WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER FOUR (Lesson LXIII) 04/15/22

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 MacCallum Clow (1853-1930) tells us that Love, as the Apostle John tells us again and again, is to be seen and known only in what it does. Therefore, we should look at this Love of God disclosing itself in lovely deeds and rise step by step to see the supreme disclosure in the Cross of the Anointed One. There are six things that we can teach ourselves about Love to make it more meaningful and authentic:

            The first and simplest thing about love is this – love is a social passion. There cannot be love

                 without at least two, one to love and one to be loved.

            The second simple thing about love is this – love is creation. Love must create, and it must

                 create well-being. Love cannot be inactive.

            The third simple thing about love is this – love is forethought. Love cannot be content with

                 creation. It must pass on to care, and God’s care is His providence.

            The fourth and great thing about love is this – love is grace. It is where love makes its supreme

                  disclosure. Grace is love, dealing with wrongdoing.

            The fifth thing to say about love is this – love is discipline. Love’s supreme disclosure is the

                 Cross, but love which redeems must pass on to discipline. Love’s redeeming work was not

                 finished when the Anointed One confronted the gates of hell.

            The sixth thing to say about love is this – love is heaven. In Final Covenant teaching, that is the

                 issue of love’s work on the Cross and by the discipline of God. Love can never be satisfied

                 without the loved one’s constant presence and fellowship.[1] 

David Smith (1866-1932) states that the Incarnation is a manifestation of God’s agápe-love because it reveals divine nature, and divine nature is love. When we receive God into our lives, we experience His divine love.[2] The Apostle John applies the term exclusively to Jesus. It carries the idea of preciousness.[3] Notice the phrase “my precious life” in the Psalms.[4] The Incarnation manifested the agápe-love of God, and the love was displayed that we might have everlasting life. Eternal Life is not the future, but the present.[5] It is important to remember to take a good hard look at Jesus. He’s the centerpiece of everything we believe, and faithful in everything God gave Him to do.[6]

Harry Ironside (1876-1951) shows us a mathematical clue on finding that God is love. First John. 1+1=2; 2+2=4; 4+4=8; 8+8=16. Thus, “God is love” is found in 1 John 4:8 and 16. That is where you learn that “God is love.” Creation called out God’s omnipotent power and wisdom, but creation could not tell about His agápe-love. But when God looked down upon a world of people groaning under the death sentence of sin, He saw a world of humanity who were alive to the things of this life but utterly dead toward the things of God, dead in trespasses and sins. God found it in His heart to go down and find a means of quickening whosoever will come into newness of life. He said, “I will give them the greatest gift anyone can give, My only-begotten Son. I am going to send Him into that world that they may have everlasting life through Him.” “In this was manifested the agápe-love of God toward us, because God sent His Son into the world, that we might live through Him.”[7]

Charles H. Dodd (1884-1973) notices that here, in verse nine, the Apostle John restates the great declaration he made in his Gospel[8] about God’s agápe-love. It reminds us that in speaking of God’s agápe-love, we think of love in action, definite, concrete, and recognizable on the historical plane. Verse ten underlines one point in this declaration: the Christian religion starts not with mankind’s love for God but God’s agápe-love for humanity and with God’s agápe-love expressed in specific actions in history.

Dodd then helps remind us that Judaism and Christianity were not the only religious philosophy prevalent in the world at the Apostle John’s time. And as much as we may want to isolate Christian thought from anything except that breathed by God through the Holy Spirit, those who penned what the Spirit inspired them to write were, nevertheless, influenced by such thinking.[9] In one case, Aristotle turns this aesthetic and passionate mysticism into a metaphysical doctrine of the relation of God to the world. God is absolute Reality and therefore changeless and unmoved. Yet, He is the cause of all change and movement in the universe. But how? “He moves the world as the Object of its love (or desire).”[10]

Love, therefore, becomes a cosmic principle, says Dodd, and the mystical craving for union with the eternal receives its philosophical basis. The type of religion to which this language belongs is everywhere. In such beliefs, love is essentially the love of humans for God – that is to say, the unquenchable craving of limited, conditioned, and temporal beings for the Infinite, the Absolute, the Eternal. Love for humankind cannot be attributed to God, for the Absolute must be passionless and unmoved.[11] Perhaps this enlightenment will help us better understand why the Apostle John was so adamant in his argument that it is not a case of God having Love, but that God IS Love.

Let us note, Dodd points out, that the Greek verb agapaō appears seven times in this chapter, translated as “loved” three times. All three places, 4:10, 11, and 19, are in the aorist active tense. That means our love for Him (verse 10); His agápe-love for us (verses 11, 19) has no beginning nor end. In other words, God’s agápe-love has no expiration date, and neither should ours.[12] Swedish Lutheran theologian Anders T. S. Nygren (1890-1978) clearly states that: Plato’s “heavenly Eros” is wrong. It is a human love for the Divine, a love of man for God.[13] Nygren insists that “There is no room for the ‘love of friendship’ in a God-centered relationship to God, for that love presupposes an equality between Divine and human love which does not exist.”[14] Then Nygren writes, “Christian love is something other than ordinary human love.”[15] He follows that with, “Jesus draws a sharp distinction between human love and Divine. When measured by the standard of Divine love; therefore, human love is not loving at all.”[16] He adds, “Divine love can no longer be used for human love.”[17]

F. F. Bruce (1910-1990) says that the Apostle John has already pointed to the Anointed One’s laying down His life for His people as the perfect manifestation of love.[18] He returns to the sacrifice of the Anointed One and presents it from the Father’s point of view in words similar to those of the Gospel.[19] The supreme act of God’s love was His sending “His only begotten Son into the world.” The purpose of His sending His Son is our blessing – “that we should receive life through Him.” Here the initiative lies entirely with God. Before there was any possibility of our exercising such love, He first manifested it when He “loved us and sent His Son as a ransom for our sins.”[20] [21]

Raymond E. Brown (1928-1998) states that “He loved us” in verse ten refers to a specific action on God’s part in sending His Son. It distinguishes human love from perfected love.[22] Others think that the secessionist did not love their brothers and did not claim to love God. On the contrary, I would argue that both John and the antagonists claimed to love God and each other. John is arguing with the renegades not about a priority that they attribute to love for God, but about whether the atoning death of Jesus was a necessary part of God’s saving love.

David E. Hiebert (1928-1995) notes that the Apostle John announces the manifestation of redemptive love in the Incarnation here in verse nine. By using “in this” (“This is how” – NIV), it looks forward to and is interpreted by the following “because.” Thus, it clarifies that God’s agápe-love was revealed through the sending of His Son. It may also be understood as locative, [23] meaning that God’s agápe-love was embodied in sending His Son. Hiebert notes that Alfred Plummer (1746-1829) suggests that “for the sake of uniformity, [24] it would be preferable to render “herein” each time.”[25] Also, the verb “was manifested” is a favorite term with John. It means “to make visible, make clear, come out into the open.” This is contrary to the secular stories of romance, where “secret love” or “lovers” pursue their target until the right moment so that their suddenly revealed love will be a surprise. But verse nine implies that before the first coming of the Anointed One, “the agápe-love of God,” God’s agápe-love for humanity, had not been displayed in such a personal, dynamic manner. In Him, God’s message of love reached its climax.[26] [27]


[1] Clow, William M: The Cross in Christian Experience, Hodder & Stoughton, New York, 1908, pp. 42-50

[2] Cf. Galatians 1:16; See Luke 7:12; 8:42; 9:38

[3] Cf. Psalms 22:20 (22:21 Jewish Bible); 35:17 (LXX)

[4] Ibid. New International Version

[5] Cf. John 17:3

[6] Hebrews 3:1

[7] Ironside, Harry A., The Epistles of John and Jude, op. cit., pp. 139-140

[8] John 3:16; 1 John 3:16

[9] Cf. Acts 17:28; 1 Corinthians 15:33; Titus 1:12

[10] Aristotle, Metaphysics, Book XII, Part 7, ⁋2

[11] Dodd, Charles H., The Moffatt Commentary, Johannine Epistles, op. cit., p. 110-111

[12] See Anders Nygren “Agápe and Eros, the Westminster Press, Philadelphia, Part I, 1932; Part II, Vol. 1, 1938; Part II, Vol 2, 1939.

[13] Nygren, Anders, Agápe and Eros, Translated by Philip S. Watson, The Westminster Press, Philadelphia, 1953 p. viii

[14] Ibid. p. 92

[15] Ibid. p. 93

[16] Ibid. p. 96

[17] Ibid. 128

[18] 1 John 3:16

[19] John 3:16

[20] See 1 John 2:2

[21] Bruce, F. F., The Epistles of John: A Verse-by-Verse Exposition, op. cit., Kindle Edition

[22] Brown, Raymond E., The Anchor Bible, op. cit., pp. 518-519

[23] Locative indicates place in or on which or time at which something occurred.

[24] See 1 John 4:10, 13, 17

[25] Plummer, Alfred E., Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges, op. cit., p. 148

[26] Hebrews 1:1-2

[27] Hiebert, David E., Bibliotheca Sacra, op. cit., January-March 1990, p. 73

About drbob76

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