WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER FOUR (Lesson CXLI) 08/17/22

4:20If anyone says, “I love God” but keeps hating their brother or sister, they are lying; for if they don’t love their brother or sister who is right in front of their eyes, can they claim to love God whom they have never seen?

Rudolf Schnackenburg (1914-2002) says the argument is clear: only those who love their brother or sister can see and be able to love an invisible God.[1] But this conviction does not, as Jewish/Greek historian Philo said, “For we must not share everything with everyone, but restrict our gifts to what is suitable to the recipient. Otherwise, the most excellent and valuable thing which life possesses will destroy order and suffer defeat by its most mischievous foe, confusion,[2] stem from general religious considerations, but specific thought. The way to fellowship with God is not through a visionary experience but active love. Now, some exploit this basic proposition in the name of love. That idea is implied in verse eleven, so those who follow it can rest assured of their love for brother and sister.[3]

Donald W. Burdick (1917-1996) says that the Apostle John should convince all of us that brotherly love is demanded by logic.[4] The hypothetical case John proposes is stated in the strongest terms: “If a person says, I love God and hate their Christian brother or sister, are lying.” They are not lying about hating some fellow believers but about their loving God. It indicates that the claim is manifestly self-contradictory. Love for God and hatred for a brother or sister cannot possibly coexist in the same heart. Thus, with typical Johannine sharp words, the claim is dismissed as an out-and-out lie.[5] Can you envision a pastor asking a believer who comes to them for counseling about their quarrel with another believer, “Do you love God?” If their response is “yes,” we wonder what the reaction would be when the pastor tells them they are a liar.

Raymond E. Brown (1928-1998) says that some today might have expected the Apostle John to contrast the claim to love God with indifference toward one’s brother or sister. However, in Johannine dualism, neither indifference nor insufficient love is the opposite of loving – that opposite is described here in verse twenty as not love or hate. Again, one might have expected John to charge any person who claims to love God and still hates their Christian brother or sister guilty of misunderstanding or incompleteness, but Johannine dualism is harsher. Just as hate is opposed to love (and God is Love).so lying is opposed to truth (and Jesus is Truth). As a result, John accuses such a person of belonging to Satan’s regime, for whom lying is part of everyday language.[6] If Father God is present in love, “the originator of lies” is in hate.[7]

John R. W. Stott (1921-2010) notes that love for God expresses a confident attitude towards Him, devoid of fear and loving concern for our brothers and sisters.[8] Perfect agápē that drives fear out of hatred also. If God’s agápē for us is made complete when we love one another,[9] so is our love for God. John does not mince his words. If a person’s behavior contradicts what they say, they are liars. To claim to know God and have fellowship with God while we walk in the darkness of disobedience is to lie.[10] To claim to possess the Father while denying the deity of the Son is to lie.[11] To claim to love God while hating our brothers or sister is also to lie.[12]

John Phillips (1927-2010) says that John now turns to the logic of love: “If we say we love God but hate any of our brothers or sisters in His family, we are liars. If we don’t love someone we have seen, how can we love God? We have never even seen Him.” Very blunt! Love and hate are opposites. Love for God should expel all hate, even toward the most cranky, critical, and contradictory of the Lord’s people. No one ever loved God like Jesus. “He went about doing good” was Peter s one-line summary of the Lord’s attitude toward people.[13] The Lord had His enemies, but He loved them. At times He had to expose and condemn them,[14] but He never stopped loving them.

Furthermore, He loved poor, lost, pagan Pilate just as much as He loved beloved, blundering Peter; it is also true that He died for the crafty, unscrupulous Caiaphas[15] for generous, open-minded Cornelius.[16] He had as big a heart of love for Barabbas[17] as He had for Bartholomew.[18] He wept as brokenly for Jerusalem – which killed the prophets and stoned them who were sent to her[19] – as He did for the bereaved and beloved Martha and Mary.[20] He was as eager to save Saul – who “was uttering threats with every breath and was eager to kill the Lord’s followers[21] – as He was to protect the earnestly seeking Ethiopian[22] or anyone who belonged to, however unworthily, the family of God.[23]

David E. Hiebert (1928-1995) hears the Apostle John asserting that God-induced love involves the love for fellow believers. So, the Apostle asks a hypothetical question: “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and yet hates their Christian brother or sister, what does that make them?” The clear verdict is, “they are liars!” They are either blind or a conscious hypocrite. There is an apparent contradiction between the individual’s explicit claim to love God while they continue to hate their fellow believers. The Greek text places “God” and “brother” side by side,[24] suggesting that the two cannot be the objects of opposite inward feelings. As British Bible scholar John Miller (1919-1895) stated: “One’s inward condition is easily measured by outward behavior.”[25] [26]

Stephen S. Smalley (1931-2018) says that when the Apostle John discusses the “tests by which our love for God may be discerned,” rather than by stages “learning to love Him,” it may well be that this second interpretation should be adopted unless we combine the two views. But in any case, John’s point is clear. As John stated in verse twelve, love for God is expressed in love for others. To withhold the one is to render the other impossible. Therefore, we are to love God in others and others in Him. Such is the meaning of “living in love.[27] [28]

Edward J. Malatesta (1932-2018) notices that verse twenty is built around one core. It portrays and brands anyone who claims to know God while hating a fellow believer as a “liar.” God’s agápē occurs in this verse’s first and last lines so that it repeats itself with different words. For instance, “hates a brother or sister” and “does not love their brother or sister.” At the center of this is a devasting accusation and gives a reason for this accusation. The person who does not love their brother or sister whom they can see cannot possibly love God whom they cannot see.[29] It is as ridiculous as a blind person claiming they can see with their eyes closed when they cannot see with their eyes open.

Ian Howard Marshall (1934-2015) points out that a person may deceive others by declaring that they love God, but since God cannot be seen, there is no direct way of telling whether they truly love God. Even if they go through the outward motions of devotion to God, prayer, worship attendance, and so on, it may still be all empty show. But a person cannot so easily deceive others regarding their love for fellow Christians; since they can be seen, the person’s relation with them is also visible. (Admittedly, deception is still possible since loving acts may arise from false motives, but the opportunity is not as great as love for the unseen God.) It follows that if a person is seen not loving their brothers and sisters, they are unlikely to love God. Indeed, they cannot love God since one part of love for God is love for one’s fellow believers.[30]

John Painter (1935) notes that there have been six claims (NIV) up to this point in the Apostle John’s First Epistle made by the hypocrite opposition up to this point. They are:

  1. If we claim to have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth – 1 John 1:6
  • If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us – 1 John 1:8
  • If we claim we have not sinned, we make Him out to be a liar, and his word is not in us – 1 John 1:10
  • Whoever claims to live in Him must live as Jesus did – 1 John 2:6
  • Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness – 1 John 2:9
  • Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar – 1 John 4:20

[1] 1 John 4:12

[2] The Works of Philo, The Special Laws, Loeb Classical Library, Vol. VII, translated by F. H. Colson, p. 169 (#120)

[3] Schnackenburg, Rudolf: The Johannine Epistles, op. cit., p. 226

[4] 1 John 4:20

[5] Burdick, Donald W., The Epistles of John, op. cit., p. 81

[6] John 8:44

[7] Brown, Raymond E., The Anchor Bible, op. cit., Vol. 30, p. 533

[8] Cf. 1 John 3:14

[9] Ibid. 4:12

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

[11] Ibid. 12:22-23

[12] Stott, John. The Letters of John (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries), op. cit., p. 170

[13] Acts of the Apostles 10:38

[14] Matthew 23:13-39

[15] Matthew 26:57, 63-65; John 11:49-51

[16] Acts of the Apostles 10:1-3 3

[17] Matthew 27:16; Mark 15:7

[18] Acts of the Apostles 1:3

[19] Matthew 23:37; Luke 19:41-44

[20] John 11:18-21

[21] Acts of the Apostles 9:1

[22] Ibid. 8:26-39

[23] Phillips, John: Exploring the First Epistle of John, op. cit., p. 156

[24] The Greek text reads: “God and the brother….”

[25] Miller, John, Notes on James, 1 and 11 Peter, 1, 11 and Ill John, Jude, Revelation (Bradford, Eng.: Needed Truth Publishing Office, n.d.), p. 90

[26] Hiebert, David E., Bibliotheca Sacra, op. cit., January-March 1990, pp. 86-87

[27] See 1 John 4:16

[28] Smalley, Stephen S., Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 51, op. cit., p. 264

[29] Malatesta, Edward J., Interiority and Covenant, op. cit., p. 297

[30] Marshall, I. Howard. The Epistles of John (The New International Commentary on the New Testament), op. cit., pp. 225-226)

About drbob76

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