WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER FOUR (Lesson CXLVI) 08/24/22

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

William Kelly (1822-1888) concludes that the Apostle John impressed believers that loving our brethren is not merely the instinct of the new nature but what God insists on as obedience to Him. What is there for us holier than obedience? What humbler? Is anything more becoming, more Christlike, than obedience? It is the place which the Anointed One fulfilled in all its perfection, even by giving up His life in His perfect love to us. “I received this commandment from my Father.”[1] Did it being the Father’s command make it annoying to the Anointed One? No, whatever it cost, this was an added and immense delight to our Lord Jesus. His perfect love and the commandment of His Father combined in it, and the same appeal comes to us in loving the children of God. Not only should our hearts go out in love, but we know that we are pleasing God and doing His will. Let us not forget that He joins us by loving Him and His other children and will not have the first without the last. If it is His agápē and honor, let it be our love and duty because He loves us each with the same perfect love.[2]

James Nisbet (1823-1874) states that it does not take a whole nation or an entire Church to turn from sin and set itself to serve Almighty God to attract His attention. There is joy in heaven for one sinner that repents.[3] Instead, let’s think of God’s agápē for each individual’s soul He revealed in His work and His teaching on earth. Again and again, it must impact us as we read the Gospels when we see how our Lord thought it worthwhile to give Himself wholly and concentrate His full attention for the time on one person. And so, though at times our Blessed Lord indeed preached to the great multitudes – that He would work His miracles before thousands – yet we know that the souls our Lord saved were saved one by one with infinite love, tender care, and incredible patience.

We learn that only one was saved of all those who stood around Calvary, and that was the confessing thief. Our Lord turned His thought, love, and care into a lost soul in His suffering. The text tells us that we will also love our Christian spiritual brothers and sisters if we love God. Let’s try to communicate with the individual, the solitary man or woman. They are all so different and need such different kinds of help.[4]

George MacDonald (1824-1905) was a Scottish author, poet, and Christian minister who wrote works on Christian theology, including several collections of sermons. On the subject of love for God produces love for others, MacDonald had this short but eye-catching comment: “When God comes to one person, they immediately look around for their neighbor to love.”[5]

Daniel Steele (1824-1914) comments that Bible scholars have found it difficult to determine in this verse and several other passages whether John is speaking of the Son or the Father. Both are authors of this command.[6] But this effort is not without doctrinal significance. It argues that the Apostle thoroughly believed in the supreme Godhead of the Incarnate Son of God, who shared His Father’s glory before the world existed. If John thought that the Son of God was a mere human creature and not a divine God-Man, he would not confuse the Son with His Father’s personality.[7]

Brooke F. Westcott (1825-1901) confirms his view by saying that the context makes it probable that, though the Divine Person is not clearly defined, the reference is to the Father,[8] who, by sending His Son, showed the way of love. The Anointed One gave the commandment in substance,[9] but it came from the Father as its source.[10] (Contrast the use of the Greek preposition para, meaning “heard of,”[11]received of,”[12] and “desired of.”)[13] Not only that, but the final particle “that” gives more than the simple contents of the commandment. It marks the command as directed to an aim; and implies that the effort to obtain it can never be relaxed.[14] [15] I find all this debate over whether Jesus was the author of this command or His heavenly Father clarified by the Anointed One Himself, “I did not speak on My own, but the Father who sent Me commanded Me to say all that I have spoken.”[16]

Henry A. Sawtelle (1832-1913) sees verse twenty-one as the capstone to this theme of God’s agápē as the source of our love. The Apostle John makes it clear that it is from God; it may be through the Anointed One and remembered by John as coming from his Master’s lips. It is not the commandment embraced in the summary of the law,[17] as claimed by Henry Alford (1810-1871), for that relates to our neighbor, our fellowman in general; the love-command of the Anointed One relates to the inner circle of regenerate men and women, our relatives in the Anointed One. The word “that” introduces the significance of the commandment and its goal. Those loving God must love their brother or sister from gratitude,[18] and the divine pattern and nature of love itself, from a common sense principle![19] and now from the strong command which directly expresses God’s will in the matter.[20]

John James Lias (1834-1923) says it is easy to say we love God, but it is often not proven because we cannot see Him. We do not know Him. We may persuade ourselves that we love Him, but we may be deceiving ourselves. Persuasion, in most cases, is but a form of words. The actual proof of our love for God is the possession of His agápē. We will render it back to Him through others if we possess it. If we own it, we will provide proof. And this can only be done by displaying it. Therefore, our life must be first a struggle with, then a victory over, all that is inconsistent with love. All selfishness, pride, prejudice, and littleness must be controlled. All so-called holiness isolation must, as far as possible, be overcome. Tenderness, thoughtfulness, willingness to yield, and care for the happiness of others rather than ourselves, such as the Anointed One showed, are the signs of His presence within. If we love God, we must use agápē, for God is agápē.[21]

Robert Cameron (1839-1904) wants us to remember that our love for our spiritual brothers and sisters is not naturally attained but a divine gift that tests our relationship with God. If we belong to God, we love with God’s agápē. This agápē will go out to persons and things, not as they are attractive to us, but as they are attractive to Him. Each person was so beloved by God that He gave His Son to die for His sake, so He could reconcile the world to Himself. That same agápē in us will lead to the same devotion and sacrifice. The law could not produce love in us by all its threats and thunder. But God put to death the old life of hatred for the Anointed One and conveyed a new life, and every fiber of its being inspires us to love as He did.[22]

Erich Haupt (1841-1910) says some may think that there is one way of loving God directly, that, namely, of keeping His commandments the way of obedience. But verse twenty-one explains that this method of loving God is not an alternative, for it is God s express commandment that we love our spiritual brothers and sisters. Indeed, the words do not indicate that this is the only commandment we have received, for if John says, “He [God] has given us this command.” that does not hinder us from supposing that, besides the one in question, we have many others. But yet, strictly speaking, the precept of brotherly and sisterly love is the fulfillment of the Law.[23]

Ernst Hermann von Dryander (1843-1922) points out that the previous seven verses permit us to consider the subject of love from a somewhat different point of view, for perfect love directed to God also comprises a fear lest we should fail to exercise devotion to other believers. Have you ever considered, says Dryander, that on Judgment Day, we must account not only for sins of commission but also for sins of omission? And what sin of omission can weigh more heavily and pain than unfulfilled love? Think of the small circle of your household – spouse, children, brothers, and sisters; perhaps it was during the saddest moment of your life, at a death-bed, by a grave-side, that the awful thought flashed upon you, “I never told them how much I loved them.” Who among us can say they are not lacking in deeds of love even towards those they love most?

Think, says Dryander, again, of that wider circle – the community in which you live – the careful observer will, without fail, notice one thing: the numberless cases of want and sorrow resulting from love being withheld. Every offense against a brother or sister is a poisonous seed from which the fruit of hate is grown. Couldn’t we have laid bare the roots from which anger and hatred draw power and strength? No matter how often we see these roots were developed in refusals to love, opportunities of loving disregarded, cries of pity unheeded, and acts of mercy left undone. Just like the rich man who saw the beggar Lazarus in Abraham’s arms, he was unconcerned and uncaring while poor Lazarus lay groaning at his gate![24] The time is short, our task is essential, and the thought of neglecting our present opportunity is terrible. Today, while we can, we must love; today we must forgive and give, in love; today let holy conviction seize us, for this will make love active, burning, and zealous; then our love is perfected today, then we will have boldness, on the Day of Judgment.[25]


[1] John 10:18

[2] Kelly, William: An Exposition of the Epistle of John the Apostle, op. cit., Logos, loc. cit.

[3] Luke 15:7

[4] Nisbet, James: The Church Pulpit Commentary, op. cit., Vol. 12, pp. 310-311

[5] MacDonald, George: Biblical Illustrator, op. cit., Vol. 22, p. 186

[6] Leviticus 19:18; John 13:34

[7] Steele, Daniel, Half-Hour, 1 John 4, Sermons, op. cit., p. 420

[8] 1 John 4:19

[9] John 13:34

[10] Cf. 1 John 1:5; 2:27

[11] (“heard of”) see John 8:26 40, 43, 47

[12] See John 10:18; 1 John 3:22; Revelation 2:27

[13] 1 John 5:15

[14] Cf. John 13:34

[15] Westcott, Brooke F., The Epistles of St. John, p. 162

[16] John 12:49

[17] Matthew 22:37-39

[18] 1 John 4:11

[19] Ibid. 4:20

[20] Sawtelle, Henry A., An American Commentary, Alvah Hovey Ed., op. cit., p. 54

[21] The First Epistle of St. John with Exposition, op. cit., pp. 347-348

[22] Cameron, Robert: First Epistle of John, op., cit., loc. cit.

[23] Haupt, Erich: The First Epistle of John, op. cit., pp. 283-284

[24] Luke 16:19-31

[25] Dryander, Ernst Hermann von: Addresses on the First Epistle of John, op. cit., Lecture XIII, Logos

About drbob76

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