WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

by Dr. Robert R Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER FOUR (Lesson XLII) 03/17/22

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.

Alan E. Brooke (1863-1939) tells us that if the readers of this Epistle were true to themselves, they would have nothing to fear from the Antichristian spirits at work in the world. By virtue of the new birth, which as genuine Christians, they experienced, they gained the victory over the false prophets, and the fruit of the spiritual success are theirs unless they forfeit them. They did not triumph in their strength. It was God who fought for them and through them. And God is greater than the devil who rules in the world. The false prophets are essentially “of the world.” All that dominates their life and action comes from it. They derived their teaching from the world’s wisdom, not God’s revelation in His Son. And so, their message is welcomed by those who belong to the world. The Apostle John and his fellow teachers are conscious that their new life originated in God. Those of God who live their lives learning to know Him better receive the message in the gradual assimilation of God’s revelation through His Son. It is only rejected by those, not God, and has no interest in knowing Him. The character of those who welcome or reject the message they hear helps us distinguish the spirit of truth from the spirit of falsehood.[1]

David Smith (1866-1932) points out that those getting to know God understands His messengers’ language and listen to it, that is, not just hearing. People’s attitude to the message of the Incarnate Savior ranks them either on God’s side or the worlds. Of course, the Apostle John does not ignore the advice of the Apostle Paul. “We will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching.”[2] We will not people try to trick us with clever lies that sound like the truth. Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like the Anointed One, “who is the head of His body, the church.”[3] The message may be the truth and be rejected, not because of the hearers’ worldliness, but because it is wrongly delivered – not graciously and inviting.[4]

Albert Barnes (1872-1951) states that we can distinguish those who cling to the truth from those who do not. Whatever pretensions they might offer to appear religious, it was clear that if they did not embrace the doctrines taught by God’s apostles. Therefore, no one regarded them as God’s friends, as true Christians. The same test applies now to those who do not receive the fundamental doctrines laid down in the Word of God. Whatever hypocrisy they may engage in to look holy, or whatever zeal they may demonstrate in the cause they advocate, can have no well-founded claims to the name Christian. The undeniable evidence of godliness is a readiness to receive all that God’s Word teaches.[5] [6]

Charles H. Dodd (1884-1973) says it is interesting to recall a somewhat similar treatment of false prophecy in the First Covenant. Several of the great prophets were troubled by the appearance of men whose inspiration is superficially similar to theirs, while their influence upon the people is disastrous. In Deuteronomy, [7] there is the case of a false prophet who attempts to lead the people into idolatry. Everyone understood that they must reject him, even though signs and wonders accompany his words. It affords a parallel to the treatment of the matter in verse six. The fundamental doctrine of Judaism is monotheism; no utterance, however inspired, which contradicts the principle of One God, can be accepted as true prophecy. Likewise, the fundamental doctrine of Christianity is the Incarnation; Christians cannot take any so-called inspired utterance which denies Incarnation as true prophecy.

Both religions recognize the freedom of the Spirit, and both owe something of their essential character to its exercise. But both of necessity draw a line beyond which the demands of some fundamental truth restrain such freedom. Most Christian Declarations of Faith begin this way: “We believe in one God eternally existing in three persons – Father, Son, and Spirit. The Father has remained invisible; the Son was manifested in human flesh, and the Spirit has been demonstrated in the form of a dove, wind, and fire.” All of this is substantiated by Scripture. To violate such a creed is to deny the Word of God.[8]

Rudolf Bultmann (1884-1976) states that the difference between the spirit of truth and the spirit of deception becomes discernible in whether the proclaimed Word is listened to or not. “Spirit of truth” naturally means the same thing as “Spirit of God.”[9] The “spirit of error” is satanic power at work in the false teachers. These are they of whom it is said in that “they would deceive you,”[10] and “against whom” warns: “let no one deceive you.”[11] The entire section 4:1-6 sets in bold relief the decisive contrast between “God’s kingdom” and “Satan’s world,” truth and delusion, and thus true faith and false teaching.[12]

Greville P. Lewis (1891-1976) raises an issue that most of us have pondered during our ministry. What did the Apostle John mean when he said, “We speak for the whole Church?” He says he represents those who “know God,” namely, those who have a vital experience of Him. They are the ones who will listen to our message. But, as expected, John says those will ignore what we say.[13]

Like similar words of Jesus, [14] this statement says Lewis suggests that some people are potential Christians by their very nature, and others are not. Are there two sorts of people; those drawn to God and those who pay Him no attention? Does this explain why some people listen to our messages, and some have nothing to do with it? It is a mystery – and John is not dealing with it; his only purpose is to encourage the faithful by assuring them that heretics have little access to God, but they have unlimited access to Him for believers.[15]

William Barclay (1907-1978) hears the Apostle John tell his readers that they need not be afraid of the heretics. The Anointed One has already won the victory of all evil powers and has given us the same ability to be victorious.[16] The main problem we face as believers is that these false teachers will neither listen to nor accept the truth, we offer them from God’s Word. That’s logical, for how can anyone who believes that the basis of life is competition for the survival of the fittest is to understand an ethic whose keynote is service? The answer must be that there are no limits to the grace of God and that there is such a person as the Holy Spirit who can break down every barrier with the power of love. Even if they resist to the end, as their souls leave their bodies, they will still hear Jesus knocking at the door, asking if He can come in.[17] [18]

William Neil (1909-1979) notes that the Apostle John tells his community, “We must be careful!” It was needed to distinguish who speaks the truth in God’s Spirit’s power and those who left the Church. The test is whether they believe and proclaim that Jesus the Anointed One was human. We must distinguish between those who speak the truth in God’s Spirit and those saying what is not true. These were spokesmen for the antichrist, such as those who left the Church. Only when they confess that Jesus the Anointed One was divine and human. This is the truth that will prevail until the end, when He returns. Not to believe this will disqualify anyone from being counted as a child of God.[19]

Paul Waitman Hoon (1910-2000) summarizes that all the Apostle John has said in the last three verses fits together: evil character, false thinking, false speaking, rejection of truth, and world-mindedness. What a worldly person says tells us more about them than anything else. That’s why they all understand each other so well. As the old saying goes, “Birds of a feather flock together.”[20] They live by their standards, values, and ethics. They bestow their rewards for certain behavior. They don’t like correction or punishment because what they do is so natural. How can you discipline someone for being themselves? Tragically, says Hoon, there is comradeship in evil as in good, in error as in truth.[21] [22]

Rudolf Schnackenburg (1914-2002) states that the Apostle John’s “belonging to God” is now referred to as “knowing” Him, an expression the Gnostics used as a slogan in their interests.[23] Earlier, John deprived them of this weapon when discussing moral issues.[24] Then he assured his readers that it is they who knew.[25] This time, in dealing with faith, he insists that those who know God listens to the Christians. Curiously, knowing God is represented not as the goal but as the origin of the religious pilgrimage. It means the same thing as “belonging to the truth[26] and possessing the “Spirit of truth.”

Now here in verse six, John does not take up or recapitulate the rules for distinguishing the spirits as in verses two and three, for the phrase “knows God” can hardly refer back that far. Instead, it means that we can see from their behavior who listens to the Anointed One’s message and which spirit laid hold of them. The words “the spirit” are not the human spirit influenced by truth or error, like “every spirit” in verses 2b and 3a. Rather, as the article also shows, it is the driving power, like “the Spirit of God” in verse two and the “spirit of the antichrist” in verse three. The term “Spirit of truth” reminds us of the Paraclete sayings in the farewell discourses.[27]As in verse three, the phrase “the Spirit of truth” avoids personalizing the opposing power but marks the influence as of satanic origin.[28]


[1] Brooke, Alan E., A Critical and Exegetical Commentary, op. cit., p. 114

[2] Ephesians 4:14

[3] Ibid. 4:15

[4] Smith, David: Expositor’s Greek Testament, op. cit., p. 190

[5] Matthew 18:1-3; Mark 10:15 James 1:19-21; Cf. Isaiah 8:20

[6] Barnes, Albert: New Testament Notes, op. cit., pp. 4862-4863

[7] Deuteronomy 13:1-4

[8] Dodd, Charles: The Johannine Epistles, The Moffatt New Testament Commentary, op. cit., pp. xix, 99

[9] Cf. 1 John 2:17

[10] Ibid. 2:26

[11] Ibid. 3:7

[12] Bultmann, Rudolf: Hermaneia, Critical and Historical Commentary, op. cit., p. 61

[13] Cf. 1 Corinthians 2:11-12

[14] See Matthew 11:25; John 8:7; 10:27

[15] Lewis, Greville P., Epworth Bible Commentary, the Johannine Epistles, op. cit., pp. 95-96

[16] Romans 8:31, 37; 1 Corinthians 15:57; 2 Corinthians 2:14; Philippians 4:13

[17] Revelation 3:20

[18] Barclay, William: The Daily Study Bible, op. cit., pp. 107-108

[19] Cf. John 1:12

[20] The phrase ‘birds of the same feather flock together’ is at least over 476 years old. It was in use as far back as the mid-16th century. Early British Anglican Reformation leader Dr. William Turner is said to have used a version of this expression in The Huntyng and Fyndyng out of the Romish fox , from the year 1545: “Byrdes of on kynde and color flok and flye allwayes together.” He was speaking of the Roman Catholic Church.

[21] Hoon, Paul W., The Interpreter’s Bible, op. cit., 1 John, Exegesis, p. 277

[22] Neil, William: Harper’s Bible Commentary, op. cit., p. 529

[23] 1 John 2:4

[24] Ibid. 2:3-6

[25] Ibid. 2:13-14

[26] John 18:37

[27] Ibid. 14:17; 15:26; 16:13

[28] Cf. 1 John 4:4

About drbob76

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