonstrates itself with good deeds to prove its validity. Loving in “deed” stands over against loving in “word.” Some people are all talk with no involvement. God’s standard for love manifests itself in achievement. A believer of true love does something about meeting the needs of others. To love in “deed” means that the one offering kindness does something to provide for a needy person.

Furthermore, love is more than sentiment; it involves the reality of engagement. Love loves genuinely. Mouthing pious platitudes is not love. True love shows itself in service to others. Love always produces true love for fellow believers. Unfortunately, as the Apostle James notes, some Christians are not telling the truth about their intended kindness.[16] True love costs something. It cost Jesus’ life to pay the penalty for our sins. What it costs you is small in comparison to what Jesus gave. The basic principle here is that we find the manifestation of genuine love in vital performance, not in verbal prediction.

As the old saying goes, “Talk is cheap.” God expects involved love, not inexpensive handouts. When we attempt to substitute words for action, we miss the heart of biblical love. Divine love, in fact, meets the needs of others. God wants Christians to love with their heart, not their head. We cannot meet the standard God expects of us love with anemic love.[17] We draw on God’s Love to love others.[18] Agape love requires the filling of our spirit with God’s Spirit.[19] We need to ask Jesus to fill us with Calvary’s love.[20] He will make our burdens lighter if we extend love to others.[21] Our problems do not seem dreadful when we love and help others as they do when we avoid our Christian duty.


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

[2] James 2:15-16

[3] Cf. John 1:18; 6:46; 1 John 4:9, 12, 20

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

[5] Matthew 25:41-45

[6] Romans 12:9

[7] 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

[8] Galatians 5:13

[9] Galatians 6:1-2

[10] Ephesians 4:1-3, 15

[11] 1 Thessalonians 1:3

[12] James 2:15-16

[13] 1 Peter 1:22

[14] The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, Trans. R. H. Charles, Adam and Charles Black, 1908, Testimony of Gad, Ch. 6:2, p. 155

[15] 1 John 2:28

[16] James 2:14-17

[17] See Revelation 3:16

[18] See 1 Peter 1:22

[19] Galatians 5:22

[20] John 3:16; 1 John 3:16

[21] Matthew 11:29

About drbob76

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