WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER FOUR (Lesson LXXXIII) 05/13/22

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.

The Apostle John takes a back seat to no one in Scripture, says Yarbrough, in advancing a lofty view of God the Father’s essential being. But in direct proportion to God’s transcendence, for John, is the mandate that believers incarnate God’s character, central to which is His love. It is essential if John’s readers are to avoid the lovelessness that he warns against. It is also vital for the sake of believers’ personal assurance, as we see in verse thirteen.

Colin G. Kruse (1950) sees the invisibility of God as an essential theme in the Apostle John’s Gospel.[1]No one has ever seen God. The only Son is the one who has shown us what God is like. He is God and is very close to the Father; The Father who sent Me has given proof about Me Himself. But you have never heard His voice. You have never seen what He looks like; I don’t mean that there is anyone who has seen the Father. The only One who has ever seen the Father is the One who came from God. He has seen the Father.” John’s point is that while no one can claim to have seen God (apart from God’s one and only Son), believers who love one another demonstrate that the unseen God lives in them. This teaching is meant to reassure the readers that they do really know God, despite what the secessionists might say to the contrary.[2]

Judith M. Lieu (1951) maintains that the Apostle John’s readers would have quickly agreed to celebrate the superiority of God’s act of love that John had just rehearsed, especially if it drew on familiar phrases. Yet, it may be understood and experienced in highly individual terms, a collection of individuals who could claim God loved me. Such an understanding would not act as the foundation for the conclusion that John draws. For him: God’s prior love calls for a responding love, not to God, nor indiscriminately, but precisely to one another. God’s agápē for “us” does not simply transform individuals and offer them the possibility of life, but it creates a community; indeed, God’s agápē for “us” is for the community as a whole and not exclusively for its members. Hence, God’s act of love not only imposes the obligation to love but also determines to whom that love must be directed toward those who are equal recipients of God’s agápē along with “us.”

In other words, God’s agápē is not poured into us as a closed vessel to be capped and kept apart from others. No, it was dispensed to us as a reservoir that flows out to others. For that reason, Love is not an emotion; neither is it to be defined in terms of particular virtues or acts of kindness. It is the lifeblood of the community, that which gives it its existence. This goes beyond seeing it as give-and-take love but as something commanded.[3] As such, it is an act of obedience. Furthermore, it is not to be satisfied by a catalog of individual activities or a general affirmative concern for each other. Love is not among a number of characteristics of those who believe. In fact, at this point, rather than identifying them as those who believe, it would be better to identify them as those who are founded on love.[4]

Ben Witherington III (1951) notes that there is something odd about saying, “God lives in us, and His love is made complete in us,” as if God’s Spirit was not seen as divine or not closely identified with God. The Apostle John writes, “We know He lives in us because the Spirit, He gave us, lives in us.[5] It is therefore better to take the Greek “out of the Spirit” phrase seriously; it refers to the knowledge or assurance that the Spirit gave believers at conversion that God dwells in them, knowledge that has an ongoing and lasting impact. If we take the phrase “of the Spirit” in a strict separative sense (believers receive only a share of the Spirit, not the whole Spirit), who fills the entire church? John does not see the Spirit as a mere power in impersonal terms. Rather, the Spirit is a person who cannot be parceled out in bits and pieces. Then, it is better to see this as a reference to something received from the Spirit: knowledge, spiritual awareness, assurance, gifts, etc.[6] If the Holy Spirit comes in to dwell at the new birth, why do we need to return to God for the infilling of His Spirit? For Pentecostals, the Holy Spirit moves in for Salvation and Sanctification. So then, being baptized in the Spirit is empowerment for service. That’s why Jesus told the disciples to go to the upper room and wait until the Spirit came.

Bruce G. Schuchard (1958) begins with:

               “Immortal, invisible, God only wise,

               In light, inaccessible, hid from our eyes.”[7]

Whether a Christian or not, no one suggests John has ever seen God in person. Yet, still, we may know and be confident that ours is the knowledge of the one true God.[8] For John declares that we alone, and not individualist Christians, have responded in kind to the love of the One who alone is love, who therefore exemplifies what love truly is, what love must be, if it is to be true love, never selfishly taking or demanding, but selflessly given, enlivening, empowering, upholding, and sustaining for time and for eternity. After all, to quote the Apostle Paul, “the greatest of these is love.[9] So then, we and not they have made His agápē our love. We and not the nonconformists have responded with the same love for the same community of the beloved for the sake of the life and the love that comes from and so is inspired by God alone through His Son, Jesus the Anointed One. We, and not the maverick believers, do these things by abiding in the love of our unseen God, as seen in our love for each other.[10]

Marianne Meye Thompson (1964) says that what we have here is that God gives us the command to love and has also modeled for us what true love is, just as Jesus modeled love for His disciples when He washed their feet before His death.[11] Love that does not express itself concretely and in service to others is not love.[12] But even more, God also empowers us to love. By confession of the Son whom God has sent, we are born of God and come to know God, who is love;[13] we are given life;[14] our sins are forgiven.[15] We come into the realm of life and love, in which we receive eternal life and are empowered to extend the same kind of life-giving love to others. That’s how we come to know the source of agápē.[16]

Ken Johnson (1965) points out that true love is not seen by what we do for each other or for God, but only in the fact that Jesus is the atonement for our sins. That fact should be the basis of the love we show to one another.[17] And since He was willing to forsake heaven, come to a hostile world, be murdered for His beliefs, and be buried in a borrowed tomb, so the Father could raise Him to life again, we can do no less for those, we desire to see become our brothers and sisters in God’s family.

Duncan Heaster (1967) is of the persuasion that the idea of “perfected” is an ongoing process. The Apostle John often writes in absolute terms, according to our status “in the Anointed One,” as if it is that those who know the Father automatically live in and with the kind of love exhibited by Him in the Anointed One. But we know from observed experience that this is a process and doesn’t happen instantaneously; even Paul felt he had not yet been “perfected.”[18] Love, the love unto the death on a cross, is developed and “perfected” in us; this results in the Christian community being “perfected” into a profound unity, unseen in any other human social relationship.[19] Our life paths are, therefore, directed toward the development of that love; and when our lives are over, we will stand before the Lord at the judgment; our love should have been perfected, matured, and developed to such a point that we assure our fluttering hearts before Him and find boldness there.

We will have reached the point the Lord did, says Heaster, who was “perfected” until the very point when He died – for that was the ultimate term and maturity of the process of love being “perfected” in a person.[20] From His example and path, we note that while the process of “perfecting” is still in operation, we may not be fully mature, but lack of full maturity is not sinful. For the Lord never sinned. Instead, the Spirit “perfects” us until we can be seen as being among the spirits of just men who were perfected.[21] It is by keeping the Word of the Lord Jesus ever before us that this love is perfected in us.[22] [23]

Karen H. Jobes (1968) inquires, “Because God is invisible in the material world we inhabit, how does one express love for God and fellowship with Him?” We can’t hug Him or send Him a nice Valentine’s Day card on February fourteenth. Consistently, the Final Covenant speaks of love for God in terms of our relationship with His people. We gather together for worship, pray for one another, and take Holy Communion together. Although Christianity in North America has a very “Jesus-and-me” quality, the Final Covenant writers did not conceive of an independent, maverick Christian.[24] Even the First Covenant commands that obedience to God were largely directives concerning how to treat others.[25] Biblically defined love for others is our appropriate expression of love for God. When Christians love others as God defines love, God remains in us, making His presence known, and His agápē is completed in us.[26]


[1] John 1:18; 5:37; 6:46

[2] Kruse, Colin G., The Letters of John (The Pillar New Testament Commentary (PNTC)), op. cit., loc. cit., Kindle Edition

[3] 1 John 3:11

[4] Lieu, Judith, The New Testament Commentary, op. cit., pp. 184-185

[5] 1 John 3:24b

[6] Witherington III, Ben: Letters and Homilies for Hellenized Christians: op. cit., loc. cit., (Kindle Locations 7224-7231)

[7] Immortal, invisible, God only Wise, by Walter C. Smith, (1867)

[8] Ibid. 2:3-11

[9] 1 Corinthians 13:13

[10] Schuchard, Bruce G., Concordia Commentary, op. cit., p. 476

[11] John 13:1-17

[12] 1 John 3:16-18

[13] Ibid. 4:7

[14] Ibid. 4:9

[15] Ibid. 4:10

[16] Thompson, Marianne M., The IVP New Testament Commentary, op. cit., p. 123

[17] Johnson, Ken. Ancient Epistles of John and Jude, op. cit., p. 78

[18] Philippians 3:12

[19] John 17:23

[20] Hebrews 2:10; 5:9; 7:28; Heaster fails to note that these scriptures are talking about Jesus, not a believer. It is the love of God that is perfected in the believer, not the believer in God’s love.

[21] Hebrews 12:23

[22] 1 John 2:5

[23] Heaster, Duncan: New European Commentary, op. cit., 1 John, p. 33

[24] Cf. 1 Peter 2:4-5

[25] Exodus 20:12-17; Deuteronomy 5:16-21

[26] Jobes, Karen H., 1, 2, and 3 John (Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on The New Testament, Book 18), p. 194

About drbob76

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