NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
By Dr. Robert R Seyda
FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN
CHAPTER FOUR (Lesson CIV) 07/04/22
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.
For Donald W. Burdick (1917-1996), the substance in verses seventeen to sixteen is that God is the source of Christian love. Since God, who is love, dwells in the believer, the believer must and will love His fellow believers in God’s family, which is a valid test of one’s salvation. If we were born again, love would be present in our lives. If it is not, it indicates that we are unregenerated. The chances are that if you ask a good number of believers in your church or neighborhood how they know they are saved, very few will mention that it’s because they love others with God’s agápē. But don’t be hesitant to remind them of what the Apostle John says about the correct way to love God – through others.
Raymond E. Brown (1928-1998) states that the two verbs “believe” and “know” are not only combined in the same tense but also in the perfect/aorist tense with future/present combinations as follows:
- John 6:69 – “we have come to believe [perfect] and to know [perfect]
- John 8:31-32 – “who believed [perfect] . . . will know [future]
- John 10:38: “believe [present] the works, that you may know [aorist] and understand [present]
- John 14:7, 10: “If you knew [perfect] me, you would know [future] my Father as well. From now on, you do know [present] Him and have seen Him” . . . “Don’t you believe [present] that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me?
- John 17:8: “They knew [aorist] with certainty that I came from you, and they believed [aorist] that you sent me.
- 1 John 4:1-2 “do not believe [present] every spirit” . . . “This is how you can know [future] the Spirit of God.
- John 4:16 “so we know [present] and believe [present] the love God has for us.
A quick glance at these texts, says Brown, should convince the uncommitted that there is little difference between the aorist and perfect tense usages of “to know” and that there is no set sequence of priority between knowing and believing. In addition, knowing the tense of the verbs helps interpret the verse more accurately to benefit the listeners.
Once more John R. W. Stott (1921-2011) notes that here in verse sixteen, instead of having two verses read as one, we have one verse that should be read as two. The first part is the Apostle John’s assurance that he and his readers know and rely on God’s agápē for them. There is historical evidence in God sending His Son both of His unique person (which “we have seen,” verse fourteen, and of the Father’s love “which we know and rely on,” in verse sixteen. But even this is insufficient.
Then John provides in the second half of verse sixteen, the necessary resource to have access to agápē, is not possible without God being in us through the Holy Spirit. It’s because our minds are dark without Love’s Light, and our hearts are cold without Love’s Warmth. Only the Holy Spirit can enlighten our minds to believe in Jesus and warm our hearts to love God and each other. So, believing and loving are evidence that His Spirit is at work within us.
As John Phillips (1927-2010) sees it, love is what Christianity is all about, winning its battles by the weapon of love, not logic. Although, of course, Christianity is strictly logical. It alone can explain the greatest mysteries of the universe – the problems of sin, sorrow, suffering, and silence. It alone has a flawless explanation to such questions, “Where did I come from? Why am I here? Where am I going?” Pagan religions do not have the answer. Philosophy, psychology, and philosophy are soon all out of their depth in these waters. God’s Word speaks with authority and with flawless logic. Still, logic is not that upon which Christianity takes its stand. That podium is Love.
David E. Hiebert (1928-1995) states that a person’s growth in knowledge and faith relates to “the love which God has for us.” The Greek preposition en is translated variously as “in, by, with, among, at, on,” and “through, according to the context. So, the question here is “how did the Apostle John use it in verse sixteen?” The rendering “to us” – KJV, “for us” – NIV, “has for us” – YLT. The New American Standard Bible suggests in the margin that it means, “in us.” One way to look at this is, says Hiebert, since God is Love and He is in us, then that is from where His love glows. But I think the New Living Translation makes the best choice by rendering it, “how much God loves us.”
So, it boils down to who is witnessing His agápē? If it’s the believer, it is “in us;” if it’s those around us, it is “for us.” Hiebert suggests that it could mean that the love God revealed in His incarnate Son was witnessed by those around Him and intended to bring salvation. While the preposition en can have this hidden meaning, its more natural meaning is “in us.” Accepting the love manifested in the Anointed One enables that love to become operative in believers’ lives. God’s agápē, poured into their hearts by the Holy Spirit, is now at work manifesting its presence in them. Since God’s agápē is no longer visible in the company of the incarnate Anointed One here on earth, God is manifesting His agápē through His people.
Warren W. Wiersbe (1929-2019) says that the truth about God’s agápē is documented in His Word but displayed on the cross. “God is love” is not simply a doctrine in the Bible; it is an eternal fact demonstrated at Calvary. God not only said something to us but also did something for us. With God being invisible, He wanted to get His message to us in any way He could. So, He chose us, believers, as messengers who follow in the footsteps of His Son. That’s how God reveals Himself even today.
Wiersbe then tells this story: Dr. G. Campbell Morgan, a famous British preacher, had five sons, all of whom became Gospel ministers. One day a visitor in their home dared to ask a personal question: “Which of you six is the best preacher?” Their united answer was “Mother!” Of course, Mrs. Morgan had never preached a formal sermon in a church, but her life was a constant sermon on God’s agápē. The life of a Christian who abides in God’s agápē is a potent witness for God in the world. Men cannot see God, but they can see His agápē moving us to deeds of helpfulness and kindness.
Stephen S. Smalley (1931-2018) observes that the stages in John’s thought have now emerged. Faith (acknowledging Jesus as God’s Son, verse 15; and trusting in God’s love for us, verse 16a) leads to mutual indwelling between God and the believer. Such a personal relationship is expressed and perpetuated by “living in love.” The believer’s love for God and others (or for God in other people, is to be active and sustained). Throughout this passage, John’s approach is unsentimental. “Living in love” means remaining in union with God and expressing this relationship in practical love for others. In these terms, the Christian experience is neither personal nor traditional. For John (perhaps in opposition to those heretically inclined members of his congregation who undervalued love of any kind) places equal emphasis on “love to God,” which is the heart of religion, and devotion to humanity, which is the foundation of spiritual morality.
Edward J. Malatesta (1932-1998) notes that verse fifteen presents our mutual love with God who lives in us as part of our confession that Jesus is God’s Son, while verse sixteen presents the same love as a believer’s experience who remains in that Love as we live in Him. God could not live in us if He had not sent His Son, and we cannot be in union with God except through His Son. For the Apostle John, to try and separate God from the Son would destroy any hope of salvation that the Gnostics and Separatists were trying to do. It is why John sends out the warning to all who would listen.
Ian Howard Marshall (1934-2015) sees the probability that verse sixteen is a parallel statement to verse fourteen, expressing another fundamental Christian conviction. A believer is sure of their faith because they have personally experienced God’s agápē. They came to know (and still know) it and put their trust in it. They are sure of its reality. The object of such love is expressed somewhat strangely. It literally means “the love which God put in us.” This way of putting the matter suggests that John is thinking not merely of the love for us shown by God through the cross but also of the personal experience of His agápē in our hearts created by the Spirit, which is further manifested in the life of the Church.
For John Painter (1935) the Apostle John now gathers his readers in a confident confession of what “we” have come to know and believe. The perfect tenses imply not only a distinct beginning of knowing and believing but a continuing effect. What is known and accepted is the love God has “for us.” This must be the primary meaning here, although “for us” is also used with other senses and probably intimates that God’s love is also active “in us” as love for one another. Even so, the emphasis is on “the love” God has for us: Its cause is God, who is love. Its character is outgoing in sending and giving. Its commission is self-giving for the sake of the other. Its consequence is the atonement for our sins so that we may live through Him, the world’s salvation. 
 Burdick, Donald W., The Epistles of John, op. cit., p. 78
 Aorist has no beginning or termination
 Brown, Raymond E., The Anchor Bible, op. cit., Vol. 30, pp. 524-525
 Stott, John. The Letters of John (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries), op. cit., p. 168
 Ephesians 6:11-17
 Phillips, John: Exploring the First Epistle of John, op. cit., p. 147
 Cf. John 13:35
 Romans 5:5
 Hiebert, David E., Bibliotheca Sacra, op. cit., January-March 1990, pp. 82-83
 Wiersbe, Warren W., Be Real: Turning from Hypocrisy to Truth (The BE Series Commentary), op. cit., pp. 143-144, 147
 Smalley, Stephen S., Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 51, op. cit., p. 256
 Malatesta, Edward J., Interiority and Covenant, op. cit., p. 296
 Romans 5:5
 Marshall, Ian Howard. The Epistles of John (The New International Commentary on the New Testament), op. cit., p. 221
 1 John 4:8, 16
 Ibid. 4:10
 Ibid. 3:16
 Ibid. 4:10
 Ibid. 4:9
 Ibid. 4:14
 Painter, John. Sacra Pagina: 1, 2, and 3 John: Vol. 18, loc. cit.