WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER FOUR (Lesson LVI) 04/06/22

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

John Morlais Jones (1843-1905) states that God’s agápe-love makes believing possible. It would be impossible to think if we did not know that “God is love.” Most people accept the Bible as a marvelous, historical book full of psalms and proverbs. But when you speak of the Cross, of the “Lamb of God,” upon whom the world’s sins laid, of eternal punishment if His offer of grace is not accepted, people begin to hesitate and stammer. “No, no; that is incredible; that can never be,” they say. But the agápe-love of God makes every item of the Anointed One’s story believable. We have all seen the miracles that love works. The Cross will be forever the symbol of love’s perfect triumph, not shame, humiliation, grief, and embarrassment. It was love that did it. “God’s agápe-love” for a lost and dying world full of hopeless, hostile sinners.[1] And then we have difficulty loving our neighbors or fellow believers!

Clement Clemance (1845-1886) says the Apostle John once again varies his thinking. Instead of “Love is of God, [2] we have “God is Love” – a far deeper thought; and instead of “knows not God,” we “never knew God.” A person not loving their spiritual brother or sister shows that in no real sense have they ever in the past known God; they are of the world, [3] not of God. We must beware of watering down “God is Love” to “God is loving,” or even “God not only loves you, but He’s also in love with you.” Love is not merely a Godly attribute; it is His very nature. As “God as Light” sums up “being of God” on the knowledge side, so “God is Love” adds up the same on the moral side. Only when we apply this strong meaning to the statement does John’s argument hold, that “they that don’t know love don’t know God.”[4]

Aaron M. Hills (1848-1911) addressed that redemption and salvation are gifts of God’s agápe-love tells us that the Scriptures point out that there are two sorts of spiritual love: One Created, the other Uncreated. Love uncreated is God Himself, and the Third Person in the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. As the Apostle John says, “God is love.”[5] That is the Holy Spirit. Love created is the affection of the soul produced by the Holy Spirit out of sight and with the knowledge that God stirred it up and placed it in the heart. This agápe-love is created, for the Holy Spirit makes it. Agápe-love is not God, for it is made: but it is the love of the soul felt by the sight of Jesus and came alive in Him.

Now, says Hills, may you see that created love is not the cause why a soul comes into the spiritual Light of Jesus. And some may think that they could love God so fervently, as it were by their strength, that they might be worthy to know Him spiritually. No, it is not so, but love uncreated, God Himself, is the cause for gaining this knowledge. A blind wretched soul is so far from the clear knowing and the blessed feeling of His agápe-love, through sin and frailty of its human nature, that it could never exist were not for the infinite greatness of God’s agápe-love. But because He loves us so much, He gives us His agápe-love, the Holy Spirit. He is both the giver and the gift, and makes us then by that gift to know and love Him.[6]

James B. Morgan (1850-1942) says that “speaking the truth in love” is the Final Covenant’s rule for the Christian. God’s uncompromising faithfulness is not inconsistent with His extraordinary tenderness. Our Lord is known as “the faithful and true witness,” yet He was the embodiment of love. He spoke more plainly and severely, yet more affectionately, than any other public teacher. In these traits of character, the Apostle John, most resembles Him. And we do not need to go beyond the passage before us, says Morgan. Two duties, implying severity, are joined in verses seven and eight. First, he calls upon the members of the Church to exercise a strict vigilance over the faithfulness of its ministers, charging them to “try the Spirits.” Then he demands that they will be no less rigorous in judging themselves, whether they are profitable hearers of the word. They should determine whether they are guided by “the spirit of truth, or the spirit of error.” But having thus faithfully called them to these urgent duties, John returns to his favorite theme of love, on which he had been previously speaking. He pours out the tender address of the text, “Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God and everyone that loves are born of God and knows God. Those that do not love do not know God, for God is love.”

Morgan asks: “Is this the Christian’s model?” Yes. “They know God who is born of God.” What manner of conversation then must this blessed individual exhibit? They are “of God,” created by Him, dependent on Him, who is Love.” They are “born of God,” born anew by the grace of His Spirit – who is love. “They know God,” are acquainted with Him as a friend, live in communion with Him – who is love. What must they be? The ray of light that radiates from the sun is light. The beam of love that sparkles from the eye is love. Any child of God, a companion of His Son, and the temple of His Spirit must also love as He loves. Oh! How natural for such a one to say – “Beloved, let us love one another; love is of God, and everyone who loves is born and knows God.” They that don’t love don’t know God: for God is Love.[7]

William Sinclair (1850-1917) says that this may be considered the central portion of the second half of the Apostle John’s First Epistle. Nothing could be more significant than his teaching. Here many trains of thought which have occurred before are gathered together in one grand treatise on love, divine and human – the complement of the thirteenth chapter of the Apostle Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians.

In the early part of the Epistle, John defined God as Light, and his thoughts grouped around and with that central idea. But, of course, it would be impossible to exhaust all the definitions of God. And just as we might classify our human nature as intellectual and moral, mind and heart, thought and emotion, so, when we consider God to be Light (embracing all such divine attributes like truth, knowledge, purity, power, and justice), we will not have an outline listing all that we can know of God’s Divine nature or all that we should understand until we have also considered Him to be Love. God is the Author and Source of all Divine kindness, compassion, friendliness, and rejoicing in creating eternal life for everlasting happiness. This way, God offers timeless bliss to all His human family, eternally surrounded by inexhaustible artworks of the joy and glory of perfection.[8]

Reverend William F. Harper (1854-1930) notes that the Apostle John did not address his Epistle to any local Church. He was by now an elderly servant of God. The Apostles Peter, James, and Paul had all gone “to be with the Anointed One[9] to await the resurrection, and he survived them all. The phrase “God is love” is one of the golden sentences only to be found in the Book of God. It is “an ocean of thought in a droplet of language.” Even during the short amount of time, it took to write this letter, it came from the pen of someone who laid his head on his Master’s shoulder at the Last Supper.

Therefore, John is more than qualified to share these insights. First, here is the source of salvation. (a) God sent His Son. That was love. (b) The Anointed One came. That was love. (c) The Holy Spirit distributes God’s agápe-love in our hearts.[10] That is love. (d) So, every saved soul is saved, sanctified, and maintained by love.

Secondly, here is the fountain of comfort. How refreshing to be able to fall back upon this truth in a world giving us a welcome basket filled with – tears, difficulties, anxieties, burdens, clouds, heart-aches, heart-breaks, sick-beds, death-beds, graves, etc., – but “God is love.”’ Every believer may say, “Not a single love arrow can hit until the God of Love sees fit.”[11] Thirdly, here is our hope for the future. (a) In heaven, there is rest. (b) In heaven, there is light. “Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”[12] (c) But above all, there is love in heaven, for “God is Love.”[13]

Alonzo R. Cocke (1858-1901) says that love indicates the presence of God’s life in the heart, but it is also essential to any proper knowledge of God. By participating in the divine life, we are born of God and have the capacity for knowing God through love. By love, we know God, for we participate by loving in that which is the very nature of God. The unregenerate person cannot know God and commune with Him in His divine plans and purposes, for they do not have God’s nature. Those that do not love lack Christian love that flows from the eternal fountain of God’s agápe-love, and it is along the channel of its flow alone that we can come to the great sea of His being and fathom its infinite depths. Love is not only a mark of that higher life which proceeds from God, but it is the door of entrance into the treasure-house of his nature. It is a ray from the eternal source of divine life shining in the face of all His children, and it is also the light that guides them to their home in God’s heart and reveals all its wealth of affection.[14]

Albert Barnes (1872-1951) says that never was a more critical 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 in 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.[15]

In the arrangements made to alleviate sin and sorrow, notes Barnes, a Savior was prepared to offer eternal life on terms simple and easy to accept. In all these things, which are the mere expressions of love, we see illustrations of the sublime and glorious sentiment before us that “God is love.” Even in this world of confusion, disorder, and darkness, we have evidence sufficient to prove that He is kindhearted. But the full glory and meaning of that truth will be seen only in heaven. Meantime, let us hold on to the reality that He is love. Let us believe that He sincerely desires our good and that what seems dark to us may be designed for our welfare, and amidst all the sorrows and disappointments of the present life, let us feel that our interests and our destiny are in the hands of the God of love.[16] [17]


[1] Jones, John Morlais, The Biblical Illustrator, op. cit., 1 John 4, pp. 54-55

[2] 1 John 4:7

[3] 1 John 3:1

[4] Clemance, Clement: First Epistle of John, Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 22, Exposition, op. cit., p. 103

[5] 1 John 4:8

[6] Hills, Aaron M., The Scale of Perfection, Bk. 1, Part 3, p. 179

[7] Morgan, James B., An Exposition of the First Epistle of John, op. cit., Lecture XXXI, p. 314

[8] Sinclair, William: A New Testament for English Readers, Ed. Charles J. Ellicott, op. cit., p. 488

[9] 2 Corinthians 5:8

[10] Romans 5:5

[11] Sovereign Ruler of the Skies, by John Ryland (1753-1825), inspired by Psalm 103:19

[12] 1 Corinthians 13:12

[13] Harper, William F., The Church Pulpit Commentary, op. cit., Vol. 12, pp. 292-293

[14] Cocke, Alonzo R., Studies in the Epistles of John, op. cit., loc., cit., Logos

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

[16] 2 Corinthians 13:11; 1 John 4:16

[17] Barnes, Albert: New Testament Notes, op. cit., p. 4864

About drbob76

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