WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER THREE (Lesson CVII) 12/09/21

3:24 Those who do what God says live with God and He with them. We know this is true because the Holy Spirit He gave us tells us so.

It was not a new ritual or ceremony Jesus was instituting. It was the ordinary custom that when visitors came to see you, they left their sandals at the door, allowing the servants to wash the dust and dirt off their feet after such a long journey. In this case, Jesus was saying that we should all be willing to become servants to help one another out in trying or destitute times. It might also imply that you are ready to serve that person to help meet their needs. Jesus taught this spiritual principle when telling His followers, “Your attitude must be like mine, for I, the Messiah, did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give my life as a ransom for many.”[1]

I recall back in the 1940s and 50s when many denominations practiced “foot washing.” I remember as an adult when I attended my first foot washing service. The men were all seated face to face back in a Sunday Schoolroom, where a basin filled with water was provided and several towels. Then, after a song or two, each man would wash the feet of the brother facing him and vice versa. As we washed each other’s feet, we believed we were expressing how being servants was a sign of humility for us and an honor we bestowed on them. Then, when the foot-washing was over, we all went out into the sanctuary, sang some songs, and gave testimonies before going home. As we washed each other’s feet, had we asked our brother if there was anything we could do for him or help him out in any way, then the spiritual principle could have made an impact.

It rapidly dawned on me that I had just participated in a “humbling ceremony” that was supposed to make us feel more holy when we walked out than when we walked in. Therefore, the practical aspect had been fulfilled, but the spiritual principle was seemingly lost. So, when the Apostle John tells us how we should treat each other and some of the things we must do to show that God’s love is living in us, let us look for the spiritual principle rather than insisting on the practical details.

Furthermore, in Jesus’ day, people did not eat at a table. Instead, they sat on the floor around a cloth spread out for the meal. In some cultures, they sat with legs crossed, in what we would call a “yoga” position. In others, they reclined on their sides, either on the floor or couches. Thus, you can see that Leonardo da Vinci’s portrait of the Last Supper is misconstrued. So, when John says that Jesus stood up or arose, He did so from the floor, not a chair. Thank God, churches today who serve communion do not require everyone to sit on one side of a long table in the sanctuary. But at the same time, they do not remove all the pews or chairs and lay out a rug on the floor with everyone to sit around the carpet.

Since this is impractical, what then is the spiritual principle involved? Jesus used the bread (yeast-free flatbread [matzoh]) to represent His body and the wine to symbolize His blood. Should we attempt to follow this as closely as possible in order to authenticate our communion service? No, that is not practical. And here’s one reason why. Jesus was not inventing a new meal, preparing for the Passover. Instead, he followed the Jewish custom of the Passover Seder meal. This meal required three pieces of Matzah bread stacked on top of one another and five sides of various leafy vegetables, fruits and nuts, bitter herbs, wine, lamb shank, and hard-boiled eggs.

According to the Jewish Passover Haggadah, the host would take the middle piece of flatbread and break it in two. They would then pass one half around for everyone to snap off a bit, and hid the other half until later. Thus, there was not just one cup of wine, but four. The first was called the “Cup of Sanctification,” the second was the “Cup of Redemption,” the third was the “Cup of Grace,” and the fourth was the “Cup of Salvation.”[2] Trying to duplicate this every Communion Sunday would not be impossible but improbable.

So, what is the spiritual principle here that we should emphasize? Jesus explains it very well; the bread represents His body and the wine His blood. Concerning His body, the prophet Isaiah said, “He was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten, so we could be made whole, and He was whipped, so we could be morally healed.”[3] Regarding His blood, Moses put it this way, “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given you the blood to sprinkle upon the altar as an atonement for your souls; it is the blood that makes atonement because it is the life.”[4]

Dozens of examples on how the almost unattainable practical fulfillment of the Jewish commandments and instructions of Biblical days is inadvisable. So, the spiritual principle is what we need to highlight. Let me add this: When the Apostle Paul itemized the sinful tendencies that a true believer must totally and perpetually reject,[5] he gave the practical aspects involved by listing the spiritual principles a Christian must follow.[6] Thank the Lord; he did not say “how” we are to do it. That would have led to even more ceremonial rites, rituals, and ceremonies. If when you were a teenager, your mother put out some bread, peanut butter, and jelly so you could make yourself a sandwich, but then took the knife from you and said, here’s how you do it, no doubt you would have felt as though she was treating you like a little child. Likewise, the Apostle Paul put out the fruit of the reborn spirit and said to us, “use these to live a sanctified life.” That is the difference between reasonable opinion and spiritual principle.

END OF CHAPTER THREE

SCHEDULE FOR CHAPTER FOUR

At this point, we will take our Christmas and New Year’s break before we launch into the challenging and instructive chapter four on remaining steadfast in God and His love. It’s all about testing our faith against the strong winds of false doctrines.

We will start posting chapter four on January 3, 2022. MERRY CHRISTMAS and HAPPY NEW YEAR!! And may God bless you richly and spiritually in the coming year.


[1] Matthew 20:28 – Living Bible

[2] The Passover Haggadah, Ed. Nahum N. Glatzer, Schocken Books, New York, 1953, pp. 19-24; 25-67; 68-77; 81-92

[3] Isaiah 53:5

[4] Leviticus 17:11

[5] Galatians 5:19-21

[6] Ibid. 5:22-25

About drbob76

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