WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER FOUR (Lesson LV) 04/05/22

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

Daniel Steele (1824-1914) points out that “God is love” is more than saying God is friendly. Only if He is love in His essential being is the statement true that to have no personal, experimental knowledge of love is to have no fundamental understanding of God. The Gnostics were doubtless, in John’s mind, who knew much about God. Still, they did not know God by experience, for instead of loving those humble brethren who were not their equals in intellectual attainments, they treated them with arrogant and heartless contempt. The heathens regarded God as terrible, whose fierce anger is soothed with sacrificial offerings. The Jews believed He was just and jealous and, possibly, merciful, whose inmost being a mystery beyond what His name Yahweh revealed, “I am that I am.” To the regenerate believer alone is He known as Love.[1]

In verse eight, William Lincoln (1825-1888) asks us to look at the first stage in the descending scale of God’s agápe-love, “God is love.” If we are His children, we must have His nature. In chapter one, we are told that “God is light;” “God is love.” Truth is two-sided; we must not lean on one side and ignore the other; that is the cause of all error. Heresy is just a selection of truth. The statement “God is love” refers to God’s agápe-love coming to meet us; it introduces the descending scale of God’s agápe-love. In other words, if John says that God is love, then he must prove it somehow. So, in verse nine, John says, God’s agápe-love is “manifested” in a spectacular way.[2]

Charles H. Spurgeon (1834-1892) lets us know that a Christians’ distinguishing mark is their confidence in the love of the Anointed One and the yielding of their affections to the Anointed One in return. First, faith sets her seal upon the individual by enabling the soul to say with the Apostle John, “the Anointed One loved me and gave Himself for me.”[3] Then love gives its endorsement and stamps upon the heart gratitude and love to Jesus in return. “We love Him because He first loved us.”[4]

In those grand old ages and heroic periods of the Christian religion, remarks Spurgeon, this double mark of mutual love could be seen in all of Jesus’ believers. They were people who knew the love of the Anointed One and rested upon it as a person leans on a staff whose trustworthiness they have proven. The love they felt towards the Lord was not a quiet emotion that they hid within themselves in the secret chamber of their souls. Nor was it something they only spoke of in their private assemblies when they met on the first day of the week and sang hymns in honor of the Anointed One, Jesus the crucified. Instead, it was a passion with them of such all-consuming energy, visible in all their actions. People heard in their everyday talk and looked out their eyes even in a casual glance. Love to Jesus was a flame that fed upon the core and heart of their being. Therefore, its force burned its way into the outer man and shone there. Zeal for the glory of King Jesus was the seal and mark of all genuine Christians. Because of their dependence upon the Anointed One’s love, they dared to do much because of their love for Him.

Why is it no longer the same, asks Spurgeon? God’s children are ruled in their innermost being by love. The love of the Anointed One compels them; they rejoice that divine love given to them, they feel it in their hearts by the Holy Spirit, and then by force of gratitude, they love the Savior with a sincere and pure heart. Then Spurgeon has a question for those who read this devotion, do you love Him? Before you go to sleep, give an honest answer to this weighty question about your love for your Savior.[5]

John James Lias (1834-1923) states that this root truth of the Gospel is as important an article of faith as any Christian creed. It would solve most of life’s difficulties and most of the problems that affect Christian theology if firmly grasped. No doctrine, it may be safely affirmed, which is contrary to this fundamental principle, can be true. Many parts of the Christian creed may seem opposed to this proposition. Yet, in reality, they are not so. Whatever appears to conflict with it must be explained so that  this essential doctrine is not put out of sight. It is to be lamented that this doctrine, standing as it does in the forefront of the Gospel, is attested not only by its double repetition here but by the language of the Savior. In the Apostle John’s Gospel, [6] what we find about love has been allowed to fall into the background. It’s plain and simple; If you don’t love, you don’t know God because God IS love.[7]

Marvin R. Vincent (1834-1922) says we see that God is light[8] and the truth;[9] also, God is spirit.[10] Spirit and light are expressions of God’s essential nature. Love is the expression of His personality, corresponding to His nature. Truth and love stand related to each other. Loving is the condition of knowing.[11]

Augustus H. Strong (1836-1921) discusses that getting to know ourselves is a way of knowing if God is in us. First, there are many passages representing the Anointed One as the Image of God.[12] Therefore, the Anointed One is the perfect image of God.[13] The Anointed One, therefore, has consciousness and will. He possesses all the attributes and powers of God. The word “Image” suggests the perfect equality with God, which the title “Son” might at first seem to deny. The living Image of God, which is equal to Himself and is the object of His infinite love, can be nothing less than personal. The Image is not precisely the repetition of the original. The stamp from the seal is not precisely the reproduction of the seal. The letters on the seal run backward and can be easily read when the impression is before us. So, the Anointed One is the only interpretation and revelation of the hidden Godhead. As only in love do we come to know the depths of our being, so it is only in the Son that “God is love.”[14]

Strong goes on to say that the Unitarian idea of a solitary God profoundly affects our conception of God, reduces it to mere power, and identifies God with abstract cause and thought. Love is grounded in power, not power grounded in love. The Father is the embodiment of the omniscient and omnipotent genius of the universe. That’s why whoever denies the Son denies the Father.[15] Charles Frederick D’Arcy (1859-1938) says, “If God is simply one great person, then we have to think of Him as waiting until the whole creation process has been accomplished before His love can find an object upon which to bestow itself.”[16] His agápe-love belongs, in that case, not to his innermost essence but his relation to some of His creatures. The words “God is love[17] become a rhetorical exaggeration, rather than the expression of truth about the divine nature.

Erich Haupt (1841-1910) says that if we take “God is Light” and “God is Love” together, we reach the result that no action of God is conceivable that does not have for its aim the demonstration of love. Furthermore, there is no evidence of a love that does not have for its substance the communication of the divine natures of Light and Glory. Suppose this self-communication of perfect love has an absolute sense of perfection, as a ray of light passing unbroken from one point to another. In that case, we have the eternal brightness and character of God’s glory in His Son. Thus, it is plain how not only the Anointed One but the Church, the perfected kingdom of God, with its body, the earthly creation, may be called the fullness of God. If, then, Light and Love are as inseparably as form and matter make up any material thing, then it follows that everyone born of God must be a partaker of this Light and this agápe-love.[18]

Alfred Plummer (1841-1926) proposes that if no previous religion, not even the Jewish, achieved the level of truth that “God is Light,”[19] still less have any reached the level of enlightenment that “God is love.” For the heathen world, God is a powerful, terrible, and often a cruel being, one whose fierce wrath needs to be denounced and whose ill-will needs to be appeased, rather than one on whose love people may rely. The Jews felt, He was a just and a jealous, if also a merciful God, of whose inmost being all that was known was I AM THAT I AM. To the Christian alone, He is known as LOVE.[20]

Methodist preacher Mark Guy Pearse (1842-1930), from Cornwall, [21] says I’ve heard that God is Almighty, but what does it mean? I judge strength by my arm, the winds, and angry seas, or the power of human mechanisms. In all these, I can see only matter overcoming matter. I have nothing by which to know the Omnipotent. I hear of Self-existence, Independence. What is that? I see all things depending on their source and their sustenance upon others. What can I know of Him whose name is “I AM?”[22] And if I turn from these aspects to the moral character of God, I am yet more bewildered. Sin has put out the spiritual eyes by which I can see true righteousness, and perhaps as much in mercy as in punishment.

But let’s think, says Pearse, if I know all this about God, does it still mean I can’t know Him personally? His vastness, immensity, knowledge, and power leave me an utter stranger to God. But tell me that He is love –what love is, is God – then I know Him. I know now how He feels and thinks and acts. I know now how to come to Him and speak to Him. Now, do I know Him when I know that He is love? Those that love know God – look at this faculty within us by which we know God. Love is ours, as nothing else is ours. The slow and irksome toil of learning is not needful for love. The dullest scholar may be a very master of this art, and the most unlettered may rightly translate the signs and mysteries of love.[23]


[1] Steele, Daniel, Half-Hour, op. cit., pp. 103-104

[2] Lincoln, William: Lectures on 1 John, op. cit., Lecture VII, p. 114

[3] Galatians 2:20

[4] 1 John 4:19

[5] Spurgeon, Charles H., Morning and Evening Daily Readings, op. cit., June 5 PM

[6] John 5:42; 13:34-35; 14:23, 31; 15:9-10

[7] Lias, James John: The First Epistle of St. John with Exposition, op. cit., pp. 308-309

[8] 1 John 1:5

[9] Ibid. 1:6

[10] John 4:24

[11] Vincent, Marvin R., Word Studies in the New Testament, Vol. II., op. cit., p. 357

[12] 2 Corinthians 4:4; Colossians 1:15; Hebrews 1:3

[13] See Genesis 1:26-27

[14] Strong, Augustus H., Systematic Theology, Vol. 1, op. cit., pp. 608-609

[15] 1 John 2:23

[16] D’Arcy, Charles Frederick: Idealism and Theology, Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1899, Lecture VI, p. 204

[17] 1 John 4:8

[18] Haupt, Erich: The First Epistle of John, op. cit., pp. 258-259

[19] To those under the First Covenant, God’s light came through His Word. However, in Psalm 27:1 David did talk about the LORD being his light. However, the Hebrew noun there is (‘ôr) which means, light that comes from the daylight or a lamp or instruction.

[20] Plummer, Alfred: Cambridge Commentary, op. cit., p. 147

[21] Cornwall is a county on England’s rugged southwestern tip. It forms a peninsula encompassing wild moorland and hundreds of sandy beaches, culminating at the Land’s cape.

[22] Exodus 3:14

[23] Pearse, Mark Guy, Biblical Illustrator, First Epistle of John, Vol. 22, op. cit., p. 51

About drbob76

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