WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER FOUR (Lesson XLVIII) 03/25/22

4:7 Dear friends, let us practice loving each other, for love comes from God, and those who are loving and kind show that they are God’s children and are getting to know Him better.

William E. Jelf (1811-1875) states that as agápe-love flows from God, it follows that everyone possessed of this attribute could have only received it from God. It was part of God’s creation. We may observe that the love here spoken of is not limited to love between Christians born of God, but it is “everyone.” If love existed in a heathen, it was part of God’s original creation, created in God’s image. Even heathen virtues flow from and are the gift of God’s creative power. There is no reason why we should not receive this or view it as incompatible with the notion of the re-created Christian, in which also love forms an important element.[1]

John Stock (1817-1884) makes these points: The Apostle John enforces the duty of a believer’s agápe-love. The Apostle Paul also affirms that no gift or possession void of love is helpful to anyone who claims them.[2] In fact, as it pertains to respecting a person’s spiritual life, they are insignificant if their acts of kindness are not permeated with love. No doubt, that’s why John exalts love, showing its happy possessor to be one that is born of God. Nevertheless, even they require fresh stimulants to keep alive the divine flame, so John urges mutual love. They were no mountain peak that chilled the atmosphere and enveloped in dense fog, endangering navigation. Instead, they are a star of no small radiance in their Redeemer’s hand and filled with the Holy Spirit. Therefore, mutual respect and lukewarm affection do not fulfill our Lord’s commandment. John joins the Apostle Peter, who said, “You were cleansed from your sins when you obeyed the truth, so now you must show sincere love to each other as brothers and sisters. Love each other deeply with all your heart.”[3] [4]

Johannes H. A. Ebrard (1818-1888) says that on that very account, the presence of love in a person is a token that they are born of God – thus that they are born again. Think of it, the fact that people can see God’s agápe-love in you is all they need to believe that you are God’s child. Agápe-love means true, self-consecrating, self-devoting, self-sacrificing love. It bears no resemblance to that natural pseudo-love with roots in the flesh, in self-seeking and subtle self-satisfaction, and either puffs itself up with sentimentality or strives to earn its approval. And knowing God: how the knowledge of God is connected with those born of God, may be seen in other verses.[5] [6]

Bishop Harvey Goodwin (1818-1891) says that it should be expected that in some quarters today, there exists a denial that brotherly love rests upon loving God because there are numerous doubts about being of God altogether. It is not merely the proposition “God is love,” which is contested, but the previous and more straightforward proposition “God is.” It is as old as the fool in Psalm fourteenth. On many occasions, political and social attitudes assumed by some of our scientific community and the trend in much of our current literature tend to give prominence and practical importance to the denial that “God is,” which was unheard of a century ago.[7]

But there is another tendency of our times, says Goodwin, which ought to be noted, and it is the tendency to deny that “God is love.” The first part of the proposition, we are sometimes told, may be accepted if you think it worth asserting: if you like to explain the order of the physical universe by the hypothesis of what you call God, there is no harm in it, any more than making the theory of an elastic medium pervading space, or of fluid electricity, or anything else which is theoretical: but the moment you attribute purpose, and will, and love, and the exercise of moral government to this imaginary God, then you are told that you fly in the face of modern observation and discovery. You are told, in fact, that the God whom science has revealed is an unbending, invariable, relentless, pitiless law, as different from love as the strokes of a steam engine are from the throbbing of a mother’s heart.

Not only should we continue to believe, encourages Goodwin, that the truth “God is love” is too genuine to be overthrown by any one of these unproven philosophies. We must keep our faith that rests upon grounds deeper, more theological, and more systematic than any denials or objections that oppose it. Believe that there is something in the human heart, in the universal nature of mankind, to which it appeals and to which it cannot petition in vain. In the Final Covenant, the proposition “God is love” is not an abstract theorem to be proven by the help of sayings and guesses, but it is the condensation in these three words of the life of Jesus the Anointed One, our Lord.

When we see that weary, wandering Son of man “going about doing good,[8] when we see Him feeding the hungry, healing the sick, listen to Him preaching the Gospel to the poor, and still more when we see Him nailed to the cross of shame, then we must bow our heads in humble adoration, and say, “In very deed and truth, God is love.”[9] This demonstration of the agápe-love of God has changed the face of the world: many of its most crying evils have ceased; a bright principle of light and love, which was all but unknown in previous ages, has shown upon the earth; people have gone about doing good, so as they never did before: Christian sponsored hospitals and orphanages are common: we have seen so great a Light in Jesus the Anointed One that no other light can dazzle us. In the warmth and brightness of this Son of our souls, we are directly or indirectly persuaded that all love comes from Him.[10]

Charles Ellicott (1819-1904) views the religion of the Final Covenant as different from all others in this: it affects and appeals to, and governs the heart. Other systems have laid hold upon other powers of our nature. Still, the Gospel is distinctive in constraining the affections, seizing the motive and controlling forces of the soul, and bringing them into subjection to its loving claims. Indeed, it is true that the Divine revelation is not neglectful of any part of our being.[11]

Although the Gospel appeals to our sense of reasoning enlightened by its truth, it often uses our imagination. These truths can sometimes spark lively images of good, blessings, and curses on the righteous and evil on the unrighteous. They also stimulate the sentiment of fear on the one hand and hope on the other. And not too seldom, they bring up visions of death, heaven, and hell. But this is done as a means to an end. Namely, it moves the heart, draws the souls away from things of unfounded concern into the fellowship of God. This will produce a holy longing for the continued union with God’s divine nature, which desires to dwell in us.

William Kelly (1822-1888) states that if what the Apostle John says here in verse seven is a Holy Spirit-inspired promise, it is a sure and vital thing to say; there is no excuse for failure in love. But we must remember that love is not merely being kind to a fellow-saint; it is also faithfulness to God. And sometimes, the faithfulness of love is resented instead of being received. In such a case, the person who is upset by having their unloving attitude pointed out and who regards the other person’s faithfulness as not showing real love also needs to be cautious. If that resentment overcomes them – and it sometimes does – the issue may prove that there never was the divine gift of eternal life in their soul. We often find that departure from love, even in a small way, if yielded to, is an extremely grave sign. It may be a symptom of what may be called the “moral leprosy of mankind.” For, as we are taught here, there is nothing really of God, nothing truly sound, in the person who does not love.[12]

James Nisbet (1823-1874) tells us that in his day, on the east wall of the Church of the Ascension, Bayswater Road, London (not too far from Hyde Park), artist Frederic Shields (1833-1911), was decorating the old mortuary chapel in St. George’s Fields cemetery. He painted a wonderful series of pictures of our Lord’s life. He painted a panel embodying his conception of what love means. Love is a beautiful female figure, with a face strong and tender, a face that bears witness to endured suffering.

On Love’s lap is a European child; by Love’s side stands a little African child, one little foot still fettered, the other freed by Love. At Love’s feet, a little Chinese and a little Indian child are playing together. Both the little hands of the white babe on Love’s lap are outstretched to draw the little black boy’s face and impress upon it a kiss. The embodiment of love knows no distinction of race or language, or color to the artist. He interprets our text’s “one another” with a worldwide meaning.[13] But in today’s world, this would be seen as typecasting and racist. But it was for this same world our Lord died to free them from such thinking. This mortuary was deconsecrated and sold by the Church Commissions in the 1970s, and The Utopian Housing Association replaced it with low-cost social housing.

Brooke F. Westcott (1825-1901) states that the idea of “knowledge” that the Apostle John introduces here in connection with the action of the Spirit of Truth is a fuller unfolding of the mystery of the Anointed One’s Person. Those who love, derive their spiritual being from God and, therefore, are in harmony with Him and know Him, that is, recognize every revelation that reveals more of Him. But as John makes clear, none of this is possible without love.[14]

Rev. John Allen Wood (1828-1916), one of the organizers of the first Methodist Holiness Camp Meeting in America, was held in Vineland, New Jersey, in 1867. He says that verse seven begins a section of the Epistle that contains one of those profound truths which are so often expressible in words but are inexhaustible in meaning, “God is love.” It is our solid foundation, and, therefore, we are expected to build our house on this solid rock. From this high Rock, we can see the world. God wants that to be our view because His mission is world-embracing.


[1] Jelf, William E., Commentary on the First Epistle of St. John, op. cit., p. 60

[2] 1 Corinthians 13:1-3

[3] 1 Peter 1:22

[4] Stock, John: Exposition of the First Epistle of John, op. cit., p. 338

[5] 1 John 1:5; 2:3

[6] Ebrard, Johannes: Biblical Commentary on the Epistles of St. john, op. cit., p. 287

[7] Time Magazine cover, April 8, 1966 read: “Is God Dead?”

[8] Acts of the Apostles 10:38

[9] 1 John 3:18

[10] Goodwin, Harvey, Biblical Illustrator, First Epistle of John, op. cit., Vol. pp. 29-30

[11] Charles. Ellicott’s Bible Commentary for English Readers, pp. 16235-16236

[12] Kelly, William: Exposition of the Epistles of John the Apostle, op. cit., Logos loc. cit.

[13] Nisbet, James: The Church Pulpit Commentary, op. cit., Vol. 12, p. 294

[14] Westcott, Brooke F., The Epistles of St. John, op. cit., p. 148

About drbob76

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