WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER FOUR (Lesson CXXVI) 08/04/22

4:19We love because God first loved us.

Richard Rothe (1799-1867) notes that verse nineteen gives us pause to think about this view-changing aspect of God’s agápē for us and our love for Him. First, we wouldn’t know anything, let alone possess our Heavenly Father’s agápē. But when we love Him in return, it isn’t human affection we express. In fact, we don’t generate any love at all. What do you get if you take a searchlight and shine it directly into a mirror? You get the same light reflected into your eyes. It’s the same with God’s agápē. The love we show Him is His agápē reflecting off the mirror of our hearts.

The same goes for the idea of being more like Jesus. The Apostle John mentions this in 1 John 2:6, and the Apostle Paul confesses that he is an imitator of the Anointed One.[1] To the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul makes this clear: So, all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord – who is the Spirit – makes us more and more like Him as we are changed into His glorious image.[2] And just like any mirror, if you don’t keep it clean or end up breaking it, that image becomes blurred and distorted.[3]

Robert Smith Candlish (1806-1873) says the leading idea here is “boldness on Judgment Day.” Not future boldness, but present boldness in view of it now. It is much the same as in a previous section of the epistle,[4] assuring our hearts with confidence towards and before God. This boldness is linked with love’s perfection; “Herein is our love made perfect,” or as in the margin, “Herein is love with us made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment.[5] Agápē then is perfected within us, and the perfecting of this agápē is associated with having boldness on Judgment Day. The bond or connecting link is our oneness with the Anointed One, our being like Him in this world.

Like the Apostle Paul says Candlish, “We have been sent to speak for the Anointed One. It is like God is calling to people through us. We speak for the Anointed One when we beg you to be at peace with God.”[6] It is a terrible thing to face punishment from the living God.[7] Hide us from the face of the one who sits on the throne. Hide us from the anger of the Lamb.[8] The great day for their punishment will come. No one can stand against it when the great day of His wrath arrives?” Show that you are loyal to His son, or the Lord will be angry and destroy you. He is almost angry enough to do that now, but those who go to Him for protection will be blessed.[9] [10]

John Stock (1814-1884) offered a great thought when he said, “The candle does not light itself; it must be lit. Then, it can be of use to others. Furthermore, if our light shines bright enough for people to see,[11] we glorify our Father who makes the shining light: it is His act, not ours.”[12]

William Kelly (1822-1888) says there is immense comfort as God’s child, knowing that whatever the need, the sorrow, the shame, or the fear, He wants us to run to Him without delay to place all our care on Him, for He cares for us.[13] Do not let Satan sow seeds of distrust of Him in your heart, for it is a lie to injure us by dishonoring Him. Let us think then of the Anointed One and what this tells of His agápē to us, and the hateful spell is broken. No, we are not made perfect in love if we dread Him; the more we have been charmed, the more we need to confess it in His presence in the confidence of His agápē.

Kelly goes on. What then explains the root of the whole matter? In a few words, the Apostle John sums it all up in verse nineteen, “We love [Him] because He loved us first.” Short as it is, and shorter in the critical text, supported by the best authorities. It is a divine source of comfort to the believer. And it appears that the natural mind would have been more ready to insert “Him” than to leave it out. If “Him” were there originally, it would have been a daring act for any nominal Christian copyist to strike it out. Still, suppose the omission preferred now on sufficient external grounds be correct. In that case, we can easily understand a well-meaning scribe conceiving the first clause sounding rather lame for want of an object and venturing to insert “Him” because it is without doubt intrinsically true.[14]

William Lincoln (1825-1888) does not want to shock anyone, but he points out that never in this epistle does God say, “Love Me.” He does say so in the First Covenant but does not do it here; I suppose, says Lincoln, that we are sure to love God if we are born of Him. “We love Him because He loved us first.” In some believers, the divine life of the Anointed One is often feebly undeveloped, and we sometimes find it most challenging to love the Anointed One in them where there is still plenty of sinful tendencies at work. So, God gives the command to love the Anointed One that is in a believer; still, there is no command to love the Anointed One of God or to love God. Therefore, the Final Covenant command is not “Love Me;” but “Believe in My love for you.[15] [16]

Henry A. Sawtelle (1832-1913) notes that we don’t love Him out of fear or condemnation. The word “him” in the KJV should be omitted in verse nineteen,[17] as it is not found in the Greek text. The indicative agrees best with the emphatic “we.” Because He (God, verse ten) loved us first from eternity, He sent the Anointed One into the world to save us.[18] (verse nine). His agápē to us preceded our love to Him – His was the cause, ours the effect. In the Apostle John’s mind, it implies that His agápē furnished the model or type for ours. Our love is a thing rising from God’s agápē, and so is naturally like it. God’s agápē went out to all. Ours must go out to all to be whole and perfect, beginning with our brothers and sisters in the Anointed One.[19]

Charles H. Spurgeon (1834-1892)  reminds us that there is no natural light on this planet but that which comes from the sun, and there is no true love for Jesus in the heart but that which comes from the Lord Jesus. All our love for God must spring from this overflowing fountain of the infinite God’s agápē. It must always be a great and certain truth that we love Him for no other reason than because He loved us first. Our love for Him is a reflection of His agápē to us.

How great the wonder that such as we should ever have been brought to love Jesus at all! How marvelous that after we rebelled against Him, by a display of such amazing love, He sought to draw us back. Love, then, has for its parent God’s agápē. But after it is divinely born, it must be divinely nourished. Agápē is unusual; it is not a plant that flourishes naturally in human soil; it must be watered from above. Love to Jesus is a flower of a delicate nature, and if it does not receive the nourishment drawn from the Rock of Ages for our hearts,[20] it will soon wither. Love must feed on love. The soul and life of our devotion to God is His agápē for us.[21] Spurgeon then shares the lyrics to this song:

I love my Lord, but with no love of mine,

For I have none to give;

I love Thee, Lord, but all the love is Thine,

For by Thy life I live.

I am as nothing, and rejoice to be

Emptied, and lost, and swallowed up in Thee.[22]

In another place, Spurgeon says that verse nineteen tells us that the effect of the Gospel received in the heart is that it compels such a heart to love God. When the Gospel comes to us, it does not find us loving God, it does not expect anything of us, but coming with the divine application of the Holy Spirit, it simply assures us that God loves us. The after effect of this proclamation of love is that “we love Him because He loved us first.

Now, what do we say to this? Are we who live in these gentler times about to give up our Master when we are tried and tempted for Him? Oh, young man in the workplace, are you laughed at because you are a follower of the Savior; and will you turn back on the Anointed One because they make fun of you? Young woman! You are laughed at because you openly profess your faith in the Anointed One, will ridicule dissolve the link of love that knits your heart to Him? Remember, all the roar of hell could not divert His agápē from you. And you who are mistreated because you maintain a religious principle. If you are let go, will you not gladly be willing to have everything taken from you and get food from a food bank rather than dishonor your Lord? Will you not go out from this place, by the help of God’s Spirit, vowing and declaring that in life, come poverty, come wealth – in death, pain, or anything, you are and ever will be the Lord’s; for this is written on your heart, “We love Him because He loved us first.”[23]

John James Lias (1834-1923) says that the Apostle John clearly shows that we are not returning our affection to God but have no power to love at all except by God’s agápē. The next question is whether we should take “we love” as a command: “we ought to love.” The chief reason against it is the absence of any call for compliance in this passage. If we ask what the connection of thought between this verse and what precedes and follows is, it would seem to be this: There is no place for fear in those who are perfected in love because the love they have is from the source of love, namely, God. It gives us confidence when we reverence God and feel one with Him. But for that oneness to exist, there must be practical proofs of its existence. We must love or have no union with God, no ground for confidence. The practical consequence indicated here is further drawn out in verse twenty. If we do not love, the basis for our blessed assurance has disappeared.[24]


[1] 1 Corinthians 11:1

[2] 2 Corinthians 3:18

[3] Rothe, Richard: The Expository Times, op. cit., November 1894, p. 86

[4] 1 John 3:19-21

[5] Ibid. 4:17

[6] 2 Corinthians 5:20

[7] Hebrews 10:31

[8] Revelation 6:16-17

[9] Psalm 2:12

[10] Candlish, Robert S., First Epistle of John, op. cit., pp. 144-145, 160-161

[11] Cf. Matthew 5:16

[12] Stock, John: Exposition of First Epistle of John, op. cit., p. 384

[13] 1 Peter 5:7

[14] Kelly, William: An Exposition of the Epistles of John the Apostle, op. cit., Logos, loc. cit.

[15] Cf. 1 John 3:23

[16] Lincoln, William: Lectures on 1 John, op. cit., Lecture VI, pp. 103-105

[17] See 1 John 4:19 NIV

[18] Ibid. 4:9

[19] Sawtelle, Henry A., An American Commentary, Alvah Hovey Ed., op. cit., p. 53

[20] Cf. Numbers 20:8

[21] Spurgeon, Charles H., Morning and Evening Daily Readings, op. cit., June 11 AM

[22] I love my Lord, but with no love of mine, Lyrics by Jeanne Marie Bouvier de la Motte Guyon (1648-1717), leader of the Quietist movement in France, translated by English poet William Cowper (1731-1800)

[23] Spurgeon, Charles H., The Spurgeon Sermon Collection, Vol. 2, op. cit., Love, Sermon No. 229, Delivered on Sunday morning, December 19, 1858, at the Music Hall Royal Surrey Gardens, pp. 50-60

[24] Lias, John James: The First Epistle of St. John with Exposition, op. cit., pp. 342-343

About drbob76

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