WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER FOUR (Lesson LVIII) 04/08/22

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

Warren W. Wiersbe (1929-2019) points out that it is one thing to “know” something, but that is only the beginning of gaining intimate knowledge. For example, the verb “know” is used in Torah to describe the intimate union of husband and wife.[1] To know God means to be in an in-depth relationship with Him – to share His life and enjoy His agápe-love. This knowing is not simply a matter of understanding facts; it is perceiving truth.[2]

Wiersbe then offers this illustration: Someone stole a large quantity of radioactive material from a hospital. When the hospital administrator notified the police, he said, “Please warn the thief that he is carrying death with him and that the radioactive material cannot be successfully hidden. As long as he has it in his possession, it is affecting him disastrously!” A person who claims to know and be in union with God but continues to hate a fellow believer will be devastatingly affected by this relationship. A Christian ought to become what God is, and “God is love.” To argue otherwise is to prove that one is not serious about knowing God![3]

Simon J. Kistenmaker (1930-2017) says that verses seven and eight are among the treasured passages of the entire epistle. They speak of love that originates in God, describing the believer as someone who loves and knows God. By contrast, unbelievers do not love because they do not know God. When the Apostle John compares the believer with the unbeliever, he observes that knowledge of God is nonexistent when love is absent. The person who fails to commune with God in prayer and neglects to read the Bible cannot be the instrument through which God demonstrates His divine love. The unbeliever has not even begun to know God. Without knowledge of God, there is no love. Love and knowledge of God are two sides of the same coin.[4]

Stephen S. Smalley (1931-2018) mentions that Love cannot be the measure of knowing God; similarly, a lack of love does not prove that no relationship with God exists. But because God’s nature is Love, the knowledge of God should lead to love for others. The positive implication here is more important than the negative. The vital thing to keep in mind is that anyone who enters into a personal relationship with a loving God can be transformed into a caring person.[5]

Edward J. Malatesta (1932-1998) feels that the Apostle John wants to impress his readers that Love is not just some physical emotion or mental projection. Instead, it shows that they have a personal relationship with God, who is Love. And with Him now being present in their lives through the Spirit, Love is an act of the will in obedience to God’s command.[6] By contrast, says John, if you do not love your fellow man, especially God’s other children, you don’t have a personal relationship with God. Therefore, since it’s entirely about Love, it’s all about God.[7]

Ian Howard Marshall (1934-2015) notes that “God is Love[8] is rightly recognized as one of the high peaks of divine revelation in this Epistle. Logically, the statement stands parallel with “God is Light[9] and “God is Spirit[10] as one of the three great Johannine expressions of the nature of God. Some theologians give the impression that the present statement is superior to the other two, but give no reason why. There is also no need to enter into a historical survey of the teaching of Scripture on this point. It would demonstrate that this statement is simply the most precise expression of a doctrine of the nature of God that is proven throughout its pages. Equally, it would show no similar picture of God outside the Scripture. God is all-loving and, equally, all-holy.[11] These two characteristics do not stand in opposition to one another but belong together and determine His actions. Consequently, it is not surprising that John does not stay on the level of abstract theological assertion, but proceeds directly to speak of the practical way God showed His agápe-love.[12]

Messianic writer David Stern (1935) notes that this simple sentence embodies the most profound religious truth. Yet, it can be perverted into a meaningless slogan, in which God is pictured as some sort of floating fuzz-ball of love, accepting everything and judging nothing. It is wrong for two reasons: (1) God’s agápe-love is not a mere feeling but action, as the familiar teaches:[13] (2) God is not only loving; He is also justice, pouring out wrath on those who reject His mercy.[14] Therefore, believers must proclaim God’s love and hatred for sin and His intolerance of human pride that presumes on God: God is not mocked.[15] [16]

Muncia Walls (1937) says that we should be aware that love alone does not define God for us. Nor can we express love in the same way we would explain our feelings toward our loved ones. It would not be proper to say that two people in love are manifesting God. Their passion may be strictly carnal, without any thought of God involved in their relationship. So, in this manner, we could say that love does not define for us what God is.[17] In other words, “GOD” is another way to spell “LOVE.”

Stanley L. Derickson (1940) points out that we must keep in mind that God is love: “Those who do not love do not know God because God is love.”[18] God’s very nature is that of love. He exudes love in all that He does for humanity. Even in judgment upon the earth after the fall, He left us a beautiful planet to behold. He gave us many things to enjoy in this life.

As a fellowship, we pledge to walk in Christian love, remember each other in prayer, aid one another in Christian living[19] and help those sick and in need.[20] There should be no gossip, backbiting, or anger, being slow to take offense and quick to reconcile, keeping unity and peace.[21] So loving one another was not a pet doctrine of the Apostle John. On the contrary, all the apostles emphasized it as a hallmark of Christians living in love.[22]

Michael Eaton (1942-2017) notes that the person who does not love may still be a Christian (for every Christian has had times when they have not shown love). John is not denying anyone’s Christian conversion. His point is rather that at that point in their life, knowledge of God was not functioning. John explicitly does not say that lack of love is proof of not having been born of God. He cannot say that would imply that it is impossible for the Christian not to love. John knows that some of His little children have fallen into lovelessness.[23] Yet he does not deny the reality of their first faith.[24] In truth, they have become like the Laodiceans; they are neither hot nor cold.[25] God tells them that, like water, He doesn’t mind if they are hot or cold, but lukewarm makes Him want to spit them out.

From what William Loader (1944) says about this verse, we can assume that the Apostle John did not mean that God had love, but that the God of love is loving.  And, more than that, John sees such loving as a manifestation of God’s being. He seems not to think of loving independently of God. Another way of saying this would describe every act of loving as a work of the Spirit. It is a theology of spiritual love. It calls to mind Jesus’ persistent tendency to address the issue of God, and God’s relationship with people, by telling stories about human love and generosity, the most famous instance being the parable of the prodigal son.[26] [27] I would agree with Loader that it illustrates a father loving his son. But for me, the Good Samaritan parable tells about loving a stranger, [[28] while the thief on the cross is an example of loving a sinner.[29]

Robert W. Yarbrough (1948) notes that of the eighteen Final Covenant occurrences of “the one who does not,” nearly half are on Jesus’s lips.[30] The Apostle Paul uses the phrase three times.[31] The other seven occurrences are in First John.[32] John has already spoken of “the one who” does not do what’s right and does not confess Jesus as having come from God. He has also spoken twice of “the one who” lacks love, in this case, brotherly love: such a person is not from God, and, worse, they “abide in death.

In an age of increasing tolerance of the notion that all religions amount to the same thing, it is worth noting that John’s picture of God is part of a unique affirmation. Further, John does not say that love is God, a statement found nowhere in Scripture. To do so would replace a living, personal, and active God with an intellectual, ethical, purposeful, or emotional concept – the last thing that the language of John’s First Epistle or the graphic portrayal of God incarnate in the Gospels would permit.[33]


[1] Genesis 4:1

[2] 1 John 2:3-5

[3] Wiersbe, Warren W., Be Real; Turning from Hypocrisy to Truth, (The BE Series Commentary) op. cit., pp. 139-140 

[4] Kistemaker, Simon J., New Testament Commentary, op. cit., pp. 330-331

[5] Smalley, Stephen S., Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 51, op. cit., p. 238

[6] See 1 John 4:21

[7] Malatesta, Edward J., Interiority and Covenant, op. cit., p. 295

[8] 1 John 4:8

[9] Ibid. 1:5

[10] John 4:24

[11] 1 John 1:5

[12] Marshall, I. Howard. The Epistles of John (The New International Commentary on the New Testament), op. cit., pp. 212-213

[13] John 3:16

[14] Romans 1:18–2:16, 3:19–20

[15] Galatians 6:7

[16] Stern, David H., Jewish New Testament Commentary, Kindle Edition.

[17] Walls, Muncia: Epistles of John & Jude, op. cit., p. 73

[18] 1 John 4:8

[19] Ibid 4:7-8

[20] James 5:14

[21] Ephesians 4:31-2

[22] Derickson, Stanley L., Notes on Theology, op. cit., pp. 255, 1160

[23] Revelation 2:4

[24] Eaton, Michael: Focus on the Bible, 1,2,3 John, op. cit., p. 142

[25] Revelation 3:15-16

[26] See Luke 15:11-32

[27] Loader, William: Epworth Commentary, op. cit., p. 52

[28] Luke 10:25-37

[29] Ibid. 23:32-43

[30] Matthew 12: 30x2; Luke 11: 23x2; 22: 36; John 5: 23; 10: 1; 14: 24

[31] Romans 14: 6, 22; 1 Corinthians 7: 38

[32] 1 John 3: 10x2, 14; 4: 3, 8; 5: 10, 12

[33] Yarbrough, Robert W., 1-3 John (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament), op. cit., p. 236-237

About drbob76

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