WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER FOUR (Lesson LXI) 04/13/22

4:9 God showed how much He loved us by sending His only Son into this wicked world to bring us eternal life through His death.

William Burkitt (1650-1703) points out that it was a remarkable instance of God’s agápe-love, that He considered our case and concerned Himself for our happiness, as nothing is more helpful to human nature than love. Therefore, if no love assists more than some people exercised with great disdain after a provocation, it does not match God’s agápe-love to offending sinners.[1]

Johann Bengel (1687-1752) explains that in verse nine, “toward us” – that is, God’s agápe-love, which is now ours throughout our whole spiritual experience, “because” – this motive of love is derived from verse three. It is said respecting Jesus the Anointed One, who is come in the flesh, mutual love is inferred in verse seven. The consequence is proven from the agápe-love of God towards us, as we see in verse nine, who sent His Son, that we might live. It is proof of God’s agápe-love towards us: it is a motivating factor for our mutual love for each other.[2]

James Macknight (1721-1800) says that the Apostle John says here in verse nine is an allusion to our Lord’s words in John 3:16. The Anointed One is called God’s only begotten Son to distinguish Him from all others, who are called the sons of God in Scripture. It is to intensify our idea of God’s agápe-love to us, in giving a Person of such dignity, and so beloved of God, to die for us. It is possible that by John giving the Anointed One the title of God’s only begotten Son, he intended to overturn the error of the Ebionites, [3] and Cerinthus, [4] who avowed that the Anointed One was not God’s Son by nature, but that, like other distinguished men, He was honored with the title of God’s Son on account of His virtues; in which opinion these founders of heretical sects have been followed by some into modern times. However, those who hold this opinion should show why the only begotten nickname is applied to the Anointed One.[5]

William Jones (1726-1800) is sure that God’s Word is weightier than any human testimony. The Apostle John’s meaning is that if we feel it obligatory not to reject human testimony when clear and adequate, that much more should we consider it binding on us to receive God’s testimony, especially when it concerns the Anointed One. What John says here in verses nine and ten is more significant than any human testimony could be. In what sense? It is more meaningful because of its origin – God. Some unbelievers might, and probably would say, “Granted, God’s testimony is greater than mankind’s. But since it’s God’s testimony, is there any way to prove that it’s true.” John would answer, “No one is asking you to believe it blindly; that’s why God proved it by showing it to the world. He sent His Son to communicate His Word.”

Rev. Jones concludes with lyrics from an old Church hymn sung in the 1700s that express the sentiments of both sinner and saint:

Hence and forever from my heart

I bid my doubts and fears depart;

And to those hands, my soul resign

Which bear credentials so divine.[6]

English Philosopher Herbert Spencer (1820-1903) acknowledges that “at the back of all things there is an infinite energy.”[7] Spencer said that if the energy is infinite, it can let us know something about itself as a starting point. (1) If the infinite energy consents to tell us something about itself, it must be through such channels of life, thought, and words as we can apprehend. (2) The fact that the communication channel may be human is entirely consistent with the origin of communication being Divine. (3) When this is the case, such human communication has to be interrogated and tested as to where it came from and how. (4) If it stands this test, namely, if (a) it claims to be from God, if (b) it justifies that claim, [8] and if (c) there is nothing inconsistent with the claim, – then the proof of the validity of its testimony is complete.[9]

Richard Rothe (1799-1867) points out that there was no better way for God to reveal that He is love than to send His only Son into the world with a message of that love. In doing so, God also established that love is a gift. In many commentaries, I read that love is a “free” gift. If it is a gift, it has to be free; otherwise it is not a gift. So, there is no used in using “free” with gift. You cannot buy it, merit it, bargain for it, nor earn it. True agápe love is a gift from Love Himself, by which He gave Himself to the world through His Son. So, if you accept His Son, you also accept His agápe-love.

Consequently, says Rothe, it is only through a revelation, which factors in mankind’s ethical nature and ethical needs, that the agápe-love of God can be exhibited to us in its true light.[10] In other words, Rothe points out that no one knew of God’s agápe-love until He showed it. The same is true of us. We can talk about love, think about love, define love, preach love, etc. But until we manifest the existence of love in our hearts, it does not exist. Love is an act of our will, not a concept of the mind or emotion.

Alfred Plummer (1841-1926) says that we see the uniformity of verses 10, 13, and 17 with what the Apostle John says here in verse nine. We have the same Greek pronoun, toutō, in all four verses. “Herein” plainly refers to what follows.[11] John tells us that “In this was manifested the agápe-love of God.”[12] Here is another reason for our loving one another. We must do this (1) because love is the very essence of Him whose children we are; (2) because of the superior way in which His agápe-love was manifested. The context shows that “the agápe-love of God,” which usually in this Epistle expresses our love to God, here means His agápe-love to us.[13] [14]

Albert Barnes (1798-1870) gives us another outline to consider in determining the measure of God’s agápe-love. He died that we might have eternal life through the merits of His sacrifice. The extent of that love, then, which was manifested in the gift of a Savior, is to be found (1) in the worth of the soul; (2) in its exposure to eternal death; (3) in the greatness of the gift; (4) in the greatness of His sorrows for us; and, (5) in the immortal blessedness and joy to which He will raise us. Who can estimate all this? All these things will magnify themselves as we draw near to eternity, and in that eternity to which we go, whether saved or lost, we will have an ever-expanding view of the beautiful agápe-love of God.[15]

Thomas K. Arnold (1800-1853) tells us that the Apostle John had no doubt; neither do we need any, though some doubt it, thinking that God’s justice and hatred of sin interfere with His agápe-love. But justice does not interfere with God’s love. On the contrary, justice and love are compatible with humankind and God. The Cross of the Anointed One reveals and establishes the harmony between righteousness and mercy. There, justice gets its own, love has its way, God is a “just God and a Savior,” and “grace reigns through righteousness.” The Anointed One’s Cross is not the cause, but the consequence, of God’s agápe-love. The text asserts God’s agápe-love before He sent the Anointed One; affirms the Anointed One’s mission to be the manifestation of God’s agápe-love. There is no need for doubt, then, as to the fact that God loves us, has loved us. But more than this, the text not only implies that God is loving and loves us, but asserts that He is love. Love is the sum and harmony of all His attributes, His divine essence.[16]

John Nelson Darby (1800-1882) asks what a ministry source is opened to us! It is the agápe-love of God in the Anointed One towards poor sinners. This agápe-love was fulfilled[17] in the death of the Son of man, who descended into the lowest depth of mankind’s misery. He who was glorified as God is now celebrated as a man. What a glorious function, and how small we feel as we kneel before Him. It is, indeed, the ministry of the Spirit and righteousness. Since God’s agápe-love is the source and the subject of the Anointed One’s passion, then God’s justice is accomplished in glorifying the Son of man upon the earth. He more than re-established all that glory of God (which was falsified and, in appearance, contradicted by the victory of Satan in the Garden of Eden and the ruin introduced into God’s creation); this righteousness also becomes its foundation. And because of this glorification of the Anointed One in power, there were also healings and miracles attached to this ministry, for miracles were likewise a confirmation of the essential part: the life-giving Word.[18]


[1] Burkitt, William: Notes on N.T., op. cit., pp. 730-731

[2] Bengel, Johann: Critical English Commentary, op. cit., p. 321

[3] Ebionite, member of an early ascetic sect of Jewish Christians. The Ebionites were one of several such sects that originated in and around Palestine in the first centuries AD, and included the Nazarenes and Elkasites. The name of the sect is from the Hebrew ebionim (“the poor”); it was not founded, as later Christian writers stated, by a certain Ebion.

[4] Cerinthus, (flourished c. AD 100), Christian heretic whose errors, according to the theologian Irenaeus, led the Apostle John to write his New Testament Gospel.

[5] Macknight, James: Literal Paraphrase, op. cit., pp. 91-92

[6]Behold the Blind Their Sight Received” Lyrics by Isaac Watts (1707); Music by Frederick Marc Antoine Venua (1810)

[7] Article in Nineteenth Century Magazine, a publication of the Victorian Society in America, January 1884

[8] The claim might be justified (1) by the glory of pure moral teaching; (2) by the purity of personal character; (3) by mighty works. Jesus the Anointed One appealed to all three. This, however, is now regarded by some as an additional hindrance rather than a help. To such, we would offer the following hints. (a) The New Testament miracles are not merely wonders, but signs. They harmonize with a great redemptive plan. (b) If the evidence afforded by the noble moral teaching is sufficient, well, be it so, and wait for further light on what you deem miraculous, only remember: (c) That when we believe in one God and Father of all, we do in that one article of faith cover vastly more supernatural ground than all the recorded miracles put together. (d) Certainly there have been days when miracles were the very helps that men required. Our Lord did not prefer this. He complained of it. Apostles put miracles in the fourth place. But if to some minds they were the most efficient helps, it was very kind of the Father thus to stoop to teach His children in their infancy.

[9] Jones, William: First Epistle of John, Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 22, op. cit., Homiletics, pp. 149-150

[10] Rothe, Richard: The Expository Times, op. cit., February 1894, p. 232

[11] Cf. 3:16, 19

[12] See 1 John 1:2; 2:19, 28; 3:2, 5, 8

[13] 1 John 3:16

[14] Plummer, Alfred: Cambridge Commentary, op. cit., p. 148

[15] Barnes, Albert: Notes on N.T., op. cit., p. 4863

[16] Arnold, Thomas; The Church Pulpit Commentary, op. cit., Vol. 12, p. 297

[17] 1 John 4:9

[18] Darby, John N. On Ministry: Its Nature, Source, Power, and Responsibility, p. 12

About drbob76

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