WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER FOUR (Lesson CXLV) 08/23/22

4:20If anyone says, “I love God,” but keeps hating their spiritual brother or sister, they are lying; for if they don’t love their fellow believer right in front of them, how can they love God whom they have never seen?

Robert Smith Candlish (1806-1873) declares that the Apostle John has just announced the Law of Love.[1]  Nevertheless, he still has in His mind the twofold test of God’s giving us His Spirit and our belief in the name of His Son Jesus the Anointed One and loving one another.[2] The Spirit in us confesses, and our spirit agrees, that Jesus the Anointed One was manifested in the flesh; He is the Son of God. It is a confession implying the believing recognition of God’s agápē to us in Him. It means, therefore, also the perfecting of God’s agápē within us to exclude fear and ensure our loving as He loved us first. We respond to His agápē and return it; it reproduces itself in us. And it does so, as love going out to those we see, not those we cannot see; otherwise, it would not be our loving with God’s agápē to us; it would not be our loving because God first loved us.

When we read verse twenty, we find it to be a reasonable and beneficial redirection of John’s train of thought; it ushers in a new subject. It is a valuable closing caution. John laid much stress on loving our brother or sister; loving him or her as you see them; loving them because God commands you; loving them as born of God. But your love for a fellow believer needs to be carefully watched. It is love for them as members of God’s family. It may be on other grounds and for different reasons that you love them. It may be a love of mere natural sentiment and affection, merely human love, having little or nothing in common with the agápē with which God loved you first. But to be trustworthy at all, as a test of God’s giving you of His Spirit, and so dwelling in you, it must be agápē having in it the element of godliness; love having respect for God; love to them because God loves them, and you love God.[3]

Johann E. Huther (1807-1880) concludes that although brotherly love is the natural product and activity of love for God, at the same time, practicing should be a habitual project that they who love God perform as one appointed by God. It is doubtful whether we are to understand “He has given” as God or the Anointed One. But to insist the “He” be attributed to the Anointed One, it must read “from Him,” is unfounded; because “we love God” follows. In the context, there is no reference here at all to the Anointed One; it might be safer to understand by “from” God.[4]

Daniel D. Whedon (1808-1885) explains that this doctrine of love takes the form of a commandment. Not only may we, but we must. It is an invariable divine law that the lover of God be a lover of their brothers and sisters. It is our blessedness, our highest duty.[5]

Henry Alford (1810-1871) concludes that besides accepting as common sense this argument to love one another means to love God, another most powerful one exists, which the Apostle here adds. “And this commandment has we from Him, that they who love God must also love their brothers and sisters.” And where do we find this commandment? Our Lord’s excellent summary of the law is, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, Love your neighbor as yourself.”[6] [7]

William Graham (1810-1883) focuses on the final bell calling all believers to join in loving God by loving each other. That’s why the commandment we have received of Him is, “That they who love God, love their brother and sister also.” It is the new commandment given by the Anointed One to His disciples.[8] The meaning is, “We have received this commandment from the Anointed One, that they who love God must love their fellow Christian also.” Therefore, we are obliged to fulfill this duty of brotherly love, not only in relationships between fellow believers but also by the commandment and example of the Anointed One.

Keep in mind that the blessed Savior commands that we should love one another and that where this brotherly love is inadequate, there is no evidence that we love God. Graham confesses that our love for one another in the present generation is icy and distant, nor will the middle wall sin erected between God’s children be speedily broken down. These partitions will probably stand till the time of persecution comes upon us. In the meantime, we must punch holes through them and reach our hands out to them the best way we can.[9]

Graham closes with the first stanza of an old German poem, “Triumph der Liebe,” that reads:

Blessed by love Gods

 – through love men are equal to gods!

Love makes heaven heavenly

– the earth into the kingdom of heaven

William E. Jelf (1811-1875) sees the Apostle John adding one more argument to those he already offered. It involves the nature of love and the relationship between the two, showing the necessary connection between God’s agápē and human love. These are essential elements of Christian character and conditions of salvation and God’s plan of redemption. He now speaks of it as a positive command from God, apart from any logical or moral necessity for viewing as implied and implying each other, that whoever pretends to God’s agápē should love their Christian brothers and sisters.[11]

Richard H. Tuck (1817-1868) senses that the Apostle John is summarizing, in a vivid form, the truth and the duty contained in verses ten and eleven. In Jesus’ view, neighborly love is inseparable from God’s agápē, a distinguishing and essential mark. Sight is the significant provocative of love. The difficulty of loving God as an unseen Divine Being is compensated for by God’s manifestation of His Son in the flesh. We find this commandment embedded in our Lord’s synopsis of genuine love for God and others.[12] John doesn’t want his readers to think you can fool God by making Him feel they love Him when they are disgusted with their neighbors.[13]

John Stock (1817-1884) summarizes this chapter’s cheerful summary. He says that Love’s sole component is in heaven. One day, only among redeemed sinners will it perfectly exist. But until then, amidst all the various hindrances to its growth, it lives in death, shines in the darkness, and surmounts inward corruption. The possessor of it exclaims with glad surprise, “Salvation belongs to the Lord,”[14]I can do all things through the Anointed One, who gives me strength.”[15]Although I start out feeling faint; though I’m knocked down, I’m not knocked out; but have a vitality that mocks death and sustained by my Lord, who is the Resurrection and the Life;”[16] Who else can say to His militant and oppressed people,  “Because I live, you will also live; be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”[17] [18]

George G. Findlay (1819-1919) points out that verses seven through twenty-one form the longest paragraph in the Apostle John’s First Epistle. There is no interruption in the current of thought, and our sectional division at this point is artificial. The mind of God is plainly shown in this all-important matter. The duty is not left to interpretation, nor does it stand barefoot on reason and politeness; it operates in a calculated and distinct order: “This commandment we have from Him, that those who love God should also love their brother and sister.” This is the sum of “the commandments” illustrated by Jesus’ perfect life,[19] the “old and new commandment[20] which governs God’s whole will for mankind from first to last.

Findlay goes on to say that the command attends the movements of faith at every step.[21] It is enforced by every obligation we owe to God and every relationship that associates us with our brethren in the congregation of the Anointed One. God forbids us to love Him unless we love our brethren: all narrower love He rejects as fake and ineffective. The Father will not give His agápē to the unbrotherly any more than to non-members of God’s family. The Head of the Church rejects the affection that pretends to focus on others when it is on oneself. To offer God a restricted love is to attribute our selfishness to Him and to make Him a monopoly within His universe – the Father whose name is Love and whose nature it is to “give generously to all without finding fault.”[22] The person who proposes this reverence to their Maker “has neither seen Him nor known Him.”[23] [24]


[1] 1 John 4:21

[2] Ibid 3:23

[3] Candlish, Robert S., First Epistle of John, op. cit., pp. 162-163;171-172

[4] Huther, Johann E., Critical and Exegetical Handbook, op. cit., p. 596

[5] Whedon, Daniel D., Commentary of the Bible, op. cit., p. 278

[6] Matthew 22:37-39

[7] Alford, Henry: Critical and Exegetical Commentary, op. cit., p. 406

[8] 1 John 2:8; 3:11; John 13:34; 15:12

[9] Graham, William, A Practical and Exegetical Commentary on the First Epistle of John, op. cit., p. 297

[10]Der Triumph der Liebe,” Poem by Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller (1759-1805), Anthology (collection of poems) for the Year 1762. Schiller was a German poet, philosopher, physician, historian, and playwright.

[11] Jelf, William E., First Epistle of St. John, op. cit., p. 68

[12] Matthew 22:37-39

[13] Tuck, Richard H., Preacher’s Complete Homiletical Commentary, op. cit., p. 310

[14] Psalm 3:8

[15] Philippians 4:13

[16] John 11:25

[17] Ibid. 14:19; 16:33

[18] Stock, John: Exposition of the First Epistle of John, op. cit., p. 395

[19] 1 John 2:4-6

[20] Ibid. 2:7-11

[21] Ibid. 3:23-24

[22] James 1:5

[23] 1 John 3:6

[24] Findlay, George G., An Exposition of the Epistles of St. John, op. cit., Chap. XXII, p, 358

About drbob76

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