NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
By Dr. Robert R Seyda
FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN
CHAPTER FOUR (Lesson CIII) 06/23/22
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.
Brooke F. Westcott (1825-1901) says the Apostle John teaches that faith precedes knowledge. We must have an actual, if limited, knowledge of the object of faith before true faith can exist, and genuine faith opens the way to fuller understanding. With general confidence in the Anointed One and self-surrender to Him prepared the disciples for loftier insight to His character. The experience of love includes the promise of a more prominent manifestation of its treasures. This John indicates here; We know how much God loves us because we have felt His agápē and because we believe Him when He tells us that He loves us dearly. To a certain extent, we have realized what love is: but we have not exhausted its meaning. In knowing we have believed too, and even without knowing everything, we wait without any doubt about future revelation.
John James Lias (1834-1923) comments on God’s agápē in us because God Himself is in us, and He is love. If we compare this passage with verse eight, we see that this is the climax to which the rest leads. The phrase “God is love” is used in verse eight as an argument to prove that we ought to walk in love. But the statement itself, the Apostle John feels, requires proof. That proof is found (1) in God’s mission of His Son, (2) in the propitiation that the Son made for human sin, and (3) in the inward witness of the Spirit, producing in us an experience of the power of God to save us from sin. After mentioning these experimental proofs, John repeats the statement with all the additional weight it has gained and concludes this section with the assertion that in the abiding life of love alone can true union with God be reached. It is not a level a believer arrives at simply due to dedication, confession, worship, prayer, praise, or charitable works. Either you are in love with God and do it because of your love’s generous gratitude, or it’s a waste of time.
Robert Cameron (1839-1904) says that we can see the various steps of agápē. First, it came to us in this world. Then it followed on to the sinful state we were, to give life and save. It then took possession of us and acted in us, loving its love in our hearts and continuing its manifestation to the world. But, finally, having come to our world and our place in sin and having seated itself upon the throne of our hearts, we are now to see how it places us upon the throne of the Anointed One’s glory. He took our place in sin. Amazing grace! We take His place in holiness and love and praise. Such love and grace surpass all comprehension! It saw all, measured all, took in need of all, and then moved forward to the end, making us as the Anointed One is, without any question of sin, to all eternity enthroned before the face of God, fearless and confident.
British clergyman and canon the Reverend William Hay Macdowall Hunter Aitken (1841-1927) states that Love is the most essential and the most characteristic of Christian virtues. Those who lack this scarcely deserves the name of Christian, while those who possess this are on the way to including all. When we ask why such stress is laid upon the importance of maintaining this virtue above all others, more than one answer suggests to our minds. We may first observe one paraphrase of the words of this text reads: “A loveless soul can never be a God-like soul.”
We know that no gardener in the world can produce fruit for a plant; only the life within does that, yet how much does the fruit tree depend for its fruitfulness on the gardener’s skill! A person must see that the tree is planted where the sunshine can fall upon it, and the dew and the rain can water it. They must take care that it remains unexposed to harmful conditions. And even so, love, being a fruit of the reborn spirit, can only be produced by the presence of the Spirit working together with our spiritual nature. Although we cannot create or manufacture it independently, we are still indirectly responsible for its production.
Furthermore, says Aitken, the tree cannot cultivate itself, and here the figure fails us. Mankind, on the other hand, is a free agent and, therefore, responsible for their culture. Thus, it is not for us to attempt directly to induce this all-important fruit of the Spirit, but to see to it that we comply with the conditions of fruitfulness. Therefore, let us expose ourselves to the spiritual sunshine; let us live in the presence of God; let us see to it that we do not sink our roots into the earth, lest the cold clay of worldly-mindedness checks all our higher aspirations; let us guard against self-seeking and self-assertion; let us avoid exposing ourselves voluntarily to unfavorable influences as some Christians do, thinking more of worldly satisfaction than of their spiritual interests; and let us carefully rinse our garments of the stains of impure thoughts and unholy desires, and then the Spirit of Love will be able to induce the fruit of love within our hearts.
Clement Clemance (1845-1886) says that as we have come to know and believe, both perfects are virtually present, expressing the present continuance of a condition begun in the past: “We know and continue to believe.” Experience and faith are intimately connected; sometimes, the one precedes the other. But the meaning may be that the object of our knowledge and belief is that portion of God’s agápē which God has in us. It is “in us” and exercised towards Him and our brothers and sisters, but in reality, it is His agápē – Him living in us. In either case, love is the object of our faith. Thus, love is not only the Church’s keynote but also the Church’s creed. The second half of the verse talks about Love and its future implications.
Aaron M. Hills (1848-1911), speaking about the baptism with God’s Spirit, says that this is when we come to know and believe that God truly loves us. – we “will have the power to understand how long, how high, and how deep that love is.” The coming of the Holy Spirit makes God’s agápē a blessed reality to the soul, producing hope, peace, joy, and all the foretastes of heaven.
Hills then relates how the Holy Spirit came upon Sarah, the wife of Jonathan Edwards, in 1742, and she wrote: “I cannot find language to express how certain the everlasting God’s agápē appeared; the everlasting mountains and hills were but shadows to it. My safety and happiness and eternal enjoyment of God’s immutable love seemed as unchangeable as God Himself. Melted and overcome by the sweetness of this assurance, I fell into a great flow of tears and could not forbear weeping aloud … All night I continued in a constant, clear, and lively sense of the heavenly sweetness of the Anointed One’s excellent and transcendent love, of His nearness to me and of my dearness to Him, with an inexpressibly sweet calmness of soul, in an entire rest in Him.” How could anyone doubt such a testimony? There certainly are some, but not among them are those who’ve had the same experience.
James B. Morgan (1850-1942) says that above all, we should live under the power of love, and then we will fully dwell in God. “The love of the Anointed One constrains us because we thus judge that if one died for all who were spiritually dead; and that He died for all that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves but unto God.” The actions thus springing from love bring us near to God. While that is our spirit, and such is our conduct, we find ready access to Him and delight in Him. He, too, delights in us. God says, “I will live in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they will be my people.” A communion is begun and maintained on earth and consummated in heaven. Lack of fellowship is the only sin that can disturb it here. No evil will ever enter; therefore, it will be interrupted no more. O! How the text’s significant meaning will be realized and enjoyed. “We have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and they that dwell in love dwell in God, and God in them.”
William Sinclair (1850-1917) sees in these verses the Apostle John’s attempt to raise believers to their highest possible development by demonstrating the reality and nature of fellowship with God. Here John arrives at the center of his message, namely, that as God is Love, John says we should allow nothing to trouble that atmosphere of pure love which God has enabled believers to breathe. If they do not willingly turn away, they will be bathed and animated in the Light and Life of God, to become one with Him in Love.
Alonzo R. Cocke (1858-1901) points out that knowledge and faith are related. The divine facts which are the objects of faith must be, to an extent, known before they can be believed. But also, faith accepting these sacred facts, they become experiences of the inner life or knowledge in its highest sense. Thus, knowing and believing in God’s agápē for us, we come to know God Himself. Then we can speak of God as known: “God is love.” That being true, abiding in love is the condition and token of fellowship with God. We have unquestionable proof that we dwell in God and God in us by living in love as our conscious sphere and the life element. The heart cannot be filled to overflowing with Christian love without evidencing God’s presence, for He is its eternal fountain. We may then, with special emphasis, repeat the words in the seventh and eleventh verses: “Beloved, let us love one another,” and “if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.”
Robert Law (1860-1919) states that Christians share the life of the Anointed One and so become a secondary manifestation of God’s agápē and of “the love God has for us” here in verse sixteen. Therefore, God’s agápē becomes a power in a Christian’s body. Believers are the sphere in which it operates and makes itself felt in the world. That’s why the progress of thought in this section is as simple as it is beautiful: This is how God showed His agápē to us: He sent His only Son into the world to give us life through Him. True love is God’s agápē for us, not our love for God. He sent his Son as a way to remove our sins. So, here in verse sixteen is our response to the reality of Divine love manifested – we recognize it and believe it.
 Westcott, Brooke, F., The Epistles of St. John, op. cit., p. 155
 The First Epistle of St. John with Exposition, op. cit., pp. 330-331
 Cameron, Robert: First Epistle of John, op. cit., loc. cit.
 Aitken, William H. M. H., Biblical Illustrator, op. cit., Vol. 22, pp. 104-105
 See John 6:69
 John 13:35
 Clemance, Clement: First Epistle of John, Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 22, Exposition, op. cit., p. 104
 1 John 4:16
 Ephesians 3:18
 Hills, Aaron M., Pentecostal Light, op. cit., pp. 8-9
 Ezekiel 37:27; cf. 2 Corinthians 6:16
 Sinclair, William: A New Testament Commentary for English Readers, op. cit., p. 489
 Cocke, Alonzo R., Studies in the Epistles of John, op. cit., loc. cit., Logos
 1 John 4:9-10
 Law, Robert, The Tests of Life, op. cit., loc. cit., Logos