WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER FOUR (Lesson CXXX) 08/10/22

4:19We love because God first loved us.

Bruce G. Schuchard (1958) says that with the verb “love,” the Apostle John refers to that historical point when God’s love was manifested in Jesus. Christian confidence is found not in our love for God but God’s love for us. Thus, knowing that our sins are forgiven, that we were loved without deserving it, saved by His mercy, and destined for fellowship with God because He was willing to pay any price to save us. Knowing this is a perfect love that drives fear away. It is not because of what we have done that gives us such confidence before God, but because of what God has done for us.

And so, if grace is theology, then ethics is gratitude. John certainly provides us here with the idea that Christians love one another partly because they are grateful that God loves them. The first step in loving is that God made an effort to start setting the process in motion so that His love for us would go on to our loving others.[1]

Ken Johnson (1965) hears the Apostle John say that true love is only obtained by those who believe Jesus is God’s only begotten Son. Those who think this guarantees a place in heaven may speak boldly about it.[2]

Peter Pett (1966) asks, “What then does this passage tell us about God’s agápē and what our love should be in a relationship?” Pett then offers several things to answer that question:

a) Agápē is of God. He is its source and producer.[3]

b) We love because, by His gracious goodness, we are born of God and know God.[4]

c) God is agápē to those in the light.[5]

d) God’s agápē was made fully known in sending His unique Son into the world that we might live through Him.[6]

e) God revealed His agápē by sending His Son to remedy our sins, that is, to be the means of turning away from God’s disgust and hatred of immorality.[7]

f) God so loved us that this agápē should make us love one another.

g) God continually abides within us so that His agápē might be perfected in us as we grow from one degree of glory to another.[8]

h) We know that He abides within us because He has given us of His Spirit.[9]

i) Because of His agápē, we have beheld and witnessed that the Father sent the Son to be the world’s Savior. His agápē for us has brought this truth home to our hearts.[10]

j) It is God abiding within us in His agápē which results in our confessing Jesus to be the Son of God.[11]

k) Our contemplating of Him brings to our hearts His great agápē so that we know He is continuing love to all who are in the light. Thus, through His agápē, we know and believe that He abides in us and we in Him.[12]

l) His agápē being made perfect within us, coming home to us and possessing our hearts, and making us more aware of the truths about Him, and what He has done for us and of what He is, gives us boldness in the day of judgment.[13]

m) His making us perfect in love, His guaranteed purpose in the Anointed One, drives out all fear. Once we have His assurance of love within us because we have been made His through the Anointed One, we will no longer fear His judgment – how then can we not love both Him and those on whom He has placed His agápē?

David Guzik (1984) believes that the phrase, “We love Him,” is a great statement; thus, John declares the heart of every faithful follower of Jesus the Anointed One. It cannot be put more boldly than, “we love Him.” But that’s not all. He loved us first. It declares our love for Jesus and tells us when He loved us. Some people imagine that Jesus loved us because He knew we would love Him. But He loved us before that, and even before the worlds were created, when our only existence was in the mind and heart of God, Jesus loved us.

Furthermore, this verse tells us from where our love for Jesus came. It comes from Him. Our love for God is always in response to His love for us; He initiates, and we respond. We never have to draw God to us; instead, He draws us to Himself. So, we love Him because He first loved us: This tells us why we love Jesus and how we can love Him more by loving others more.[14]

4:20 If we say we love God but hate any of our brothers or sisters in His family, we are making that up.  Because if we can’t love someone we see, how can we love God, who we have never seen?

EXPOSITION

We go back to what John said here in this epistle in 2:4: “If we say we know God but do not obey His commands, we are lying. The truth is not in us,” and then in 2:9: “Anyone who says He is walking in the light of the Anointed One but dislikes his fellow man is still in darkness.”  Put that together with what he writes in verse twelve in this chapter, “If we love each other, it proves that God is living in us.  By loving each other, God’s agápē has completed the circle, being made perfect through us,” and you can’t help but get the whole picture.

Few things make God any more joyful than when He sees His children loving one another because He knows His agápē is making it possible.  That’s what made David burst out in song on his way to the tabernacle, “Oh, how wonderful, how pleasing it is when God’s people all come together as one.  It is like the sweet-smelling oil poured over the high priest’s head, running down his beard and flowing over his robes. It is like the gentle rain from Mount Hermon falling on Mount Zion. It is there that the Lord has promised His blessing of eternal life.”[15]  Therefore, this is more than just a suggestion or John’s opinion; it is something John states emphatically.

In chapters one and two, we saw several false claims about spirituality.[16] For example, here in verse twenty is a false claim to love. This person professes to love God; however, claiming to love God and simultaneously hate Christians is entirely inconsistent. John’s problem with the false teachers was they disconnected the application of truth from the principles of God’s Word. They were great at talking but short on walking.  They claimed to love God, but they hated God’s people. 

It makes little difference what a person claims about loving God; they lie about loving God if they do not love Christians.  This is irresistible logic.  The greater implies, the lesser.  Conversely, default in the lesser denotes the impossibility of the greater.  One side of the coin cannot be genuine, and the other is counterfeit.  We do not love God if we do not love Christians.

The word “liar” occurs five times in 1 John (more than in any other book).  A “liar” is someone who attempts to deceive by conveying misinformation.  This insulting term is intended to get attention.  To claim to fellowship with God and walk in darkness is a lie.[17]  Those who claim to believe in the Father and deny the Son are lying.[18]  The claim to love God and not love Christians is also a lie.  These three lies constitute a spiritual lie, a doctrinal lie, and a relational lie.

Notice that John uses “brother” twice in this verse.  His reference is to love fellow Christians.  He uses “brother” twelve times in this epistle.  Both “brother” and “brethren” occur seventeen times. Here is a tricky question. How can we love God whom we have not seen if we do not love believers who we can see? Love for the unseen God always manifests as visible love for God’s children. One must always accompany the other. There is an inviolable relation between God’s agápē and human love. 

Some scholars say that a new section begins in verse twenty, but verses twenty-one and twenty-two are closely associated with what precedes. What is this love of which the Apostle has been speaking? Is it love for God or our fellow man? Both; love for our brethren is organically connected with love for God. To love God and hate one’s brother or sister is impossible. Seeing assists it; therefore, it is easier to love people than God. If a person fails in the more manageable, will they succeed in the more difficult?

Moreover, to hate one’s brother or sister is to hate God. Jesus made it clear,  “The one who listens to you listens to Me. The one who rejects you rejects Me. And rejecting Me is the same as rejecting God, who sent Me.”[19] Note the negative tone. John has no definite person in view but anyone who may be of such foolish character. In chapters one and two, we find several false claims about spirituality.[20]  Here in our verse is a false claim to love. This person professes to love God; however, claiming to love God and simultaneously hate Christians is inconsistent. John’s problem with the false teachers was their refusal to apply the truth of God’s principles in His Word.  They were great at talking but short on walking. They claimed to love God, but they hated God’s people.


[1] Schuchard, Bruce G., Concordia Commentary, op. cit., p. 491

[2] Johnson, Ken. Ancient Epistles of John and Jude, op. cit., p. 79

[3] 1 John 4:7

[4] Ibid

[5] Ibid. 4:8

[6] Ibid. 4:9

[7] Ibid. 4:12

[8] 2 Corinthians 3:18

[9] 1 John 4:13

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid. 4:15

[12] Ibid. 4:16

[13] Ibid. 4:17; Ephesians 1:4

[14] Guzik, David: Enduring Word, op. cit., loc. cit.

[15] Psalm 133

[16] 1 John 1:6, 8, 10; 2:4, 6, 9, 22; 5:10

[17] Ibid. 1:6; 2:4

[18] Ibid. 2:22-23

[19] Luke 10:16

[20] 1 John 1:6, 8, 10; 2:4, 6, 9, 22; 5:10

About drbob76

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