WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER FOUR (Lesson LXXVI) 05/04/22

4:11 Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981) says the question now is, what do you do when you come up against people who seem to irritate you and are a problem to you, and who complicate things? The Apostle John’s answer is this: “If God so loved us, we should also love one another.” It means: Rather than yielding to one’s intuitive feelings, stop and talk to yourself. Instead of speaking or acting or reacting at once, remind yourself of the truth you believe in and apply it to the whole situation. Now that is something we Christians must do. This life of which the Final Covenant speaks is full of intellectual features. It is not a feeling. You do not wait until You feel like loving other people – you make yourself love others (“we ought to.”)[1] According to the Final Covenant, Christians can use God’s agápē to love other Christians, and they fail miserably if they don’t do so.[2]

Raymond E. Brown (1928-1998) agrees that the Apostle John’s implication seems to be that our love should resemble God’s agápē in a similar manner and to a corresponding degree of self-sacrifice – to love one another, where the duty of Christian self-sacrifice is deduced from the self-sacrifice of the Anointed One.[3] Keep in mind that John does not advocate that we must demonstrate our love on a cross by dying on someone’s behalf. It is the principle of love in that it knows no conditions, circumstances, or limits.

Warren W. Wiersbe (1929-2019) states that two purposes are given for the Anointed One’s death on the cross: (1) that we might live through Him, and (2) that He might be the appeasement for our sins.[4] His death was not an accident; it was an appointment. He did not die as a weak martyr, but as a mighty conqueror. We should, therefore, remember our Lord’s death spiritually, not merely sentimentally. Someone has defined sentiment as “feeling without responsibility.” It is easy to experience solemn emotions at a church service and yet go out to live the same defeated life. A truly spiritual experience involves the whole person. The mind must understand spiritual truth; the heart must love and appreciate it, and the will must act on it. The deeper we go into the meaning of the cross, the greater will be our love for the Anointed One and the greater our active concern for one another.[5]

Stephen S. Smalley (1931-2018) now sees the Apostle John passing from a consideration of the source of love to a reflection upon its inspiration.[6] In the Gospel, the demand for love is a condition for living as a child of God.[7] It is supported by the example of the sacrificial work of Jesus. Here in verses seven to ten, the “atoning sacrifice” of the Anointed One for mankind’s sin is presented as an expression of the essence of God, who is love. Thus, the Christian Gospel is based on who is love and that it seeks, in turn, to produce from every believer the fundamental moral response of love.[8] The knowledge of God must result in loving action.[9] [10] Note, while we are not responsible for attaining God’s agápē, once it is given, we are obligated to use it for God’s glory and Jesus’ sake.

Ian Howard Marshall (1934-2015) reports that moralists have long been baffled over the idea of how a commandment can be generated out of a statement. How can “we ought to love one another” be logically based on “God loved us”? Apparently, the Apostle John was not conscious of this puzzle. It was sufficient for him to claim that the recipients of divine love must demonstrate the same love. He could not understand how a person could experience divine love and remain unmoved by the obligation to love other people in the same way as God loved them. The connection is not so much through the logic of moral philosophy as through the guidance of experienced love, which generates fresh love. It is significant that John does not say that experience of God’s agápē should constrain us to love Him in return; rather, John speaks of our obligation to love others. Although he is thinking primarily of love within the Christian fellowship, the fact that he starts from a statement of God’s agápē for sinners strongly suggests that his vision is not limited to the Church but extends to the world.[11]

John Painter (1935) says that the Apostle John began with a direct appeal to his readers to love one another, arguing that agápē comes from God, that His love was revealed in the sending of the Son, and that  it defines the nature of love. God’s agápē is definitive, primary, and the source of all love. In arguing this way, the author implies that four issues are at stake. The first is the character of love, which John insists is defined by the event of the sending of the Son – understood as the sending of the Son by the Father – the sending of the Son to save the world. Second, love has its source in God, so human love copies and uses it. This implies that human love continually needs to be redefined and corrected by divine love because human love in the world has the potential to be corrupted.[12] Third, it is because of the potential for corruption that the love command is given. The love command[13] reminds the believer of the obligation to love, and this is particularly clear in the use of “we ought to love one another.” Fourth, the love command is the claim of divine love on all people. But it is also the gift of the divine love: “We love because He first loved us,[14] which is reflected in the love command itself. Agápē liberates those who recognize and respond to that love. It liberates us from loving one another.[15]

James Montgomery Boice (1938-2000) notices that the Apostle John begins with a passionate appeal to his readers to “love one another,” repeated three times in verses seven, eleven, and twelve. This is of great concern to the elderly apostle, and the reasons for that concern are given in connection with this threefold repetition. The first reason is that “love should be our nature;” therefore, Christians should naturally “love one another.” The second reason concerns God’s “gift of love in us through the indwelling Anointed One;” therefore, Christians have all the resources to “love one another.” The third reason concerns “God’s present activity in and through His people;” for this reason, Christians are obligated to “love one another.” Up to this point, love has been seen mostly as a believer’s duty. It is seen for what it most truly is, a driving disposition arising out of the divine nature that is now also within the Christian by God’s grace.[16]

Stanley Lewis Derickson (1940) notes that God loved the church in the Apostolic age. The Apostle John mentions God’s agápē, “Dear friends, if God loved us that much, then we should love each other.”[17] He gave the church age the organization of the church for our benefit. He gave us the job that we should be about. The ministry of missions is very rewarding to those who take part in it. God has shown great love for all people by opening up the Gospel to everyone.

So, now that we realize He loves us, our response should be to return that love through our beings verbally, physically, and spiritually.[18] The Apostle John tells us that we should love one another because He loved us. He loved us enough to send His son. We should respond by sending our sons and daughters to His service. An old church hymn mentions this. The song asks us to give of our wealth and soul in prayer.[19] All three are needed.[20]

Michael Eaton (1942-2017) believes that God could have let the weight of His anger fall upon us, but He found another way. It is as though He stopped Himself and gave further thought to the matter (if, as the Bible allows, we may think about it in a very human way). Then, instead of destroying the human race in His displeasure, He showed love to the entire human race and sent His Son. Since God showed such love to overcome our predicament under God’s anger, says John, you can enjoy the luxury of having God’s agápē in you and let others relax in the knowledge of your love for them. Is there anything more challenging than searching in the entire Bible?[21]

William Loader (1944) feels it is damaging to our Christian faith when we take what the Apostle John says here as evidence that he would see love limited to the Christian community. And certainly, it would conflict with his basic premises about God’s original initiative of love to limit it in this way. While John addressed an inner Christian controversy, the insights to which he gives expression apply just as much to the wider world of reality – His famous God is love is true for the world as much as it is for the Church. His agápē theology and spirituality are an abiding relevance is a central expression of the Christian message.[22] In the past, this attitude of restricting such acts of lovingkindness to the world was practiced, especially by the early Pentecostal and Evangelical Movements in America. To associate with sinners would make a believer as unclean, as uncleanliness was to the Jews concerning Gentiles and the dead.

Robert W. Yarbrough (1948) says that within the horizon of verse eleven, the major consequence is the responsibility that God’s agápē places on both John and his readers: “We too, [that is, like God] ought to love each other.” This conviction and its underlying rationale are not unique to John. Jesus’s parable of the unmerciful slave illustrated the same point graphically.[23] The logic at the parable’s core parallels the logic of the verse: “Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had on you?”[24]


[1] 1 John 4:11

[2] Lloyd-Jones, Martyn: Life of the Anointed One, op. cit., p. 441

[3] Stott, John. The Letters of John (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries), op. cit., p. 164

[4] 1 John 4:10

[5] Wiersbe, Warren W., Be Real: Turning from Hypocrisy to Truth (The BE Series Commentary) op. cit. pp. 141-143

[6] 1 John 4:11-16

[7] John 3:16

[8] 1 John 2:27-8

[9] Cf. 1 John 3:17-18; 4:7-8

[10] Smalley, Stephen S., Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 51., op. cit., p. 244

[11] Marshall, I. Howard. The Epistles of John (The New International Commentary on the New Testament), op. cit., pp. 215-216

[12] See 1 John 2:15-17

[13] John 13:34; 1 John 4:7, 11

[14] 1 John 4:19

[15] Painter, John. Sacra Pagina: 1, 2, and 3 John: Vol. 18, loc. cit.

[16] Boice, James Montgomery: The Epistles of John, op. cit., p. 114ff

[17] 1 John 4:11

[18] 1 John 4:11

[19] O Zion, Haste (4th stanza) was written by Mary Ann Thomson (1868)

[20] Derickson, Stanley L., Notes on Theology, op. cit., pp. 255, 257

[21] Eaton, Michael: Focus on the Bible, 1,2,3 John, op. cit., pp. 151-152

[22] Loader, William: Epworth Commentary, op. cit., pp. 53-54

[23] Matthew 18:21-35

[24] Matthew 18:33 NIV; cf. Col. 3: 13

About drbob76

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