WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

by Dr. Robert R Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER FOUR (Lesson XXXI) 02/28/22

4:4 Since you belong to God, my dear children, you have already won a victory over those worldly people because the Spirit who lives in you is greater than the spirit who lives in the world. 

William Lincoln (1825-1888) says that the words, “They are of the world; therefore they speak of the world, and the world hears them. We are of God: they that know God hears us: they that are not of God do not hear us.” The meaning of that expression is this: “We, who are the apostles of God, testify how the Anointed One lived; we testify to the Anointed One’s destiny; we testify that the path of the Anointed One was the way of humiliation, but the world won’t listen to us.” I have heard these words sometimes, but no one is as inspired now as John was, and therefore no one will speak as authoritatively as he did. That is true enough, but that hardly touches the sentiment of the passage; it has a great deal more in it than that. The meaning is that the inspired apostles of the Lord and Savior testify that the way of the Lord Jesus was a path of humility, of taking the lower place, and looking for God to exalt Him in His time. God expects the same from us, His followers. “The people of the world don’t want to hear this; only they that are of God should listen closely.” That is the meaning of this fourth verse.[1]

Brooke F. Westcott (1825-1901) reminds us that since false spirits are unseen, we can study their characteristics through the ones they’ve chosen to speak. And since they are “not of God,” Christians “who are of God” must do more than just stand by and just watch or tolerate them; they must wage war against them. In this conflict, the Anointed One grants the benefit of His Victory to them.[2] So, they must claim the fruits of that triumph. So, where would we begin? But asking if they acknowledge Jesus as the Son of God who came to earth to live like a human, so He could die and redeem humanity.

Keep in mind, says Westcott, these false spirits represent one personal power of falsehood, “the prince of the world,”[3] the devil whose “brood of vipers” are the wicked.[4] Speaking of Satan, the world occupies the same twofold position which Christians occupy concerning God: “the whole world is under the control of the evil one,”[5]  and the devil “is in the one who is in the world.” The natural opposite to “in you,” taken personally, would have been “in them,” but John wishes to show that these false prophets are representatives of the world. The conflict is, therefore, regarded socially, not spiritually.[6]

Rev. William Jones of Nayland (1726-1800) points to the Apostle John saying that He that was in the Christians is God; he that was in the world is Satan, “the prince of this world.” So, (Question), how does God dwell in His people. (1) By His Word.[7] (2) By their faith (3) By their love to Him.[8] (4) By His Spirit.[9] Not only that but (Answer), God is more powerful than Satan. (a) God is independent, but Satan is dependent.[10] (b) God is infinite, but Satan is finite.[11] (c) God is the truth, [12] but Satan is the father of lies. (d) God is healing, but Satan is malignant.

However persistent and intense, hatred may be, it is not as steady, patient, or robust as agápe-love. God dwells in His people for their salvation, but Satan lives in the world for their destruction. And the loving, saving Spirit is immeasurably greater and mightier than the hating, destroying spirit. God’s presence within His people is the secret of their victory over heretical teachers; this Presence in the soul imparts power for spiritual conflict and conquest. The most effective safeguard against error in religious faith and union is not the subtle and strong intellect but the devout and godly spirit and the upright life. The secret of the Lord is with them that reverence Him.[13] In the conflicts of the spiritual life, the mightiest weapons are not logical but devotional. The most significant victories are often won upon our knees in this sphere. The consciousness of God’s presence within us is the inspiration for achieving the most inspiring conquests.[14]

Henry A. Sawtelle (1832-1913) says that spiritual believers’ power to overcome the world is not in themselves, when the One in us is mightier than the one in the world. They need not take personal credit. In union with their hearts, the One in them is God, naturally suggested by the previous clause and the relation of terms in 1 John 3:10. The one “in the world,” in union with the worldly people of the world, is the devil.[15] The world is a more general term than antichrist. All outside of God’s Light and Life are of the world, while antichrist includes those who profess the Messiah but try to transform Him into a different messiah. This “messiah” belongs to the broader class of the world, as John’s reasoning assumes, and if so, this messiah in the world is in them. But the Messiah that is in us is stronger than the messiah in worldly people. Because God is in us, we are on the overcoming side. Of this, there can be no doubt.[16]

John James Lias (1834-1923) states that the fundamental fact of God’s indwelling through the Anointed One in all who believe in Him is the source of inner strength whereby all conflict is resolved, and the victory won.[17]He that is in the world” can only mean the devil, who is called the prince[18] and the god[19] of this world.[20] The reason why we have not “in them,” as corresponding to “in you,” is explained by the next sentence.[21]

Then Lias surmises that some suppose that they are to look back for their source of confidence in being victorious. For instance, they look (a) back to a past sinful act, not to a present Lord. They ignore the reconciliation worked out for them on the Cross, not to a transformation of themselves by Divine power, into the wholesome spirit and mind of that great act of Atonement, not to the interweaving, through the Spirit of the Anointed One, of that Crucifixion into the whole texture of their lives. Also, (b) they look to a past rather than a present realization of God’s forgiveness and saving power. Furthermore, they should acknowledge God’s forgiveness and the abiding awareness of His presence in them during every moment of temptation and after repenting of every fall.[22] This is a pessimistic and defensive mindset; we are to look forward to the victory awaiting us through the Anointed One.

Robert Cameron (1839-1904) states that we have overcome because we accepted the fact and love and grace manifested by the incarnation of the Anointed One. We have believed in God’s Son and accepted His agápe-love. It has opened the way for God to intervene in our lives. With this confession, we acknowledged the fact of sin that made the incarnation a necessity and the agápe-love of God that made it a possibility. We put ourselves on our knees, where we ought to be, and God on the throne, where He belongs. This brings us into the midst of a war with the “wicked spirits in high places.”[23] It is the old battle between “the seed of the woman” and “seed of the serpent.”

In Adam’s day of innocence, says Cameron, the dispute was about the goodness and severity of God and the question of deserving sin’s spiritual death sentence and the necessity of blood-shedding for its remission. Since the crucifixion, the question has become more definite. It is still sinning deserving death, with the added fact that the blood of the Anointed One is the sole ground of forgiveness, acceptance, and reconciliation. To reach this point is to overcome the greatest foes and become an inspiring victor. It is to be in harmony with God and become the object of hate from the unseen world of fallen and rebellious spirits.[24]

The Reverend Canon William Newbolt (1844-1930) says that the Apostle John points out two currents in the stream of humanity. In each case, there is a motivating power controlling the erratic movements of the shifting crowds. We call these two currents the Church and the world, and John shows us the two managing agents he calls respectively “He that is in you” and “he that is in the world.” And there is no doubt which is the more popular. Surely, says Newbolt, the Apostle would agree that goodness is the most significant power in coping with the world. Indeed, among many things that bring us peace, it is one of the most cheering signs that God’s presence is still with us. Thus, we can appreciate goodness where we see it; even more, that the fascination of goodness, and the supremacy of goodness, where it is manifestly displayed, stands unrivaled. But recognizing goodness, says Newbolt, is its well-known reputation for not wasting our lives on trivial efforts. Yet, sometimes we are disappointed, which seems to crush our spirits.

Newbolt then continues: There is no noble class in goodness. Living in one room in public housing will not of itself make us bad, neither will living in a luxury apartment make us good. There were saints in Cæsar’s household, and there were saints among publicans and sinners, and those who had time to think and assess the potential. It is no use saying, “If I were someone else, I might be great; if I had a different nature, I might be good.” Read God’s records in the times of old, and see how He raises His believers out of situations the world would not tolerate. Remember, He that is greater in you came from a smelly stable in Bethlehem. Not only that, but He began His ministry in the small villages of Galilee, yet the whole world knows about Him today. His life and ministry should fire up the ambition in us all. But we cannot shut our eyes to its extreme difficulty. Before the Anointed One can be in us, there must be the absolute and entire surrender to Him of body, soul, and spirit.[25]


[1] Lincoln, William: Lectures on First John, op. cit., Lecture VI, p. 112

[2] John 16:22

[3] Ibid. 12:31; 14:30

[4] 1 John 3:10

[5] Ibid. 5:19

[6] Westcott, Brooke F., The Epistles of St. John, op. cit., p. 144

[7] Psalm 1:2; 119:97

[8] 1 John 4:12-13, 16; John 14:23

[9] 1 John 4:13; John 14:16-17

[10] Cf. Job 1:12; 2:6

[11] Revelation 20:1-3

[12] John 8:44

[13] Psalm 25:9, 14; cf. John 7:17

[14] Plummer, Alfred: First Epistle of John, Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 22, Homiletics, pp. 119-120

[15] John 11:30; 2 Corinthians 4:4; Ephesians 2:2

[16] Sawtelle, Henry A., An American Commentary, Alvah Hovey Ed., op. cit., p. 47

[17] See Luke 11:21-22

[18] John 12:31; 14:30

[19] 2 Corinthians 4:4

[20] Cf. 1 Corinthians. 2:12; Ephesians 2:2, 6:12; Revelation 9:3, 11

[21] Lias, John James, The First Epistle of St. John with Exposition, op. cit., p. 299

[22] Lias, John James, The First Epistle of St. John with Homiletical Treatment, op. cit., pp. 297-298

[23] Ephesians 6:12

[24] Cameron, Robert: First Epistle of John, op. cit., loc. cit.

[25] Newbolt, William: The Church Pulpit Commentary, op. cit., Vol. 12, pp. 290-292


About drbob76

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