WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER THREE (Lesson LXXXIII) 11/05/21

3:18 Little children, let us stop just saying we love people; let us genuinely love them, and prove it by our actions

It should not be too challenging to be a blessing by visiting someone sick or shut-in. If you continue in the grip of selfishness, you will live in misery. This is love based on an Anointed One-centered love. It is divine love, love that comes from fellowship with God, who is love.[1] It is insufficient to announce our intentions to help fellow believers; we must take time to do what we said we would do for them. True love always meets needs. It proves that genuine love is not emotional sentimentality. It is not gushing over people and telling them how wonderful they are and how much you want to help them.  That is a form of love, but it is not biblical love. Biblical love is something far more significant than feeling sorry.   


COMMENTARY

Bede the Venerable (673-735 AD) tells us that if a brother or sister has so little they cannot even find enough to eat, we ought to give them at least the basic necessities of life. So likewise, if we notice that they are deficient in spiritual things, we ought to guide them in whatever way we can. But, of course, we must be sincere in doing this, not looking for praise from other people, not boasting, and not pointing out that others who are richer than we are and have not done nearly as much. Someone who thinks like that is full of selfishness, and the gift of truth has no place in their heart, even if it appears on the surface that they are showing concern for others.[2]

Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) writes about the different degrees of love. He mentioned the incident when Jesus met the woman by Jacob’s well in Samaria and how the people in her village reacted to her testimony: “Now we believe, not just because of what you told us, but because we have heard Him ourselves.”[3] So we have the same testimony by saying, “No longer do we love God because of our needs, but because we have tasted and seen how gracious the Lord is.”[4]

Our momentary needs have a speech of their own, says Bernard, proclaiming the blessings they received from God’s favor. Once this is recognized, it will not be hard to fulfill the commandment of reaching out to our neighbors in love. If you love God the right way, you’ll love all His children the proper way. As the Apostle Peter explains, “Now you can have a true love for everyone because your souls have been cleansed from selfishness and hatred when you trusted the Anointed One to save you.”[5] Such love is worth giving thanks for since it is spontaneous; since it is shown not in word but deed and honestly. Those who love in this fashion love whether they are loved or not. It’s because they do not seek to please themselves, but for the glory of God and the Anointed One’s sake, even as Jesus did not give for His benefit, but ours.[6]

On the subject of putting our words to work, Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) was asked whether it is necessary for salvation that we show our enemies the signs and effects of love? Some say, it would seem that this forces a person to show their enemy how much they care for their wellbeing. For instance, did not the Apostle John write we should not just talk about love; to practice real love?”[7] A person can only love someone by displaying the signs and effects of love. Therefore, kindness requires that a person show their enemies the cause and effect of their passion. In addition, our Lord said, “Love your enemies,” and, “Do good to them that hate you,”[8] and all in one breath. Now, kindness demands that we love our enemies. Therefore, it also requires that we should “do good to them.”[9]

On the contrary, says Aquinas, by doing good to those who despise you, you are doing good at the height of perfection.[10] Now kindness does not require us to do everything to perfection. Therefore, God’s command does not mandate that our compassion for our enemies must have a positive outcome. Instead, the results impact our inward love in line with what we’ve been able to do outwardly. Therefore, to fulfill the command to love our enemy, it is necessary that we inwardly love our enemies in general, but not individually, unless inspired by the Spirit to do so.[11]

William Perkins (1558-1602) points to the Church of Macedonia as poor and in extreme need, yet they send relief to other congregations and are commended for it by the Apostle Paul.[12] Their poverty excused them, yet they were liberal in their giving, not only according to but even beyond their abilities. Moreover, our Savior, the Anointed One, lived on contributions. For instance, Joanna, the wife of King Herod’s steward, was ministered to by Chuza and Susanna with what they could give.[13] In fact, Chuza and Susanna did this without begging for alms, says Perkins, as some in the Catholic Church claim, but by volunteers and contributions from their congregation.

Now, says Perkins, Paul was so poor, he used contributions to sustain his ministry.[14] Just like the offerings under the First Covenant for the maintenance of the Temple Altar were a matter of high cost and care, especially in sacrifices and ceremonies. Yet, everyone was responsible for their portion, the poor, as well as the rich. Now in the Final Covenant, the Altar is taken away. Yet, we have something in its place, namely, those under-privileged believers, even pastors, of which we all are consciously responsible, in the same way, the Jews maintained the Temple Altar. The Apostle John recommends here in verse eighteen to be charitable, not that which consists in words only, but which proves itself in actions, teaching that the one is in no way sufficient without the other. Lastly, we can divide humanity into these two groups: some are givers and receivers.[15]

Thomas Scott (1747-1821) says that if we do what the Apostle John tells his readers to do, it is by faith in the Anointed One. By loving God, they would manifest the “fruit of their reborn spirit.”[16] First, it proved that they knew the truth about love and experienced its power in their hearts. Then they were able “to assure their hearts were in harmony with God,” in a humble confidence of His acceptance and expectation of having all their needs supplied, from the riches of His glory in the Anointed One, Jesus.[17] [18]

Richard Rothe (1799-1867) says that at this point, the Apostle John goes from telling a story to urging his readers not only to talk about love but put love into action. Rothe says we should “consider our interest so sincerely, that we will not be satisfied with the word love.” In other words, just saying I love you to God or our fellow believer, we’d rather show it than just talk about it. It’s why John combines “word” with “tongue.” Scholars believe that “word” denotes a promise, and “tongue” implies carrying it out. That way, it becomes love in word and deed. You cannot separate them for love to be genuine. In fact, the best way to say you love somebody is to do something out of love.

Rothe goes on to say that love includes surrendering oneself so that our act of love can have a lasting impact. So, why do many expressing love seek to deduct themselves from the wholeness of the gift? Just saying that you are willing to love by doing something nice for someone is only part of what love means. It’s not enough to feel love; you must express love. Loving with words is inactive, but love in action is alive. If faith the size of a mustard seed can move mountains, [19] says Rothe, an act of true love can give rise to a great and influential work of love, no matter how small.[20]

John J. Lias (1834-1923) says that the way the Apostle John uses this form of address is always when the Apostle wishes to address his flock seriously, and especially when he desires to warn them against some error.[21] With these words, he closes this sub-section and opens the next, as his manner is. The idea here is the truth. We should read “word” here for “tongue.” The sense is plain enough that our Christian walk with the Anointed One is not unproductive lip service, but the devotion of the heart, shining out of our life. The end of those who make professions they do not attempt to carry out in practice is seen in the barren fig tree’s miracle.[22] [23]

Lias goes on to write that the little kindnesses of ordinary life require a constant readiness to give up our will and pleasure to serve others; these are the threads woven together to make up the life of the Anointed One in the soul. It is not all who can devote themselves to some great charitable endeavor. But all can minister, in one way or another, to the needs of those around them. Those needs are of various kinds, physical, mental, spiritual. Only those striving to the best of their power to minister to such conditions can be said to have the Anointed One’s love abiding in them.[24]


[1] 2 Corinthians 5:14

[2] Bray, G. (Ed.), James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude, op. cit., p. 204

[3] John 4:42

[4] 1 Peter 2:3

[5] Ibid 1:22

[6] Bernard of Clairvaux: On Loving God, Ch. 9, p. 26

[7] 1 John 3:18

[8] Matthew 5:44

[9] Ibid. 7:12

[10] See Enchiridon by Augustine of Hippo, Ch. 19, §73

[11] Thomas Aquinas: Summa Theologica, Vol. 3, p. 313-314; 401-402

[12] 2 Corinthians 8:2

[13] Luke 38:3

[14] John 13:29

[15] William Perkins (1558-1602): Case of Consciences, Ch. 5, p. 599

[16] Galatians 5:22

[17] Philippians 4:19

[18] Scott, Thomas, Exposition of the Whole Bible, Vol. 5, op. cit., p. 700

[19] Matthew 17:20

[20] Rothe, Richard, The Expository Times, op. cit., June 1893, p. 411

[21] See Chapters 2:1; 3:7; 5:21

[22] Luke 13:6-9

[23] Lias, John J., The First Epistle of St. John with Exposition, op. cit., p. 268-269

[24] Ibid. The First Epistle of St. John with Homiletical Treatment, op. cit., p. 268

About drbob76

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