WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER FOUR (Lesson XXXVI) 03/09/22

4:5 These people belong to this world, so, quite naturally, they are concerned about worldly affairs, and the world pays attention to them.

The references to light and darkness further allude to the prologue of John’s Gospel. The Word [Jesus] “was God” and was the Light which shone in the spiritual darkness of the Jewish world, to which the Jewish world would not come because they preferred the darkness. John’s converts were Jews, and the temptation to return to Judaism, or compromise with it, was strong. Therefore, he presents the light of the Anointed One as God’s light, and compromise with the darkness was by nature impossible.

David Legge (1969) urges us, never let the world’s approval determine our message. Whether the world accepts what we say or not doesn’t matter! It doesn’t matter whether our President, government or political parties have their platform. They are not to be busy with focus groups’ mentality to determine what the people want and then direct their policies accordingly. It doesn’t matter whether the philosophical mindset is one of relativism, that “your truth may not necessarily be my truth, but I live and let live, and there’s no absolute right or absolute wrong.” The world’s approval must mean nothing to us in relation to our message. Our message is historical; our message is eternal; it is rooted and grounded in the truth of whom the Anointed One is, the Jesus of history, the Son of God. His Words are the ultimate standard by which we live and preach.[1]

Douglas Sean O’Donnell (1972) points out there are many verses in Scripture that start with “God is,” and then add an attribute (e.g., “mighty,”[2] or “merciful,”[3] but only a few speak of God’s essence. John gives us the three most memorable. In his Gospel, John records Jesus’ words to the Samaritan woman, “God is spirit.”[4] The Apostle John begins his epistle saying that “God is light,”[5] and now toward the end that “God is love.”[6] We might say of others, “They are a very loving person,” but what is said here is different. John is not saying that love is a characteristic God possesses; rather, he says that love is the essence of God’s divine being. The eternal love between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit that existed before creation[7] spills over into His creation, as God perpetually gives of Himself for the benefit of His creation. That is what makes the statement “God is love” so remarkable.[8]

4:6 But we are from God.  So, if we have a personal relationship with God, He listens to us. But the people who are not from God don’t listen to us. This is how we know the Spirit that is true and the spirit that is false.

EXPOSITION

So, the Apostle John cautions his readers. Here’s Isaiah’s description: “The Lord will make you sleepy, He will close your eyes (The prophets are your eyes), He will cover your heads. (The prophets are your heads).[9]  It is not a reference to those who fall asleep in church while the pastor is preaching, but rather, when they stop listening to the messengers that God has sent, they will get sleepy spiritually speaking.  Hosea puts it more bluntly, “My people are asking idols made of wood for advice. They think those sticks will answer them! They have chased after those false gods like prostitutes and have left their God.[10]

Micah explains the dilemma this causes: “These people don’t want to listen to me. But if a man comes telling lies, they will accept him.  They would accept a false prophet if he comes and says, ‘There will be good times in the future, with plenty of wine and beer.’[11]  The Lord also had some harsh words for the prophet Isaiah to pass on to those who fell for such teachings.  “These people are like children who refuse to obey. They lie and refuse to listen to the Lord’s teachings. They tell the prophets, ‘Don’t see dreams about things we should do. Don’t tell us the truth. Say nice things to us and make us feel good. See only good things for us. Stop seeing things that will really happen. Get out of our way. Stop telling us about the Holy One of Israel.’[12]  John expected God’s people to make a note of what he was saying.

It is important to distinguish between truth and error.  Those with the “spirit of error” do not respond to the truth; they do not hear the Bible as God’s Word.  Those with the “spirit of truth” have God’s truth at heart.  The Bible is characteristically their criterion of truth.  They will acknowledge that Jesus came out of heaven as the Son of God and stepped foot into a human body. Protection from error is found in loyalty to the principle of truth in God’s Word. 

The Greek pronoun hēmeiswe” here refers to the apostles who authored books in the Final Covenant. They clearly understood that genuine believers respond willfully to anointed teachers.[13] The Gospel rings true to them. There are kinship and correspondence between God’s people and God’s Word.  The words “he who knows” are literally “the one knowing.”  It is a person clearly described as a believer. Fakers do not respond to the truth because the Devil’s domain darkens their hearts. We can discern the truth of whether someone is a genuine believer by their response to the truth.

The “we” is set in contrast to the “they” in verse five. The Holy Spirit inspired the apostles’ writings with special revelation.  The apostles clearly understood that. He who knows God hears us. Genuine believers respond with positive volition to true teachers.  The Gospel and the Word of God ring true to them.  There is a kinship and correspondence between God’s people and God’s Word.  The words “he who knows” are literally “the one knowing.”  This is a person clearly described as a believer. Fakers do not respond to the truth.  They do not witness the truth because the Devil’s domain darkens their hearts.  We can discern the truth of whether someone is truly a believer by their attitude to the truth.

However, it leaves no room for hearers if it is considered broad enough to include those who have truly received the Anointed One by faith. Therefore, “They who know God will hear us” will mean that we hear ourselves. But John’s meaning seems rather that they who acquire knowledge of God are ready to listen to further apostolic instruction. But this need not be confined to verse six; it may apply to the whole passage, related to the Spirit of truth.[14]

Perhaps John felt the same anointing that Micah experienced when he said, “But the Lord’s Spirit has filled me with power, goodness, and strength.  So, I can tell Jacob about his crimes, and so I can tell Israel about his sins!”[15] But John has one more piece of advice to offer on this subject as his conclusion, knowing who-is-who is essential when it comes to our spiritual lives.

Once in the temple, the religious leaders asked Jesus, “Where is your father?”  Jesus answered, “You don’t know My Father or Me. But if you knew Me, you would know My Father too.[16]  I experienced a similar eureka moment after my father passed away. I was privileged to go and preach in some of the churches he pastored. I got used to the old-timers coming up to me and saying, “You don’t have to tell me whose son you are; I could tell it right away. You are the spitting image of your father.” That made me feel both humble and proud.

It is the same in the spiritual world.  Jesus said this by way of illustration: “My sheep listen to my voice. I know them, and they follow me.”[17]  In other words, you can tell the validity of the messenger by the validity of the message.  Once, when I was visiting England for a youth convention, I stayed at the home of one of the pastors.  After our meal, they turned on the “telly,” as they call the TV, to watch the news.  After the news, someone always reads the horoscope for the next day.

The horoscope reader made this pronouncement for those born under a certain astrological sign: “Tomorrow you will receive a parcel from the postman, and in this parcel, there will be good news announcing a certain amount of money coming your way.” I started to laugh because all the postal workers in England were on strike, and there would be no mail delivered tomorrow or many more days.  So, I asked the pastor about this obvious error.  He told me that these readings are often recorded ahead of time and simply being played back from the tape. So, as you can imagine, my low trust in the horoscope and astrologists dropped even lower.

While this is amusing to me, and although I have nothing against studying philosophy and psychology, whenever I find where their tenets disagree with Scripture, I accept the Word of God as preeminent.  I have listened to professors who treat the Word of God as though it is the property of the unenlightened.  They have more or less said that Christians are closed-minded.  The truth is that they do not understand there is a level higher than human intellect called “faith.”  Suppose I still believe there is such a thing as love. However, I can’t see it or accept the wind but only have the swaying branches of a tree to show its presence or trust that there is a thing called joy, even though it cannot be held in my hand. Why can I not believe there is a God whose love I feel, whose presence I sense, and whose power has been demonstrated through signs, miracles, and wonders?

The world does not acknowledge this because the Holy Spirit has not transformed their minds to accept the spiritual truths. For example, put two people in an audience: a born-again Christian and an unchurched individual who has never heard the Gospel or read the Bible. Let the speaker stand up and say: “The Holy Spirit is in this place; I can sense His presence.” The unchurched individual might lean over and say, “What’s he talking about?”  The believer will smile and say, “I know exactly what he’s talking about, and I agree with him because I feel the Spirit’s presence too.”


[1] Legge, David: 1,2,3 John, Preach the Word, “Discerning Christianity,” op. cit., Part 12

[2] Job 36:5

[3] Psalm 116:5

[4] John 4:24

[5] 1 John 1:5

[6] Ibid. 4:8, 16

[7] John 17:24

[8] O’Donnell, Douglas Sean. 1-3 John (Reformed Expository Commentaries), op. cit., loc. cit. Kindle Edition

[9] Ibid. 29:10

[10] Hosea 4:12

[11] Micah 2:11

[12] Isaiah 30:9-11

[13] See John 10:4-5, 8, 16, 26-27, 47

[14] Cf. John 14:17; 15:26; 16:13

[15] Micah 3:8

[16] John 8:19

[17] Ibid. 10:27

About drbob76

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