WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER FOUR (Lesson CXXVIII) 08/08/22

4:19We love because God loved us first.

The enjoyment of God in us is a different matter, says Gäbelein. If it is not factual to us and we do not enjoy it, there is something that keeps it from happening. For instance, would we not recognize the honor and privilege bestowed upon us if the Queen of England or the King of Spain should pay a visit to our home? If we did not take the time and effort to show our appreciation, we would have no enjoyment of their presence. In the same way, to have the reality and enjoy the wonderful truth that God permanently resides in us and we in Him, we must practice what the King of Heaven said, “All who love Me will do what I say. My Father will love them, and we will come and make our home with each of them.”[1] We must dwell in love, the very nature of God, and display it towards Him and our brothers and sisters. John makes it very clear here in his Epistle, “If we love each other, God lives in us, which brings His agápē to full expression in us,[2] and, “God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them.”[3]

That’s why,” states Gäbelein, “God’s agápē is made perfect in us; we can be without fear on the day when God judges the world. We will be without fear because we are like Jesus in this world. It has nothing to do with our love, nor with seeking an experience of being ‘perfect in love.’” It is His agápē that drives out fear. If we believe and know what God has made us in His infinite grace, what the Anointed One is, that as He is, so are we, how can we fear anything! The coming day of judgment we await not only without any fear but with boldness, for the day will only bring the full display of what the Anointed One is and what we are in Him and with Him – the knowledge of His perfect love.[4]

John Neville Figgis (1866-1919), a British historian, political philosopher, and Anglican priest, offers us an illustration. You know how it is when you don’t care about a particular relative getting married and feel obligated to give them a wedding present. It would seem to you like a waste of money. So, cannot we be more open-minded in our gifts to the God we love and who loves us? We’re not talking about money, though that is an excellent reality test for many people. But every day, every hour almost, we can be giving something to Jesus. Therefore, give Him a present – some personal item you decide not to buy to support a missionary effort; some sorrow or humiliation you can turn into joy and strength for His sake; some evil thought put away to concentrate on Him; sell some complex piece of artwork we own to serve Him, or some revengeful act or nasty fight we’re about to get into because we are His friends.

God does not expect us always to win just to impress Him with successful accomplishments. We are all only called on to please Him with our best effort. Perhaps we can only say, “Lord, I failed, but I did my best; I gave it a good try. I have not succeeded this time, but I tried to do it for You.” So don’t brag about success, even if it comes to you through great sacrifice and results. But, on the other hand, if your extreme efforts result in scorn, humiliation, grief, and self-contempt because others thought you were a religious fool, you can still give Him that. What Jesus gave His Father on Calvary was it a failure or success? Some of His disciples thought He had failed. But they knew it was a success when they saw Him after the resurrection.[5]

For Albert Barnes (1872-1951), this passage is open to two explanations; either (1) that the fact that He first loved us is the ground or reason why we love Him, or (2) that, as a matter of fact, we were persuaded to love Him because of the love He manifested towards us through the fundamental foundation of our love may be the excellency of His character. If the former is what it means, and if that were the only basis for love, it would be mere selfishness,[6] and it cannot be believed that the Apostle John meant to teach it is the only reason for our love for God. It is true, indeed, that it is a proper ground of love, or that we are bound to love God in proportion to the benefits which we have received from His hand; but still, genuine love to God is something which the mere fact cannot explain that we have received favors from Him.

However, the original reason for loving God is separate from the question of whether we are to be benefited or not. There is that in the Divine nature which a Holy Being will love, apart from the benefits they are to receive, and from any thought even of their destiny. It seems to me, says Barnes, that John must have meant here that the fact that we love God is traceable to the grace He used to bring us to Himself, but without saying that this is the sole or even the main reason why we love Him. It was His agápē manifested to us by sending His Son to redeem us, which will explain the fact that we now love Him, but still, the actual ground or reason why we love Him is the infinite excellence of His character.[7] [8]

Harry A. Ironside (1875-1951) points out that we come to the practical side in verse nineteen. If you consult the Greek manuscripts, you will find that the word “Him” does not appear. It is omitted in all the older manuscripts. Correctly it reads, “We love because He loved us first.” Some may feel there is a mistake; it should read, “We love Him because He loved us first.” But take it just as the Spirit of God originally wrote, “We love because He loved us first.” If it was meant only to love God, then we would not need to love anyone else. Think it over, and you will see how precious it is just to know how to love.

Many will talk about loving Him but not His other children! It is easy to talk about loving the Anointed One and loving God yet be cold, unkind, and discourteous toward those for whom Jesus died. The test of whether we love Him is found in how we behave toward all His sons and daughters, and that is a test! You say you love Him, but you do not love Him a bit more than you love God’s child of whom you think the least. Just try to guess who that is, that argumentative, cross-grained person who always seems to upset you, and yet you know they belong to the Lord Jesus the Anointed One, that they are a member of the Anointed One’s Body. You do not love the Anointed One any more than His members, so the correct translation is, “We [know how to] love only because He loved us first.”[9]

Amos N. Wilder (1895-1993) agrees that if you can’t love your brother or sister whom you’ve seen, how can you love God whom you haven’t seen? This follows from the fact that “God is love” and that all love is “of God.” Wilder takes issue with how the KJV translated the Greek text here “How can he love God?” is probably to be rejected. The NIV & NASB reads: “cannot love God,” and Young’s Literal Translation renders it, “God – whom he has not seen.” The Greek manuscript has: “how is he able to love?” The theme here reminds us of Jesus’ words that loving others is like loving Him.[10] It cast a dark shadow over all religious groups that do not fellowship with particular Christian churches. In the Christian sense, the proof that love is real lies in the apparent action to which it leads.[11] Real love for God shows itself in obedience to His commandments. In support of the test, the great double commandment[12] is invoked in verse twenty below.[13]

Paul W. Hoon (1910-2000) says this verse cites the act of divine revelation in which Christians believe, express, and define the character of the love they practice. The priority of God’s agápē to humanity (He first loved us) means that this original universal love is the ground of human love. The word first has the idea of “from the beginning” and suggests the eternal, unconditional character of God’s agápē. While God loves us in a decisive act in His Son’s Incarnation and Atonement, He has always been loving. This existence and nature have never been anything other than love. But His agápē is not a general feeling of compassion offered to all creation; it is the personal love of a personal God on an individual basis: Yes, love is a personal thing, put into action by persons and exercised by persons. That’s why nothing but a unique Incarnation, and the self-sacrifice of the Anointed One, could either sufficiently reveal God’s agápē for humankind or call on all humanity to love God.”[14] All this is considered personal because God, who is Love, lives in us through His Spirit and brings all of this with Him.[15]

Dr. John Neville Figgis (1866-1919) was an English historian, political philosopher, Anglican priest, and monk of the Community of the Resurrection. He comments on God’s agápē and man’s response. That, says Figgis, is the meaning of our life as Christians. God’s agápē, His kindness as our Savior comes first. That allows us to become surrounded by God’s agápē. It is so near; it envelops us completely. However, for some, it takes too long to discern it. When they do, it comes with all the force of a fresh discovery. In the words of an English poem, it was “Closer is He than breathing, nearer than hands or feet.”[16]

Yet, for many, He seems so far above us, and we are so tiny that we cannot believe it. Then one day, you discover that He actually cares for you. There is nothing that individualizes like love. That is a wonderful thing, says Figgis. It makes one jump for joy to know that not only does God let us love Him, but He will let us help Him and give Him the best we have; all made better by giving not only what we have but what we are, “ourselves, our souls and bodies, a reasonable, holy, and lively sacrifice,”[17] and so make God rejoice. Has it ever occurred to you that you can make God, make Jesus, rejoice? We are often told that our sins, pride, and willfulness make Him miserable once more; we renew for Him Gethsemane and dig those nails deeper. We do. But also, we can make Him glad, assist Him, and make it easier for Him to do His work in our lives and others, His never-ceasing work of saving the world, and bring a fresh note of joy even among the angels in heaven.[18] [19]

[1] John 14:23

[2] 1 John 4:12

[3] Ibid. 4:16

[4] Gäbelein, Arno C., The Annotative Bible, op. cit., pp. 156-157

[5] Figgis, John Neville: The Church Pulpit Commentary, op. cit., Vol. 12, God’s Love and Man’s Response, pp. 304-306

[6] Cf. Matthew 5:46-47

[7] See John 15:16

[8] Barnes, Albert: New Testament Notes, op. cit., pp. 4869-4870

[9] Ironside, Harry A., The Epistles of John and Jude, op. cit., pp. 178-179

[10] Matthew 25:40

[11] See 1 John 3:17

[12] Matthew 22:37-39

[13] Wilder, Amos N., The Interpreter’s Bible, op. cit., 1 John, Exposition, p. 288

[14] Hoon, Paul W., The Interpreter’s Bible, op. cit., 1 John, Exegesis, p. 287

[15] Romans 5:5

[16] Alfred, Lord Tennyson: The Higher Pantheism

[17] Romans 12:1

[18] Luke 15:10

[19] Figgis, John Neville: The Church Pulpit Commentary, op. cit., Vol. 12, pp. 303-306


About drbob76

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