WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER FOUR (Lesson XLV) 03/22/22

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.

Judith M. Lieu (1951) sees that the Apostle John once again echoes other sources available in his day in setting the Spirit and spirit within this dualistic framework. Perhaps most verbally striking is a passage from the Testament of Judah: “Recognize, my children, that two spirits are active in humanity, that of truth and that of deceit.” “Indeed, those works of deceit and those of truth are inscribed on the human heart.” [1] In contrast to the Apostle John, the two spirits appear to be conflicting dispositions or tendencies inherent in human beings, and elsewhere in the Covenants, there are multiple harmful spirits. However, the spirit of deceit appears to be preeminent.[2] Now Judah can look forward to the day when “there shall no longer be the spirit of error of Belial[3] because he shall be cast into the fire forever.[4] [5]

Ben Witherington III (1951) says that in these verses, we find different ways of concluding who genuine Christians are: do they accept and apply godly teaching from those who indeed know God in their lives? The Apostle John says confidently, “Anyone who knows God pays attention to us and our teaching.” This is not egotism, but rather confidence coming from a long walk with Jesus, a lengthy teaching ministry, and a firm conviction that what He says was from God. John does not doubt that he and other apostolic witnesses are “of God” and “know God.”[6] Perhaps that is why Nicodemus did not go to fellow Jewish Sanhedrin members to learn how to enter the Kingdom of Heaven; he went to Jesus, the King of Heaven’s Kingdom.[7] So likewise, an unbeliever would not have a chat with their unregenerate friends, instead, go to a born-again believer and ask. The same can be said of preachers and teachers; why should a believer go to hear someone only familiar with the Bible when they can listen to a seasoned student of God’s Word who has the anointing of the Holy Spirit?

Gary M. Burge (1952) notes that the Apostle John’s second test involves audiences and finding out who celebrates the Apostles’ teaching? Where does it find a ready following? John frequently refers to “the world,[8] and in some cases, he sees it simply as a place of lifeless unbelief. Nevertheless, God loves this world and sent His Son to save it, [9] even though the world is where false teachings germinate.[10] In fact, John says that the world is under the power of the evil one.[11] Therefore, it is no surprise that if false prophecies originate with an ungodly spirit, these utterances will find a ready reception. On the other hand, it is the Church’s response to test the reliability of a word from the Lord.[12] God’s people know the sound of His voice – like sheep with a shepherd.[13] There is also harmony in communion between the Holy Spirit, the preacher, and the believer’s spirit. When God’s Spirit inspires a minister of the Gospel, God’s people will discern its truth.[14]

Marianne Meye Thompson (1964) notes that the Apostle John offers a second way by which one may test the spirits – by evaluating the response that the speaker receives. Verses five and six echo John’s sentiments.[15] In the final analysis, the world’s response to Jesus’ disciples mirrors its response to Jesus and God. Reversing this chain of reaction, John can also say that those who have responded to God react positively to Jesus and His disciples by listening to them. Listening means “give an ear” more than simply giving them a hearing; it implies absorption with what is heard.

Thompson now suggests three guidelines for testing the Spirits with discernment, that is, wisdom, care, and humility. (1) We are called on as a corporate community to test the spirits. The spirits in view are the teachings and practices threatening the Church’s mission and instructions. (2) It is also crucial to remember what we are to test. We are not called to test every belief and practice of every individual who claims to be a Christian. (3) We are to discern what is main stream to Christian faith and doctrine. Within the Church’s life, some issues are more central than others, and few if any are more central than the Anointed One and salvation. In summation, says Thompson, two extremes are to be avoided, (a) On the one hand, we ought not to rush to judgment on others. On the other hand, (b) the church cannot avoid its task to teach and nurture people in the Christian faith.[16]

Ken Johnson (1965) notes that in verses four to seven, the Apostle John contrasts true believers who listened to him because he had the Spirit of truth with unbelievers who did not listen to him because they had the spirit of error.[17] But the true believers were able to win the victory over the false pretenders because God lives in them, and He is much more potent than they are. After all, look at the unsuccessful anti-Christian Jews, Romans, heretics, Gnostics, persecutors, Nazism, communism, atheism, Islam, etc.

Peter Pett (1966) says the question here is who are “we?” Does the Apostle John mean “Apostles” of whom he is now the representative, or does he mean “Churches,” especially the duly appointed leaders? Either way, John’s message is emphatic. “We are of God.” The Greek preposition ek is translated to designate where a person is from.[18] It also means to: eject an object, [19] select an object, [20] a source, a person, or a thing, [21] arrive from, [22] etc. So, whoever is of God, is who or what they are because God was the source of their creation. We can thank our parents for being born in this world, but in a spiritual sense, to be born again means if it weren’t for God, we wouldn’t be spiritually alive. Thus, we have the truth. And those who know God hear us because the anointing within them reveals to them the truth through the word. On the other hand, some do not pay attention to us. This demonstrates that they are not of God. That is how the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error can be detected, by whether such people speak in accordance with the true servants of the Spirit, with the true Apostolic doctrine.[23]

Duncan Heaster (1967) teaches that being “of God,” born of Him by the Spirit, [24] is presented as being in opposition to being “of the [Jewish] world.” John himself was a Jew and was not anti-Semite, but presents the world of Judaism, with their conscious denial of Jesus as the Messiah, as being absolutely opposed to the things of God. Those who were not born of God by the Spirit would not “hear” the teaching of John and his team. Yet, they had the tendency to refuse their teaching, which the Comforter taught them. It was more proof that these hearers were not “of God.” There is an intuitive bonding between all who have the Lord’s spirit. Those who were out of step with the teaching of spirit-filled teachers like John were thereby discernible as “the spirit of error.” “Error” is more like “deceit.” The same word is used of the spirit that the Lord would send upon the Jewish world in Greek.[25] [26]

Karen H. Jobes (1968) says that nothing worse could be expected when the One who created the world than that He was not recognized by the world’s people.[27] When the Word of God came to redeem the world, He was rejected.[28] In verse six, John draws the boundary of these dualities: truth and error, God and the world, those of God and those of the world – and the dividing line between the acceptance and rejection of the apostolic teaching that he offers. The issue implicitly is about who gets to say what is true about God and the Anointed One and the salvation offered to the world. Who gets to speak for God in this world? Some may feel that John is being arrogant to hold up his beliefs as the only truth about God. Don’t the opinions and beliefs of others count equally? But he is not being arrogant; he is taking a stand for truth as he urges his readers to remain with him in the safety of the apostolic teaching of those commissioned as witnesses of the Anointed One, who have seen and heard and touched the Life that was revealed.[29] [30]

David Guzik (1984) points out that the Apostle John says that those of God enjoy fellowship with other believers; they speak the common language of fellowship with God and each other because one flows from the other.[31] Guzik then states that the language here in verses five and six transcends language, culture, class, race, or any additional barrier. It is a true gift from God. That’s why he is mystified by what we find in the official doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church. They claim to be the “us” (in verse six) of those who know God hears us, while those who are not of God do not hear us.[32] But John can only be talking about the apostles and their authoritative revelation in the Bible when he says to us. When we know God and are of God, we hear what the Bible says. If this were merely an individual talking, the claim would be presumptuous. But it is not. It is the Apostle John citing the collective testimony of all the apostles. That testimony has become the measure of truth and sound doctrine for the whole Church.[33]


[1] The Testament of Judah 20:1, 3

[2] Cf. The Testament of Reuben, 2:1; 3:2

[3] Belial is a compound word, believed to have been taken from the Hebrew beliy, meaning “not,” and ya’al, meaning “profit” or “benefit.” It is used twenty-six times in the Old Testament, usually translated as “worthless” in the New American Standard Bible, but also as “base,” “destruction,” “rascally,” and “wicked.” In the earlier books of the Old Testament, when describing a wicked person, the King James sometimes uses “son of Belial” (or “daughter,” “man,” or “people” of Belial). Like many other uses of the term son of, the expression “son of Belial” doesn’t imply that Belial is a real person who fathers children; rather, it’s a description of people characterized by worthlessness or corruption. See Deuteronomy 13:13, Judges 19:22; 20:13; 1 Samuel 1:16 etc., 2 Samuel 16:7 etc., 1 Kings 21:10, 13; 2 Chronicles 13:7; 2 Corinthians 6:15

[4] The Testament of Judah, 25:3

[5] Lieu, Judith: The New Testament Commentary, op. cit., p. 174

[6] Witherington III, Ben, Letters and Homilies for Hellenized Christians: op. cit., loc. cit., (Kindle Locations 7118-7121)

[7] John 3:1-12

[8] The word “World” appears twenty-four times in the New Testament

[9] 1 John 2:2, 15, 17; 4:9, 14; 5:4-5

[10] Ibid. 3:1, 13; 4:1

[11] Ibid. 5:19

[12] Cf. 1 John 4:5-6

[13] John 10:4ff

[14] Burge, Gary M., The Letters of John (The NIV Application Commentary), op. cit., pp. 176-177

[15] John 15:18-23

[16] Thompson, Marianne M., The IVP New Testament Commentary, op. cit., pp. 117-119

[17] Johnson, Ken. Ancient Epistles of John and Jude, op. cit., p. 77

[18] Matthew 1:3

[19] Ibid. 7:5

[20] Ibid. 10:29

[21] Ibid. 12:42; 17:5

[22] Ibid. 21:25

[23] Pett, Peter: Commentary on the Bible, op. cit., PDF. loc. cit.

[24] John 1:13; 3:5

[25] 2 Thessalonians 2:11

[26] Heaster, Duncan: New European Commentary, op. cit., 1 John, p. 31

[27] John 1:10

[28] Ibid. 1:11

[29] Ibid. 1:1-4

[30] Jobes, Karen H., 1, 2, and 3 John (Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on The New Testament, Book 18), pp. 183-184

[31] 1 John 1:3

[32] See Roman Catholic Church Catechism, Section two, Ch. 3, Article 9, §III

[33] Guzik, David: Enduring Word, op. cit., loc. cit.

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s