WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER FOUR (Lesson LX) 04/12/22

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

Karen H. Jobes (1968) points out that this is the third time the Apostle John mentioned: “the one who does not love.” Such a person remains in spiritual death.[1] Therefore, they do not have eternal life. The essence of that life is knowledge of God and the One He sent.[2] The failure to love is not simply an ethical failing, but means that one remains in the ignorance of sin, apart from salvation’s Light. Those who fail to love are outside the Christian community and have no truthful testimony of God, for they have no actual knowledge of God. As God defines it, personal understanding of God and agápe-love for others are inseparable. John’s appeal, therefore, implicitly demands self-examination.[3]

David Guzik (1984) notes that the love the Apostle John speaks of comes from the ancient Greek word agápe; it is the concept of a self-giving love that gives without demanding or expecting re-payment God-kind of love. Since this is God’s kind of love, it comes into our life through our relationship with Him. If we want to love one another more, we need to draw closer to God. Every human connection is like a triangle. The two people in the relationship are at the triangle’s base, and God is at the top. As the two people draw closer to the top of the triangle, closer to God, they will also draw closer to one another. Weak relationships grow stronger when both people draw near to the Lord![4]

4:9       This is how God showed His agápe-love to us: He sent His only Son into the world to give us life through Him.

EXPOSITION

In the opening of his Gospel, the Apostle John states, The Word became a man and lived among us. We saw His divine greatness – the greatness that belongs to the Father’s only begotten Son. The Word was full of grace and truth.”[5] Then, later on in his story about Jesus and Nicodemus, John remarks: “God loved the world so much that He gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in Him would not be lost but have eternal life.  Yes, God sent His Son into the world, but He did not send Him to judge the world guilty, but to save the world through Him.[6]

When Jesus fed the 5,000, He spoke about Himself as living bread and what partaking of the bread means, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my body. I will give my body so that the people in the world can have life.[7]  And when speaking about Himself as the Good Shepherd as opposed to those who claim to be shepherds, our Lord pointed out, “A thief comes to steal, kill, and destroy. But I came to give life-life that is full and good . . . I give My sheep eternal life. They will never die, and no one can take them out of my hand.” And when the Master wanted to comfort His followers in light of His leaving them for a short time, He told them this, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.[8] [9]

So, it is clear that God meant for His expression of love to provide life.  However, no one should mistake John’s use of the word “love” here as the same as what the world calls “love.”  But love is like a light switch.  It is something we turn on and off at will.  It will not turn on by itself.  It cannot be programmed to turn on at a particular time to become automatic. But, when we turn it on, it can light up the room. People can see better and discern their environmental surroundings more clearly. It also gives warmth. When dealing with other people, we can turn love on or off. But when it comes to God, the switch is always on, day and night. King David gave an illustration of love for God and His word in Psalm One.

The phrase “in this” refers to what follows. John shows how the nature of God’s agápe-love concretely exhibits itself. God’s agápe-love for His Son existed for all eternity, but He manifested His agápe-love for us by sending His Son to earth to die for our sins.  God now shows how He demonstrates His agápe-love.  His best demonstration is in sending His Son to die for our sins.  God’s agápe-love is not motivated by any worthiness in us[10] but by His character. God “sent” His Son into the world.  The word “sent” carries the idea of being commissioned with a mission. God sent His Son on the unique mission to pay for our sins.[11] Sending God’s Son into the world was no passing act of sentimentality. This phrase does not imply that Jesus was reluctant to come into the world to die for our sins.  On the contrary, He was willing to come.[12] The standard of God’s agápe-love is the ultimate sacrifice. 

The words “only begotten” pertain to what is unique in being the only one of the same kind or class – unique. The Son is the One-of-a-Kind. He is incomparable to anyone else. God calls His Son “only begotten” five times in the Final Covenant. All five times occur in John’s writings, four in his Gospel and once in his first epistle. “Only-begotten” speaks of Jesus’ uniqueness rather than His origin. Jesus is the one-of-a-kind agent of the Father and the Father’s plan for salvation. God did not have another Son born of a woman. The Son of God is the Great One-of-a-Kind.

The word “that” expresses purpose. Without God’s purpose of sending His unique Son, the one-and-only Son, into the world to save us, we would be spiritually lost and subject to the Second Death, eternal death.

John sets the word “live” in stark contrast to the idea of spiritual death. It is to live in the absolute sense—to live forever with God. God loved us so that we could experience eternal life, His life. God loved us so that we might live eternally. Physical life came through creation, but spiritual life comes through the death of the Anointed One. God fully manifested His unconditional love to us at Calvary. 

Verse nine is similar to what John said in chapter three, verse sixteen. Also, “in this” refers to what follows and introduces a concrete and crucial example of love. Beware of the inadequate and misleading rendering “towards us.” It means in us and belongs to “manifested.[13] We must not connect “the love of God in us,” still less “the love of God toward us,” is one idea. “In us” means “in our case,” and we can paraphrase the whole thing to read: “A transcendent manifestation of God’s love has been made regarding us, in that he has sent,” etc. The verse might serve as a summary of John’s Gospel. The word “only begotten” as applied to the Anointed One is peculiar to John; it and “we might live” are the keywords of the passage. This is love indeed; God’s only Son He sent to give us eternal life.

COMMENTARY

In his epistle to the Philippians, Polycarp (69-155 AD) urges them to remain in hope and patience. He encourages them to persevere in hope continually and the seriousness of right living, which is Jesus the Anointed One, who bore our sins in His body on the tree, [14] who did not sin, neither was there any artificial word coming from His mouth, [15] but endured all things for us, that we might live in Him.[16] Let us then be imitators of His patience, and if when persecuted for His name’s sake, [17] let us glorify Him. For He has set Himself as an example, [18] and we believe that such is the case.[19]

John Calvin (1509-1564) tells us that the agápe-love of God towards us testifies with many other proofs. For if someone asks why the world was created, tell them we have been placed here as stewards of the earth, we are preserved in life to enjoy innumerable blessings; we are endued with Light and understanding; no other reason can be adduced, except the gratuitous agápe-love of God. But the Apostle John chose its principal evidence, and what far surpasses all other things. It was not only an immeasurable love, that God spared not His Son, that by His death He might restore us to life; but it was His marvelous goodness which ought to fill our minds with wonder and amazement. Then, the Anointed One illustrates so memorable and singular a proof of divine love towards us that whenever we look upon Him, He fully confirms to us the truth that God is love.[20]

John Trapp (1601-1669) says that the manifestation of Jesus, God’s Son, the very seat of His tenderest compassion, is laid open to us.[21] God so loved His Son that He gave Him the world for His possession, [22] but He so loved the world that He gave Son for its redemption.[23]

John Owen (1616-1683) says that all those who believe that God’s love and grace are offered as the only way and means that Jesus the Anointed can provide for our recovery and salvation. That’s why they become, or God in them, the supreme efficient cause of our justification.[24] Therefore, being justified through the redemption in the Anointed One, Jesus.[25] Through this, the Lord the Anointed One directs our faith continually, referring all to Him that sent Him and whose will He came to do.[26] [27]

The word “Atonement” is too limited in its significance for its purpose, says Owen. It does not express all that Scripture declares that the Anointed One did to “satisfy all the demands of God’s law.” It properly signifies the ransom price for sin and nothing more. It represents only that satisfaction which the Anointed One rendered to the justice of God on our behalf by suffering the penalty due to our sins.[28]


[1] 1 John 3:10, 14

[2] Cf. John 17:3

[3] Jobes, Karen H., 1, 2, and 3 John (Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on The New Testament, Book 18), p. 190

[4] Guzik, David: Enduring Word, op. cit., loc. cit.

[5] Revelation 1:14

[6] Ibid. 3:16-17

[7] Ibid. 6:51, 57

[8] John 10:10, 28

[9] Ibid. 14:6

[10] Romans 5:5-9

[11] John 3:17, 34: 5:37-37; 7:29; 8:12; 10:36; 17:3, 18; 30:21

[12] Romans 5:8

[13] See John 9:4

[14] 1 Peter 2:24

[15] Ibid. 2:22

[16] 2 Timothy 2:10; See 1 John 4:9

[17] Acts of the Apostles 5:41; 1 Peter 4:16

[18] 1 Peter 2:21

[19] Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians, Ch. 8

[20] Calvin, John: Commentary of the Catholic Epistles, op. cit., loc. cit.

[21] Trapp notes a comparison to a surgeon opening up a patient’s abdomen for all to see its contents. That is why he uses the term “bowls” as the place where we will find God’s tenderest compassion.

[22] Psalm 2:7

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

[24] See John 3:16; also, Romans 5:8; 1 John 4:9-10

[25] Romans 3:24; 5:1; Ephesians 1:6-8.

[26] Hebrews 10:5

[27] Owen, John: The Doctrine of Justification by Faith, op. cit., pp. 144-145

[28] Hodge, Archibald Alexander: The Atonement. Pneuma Press. Kindle Edition.

About drbob76

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