WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER FOUR (Lesson XLIV) 03/21/22

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.

Smith also sees that behind the controversy about true and false spirits reflected in verses one to six lies the phenomenon of spiritual authority and the problems exercising such influence can produce in the Church. It is likely we can trace the development of these concerns to John’s Gospel and Revelation. In the Gospel, Jesus repeatedly promises the disciples the infilling of the Holy Spirit[1] and tells them that this Spirit or Counselor will teach them the things they will need to know.[2] And in Revelation, says Smith, the Anointed One is portrayed as speaking directly to the Churches through the Spirit. In other words, what is happening in Revelation chapters 1-3 is not unlike what the Gospel of John would lead us to expect. Jesus promised further, direct revelation, and now He delivers. The Book of Revelation’s tone is pessimistic, not optimistic like John’s Gospel, but that is because of the behavior of the Churches in question.

The final statements of this part of 1 John chapter four may seem somewhat arrogant, says Smith. “We” here means John and his associates. He is the apostolic authority for this community of Christians, who know the One who was from the beginning, that is, Jesus. John bases his power not on any particular personal gift or capacity, but on this relationship with Jesus, who was from the beginning. He does not doubt the reality of his relationship with Jesus other than being one of His favorite disciples.[3]

Chapter four’s opening lines speak of seeing and contact but tantalize us with the first-person plural pronoun “we.”[4] Does John mean himself, along with others, were Jesus’ contemporaries, or does he imply that he stands in solidarity with an earlier generation of eyewitnesses? In any event, his confidence remains steadfast on the reality of having known and fellowshipped with Jesus in person.[5] While we may not have the same physical contact with Jesus as John did, we can know Him personally through our union and fellowship with Him by His Spirit.

Stephen S. Smalley (1931-2018) observes that what the Apostle John says here in the first part of verse six is not the opposite of what he says in the second part. Initially, John made it clear that anyone born of God pays attention to the Apostle’s message, while those not born of God have little or no interest. But the real difference is that those who listen know God deeply and intimately, while those who don’t listen do not know God at all and, therefore, have no personal relation with Him. So, these are not opposite or optional responses but juxtapositions.[6] That means we show how they contrast by placing them side by side.[7]

Messianic writer David Stern (1935) says that among the false prophets whom the world will listen to will be some who have “gone out from us,[8] who have at one time or another claimed to be Messianic but have renounced their faith. It is helpful to see that Yochanan (Hebrew for “John”) recognized such a category of people. His advice is to beware of their errors but not become preoccupied with trying to win them back.[9] Instead, we should take as our guideline that whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God doesn’t listen to us; like Yochanan, we can be satisfied with that.[10]

Michael Eaton (1942-2017) says we must remember that John received the power of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. You can hardly expect someone baptized with this kind of power and illumination to be using “ifs” and “maybes” and “perhaps.” The modern Christian often uses similar language. The outside world finds it hard to understand, and authentic Christian language must seem arrogant. But there is not much we can do about it! When God speaks, He can speak in such a way that we know we have heard Him!

All we can do for friends who think we are arrogant, says Easton, is to remind them that we are pointing to historical facts that can be investigated, such as the resurrection of Jesus and the origin of the Christian Church. We can know the power of the Holy Spirit by coming to Jesus! The historical facts of the Gospel are there for anyone who wants to investigate. Yet, there is an even greater way; God is there. God is close to us. He is the one who sustains life and arranges our existence. God wanted people to look for him, and perhaps in searching all around for him, they would find him. But he is not far from any of us.[11]

William Loader (1944) finds that the comforting words in verse six could read like the worst kind of self-congratulation: “I knew I was right!” But in the context of the epistle, they must be seen as giving expression to a confidence that rests not on arrogance or status but belief in love. Ultimately, the Apostle John does not depend on his authority through a narrow religious self-assurance, but on the belief that God is loving and God’s agápe-love reaches all human flesh. That conviction extends to the confidence that people in touch with this God of love will inevitably respond positively to the preaching of the community. Whoever is for the Gospel of Love will be for this community, and whoever is against such love will reject it. As long as the community remains faithful to its received doctrines, its response will be a reliable spiritual yardstick in measuring the spirit of truth and that of error.[12]

David Jackman (1947) notes that because we learned that belief and behavior are harnessed together, we are not surprised to find that the Apostle John expands how his tests of the spirits work out by looking beyond the content of the false teaching to the effects it produces. Verses four, five, and six begin with different pronouns, introducing a diverse group of people. In the NIV, verse four refers to all Christians as “You,” then in verse five, “They” to the non-Christian false prophets, and in verse six “We” to the apostles and the true teachers who stand in the valid apostolic succession. In our age of always trying to be relative, we constantly need to be reminded that some things are continuously true and others consistently false. Truth is not just the present consensus; its character defines it. Today’s false prophets are just as persuasive and lethal as the first centuries. They will say the Bible has a resurrection, but that the human body of the Anointed One was not raised on the third day. The spirit of falsehood is a spirit of deceit. We know God by receiving the Apostles’ teaching and living a life that harmonizes with this truth. Substitutes are unacceptable.[13]

John W. (Jack) Carter (1947) says that it is easy for some to hear what sounds like logical, impressive, and charismatic arguments when they come from those who sound authoritative. It is human nature to submit to those who are seemingly more powerful, whether their power is in physical or philosophical force. John reminds the faithful that, as powerful and charismatic as those who preach false doctrines may appear, they are still of the world, still submitted to the prince of darkness. Because of this, regardless of their influence, the Holy Spirit’s power within every believer’s heart is the real source. Against the power of the LORD, the antichrist is impotent, and so are his followers.[14] It’s another way of saying that any power anti-Christians have comes from external factors such as reputation, financial status, political influence, educational endorsement, or respect among like-minded people. But the power of any Christian comes from internal features, including the presence of God’s almighty Spirit to persuade and bring conviction.

Robert W. Yarbrough (1948) sees the function of verse six in context reaffirms the apostolic origin of the Apostle John’s message, in contrast to deceptive currents swirling around. There are two consequences to this. First, those who know God hear and accept what John says or writes, and those who are “not of God” refuse to heed John’s voice. Second, the division of the house that John’s message generates has a wholesome result: “This is how we know.” Such division validates the “spirit of truth” that John thinks he upholds, just as it sheds light on the mistaken aspects of “the spirit of error” that John has been warning against. It is hard to ponder verse six without being reminded of the earlier schism.[15] The division is painful, but sometimes it is necessary, and when necessary, it may even have a consoling aspect. John seems to be stating that the clarity that results from people showing their true colors is valuable. Out of the pot of disagreement or error may come an occasion for discerning God’s Spirit of truth from imposters or pretenders’ spirits of deception. The apostolic testimony provides resources for informed deliberation and confirmation of wise choice on such occasions.[16]

Colin G. Kruse (1950) notes the Apostle John’s reference to the two spirits is reminiscent of teaching about “the spirits of truth and falsehood” in the Qumran scrolls, [17] indicating that the author used a well-known concept here. The whole section is concerned with testing the spirits “to see whether they are of God.[18] The first concerns the confession that Jesus the Anointed One came in the flesh.[19] The second concern is to be on the lookout for those who make such confessions. John tells his readers that they may distinguish the Spirit of truth from the spirit of falsehood by applying these two related tests. In this context, they will be able to recognize that the secessionists are not speaking by the Spirit of God (the Spirit of truth) but by the spirit of antichrist (the spirit of falsehood). It is important to note that here, it is implied that the role of the Spirit is to bear witness to the truth about Jesus the Anointed One.[20]


[1] See John 14:15-17

[2] Ibid. 14:26; 16:12-15

[3] See John 20:2

[4] Cf. John 1:1-18; 21:24

[5] Smith, D. Moody, Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, op. cit., p. 99

[6] Juxtaposition is defined as two things being seen or placed close together with contrasting effect.

[7] Smalley, Stephen S., Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 51., op. cit., pp 229-230

[8] 1 John 2:19

[9] Cf. 1 Timothy 1:20

[10] Stern, David H., Jewish New Testament Commentary, Kindle Edition.

[11] Eaton, Michael: Focus on the Bible, 1,2,3 John, op. cit., pp. 138-140

[12] Loader, William: Epworth Commentary, op. cit., p. 51

[13] Jackman, David: The Message of John’s Letters, op. cit., pp. 114, 116

[14] Carter, Dr. John W. (Jack). 1,2,3, John & Jude: Holding to the Truth in Love (The Disciple’s Bible Commentary Book 48), pp. 102-103

[15] See 1 John 2:19

[16] Yarbrough, Robert W., 1-3 John (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament), op. cit., p. 229

[17] Dead Scrolls, (1QS 3:18-19, 25)

[18] 1 John 4:1

[19] Ibid. 4:2-3

[20] Kruse, Colin G, The Letters of John (The Pillar New Testament Commentary (PNTC)), op. cit., loc. cit., Kindle Edition.

About drbob76

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