WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER FOUR (Lesson XLIX) 03/28/22

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

Here are four things we can expect from this great foundation, says Wood. (a) First, our text comes to us as an invitation, “Beloved, let us love one another.” (b) It is a binding obligation, a debt we ought to pay.[1] If you are proud of yourself for paying your bills, here is a debt that needs much effort to pay in full. If God so loved us – if, that is, we have received so much love – we owe it as a debt to love one another. So, it is an invitation; it is a binding duty. But John is not finished. He puts it before us in sweeter, more alluring tones in another form. He, as it were, turns the prism once again to show us a more beautiful ray of colored light. (c) He shows us the indescribably blessed result which follows from loving one another; it is nothing else than this, God abiding within us.[2] However, (d) John knew people’s hearts; he knew its tendency to be slow in responding to an invitation, to regard it even when coming from the King of kings as something to be accepted or refused at one’s will. But John wants to make sure everyone understands God’s offer is more than an invitation; it is a commandment that if we claim to love Him, we owe a debt of love to our brothers and sisters in the Lord. God saved us by His Son’s blood; now He intends to sanctify us with that blood.[3]

Henry A. Sawtelle (1832-1913) is impressed by how much John dwells on this grace of loving one another! It is a significant part of Christianity to him! Along with faith, it is paramount.[4] Faith unites us to the Anointed One and love for each other. New convictions of the importance and necessity of brotherly love will come with the study of this Epistle. We see that those who do not have it are not Christians; however correct they may be in other respects. A new heart will not be persistently hard toward a brother or sister. To carry hatred and spite into the fellowship of the Anointed One’s Church is to carry in the spirit of Cain and the devil. It is to take a piece of hell into heaven.

What this agápe-love is, says Sawtelle, distinguished from general kindness and neighborliness, has been fully stated. It is the family affection of God’s house, as exclusive as a mother’s love for her child. Didn’t Jesus love John more than King Herod and high priest Caiaphas? This agápe-love of spiritual kinship, like the gift of the Spirit, distinguishes Christianity generically from all other religions. It does not exist in their emotional category. On the contrary, it is a grace that urges us to exercise, not toward perfect or agreeable Christians only, but toward very imperfect and not wholly pleasant Christians.

Therefore, notes Sawtelle, we must exercise a love that despite the imperfections of a brother or sister, loves them for the Anointed One’s sake, even at the cost of self-denial. But, if the Anointed One loved us, as some Christians bestow their love – namely, on a principle of loving only agreeable Christians, where might we stand? For love is God’s basic nature. Not natural love, which all humans are supposed to have, but agápe-love. It is not anything we have by nature; it does not spring out of biological relationships. It is not born of the flesh; does not belong to the category of earthly loves; is not, as some have said, natural love, directed to new objects; but is a heavenly principle, created in us out of the very nature of God. So, it was in God before it was in us.[5] [6]

As others have, John James Lias (1834-1923) notes that the Apostle John commences a new section of the Epistle. Once more, he takes up the duty of love, but from a different and far more profound point of view. John emphasizes the commitment to love[7] as a sign of belonging to the kingdom of Light and not darkness. It is the necessary proof of our kinship to God.[8] Furthermore, God’s love commandment stamps us as abiding in the Anointed One.[9] Consequently, the duty to love depends upon God’s essential nature and every believer’s inward fellowship with Him through His Spirit.[10]

Lias then adds, we speak of living for God, but what is living for God? It is possible even to renounce the world and be no nearer to God.[11] It is possible to have a fierce abstinent hatred of this world’s goods. It is possible to seek the kingdom of heaven in a spirit of refined selfishness. It is possible to hate and despise those selfish creatures who seek only earthly joys. It is possible even to serve God in a spirit of Pharisaic pride, high self-conceit, and contempt of others. Is this the spirit of truth? We reply, No!

And why? The contempt of this world is useless for its sake. The hate of our fellow creatures is no part of true religion. There can be no faithful obedience to God where there is an over-estimation of ourselves or contempt of others. It is what the Anointed One told us in many discourses and parables. But here we see that it is and why it is. Religion consists in uniting ourselves to God, and God is Love. If we are united to God, we must show the results of that union by displaying our likeness to Him. We should not relish contempt for the world but the desire to seek the welfare of others before ours. It is God’s object; therefore, it must be ours.[12]

Robert Cameron (1839-1904) begins by saying that no one can know God until they are born again. The possession of divine nature is necessary to understand what that nature is. It is knowledge that someone who is only a creature of God’s hand is utterly incapable of knowing, however wise and learned they might be. They lack the mental and spiritual capacity to grasp it. The Son alone knows the Father, and He alone can reveal them to those who have the spirit and nature of sons.[13] That’s why everything depends on participation in the divine nature.

So, no matter how religious a person may be, it is not a religion but spiritual life uniting us with God. By having the eternal life of God’s Son, we have the Father’s love and knowledge.[14] The only proof that we know God exists is that we are like Him in love. It is more profound than the previous thought of keeping the commandments.[15] That was outward uniformity to His revelation, while this is inward conformity with His nature. Without that union, a person cannot know agápe-love and doesn’t know God. We saw the same fellowship with God in the first chapter. It is communing with God as He is in Himself, and not merely delight in His ways or works. God is Light, and we walk in its glow; He is Love, and we bathe in its glimmer. We favor the light, but we feel the love. Step by step, we rise. We keep the commandments, we consent to His will, and we share the nature of the only God. The Lord’s prayer realized, “I will be in them, and You will be in Me so that they will be completely one.”[16]

The reason for this is evident, “for God is love.” Love is of the very essence of his nature. Even justice is but one manifestation of His agápe-love. The more tenderly a mother loves her child, the more severely she will resent any attempt to do him hurt. Love will seek the good of all who are the objects of its affection, even when justice demands the punishment of those who would do them wrong. Since the essence of God is love, the one who does not love can never have known him. Not to love is to be ignorant of love, and to be unaware of love is to be ignorant of God, for God is love.[17]

Erich Haupt (1841-1910) says that verse seven clearly shows that “knowledge” is very different from “thinking” based upon mere logic, to the Apostle John. Dr. Haupt says a person may understand all the teaching of Scripture concerning God and receive it into their mind without real love. But, does such a concept contradict the Apostle John’s assertion? If a person knows all plants by their scientific names, classes, and orders but has never seen them, it is far from understanding the plants. This adjective “knowing” means showing or suggesting that one has knowledge or awareness that is secret or known to only a few people.

In like manner, those who profess to know God without love have no spiritual perception, no experience of Him; because their ideas are only constituent elements out of which they seek to produce a living reality. They, therefore, prove that their idea of God is a false one, since God is not a compound substance of symbols and attributes. Only from experience and devotion can any deep knowledge flow from God. Love is represented here as a token of divine birth and a pure copy of divine love. We, of course, must not limit it to the love for fellow Christians but must be understood in its broadest meaning.[18]

Alfred Plummer (1841-1926) notices that the Apostle John made an abrupt transition from what he was saying. It is almost like he had summarily dismissed an unwelcome subject. But the connections of thought in John’s writings are often so subtle, a hurried idea, that there’s no place in the Apostle’s writings where two consecutive verses or sections lack any connecting links. However, we find two links here. First, in this chapter, the power to love one another, no less than the power to confess the Incarnation, is the gift of the Spirit.[19] This is the case, even person to person. We also see the transformation of agápe-love into Faith and Trust. The antichristian spirit is selfish; it makes “self,” namely, one’s intellect and interest, the measure of all things. Just as it separates the Divine from the human in the Anointed One, so it severs Divine love from human conduct in humans. So, no matter what amount or type of fellowship you have with others, John says, “Beloved, let us do even more. Let us love one another.”[20]

Alan E. Brooke (1863-1934) states that true love is not merely a quality of nature, and include it in our conception of the Deity. It has its origin in God. Human love is a reflection of something in the Divine nature itself. Its presence shows that they have experienced the new birth and share in that higher life which consists in gradually becoming acquainted with God. Where love is absent there has not been even the beginning of the knowledge of God, for love is the very nature and being of God.[21]


[1] 1 John 4:11

[2] Ibid. 4:12

[3] Wood, John Allen: The Church Pulpit Commentary, op. cit., pp. 293-294

[4] Ibid. 3:23

[5] Romans 5:5

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

[7] 1 John 2:5-11

[8] Ibid. 3:10-18

[9] Ibid. 3:23

[10] Lias, John James: The First Epistle of St. John with Exposition, p. 304

[11] 1 Corinthians 13:3

[12] Lias, John James: The First Epistle of St. John with Homiletical Treatment, pp. 304-305

[13] Matthew 11:27

[14] John 17:25

[15] Ibid. 2:2-5

[16] Ibid. 17:23a

[17] Cameron, Robert: First Epistle of John, op. cit., loc. cit.

[18] Haupt, Erich: The First Epistle of St. John, op. cit., pp. 256-257

[19] See 1 John 4:2, 12-13

[20] Plummer, Alfred: Cambridge Commentary, op. cit., p. 146

[21] Brooke, Alan E., A Critical and Exegetical Commentary, op. cit., p. 117

About drbob76

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