NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
By Dr. Robert R Seyda
FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN
CHAPTER FOUR (Lesson LXXXIV) 05/16/22
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.
David Legge (1969) notes that the Apostle John says, let us love one another because of God’s supernatural character and grace in the past. But then he says: let us love one another because God is invisible. Indeed, none of us can visually see God’s Spirit in the incarnate Anointed One, our Lord Jesus, and that is how, after all, God manifested His agápē in the past. So, the big question John poses to us is: how is God’s agápē demonstrated today? Oh yes, it was confirmed in the Anointed One when He came in the flesh, went to the cross, died for our sins, and rose again – but we can’t see Him. I believe that these verses are among some of the most challenging texts in the whole word of God, admits Legge. John says that since no one can see God at any time if we love one another, God dwells in us as He perfects His love in us. As God was manifested to people in the past in the incarnation of the Anointed One, God will be displayed in the present through Christians in whom He lives.
4:13 We know that we live in God, and God lives in us. We know this because He gave us His Spirit.
The Apostle John very often uses the Greek verb ginōskō (“to know”) when recalling some circumstance of personal history or to introduce the statement of a doctrine as something we would immediately recognize as familiar. Ginōskō is used in the same sense as “We don’t need to be told.” And when added to “we now know,” it is simply a formula introducing what we recall. As such, ginōskō may also be understood as meaning “And you will remember.” Therefore, the Apostle John is not introducing something new to his readers, but information they have known for a long time.
John gives further evidence of someone who has true fellowship with the Anointed One in verse thirteen. The Holy Spirit is the sign of true faith. The Apostle Paul writes, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” The Apostle Paul also refers to “the Holy Spirit who dwells within us.” Those who don’t display this Spirit need to examine their relationship with the Anointed One – at worst, they may not have one at all.
If a person has God’s Spirit, they have Jesus, too. John has already taught that the one who has the Father has the Son. Here he adds that the individual with the Spirit also has the Son. All three persons of the triune God are involved in our salvation. God sent the Son to provide salvation. The Spirit lives within us to help us live for the Anointed One from the point of salvation and beyond. All three persons are involved in the life of the believer. John now turns from a warning against believing just any spirit and the appeal to love one another to a personal application of living life by the power of the Spirit of God. By love living in us, it means that a person is in fellowship with God. We, believers, are assured that we have fellowship with the Lord because of the Spirit, He gave us. Abiding is synonymous with knowing the Anointed One.
This is a mutual cohabitation. We dwell in God, and He abides in us. God fellowships with us when we allow Him to control our lives because He has given us of His Spirit. The reference here is not to the gift of the Spirit, but the Spirit being an occupant in our lives at the instant we became Christians, but rather to the manifestations of the Spirit in our lives. The Greek preposition ek (“of”) in the phrase “of His Spirit” indicates the product of participation in the Spirit’s presence. Love is a grace that flows from the Spirit. The Holy Spirit assures us of our fellowship with God when we love one another. Love is the authenticating test of the Holy Spirit, producing fruit in us.
We can also see that verse thirteen is almost identical to 1 John 3:24. Also, in 3:1-7, the Apostle John says that confession of the Incarnation proves possession of the Spirit; and in 3:12, that love of our fellow believers proves that God resides in our hearts. So here, in verse thirteen, John says that possession of the Spirit confirms the inner presence of God; and in 3:15, that confession of the Incarnation proves the same. These four facts mutually involve one another. John does not say that He has given us His Spirit, but “of His Spirit.” We cannot receive more than a portion; the fullness of the Spirit is possessed by the Anointed One alone.
So, how do we apply this to our lives? Remember, fellowship with the Spirit produces agápē in us and is evidence of our union with God. The agápē we manifest to other Christians is an outcome of the gift of the Holy Spirit to us. The Holy Spirit is the source of the believer’s love, just as He is the source of our application of truth to experience. On the Day of Pentecost, God poured His Spirit out on each believer in the Church. He made the things of Jesus real to them, and now makes God’s agápē real to us.
Tertullian (155-240 AD) addresses the question, “Has anyone ever seen God?” He quotes from John’s Gospel, “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father.” That is, of course, says Tertullian, the glory of the Son who was visible and glorified by the invisible Father. Therefore, since John said that the Word was God, his adversaries could not criticize Him for saying that he had seen the Father. To distinguish the invisible Father and the visible Son, John still asserts: “No one has ever seen God.”
So, what god does he mean, asks Tertullian, by the Word (Greek Logos)? He has already claimed: “Him we have seen and heard, and our hands have handled the Word of life.” Well, then, what god does John have in mind? It is, of course, God the Father, with whom was the Word, the only begotten Son, who is in His Father’s bosom and has declared Him. Therefore, He was both heard and seen that John might not be supposed to have handled a phantom or ghost. So, what did the Apostle Paul behold when he said, “Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not the result of my work in the Lord?” but did see the Father?
Augustine of Hippo (354-430 AD), in one of his sermons on 1 John, talks about how we are overcomers because of God’s agápē abiding in us. Beginning with verse four, Augustine gives the main points for his argument. First, we are God’s children. Second, our opponents are of the world. Third, we are God’s own, so we know that He hears us. Fourth, we are conscious that an act against God’s will is an offense to God’s agápē. Fifth, not only is God’s agápē, but God is love, and by His being in us, His agápē is in us. Sixth, God manifested His agápē for us first. Seventh, the manifestation was seen in the fact that God sent His only begotten Son to die and rise again for us so that we could live through Him. Eighth, although we cannot see God with our physical eyes, by faith, we see Him with our spiritual eyes.
Therefore, says Augustine, let each of us look at our heart. We should not keep hatred against our fellowmen that leads to harsh words. Do not become entangled in arguments about worldly things, lest we become worldly. Consequently, do not claim that you walk in the Light if you hate your neighbor. As the Apostle John says, “Anyone who says they are walking in the Light of the Anointed One but dislikes their fellow man is still in darkness.” Anyone who once walked in darkness can now joyfully proclaim, “Once I was full of darkness, but now I have Light from the Lord. So, I live as a person of Light!” At one time, we worshipped idols, but now we worship God; once we worshipped the things He made, now we worship Him that made us. We have changed, but God never changes. That’s why we should thank God and make it a joyful greeting to our fellow Christians.
To sum this up, you cannot have God in your life if you don’t allow the Anointed One or the Holy Spirit to occupy you. But by accepting them, you can also have God because they bring Him with them. When Jesus promised the Holy Spirit, He stated, “On that day you will know that I am in the Father. You will know that you are in me, and I am in you.” It is something we all must be convinced of and stand upon as the basis for our mission in this world.
Bede the Venerable (672-735 AD) puts it succinctly by telling us to examine our hearts, and we will know whether God has given us His Spirit, for if we are full of love, we have the Spirit of God. And to this Medieval scholar, Œcumenius adds that many things that are invisible in themselves we discover by how they work inside us. Just as nobody has ever seen a soul, we know it from the way it behaves in us, so we detect God’s agápē from the fact that it is at work and bears fruit in us.”
It offers us this hypothesis: Since God is invisible and yet lives in us through His Spirit, and since God is love, His love is hidden inside us; therefore, God could only be seen by His Son Jesus coming into this world to minister and give Himself for us, then could it be that the only way the world will ever see God is if Jesus who is also in us is made visible through those things that we do because they come from God living in us? It is something to meditate on, advises Bede.
 Legge, David: 1,2,3 John, Preaching the Word, op. cit., “Christian Love: Its Source and Sign”, Part 13
 See 1 Corinthians 16:15; Philippians 4:15; 1 Thessalonians 2:1, 2, 5, 11; 4: 4; 2 Timothy 1:15
 Cf. Romans 2:2; 3:19; 8:28; 1 Timothy 1:8; 2 Thessalonians 2:6
 1 Corinthians 3:16
 2 Timothy 1:14
 1 John 4:1-6
 Ibid. 4:7-12
 Ibid. 4:13-17
 Ibid. 2:24-25
 Cf. John 1:16; 12:3
 See 1 John 3:23-24
 See Romans 5:5
 Ibid. 1:14
 Ibid. 1:18
 1 John 1:1
 John 1:18
 1 Corinthians 9:1
 Latin Texts: Tertullian Against Praxeas, by A. Souter, Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, London, 1920, Ch. XV, pp. 67-68
 1 John 2:9
 See Ephesians 5:8
 Augustine, Ten Homilies on the Epistle of John, op. cit., Homily 7, pp.992-1000
 John 14:20
 Bede the Venerable, Ancient Christian Commentary, Vol. XI, Bray, G. (Ed.), James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John
 Œcumenius: Ancient Christian Commentary, Vol. XI, Bray, G. (Ed.), James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John