NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
By Dr. Robert R Seyda
FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN
CHAPTER FOUR (Lesson CII) 06/22/22
4:16 We know how much God loves us because we feel His love and believe Him when He tells us that He loves us dearly. God is love, and anyone who lives in love is living with God, and God with them.
But that raises another question, says Candlish, we must not believe all spirits are godly; they must be proven as such. By what tests or trials are they to be validated? How is God’s Spirit to be distinguished from the antichrist spirit? First, by confessing that Jesus the Anointed One was revealed in the flesh; and secondly, by our loving others with God’s agápē. And now, connecting the two, John brings us back substantially to the original statement, as to our knowledge that we dwell in God, and God in us because He has given us of His Spirit. For the two analyses are now brought closer together and shown not to be one as two, but two as one; or at least not two independent assessments, each separately valid in itself, but so intimately related to one another that they mutually involve one another, and thus combine to make up one convincing and indisputable proof of God in us and us in God.
Hence, the two inspections unite, notes Candlish, and become one. To confess, on the testimony of the apostles as eye-witnesses, that the Father sent the Son to be the world’s Savior; that Jesus is God’s Son; and to know and accept the agápē God has for us and in us; is the same thing. For the confession is not the cold, unfeeling agreement to a formal article in a creed. It is the warm and cordial embracing of the Father’s love, incarnate in His Son, whom He sent to be the world’s Savior. Allowing God’s love into our hearts infuses God’s nature, for God is love. It is our dwelling with Him in Love as the Apostle Paul teaches, in entire and perfect harmony with John. It is faith confessing the Anointed One knowing and believing the agápē that God put us; faith-loving as it sees and feels that God loves.
William E. Jelf (1811-1875) believes that what the Apostle John says here in verse sixteen gives the reason why the mission of the Anointed One is reintroduced. The fact of the Anointed One’s mission and our recognition of it is the source of this agápē. We see that John emphasizes not only the doctrine of the Anointed One’s mission, but also the bearing it has on the heart as the evidence of God’s agápē to us. To heighten our notion of God’s agápē and thus increase our faith and quicken our love, John again speaks of love as God’s essential nature. This agápē is to be taken in its broadest sense; love in the abstract. It does not exclude other attributes, such as justice, which we know from such expressions as “God is just,” but all these attributes are under love’s control. This subordination of justice to love is clearly shown in the plan of salvation through the Anointed One.
For this reason, says Jelf: fear implies the notion of punishment, love the idea of pardon and acceptance. Fear of torment not only brings with it a painful feeling which is punishment but also implies a penalty, for where there is no reprimand, there can be no fear. Perfection is not merely pure and real, but love when it has attained its perfect development in us, but love drives fear out of our soul. John uses the Greek noun Phobos for fear, indicating “dread and terror.” Thus, agápē must be perfected and composed of faith towards God in the Anointed One and brotherly love. It is enlightening that this same Greek word can also be translated as “reverence.” So the sinner “fears” God, but the believer “reverences” God.
To illustrate the notion that John projects, we must believe that love continually keeps God in our minds, yet not with fear, for it brings Him before our souls as the Pardoner of sin and not as the Judge of sinners. Supposing death suddenly presents itself to a person in an airplane crash, the feeling that they are about to die will naturally suggest a fearful apprehension of the day of judgment. Still, if the principle of love towards God and mankind has been developed in their inner person, it will immediately assure them that they have nothing to fear.
Charles John Vaughan (1816-1897), vicar of St. Martin’s in Leicester, talks about “Dwelling in love.” He calls it a strong and eloquent term, “to dwell in love” – love’s home. And the promise of that home of love is more remarkable still – that God will dwell in that home with us. And then even more stupendous – and it will become God’s home. So, what does it mean to “dwell in love?”
The first thing, it is obvious, says Vaughan, is that it must not be considered in a negative sense since there are no dislikes, no variance. Love is a positive thing, showing itself in positive feelings, words, and acts, without which a person cannot be said to “dwell in love.” Another eminent first principle is that the love spoken here in verse sixteen must include the love of souls. And, again, all love is one love, just as all light is one light. It is not love in God’s sense unless it is a reflection of God’s agápē to us. You must begin by being sure that there is no exception. We are not called to love all equally – our Lord Himself made distinctions in His agápē – but there should be no one whoever feels that you are unfriendly.
The next thing notes Vaughan, to which the very language of the text grabs our attention, is “home.” Our abode should be love’s residence. You must have a greeting, a thought, a look of gentleness, cheerfulness, and tenderness. This will bring love into every house. All will feel it, consciously or unconsciously. It will create its atmosphere. The Anointed One in you can make everything lovely. But there are other circumstances which every person has to occupy. There is the Church, and in the Church, a communion – a blessed communion of hearts, visible and invisible; to “dwell in love” is to be continually familiar with our union of saints. And the world – the world about us – is a world that sadly needs our love. And you are called, and your privilege is to go about an element of comfort in the world. Therefore, you must let God kindle a heavenly fire in your soul that He may use to warm the world in which you live!
John Stock (1817-1884) mentions that as in a mine when fresh ore is found, it repays the hard work that went into the exploration; so, in searching God’s Word, that which surpasses all wealth is discovered, and that with great joy. A young Psalmist’s estimation of the sacred Scriptures was just who said, “The law from your mouth is more precious to me than thousands of pieces of silver and gold.” So the Apostle Peter calls the promises of God “exceeding great and precious,” and we who have the whole counsel of God cannot but estimate it as, beyond all comparison, excellent and invaluable. Admiring the wealth and brilliancy of a theme must not deter us from endeavoring to comprehend it.
William B. Pope (1822-1903) supposes that the Apostle John remembers the words of Jesus when He taught that He was the Real Vine and His Father is the Gardener. He cuts off every branch that doesn’t bear fruit. And every grape-bearing branch He prunes back, so it will produce even more. So, Jesus said, you are already pruned back by the message I have spoken. Therefore, Live in Me. Make your home in Me, just as I do in you. In the same way, a branch can’t bear grapes by itself except by being joined to the vine; you can’t bear fruit unless you are in union with Me.“I am the Vine; you are the branches.” When you are connected with Me and I with you, the relationship is intimate and organic; the harvest is sure to be abundant.
Perhaps that’s why John emphasizes the term “lives” – NIV here, in verses fifteen and sixteen. “If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them, and they in God. And so, we know and rely on God’s love for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God [lives] in them.” The rest of that section spells out the consequences of not continuing to live in Him: “If you do not remain in Me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.” So, the message is loud and clear!
Here’s a thought to consider. Think for a moment about what it is to have this indwelling of God in your heart. What a fountain is within us of holiness and happiness and strength. What an excellent thing it is – what assurance of our election, a license of prayer, and a pleasant foretaste of eternal life and happiness! To carry God not only with you but within you, wherever you go; to feel and know that He is there; to be sure of it by the feeling of your conscience, which is working there to make you love everybody and everything as His child – what more could you wish? It is the emblem of the child of the King of kings – the royalty of heaven – the crown! And because it is the badge of kinship and the Father’s likeness, it makes you love so much that all else is a non-starter.
Daniel Steele (1824-1914) focuses on the opening words of this verse, “know” and “believed.” He points out that sometimes knowledge is the ground of faith, as the banker’s acquaintance with the excellent character of the borrower is his reason for trusting him, and sometimes faith is the path to knowledge, as when the child believes the teacher and comes to know the alphabet. Paul speaks of the unity of faith and knowledge; faith ends in knowledge. This is the genesis of all spiritual wisdom.
A general acquaintance with the Anointed One and self-surrender to Him, notes Steele, prepares us to seize by faith His promise of the Paraclete whose office it is to glorify the living Anointed One revealing Him in the heart. As a practical truth in the spiritual realm, believing precedes knowing. Then, in turn, knowledge lays the foundation for a higher act of faith, as the Apostle Paul knew whom he had believed, and on this ground, he was fully persuaded or had a perfect faith that he could safely trust the deposit of himself in His hands until the day of judgment. Thus, by first believing and then knowing, and on this new basis believing again, the Christian climbs Jacob’s ladder from earth to heaven.
 1 John 4:1-6
 Ibid. 4:7-12
 Ibid. 4: 14, 15, 16
 Galatians 5:6; 6:15
 Candlish, Robert S., First Epistle of John, op. cit., pp. 134-135, 143
 Cf. Isaiah 45:21; Job 4:17; Psalm 89:14; Matthew 12:18; Revelation 19:11
 Jelf, William, E., First Epistle of St. John, op. cit., p. 63
 1 John 4:15
 Ibid. 4:12
 See Strong’s Greek Concordance and Lexicon
 Jelf, William E., First Epistle of St. John, op. cit., p. 65
 Vaughan, Charles J., The Biblical Illustrator, op. cit., 1 John 4, p. 127
 Psalm 119:72
 2 Peter 1:4
 Stock, John: Exposition of the First Epistle of John, op. cit., p. 369
 John 15:5
 Pope, William B., Popular Commentary, op. cit., p. 316
 Nisbet, James: The Church Pulpit Commentary, op. cit., Vol. 12, p. 303
 Ephesians 4:13
 2 Timothy 1:12
 Steele, Daniel: Half-Hour, op. cit., pp. 113-114