WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER FOUR (Lesson LIII) 04/01/22

4:8 If a person isn’t loving and kind, it shows that they don’t know God – for God is love.

John Trapp (1601-1669) quotes Greek philosopher Plato, who said, “If moral virtue could be viewed with mortal eyes, it would draw all hearts to it.” So, if God were well known, He would certainly be the best beloved, and all that is His, for His sake. When it comes to saying that God is love, some scholars add that He is the “fountain of love,”[1] attracting all hearts who heard of Him.[2]

John Owen (1616-1683) states that we read “God is love” in verse eight. But he points out in the original Greek it reads: “God love is.”[3] He is the fountain and prototype of all love as eternal and necessary. All other acts of love are in God and released from Him and its effects. Since He does good because He is good, He loves because He is love. He is love eternally and necessarily in this agápe-love of the Son, and all other workings of love are but acts of His will, whereby somewhat of it is outwardly expressed. And all love in creation was introduced from this fountain and mirrored it.[4]

Then Owen talks about completing communion with the Father in love; two things are required of believers: (1) They accept it from Him. (2) They make suitable returns to Him that they obtained it. Communion consists in giving and receiving. Until the love of the Father is received, we have no communion with Him therein. How, then, is this agápe-love of the Father to be acknowledged and initiate fellowship with Him? I answer, says Owen, the receiving of it is believing it. God revealed His agápe-love so that it could be admitted to His family by faith. “You believe in God,” said Jesus, “so also believe in me.”[5] And what is to believe in Him? His agápe-love; for He is “love.”[6] [7]

George Swinnock (1627-1673) says that this unparalleled God calls for incomparable love, the top, the cream of our affections. “Good is the object of love,” according to the Greek philosopher Aristotle, “The greater the good, the greater the love required.” Therefore, with God being the greatest good, He must have the greatest love for Him. This is the great first commandment, [8] and I might say the only commandment;[9] this is all the commandments in one.[10] The God of the greatest perfection must have the greatest affection. Therefore, the greatest love (for God is love)[11] calls for the incomparable God, who is the greatest love. He deserves the most understanding heart, soul, mind, strength; the greatest comprehensive heart, soul, mind, and all the strength.[12]

Isaac Barrow (1630-1677) follows the thinking of Job’s friend, Eliphaz, who asked: “Is a mere human worth anything to God?” Even the wisest are of value only to themselves. No, says Barrow. Goodness is offered freely and communicative; love is active and fruitful; such high excellence is void of envy, selfishness, and self-determination. The Apostle John says[13] that goodness is inherent to God’s nature, since He is love in his epistle. He is essentially loving and caring enough to bestow so much of His being, beauty, delight, and comfort on His creatures.[14] [15]

Daniel Whitby (1638-1726) thinks that the Apostle John did not intend to express, in this verse, what God is in His essence, or to say, as the Roman seminarians do, that He is occasionally love, as the cause; or object of His agápe-love. Instead, He is affectionate and shows great charity to mankind in all His communications with them, as in verses nine and ten.[16]

Thomas Pyle (1674-1756) says that when we claim to be the true children of God, let us take special care to give proof of it by imitating God’s unusual attribute of love and mercy, so abundantly displayed to all humanity and us Christians in particular. Without such love, we fail in the most critical moment of resembling Him, proving we are not one of His.[17]

James Macknight (1721-1800) is struck by the Apostle John’s words, “Anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love.[18] John is talking about the love of benevolence joined with God. Those who do not love their neighbor with loving compassion do not know God. They have no real knowledge of God’s character, whose generosity extends to all, even to the evil and unthankful. That’s why all who know Him should attempt to imitate Him. According to Estius, [19] God is love, even as He is essentially and adequately power, wisdom, and goodness. But it does not appear that John meant to declare God’s essence, but only to teach us that God delights in the exercise of goodwill and perhaps that His other perfections are exerted for accomplishing his compassionate purposes.[20]

John Brown of Haddington (1722-1787) says we should all concentrate on the main aim of this epistle, in that we all maintain, work hard to express, and project brotherly affection to one another. Those that live with the desire to be a good child of God, regenerated by His Spirit, and in possession of the proven, fascinating, and transforming knowledge of the blessings and will of God. On the other hand, those that are strangers to the exercise of love for the saints or their neighbors appear ignorant of the nature and will of God. For God is, in His very nature, infinite grace, mercy, and love. His thoughts, purpose, and patience have manifested Himself in an endless, glorious, and engaging pattern of kindness and goodwill.[21]

Richard Rothe (1799-1867) now puts a big exclamation mark on what he said in verse seven about how love is necessary to be God’s property and fellowshipping with God. Here he shouts out, “Anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love!” Seeing that God is love, it naturally follows that no one can know God without knowing love is the only way love can be known. Experimentally through his own loving, John points here to the universal way of attaining knowledge of God.  Learning to love is a way to this knowledge that is open to all. This way must be navigated even by those who develop a concept of God in their mind. But until meeting God, there is no other way one can never attain insight into the fact that love is God’s characteristic being.[22]

Augustus Neander (1789-1850) believes that the apostolic age differed from later periods only in this: that as Christianity first made its appearance in the world, as the divine world-transforming power, there was a more significant predominance of that immediate religious impulse and inspiration; the appearing of prophets, and the various manifestations of the prophetic gift, belonged more to the ordinary phenomena of the church. But, from the very beginning, corrupt human nature mingled its disturbing and adulterating influence in all these divine manifestations. Thereby, this genuine inspiration connected itself to a false one. Sadly, it suggested that the Holy Spirit was in those of an undivine nature.[23]

Gottfried C. F. Lücke (1791-1855) proposes that the knowledge of divine characteristics achieves the family relationship. Since, concerning redemption, God’s most essential attribute is “agápe-love,” and agápe-love has no earthly origin but has its source in God. It naturally follows those who know God, and are born of God, love the brethren, and practice love. Consequently, says Lücke, verses seven and eight are founded on this reasoning.

The Apostle John places loving others before loving Him. This is John’s meaning in verse seven: in our loving one another, as those who truly are of God, and correctly know Him because brotherly love is not of this world but belongs to that life of God. The Alexandria Greek Manuscript reads, “agápe-love of God.” But both here and in verse eight is seen, both from the context and compared with verses eleven, twenty, and twenty-one, “agápe-love is used, and denotes brotherly love.” Thus, the Apostle Paul also uses agápe-love in the sense of brotherly love.[24] [25]

Charles Hodge (1797-1878) agrees that everyone is a sinner, justly chargeable with inexcusable godlessness and immorality. Thus, salvation is not possible by any effort or resource of theirs.[26] More than this, the Bible teaches us that a person may be outwardly religious, but their heart is the seat of pride, envy, or malice. In other words, they may be moral in their conduct and, because of inward evil passions, be immoral in their heart and mind as the chief of sinners, as was the case with Paul.[27] And more even than this, although a person is free from outward sins, this unproductive goodness would not suffice to remove the sins of the heart. Without holiness, “no one shall see the Lord.”[28]  And as the Apostle John says here in verse eight, anyone who does not love does not know God because God is love.

Furthermore, we are not to love this world nor the things it offers us, for when we love the world, we do not have the Father’s love in us.[29] Who then can be saved? The Bible excludes from God’s kingdom all those who are immoral; hearts corrupted by pride, envy, malice, or covetousness; all who love the world; all who are not holy; all in whom the agápe-love of God. Is this not the supreme and controlling principle of action? Therefore, it is evident that salvation must be confined to very narrow limits so far as adults are concerned. It is also apparent that mere natural religion, the sheer objective power of general religious truth, is ineffective in preparing people for God’s presence.[30]


[1] Song of Solomon 1:3

[2] Trapp, John: Commentary upon all books of New Testament (1647), op. cit., p. 476

[3] 1 John 4:8

[4] Owen, John: Christologia, Ch. 11, p. 194

[5] John 14:1

[6] 1 John 4:8

[7] Owen, John: Of Communion with God, op. cit., Ch. 3, p. 29

[8] Matthew 22:37

[9] Deuteronomy 10:12

[10] Romans 13:37

[11] 1 John 4:8

[12] Swinnock, George: op. cit., The Incomparableness of God, Ch. XXI, pp. 174-175

[13] 1 John 4:8, 16

[14] Psalm 33:5; 119:64

[15] Barrow, Isaac: An Exposition on the Creed, op. cit., p. 146

[16] Whitby, Daniel: op cit., p. 467

[17] Pyle, Thomas: Paraphrase, op. cit., p. 396

[18] 1 John 4:8

[19] Estius (1542-1613) was a famous Dutch commentator on the Pauline epistles. In 1580, he received his Th.D.

[20] Macknight, James: Literal Paraphrase, op. cit., p. 91

[21] Brown, John of Haddington: Self-Interpreting Bible, op. cit., pp. 1327-1328

[22] Rothe, Richard: The Expository Times, op. cit., February 1894, p. 231

[23] Neander, Augustus: First Epistle of John, op. cit., Chapters IV, V, p. 237

[24] Cf. 1 Corinthians 13:1; Philippians 2:2

[25] Lücke, Gottfried: Commentary on First Epistle of John, op. cit., Section Eight,  

[26] 1 Corinthians 6:9; Ephesians 5:5

[27] 1 Timothy 1:15

[28] Hebrews 12:14; John 3:3

[29] 1 John 2:15

[30] Hodge, Charles. Systematic Theology, op.7 cit., Vol. I., pp. 42-43

About drbob76

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