WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

by Dr. Robert R Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER FOUR (Lesson XXXVIII) 03/11/22

4:6 But we are God’s children; that is why only those who have walked and talked with God will listen to us. Others won’t. That is another way to know whether a message is really from God, for if it is, the world won’t listen to it.

The false prophets, notes Finlayson, are Satan’s attempt to provide an enhanced version of Christianity taught by prophets who claimed to have Divine inspiration; the false prophets claimed to be under Divine inspiration as well. The only way they could succeed was to attempt to make their message as close to the truth of the true prophets as possible. Christianity was at that time wonderfully active in many places. How was it to be counteracted? One way was to incorporate Judaism with Christianity. Another method was to integrate Gentile philosophy with Christianity, called Gnosticism.

The general drift of Gnosticism is to replace the plain facts of the Gospel with philosophic myths. Cerinthus, a contemporary of John in a Roman province in Asia, is described as “the intermediate link between the Judaizing and the Gnostic sects.” As a Judaizer, Cerinthus held, with the Ebionites, [1] that Jesus was only the son of Joseph and Mary, born the natural way. As a Gnostic, he maintained that the Anointed One first descended, in the form of a dove, on the carpenter’s son at His baptism; that the dove revealed to him the unknown Father, and worked miracles through him; and then flew back to where he came from and left Jesus alone to suffer.

There is a reason for believing that this was a particular danger, or something not unlike it, invading the circles to which John writes in this Epistle. Therefore, there arose the necessity for discriminating between true and false prophets, that one class might be followed and the others shunned. How was this necessity to be met? Only by the action of the Christians themselves under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.[2]

Richard Rothe (1799-1867) emphasizes that every Christian must keep in mind what the Apostle John says here. In proportion to how much a person has grown in the knowledge of God’s Word, they must assure themselves they have a clear understanding of God’s Word. They must also discern that the disputes they hear concerning God’s Word are often contradictory, not of what you said, but what God said. But Christians must not forget that they have this consciousness and conviction only “in proportion to” their maturity in becoming more and more like the Anointed One. Therefore, they will not always pay attention to the scripture the world has contradicted, but how well they can interpret the Word itself.  But they must all keep in mind the world’s faulty reasoning in misunderstanding it.[3]

Alfred Plummer (1841-1926) says we could render the first part of verse six: “He that increases in the knowledge of God.” Once more, we have that magisterial tone of Apostolic authority which is so conspicuous in the first four verses. It is the undercurrent of the whole Epistle, as John’s Gospel. It is the quiet confidence of conscious strength. Compare, “Whoever belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God,”[4] and, “Everyone on the side of truth listens to Me.”[5] [6] It may be a case of someone thinking that they qualify just because they hear what Jesus said in the Gospels. But there is a big difference between hearing and listening. I remember when my mother would tell us kids to wash our hands, hang up our coats, or stop running through the house, and we didn’t do any of them. She would then raise her voice and ask, “Are you listening to me?” Yes, we heard her, but our lack of response meant we weren’t listing.

Joseph Benson (1749-1821) focuses on those the Apostle John implicates in verses four, five, and six. They are the religious seducers, with all their doctrinal snares and delusions. John wants to show his readers’ that the doctrines they adhere to have prevailed against those who deserve the name of “antichrist.” Today, we are afraid to use this term to identify anyone who preaches a different Gospel than the one they heard from the Apostles. But Benson identifies them as all those who oppose anything the Scriptures say about Jesus or His teachings. His readers should be glad because they have the true miraculous gifts of the Spirit, which these impostors falsely claim. The Christians to whom John is writing should not despair; the advantage is clearly on their side because greater is He that is in them than he that is in the world.[7]

This, says Benson, is none other than the Spirit of the Anointed One who is powerful enough to overcome the spirit of antichrist that is in the world. They are part of Satan’s brood, but they are not strong enough to prevail over God’s Son. These false teachers are a product of the world, namely those that do not know God; therefore, they speak about what is acceptable in secular society. It comprises the principles, wisdom, and prevailing religious philosophy you would expect from worldly people involved in religion. In particular, John did not want the faithful to become discouraged by these false teachers’ success in spreading their errors.

Listen,” says John, “we Apostles are commissioned by God – taught and sent by Him, and have approved ourselves to be so by irresistible evidence.” We are those who know God, who experience the governing influence of His reverence and love, who hears and watches over us. His Word is our Light by which we are taught and guided. But these Christian traitors neither believe nor obey what we preach. They are not interested in hearing messages inspired by the Holy Spirit and verified by miracles and born-again experiences. Now, says Benson, even though the original apostles are all dead, they still speak to us through their divinely inspired writings. John, in this passage, declares that their writings are the test by which the Anointed One’s disciples are to judge both teachers and of their doctrine.[8]

Charles Simeon (1759-1836) warns us that when we go out to preach the Gospel, some with perverted minds prefer arguments and debates instead of seeking the truth. Some are not open to receiving instruction. They have certain principles in their mind, which bias them on all subjects, and they have a certain pleasure in being one-of-a-kind. Things that are plain and obvious to others are not so to them because their minds are packed with objections. These are ideas and concepts they had to go far out of their way to find. For instance, some will lay far greater importance on what Nostradamus had to say than on what the Spirit revealed to Ezekiel, Daniel, John, or Paul. It seems that they are at issue with somebody on every subject, including their closest friends. Their intent is not to compare what they know or believe with what you are quoting from the Gospel, but to prevail in drawing others into the same whirlpool of delusion in which they are drowning.[9]

Roman Catholic George Haydock (1778-1862) again quotes Robert Witham (1667–1738), [10] who said Christians are of God and apostles of the Anointed One because they have received the Spirit and are sent by Him. That is, they who love and serve God and comply with the doctrine of His Son, Jesus the Anointed One, and follow the doctrine which He commissioned them to teach. On the other hand, those who are not of God pay no attention to us. Consequently, they refuse to hear and obey the voice of the Church and those whom the Anointed One appointed to govern His Church, as has been observed elsewhere. So, by this, we identify the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error. Here Apostle John gives them the second general mark and rule to preserve them and all Christians from errors and heresies to the end of the world. As such, those who know God, who heard the Apostles, now hear their successors who are invested with the same mission and authority. They have been sent by the Anointed One, as His heavenly Father sent Him, whom He appointed to govern His Church, and with whom He promised to remain to the end of the world.[11]

We must realize that the Roman Catholic Church at that time did not consider itself to be one of many denominations in the spiritual body of the Anointed One, but the ONLY one authorized by God to interpret His Word and shepherd His church, all other churches were outside this exclusive partnership with God and His Son. Today, the Roman Catholic Church is more ecumenical and open toward Protestants. But inwardly, many are still of the same mind as was George Haydock, Robert Witham, and Richard Challoner (1691-1781).[12]

Gottfried C. F. Lücke (1791-1855) is surprised at how easily some people deceive themselves about the divine Spirit in themselves and others, for there is also a spirit of illusion and error, which times of great spiritual revival, when illusions and a hypocritical pretense of the divine Spirit so easily rise, and truth and error are deceitfully blended together – Another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in a different kind of language, and to still another the interpretation what was said.[13] John established using a trial of the spirits as a duty for his readers. In doing so, he gave them the same method to use.[14] John also consoles and encourages them by this sentiment, that they, as true believers, already gained a victory (over the illusive spirits) and that the divine Spirit dwelling in them is greater than the spirit of the world, the spirit of seduction.[15]


[1] The name Ebonites, was first used by bishop Irenaeus of Lyons (Gaul) in the late second century to designate a Jewish Christian sect. They believed in one God and taught that Jesus was the Messiah and was the true “prophet” mentioned in Deuteronomy 18:15. They rejected the Virgin Birth of Jesus, instead holding that He was the natural son of Joseph and Mary. They believed that Jesus became the Messiah because He obeyed the Jewish Law.

[2] Finlayson, Robert: First Epistle of John, Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 22, op. cit., Homiletics, pp. 126-127

[3] Rothe, Richard: The Expository Times, December 1893, p. 126

[4] John 4:47

[5] Ibid. 18:37

[6] Plummer, Alfred: Cambridge Commentary, op. cit., p. 145

[7] 1 John 4:4

[8] Benson, Joseph: Commentary of the Old and New Testaments, Vol. 3, p. 11582

[9] Simeon, Charles: Horae Homileticae, op. cit., Discourse 2454, p. 4755

[10] Robert Witham was an English Roman Catholic college head and biblical scholar.

[11] Haydock, George: Catholic Bible Commentary, op. cit., loc. cit.

[12] Robert Challoner was Bishop of Debra in the London District, author of spiritual and controversial works including Britannia Sancta (1745). 

[13] 1 Corinthians 12:10

[14] See 1 John 4:23

[15] Lücke, Gottfried: Interpretations of the First Epistle of St. John, Seventh Section

About drbob76

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