By Dr. Robert R Seyda


CHAPTER FOUR (Lesson XCIX) 06/10/22

4:16 We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in His love. God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them.


Several early church scholars share their thoughts on this verse. One was Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage (circa 100-158 AD) tells us that those who have refused to be of one mind in the church of God cannot be in union with God.[1] Cyprian refers to the blessed Apostle John’s word: God, he says, is love; and they that dwell in love dwells in God, and God in them.[2] Therefore, they cannot be in union with God, who would not be of one mind in God’s Church. Consequently, although they burn, given up to flames and fires, or lay down their lives, thrown to the wild beasts, that will not be the crown of faith, but the punishment of being betrayed; nor will it be the glorious ending of religious bravery, but the destruction of despair. Such a person may be slain, but not crowned. They profess to be a Christian just as the devil pretends to be the Anointed One, as the Lord forewarns us, “Many will come in my name, saying, I am the Anointed One, and will deceive many.[3] They are not in union with the Anointed One. And although they use His name to deceive, they cannot appear as a Christian who do not abide in the truth of His Gospel and faith.[4]

Not only does Cyprian have a message for the Church, but also the non-believing Jews. He quotes Malachi: “Don’t we all have the same father? Didn’t one God create us all? Then why do we break faith with each other, profaning the covenant of our ancestors?”[5] And doesn’t the Apostle John, a converted Jew, say, “This is how we know who the children of God are and who are offsprings of the devil’s brood. Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister.”[6] John declares that “Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in them.”[7] John also wrote, “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a Christian brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.”[8]

We find this same thing in the Acts of the Apostles, says Cyprian. There we read that the Apostle Peter, a converted Jew, reported: “All the many believers were one in heart and soul, and no one keeps their possessions for themselves, but everyone shared everything they had.”[9] And this was on the Temple mount! Then Matthew, a converted Jew, repeats what Yeshua, a Jew, said: “If you are offering your gift at the Temple altar, and you remember there that your brother has something against you, leave your gift at the altar, and go, make peace with your brother. Then come back and offer your gift.”[10] Not only that, but the Apostle John, a converted Jew, the one closest to Yeshua, tells you that “Those who remain in this agápē remain united with God, and God remains united with them.”[11] [12] While this was Cyprian’s message for the Jews back then, it qualifies as a message for the Church today.

Clement of Alexandria (150-216 AD) shares an interesting custom acceptable in his day. He says we should not surrender our ears to all who speak and write impulsively. Just like vases grasped by their ear handles by careless hands, they are broken and ruined when they fall. In the same way, the ears of those polluted by insignificant chatter become deaf to the pure truth, useless, and fall away. Therefore, we should encourage children to respect their relatives when holding them by their ears to kiss them, indicating that the feeling of love is produced by hearing. And God, who is known to those who love, since love, is God, [13] just like those who are instructed to teach the faithful, are faithful; and we must be allied to Him by divine love: so that by like we may see like, hearing the word of truth guilelessly and purely, as children who obey us. And this was what he, whoever he was, indicated who wrote the inscription on the entrance to the temple at Epidaurus: — “Pure he must be who goes within, the incense-perfumed Temple.”[14]

So then, Basil the Great (330-379 AD) points out that if God is love, it must be that the devil is hate. Therefore, as those who have love also have God, those who hate have the devil dwelling in them. [19]

In one of his homilies on the Apostle John’s first epistle, Augustine (353-430 AD) speaks of God’s agápē dwelling in us so that it will be perfected according to God’s will. He says we cannot always just talk about love, but there is never a moment when we doubt that we have it. Perhaps you all have read what Jesus said in His sermon on the mount that we should be careful that when we do something good, we don’t purposely do it in front of others so that they will see us. If we do that, we will have no reward from our Father in heaven.[15] Of course, that doesn’t mean we should try to hide all our charitable deeds, just don’t do it with an ulterior motive to draw attention to yourself instead of God.

So, says Augustine, that doesn’t mean we should spend all our time praying and fasting but go out and please God by showing love to others. But if we don’t practice love, we risk becoming greedy. As the Apostle Paul warned young Timothy, “For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.”[16] That is another way of saying that when we spend all our time trying to get rich, whether it be in money, position, or fame. When we do, as Paul says, we cause ourselves a lot of pain and sorrow. Jesus certainly gives us plenty of reasons to do things His way, “What you should want most is God’s kingdom and doing what He wants you to do. Then He will give you all these other things you need.”[17]

Augustine then confesses that the more he preaches about love, the more unwilling he is to finish John’s epistle. None is more passionate than commending and practicing love. Nothing sweeter can I preach to you, says Augustine, nothing more wholesome for you to absorb: but only if by godly living you confirm the gift of God in you. Don’t become ungrateful about His great grace, who, though He had one Only Son, was not satisfied until He might adopt more children who with Him possess life eternal.[18]

Augustine also remarks that the Holy Spirit is shared between the Father and the Son. But this communion is itself consubstantial[20] and coeternal. And although it can appropriately be described as friendship, it is better to call it love. It is a substance because God is substance, and God is love.[21] Augustine then goes on to say that when we come to the subject of love, which is what God is called in Scripture, the Trinity begins to dawn a little, for there is the Lover, the Beloved, and Love.

Bede the Venerable (672-735) states that we know that Jesus is the Son of God and that the Father sent Him to be the world’s Savior. And we believe in God’s love for us, the same passion He has for His only-begotten Son because God did not want His Son to be an only child. Instead, he wanted Him to have brothers and sisters, and so he adopted us so that we might share His eternal life.[23]

Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite (circa 500-600 AD) asks why theologians sometimes refer to God as someone we yearn for or the Beloved? On the one hand, He causes, produces, and generates what is being referred to; on the other hand; He is the thing itself, namely, Love.[22]

Then, Isho’dad of Merv (flourished around 850 AD) notes that there is no other Scripture calling God love. John desires that we seek Him who is love, from whom the commandment to show mercy came.[24]

Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) is asked whether the cohabitation of God in us and us in God is the outcome of love? The critics suggest that it would seem that love does not cause mutual indwelling so that the lover is in the beloved and vice versa. For that which is in another is contained by it. That’s why this indwelling cannot be both the container and the contents. Therefore, love cannot cause simultaneous inhabitation so that the one loving is being loved and vice versa. Furthermore, they point out that it implies that both are beloved by each other, which is a false assumption. Therefore, being in each other is not an effect of love.

But Aquinas is quick to answer. In verse sixteen, he notes that the Apostle John states that “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.” Aquinas believes this mutual indwelling effect may refer to a person’s expectations and appetite. Because of such uneasiness, the beloved is said to be the loving one in the recipient. The Apostle Paul explains: “It is right for me to feel this way about all of you since I have you in my heart.[25] Since the one who shares their love is not satisfied with a superficial relationship with the one, they love, they desire to establish intimate knowledge of everything pertaining to the object of their love to penetrate their very soul. Thus, it is written concerning God’s agápē, “The Spirit searches all things, even the in-depth things of God.”[26] [27] So, though one believer may be satisfied in awaiting the love from God, the other is driven by their appetite to be in union with God so that they not only believe that God loves them enough to be in them but that He is in them so that they are in Him.

[1] Ibid. (Bray Ed.), James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude, op. cit., loc. cit., On the Unity of the Catholic Church, Treatise 1:14

[2] 1 John 4:16

[3] Mark 13:6

[4] Cyprian of Carthage: Treatise I on the Unity of the Church, ⁋14, New Advent digitized version 

[5] Malachi 2:10 – Complete Jewish Bible

[6] 1 John 3:10

[7] Ibid. 3:15

[8] Ibid. 4:32

[9] Acts of the Apostles 4:32

[10] Matthew 5:23-24

[11] 1 John 4:16

[12] Cyprian of Carthage: Treatise XII, Three Books of Testimonies Against the Jews, Bk. 3.3

[13] Ibid 4:16

[14] Clement of Alexandria, Stomata Book V., Ch 1, On Faith, New Advent digital publication

[15] Matthew 6:1

[16] 1 Timothy 6:10

[17] Matthew 6:33

[18] Augustine, Homilies on the Epistle of John, Homily 8, pp. 1001-1013

[19] Basil the Great: Ibid, Ascetical Discourses 2

[20] Consubstantial is used in the Roman Catholic church to attribute the same substance or essence (used, especially of the three persons of the Trinity in Christian theology).

[21] Augustine: (Bray Ed.), James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude, op. cit., loc. cit., On the Trinity 6.5.7; 15.10

[22] Ibid. Pseudo Dionysus the Areopagite: On the Divine Names 4.14

[23] Bede the Venerable, Ancient Christian Commentary, Vol. XI, Bray, G. (Ed.), James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John

[24] Isho’dad, Ancient Christian Commentary, Vol. XI, Bray, G. (Ed.), James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John

[25] Philippians 1:7

[26] 1 Corinthians 2:10

[27] Aquinas, Thomas: Summa Theologica Vol. 2, op. cit., Question 28, Article 2, pp. 320-321

About drbob76

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