WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER FOUR (Lesson LXXVII) 05/05/22

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

When it comes to loving one another, the Apostle Paul uses a similar grammatical construction on two occasions. (1) He tells the Romans, “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another.”[1] (2) He tells husbands, “Husbands ought to love their wives.”[2] In summary, verse eleven restates the imperative of verse seven, although slightly softened by using “we ought to love” rather than a direct imperative. Again, the command to love is exhibited as the effect of God’s prior action in sending and sacrificing His Son. But now, John advances a new set of arguments for taking this directive to heart.[3]

Ben Witherington III (1951) says that the Apostle John is more concerned about spreading God’s agápē throughout the community. He claims that we should hear an echo of what Jesus said to His disciples, [4] where brotherly and sisterly love is grounded in His love for His followers. There is no doubt in John’s mind that God’s agápē is definitive, primary, and the source of all love. This then implies that human love is seen to be unoriginal and responsive. It suggests 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.[5]

Bruce G. Schuchard (1958) notices that the Apostle John continues to focus upon the refusal of the rebels to pay attention to the instruction of both the Father and the Son to abide in faith and love in communion with “us,”[6] that is, with John and the other eyewitnesses and all believers. According to Schuchard, modern interpreters of John make a big mistake when they fail to attend to John’s historical context. Unlike the secessionists, the “beloved” have every reason to be confident that theirs is the knowledge of the one true God. They, not the agitators, have offered the only proper reaction to the love of the One who loved first. They, and not the secessionists, have remained in the community of the beloved, have loved and not hated, [7] for the sake of fellow believers since they too have been loved by Him who loved us first.[8]

Duncan Heaster (1967) notes that the Apostle John sets the standard very high here. For the love of God toward us is not “love” as the world understands it, but the love of utter, total self-sacrifice expressed on the cross. With that love, we “ought to love one another.” Anything which may damage the path to salvation of others must not be done, and every effort and sacrifice is to be made to help them onto the path toward eternal salvation.[9]

David Legge (1969) says that first, the Apostle John has already said to love one another because of God’s nature. Then secondly, he tells us to love one another because of God’s grace. Next, John gives us, in verse eight, a description of how God manifested His love. John does this in three tenses – he talks about the past tense that God has demonstrated His love in that He sent the gift of His only begotten Son; we find that in verses ten and eleven. Then, later on, verses twelve to sixteen use the present tense: God, by His grace, has manifested His agápe because the Holy Spirit dwells within us and should be loving others through us. Then thirdly, he uses the future tense and talks about how God has yet to manifest His love toward us in the boldness that we will have in our hearts when we stand on Judgment Day, holy and without blame before God.

Now let’s deal with each of these that show us that we ought to love one another because of God’s grace. First, let’s look at the past tense in verses nine to eleven. John is telling us that as sinners, we are dead, and we need life; as sinners, we are guilty, and we need a pardon. So, God sent His one and only Son into the world so that we could be saved and have life – to live. Verse nine says, “that we might have eternal life through Him.” So, that’s the answer to death as sinners: we can live through the only begotten Son that God has sent. Then, in verse eleven, John says that’s because He provided the payment for our sins. That’s the answer to our guilt as sinners: He takes our sin and shame away.[10]

David Guzik (1984) points out that after receiving this love from God, we are directed to love one another. This pattern of receiving from God, then giving to others was familiar to John. He saw this when Jesus washed the feet of the disciples and showed such great love and servanthood to them; we might have expected Him to conclude by gesturing to His feet and asking who among them was going to do to Him what He had just done for them. Instead, Jesus said: “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.[11] The proper way to love God in response to His love for us is to go out and love one another.[12]

There is sparse evidence that the Apostle made feet washing an official ordinance of the Church. The key to this may lie in its origin. The first mention, of what no doubt was already a custom and tradition when Abraham saw the three men standing outside his tent near the great trees of Mamre, he said to them, “Sirs, please stay awhile with me, your servant. I will bring some water to wash your feet. You can rest under the trees.”[13] Since walking was the main method of transportation in those days, their feet were dusty and tired. Likewise with Abraham’s nephew, Lot. When two angels visited him in Sodom, Lot immediately went to them. He bowed to show respect and said, “Sirs, please come to my house, and I will serve you. There you can wash your feet and stay the night. Then tomorrow, you can continue your journey.”[14] So in washing His disciple’s feet, Jesus was teaching them the hospitality of showing the same love for others that He revealed to them.

Guzik goes on to say that this love will lead to practical action. If we do not love one another, how can we say that we have received the love of God and have been born of Him? Love is the proof we learn to look for. If you had a clogged pipe – water kept going into it but never came out, that pipe would be useless. You would replace it. Just so, God puts His love into our lives so that it might flow out. When that love no longer flows to someone or everyone, we need the Lord to unstop it with His cleansing blood and fill us so that His love can continuously flow through us.[15]

Now, John explains how loving each other is the same as loving God. Because, even though none of them had ever seen God, John points out:

4:12     Even though no one has ever seen God, if we love each other, it proves that God lives in us.  So, God’s agápē completes the circle through us by loving each other.

EXPOSITION

What the Apostle John says in verse twelve is made possible through knowing Jesus the Anointed One.  John preached this same message in his Gospel, No one has ever seen God. The only Son is the one who has shown us what God is like. He is Himself God and is very close to the Father.”[16]  That makes the coming of the Anointed One in human form even more awesome.  If it weren’t for that, humankind would have never been allowed to see God, since God is spirit.  So just as God was in the Anointed One by way of essence, He is in us through the Holy Spirit.

I remember reading what French mathematician, physicist, and religious philosopher Pascal had to say. He wrote: What is it, then, that this desire and this inability proclaim to us, but that there was once in man a true happiness of which there now remain to him only the mark and empty trace, which he in vain tries to fill from all his surroundings, seeking from things absent the help he does not obtain in things present? But these are all inadequate because the infinite abyss can only be filled by an infinite and immutable object, that is to say, only by God. He only is our true good, and since we have forsaken Him, it is a strange thing that there is nothing in nature that has not been serviceable in taking His place; the stars, the heavens, earth, the elements, plants, cabbages, leeks, animals, insects, calves, serpents, fever, pestilence, war, famine, vices, adultery, incest. And since man has lost the true good, everything can appear equally good to him, even his destruction, though so opposed to God, to reason, and the whole course of nature.[17]

This “abyss” is often referred to as a “God-shaped vacuum.” But who knows if John’s words here may have inspired Pascal to write that line. So, we do not stand alone; we are a part of something bigger than ourselves. Oh, what a beautiful scene: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit is in a circle holding hands. But out of love, they invite you and me to join them. So now, instead of three, there are four in one.  So, we begin to think like them, act like them, feel like them, and love like them.

No one has ever seen God except through theophanies (the physical manifestation of God). Each theophany was a manifestation of the Anointed One in pre-incarnate form. No one can see God, since God is a spirit.[18]  No one can see His essential being.  We did not see the essence of God in the humanity of the Anointed One. 

When Christians meet their moral obligation to love other Christians, God the Father abides or dwells in them.  This is how we see God working in our day.  Others see God by our love. God’s agápē springs from fellowship with God.  When God takes up residence in the believer, everyone can see it.  Love is a manifestation of divine habitation.  The Holy Spirit demonstrates the fruit of the Spirit in the believer’s spirit.  God lives in the believer, so they can love other Christians. 


[1] Romans 13: 8 – NIV

[2] Ephesians 5:28 – NIV

[3] Yarbrough, Robert W., 1-3 John (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament), op. cit., p. 243

[4] John 13:34

[5] Witherington, Ben III., Letters and Homilies for Hellenized Christians: op. cit., loc. cit.,  (Kindle Locations 7192-7196)

[6] 1 John 1:3; 2:19

[7] Cf. Ibid. 4:20

[8] Schuchard, Bruce G., Concordia Commentary, op. cit., p. 474

[9] Heaster, Duncan: New European Commentary, op. cit., 1 John, p. 32

[10] Legge, David: 1,2,3 John, Preach the Word, op. cit., “Christian Love: Its Source and Sign,” Part 13

[11] John 13:14

[12] Guzik, David: Enduring Word, op. cit., loc. cit.

[13] Genesis 18:3-4; also see Judges 19:21; 1 Samuel 25:41; Luke 7:44; 1 Timothy 5:10

[14] Ibid. 19:1-2

[15] Guzik, David: Enduring Word, op. cit., loc. cit.

[16] John 1:18

[17]The Pensées by Blaisé Pascal: Section VII, Morality and Doctrine ⁋ 425, Trans. W. F. Trotter

[18] John 4:24; 1 Timothy 1:17; 6:16

About drbob76

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