WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER FOUR (Lesson LXX) 04/26/22

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.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981) says that in verses nine and ten, the Apostle John is anxious to remind us that God is manifesting that essential nature of His – He is love. Out of mercy for us, God manifested that love. He did not leave it up to our imagination. He made it unmistakably plain and clear. So, we can express John’s immediate argument: “If only you simply understood agápē, if only You knew something about it, then most of your problems and difficulties would immediately vanish.” So, John then proceeds to tell us more about this great and glorious agápē of God.

At this point, Lloyd-Jones admits that sometimes he cannot understand the hardness of his heart. How could we look at and believe all that John has said and not be overwhelmed by God’s love? How can we contemplate these things and not be thoroughly humbled? How can any hatred remain in us? How can we do anything but love one another, as we consider such astonishing love? How can we look at these things and believe them and not feel utterly unworthy and ashamed of ourselves and that we owe everything to Him and that we dedicate our lives to expressing our gratitude, praise, and thanksgiving?

Then Lloyd Jones makes a request that we should follow today. He says, let us resolve together to meditate more and more every day upon this amazing love. First, look at it in terms of yourself, then in terms of God, what God has done, what the Anointed One has done. Go over these things; study them; read more in the Bible about them; examine them. Go on looking at them; contemplate them until your heart melts, and You feel God’s agápē possessing You wholly. Then Lloyd-Jones offers the words of an old hymn which is still sung today in many churches.[1] The lyrics read:

When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.
[2]

Rudolf Schnackenburg (1914-2002) sees the Apostle John contemplating on the nature of love. He is profoundly impressed by the unique and supreme deed of God’s agápē as he has just described it. This, in turn, leads him to recognize that such a perfect revelation of love and the reality of such love exist only as a result of a gracious act of God. It is this act that forms the center of the Christian revelation. Love could not become an adequate existential power in the world through human effort, but only through God. There is no parallel to these statements outside of Christianity.[3] They contain genuine Christian insights, which the author has grasped in-depth. In them, the essence of Christianity is recognized as a religion of “to-love” (each other) and “not-love” (the world.) Not, however, in the sense that love is the peak and centerpiece of Christian teaching, but in the much more important reason that the human race only knows what love is since the sending of God’s Son. Only in Him have they experienced an unconditional love given to them to its furthermost depths and heights.[4]

Daniel C. Snaddon (1915-2009) says that this perfected love of which the Apostle John speaks is unrelated to anything humans could do. It’s “not that we loved God, but that He loved us.” This perfect love flowed “toward us” and is expressed in the gift of Jesus the Anointed One.[5] God’s agápē cannot be compared with or related to human love. According to Paul, these are rare examples of a person dying for an upright man. There are other examples of people who have given their lives for a good person. Such care is extremely rare indeed.

God’s agápē cannot be measured – size – height – depth– length – width, says Snaddon. It is a love that transcends all human logic.[6] And to compare it to other loves, God’s agápē is “a depth without a bottom” and “a sea without a shore,” “a beachless ocean,” God’s agápē knows no bounds; deep, vast, immense, unfathomed, incredibly profound! What can ever separate us from the Anointed One’s love?[7] His agápē gives us confidence in the day of judgment.[8] He came to seek and save that which was lost.[9] Like the woman with the issue of blood[10] or the woman caught adultery, [11] He came to save you even if you are a lost sheep[12] or a prodigal son.[13] [14]

John Phillips (1927-2010) concludes that nothing a person could have done or said for God to adopt a favorable attitude or kindly disposition toward us. God is appeased because His holy and righteous character has been vindicated through the Anointed One’s sacrifice and atonement on our behalf. He eradicated our guilt and sin so that He could show mercy to believing sinners like us – Love found a way. At the same time, it is never said that God is reconciled to us. All the hostility exists on our side, not His. We need to be reconciled with God, not He with us. He has always been ready to embrace us. God is immutable, changeless, and forever the same. He can act differently toward those who approach Him, but such action is based solely upon the ground of the atoning work of the Anointed One at Calvary, not because He has changed. He can act differently toward the believer because Calvary, having removed our sin and guilt, makes it possible for Him to do so. He always works in keeping with His changeless righteousness as well as in keeping with His boundless love.[15]

Raymond E. Brown (1928-1998) comments on the Apostle John’s words here, “Herein is love,” (KJV); “This is love” (NIV), and suggests that we see it as, “In this, then, does love consist.” In this instance, virtually all commentators agree. In verse nine, says Brown, the Apostle John said that God’s agápē was revealed; now he tells us what this agápē consists of. Not surprisingly, a scribe named Sinaiticus copied the Greek text in what is known as “Codex Sinaiticus[16] and added “God” after “Herein is [God’s] love,” in imitation of verse nine. So also, a scribe named Sahidic added “of God” after “love” for the same reason in the Ethiopian Coptic language. But this was all unnecessary, since John is speaking of a comprehensive love, which only God contains.[17]

John R. W. Stott (1921-2011) puts verses nine and ten together to be read as one. It is not our primary love, but God’s, free, unconditional – so we don’t have to earn it; and spontaneous – so we don’t have to beg for it; all our love is but a reflection of His and a response to it. We must ask ourselves if the love we use is the same. If not, then it is not God’s agápē. Therefore, the coming of the Anointed One is a concrete, historical revelation of God’s agápē, for agápē is self-sacrifice, seeking another’s positive good at one’s own cost. A more incredible self-giving than God’s gift of His Son has never existed, nor ever will be.[18]

David E. Hiebert (1928-1995) designates “only begotten” as a key term. As applied to the Anointed One, it is unique to the Apostle John.[19] Elsewhere in the Gospels, it is used of an only child.[20] In the Book of Hebrews, it is used of Isaac to indicate his unique relationship to Abraham as the only son of promise[21] The term is derived from the Greek mono (“only,” “single”) and genes (“kind”), which denotes uniqueness (“the only one of its kind”) rather than origin. The term denotes that as the “only” Son of God, He has no equal and can fully reveal the Father. It is why the Apostle Paul’s expression “His own Son” reflects the same concept.[22] Actually, the familiar English rendering “only begotten Son” was based on Jerome’s usage of the Latin unigenitus in the Vulgate for the Old Latin translation unicus.[23] It is where we get our English word “unique,” which is borrowed from the French unique. No doubt that is why the NIV and NLT leave out the word “begotten” and render it as “one and only.”

Simon J. Kistemaker (1930-2017) includes these two verses among the treasured passages of the entire epistle. They, too, speak of love that originates in God and describe the believer as a person who loves and knows God. John states that love stems from God, not mankind.[24] God loves the unlovable. As a hymn writer once wrote:

I sought the Lord, and afterward I knew

He moved my soul to seek Him seeking me;

It was not that I found, O Savior true,

No, I was found, was found of Thee.

Thou didst reach forth thy hand and mine enfold,
I walked and sank not on the storm-vexed sea.
‘Twas not so much that I on thee took hold
as thou, dear Lord, on me.

I find, I walk, I love; but O the whole

Of love is but my answer. Lord, to Thee!

For Thou wert long beforehand with my soul,

Always, always thou lovedst me.[25]


[1] Lloyd-Jones, Martyn: Life in the Anointed One, op. cit. pp. 429-430, 438-439

[2] When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, (1707), with lyrics by Isaac Watts (1674-1748), and music by Lowell Mason (1792-1872)

[3] See Excursus 10.4

[4] Schnackenburg, Rudolf: The Johannine Epistles, op. cit., p. 209

[5] See Ezekiel 41

[6] Ephesians 3:18-19

[7] Romans 8:35-39

[8] 1 John 4:17

[9] Luke 19:10

[10] Mark 5:25-34

[11] John 8:3-11

[12] Luke 15:3-7

[13] Ibid. 15:11-12

[14] Snaddon, Daniel C., Plymouth Brethren Writings, loc. cit.

[15] Phillips, John: Exploring the First Epistle of John, op. cit., p. 140

[16] Codex Sinaiticus, found in Sinai, written circa 330-360 AD

[17] Brown, Raymond E., The Anchor Bible, op. cit., p. 518

[18] Stott, John. The Letters of John (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries), op. cit., pp. 162-163

[19] John 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18

[20] Luke 7:12; 8:42; 9:38

[21] Hebrews 11:17

[22] Romans 8:32

[23] Hiebert, David E., Bibliotheca Sacra, op. cit., January-March 1990, p. 74

[24] Ref. 1 John 4:19; 2 Thessalonians 2:16

[25] From the hymn, “I Sought the Lord, and afterward I knew,” by Jean Ingelow, 1870

About drbob76

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