NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
By Dr. Robert R Seyda
FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN
CHAPTER FOUR (Lesson CXLIV) 08/22/22
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?
Henry goes on. We must distinguish between reverence for God and being afraid of Him. High regard for God sparks awe and worship. Obedience and good works, done from the principle of love, are not like the submissive labor of one who unwillingly labors from dread of a master’s anger. They are like a dutiful child who willingly and gladly follows their beloved father’s instructions. It is a sign that our love is far from perfect when our doubts, fears, and apprehensions about God are many.
Let heaven and earth stand amazed at His agápē. He sent His Word to invite sinners to partake of this great salvation. Let them take comfort in the happy change He brought about while they give Him the glory. God’s agápē in the Anointed One, in the hearts of Christians from the Spirit of adoption, is tested by its effects on their temperament and conduct with other believers to prove that their conversion took place. If a person professes to love God and yet harbors anger, revenge, or a selfish disposition, they make their profession of being saved a lie. But if their natural hostility is transformed into affection and gratitude, that is a good sign. So, says Henry, let us bless the name of the Lord our God for this seal of approval and promise of eternal happiness. When we do that, then we differ from the false professors, who pretend to love God, whom they have not seen, yet hate their brethren whom they have seen.
Thomas Pyle (1674-1756) encourages us to remember that we must affirm our respect for God by kindness and compassion for our fellow believers. Not only is this the spoken command of the Anointed One, but the very reason we’re Christians requires it. If we don’t love them, whose situations and needs impact and affect our physical senses, we can hardly claim to have much affection for God.
James Macknight (1721-1800) concludes that love for humanity is inseparable from love for God. Therefore, this commandment we received from the Anointed One says that everyone who loves God must love their brother and sister also with the love of compassion, whether they are a sinner or even an enemy.
Robert Finlayson (1793-1861) points to one outstanding feature of the Divine love – very mysterious, if we stop and think about it, but still very offensive to all our preconceptions – that God still loves those who are so fanatically opposed to Him. There is something about this that startles us; there is something that quite overwhelms us. The truth is, we seldom wonder enough about it; we give such wondering to lesser things. We often don’t go that far; all we have is a vacant look on our faces as His work of grace before our eyes, and we might say to other believers that His grace and mercy are never-ending. But, Finlayson asks, have you ever seen anything like this in your experience, anything so remarkable as God’s agápē to sinners?
Finlayson states that if we breathe the forgiving atmosphere of the cross and feel with God in His agápē to sinners, we would love them even as He does. Although it is challenging to develop any interest in an unrepentant sinner, a hard thing to retain when all the soul-saving feeling is gone, and a tough thing to create any successful procedure for their redemption, that is the Divine arrangement of grace Calvary’s cross offers.
That forms the next dilemma for the Apostle John, notes Finlayson. He asks the believers if you can’t love the people you see in need of help or salvation, how can you say you love the God you can’t see? John is implying that it is by loving the seen that we are to learn to love the unseen. If we do not know the courage and patience it takes to try and win sinners, how can we understand the Divine tolerance and patience exercised toward us? Remember that love for our Godly Father is a strategic motivation for our attachment to fellow believers, and if we are not fed from on high, our love will soon wither and die. He who commands here spoke from Mt. Sinai; He now says from Mt. Calvary. His first word to the sinner is not “Love your brother,” but “Believe in me.” Should not ordinary gratitude prompt us to instantaneous show obedience to these commands?
Richard Rothe (1799-1867) concludes that from every legitimate concept of God, belief follows when our neighbor enjoys our love; it is as though God was doing it. Our love cannot remain idle; it requires action on our part to prove its existence. This agápē for God merely with our understanding and lips is a desecration of His nature rather than an honor and a sacrifice we owe Him. Simply because God is love, He will not be loved to the prejudice of others. In other words, you cannot tell God; I love you more than anyone else. Sound’s flattering, but it is frustrating to Him. He urges all our love for Him to be shared with those around us. It is only in appearance, however, if there is any dividing of one’s agápē.
But some might open their Bibles and read: “You cannot be My disciple unless you love Me more than you love your father and mother, your wife and children, and your brothers and sisters. You cannot come with Me unless you love me more than your life.” Jesus is not teaching a new commandment of betrayal but the cost of following Him. The clue is in what Jesus says later: “Simply put, if you’re not willing to take what is dearest to you, whether plans or people and kiss them goodbye, you can’t be My disciple.”
So, Jesus is not asking those who follow Him to break God’s Law of Love and put their families and friends below Him on the love chart. Instead, He is telling them that their commitment to following Him is a matter of setting priorities. When I received my first call to mission work, I had to decide whether to go back to the USA and be with my family, whom I loved dearly, or work far from home, reaching people who had never heard about God’s agápē. In the same way, Jesus did not leave His father to come to earth to be our Savior because He hated being with God all the time. No, it was God’s agápē who sent Him, and His agápē for His Father that convinced Him to go and become our sacrifice for sin.
Alfred Plummer (1841-1926) says that now the Apostle John drives home his arguments for the practice of brotherly love because God commanded all who love Him to love their brethren. Some take “from him” to mean the Anointed One. But this is unlikely, as the Anointed One has not been mentioned for several verses: although it must be admitted that John is so full of the truth that “My Father and I are one,” that He makes the transition from the Father to the Son and from the Son to the Father almost unconsciously.
Where has God given this commandment? The whole Law is summed up in loving God with all one’s heart and one’s neighbor as oneself. The Apostle thus anticipates a possible objection. Can someone say, “I can love God without loving my brother, or can I prove my love by keeping His commandments?” “No!” says John; “your argument shows your error: you cannot keep His commandments without loving your brother.”
Augustus Neander (1789-1850) feels that it should be clear that our fountain of love is God, who is Love. Yet, to connect to this invisible source, more is required than the impression made by His visible humanity. How can the invisible object of love influence us when the visual doesn’t? With this being the necessary connection between these two relations of love, the Apostle adds that we have a commandment from Him that they who love God must also love their brother and sister. That becomes the springboard for what John says in the first verse of chapter five. Thus, we have two revelations of God: Our brother, who is in His image, and His commandment. Not to love our brother is a flagrant violation of both.
Gottfried C. F. Lücke (1791-1855) the Apostle John now produces the most durable argument: The Anointed One’s distinct command, or God’s commandment given through Him, that whoever loves God must also love their brother and sister. In other words, our genuine love for God shows itself in brotherly love. So then, in 1 John 5:1, the substance of the mandate here in verse twenty-one – the permanent connection between God’s agápē and brotherly and sisterly love, is to be displayed from another point of view and enforced, illustrated by new motives. Since the unconverted can believe that Jesus is the Anointed One, whoever has this faith is born of God. Now, as in family life, children naturally love their parents, but for their love to be recognized, they must direct it toward their siblings. In the same way, in God’s family, love for their mutual Father in heaven is the primary feeling they all share with all God’s children. The more we read about this mandate, the more we realize you cannot have one without the other.
Genuine God’s agápē and brotherly love are inseparably connected; they serve each other as a mutual basis and condition. And as in a Christian family, love is the indispensable manifestation of the love for God, so God’s agápē is the basis for brotherly love. Accordingly, God’s supernatural love for others is grounded on their natural love for family. However, our love for God consists of faithful keeping divine commandments. This is what the Apostle John implies in verse two. He does not speak as much here about the outward principles of genuine brotherly love as he does on the internal consciousness and inner recognition and foundation of the one expression of love on the other. Instead of further demonstrating this proposition, John addresses his readers’ conscience and experience.
 Henry, Matthew: op. cit., loc. cit.
 Pyle, Thomas: Paraphrase, op. cit., p. 398
 John 13:34; 15:12; 1 John 3:11
 Finlayson, Robert: The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 22, op. cit., p. 139
 Rothe, Richard: The Expository Times, op. cit., November 1894, p. 88
 Luke 14:25-27 – Contemporary English Version (CEV)
 Ibid. 14:33 – The Message Version (MSG)
 Deuteronomy 6:5; Leviticus 19:18; Luke 10:27
 John 14:15
 Plummer, Alfred: Cambridge Commentary, op. cit., p. 154
 Neander, Augustus: First Epistle of John, op. cit., Chapters IV, V, pp. 274-275
 Cf. 1 John 3:23
 Ibid. 3:11; John 13:34
 Cf. 3:23; 4:15, 16
 Lücke, Gottfried: Commentary on 1st John, op. cit., Eight Section, verse twenty-one