WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER FOUR (Lesson LXXIV) 05/02/22

4:11 That is how much God loved us, dear friends! So, we also must love each other.

Graham then shares the inspiring lyrics of a great hymn of his day:

Behold His patience, bearing long With those who from Him rove; Till mighty grace their heart subdues To teach them ‘God is love.’The work begun is carried on By power from heaven above; And every step, from first to last, Declares that ‘God is love.’[1]

John Stock (1817-1884) has this word of wisdom: The more we are unlike our natural selves, the more we walk in the newness of life, not serving sin.[2] In everything we do, we should seek in all things to please God, to resemble Him, do nothing that will not bring God the glory, and the more we are kind to everyone; the more intense will be the commitment within us that we are destined to live in that heavenly world where love exists free from all harassment, in full power, and where there is everything to expand its intensity, and perfect its contentment. Until then, we are to follow on to know and to be like the Lord, more and more; and pray in the Holy Spirit to keep ourselves in God’s agápē, loving everyone, avoiding unnecessary interference with other people’s affairs; and as far as in us lies seeking to live peaceably with society, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus the Anointed One unto eternal life.[3] [4]

William Kelly (1822-1888) points out that we have seen that to give the agápē into which we are called its true character, the Apostle John, in previous verses, recalls the manifestation of God’s agápē in the Anointed One. First, when we were spiritually dead, to give us life. Secondly, when we came spiritually alive and felt the burden of our sins as never before, we wanted to settle our debt with God and rid ourselves of all our sins. Such is the valid order of God’s acting on the soul. It enables us to see how important spiritual life is, for, without such life, there is nothing to help us hear or answer divine messages. Any thought of the possibility of the soul’s spiritual death and the notion that the Spirit of God could go on causing us to be spiritually alive without God’s life in us is ridiculous. The Spirit of God could not consistently act if there were no life in the soul.[5] In other words, John says, to love others as God loved us is the best way to prove that we still have the life of the Anointed One alive in us. Other than that, all the singing, praying, testifying, shouting, or rejoicing a person may demonstrate, without love for one another, is only done as dead people walking.[6]

Kelly then goes on to say that this is not all. If God loved us and demonstrated it as nothing else could, “we also ought to love one another.” Interestingly, John uses the Greek verb opheilō, translated as “ought” – KJV, and NIV means “to settle a debt.” In other words, we are indebted to others to love them as God loved us. It’s not an option, choice, or decision; it is a mandatory obligation. So, if the Anointed One settled our debt with God caused by our sin, how much more should we satisfy our love debt to others.

William B. Pope (1822-1903) points out that God manifested His agápē in us to create a new sphere for its existence. That’s why He sent us a permanent token of His agápē – His only-begotten Son into the world so that we might become spiritually alive and live through Him. So here, the Apostle John focuses his emphasis on “in us.” So, it’s not the case that we love God, but He loves us. Without Him or His Spirit living in us, we have no agápē. And this agápē that flows in us through Him must continue flowing back to Him, but by expressing that love to others. That’s what completes the circle; that’s how agápē is perfected in us.[7]

James Nisbet (1823-1874) sees the Apostle John sums up his argument, which is the conclusion of the whole matter: “Who are we supposed to love?” The answer is clear, “One another.”  But don’t we love God first? No, you can’t love God unless you love one another. John is not writing about family affections, personal friendships, parents and children, brothers and sisters, or a few intimacies. He is writing to the “Church.” All in the Great Family of God; “the Church.” We are copying verse eleven, which says, “If God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.” So, what else should we know? Here are some essential things to keep in mind:

First, God’s agápē is original – He loved us long before we loved Him. He ultimately took the initiative. We should do the same – not wait to be loved; but look around to someone whom we might love and be kind to, who does not love us, whom we ought to love; and at once do something, say a kind word, do a kind thing, to that person.

Second, God’s agápē is thoughtful – O, how wise! How thoughtful! Our love is often very unwise and unthoughtful. We take no pains about it. It is a mere passion. It has no distinct aim. There is no fundamental principle in it. And then it is not appropriate. It does not fit the person we love. There is minimal thinking involved, and no consideration; therefore, our love often does harm instead of doing good.

Thirdly, God’s agápē is faithful – God can give pain, but He doesn’t. So far as reproof is faithful, God’s agápē is faithful. Therefore, be authentic in your affections and not exaggerate or overstate your concerns. See faithfully. Speak of faults. Do it opportunely; very gently, hopefully, sympathizing, and tenderly.

Fourthly, God’s agápē is sacrificial – What sacrifice? How much time, money, or comfort are we making for anyone? Even if we do it in our own families or for a few friends, are we doing it outside? Are we doing it beyond the circle of our relations? Are we doing it as fellow Christians, as fellow citizens? Are we doing it for “one another?”

Fifthly, God’s agápē is careful – It is never a thing to be taken up and put down again on an impulse. It is never easy to initiate. It is constant. Furthermore, it never changes, except to deepen. “He loved His disciples during his earthly ministry and would love them to the very end. He never leaves; He never fails; He is never tired of a friend. Is your love that way too?[8]

Daniel Steele (1824-1914) suggests that as God’s spiritual children, we must honor Him by representing His moral attributes and following His example in loving those He loves. The obligation which God’s agápē lays upon us is not that we should love Him in return, as we would naturally expect, but that we should be His agápē to “love one another.” It was when Jesus was “knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands and that He was come from God, and was going to God” that He put on the attire of a servant and washed His disciples’ feet. His followers should learn that the spiritual nobility implied by adoption into the family of God imposes the corresponding obligation. The more mature the Christian, the more service to humanity is expected.[9]

German preacher and professor Theodor Christlieb (1833-1889) speaks about the Divine example of Love – “God loved us so.” How? The preceding verse shows us some of the glorious traits of this agápē.

First: Its greatness and depth. One may scoop out the ocean with a seashell sooner than exhaust the seas of God’s agápē with the small bucket of human conceptions.[10] [11] It is as boundless as God Himself. The greatness of agápē ought also to be the motive and the example for our love for our neighbor. It begins with our motive. How often are we stirred to love by beauty merely, by talent, or other excellencies, or even sometimes by pleasing weaknesses, but not first and foremost by the thought that God the Lord in the Anointed One pursued us in love! Of course, we are egoists by nature.[12] But, from the creation to the new creature, the soul of God’s whole activity is love.[13]

Second: The all-embracing extent of this agápē. Sometimes, we are very kind and pleasing towards those who love us, but towards others indifferent. Some attract us, countless others are repulsive. Therefore, if we desire to do what pleases God’s heart, let us also love those whom no one else is likely to love!

Third: The transparency and tranquility of God’s agápē. The more passionate our love, the harder it is to remain pure and calm. The love of the Anointed One was unclouded and tender in all its greatness. Either our love continues fresh and soothing, or it can become lukewarm.[14]

Fourth: It’s unselfish impartialness. We love those who please us, who loves us, or from whom we expect love. Therein appears the interests of our passion. But, on the contrary, God loves those who do not love Him, from whom, moreover, He can have no great hopes of love. And the Anointed One’s love is just as unselfish. In all His life of love, He never seeks His gain – not His honor, not His advantage, not His proper esteem, but only the glory of the Father and the world’s salvation.[15] How rare is the love in which one does not think themselves, but only of the welfare of another; which forgets one’s self, even expects nothing for itself because it has its reward in itself.

Fifth: The steadfastness and faithfulness of God’s agápē, is worthy of imitation. Selfish love has a worm that speedily gnaws away its life in its selfishness. The purer love is, the less it changes. Therefore, because God’s agápē is without any mixture of impure self-seeking, it is so steadfast.[16]


[1]Come, Ye that Know and Fear the Lord,” Lyrics in 1784 by George Burder (1752-1832), Music in 1832 by Lowell Mason (1792-1872)

[2] Romans 6:4, 6

[3] Jude 1:20-21

[4] Stock, John: Exposition of First Epistle of John, op. cit., p. 352

[5] Kelly, William: An Exposition of the Epistles of John the Apostle, op. cit., Logos, loc. cit.

[6] See Ephesians 2:1-3

[7] Pope, William B., Popular Commentary, op. cit., p. 315

[8] Nisbet, James: Church Pulpit Commentary, op. cit., Vol. 12, pp. 301-302

[9] Steele, Daniel: Half-Hour, op. cit., pp. 108-109

[10] See the Hymn “The Love of God” by Frederick M. Lehman, 1917, which says, “Could we with ink the ocean fill,
and were the skies of parchment made, were every stalk on earth a quill, and every man a scribe by trade; To write the agápē of God above would drain the ocean dry
.” [Later, the words, “Nor could the scroll, contain the whole, though stretched from sky to sky.”]

[11] Lines similar to verse 3 are found in the Qur’an (18:109 and 31:27) and in Akdamut, an 11th-century Jewish poem. Frederick Lehman tells us that the English rendition included in his song had reportedly “been found penciled on the wall of a patient’s room in an insane asylum after he had been carried to his grave.”

[12] Philippines 2:21

[13] See Luke 1:78; 9:49

[14] Cf. Revelation 3:15-16

[15] Matthew 4:3; 26:23

[16] Christlieb, Theodor: Biblical Illustrator, op. cit., Vol. 22, pp. 88-90

About drbob76

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