WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER FOUR (Lesson CXLIII) 08/19/22

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?

How odd and incoherent when people argue or refuse to speak because of hurt feelings but then walk into a church sanctuary, and both raise their hands as they sing, “I love you, Lord, and I lift my voice to worship You oh, my soul rejoice! Take joy, my King, in what You hear; let it be a sweet, sweet sound in your ear.” Why should the Lord enjoy listening to the screaming argument in your heart and mind?  It’s John’s way of saying, don’t bother to tell God that you love Him until you can genuinely say you love every one of your Christian brothers and sisters. Then, he won’t believe you.  But we must understand that love is possible even though we may not like someone or something.

The idea of a “commandment” is that it represents an injunction, warning, ban, embargo, mandate, prohibition, etc. A “commandment” is equivalent to a principle or teaching of God’s Word. It is a prescribed rule in accord with God’s standards. Love for God and love for fellow Christians form one single commandment.  John explains “commandment” in the following clause – “he who loves God must love his brother in the Lord also.”  God orders the Christian to love His people. Jesus taught the two-fold commandment of loving both God and others.[1] We cannot separate love for God and love for Christians. Those two loves operate as one in God’s economy. This idea is a summary of chapter four. Love for other Christians is a binding principle for those who walk with God.[2]

Whatever we may think of the relation between seeing and loving, there is still the Divine command to love the invisible God and the visible Christian brother or sister in whom God dwells. Sight may hinder as well as help; it is hard to love what is filthy and hideous. In such cases, let us remember that even the most debased form of humanity contains God’s creative fingerprints. Love for fellow believers is a binding principle for those who walk with God; they are not suggestions. There is no room for debate. We have no choice. God’s will prompt His children to correlate love for others with love for God. To violate the precept is not to love God. It is easy to pretend to love God, whom we cannot see, since it is a feeling only God can verify.

Therefore, the only way we can prove to others that we have faith in Jesus is to love God’s people. If we were as careful to demonstrate our love for one another as we are to criticize one another, people would soon get the idea that we loved them. We do not have to agree with them, but we are to love them. We do not have to see eye to eye with all God’s people, but we do have to love them unconditionally. A Christian who loves God expresses that love to others concretely, not just by promises or intentions. True love for God shows itself in more than emotions. It is an objective love as well as a subjective love. Active love convinces our condemning hearts that we are in tune with God. It assures us that we are right with God.

COMMENTARY

Medieval scholar Andreas says: “The person who loves God keeps His commandments and loving one’s brother fulfills those commandments. The person who does not love their believing brother or sister has not kept the commandments and, by not keeping them, has no love for God. Therefore, the one who says they love but does not do so is a liar.”[3] Saying it is not enough. Doing it proves that your claim about loving God is a reality.

William Tyndale (1494-1536) addresses the end of John’s epistle about love. He says that love cannot be seen without the flames of love and in the fire of temptation. Consequently, if someone says, I love God and still hate fellow Christian brothers or sisters; they are lying. How can it be that they don’t love their brother or sister they can see and love God whom they cannot see? Therefore, we have this commandment that they who love God also love their brother and sister. To love a person’s neighbor with God’s agápē is a sure sign that we know we love God. Not to love them is a specific token that we do not love God. To hate our neighbor is the same as hating God. Loving God means obeying His commandments, as the Anointed One tells us.[4] And the commandment is to love our neighbors because if we don’t love our neighbors cannot love God. And likewise, to hate this commandment is the same as hating the God who commanded it.[5]

John Calvin (1509-1564) looks at the phrase “and this commandment” and concludes it is a strong argument drawn from the authority and Gospel of the Anointed One. He not only gave a commandment respecting God’s agápē but told us also to love our brethren. We must, therefore, immediately commit to God’s will since some may do it their way instead of God’s way.[6]

John Trapp (1601-1669) sees singular evidence of God’s great love for us that He directed we love our neighbor as ourselves, says Benedictus Aretius.[7] Our Savior merged those two precepts to sum up the Law, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”[8] Yes, God prefers mercy before sacrifice; and is content that his immediate service should be intermitted, rather than leaving out loving our fellow man. So, Jesus said, “Leave your gift there in front of the altar. First, go and be reconciled to them.”[9] [10]

John Bunyan (1628-1688) combines verses seven, sixteen, and twenty-one to show that God’s agápē is another of those great and principal graces, which the Holy Spirit works in the heart. No matter how convincing our proclamation of faith, if love is missing,[11] such professors and not possessors are to be abandoned because they “did not depart from iniquity.”[12] Hence all pretending means nothing, whereas love is priceless. Love is measured as an infallible sign that a person is in a state of salvation. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.[13] Love divides itself between God and our neighbors. Love for God is that we keep His sayings, commandments, and laws. “Those who accept my commandments and obey them are the ones who love me,”[14] and “Anyone who doesn’t love me will not obey me.” And remember, my words are not my own. What I am telling you is from My Father who sent Me. [15] [16]

So, says Bunyan, the heart is united in affection and love to the Father and the Son, for their love can be shone on wretched sinners. It will help in delivering them from the wrath to come. So, does this God’s agápē cause the unregenerated person to work it out themselves? No! By this agápē, faith works, in sweet passions and pangs of love, to all that are thus reconciled, as sinners see they are. The motive, then, by which faith does His work is justification and sanctification. So, likewise, the significant reason for them, I say, is love, God’s agápē, and the love of the Anointed One. That is, when our faith tells us so, for so are the words above, “And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.”[17] And then, “We love because He first loved us.”[18]

John Howe (1630-1705) sees loving God and loving each other are also connected in the same law. Indeed, the whole law of God is summed up in love. The Apostle Paul tells us, “Love does no wrong to others, so love fulfills the requirements of God’s law.”[19] And you see what the Apostle John means by “law” from the occasion of this discourse. “And He has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.”[20] He laid this law upon us to show how we should share our love. If we pretend to exercise our love for Him, we must do it to our brother and sister. Otherwise, He will never add us to the list of lovers of Himself.[21]

William Burkitt (1650-1703) states that this most important commandment, above the rest, this summary and comprehensive principle, including all the rest, namely, to love God above all, for Jesus’ sake, and to love our brothers and sisters as ourselves, for God’s sake. This command, which we received from God so full of wisdom, so agreeable to right reason, and so much our duty and interest to comply with, is dependent upon our love for Him. So, if we don’t keep it, John clarifies, “Those who love God must also love their fellow believers.”[22]

Matthew Henry (1662-1714) summarizes these last seven verses by beginning with the fact that the Father sent the Son; it was His will to send Him into this world. The Apostle John attests to this: “All who declare that Jesus is the Son of God have God living in them, and they live in God.”[23] This confession includes faith in the heart as the foundation; acknowledges with the mouth bring glory to God and the Anointed One. It can be proclaimed in life and conduct, despite the flatteries and frowns of the world. There must be a day of universal judgment.

Happy are those with holy boldness before the great Judge, says Henry, knowing He is their Friend and Advocate! Happy are those who have holy boldness with the possibility of being there on that day, who look and wait for it and the Judge’s appearance! True love for God assures believers of God’s agápē to them. Love teaches us to suffer for Him and with Him. Therefore, we may trust that we will also share in His glory.[24]


[1] Matthew 22:37-40; John 13:34; Mark 12:29-31

[2] Ibid. 12:37, 39; Luke 10:27; John 13:34

[3]Andreas: (Bray Ed.), James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude, op. cit., loc. cit.

[4] See John 13:35; 14:15; 15:12, 17

[5] Tyndale, William, op. cit., pp. 204-205

[6] Calvin, John: Commentary on the Catholic Epistles, op. cit., loc. cit.

[7] Aretius (1522-1574) was a Swiss Protestant theologian

[8] Matthew 22:37-39

[9] Ibid. 5:24

[10] Trapp, John: Commentary upon all books of New Testament (1647), op. cit., p. 478

[11] 1 Corinthians 13:1-7

[12] 2 Timothy 2:19

[13] 1 John 4:16

[14] Ibid. 14:21, 24

[15] 1 John 5:3

[16] Bunyan, John: Practical Works, Vol. 4, Why the Christian Profession is so Extensively Disgraced, p. 93

[17] 1 John 4:16

[18] Ibid. 4:19

[19] Romans 13:10

[20] 1 John 4:21

[21] Howe, John: op. cit., (Kindle Locations 2747-2751)

[22] Burkitt, William: Notes on N. T., op. cit., p. 733

[23] 1 John 4:15

[24] 2 Timothy 2:12

About drbob76

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