WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER FOUR (Lesson LXIV) 04/18/22

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.

Stephen S. Smalley (1931-2018) notes that the Apostle John now demonstrates that God’s character as love is determined and understood by His self-disclosure in Jesus the Son. It’s not what we think of Him, but what He says about Himself. In so doing, John thoroughly explains his statement in the previous verse that “God is love” and recalls the traditional formulation, “He surrendered His life on our behalf.”[1] Moreover, John develops the thought in verses nine and ten together and links them to knowledge and love.[2] The true child of God knows God who is love, and that knowledge of God is experienced through the divine activity in the Anointed One.[3]

Ian Howard Marshall (1934-2015) says it would be hard to find a better illustration of the Apostle John’s point about the manifestation of God’s agápe-love through His Son than one of a fallen tree. Rings appear on the cut face in a cross-section of lines that run right up the trunk but are hidden from view by the bark.[4] So likewise, the cross of Jesus is the visual appearance in this world of love that stretches back beyond our vision into the depths of eternity. God sent His only Son into this world so that we might obtain life through Him. Here we see the two factors which determine the nature of love: on the one hand, self-sacrifice and, on the other, action done for the benefit of others.[5]

John Painter (1935) points out that God sent His only Son into the world to save the world and, as the Apostle John says, that “we” might live through Him. Does this mean that the purpose of life giving was from the beginning intended only for the group included in this “we?” Of course, this depends on how the “we” is understood. There is nothing John says to suggest that there is a foreordained group selected “to live through Him.” Nevertheless, the purpose and the consequence are “that we may live through Him.” The key is to understand the scope of the “we.”[6]

Michael Eaton (1942-2017) asks, “How do you measure love?” One way, he says, is to consider whether it shows itself or takes any action. That’s how God manifested His agápe-love. It is not simply a theory or a hidden feeling in God. It has revealed itself in what He has done for us. Another way is to consider how much it is willing to do? How committed will it be? How great a sacrifice is it ready to make? Also, in a situation of dispute and quarrel, love is measured by asking which side takes the first step to bring about reconciliation and harmony.[7] With this analysis, we can see that God’s agápe-love for us met all these requirements.

William Loader (1944) states that the Apostle John’s love theology is centered on his understanding of Jesus. What is Love? Love is an act by one good person for another person’s good. Supremely, the Apostle John identifies such action in God’s initiative: this is how “He showed His agápe-love among us: He sent His only Son into the world that we might be saved through Him.” In this formulation, John draws upon a tradition that also found its way into the Gospel in the famous verse: “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that everyone who has faith in Him may not perish but have eternal life.”[8] It appears in one of its earliest forms in the Apostle Paul’s letters.[9] In some forms of this tradition, only the expression “only Son” takes the form of “beloved[10] or “His own.[11] [12]

Robert W. Yarbrough (1948) Robert W. Yarbrough (1948) says that we might understand verse nine as a statement of means rather than a goal: God reveals Himself by sending His Son. But it is possible to see the actual point in the final clause: “So that through Him, we might live.” In the love-laden context of verses seven through fourteen, we are to  “live” to the fullest God-enabled sense, to love as God demands and deserves. So, what the Apostle John says here may be taken, accordingly, as an affirmation in support of verse seven’s imperative to love each other. Such love is a possibility because God’s purpose in sending His Son into the world was to bring about the God-given life of regeneration. In both his Gospel and in this epistle, John makes it abundantly clear that to “live” in this sense is also to love.[13]

Bruce G. Schuchard (1958) says that the Apostle John makes all the more explicit the love that the secessionists have refused. The love that is “of God” and “is God” was made “manifest” among us. Thus, John speaks of the love of God not in general but in specific terms. Particularly important is the fact that God has taken the initiative. The Greek verb phaneroō (“manifested”) connotes the divine activity in the incarnation. To the very community that owes its existence to God’s love, He made His love known “in this way” in sending of His.[14] We must not miss the underlying implications of phaneroō, which also denotes making “the invisible, visible” and the “the unknown, known.”

 Ken Johnson (1965) proposes that since God’s love was manifested by Jesus’ coming in the flesh as the “only begotten Son,” then a person cannot be born of God and have eternal life without confessing Jesus as God’s only Son. But, of course, this means a believer must also be a Trinitarian Christian.[15] Nevertheless, like the Jews who rejected Jesus despite His teachings and miracles, we now have the Unitarians and “Jesus Only” movement, plus others like the Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, etc. The only thing is that when Jesus returns a second time, He will make it clear that He, the Father, and the Spirit are three-in-one.

Duncan Heaster (1967) highlights that the supreme manifestation of God’s love was the cross. We live through Him in that He gives us the gift of His life, His spirit, the kind of thinking He thinks, and the life He lives, breathing it into every open heart through God’s gift; the Comforter. As the Father sent the Son into the world, His Son sent us into the world in obedience to the great commission.[16] Our mission likewise is to manifest His love and to give others the gift of His life, acting as a channel for the gift of His life/Spirit.[17]

Karen H. Jobes (1968) makes the point that the uniqueness of Jesus the Anointed One is foundational in Christian theology. Christianity is not based on human or animal sacrifice, for God did not choose one of His human children or a lamb as Abel did to sacrifice on behalf of the others. God’s agápe-love, in that case, could be questioned. But God stepped into humanity in the person of Jesus, making Jesus a unique human being, uniquely qualified to pay the penalty for the fallen human race. God was willing to be sacrificed on the cross to experience human life and death; such is His agápe-love for us. Therefore, God’s agápe-love is not contingent on the circumstances of our lives. Good things may happen; bad things may happen; but God’s unchanging agápe-love remains unaltered because of the cross, which stands unchangeable throughout human history.[18]

Douglas Sean O’Donnell (1972) says that these lines from a sacred hymn explain what the Apostle John tells us here: “Amazing love! How can it be that Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?”[19]  Our relationship with God is not conditional on our initial love for God and His affirmative response to us. We did not first love God; rather, He loved us first. He is the “great initiator.” Love is not best demonstrated by God’s people’s heeding the ShemaHear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”[20] Instead, it is through God sending His Son to be “forsaken” by Him so that we might be forgiven through Him. God’s exceptional Son offered an extraordinary sacrifice for our sins. Through Jesus’ atoning death, He removed the guilt of our sins, appeased God’s wrath, and gave us eternal life. Now, “live through Him.”[21] [22]

4:10a   True love started with God’s agápe-love for us, not when we started loving Him.  He proved this by sending His Son to take the penalty for our sins.

EXPOSITION

Moses knew that there had to be another reason why God chose to liberate His people from bondage.  So, he says: “Why did the Lord love and choose you? It was not because you are such a large nation. You had the fewest of all people! But the Lord brought you out of Egypt with great power and made you free from slavery. He freed you from the control of Pharaoh, the king of Egypt. The Lord did this because He loves you, and He wanted to keep the promise He made to your ancestors.”[23]

The natural ego killer for some believers, especially those ?who pretend to be holy to make an impression on God and others, is that their affection and adoration toward God is not love! Real love was expressed when God sent His son to die for those who hated Him. What then is that emotion we feel for God we refer to as love?  Nothing more than the return signal of the love He sent, an echo of His mercy and grace. In each case where John speaks of our loving one another, it is more than just saying the word.  He also says that the hallmark of a believer’s love for God is that they love their brother and sister in the Anointed One. It goes then without saying: if we can’t love one another, how can we say that we love the sinner?


[1] John 3:16; cf. 1 Corinthians 15:3

[2] 1 John 4:7-8

[3] Smalley, Stephen S., Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 51, op. cit., p. 240

[4] Peter Abelard, a Novel by Helen Waddell, Henry Holt and Company, New York, 1947, p. 264

[5] Marshall, I. Howard. The Epistles of John (The New International Commentary on the New Testament), op. cit., pp. 213-214

[6] Painter, John. Sacra Pagina: 1, 2, and 3 John: Vol., loc. cit.

[7] Eaton, Michael: Focus on the Bible, 1,2,3 John, op. cit., pp. 148-149

[8] John 3:16, see verse17

[9] Romans 8:3; Galatians 4:4; see also Romans 8:32 and Ephesians 5:1

[10] Mark 12:6 or

[11] Romans 8:32

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

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

[14] Schuchard, Bruce G., Concordia Commentary, op. cit., p. 447

[15] Johnson, Ken. Ancient Epistles of John and Jude, op. cit., p. 78

[16] John 17:18

[17] Heaster, Duncan: New European Commentary, op. cit., 1 John, p. 32

[18] Jobes, Karen H., 1, 2, and 3 John (Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on The New Testament, Book 18), p. 192

[19]And Can it Be that I should Gain,” by Charles Wesley (1738)

[20] Deuteronomy 6:4-5

[21] 1 John 4:9

[22] O’Donnell, Douglas Sean. 1–3 John (Reformed Expository Commentaries), op. cit., loc. cit., Kindle Edition

[23] Deuteronomy 7:7-8

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s