WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER FOUR (Lesson LXXII) 04/28/22

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.

Colin G. Kruse (1950) believes that the Apostle John wanted to make something clear to his community in negative terms, that love is not to be understood in terms of our love for God: “This is love: not that we loved God.” Then, having made that clear, John states that love is to be understood as God’s love for us: “This is love … that He loved us by sending His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” The combined effect of verses nine and ten is that the expression “God is love” is to be understood not as a supernatural statement about God’s essential being, but in terms of the love of God expressed historically in the sending of His only Son into the world as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.[1]

Judith M. Lieu (1951) says it is evident that the world is the setting into which the Son is sent, but the purpose of His mission is that “we” might live. The word “world” (Greek kosmos) describes the planet earth in general in contrast to its negative connotations elsewhere.[2] However, when set alongside 1 John 3:8, it would allow us to envision the assignment of God’s Son into hostile territory to rescue those who count themselves among “us.” Since the sphere of the world is that of hatred and death, that rescue leads to true living; the verb “to live” appears only here in the Epistle, but even, as here, without the adjective “eternal.” This noun has been used for the life that belongs to God’s realm.[3] The means of that gift of life is expressed in verse seven, the most general of terms, “through Him” (His Son).[4] John is not disregarding the atonement purchased by the Anointed One on the cross. Instead, he lines up his thoughts to amplify in verse eight how and why God manifested His agápē in such a manner.

Ben Witherington III (1951) stresses that first, the Apostarele John emphasizes that Jesus was sent so that we might have life through Him. Second, God sent His Son as a sacrifice of atonement to appease divine anger about sin. If God is love, then it is hardly a surprise that God is supremely and righteously indignant about our sinning because it destroys our love relationships with God and each other. We have statements here are similar to what we find in John’s Gospel.[5] Love and life are the opposites of hate and death, yet the substitutionary and atoning death of Jesus is the prime example of God’s love for us.[6]

Gary M. Burger (1952) says that Christians who claim to be loving should exhibit much more. They also give evidence that they have been born from God and know Him.[7] The first verb is a perfect tense, suggesting that divine rebirth is in the past, yet bearing fruit is in the present. A person once converted now demonstrates the fruit of that conversion. The second verb is in the present tense, implying that love is connected to an ongoing awareness of who God is. Why did John select these particular words? Spiritual rebirth and divine knowledge were undoubtedly promoted among those who forsook the community.[8] John, therefore, gives a test of true spiritual maturity that defeats in a stroke his opponents’ spiritual claim; he bases his comments on their unspiritual conduct in that they have been unloving.[9]

Bruce G. Schuchard (1958) states that earlier in this passage, the Apostle John contrasted “everyone who loves… knows God” and “the one who does not love has not known God.” Here, John likewise concludes with the division of “not because we have loved God” and “but because He loved us first.” Sinful human nature has taught us that unbelievers are so smothered in sin’s embrace they cannot think or feel anything good about God. Consequently, they do not love God but hate Him because He ruined their lives. Therefore, as John says, it’s not that we loved God, but in the Anointed One, love found us. What a wondrous thought! Found us when we were not seeking Him, but because He loved us first. Therefore, a proper understanding of love does not begin with the question of our love for God but His love for us.[10]

Marianne Meye Thompson (1964) highlights that the atoning death of Jesus provides how believers come into a life-giving realm where love is received and expressed.[11] Second, we do not simply gaze at the painting on the wall; stand in front of a statue; count beads with our fingers, or read we are touched by the hand of God and receive life-giving love. And third, because life and love come from God, God’s activity and not our behavior and efforts define the essence of love.[12]

Peter Pett (1966) This is the ultimate definition and revelation of agápē. It is not found in any love that we have but in God’s great Love in which He sent His own beloved Son to be the remedy for our sins. It is a Love that has provided a way back to God. Likewise, it is a love that offers a means of doing everything necessary to remove the effects of sin from those who respond to Him. The Greek noun hilasmos (translated by KJV as “propitiation”) might be too strong a word because it might suggest unrighteous anger, and God’s “anger” is holy[13] and pure and never unrighteous.

What this propitiation achieves, says Pett, is that what Jesus did through His sacrifice can make a person as though they never sinned because of all the consequences of God’s total dislike for sin. But despite that, the penalty for our sin was carried by Jesus the Anointed One to the cross, and through His death, He was given our punishment as a payment. Through it, He has redeemed humanity from sin, delivering them by the price of His life for our life. He made a “ransom” payment for many.[14] He Who knew no sin was, as it were, made sin for us, suffering on our behalf, that we might be made right with God in Him.[15] There can be no greater love than this. Love expressed itself when God humbled Himself, and in Jesus, the Anointed One became human to bear in Himself the sin of the world.[16] [17]

Karen H. Jobes (1968) relates that human history has witnessed many things motivated by love for God. Some of them were horrendous acts of evil. Even the purest and well-intentioned “love” for God that has its origin in only human emotions and sentiments is not the kind of agápē of which John speaks. The Apostle John has already stated that “God is love” and that God’s love motivated the incarnation of Jesus the Anointed One so that “we might live through Him.”[18] In verse ten, John restates that true love is the agápē that originates with God, not whatever might pass for love by human origin and definition. The agápē of which John speaks does not originate within the human being, but is from God’s Spirit’s divine being.[19]

4:11     This shows how much God loved us, dear friends!  So, we must love each other the same way.

EXPOSITION

John could have said this with such conviction had he not been there after Jesus washed their feet and told them, “I give you a new command: Love each other. You must love each other just as I loved you. All people will know that you are my followers if you love each other.[20] And when Jesus was teaching the disciples about His being the vine, and they serve as branches, He told them, “This is what I command you: Love each other as I have loved you. The greatest love people can show is to die for their friends.[21] Recipients of God’s agápē have a responsibility. How can a Christian not love someone God loves? God’s agápē is a motivation for the love of fellow Christians. We have a moral obligation to love as Jesus loved. None of us has gone to the extent of the cross for others. The very nature of the cross is selflessness. If God loved us without our loving Him, then we ought to love others without their loving us.

The word “ought” employed by KJV translators is a contraction of two English words: “owes it.” That is what the Greek verb opheilō means. We owe love to fellow Christians for God’s sake and the sake of His agápē for us. We ought to serve them and minister to them. There is no question that the believer falls under a moral obligation to love fellow Christians. We find the word “ought” is utilized the same way in this Epistle.[22] It established a principle: If God loved us without loving Him, we ought to love others without them loving us.[23]

This is the sixth and last time John uses “beloved” for his readers.  John was passionate about his readers, and God loved John’s readers as well. God’s example of love should set an example for the believer’s love for Christians.  The “if” in Greek assumes that John’s readers agreed with the reality of God’s agápē for them.  “If” or, better, “since” refers to verse ten. The word “so” is just as broad as John 3:16. How robust is God’s agápē in sending His Son to die for us? There is no way to measure it.  Nothing men did or said about God changed His agápē for them. 

Responsibility to love falls on those who receive God’s agápē. How can a Christian not love someone God loves? God’s agápē is a motivation for the love of fellow believers. It is incumbent upon us to love as Jesus loved. None of us has gone to a cross for others. The very nature of the cross is selflessness. If God loved us without our loving Him, then we ought to love others without their loving us. We owe love to fellow Christians for God’s sake and the sake of His agápē for us.


[1] Kruse, Colin G., The Letters of John (The Pillar New Testament Commentary (PNTC)), op. cit., loc. cit. Kindle Edition

[2] Cf. 1 John 2:15-17; 3:13; 4:4-5

[3] Ibid. 1:2; 3:14

[4] Ibid. 3:16

[5] John 3:16-17

[6] Witherington III, Ben: Letters and Homilies for Hellenized Christians: op. cit., loc. cit., (Kindle Locations 7173-7177)

[7] 1 John 4:7b; cf. 5:4

[8] Ibid. 3:9

[9] Burge, Gary M., The Letters of John (The NIV Application Commentary), op. cit., p. 186

[10] Schuchard, Bruce G., Concordia Commentary, op. cit., p. 449

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

[12] Thompson, Marianne M., The IVP New Testament Commentary, op. cit., p. 123

[13] Romans 1:18

[14] Mark 10:45

[15] 2 Corinthians 5:21

[16] Philippians 2:5-11

[17] Pett, Peter: Commentary on the Bible, op. cit., PDF. loc. cit.

[18] 1 John 4:8-9

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

[20] John 13:34

[21] Luke 15:12-13

[22] 1 John 2:6; 3:16

[23] Derickson, Stanley L., Notes on Theology, op. cit., pp. 254-255

About drbob76

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