WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER FOUR (Lesson CXLII) 08/18/22

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 them, how can they love God whom they have never seen?

Of these six claims, says Painter, the first three are seemingly given in the words of the claimants. The quotation is signaled by the Greek hoti (“For”) followed by the words quoted in the first person, “I” or “we.” So, what’s the difference? It seems that John is distinguishing between those still in the community and those from the outside. [1]

Michael Eaton (1942-2017) says that the Apostle John’s point is not that God’s agápē is more complex than loving people. It raises the question, “If you cannot do something easy, how can you handle something complex?” The point is that loving people is more objective, prominent, and observable by others. A person might say, “Ί love God.” How can that statement be proven? Yet if the same person says, “I love people,” the evidence is right in front of our eyes! God is Spirit. To love Him might seem “spiritual” and “devotional.” It might appear to be a matter of prayer, singing, and attending meetings. “I love God!” we might say, but God is invisible, and our love expresses itself mainly in acts of worshipful devotion. There is something more tangible about loving people! We cannot fool ourselves as quickly when it comes to loving people. The criterion of loving God is not what we feel in worship but what we experience with our Christian brother or sister, who is a physical reality.[2]

William Loader (1944) notes that in verse twelve, the Apostle John argued that our invisible God is made visible in concrete, not abstract, acts of love. Here in verse twenty, John turns this thought around and goes back the other way, thinking this time from the perspective of the loved one. If we cannot love a visible human being, we will not be able to love the invisible God. It is much more than a neat play with ideas. Loving another human being means being open and vulnerable. It means meeting them and taking them seriously. It is not simply giving; it is also receiving. If we cannot do that with another human, we will not be able to do that with God. We will block out God’s agápē and remain satisfied with something comfortable in our projection and imagination that does not disturb us. We will be practicing a form of idolatry. Usually, we have reduced God to a manageable concept like an icon or statue in such cases. Then, God is no longer the invisible and unknown but a carefully defined image designed to suit ourselves.[3]

Colin G. Kruse (1950) notes that the words, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates their brother, is a liar,” is an a fortiori statement – arguing from the lesser to the greater. If people cannot fulfill the secondary requirement (to love their fellow believers whom they have seen), they cannot accomplish the primary obligation (to love God whom they have not seen). When the Apostle John speaks of God as the one we have not seen, he is picking up an important theme from his Gospel, where the invisibility of God is mentioned again and again.[4] Here the author repeats the point he made in verse twelve that claims to know the unseen God must be validated by love for fellow believers who can be seen. The nature of an experience of God’s presence is such that it cannot exist without manifesting itself in love for God’s people. Already John has shown that God is agápē,[5] that all those born of God are loving, and that those who do not love do not know God.[6]

Bruce G. Schuchard (1958) notes that again, the Apostle John’s language recalls his letter’s beginning, mainly “we lie,’’[7]we deceive ourselves,”[8] and “we act as if He were a liar.”[9] There, John was thinking of the secessionists. He accuses them of hating rather than loving. Instead of loving, they hated the brothers for departing from the fellowship of the beloved. Unwittingly they have preferred belonging to the realm of Satan, where the lie is the native language. If God is present in love, the father of all lies is in hate.[10] [11] But here, in verse twenty, John is talking to believers and using the secessionist as an example.  In other words, if hating a fellow Christian was the attitude of these traitors, then if we believers develop the same attitude, we are no better than they are.

Marianne Meye Thompson (1964) states that if God’s agápē empowers our love, no one can claim to love God while hating a fellow Christian. So often, the words anyone who does not love their fellow believer, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. Both mean that it is much harder to love an invisible God than a brother or sister whom one can see. However, John does not say that loving God is more complicated than loving others. Instead, love for God without love for others is impossible to imagine since God is agápē.[12]

Peter Pett (1966) says that the result of what the Apostle John has just said is that we will love all who are faithful in serving the Anointed One, those who are of and speak the truth. For they share the agápē that we enjoy, and they too are in His agápē. And they minister to us of the Anointed One, as we should minister to them. Must they not be within our love, which He has produced within us? It would be an impossible contradiction to be filled with God’s agápē and not to love those whom God loves. Thus, if a person says, “I love God,” but hates their fellow believer is a liar. That is, they do not love God. This is the test of antichrist and false teaching. They do not love the brethren because the brethren expose their false teaching for what it is and refuse to countenance their fantasies.[13]

Duncan Heaster (1967) points out that the Apostle John again refers to his Gospel,[14] where the Jewish opposition is likened to Cain, the first liar and murderer. His first lie was covering up his hatred for his brother, Abel. It fits the Judaist infiltrators exactly; their religion had slain their brother, the Lord Jesus, and they were out to kill His brothers and sisters. Yet they tried hiding that fact by slipping into the churches as false teachers.[15] The “liar” is the antichrist, which in John’s first context was the Jewish system.[16] For he that does not love his fellow believers whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. We cannot literally see God, but we can “see” Him insofar as we “see” His Son. For the Son alone has fully “seen” the Father.[17] To love the Father is to have His Spirit abiding in us, which elicits sacrificial love for His children, our fellow believers. Any hatred of those begotten by His Spirit reveals that we lack His Spirit and do not love Him.[18]

Karen H. Jobes (1968) points out that the command to love God was long-standing in the Jewish faith from which Christianity emerged. Israel’s motto is the Shema.[19] Such love for God was coupled with obedience to the covenant, which included treating others right. John’s argument is similar: love for God must be constituted by love for others, particularly fellow believers.[20]

David Guzik (1984) notes that someone might say or sing, “I want to love God more; I want to grow in my love for Him.” The first question is, how can you love a God who is invisible? God might say to us, “So, you want to learn how to love Me more, the One you can’t see? Well, you can start by loving My children, whom you can see.” Jesus’ words are loud and clear; this is how I want you to conduct yourself in these matters. If you enter your place of worship and are about to go to the altar to rededicate yourself to His service, leave immediately, go to this friend and make things right. Then and only then, come back and work things out with God. That is how you can love me more.[21]

4:21     God gave us this commandment: If we love Him, we must also love each other as brothers and sisters.

EXPOSITION

God instructed the Israelites: “Forget about the wrong things people do to you. Don’t try to get even. Love your neighbor as you want to be loved.[22] Jesus quotes from this when He says: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.  This is the first and most important command. And the second is like the first: Love your neighbor the same as you love yourself.”[23]

And just before His trial and crucifixion, He reiterates this same thought: “I give you a new command: Love each other. You must love each other just as I loved you. All people will know you are my followers if you love each other.[24]  Now John brings his point to a un fait accompli.[25]  Without God, there would be no such thing as love. We became aware of love because God expressed it to us first before we knew how to express it to anyone.  In John’s way of thinking, it is love completed by love. When love is that noticeable based on an impeccable standard, it is easy to see any flaws and inconsistencies.  For instance, John points out that if we cannot love those we see and fellowship with daily, how can we claim to love a God we’ve never seen? Especially when the God who gave us Love said that if you want to keep it fresh and growing, you must pass it on to your fellow believers.


[1] Painter, John. Sacra Pagina: 1, 2, and 3 John: Vol. 18, loc. cit.

[2] Eaton, Michael: Focus on the Bible, 1,2,3 John, op. cit., pp. 169-170

[3] Loader, William: Epworth Commentary, op. cit., p. 59

[4] John 1:18; 5:37; 6:46

[5] 1 John 4:7-8

[6] Kruse, Colin G., The Letters of John (The Pillar New Testament Commentary (PNTC)), op. cit., loc. cit., Kindle Edition

[7] 1 John 1:6

[8] Ibid. 1:8

[9] Ibid. 1:10

[10] Ibid. 8:44

[11] Schuchard, Bruce G., Concordia Commentary, op. cit., pp. 492-493

[12] Thompson, Marianne M., The IVP New Testament Commentary, op. cit., p. 129

[13] Pett, Peter: Commentary on the Bible, op. cit., PDF, loc. cit.

[14] John 8:44

[15] Galatians 2:4

[16] 1 John 2:22

[17] John 6:46

[18] Heaster, Duncan: New European Commentary, op. cit., 1 John, pp.36-37

[19] Deuteronomy 6:5

[20] Jobes, Karen H., 1, 2, and 3 John (Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, Book 18), p. 206

[21] Matthew 5:23-24

[22] Leviticus 19:18

[23] Matthew 22:37-39

[24] John 13:34-35

[25] Un fait accompli, French, meaning “an accomplished fact.”

About drbob76

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