NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
By Dr. Robert R Seyda
FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN
CHAPTER THREE (Lesson LXXXV) 11/09/21
3:18 Little children, let us stop just saying we love people; let us genuinely love them, and prove it by our actions
William Barclay (1907-1978) says that although the Apostle John is an old and wise Elder, he has an efficient mind and will not leave “righteousness” vague and undefined. Someone might say: “Very well, I accept the fact that the only thing which proves that people belong to God is moral decency in their lives.” But what is righteousness? John’s answer is clear and unmistakable. “To be righteous is to love our neighbors before we say we love God.” That, says John, is a duty about which we should never be in any doubt. And he goes on to produce various reasons why Jesus’ commandment is so central and so binding:
- It is a duty that has been impressed upon Christians from the first moment they entered the Body of the Anointed One. The Christian ethic can be summed up in one word – love, and, from the moment people commit themselves to the Anointed One, they commit themselves to lives in which the driving force is love.
- For that very reason, the fact that people love one another is final proof that they passed from being spiritually dead in sin to spiritually alive in the Anointed One. Life without love is like being deceased. To love is to be in the light; to hate is to remain in the dark. We need no further proof of that than to look into the face of someone in love and the countenance of someone full of hate; it will show the glory or the deep darkness in that person’s heart.
- Further, not to love is to become a murderer. There can be no doubt that John is thinking of the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount when He told the crowd, “You’re familiar with the command to the ancients, ‘Do not murder.’ I’m telling you that anyone who is so much as angry with a brother or sister is guilty of murder. Carelessly call a brother ‘idiot!’ and you just might find yourself hauled into court. Thoughtlessly yell ‘stupid!’ at a sister, and you are on the brink of hellfire. The simple moral fact is that words kill.” 
Paul W. Hoon (1910-2000) notes that a closed heart is revealed with a closed hand. But an open hand does not mean an open heart. Religion needs to guard itself against over-spiritualization of down-to-earth, practical helpfulness. Christian ethics, says Hoon, must apply to all layers of human society and the needs within God’s family. Ministries of the Church should never be out to make a profit. If they do have bake sales, Saturday meals, Rock-a-thons, it is raising money for some mission or outreach of the Church. We must not confine our charitable giving to just fellow believers; our fellow citizens also join our brothers and sisters in the Lord in the community.
John Phillips (1927-2010) says that the Apostle John reveals another trap. It is easy when the heart is moved to help, but we settle for talking about it instead of doing something about it. It has led to several sayings in our language, such as “all talk and no play” and “empty words.” That’s why John calls on his readers that, if nothing else, be practical. All it takes is for us to read the sharp words of our Lord of what will happen when He returns:
| When He finally arrives, blazing in beauty and all His angels with Him, the Son of Man will take His place on His glorious throne. Then all the nations will be arranged before Him, and He will sort the people out, much as a shepherd sorts out sheep and goats, putting sheep to His right and goats to His left. Then He will turn to the ‘goats,’ the ones on His left, and say, ‘Get out, worthless goats! You are good for nothing but the fires of hell. And why? Because: |
I was hungry, and you gave Me no meal,
I was thirsty, and you gave Me no drink,
I was homeless, and you gave Me no bed,
I was shivering, and you gave Me no clothes,
Sick and in prison, and you never visited.’ Then those “goats” are going to say, “Master, what are You talking about? When did we ever see You hungry or thirsty or homeless or shivering or sick or in prison and did not help? “He will answer them, “I am telling the solemn truth: Whenever you failed to do one of these things to someone who was being overlooked or ignored, that was Me – you failed to do it to Me.”
Raymond Brown (1928-1998) notes the Apostle John is not pleading for sincerity over hypocrisy. Secessionists who walked away from the congregation were not hypocrites: they did not preach one procedure and follow another. Instead, they taught that actions were not essential to express one’s salvation, since they already possessed everlasting life through faith in the Anointed One. Hence, John’s attack was when he insisted that to love God, we must love one another, and loving not only in words but deeds of love. John is adamant that this is one of the vital principles that must continue to manifest itself in life. People cannot claim to be in the light and hate their fellow believers; such hate signifies they are in the darkness. So likewise, no one can claim to belong to the truth and hate their brother or sister – truth manifests itself in deeds of love, not in neglect.
Simon J. Kistemaker (1930-2017) says that faith and love have one thing in common: both need deeds to prove their genuineness. Therefore, words of love that are not transformed into action become senseless blabber. The Apostle Paul makes this same truth clear to the Corinthians. Thus, our claims of love correspond with our efforts. Furthermore, what we say about love must agree with the Word of God, so we complement our words with acts of love.
Stephen S. Smalley (1931-2017) notes that we have the Apostle John’s summary of what he has stated so far and draws a practical conclusion from verses sixteen and seventeen. It proves that love is to be functional, not theoretical. So, the way a believer shows love is as vital in quality as it is in quantity. As such, Christian faithfulness implies Christian faith. Behind all this is the possibility that some of the believers in the Church to whom John was writing were neglectful in their duty as stewards in meeting the needs of their brothers and sisters.
James Montgomery Boice (1938-2000) says that some believers might ask, “What does this supreme example of self-sacrifice by Jesus the Anointed One have to do with ordinary Christians?” Boice exclaims that it has everything to do with how Christians respond to fellow citizens in need. After all, believers are recipients of such selfless giving in that the Anointed One died on their behalf when He had no other reason to die.
Michel Eaton (1942-2017) brings up a valid point. We must closely observe those who encourage others to stop talking about love and start practicing love, to ensure they are not spiteful. It is quite possible, says Eaton, for someone to be quite bitter in denouncing others for not showing more love. It is a classic form of hypocrisy. Remember, to love is more than a thought; it is an act of the will. Love is imaginative, ingenious, and inventive. It finds ways of overcoming evil with good. Our love must be impartial, says Eaton. Most of all, we must take love seriously. The lack thereof may bring ruin to someone’s life, but showing it cannot help but make a big difference.
William Loader (1944) alerts us to be aware that those who preach a conflicting gospel and make false assumptions about faith are often the ones who neglect those in need. They push aside such practical involvement as insignificant to their spiritual message. The Apostle Paul found such a lack of compassion in the Corinthian community, where failure to share food with the needy was mocking the Lord’s Supper. In the Apostle John’s Ephesian community, the wealthier ones were ignoring the poor among them. Loader says this may be a reference to the secessionists who ended up leaving the congregation.
David Jackman (1945) mentions that we cannot love with empty words, but with genuine evidence. To ask others to do something you won’t do is the height of hypocrisy. Furthermore, don’t let your ministry among those needing help become a habit or chore. It is also like an individual talking about all the fine houses and luxury cars they could buy if they wanted to, but their bank account is empty, and their credit score is zero. Misunderstanding the consequences of absent love can be fatal. John is not talking about physical death but being forever separated from God with no chance of reconciliation. Jackman then leaves us this composition based on the fruit of the reborn spirit:
Joy, Love exulting; Peace, Love at rest: Patience, Love enduring in every trial and test. Gentleness, Love yielding to all that is not sin. Goodness, Love in actions that flow from the Anointed One within. Faith, Love’s eyes opened to see the living Anointed One; Meekness, Love not fighting but bowing at Calvary. Temperance, Love in harness and under the Anointed One’s control. It means that since the Anointed One is the embodiment of Love, Love, then, is the Anointed One living in the soul.
 Matthew 5:21-22 – The Message
 Barclay, William: The New Daily Study Bible, op. cit., The Letters of John, pp. 92-93
 Hoon, Paul W., The Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. XII, op. cit., p. 265
 Williams, Ronald R., Letters to James and John – Cambridge, op. cit., p. 41
 Phillips, John, Exploring John’s First Epistle, op. cit., pp114-115
 Matthew 25:31-33, 41-45 – The Message
 Brown, Raymond E., The Epistles of John – Anchor, op. cit., pp. 476-477
 1 Corinthians 13:7
 Kistemaker, Simon J., James and I-III John, op. cit., p. 312
 Smalley, Stephen S., 1, 2, 3 John – Word Commentary, Vol. 51, op. cit., p. 198
 Boice, James Montgomery, Expository Commentary, op. cit., p. 95
 Eaton, Michael, 1, 2, 3, John, op. cit., pp. 115-116
 1 Corinthians 11:17-32
 Loader, William, The Johannine Epistles – Epworth, op. cit., p. 42
 Jackman, David, The Message of John’s Letters – The Bible Speaks, op. cit., pp. 101-102