WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER FOUR (Lesson L) 03/29/22

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.

Greville P. Lewis (1891-1976) notes that in the Apostle John’s Gospel, Jesus uses the phrase “He who sent Me” no fewer than twenty-six times. It must have been in John’s mind when he used “sent” here and in verses ten and fourteen. Martin Luther once said: “If I were as our Lord God, and had committed the government to my Son, as He to His Son, and these vile people were as disobedient as they are now, I would knock the world into pieces.[1] But God did not abandon His “human experiment,” nor did He wait impassively in high heaven for sinners to grope their way up to His footstool, pleading for pardon and a second chance. The word “sent,” like the word “gave,”[2] stresses the astounding fact that God so loved us that He took the initiative and “sent” His Son on a redemptive Mission which could only be fulfilled at an awful cost to both the Father and the Son.[3]

Amos N. Wilder (1895-1993) notes that the Gnostics might say that wisdom or power is of God but hardly love, whose involvements would not fit divine detachment. Pagan gods were thought of as the object of mystical desire rather than their subject. In verse ten, the Apostle John directly denies the general Hellenistic view that love is, first of all, an impulse that goes out from the material world to spiritual order. We would not otherwise have known what love is.[4] Therefore, those who love show they are born of God and know God. They are the true Gnostics! Because they have experiential knowledge of God, which disposes them to a deepening understanding of God’s action and revelation, it is far superior to any supposition or shadowy mysticism.[5]

Paul Waitman Hoon (1910-2000) states that certain oriental religions consider God to be somber, unmoved. Followers are so engaged in self-meditation, they have little concern about human life around them. Other pagan religions have defiled God by likening Him to the force behind fertility. Ancient and modern philosophies conceived God as a pure Mind, Wisdom, and Beauty. Moralistic religion envisions God as Righteousness. Ancient and contemporary science have imagined God as Energy. But the insight of the Apostle John surpasses these in defining God’s essential nature as Love, and represents the highest conception of the divine nature humankind can hold.

Therefore, says Hoon, one must believe that divine Love is eternal. It is “that which was from the beginning.” It requires one to think that love governs all other attributes in the Godhead. “God is Love” implies that all His activities are the result of love. If He creates, He creates in love; if He rules, He rules in Love; if He judges, He judges in Love. God’s agápe-love is dynamic; it acts decisively; because God is Love, He is not passionless. He manifested that by sending His only Son to lead us back to Him.

Robert S. Candlish (1806-1873) explains that the phrase “Love is of God” does not simply mean love comes from God, has its source in God, that He is the author or creator of it. All created things are of God, for by Him all things were made, [6] and on Him, they all depend. But love is not a created thing. It is a Divine characteristic, holy affection. And it is of its essence to be a cause which brings change, a communication that establishes contact, and, as it were, to reproduce itself in others. Love is also a good gift resulting from an act of the will. Wherewith God expresses Himself, wherever it is found, it is the very love. If it is seen in us, it is our loving with God’s agápe-love; it is in our loving with Divine love, a love that is thus emphatically and exclusively of God.[7]

Professor F. F. Bruce (1910-1990) points out that the love of which the Apostle John, like Paul, speaks is self-giving love, not giving-self. It is sometimes suggested that the Greek verb agapaō and the noun agapē, used here as in the Final Covenant, bear the same basic sense as the secular Greek noun erōs, [8] which denotes possessive love. But it is not a question of the inherent meaning of the words used but of the sense placed on them by speakers or writers.[9] No doubt that is why John used the Greek noun Philadelphia, “love for the brethren.”[10]

Rudolf Schnackenburg (1914-2002) agrees that everyone who loves is born of God insofar as they actually do so. Of course, this does not mean that being born of God consists in love but, as elsewhere, [11] that being born of God can be recognized by love. In other words, being born again comes first, not love. Next to being born of God comes our knowing Him. Love is the principle of such knowledge.[12] The idea itself is already a familiar refrain, confined only to mutual love or fulfilling the commandments.[13] If “being born of God” refers instead to the believers’ origin, “to know God” means most emphatically to have lasting fellowship with Him. Only those who prove themselves by loving with this “love-share” divine nature and have fellowship with God. John deliberately adopts these terms, for they define the common religious aspirations both of Christianity and other religions. It is to emphasize the requirement of love and, at the same time, crush the opposition.[14]

John Phillips (1927-2010) agrees that all true faith is built on the gold standard of love, and that’s the measure to which John always returns. The section of this epistle now opening up before us is the Apostle John’s hymn of love, comparable to Paul’s.[15] John begins with agápe love – where else could he begin? = telling us of the overflow of that love in our hearts and life. More specifically, he tells us who we should love: “My beloved friends, let us continue to love each other since love comes from God. Everyone who loves is born of God and experiences a relationship with God.”[16] [17]

Raymond E. Brown (1928-1998) says that the Apostle John speaks about love without specifying which type. It is not brotherly love, love for God, or the agápe-love of God for men, but love in itself. (You can see this illustrated in a well-known art piece by Jacques Charlier (1720-1790) called “Venus desarmant l’amour”). The Jewish world to which John belongs ignores any distinction between object and subject. In other words, it’s just “love.” However, if there is any specification of the love found here in verse seven, it would be in love for a “brother” rather than of agápe-love of God.[18] To say this another way, God planted His agápe-love in us when we were born again but did not target any specific group or person. In fact, Christians can love everybody. That marks them as being born of God.

David E. Hiebert (1928-1995) says that the Apostle John’s urging to practice loving others is grounded in doctrinal reality: “Love comes from God.” The use of the article “the[19] with “love” centers attention on the kind of love John was urging, “the love” that has its source in God. It is not the natural love of the world for its own, [20] nor the love of tax collectors for fellow collectors, [21] but a self-sacrificing love motivated by goodwill and implemented in action.[22] The Greek preposition ek (“out of”) translated as “from” denotes that His agápe-love “flows from Him,” as the one spring, and the connection with the source remains unbroken. That’s why John used the Greek agápe for love. It is a special kind of love that only God can produce. The call to love is undergirded by its practice of being a sure revelation of character. Verse seven states the positive disclosure, while verse eight states the negative fact.[23]

Stephen S. Smalley (1931-2018) makes a good point here by observing that this verse contains two sentences that do not depend on each other. Here the Apostle John sets out the spiritual origins of Love and the one who loves in that both come from God. The use of “everyone (who is loving)” is characteristic of John’s style and emphasizes the need for love in every believer. He does not simply say “the one who is loving.” The reference is to love in all its forms. Although John supplies no object, [24] the words of Jesus recorded in John’s Gospel[25] speak about love in absolute terms: the love of one’s neighbor in the community and love in general, wherever and however that may be expressed.[26] Therefore, while Love comes from God, it isn’t until believers use Love can they claim that they know God as His children.

Edward J. Malatesta (1932-1998) sees the Apostle John now building a bridge between verses 1:5 to 2:28 and 4:7-5:13. This last section characterizes the threefold concentration on personal faith, mutual love, and reciprocal relationship between Christians and the Spirit, Jesus, and the Father. Here John begins with a consideration of love which corresponds to a parallel treatment.[27] John’s interest is to continue with his theme of faith and love and where he wants to treat them in their mutual relationship. That’s why the Apostle expresses his deepest thoughts about the mystery of communion with God and how it compares to our communion with our fellow believers. John has no intention of repeating himself, but constantly emphasizing the importance of these two factors can make his point more forcefully. They must keep in mind that love comes from God; everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God personally.[28]


[1] Luther, Martin: Table Talk, op. cit., CXI (111)

[2] John 3:16

[3] Lewis, Greville P., The Epworth Commentary, The Johannine Epistles, op. cit., p.98

[4] 1 John 4:19

[5] Wilder, Amos N., The Interpreter’s Bible, op. cit., 1 John, Exposition, pp. 278-279

[6] Colossians 1:16

[7] Candlish, Robert S., The Biblical Illustrator, op. cit., 1 John 4, p. 28

[8] Erōs is the Greek god of erotic (sexual) love.

[9] Bruce, F. F. Bruce, The Epistles of John: A Verse-by-Verse Exposition. Kingsley Books, Inc. Kindle Edition

[10] Cf. 1 Peter 1:22 There are six main words for love in Greek: Eros, sexual passion; Philia, deep friendship; Ludus, playful love (“Puppy love”); Agápe, selfless divine love; Pragma, long standing love; and Philautia, self-love.

[11] See 1 John 2:29; 5:1

[12] Ibid. 4:8

[13] Ibid. 2:3ff

[14] Schnackenburg, Rudolf: The Johannine Epistles, op. cit., p. 207

[15] 1 Corinthians 13

[16] 1 John 4:7 – The Message

[17] Phillips, John: Exploring the First Epistle of John, op. cit., pp. 135-136

[18] Brown, Raymond E., The Anchor Bible, op. cit., vol. 30, p. 514

[19] The Greek definite article ho (“the”) is not seen in the English translation. The Greek text reads: “that the love out of God.”

[20] John 15:19

[21] Matthew 5:46

[22] See 1 John 4:9-10

[23] Hiebert, David E., Bibliotheca Sacra, op. cit., January-March 1990, p. 71

[24] As in 1 John 3:11, 23

[25] John 13:34; 15:12, 17

[26] Smalley, Stephen S., Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 51, op. cit., p. 237

[27] See 1 John 2:3-11

[28] Malatesta, Edward J., Interiority and Covenant, op. cit., pp. 293-194

About drbob76

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