WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER THREE (Lesson LXXXIV) 11/08/21

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

Lyman Abbott (1835-1922), an American Congregationalist minister and a leading exponent of the Social Gospel Movement, [1] explains that no one can truly lay down their life for another unless they are willing to die. For instance, if a young person joins the military and a war breaks out overseas but when called to duty, they say, “I cannot go there because I would be risking my life and the life of my children,” they prove unwilling to jeopardize their life for others. The value of the Anointed One’s life was not in the crucifixion. It was not simply by dying that He saved the world, but by willingly laying down His life for the world.

Passion week began when Jesus was born, says Abbott; it stretches from Bethlehem to Calvary, from the cradle to the cross, from “Glory to God in the highest[2] to “We Have Heard the Joyful Sound, Jesus saves, Jesus saves.”[3] So, laying down one’s life does not necessarily involve pain and suffering. However, while you may express love without agony, you cannot be a Savior without pain. Once the Anointed One came into the world bringing the message of eternal love, it was not the piercing spear that proved Him the Redeemer; it was the spear thrust that showed that there was such love in the Anointed One’s heart that He was willing to die as an offering for love’s sake. The Cross is the glory of the Anointed One because it shows how far love is ready to go when He sacrificed His sinless life for sinful mankind. The Anointed One’s Cross is a witness of the Divine Life that is saving the world. The Anointed One risked His life for us. Therefore, we must be willing to give up everything for one another.[4]

Theodore Zahn (1838-1933) examines what the Apostle John says about showing agapē love toward fellow citizens and Christians. Such love, says Zahn, always means a caring emotion expressing itself in deeds, such as what John describes here in verse eighteen. In addition, however, it is occasionally articulated in fellowship and the celebration of Communion.[5] To put it mildly, John is talking about a love being manifested not just in words but deeds.[6]

Robert Cameron (1839-1904) asks: “How do we know that we love?” In other words, what method allows love to show itself? We know that we love because God has taught us what love is. It is the rescuer’s act of love instead of the murderer’s act of hatred. It is the sacrifice of self for the good of others, and not the sacrifice of others for the actual or supposed good of self. “Herein,” John says, “We come to know love because He [the Anointed One] laid down His life for us.” Don’t forget, Jesus gave His all on our behalf. Thus, it provides the divine definition and explanation of love – a description of actions, not words.

Furthermore, we must keep in mind, notes Cameron, that the words “of God” are not in the Greek text. Thus, we learn, not merely what the love of God is but the essence of love itself. We can understand what love is by looking at the cross. Nowhere else is sin in its deepest and most polluted nature presented so graphically. The cross is the measure of everything. This amplified concept of love gives rise to the loftiest moral and spiritual emotions. Its origin is in the bosom of God; the Anointed One’s burning heart beats in everyone who believes in Him, and its example is the incarnation hanging on the cross. That is what love is, and this is the way we come to know it.[7]

Paul E. Kretzmann (1883-1965) states that first of all, the Apostle John makes a general application of the thought included in the last sentence: “Do not wonder, brothers and sisters, if the world hates you.” In fact, what righteous Abel experienced in the first days of world history has been the case for all righteous believers since his time. So, it must not be a matter of surprise to us if we incur the dislike and endure the hostility of worldly inhabitants.[8] It occurs even though Christians let unbelievers see the most wonderful blessings ever brought to humanity. So, even when the believer aims to do good to all mankind, degenerate sinners persistently resent the refusal of Christians to join them in their immoral lifestyle. We should not marvel at this. We are dealing with the world, with the children of unbelief, with such who willingly become identified with Cain’s trespass. Because unbelievers prefer their life of sin and unbelief, which will finally land them in everlasting destruction, they cannot but hate Christians for outdoing them.

Therefore, the Apostle John, says Kretzmann, admonishes: “My little children, let us not love with insincere words, but with sincere deeds.” The Apostle James says that talk is cheap.[9] It does not provide warm clothing or nourishing food. Unless backed up by actual deeds, the mere expression of goodwill without acts that assist with what is needed is a worthless gesture, a hollow sound. In some cases, it may be a Christian’s forgetfulness when they fail to provide for needs, they’ve discovered. Still, there is the danger of damnable hypocrisy in others, that greed and love of money keep the professed Christian from showing concrete proof of brotherly love. This caution is certainly timely in these last days of the dying out of true love.[10] [11]

C. H. Dodd (1884-1973) believes that the reader will notice an inevitable descent from the grandeur of verse sixteen to the apparent street-talk of verse seventeen. But this is characteristic of the Apostle John’s writings. He narrows the gap between righteousness and unrighteousness to what is realistically understood by the average person, namely, that righteousness means doing right and unrighteousness means doing wrong. Therefore, it interprets love as something real, not artificial. It may be as simple as giving a meal to a hungry person, or rising to the level of self-sacrifice comparable with the sacrifice of the Anointed One. But when all is said and done, it is love.[12] Some people concentrate so hard on the big acts of love that they forget the smallest deed. Yet, in God’s eyes, they are equal.[13]

Rudolf Bultmann (1884-1976) says that it is absurd that the “love of God” lives in someone who is not compassionate. How can the divine love God gave not be contained in “brotherly love?” They are not different kinds of love. Only the object of such love will determine its intensity, namely, something simple or something sacrificial. The seriousness of Jesus’ command to love is deepened by – “not in word” “but with action.”[14]

Greville P. Lewis (1891-1976) explains that the KJV rendering of “shutteth up his compassion” is the same as saying “to slam the door in someone’s face.” In fact, the Greek verb kleiō means “to make something inaccessible by obstructing the entrance.” Sometimes, says Lewis, it is easier to be moved to compassion over humanity’s misfortunes than love the individual human. The truth is, some people claim that they love everyone in general while loving no one in particular.

But Lewis does not mince words with those who protest, “But I do love people!” Yet, they fail to put it into action. When they look around at all the calamities, poverty, and tyrannies wreaking havoc in the world yet do not lift a finger to help, they are just wagging their tongues. The only thing it may cost them is friends. It’s why preaching has become such a hazardous occupation. If you tell the truth, it may see some members leave, but you cannot tell a lie just to keep them. We must remember what others have said in God’s Word.[15] Love must not only be felt and voiced but expressed in reality by deeds of love.[16]

What Lewis says reminds me of what the doctor in Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov said to Father Zosimus: “I love humanity,” he said, “but I wonder at myself. The more I love humanity in general, the less I love individuals in particular.” “In my dreams,” the doctor said, “I have often come to making enthusiastic schemes for the service of humanity, and perhaps I might actually have faced crucifixion if it had been suddenly necessary; and yet I am incapable of living together in the same room with anyone for two days, as I know by experience.”[17]

Amos N. Wilder (1895-1993) says that Paul’s application of this high spiritual truth on love is very down-to-earth. Too often, Christians consecrate so hard on possessing their heavenly treasures that they forget how to use their earthly goods. There have been occasions when after a person died and family and friends gave their eulogies, their description of the individual did not match the dead person’s everyday conduct or attitude. The same is often true of Christians. Our responsibilities both in our spiritual life and our daily life are both given by God. All of them must be done in love. No doubt that’s why the Apostle Paul said, “Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”[18] [19]


[1] The Social Gospel Movement was a religious movement that arose during the second half of the nineteenth century. Ministers, especially one’s belonging to the Protestant branch of Christianity, began to tie salvation and good works together. They argued that people must emulate the life of Jesus the Anointed One. To honor God, people must put aside their own earthly desires and help other people, especially the needy. The purpose of wealth was not to hoard it but to share it with other, less fortunate people. The ideas that originated from the Social Gospel would heavily influence the Progressive Movement. 

[2] Luke 2:14

[3] We Have Heard the Joyful Sound, Priscilla J. Owens (1829-1907), published 1898

[4] Abbott, Lyman: The Biblical Illustrator, op. cit., p. 209

[5] Jude 1:12; 2 Peter 2:13

[6] Zahn, Theodore, Introduction to the N.T., Vols. I-III, op. cit., p. 289

[7] Cameron, Robert: The First Epistle of John, op. cit., pp. 142-143

[8] John 15:18; Matthew 10:16

[9] James 2:15-16

[10] Matthew 24:12

[11] Kretzmann, Paul E., Popular Commentary, 1 John, op. cit., pp. 569-570

[12] Cf. 1 Corinthians 13:4-8

[13] Dodd, C. H., The Johannine Epistles, op. cit., p. 86

[14] Bultmann, Rudolf, The Johannine Epistles – Hermeneia, op. cit., p. 56

[15] See Matthew 7:21; James 1:22; 2:15-17

[16] Lewis, Greville P., The Johannine Epistles, op. cit., pp. 86-87

[17] Dostoyevsky, Fyodor (1821-1881). The Brothers Karamazov, Macmillan, New York, 1912, p. 36

[18] 1 Corinthians 10:31b

[19] Wilder, Amos N., The Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. XII, op. cit., p. 265

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s