WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER THREE (Lesson LXXXVI) 11/10/21

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

Robert W. Yarbrough (1948) notes that verses seventeen and eighteen concludes a section that summons readers to love. Verse seventeen employs a fortiori – a lesser-to-greater argument: if a person will not share earthly goods with a needy believer, how can they have God’s Love abiding in them?[1] So, then, verse eighteen concludes with a brief appeal to match confession with action. The opening words “but whoever” is also found earlier in John’s epistle.[2] So, we must ask, is this a rhetorical remark that John’s great Teacher left for various Gospel writers or their sources?

The final summons is to deeds and not words, says Yarbrough. It is easy to feel sentimental and call it love yet fail to perform the deeds that constitute love’s presence. The Apostle John made that clear in his Gospel.[3] The Apostle James also stresses this exact point.[4] The expression “not in word nor tongue” may mean both the things said and the bodily organ that speaks them. But John explains that it means “in deed and truth,” pointing to tangible deeds done in reality and not just in theory. It involves participating in the truth that the Anointed One reveals and realizes in one’s life. Again, Jesus’ words come to mind: “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?”[5] John learned well the lesson Jesus taught that mere outward show is deadly. He urges and shows love by being direct so that his readers can respond to the question now, rather than tremble before the Anointed One on a day when it is too late.[6] [7]

Colin G. Kruse (1950) sees that in applying his appeal to the lives of his readers, the Apostle John does not speak of the extreme sort of self-giving involved in actually laying down their lives for fellow believers but something more down to earth. He asks: If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity [literally “closes their heart or affections”] on them, how can God’s love be in them? In the light of the Anointed One’s self-giving love for them, John says, they should not close their hearts toward fellow believers in material need. In fact, they cannot shut the door to their hearts and still claim that the love of God remains in them.

Rather than being mean-spirited, says Kruse, John urges his readers to be generous and realistic in their love. They must not just talk about love but must practice it. That means using their resources to help lighten the burdens of the needy. To love “in truth” means to “love truly,” as distinct from loving in word only. It is synonymous with love in action. The Apostle James gives us an illustration of what it can mean to “love with words or tongue” but “with truth and action.[8] [9]

Judith Lieu (1951) remarks that the contrast between mere mouthing and actual actions is obvious. At the same time, by the Apostle John making this part of his message suggests it was a commonplace ethical theme among Christians. After having pointed out in uncompromising language about hatred and murder, it was time to establish a family relationship among believers that functioned with inclusion and equality. The Apostle Paul echoes John’s message among the Gentiles.[10] It was John’s hope and prayer to establish the righteous counter-culture of Abel in contrast to the sinful philosophy of Cain. It would not be easy, but there was no need for anxiety because they had the most excellent model of such self-sacrifice in Jesus the Anointed One.[11]

Marianne M. Thompson (1954-) notes that the Apostle John uses the Greek diminutive noun teknion, “little children.” Perhaps John was drawing on the boldness and confidence that young children have in their parents. That’s why a child goes with complete trust to their parents to ask for help. In other words, John is saying, “Trust me, my little children” when I tell you that you must do more than talk about love, you must start putting love into action.[12]

Bruce B. Barton (1954) sees these verses as an example of how believers can put aside their wants to help those in need. Seldom will believers be called upon to experience martyrdom for others. However, when faced with needy people, they ought to be willing to; most people have more than they need. It parallels the Apostle James’ teaching.[13] Believers should be ready to help a brother or sister in need. Believers should respond to God’s Love for them by loving others and putting others’ needs before their desire for the world’s goods. Talk is cheap, so unsubstantiated claims (mere words or speeches) are worthless. Faith not accompanied by love for others (shown in truth and action) is useless. Anyone can claim to have faith, but if their lifestyle remains selfish and worldly, what good are their words and speeches? True love expressed in action is the fruit of a living faith. If a person claims to be a believer, has possessions to offer, sees a brother or sister in need, and still refuses to help, that person shows they are lacking God’s Love.[14]

Daniel L. Akin (1957) states that saying “I would die for you” may sound noble to someone. But they wouldn’t mind if you gave them something to eat? Do you have an extra shirt to share or, better yet, a coat? Will you let them sleep on your couch until they get back on their feet? Could you help out with their electric bill or a few meds for their sick kids? You see, they might say, I don’t need you to die for me. I just need a little help. John gets down where the rubber meets the road and provides some essential, honest, and practical advice about love in the context of everyday living. Jesus had a life to give, and you have items to share. Jesus saw your need and gave His life. You, however, see your brother or sister’s need and “close your eyes.” How, then, “can God’s Love reside in” you? The undeniable answer is, “it doesn’t.” It is not there now, nor ever was.

John concludes his argument in verse eighteen with a simple maxim that follows a negative with a positive line of reasoning. Love is so much more than making a promise or an emotional speech using impressive rhetoric.[15] Love is an action word that always expresses itself in good deeds done in the context of sincerity. John adds the word “truth” for a very good reason. Comments can be hollow and actions hypocritical. You may choose to do nothing, though your words promise much. On the other hand, you may do something for someone, but your motives are not proper, and your intent is questionable. It’s called manipulation. God cares about both our motives and our actions. He wants us to love and care for others, just like we have been loved and cared for by Jesus. Once more, it is clear. If you desire to see love done honestly, just look to the cross.[16]

Bruce G. Schuchard (1958) sees the Apostle John using this metaphor of “all words and no work” as a way of opening the door to urge his readers to do much more than just believe.  Talk is cheap, says Schuchard, and disappointment is the least of one’s worries. But pretense is poisonous. That’s because hypocrisy leads to deadly chatter and deception. So, John takes advantage of this to emphasize that failure to love is hateful and spitefulness destructive. As the old saying goes, “Action speaks louder than words[17] was true in John’s era and our world today. But in order for actions to help, they must be done willingly; otherwise, it is showmanship. Everyone must be ready to perform acts of kindness and generosity, not committed for applause but appreciation.[18]

David Guzik (1961) points out that the Apostle John states emphatically, if you have the capability to meet a brother or sister’s needs, and do nothing to meet those requirements, then how can you say you love that brother or sister? What is the limit to this kind of love? The only limit is the one that love imposes. Therefore, when giving to a person, if meeting their perceived or immediate need does them harm instead of good, the loving thing to do is not give them what they ask for, but rather give them what they really need.[19]

Peter Pett (1966) indicates that John follows a specific example of sharing with a general plea. It is not only in charitable giving that we should love. Our love, if true, should not be just something we talk about, but something we live out practically in every aspect of our lives. Casual remarks are easy; saying that we love costs nothing, while practical living is the real test. It proves whether our love is authentic or not, indeed whether it is in accordance with the truth. Therefore, John says, let us make sure we show sincere love in what we do by loving what God loves.[20]

David Legge (1969) says that first of all, demonstrating brotherly love proves our love for the Anointed One. It motivates us to risk our lives to meet the needs of our brothers and sisters. That’s why we are to love by acts rather than words to prove we are God’s children. Sometimes, says Legge, we are all talk when it comes to loving one another! So, how many of us practice what John is proposing? How much does this agapē love impact our personal lives, in our backyard, especially when our back door stays locked?[21]


[1] Similar reasoning appears later, in 1 John 4:20

[2] 1 John 2:5

[3] John 3:16

[4] James 1:22; cf. Matthew 7:26; Testament of Gad 6:1

[5] Luke 6:46

[6] Cf. 1 John 2:28; 3:3

[7] Yarbrough, Robert W., 1-3 John (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament), op. cit., pp. 203-206

[8] James 2:15-16

[9] Kruse, Colin G., The Letters of John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary, op. cit., Kindle Edition.

[10] See 2 Corinthians 8:8-15; Philippians 2:1-11

[11] Lieu, Judith, I, II, III John – NT Library, op. cit., pp. 152-153

[12] Thompson, Marianne M., 1-3 John, op. cit., p. 106

[13] James 2:14-17

[14] Barton, Bruce B., 1, 2, & 3 John (Life Application Bible Commentary), op. cit., pp. 76-77

[15] Cf. 1 Corinthians 13:1-3

[16] Akin, Dr. Daniel L. Exalting Jesus in 1,2,3 John (Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary), op. cit., Kindle Edition.

[17] No one seems to know the origin of this quote, but all agree it is older than the phrase “A picture is worth a thousand words.”

[18] Schuchard, Bruce G., 1-3 John – Concordia, op. cit., pp. 386-388

[19] Guzik, David – Enduring Word, op. cit., p. 63

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

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

About drbob76

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