WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER THREE (Lesson XC) 11/16/21

3:19 Our actions will show that we belong to the truth, so we will be confident when standing before God.

Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881) says that corrupt governments, divested of God’s light because they love darkness, are no more likely than other unlawful efforts to find a cure for such an unethical predicament of alleviating conviction and guilt for wrongdoing through legislation.[1]

William Edward Jelf (1811-1875) says that a Christian whose heart is burdened with a sense of weakness and unworthiness, causing them to become unsure about their salvation, must not use that as a reason to stop loving God and doing good for others. On the contrary, if we are conscious of having loved our brothers and sisters, we can use it as evidence contrary to our heart’s condemnation to reassure ourselves. Anyone who has experienced doubts and fears springing up in their heart from time to time will feel the need to test their faith for reassurance. It is the same notion as that of the Apostle Paul, “The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.”[2] However, in the doubting Christian’s case, John represents one’s spirit as hesitant and accusing until persuaded by the evidence that the presence of practical love in daily life assures them they are a child of God by having God’s Spirit.[3]

William Barclay (1907-1978) points out that the Apostle John goes on to say something which, as far as the Greek text is understood, can mean two things: 1) Although our hearts may condemn us, 2) God is greater than our hearts. So, the question is: what is the meaning of the last phrase?

(1) It could mean: since our hearts condemn us, God must condemn us even more. But, if we take it that way, it leaves us only with the fear of God and with nothing to say but: “God be merciful to me, a sinner.”[4] That is a possible translation, and no doubt it is true; but it is not what John is saying in this context, for here he is thinking of our confidence in God and not our dread of Him.

            (2) The passage must therefore mean this. Our hearts condemn us – that is inevitable. But God is greater than our hearts; He knows all things. Not only does He know our sins; He also knows our love, our longings, the nobility that never fully works itself out, our repentance, and the greatness of His knowledge gives Him the sympathy with which He can understand and forgive.[5]

Robert W. Yarbrough (1948) says that in the aftermath of a stern command against the hypocrisy of a do-nothing love in verse eighteen, John extends an olive branch of assurance here in verse nineteen “And by this.” It probably looks back to the previous verse and offers a positive response to it. By loving others with integrity, “we will know.” Ethically speaking, confirmation relating to the Anointed One comes by compliance with His commands.

By the same token, in the realm of reason, says Yarbrough, a deepened understanding results if one does the things appropriate to complete the full circle of faith.[6] What will John’s readers know as a result of loving each other? They will see that they are of the truth. This could have a social meaning. The previous section placed people in two groupings: “children of God” or “the devil’s brood.”[7] Cain was “of the evil one.[8] So, to be “of the truth” would mean to be among those whose spiritual vitality grows out of the truth by being God’s child.

It harmonizes with Johannine usage elsewhere: Jesus said He testified “to the truth” and that “everyone who is of the truth listens to Him.”[9] John is writing in this epistle to readers who “know the truth” and recognize that “no lie comes from the truth.[10] To love, then, in both word and deed, is to know more clearly that the source of one’s identity and life as a believer is the truth – which is to say, in John’s frame of reference, the Anointed One.[11] Thus, John’s first word of assurance points readers to Jesus.[12]

W. Hall Harris III (1953), Senior Professor of New Testament studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, states that the prepositional phrase “by this” refers to verse eighteen. Thus, by doing these righteous deeds, these expressions of love for one another, Christians assure themselves that they belong to the truth because the outward action reflects the inward reality of our relationship with God. Another way to say this is that conduct is the clue to paternity. Here in verse nineteen, however, the same principle is used to reassure believers rather than serve as criticism against the opponents of the true Gospel (whose misconduct shows they do not have a genuine relationship with God). In this case, John’s readers – do indeed have this authentic relationship.[13]

Daniel L. Akin (1957) supposes that the Apostle John used verse eighteen as a “hinge verse” to connect two related passages that have a common subject. The subject is love. When we love “with truth and action” (verse 18), this reassures our hearts before God that we are of the truth (verse 19). Assurance will sprout in the heart, and blossom in the conscience, when we demonstrate genuine and authentic love for others. It assures us that we are God’s children. Loving others as God in the Anointed One loved us strengthens our hearts and gives us confidence. Indeed, by loving others in truth (verse 18), we come to know we belong to the truth (verse 19).

However, says Akin, we must be honest. Loving others is not always easy. After all, at the heart of love is serving others as Jesus serves us. Sometimes this service is public, noble, and newsworthy. Sometimes it is unknown, unrecognized, and unnoticed. It can be a challenge. Yes, love requires service. Service involves humility. And loving others in humble service assures us that we belong to Jesus. That sounds like a life worth living, a path worth following. By this knowledge and truth in our minds, assurance is planted and flourishes in our hearts.[14]

David Legge (1969) tells us when looking at verse nineteen, we read that the Apostle John says: “This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in His presence.” In verses ten through eighteen, John stated that one of the tests of whether we belong to the Anointed One is not whether we are in fellowship with Him. Instead, the test to assure our hearts is whether we love our brothers and sisters in the faith. So, John reiterates that if we love our fellow believers, which confirms we are in union with God, it gives us assurance and more certainty that we are God’s children. But of course, the opposite is true: if we do not love our brothers and sisters, or if we hate one brother or sister, in particular, that is an assurance that we are not a child of God. It is reason enough to make a person unsure and cause us to doubt our heart’s eternal security.[15]

3:20 Even if in our hearts we feel guilty about doing something against our conscience, God is greater than our hearts, and He knows what’s actually going on.

EXPOSITION

Now the Apostle John says something astounding. Even though we do not know God’s mind, He knows ours. And when we feel we have failed Him, He knows why and His Spirit communicates to us that He understands. He is more interested in saving than losing us. That’s why we can still stand true to our faith, knowing that God will help us find a way to make the necessary corrections in order to be obedient to His will and continue our walk on the highway of holiness.[16] The Apostle Paul knew that mistakes and errors do not cancel our salvation.[17] He told the Romans that when sin increases, God’s grace intensifies even more. This does not apply to sin in the world but wrongdoing in our lives.[18] That’s why John was able to say that if we confess our sins, God is faithful and understanding and will forgive us of our sins.[19]

Again, Job told his accusers that God knows a lot more we do, whatever we or others say about our conduct.[20] Even Jesus said that though His disciples failed Him in faith and faithfulness, they were a gift from God, and no one could steal them out of His hand.[21] And when God makes a promise, nothing can overturn His decision.[22] Does that mean after a believer is born again, they can live as they wish and do anything immoral, they want to do? No! After all, that’s what kept the Israelites out of the Promised Land;[23] the five bridesmaids prohibited from entering the wedding banquet, [24] and condemnation of the servant who failed to invest the silver given to him.[25]


[1] Carlyle, Thomas: Latter-Day Pamphlets, [April 15, 1850.] No. IV. The New Downing Street.

[2] Roman 8:16

[3] Jelf, W. E., Commentary on the First Epistle of St. John, op. cit., p. 52

[4] Luke 18:13

[5] Barclay, William: The New Daily Study Bible, op. cit., The Letters of John, p. 97

[6] The full circle is: From God to us, from us to others, from others back to God.

[7] 1 John 3:10

[8] Ibid. 3:12

[9] John 18:37

[10] 1 John 2:21

[11] John 14:6; cf. 1:14, 17; 8:32

[12] Yarbrough, Robert W., 1-3 John (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament), op. cit., pp. 208-209

[13] Harris III, W. Hall: 1, 2, 3 John: Comfort and Counsel for a Church in Crisis, loc. cit.

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

[15] Legge, David: Preach the Word, 1,2,3, John, op. cit., Part 11

[16] See Job 27:3-6

[17] 1 Corinthians 4:4

[18] Romans 5:20

[19] See 1 John 1:9

[20] Job 33:12

[21] John 10:29-30

[22] Hebrews 6:13

[23] Deuteronomy 1:35

[24] Matthew 25:11-12

[25] Ibid. 25:28-30

About drbob76

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