WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER FOUR (Lesson LXXI) 04/27/22

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.

John concludes by saying that God “sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” Earlier in his epistle, John wrote the same words.[1] God’s only Son covered our sins and set us free from guilt. Note that the contrast is between God’s Son and our sins in this last part of verse ten. God took the initiative in showing His agápē to mankind when He sent His Son.[2] It should wake us to consider our answer to the question, “What have you done for Him?” Not to pay Him back, that’s impossible, but as a way of saying, “I love you too, Lord.”

Stephen S. Smalley (1931-2018) sees the thought of verse nine paralleled in verse ten, which develops the ideas in the previous verses by explaining the nature of the divine mission undertaken for humanity’s salvation. The words “through Him” in verse nine form the bridge, for John is now going on to describe how it is that “through” the work of the Son we can experience the Father’s love and life.[3] It is essential to get the Apostle John’s point here about love. It is not simply the awakening of some dormant feeling we already have in us. It was never there before, so it must be instilled in us. And that does not come by way of meditation or assimilation but a deliberate act of the Holy Spirit.[4] Therefore, the fountain of this agápē is not self-generated but flows from God in and through us to others.

Edward J. Malatesta (1932-1998) sees verse ten as being in step with verse nine, but adds the thought that the nature of God’s agápē is such that He took the initiative and loved us first. It didn’t start when Jesus came; it was in God’s Spirit before the world was formed. His coming was significant in many ways; He not only came to cover our sins and remove the penalty of eternal separation from the Father, but to give of His life so that we could live on earth as He did, loving others. It cost Him His physical life, so we could have eternal spiritual life with Him.[5]

Muncia Walls (1937) states that another interesting thing about this verse is the fact the definite article (“the”) appears before the word love. So, we are not considering just any love here, but the unique love which only God could manifest to His creation. Our Lord’s great love was a direct result of His will. He did not love us because we loved Him. He loved us even though we did not love Him. In fact, we could not manifest this love until He first loved us and manifested it through us.[6] So, that leaves us with this question: Since Jesus told us to love one another as He loved us, [7] should we wait for those who refuse to love us first? If you want to be like Jesus, no; we must love them first.

Stanley L. Derickson (1940) says there are different levels of love. One may be the levels that a couple passes through on their way to the altar. They first get that fuzzy feeling when they are getting to know one another. They may then move into the area where they are deep friends. Furthermore, they may even begin to see the beauty in us, that inner beauty that expresses itself. However, the love that a marriage needs to survive is the love that determines to do good for the other partner. Couples may get married in the first level of love and find that they have worked through the other three to a solid marriage; however, a marriage in the first three levels is not usually rock-solid. The first three types of love lack the total commitment of the final level of love. God’s agápē is far above all four of these human levels of love. His agápē is that within Him that moves Him to give of Himself to His creatures, regardless of their merit. He does this of His free will and does it eternally. This agápē is what the Apostle John talks about, which shows that God sent the Anointed One in love with a people who did not love Him or God. “This is love! It is not that we loved God, but that He loved us. For God sent His Son to pay the penalty for our sins with His blood.”[8]

Derickson recalls that he once heard a little boy say, “If I were God, I’d go to every country in the world and say, ‘You guys love one another or else!’” God does not operate in this way, however. He gives His agápē and does not force that love upon those that reject it. The Apostle Paul tells us that while we were yet sinners, He acted by sending His Son. He did not wait for someone to approach Him.[9] And the Apostle John also said that God loved us so much He sent His only Son to die so that we could be free to love Him and each other.[10]

Michael Eaton (1942-2017) points out that men and women did not reach out after God in true worship and gratitude. Although they knew that God was there, they did not glorify Him as God and were ungrateful to Him.[11] The initiative was entirely on God’s side. He took the steps that were needed to bring us to Himself. The purpose was “that we might become spiritually alive through Him.” When we are cleansed from our sins, the result is the spiritual liveliness that comes from God.

The situation for humanity was awful, says Eaton. God was righteously angry with the human race. Yet, He sent His Son to be a “propitiation.” Although scholars have discussed the meaning of this word many times, there can be little doubt that it includes the notion of turning away anger. Propitiation is “a sacrifice that turns away anger.” God is love, but there is such a thing as God’s anger. It is not a matter of God losing His temper. God’s anger is His purposeful reaction to sin and evil, through which He wishes to express His disgust and call people to repentance. In Torah, we read that God’s anger is a reaction. It is not inherent and spontaneous, as is His agápē. Love in God is eternal; God’s anger is holy. It bums when holiness is scorned.[12] God’s anger is injured, love.[13] [14]

William Loader (1944) notes that the Apostle John had already referred to the Anointed One’s atoning work.[15] He probably wants us to understand sacrifice in very general terms. As there were sacrifices for sin in the First Covenant order, the Anointed One’s sacrifice deals with sins supremely. There is no indication that John is thinking here of any particular offering, such as the sacrifices of the Day of Atonement or the Passover lamb, which developed atoning significance.[16] To put this another way, John sees Jesus’ coming to destroy the devil’s works, not to quench the spark of each sin but to put a blanket of His blood upon all the flames of sin to extinguish the fire.

David Jackman (1947) says that verses nine and ten are packed full of meaning as the Apostle John elaborates his second great theme. Since God is love, all our definitions of what love is and how it behaves must be drawn from Him if they are to accord with reality· This also helps elaborate and explain the quality of love, to which John has been referring in the previous two verses. The love which is the proof of a genuine relationship with God is a love manifested in actions for the benefit of others, even to the point of self-sacrifice. To understand that love, we have to understand the heart of God. It also underlines that only those who love has ransomed know its full extent. As the Apostle Peter said, “It is all so wonderful that even the angels eagerly watch these things happen.”[17]

It is expressed in an old hymn that reads:

His love is stronger than death and

Its riches are unsearchable.

The first-born sons of light

Desire in vain its depths to see;

They cannot reach the mystery,

The length, and breadth, and height.[18]

So, let us grasp a further truth about what the death of the Anointed One accomplished. He died for our sins. It was because of our sins that Jesus died, for He had none of His own. He dealt with them in that death because He paid the penalty of separation from the heavenly Father, which we deserve. Therefore, our sins are forgiven and removed because of the cross, the consequence being that we might live through Him. So, the ultimate purpose of this sending and commissioning His Son was that we might receive eternal life in the place of everlasting death. It is only through Jesus that such energy can come to us.[19]

John W. (Jack) Carter (1947) points out that some might teach a heresy that states that one can lose their salvation by expressing any individual or number of sins.  Some communicate that salvation is lost for any sin that one has not subsequently repented of and sought forgiveness.  However, the scriptural evidence is clear that salvation is secure, simply because sin no longer has the power to separate us from God.  God keeps the commitment for us.  The decision for faith was not a vow to stop sinning.  The decision for faith was a commitment to repent from our sin, as we strive to live a life of obedience to the one to whom we have committed our lordship.[20]

Robert W. Yarbrough (1948) states that the Apostle John’s theological sociology is not rosy. The Jesus of John’s Gospel told listeners, “I know that you do not have God’s love in your hearts.”[21] Later in this epistle, John laments, “The whole world is under the control of the evil one.”[22] The stubbornness of the human heart made it impossible for Jesus to “entrust Himself” even to His disciples.[23] John portrays the Anointed One as having addressed people – “the world[24] – “whose hearts were blinded and deadened.”[25] It is only through spiritual rebirth that people are infused with capacities that make reception of divine love, and thereby the expression of divine love, a possibility.[26]


[1] See 1 John 2:2; cf. Romans 3:25

[2] Kistemaker, Simon J., New Testament Commentary, op. cit., p. 333

[3] Smalley, Stephen S., Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 51, op. cit., pp. 242-243

[4] Romans 5:5

[5] Malatesta, Edward J., Interiority and Covenant, op. cit., pp. 297-298

[6] Wall, Muncia: Epistles of John & Jude, op. cit., p. 74

[7] John 13:34

[8] 1 John 4:10

[9] Romans 5:8

[10] 1 John 4:10

[11] See Romans 1:21

[12] See Exodus 32:10ff; Isaiah 5:25

[13] Hebrews 10:31

[14] Eaton, Michael: Focus on the Bible, 1.2.3 John, op. cit., pp. 149-151

[15] 1 John 2:2

[16] Loader, William: Epworth Commentary, op. cit., p. 53

[17] 1 Peter 1:12b

[18]O Love Divine, How Sweet Thou Art,” by Charles Wesley (1749) 

[19] Jackman, David: The Message of John’s Letters, op. cit., pp. 119, 121

[20] Carter, Dr. John W. (Jack). 1,2,3, John & Jude: Holding to the Truth in Love (The Disciple’s Bible Commentary Book 48), pp. 107-108

[21] John 5: 42 – NIV

[22] 1 John 5:19

[23] John 2:24

[24] 1 John 1:10-11

[25] John 12:49

[26] Yarbrough, Robert W., 1-3 John (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament), op. cit., p. 239

About drbob76

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