NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
By Dr. Robert R Seyda
FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN
CHAPTER FOUR (Lesson LXVIII) 04/22/22
4:10 This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent His Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.
William Kelly (1822-1888) points to the fact that, first of all, God is love. It is the entire motive in His goodness. Humanity, however, has a reverse nature. The believer receives grace as a lost sinner in all its sovereignty as its object, and having life eternal in the Anointed One has it flowing constantly. It is, therefore, of the Spirit acting on the new nature, as being born of God. Therefore, believers are entitled to boast in God and God’s agápē without any motive but the good He is, which He delights to communicate to others. Such Christians are filled by faith, firstly with being loved of His agápē, and secondly, carried out in the exercise of that love to their brethren by the Spirit of God. Kelly exposes an understated distinction by saying that we were “first loved by His agápē” instead of “He loved us first.” Seeing it in this latter tone may mistakenly cause someone to believe that our love for God is because He loved us first. But taking in the former sense, it is better seen as God’s first putting His agápē in us so that we were capable of loving Him with that same agápē in return.
But the principle is very apparent, says Kelly: to love is inseparable from being born of God; so, that love proves by this very fact that they are children of God. It has nothing to do with natural affections, which everybody ought to know may be strong in the most wicked men and women. Deadly enemies of God, given up to base lusts and passions, yet they may have much natural sweetness and warm benevolence. None of these things is God’s agápē, nor anything but that which excelled in the Lord Jesus. “Agápē,” says the Apostle John, “comes from God.” Whatever is of ourselves is not of God. But this agápē is not of ourselves, even in a believer. They derive it entirely from above; they are born of the Spirit, and what is so born is spirit, and not flesh is born of God, and God is love.
Kelly also emphasizes what joy we have that God does not separate but unites life and satisfies God’s demand for justice against sin through our Lord and His work! No one should try and contradict what John says here. Let no one split apart what God has joined together. He has given the same Anointed One who is life to settle our account with God because of our sins. Such is the teaching of verses nine and ten, both being the display of God’s agápē, and in contrast with Law, which had no life to give and could only judge but not be able to put away sin.
Daniel Steele (1824-1914) says that “real love,” or agápē as I call it, in its origin, is not human but divine. Its source is not a blind impulse but an intelligent movement of God’s free will, having compassion on a sinful race and approving those who trust in His Son, whom He sent into a fallen world. In this act, God’s agápē reached its climax. Human love, at best, is only responsive; it is never original and spontaneous. It is never strictly unbiased, as God’s agápē is. The theology that requires of humanity such love is too high for the holiest believers and angels to reach. The great secret of God’s method with people is that He loves them into loving. There is no other force so mighty as love, and nothing else so contagious. It is the royal law of the Christian life because it has been the majestic force in God’s dealing with His children. Having been won to the Father by the Father’s agápē, the child is bound by the very nature of the new life to show the same agápē to others.
Brooke F. Westcott (1825-1901) mentions that since we didn’t know anything about agápē until God introduced us to it, it helps us see the true nature of agápē. The source of agápē is the free will of God. He loved us “because.” Consequently, if we are going to love others with this same agápē, it must be done of our free will. He is love and in virtue of that love sent His Son. So, the origin of agápē lies beyond the reaches of humanity.
Charles Montgomery Merry (1826-1876) points out that when the Apostle John wrote that God sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins, His only begotten Son, so that we who were spiritually dead in sin, become born again alive through Him. Just think! – this agápē has been shown to us! God did all this to prove Himself gracious, loving, and kind to us – to you and me. So, why is it that the most ungrateful and hard-hearted today do not and will not love Him in return? Not even after learning that He loved them first, before they heard or knew about Him.
So, the Apostle is talking here about “life,” a happy existence in an unhappy world. God required a ransom for freeing us from sin’s dungeon. We couldn’t pay it; all the riches in the world would not cover the cost. He knew that someone, some human, had to die on our behalf to set us free. But no such human could be found on earth. So, He sent His only begotten Son to pay the price, so we could have life and live it to the fullest. It was to be a life whose vigor and vitality no power of disease could undermine, whose actions are superior to waste and fatigue, whose duration is as lasting as Yahweh. Oh! How can we measure the love which provided the Anointed One to acquire for us such a benefit as this? What excuse, then, does anyone have for not loving Him in return?
John James Lias (1834-1923) takes the Apostle John’s words here and paraphrases them this way, “The love to which I am exhorting you consists not in our having in the first instance loved God, but in this; that He loved us, and sent His Son to be a propitiation for our sins.” It does not seem that some have observed that this is the Apostle Paul’s doctrine in another form. For John, to do righteousness, keep God’s commandments, and love are equivalent to each other. In other words, the initiative in the work of salvation comes from God and Him alone.
This truth, says Lias, means that no one can attain salvation by themselves. Being spiritually dead in trespasses and sins, how could we find the power to break free? Alienated from God by wicked works, how can we learn to love Him? The impulse must come from without, from above. We must feel that God’s Fatherly heart yearns for us, even in the depths of sin and sorrow. We must become sensible of its warmth in the icy outer darkness of godlessness. We must see the Eternal Son descending from His heavenly home to seek and save what was lost. Thus stirred, our hearts may warm to Him once more.
Augustus H. Strong (1836-1921) states that while the atonement exalts the holiness of God, it surpasses every other view in its moving exhibition of God’s agápē. This love is not satisfied with suffering in and with the sinner, or with making that suffering a demonstration of God’s regard for the law. On the contrary, love dissolves the sinner’s guilt and bears their penalty, comes down so low as to make itself one with them in all but their depravity. It makes every sacrifice but the sacrifice of God’s holiness – a sacrifice which God could not make without ceasing to be God, as the Apostle John explains here in verse ten.
Dwight L. Moody (1837-1899) commented that God loved us before we ever thought of loving Him. And so, long before we ever thought of God, we were in His thoughts. What brought the prodigal son home? It was the thought that his father loved him. Suppose the news had reached him that his father did not care for him anymore, would he have gone back? Never! But the thought dawned on him that his father still loved him: so, he got up and returned home. Dear friends, says Moody, the love of the Father ought to bring us back to Him. It was Adam’s calamity and his sin that revealed God’s agápē. When Adam fell, God came down and dealt in mercy with him. If anyone is lost, it will not be because God does not love them: it will be because they resisted God’s agápē.
Clement Clemance (1845-1886) says that none of us should think or imagine that there is any higher manifestation of love than what we find here in verse ten. It is not in any love of humanity to their Maker, but their Maker’s love for them. That manifestation is how the fundamental nature of love was perceived. Note the change from perfect tense in verse nine (showed His agápē) to the imperfect tense (His agápē for us) in verse ten – shows His agápē expresses the permanent results of the mission. The words here “and sent” state the mission a fait accompli.
William Sinclair (1850-1917) states that as God bestowed His undeserved affection on us, we benefitted to an inconceivable degree. Thus, we can give Him nothing equal in return, but only pay the debt we owe by showing that same love to our fellowmen. Therefore, although our happiness depends strictly on God, still He has allowed us to be His stewards to some small degree for the enjoyment of those around us. In other words, we can do for them what God did for us, even though it is of a lesser degree in terms of Love. Still, we can reckon it came from God to us, so we can give it to them.
James B. Morgan (1850-1942) looks at verses nine and ten and calls it a blessed revelation. It removes every difficulty out of the sinner’s way. It assures them that not only may they be saved, but that in no way can they effectually honor God than by becoming a subject of His grace. They can plead for their salvation and that of others on the high ground, of which the Psalmist says, “The nations will revere the name of Adonai and all the kings on earth Your glory when Adonai has rebuilt Tziyon and shows Himself in His glory.” May we heartily and gratefully agree with the whole testimony that the Apostle John conveys to God’s agápē, “By this was manifested the agápē of God.”
 Psalm 34:2; cf. 2 Corinthians 10:17
 Kelly, William: An Exposition of the Epistles of John the Apostle, op. cit., Logos, loc. cit.
 Cf. Mark 10:9
 Kelly, William: Lectures on the Catholic Epistles of John, op. cit., p. 326
 Steele, Daniel: Half-Hour, op. cit., p. 106
 Westcott, Brooke F., The Epistles of St. John, op. cit., p. 150
 Merry, Charles M., The Biblical Illustrator, op. cit., 1 John 4, p. 61
 See Titus 3:5; also, Romans 3:20-22; 5:8-10; Ephesians 2:4, 8-9; 2 Timothy 1:9
 Note 1 John 3:10; 5:3; 2:29; 4:7; cf. John 6:44
 Lias, John James: The First Epistle of St. John with Exposition, pp. 314-315
 Ibid. The First Epistle of St. John with Homiletical Treatment, pp. 315-316
 Strong, Augustus H. Systematic Theology, Vol 2, op. cit., p. 702
 Moody, Dwight L., The Way to God and How to Find it, The Bible Institute Colportage Association, Chicago, 1884, op. cit., Ch. I, pp. 14-15
 Clemance, Clement: First Epistle of John, Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 22, Exposition, op. cit., p. 103
 Sinclair, William: A New Testament Commentary for English Readers, op. cit., pp. 488-489
 Psalm 102:15-16 – Complete Jewish Bible (102:16-17)
 1 John 4:9