WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER FOUR (Lesson XL) 03/15/22

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.

Daniel Steele (1824-1914) says that “The world listens to those who express their thoughts; the Christian listens to those who teach God’s thoughts.” The readiness to hear springs from a living, growing knowledge, which welcomes and appropriates the truth. The phrase “He who is not of God” does not exclude true moral responsibility. They have determined their character by the perverse attitude of their will, by which they shut out “the Spirit of truth,” which enables the seeking soul to see it. In the absence of the Spirit of truth, the evil spirit, the father of lies, fills the empty and darkened soul with various forms of religious error. That makes them vulnerable to misbelief, disbelief, and unbelief.[1]

William Lincoln (1825-1888) says that the meaning of the expression “We are of God” is this: We, who are the apostles of God, witness how the Anointed One lived; we testify what the Anointed One’s path was; we know that the way of the Anointed One was the path of humbleness; this the world does not want to hear. I have sometimes listened to these words commented on this way, says Lincoln: No one is as divinely inspired today as the Apostle John was then, and, therefore, no one may speak so authoritatively as John did. That is true enough, but that hardly touches the sentiment of the passage; it has a deal more in it than that. The meaning is that the inspired apostles of the Lord and Savior testify that the path of the Lord Jesus was a road, from up to down, a way of self-humiliation, a path of taking the lower place, looking for God to exalt Him in His time. That’s why John said the world was not interested in listening to them, but the children of God are the ones who need to listen. That is the meaning of the passage.[2]

Henry A. Sawtelle (1832-1913) says that by the Apostle John saying “We are of God,” he means that we are allied to Him in spiritual nature through the new birth; in contrast with the antichrists. And as such, we understand God’s message and preach it. By “we,” John means especially himself and the true teachers, not excluding, however, any of the spiritual body. The Church speaks doctrine through its teachers. Practical knowledge is the knowledge that receives its object. The hearing is more than what enters the ear; it is willing to adopt the teaching as agreeing with the heart’s knowledge of God. The heart and the doctrine are in one sphere.

On the other hand, those not of God won’t listen to us. They do not have the spiritual mind, [3] but the unspiritual, which goes after the separatists, prefers human philosophy to the true word. We should know that the one which most readily hears shows what spirit they have, to what nature or sphere they belong. Knowledge is a quality, hence the knowledge of discrimination – the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error. The Spirit of truth is the Holy Spirit in His relation to truth.[4] The spirit of error is the devil’s source of all false doctrine. They who welcome the Anointed One’s doctrines have the Spirit who gives them. Those whose soul takes naturally to false doctrine are in kinship with the arch seducer, liar, and wanderer.[5]

Sawtelle also believes that the last words of verse six look back to the opening words of this chapter, while verse seven looks forward to the following message John wants to share. Greek word scholar W. E. Vine says that the resumption of the subject of brotherly love is not by way of a sharp break from what has immediately preceded. On the contrary, it is closely connected with it, since the Spirit of Truth produces love, whereas the spirit of error is ever against it. Love proceeds from God. The anti-Christian spirit is selfish. This first of three parts of the epistle, dealing with brotherly love, was shown to be characteristic of walking in the light.[6] It is presented as a characteristic of God’s children and a mark of their righteous conduct[7] and is shown to proceed from God as being essentially His attribute and as having been manifested by Him in the Anointed One.[8] John Stott sees it as a summary of all that has been said before.[9] Either way, it all goes together regardless of chapter and verse divisions.

John James Lias (1834-1923) says that what the Apostle John writes here generally refers to teachers only. However, there is at least a secondary reference to all Christians both here and in verse fourteen. Certainly, they are all “of God,” if there be anything genuine in their Christianity. And as every Christian is bound to “give a reason for the hope that is in them,”[10] many to whom the Gospel has not been formally preached by the Anointed One’s ministers may have been able to “hear” the truth. So, the Apostle first (verse four) addresses his flock. John includes them in the same category as himself.[11]

Lias then admits that many tests exist to identify true Christians. Are those believers guided by the Spirit of the Anointed One, or not? (1) Do they seek to conform their opinions to those around them? Do they seek to avoid inconvenience or danger, or are they zealous for the truth and for it alone? (2) Do they seek to lead an easy life, cultivate the good opinion of their fellowman, and obtain from them what present advantages they can? Or do they set before them steadily what is right as their aim and object? (3) Do they endeavor to attain a standard not of this world but of the one above? Many call themselves disciples of the Anointed One, but we must renounce the world to be truly His.[12] [13]

A. T. Pierson (1837-1911) says that the secret of overcoming Satan is “He that is in you.” It refers to God, and “he that is in the world” refers to the devil. The first thought that strikes us is that there is no attempt in the Bible to deny or dispute the significant influence of Satan. On the contrary, the Bible represents Satan as the head of a great army of foes. If you examine the Epistles to the Ephesians and Colossians, you will find there seem to be seven grades of fallen angels, as there are seven grades of unfallen angels. We read of “Principalities,” “Powers,” “Dominions,” “Authorities,” “Rulers,” “Thrones,” “Wicked Spirits,” etc., and above them all, there is a rank of archangels or chief angels. So, we are to imagine Satan as the highest over the ranks of fallen angels.

Nevertheless, says Pierson, we are urged to remember that although Satan is powerful, let us look for a moment at the sovereignty of Jesus the Anointed One. In the first place, Jesus the Anointed One has all power. Satan has great power but not omnipotence. The Anointed One is not only a God of all power, but He is a God of all wisdom. Satan is wise, but he is not omniscient, and the Anointed One is. Then, Jesus, the Anointed One, is everywhere present. He is in your heart, and my heart, and the heart of every disciple, by the Holy Spirit, so that a true child of God we may still say, “He that is in you is greater than he that is in the world,” since He is the all-powerful, the all-wise, and the all-present God.[14]

God would have us contemplate this significant fact, that if Jesus the Anointed One dwells in us by the Holy Spirit, He makes us strong to overcome Satan, as Jesus was powerful enough to overcome the devil in the desert and in the Garden of Gethsemane, and that is the secret of our triumph over evil. We are told that when Hercules was a baby, some serpents came into the room and wound their way into the cradle and tried to sting him and fold their coils around him to choke the life out of him. But we are told in the fable that he just took hold of the necks of these serpents and strangled them to death with his little hands. So, God would have you feel that as a baby, the Anointed One rocked you in the cradle of the Church.

When you come into contact with the great serpent, the devil, if Jesus is in you, you can beat back the serpent, so he cannot strangle you. But remember this, that you are only strong when you are on the Lord’s ground, not on the devil’s ground. Pierson says he read a story about a swan walking on the shore of a lake, and a wolf came up and ran after the swan and would have torn it into pieces. But the swan said, “I am not strong on the land, but I am strong on the water.” So, it plunged into the water. Then, when the wolf followed, the swan with its strong bill gripped the wolf by the ears, pulling his head down under the water, and drowned him. There are a great many people who try to fight the devil on his territory, and they always get defeated, but if you meet the devil on the Lord’s ground, you will defeat him.[15]

Robert Cameron (1839-1904) reminds us that Satan is great in power, wisdom, and resources to attain his devilish ends. He molds the world, of which he is the energizing power. It lives, moves, and has its immoral and intellectual being in him. He dictates its laws, its code of honor, and its ethics. He is the ruler of its darkness. Likewise, he aims to have the religious part of this world content with the form instead of the power of godliness. He throws himself into the world’s moods and controls its longings. Then, when all is to his liking, he prepares his prophets and teachers to gratify its palate. Sometimes they are people of truth as well as of falsehood; sometimes, they are saintly individuals and even men and women of prayer who wander away from fellowship with God. Then he brings the characters he has doctored into contact with the diseased world and skillfully adjusts the one to the other. His prepared doctrines draw their inspiration from the world in its spirit, tendencies, and aims, and “the world listens to them.”

Erich Haupt’s (1841-1926) summation is that verses four through six contain testing the spirits. The relation between the Christian and the anti-Christian spirit is accordingly the means used by the Apostle John to bring out his subject. It is not the end he has in view: his sole end is that the Holy Spirit is the energy and spring of all spiritual activity. Therefore, trying the spirits appears at once in the fourth verse. It is declared a fact that John’s readers have the Holy Spirit and are, therefore, of God. This is John’s main proposition, which everything else leads up to. But this, of course, implies at the same time that the victory over the antichrists is achieved. That victory is accomplished (perfected) in that the church turned away from all error, and witnessed the good confession laid down in the preceding words, it has already been successful in the conflict and overcomes the anti-Christianity: yet not indeed in its power, but through the power of the Holy Spirit directing in it.


[1] Steele, Daniel: Half-Hour, op. cit., pp. 101-102

[2] Lincoln, William: Lectures on the Epistles of St. John, op. cit., Lecture VI, p. 112

[3] John 10:8; See 1 Corinthians 2:16

[4] John 14:17

[5] Sawtelle, Henry A., An American Commentary, Alvah Hovey Ed., op. cit., p. 48

[6] 1 John 2:7-11

[7] 1 John 3:10-18

[8] 1 John 4:7-21

[9] Sawtelle, Henry A., op. cit.

[10] 1 Peter 3:15

[11] Lias, John James: The First Epistle of St. John with Exposition, op. cit., p. 300

[12] See Matthew 6:19-21 Romans 12:2; 2 Corinthians 6:14-17; Colossians 3:2; James 4:4; 1 John 2:15-17

[13] Lias, John James: The First Epistle of St. John with Homiletical Treatment, op. cit., p. 303

[14] Pierson, A. T. An Exposition of the First Epistle of John, op. cit., Lecture XXX, p. 295

[15] Ibid. Biblical Illustrator, First Epistle of John, op. cit., p. 24

About drbob76

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