WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER FOUR (Lesson LXXX) 05/10/22

4:12 For though we have never seen God, God lives in us when we love each other, and His agápē within us grows ever stronger.

Robert Smith Candlish (1806-1873) sees narrow and compressed reasoning here. Like steps in a process or the links in the chain are not evident on the surface, some intermediate bonds of connection need to be supplied. Thus, the assertion “No one has seen God at any time[1] seems to anticipate a question as to the omission of love to God in the preceding verse. It is what we might naturally expect to be the logical inference, but it is not so; it is “we ought also to love one another.”[2] And why? “Because no one has seen God at any time.” Therefore, loving one another is the test of “God dwelling in us.” And it is so because it is “the perfecting of His agápē in us.” Two general principles are indicated here as regards this divine love; I. It must have a visible object; in other words, it must be actual and practical, not merely ideal and sentimental. II. It is thus not only proven but perfected; it has its free course to completion.[3]

William E. Jelf (1811-1875) notes that the Apostle John quotes what he wrote in his Gospel about no one has ever seen God.[4] It infers that we cannot hold communion with God face-to-face. Our connection to Him is spiritual, through His dwelling in our hearts, occupying our thoughts, affections, and desires. He does this if we love one another, for His agápē is the fulfillment of His moral law and keeping His commandments. So, if we keep His commandments, He has told us that He will dwell in us.[5] So, In such cases, the love we have for God, or the love He has for us, has received its full perfection and completion. In its perfect development, either of these comprehends and implies the other. They are only different expressions of the same moral and spiritual state. The love which God showed to us is developed to its proper end and functions when it creates in us love towards each other. If we love our fellow believers, agápē toward God is confirmed, developed, and perfected because it is evidence that God, by His Spirit, is in us in power. The more we feel God’s agápē, the more we will love them if that feeling is genuine.[6]

William Kelly (1822-1888) notes that there is a word worthy of all consideration here in verse twelve. It recalls John’s words, “No one has ever seen God at any time.”[7] How was so great a need for humanity supplied? Did not the God of all goodness feel for mankind’s lack? He made Himself known most gloriously for Himself and His Son, most effectively in itself, and most considerately and lovingly by sending His Son to become Man among men. If every soul of man since Adam was asked, How could God make Himself known in the best and surest way and the fullest love for humanity’s need and misery, never, would one have proposed to do it God’s way? Yet, Satan found the means to ignore and reject the Son of God to humankind through their lusts and passions, self-will, supposed interests, and invented religions.

But, says Kelly, the Son of God who came in divine love, is gone back to His Father. Yet, the Son, the rejected Son, is not here to declare Himself. What is the answer to the same need now? “If we love one another, God abides in us, and His agápē is perfected in us.” Is this not a striking and solemn means of supplying the need? Does it not address itself in a direct and powerful way to you, my brothers and sisters, to me, and to every other child of God? We are here and now through the Son not only washed from our sins but made children of God, and by our mutual love according to God to know and witness Him in a world that does not know Him. The children are now to reflect here on God’s agápē. Our Lord did this to perfection when here; how are we, or are we really knowing and abiding in His agápē the same way?[8] Therefore, can we not repeat the words of our Lord when others ask, how can I see Jesus? We can say: “Anyone who sees me has seen Jesus.”[9]

Now, says Kelly, no one has ever seen God at any time. God lives in us if we love one another, and His agápē is perfected in us. It is a wonderful word, evidently connecting itself with what is said in John’s Gospel, “No one has ever seen God. But the Anointed One, who is Himself God, is near to the Father’s heart. He revealed God to us.”[10] There the Anointed One stands as the manifestation of God in love. Here the saints are called to be no less. But, beloved brothers and sisters, Kelly asks, how far and wide do we manifest this divine love that never seeks its own, and is determined for the good of its objects, His children, yes all, even their enemies?[11] Is this impossible or too encompassing? Not when we read what the Apostle Paul said, “The death of His Son restored our friendship with God while we were still His enemies.”[12]

I like Daniel Steele’s (1824-1914) comments that God is in the genuine believer not as a stranger in an inn lodging for a night, but He as a permanent resident. This fact should expel fear, encompass strength, extend unbroken peace and everlasting joy, and energetic activity in promoting His glory here on earth. We may not always be conscious of the Holy Spirit abiding within, but there will be periods of wonderful spiritual illumination and crises of indescribable joy. The NIV, NLT, and LB, [13] all translate it as: “Inexpressible joy.”[14] [15]

William Lincoln (1825-1888) wants us to observe these two facts: when you believe in the Anointed One, God’s agápē gets into you; it has been tapping at the door of your heart (it may be for years) every time you heard the gospel; but when you believe, and take the full salvation, God’s agápē gets into you; when at last you see that the precious Son of God dying on your behalf on the cross, God’s agápē has got right into you; and so, observe, it is said of every Christian, here in verse twelve, that God’s agápē is perfected in them; if we love one another, that is proof that divine love has reached us – God’s agápē in its descending scale must have gotten into you, (commonly called conversion).[16]

In examining what John says here that no one has ever seen God, Brooke F. Westcott (1825-1901) states that with these words, John seems to call up all the triumphs of the saints in the past. No matter how close their fellowship with God had been, no one had seen Him as He is. Here, the question is not of some abstract power but an experience. Although God is invisible, He yet is not only very near to us but in us, the Life of our lives. People’s manifestation of active love witnesses two facts: (1) God abides in them, and (2) the presence of divine love in them in its completest form. There is both the reality and effectiveness of fellowship. Generally, this fellowship is described under its two aspects (“God in us, us in God”), but here the idea is that of the power of His divine indwelling.[17] John then reveals the unmistakable proof of our mutual union with God. The love of the brethren is indeed the recognition of God’s presence in us because it is after the image of God. So, the whole idea of whether a person has seen God in person or not is muted because we can all see God in each person who loves as He did.[18]

Henry A. Sawtelle (1832-1913) states that although this opening is abrupt, the connection of thought between this verse and the preceding is evident and straightforward: We ought to love one another; and, though we may not see God with these outward eyes, yet if we love anyway, God is in us as really as if we saw Him. He is where His agápē is, for love, as a divine principle, is a part of the believer. God the Father is the One spoken of, and seeing Him has so far been denied to mortal humans with bodily eyes. With the outward vision, people have seen the express image of the Father in Jesus the Anointed One, [19] but not God the Father by Himself as He is.[20] He whom Adam and Abraham and Moses saw was not the Father, but the Word, the Angel of Yahweh, the veiled higher nature of the Anointed One before He came in the flesh.[21]

John James Lias (1834-1923)  says that if we live that life of love, we can be sure that God’s agápē is abiding in us – that love which He has placed in our hearts – is already perfected in us. Here, as elsewhere in these notes, says Lias, we have represented John as looking toward the goal to which the Christian is aiming than at their actual present condition. No one – but one – has succeeded perfectly in leading this life of love. But every single act of love brings us nearer to that pinnacle. The nearer we are to that state to which the Lord desires to draw us is when God abides in us and we in Him, when we cease to sin and have at last come to “do righteousness,” when we love our brethren even as the Anointed One loved us, the more love is elevated as the practical principle of our lives.[22]

Eric Haupt (1841-1910) stays that here, at the end of this section, the Apostle John expressly adds that the divine nature of love in its fullness and glory takes up its dwelling in us. It is the highest perfection in God that His agápē neither excludes any nor ever permits interruption; and this is, therefore, the image and ideal for love among Christians, so that all individuals should love one another without exception (“each other”), and that with uninterrupted energy of the present tense “we love.[23]

Alfred Plummer (1841-1926) points out that, once more, the connecting lines of thought are not on the surface and cannot be confirmed with certainty. Nevertheless, what follows gives us a clue to what otherwise looks like an abrupt transition from what the Apostle John said that we must love one another, for by so doing, we have proof of the presence of the invisible God. No amount of contemplation ever yet enabled anyone to detect God’s presence. Let us love one another, and then we are sure not only that He is with us, but in us, and not merely in us, but stays there.[24]


[1] John 1:18; 1 John 4:12

[2] 1 John 1:11

[3] Candlish, Robert S., First Epistle of John, op. cit., pp. 119-120

[4] John 1:18

[5] Ibid. 14:23

[6] Jelf, William E., First Epistle of St. John, op. cit., p. 62

[7] John 1:18

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

[9] See John 14:9

[10] John 1:18

[11] Kelly, William: Lectures on the Catholic Epistles of John, op. cit., pp. 326-327

[12] Romans 5:10

[13] New International Version (NIV), New Living Testament (NLT), the Living Bible (LB)

[14] 1 Peter 1:8

[15] Steele, Daniel: Half-Hour, op. cit., pp. 109-110

[16] Lincoln, William: Lectures on 1 John, op. cit., Lecture VII, p. 129

[17] Cf. John 17:23, 26; 1 John 4:13

[18] Westcott, Brooke F., The Epistles of St. John, op. cit., pp. 151-152

[19] Hebrews 1:3; John 14:9

[20] John 1:18

[21] Sawtelle, Henry A., An American Commentary, Alvah Hovey Ed., op. cit., p. 50

[22] Lias, John James: The First Epistle of St. John with Exposition, pp. 320-321

[23] Haupt, Erich: The First Epistle of John, op. cit., p. 267

[24] Plummer, Alfred: Cambridge Commentary, op. cit., p. 150

About drbob76

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