WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER FOUR (Lesson LIV) 04/04/22

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

Albert Barnes (1798-1870) says that never was a more important declaration made than this nor more meaning crowded into a few words than in these – “God is love.” In the darkness of this world of sin – all the sorrows that blanket the human race and will come and inflict the wicked hereafter – we have the assurance that a God of infinite kindness rules overall. However, we may not be able to reconcile all that occurs with this declaration or see how the things which God has permitted to take place are consistent with it. Yet, in the exercise of faith on His testimony, we find consolation in “believing” that it is so. We may also look forward to a period when all His universe will see it to be so. In the midst of all that occurs on the earth of sadness, sin, and sorrow, there is abundant evidence that God is love.[1]

Henry Alford (1810-1871) states that when we treat “God is Love” as “God is loving,” we form a misconception of what the Apostle John said first, “Whoever does not love does not know God because God is love.” What comes next? Even though God is loving, this person never knew Him that way. They may have known Him as far as He is for fairness or power. But taking that “God is love,” it is an essential part of His being – just as an exact definition of God requires a strict argument: They who’ve never known such love, and since God is love, therefore, they who’ve never loved like this never knew God.[2] In other words, to love a loving God, He must first put that love in our hearts.[3]

William E. Jelf (1811-1875) proposes no reason why agápe-love should be limited to Christians. Those whose hearts see love as a stranger are not only hostile to God but utterly ignorant of Him. They have never gotten to know God. We cannot extinguish Love’s light where it once shined bright. The person whose principle of thought, feeling, and action is sheer selfishness, uninfluenced by God’s agápe-love or others, is barely ahead of the animal world. They, of course, have no idea or notion of God.

As an instance of such a being, one might take some of the African kings described by English explorer Sir Samuel W. Baker.[4] The Apostle John seems to present the divine nature and excellence of love in general, rather than stating any peculiar privileges of Christians, so he immediately applies what he has been saying to the particular agápe-love that Christians have towards each other. Although differing in kind and degree from the ordinary emotion of fondness in general, John says we should appreciate each other with agápe-love because it comes from God. Therefore, if you love God, you can talk about loving each other with greater emphasis.[5]

John Stock (1817-1884) laments the condition of the Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches in his day. He regrets that ignorance of God’s Word is not the parent of devotion but the foster parent of superstition because it is empty of God’s agápe-love. If it is not removed it is fatal, involving eternal punishment.[6] They who love to keep people in ignorance, hunt them as prey, are offenders in no small degree; and are not of or with God, who complains that His people perish for lack of knowledge.[7] To know God as their Creator, Preserver, and Redeemer in and through the Anointed One Jesus the Lord, and continually meditate on this awareness, is the believer’s first duty.[8]

Stock says that in this knowledge of the Anointed One is life and, consequently, to be lacking it is death. The words, “This is eternal life: that people know you, the only true God, and that they know Jesus the Anointed One, the One you sent,”[9] show this to be the case beyond all controversy. The workers of iniquity do not know. “The way of peace they have not known there is no fear of God before their eyes.”[10] The spiritual condition of such is, unfortunately. Believers must have such heartbreak for them that it will motivate a combined effort on the part of those blessed with the Light to seek to remove the destructive darkness of their ignorant hearts. This knowledge of God produces love in return and a union with God, and its absence proves the ignorance of God.[11]

Charles Ellicott (1819-1904) says it is significant that we have these words not from Jesus but from John. Jesus did not say exactly, “God is love.” He taught by the inductive method. He said, “Those who’ve seen me have seen the Father.”[12] John looked at Him, leaned on His breast, stood beside His cross, gazed into His empty tomb, listened to His words after He rose from the dead, and said, “God is love.” So, how did John know that God is love because he saw the Anointed One? This knowledge of the Anointed One’s character is the primary source of John’s knowledge of God. He sought a description of the Anointed One’s character, and there was no name good enough.

No doubt John thought of Jesus, who went about doing good.[13] His self-denial and poverty for humanity’s sake; His compassion on the multitudes; His sympathy for the bereaved; His kindness towards the outcast; His tears at Lazarus’ grave; His message of forgiveness to the sin-stricken; His words such as no man has ever uttered; His washing His disciples’ feet; His death in pity for human sin; and His resurrection into immortality and glory. All this is the manifestation of the life of God in its fundamental meanings. He knew what Spirit was in Jesus; he knew by what word to characterize His life. He knew that whatever of God’s life was manifest through Jesus of Nazareth was eternally true of the Almighty Father, and he told it all in three sublime and immortal words, “God is love.”

According to Ellicott, we should also consider that John defines God as light in the early part of this Epistle. It would be impossible to exhaust all the definitions of God. However, we may roughly classify our human nature as intellectual and moral, mind and heart, thought and emotion. So, when we consider God as the Light (embracing all His attributes such as truth, knowledge, purity, health, power, and justice), we still have not comprehended all we can know about His nature.  Nor do we appreciate all that concerns us to know until we have also considered Him to be Love. He is the author and source of all genuine affection – kindness, compassion, friendliness, etc. As a result, we rejoice in the creation of infinite life for its endless happiness and offer eternal bliss to all His human family that surrounds us with inexhaustible illustrations of the joy and glory of perfection – godly perfection.[14]

Irish pastor and Evangelist Dwight L. Moody’s (1830-1899) good friend, Marcus Rainsford (1820-1897), speaks about the manifestation of God’s agápe-love. He stays that it was demonstrated ten thousand ways. If we look at it without prejudice, everything in Nature is the embodiment of God’s agápe-love. Every day, the sun shines, it expresses God’s agápe-love in warm rays. But oh, the display of God’s agápe-love in nature is not enough to make us spiritually alive. When great artists illustrate their skills in a painting or portrait, brought into being by their genius, it is exhibited in carpeted museums, amid grandeur and splendor, and within mansions, its walls draped with huge paintings.[15] But we can see it at work on dirty streets, in filthy neighborhoods in some of the world’s largest slums. It’s like spotting a brilliant diamond sticking out of a mud puddle.

William Kelly (1822-1888) adds to what the Apostle John said in verse seven about knowing the value of one’s salvation. It does not matter what gifts an individual may have, how active they are in ministry, or what reputation and influence they possess; if they do not love others, they do not know God. The factor is full of self-deceit. Those born of God love their brothers and sisters because they know God’s character. Their new divine affections have a definite sphere, and they have that knowledge of God that our Lord Jesus said is to establish eternal life. In His prayer for His disciples, Jesus presented this to His Father in heaven: “This is the way to have eternal life – to know You, the only true God, and Jesus the Anointed One You sent to earth.”[16] John reproduced this in a brief dogmatic statement with its negative. “Anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” Where there is no love, there is no knowledge of God. The reason is as plain as it is decisive; “for God is love.”[17]

By speaking this way, notes Kelly, John illustrates how God has shown His agápe-love. He brings it out in three forms. First, there is the wondrous manifestation of God in the Anointed One, which is the foundation of the Gospel; second, it is manifested in the Anointed One as life, and third, as paying our ransom price. If we didn’t have the Anointed One’s life in us, we would never be able to understand God at all. Could we have understood Him by having the Anointed One as our life without knowing we were set free from sin’s punishment? No! His holiness and judgment would have been insulted; it would have only brought misery. Knowing what God is and what we are, and not having our sins carried away, must be like His dishonor and our everlasting shame and anguish. That’s why many touched by the Gospel are still ignorant of the efficiency of redemption, proves the point.[18]

William B. Pope (1822-1903) believes we must understand that this God-Love is absolutely love in itself, in its nature, and apart from any object because it is from the very being of God. Therefore, this out-of-this-world experience involves nothing but love and regeneration. This miracle presents evidence of new birth in the past continues, and in the present, we still know God with this same love, discerning and delighting in its source. His eternal essence is unfathomable, and the bond of the intercommunion of the Trinity is adorable, revealing His unchanging nature. Since His nature is in us, this agápe-love will continue as long as He is there.[19]


[1] Barnes, Albert: Notes on N.T., op. cit., p. 4864

[2] Alford, Henry: Critical and Exegetical Commentary, op. cit., p. 488

[3] Romans 5:5

[4] See: The Nile Tributaries of Abyssinia and the Sword Hunters of the Hamran Arabs (1868)

[5] Jelf, William E., First Epistle of St. John, op. cit., p. 60

[6] Isaiah 28:11

[7] Hosea 4:6

[8] Ecclesiastes 12:1

[9] John 17:3

[10] Romans 3:17-18

[11] Stock, John: Exposition of First Epistle of John, op. cit., pp. 341, 343

[12] John 14:9

[13] Acts of the Apostles 10:38

[14] Ellicott, Charles: Ellicott’s Bible Commentary for English Readers, pp. 16255-16260

[15] Rainsford, Marcus: Biblical Illustrator, 1 John 4, op. cit., pp. 69-70

[16] John 17:3

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

[18] Ibid. Lectures on the Catholic Epistles, op. cit., pp. 325-326

[19] Pope, William B., Popular Commentary, op. cit., p. 315

About drbob76

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