WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER FOUR (Lesson LXXXI) 05/11/22

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

Amos N. Wilder (1895-1993) says that knowing God by the Gnostic path could reach its goal in the claim of having seen Him in a mystic vision. The audacity of this claim is no doubt to be condoned because some of great nobility of spirit from Plato onward have experienced it. But the Bible, more aware of the difference between Creator and creature, assigns this goal to Judgment Day[1] for the “pure in heart” and in an indirect sense.[2] But if we love one another, the life of God in its essential character is ours: God abides in us.[3] Indeed, His agápē is perfected in us in the sense that it is realized or brought into actuality· This is a much greater outcome than any alleged vision of God.[4] It is only one aspect of the final outcome.[5]

Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981) was prompted suddenly, to ask, “Why does the Apostle John suddenly, in the midst of this argument, exclaim, ‘No man has seen God at any time?’” Where’s the connection? What does he mean? Why was it, at this point, he burst out, as it were, with this extraordinary statement? There are those who would say that what John was really saying was something like this: “Dear friends, I told you earlier, since God loved us so much, we surely ought to love each other.”[6] Then he blurts out, “Listen, no one has ever seen God!” Therefore, the only way in which we can love God is by loving one another. After all, we cannot see God, but we do see each other. So, since you cannot see God to love Him, then love Him by loving His children. Lloyd-Jones calls this a reasonable answer. It is as if John is answering them this way: “Rid your minds of all these mystical ideas of love. Stop thinking that way and start realizing that there is no value in your saying that you love God unless you love your brother and sister. After all, you can’t see God, but you can see your brother and sister. So, it is simple, love your brother and sisters if you want to love God.”[7]

Ronald Ralph Williams (1906-1970) says that the Apostle John wants to make his point abundantly clear, so he explains that the love he is speaking of comes from God is not our love, not even our love for God, but God’s agápē for us. This found its supreme expression in Jesus’ coming, but still, more precisely, the purpose of His coming was to remedy the defilement of our sins.[8] The phrase “remedy for the defilement” comes from the Greek noun hilasmos, which means to “appease, alleviate, placate, atone for,” which is translated as “propitiation.” It comes from the Latin propitiare, meaning “appease.” Earliest recorded form of the word in English is propitiatorium, “the mercy seat, place of atonement” (circa 1200 AD), translating Greek hilasterion. The meaning “that which propitiates or appeases, a propitiatory gift or offering” is from the 1550s. Because all Christians owe everything to the flow of love poured into the world and the hearts of new Christians, no person has ever seen God except through the mutual love of His children. God’s agápē comes to its full maturity and is thereby brought to perfection.[9]

Wayne C. “Cy” Aman (1918-1995) states that Christian perfection is nothing else than perfected love. The Holy Spirit inspired the Apostle John to tell us that the height of the Christian experience is love. The Apostle Paul verified this by confessing to the Corinthians, “I may speak in various languages, whether human or even of angels. But if I don’t have love, I am only a noisy bell or a ringing cymbal. I may have the gift of prophecy, understand all secrets, know everything there is to know and have faith so great that I can move mountains. But even with all this, if I don’t have love, I am nothing. I may give away everything I have to help others, and I may even give my body as an offering to be burned. But I gain nothing by doing all this if I don’t have love.[10] So, if the lack of love makes a nobody out of the Apostle Paul, think of what it makes you?[11]

Raymond E. Brown (1928-1998) is surprised that this denial by the Apostle John of anyone ever seeing God is surprising. Did not Jesus tell His disciples, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father?”[12] This was scarcely meant to be a unique privilege for those first disciples who saw Jesus physically during the ministry since Jesus promised the disciples that they would see Him again “in a little while, [[13] namely, after His death and return – a sight that presumably the Johannine Christians would share as second-generation disciples. Nevertheless, we would have to conclude that the sight of the Father in Jesus is not the same as seeing God in person. John promises that as a future reward: “We shall see Him as He is.”[14] Three times in John’s Gospel, he references that no one has ever seen God.[15] It was used to defend the uniqueness of Jesus against Jewish claims (actual or possible) about the superiority of Moses or Elijah.

The Jewish historian Josephus tells us that Moses met with the congregation before going off into the mountain and never returning. The prophet told them, “God has received me graciously . . . I have been admitted into the presence of God and been made a hearer of His incorruptible voice.”[16] And in Torah, we read, “Adonai would speak to Moshe’s face to face, as a man speaks to his friend,”[17] and, “there has not arisen in Isra’el a prophet like Moshe, whom Adonai knew face to face.”[18] But there is a debate within Jewish writings about whether Moses saw God on Sinai or through an assumption into heaven after death. Once again, John has taken over anti-Jewish criticism from his Gospel and used it in his war with the secessionists.[19]

Peter S. Ruckman (1921-2010) tells us how the Final Covenant affected the Hindu writings on the god Krishna. The name and synonyms of Krishna have been traced to prior to the birth of the Anointed One in literature and cults before His birth. However, without one prophesy about him in 2,000 years of Hindu “sacred scriptures,” he can do many of the things written in the Gospels about Jesus.[20] For instance:

  • He can unite people to “the Eternal.
  • He can indwell sinners and rescue them from all evils.
  • He believes in sacrifice and can indwell the believer.
  • As the Supreme Lord of the Universe, even Braham “adores” him.
  • We are to love and worship him and meditate on him.
  • He was the “unknown god” before Jesus the Anointed One showed up.
  • He is to be called “Our Lord” and “Blessed Lord” and, finally, “THE LORD.”[21]

John R. W. Stott (1921-2011) says we are not to think of love only as constituting God’s eternal being and as historically manifested in the sending of His Son into the world. For God, who is love and, has loved still loves, and today His agápē is seen in and through our love.[22] So, if the lost and sin weary sinner is expecting to see love, they need not look toward heaven, nor a Church, nor the Bible, if they want to see God’s agápē manifested, they will have to look at you and me. The question is, will they see any?

Simon J. Kistemaker (1930-2017) focuses on the doctrinal aspect of why the Apostle John’s First Epistle is the preeminent book on love. The verb love appears twenty-eight times, and the corresponding noun love occurs eighteen times. Furthermore, almost all these references are in the section of 3:1-5:3. If God loved us before the world’s creation, [23] why did He need to send His Son to a cruel death on the cross? Was the death of the Anointed One necessary? The answer to these questions is that although God still dearly loved us, He was displeased and upset with us because of our sins but could not be reconciled to us until the Anointed One removed our guilt. God expresses His agápē toward those whose demand for righteousness has been met. Therefore, God’s children, who are covered with His righteousness, may experience the fullness of God’s agápē.”[24]

Dwight Moody Smith (1931-2016) states, as others have, that this section of verses seven through twelve is one of the most eloquent statements about love in the Johannine literature, as well as in the Final Covenant as a whole. As such, it is perhaps less famous than 1 Corinthians 13.[25] But in fact, it is an adequate theological discussion about the origin of love than Paul’s renowned poem of praise, which has been popular among Christians and others, perhaps because it praises the importance and character of love over narrow religious qualities or claims. On the other hand, John gives a distinctly Christian explanation of the origin and human motivation of love, one that has become a classical model for theology and ethics. Appropriately, John begins by addressing his readers as beloved recipients of love. They are beloved by John, but, as we shall soon see, they are also beloved of God, which becomes evident in how this paragraph unfolds.


[1] Matthew 5:8

[2] 1 Corinthians 13:12; cf. John 14:19; 1 John 1:2

[3] Cf. 1 John 3:24

[4] See John 1:18

[5] Wilder, Amos N., The Interpreter’s Bible, op. cit., 1 John, Exposition, pp. 281-282

[6] 1 John 4:11

[7] Lloyd-Jones, Martyn: Life of the Anointed One, op. cit., p. 452

[8] See 1 John 4:10

[9] Williams, Ronald R, Letters of John and James, op. cit., pp. 48-49

[10] 1 Corinthians 13:1-3

[11] Aman, Wayne C., The Cross and Crown of Holiness, op. cit., Ch. 3, p. 12

[12] John 14:9

[13] Ibid. 16:16

[14] 1 John 3:2

[15] John 1:18; 6:46; 14:9; cf. 1 John 4:12; 3 John 1:11

[16] Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book 3, Chap. 5:3

[17] Exodus 33:11 – Complete Jewish Bible (CJB)

[18] Deuteronomy 34:10 – Complete Jewish Bible (CJB)

[19] Brown, Raymond E., The Anchor Bible, op. cit., p. 520

[20] Ruckman, Dr. Peter S., General Epistles Vol. 2, 1-2-3 John, Jude Commentary, (The Bible Believer’s Commentary Series), BB Bookstore. Kindle Edition.

[21] Encyclopedia of Religion and Religions, Pike, World Publishing Co., 1958; Religions of the World, John Hardon, Image Books, 1968; India, the Grand Experiment, Mangalwaid, Pippa Rann Books, 1997

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

[23] Ephesians 1:4-5

[24] Kistemaker, Simon J., New Testament Commentary, op. cit., pp. 334-335

[25] 1 Corinthians 13

About drbob76

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