WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER FOUR (Lesson CXLVII) 08/25/22

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 their eyes, how can they love God whom they have never seen?

Frederick B. Meyer (1847-1929) offers the test of our love. He says, if we are willing to be channeled through which God’s agápē flows to others, there need be no limit to the fullness of that holy current. In humbleness, selflessness, and gentleness, it will become perfect. The vessel placed beneath the waterfall is filled to overflowing. Through our Savior, we know the Father who sent Him.[1] We first venture on God’s agápē by faith; afterward, we know it. We’re not afraid to affirm that God’s agápē is in us. Love is the floating fragrance of Paradise. If you love, heaven and earth will answer you in terms of love. With strong, patient, selfless love, you will remain in unbroken touch with all pure and loving souls. Where love was crucified, there was a garden. Where there is love, lonely places blossom as the rose. Don’t be afraid! Love is on! Love is constant! He is the true God and eternal life! But to allow one thought of hatred or ill-will to muddy our minds will cause your happy experience to vanish.[2]

William Sinclair (1850-1917) notes that these last three verses are a restatement, in vivid form, of the truth and the duty contained in verses ten and eleven. God made it possible for us to love Him, and the first result of our feeling this power within us and allowing it to put itself into force will be seen in pure and devout compassion for all whom we can help. As usual, hating and not loving are interchangeable members of the class of meanness. The Apostle John argues that it is much easier for human nature to be interested in what comes before its eyes than in which it has to think. Sinclair tells us that Gregory the Great said, “In love the eyes are guides,” and Œcumenius, “Sight leads on to love.”[3] However, this may be, there is a still stronger position: the simple command of God in the Anointed One.[4] [5]

James B. Morgan (1850-1942) states that it is universally admitted that the duty of loving God and our fellow believers is at once. If we met someone who denied any obligation to keep a promise, we would count them as a hypocrite and have no cause to reason with them. The perfections of God are such as to constitute a claim which cannot be refused. All graces and virtues are centered in Him. Nothing is lacking, nothing redundant, nothing out of place. “God is Spirit.” “God is Light.” “God is Love.” He deserves to be loved for His supernatural excellence. On us, however, His claims are firm. He made us, called us, chose us, redeemed us, and preserved us. So far as we know, our obligations are greater than those of angels. Every day they increase. And we ought to say with the most unreserved sincerity and earnestness, “we love Him because He loved us first.”

Everyone should be ready to own their responsibility to speak and act out of love every time. These verses are intended to test us. The test proposed is the love for one another. It is established that we cannot love God if this is missing. The Apostle John’s words are loud and clear: “If we say we love God but hate any of our spiritual brothers or sisters in His family, we are liars. If we don’t love someone we have seen, how can we love God? We have never even seen Him. Therefore, God gave us this command: If we love God, we must also love each other as spiritual brothers and sisters.”[6]

Charles Gore (1853-1932) takes note that at the close of this Epistle, we’ve passed from the thought of a Church and world conflict, or the Anointed One and the antichrist, and are now occupied with the consideration of what Christianity, the true religion, essentially is. And the point of this section is that since religion is fellowship with God, and in the Anointed One, God has revealed His essential character as love, so love – a love like the Anointed One’s – is the essence and test of true faith. Where love is, God is; and where love is not, God is not.

For the Apostle John says, Gore, it’s all about loving one another for us to love God. And since God is Love, our love for others reflects His agápē for us. It was the Father’s purpose for which He sent His only-begotten Son into the world. John lays this out in three phases: (1) that we might live through Him; (2) to be the conciliation for our sins; (3) to be the savior of the world. Each phrase has its characteristics. But God did not plan to have His Son do all these things without involving humanity. And for those who respond to His call to reconcile and be part of Him so He can be in us, and we in Him.

But above and beyond this is that we are to complete the circle of God’s agápē to us so that we can love Him back through our Christian spiritual brothers and sisters (this does not shut out nonbelievers). But for some, this became a complicated matter because of having difficulty loving those around them. So, John asks, “How can you love God whom you have not seen when you can’t bring yourself to love those you see?” This may be true for some but not all. 

Then Gore tells us that he remembers a brilliant young man more than forty years earlier who questioned John’s argument because he found no difficulty in loving people until he saw them. It was the sight that caused the problem. Gore thinks this is John’s point. It is “sight,” that is, experience, which brings our love to the test. The pragmatic trial is that we have “to love the people we don’t like.” If we fail when this practice test is applied, we prove that we do not have genuine agápē – only our natural liking with its correlated disliking. And our profession of loving God, where our love has been put to no such test, is disproven. “If we do not love our brother and sister who we can see, we cannot love God whom we have not seen.”[7]

Alonzo R. Cocke closes his commentary on this chapter by telling us that the initial text, “Beloved, let us love one another,” shines like a golden thread through this string of pearls. Beginning with “For love is of God,” it runs through every verse until John’s injunction, “They who love God love their spiritual brothers and sisters also,” which closes the precious splendid love necklace. May God’s Spirit, with a pen of light, engrave these celestial sentences upon the loving heart of the church! “God is love.”

It brings to remembrance the stirring words of the old Methodist hymn:

“‘Tis love, ‘tis love, thou diedst for me,

I hear thy whisper in my heart;

The morning breaks; the shadows flee;

Pure universal love thou art.

To me do all thy bowels move:

Thy nature and thy name is love.”[8]

Harry A. Ironside (1876-1951) leaves us with these words: Think of this the next time you feel righteous indignation against somebody. Ask, “I have often grieved the Holy Spirit; does God still love me? I have often disobeyed the Lord, yet He keeps on loving me. I have often dishonored the Father; will He give up loving me? Here’s my prayer, says Ironside, Blessed God, by Your Holy Spirit, let that same divine all-conquering agápē flood my heart, that I may never think of myself but of others for whom the Anointed One died, and be ready to give myself in devotion and loving service for their blessing, Amen. This is Christianity in action![9]

Paul E. Kretzmann (1883-1965) feels that the beauty of God’s agápē in us has an additional effect: This agápē is perfected in us, and we will have boldness on Judgment Day because just as He is, we also are in this world. Moreover, if we have embraced God’s agápē by faith, then this agápē will work in us day after day, constantly gaining in power and enthusiasm, always giving greater strength to our faith. Thus, the final result will be that, when the Day of Judgment comes, all fear will be removed from our hearts, and we shall calmly and cheerfully appear before the Throne of Judgment. We have such cheerful confidence because we rely upon God’s agápē in the Anointed One, Jesus.[10]

This trust is strengthened, notes Kretzmann, by the fact that even as the Anointed One conducted Himself, so we disciples are to behave in this world. As the Anointed One is now, as our exalted Champion, is in His glory, at the right hand of God, we, too, are with Him in spirit, even though, according to our body, we are still in this vale of sorrows. By faith, we are partakers of the glory, the life, the salvation that the Anointed One has earned for us. Our citizenship is in heaven. The Day of Judgment means for us only the entrance into our eternal inheritance.

At this point, Kretzmann says that John’s warning comes with peculiar force: Let us show love because He loved us first. We, who have experienced the great God’s agápē, who are remaining in His agápē, cannot but feel the obligation to return love for love, love toward all men. This feeling is prompted in us. After all, He loved us first because His incredible agápē in the Anointed One conquered our unwilling hearts and changed us from enemies to friends. Therefore, the more complete and perfect God’s agápē will be in our hearts, the more cheerfully our faith takes hold of it, and the more vital and vibrant our love toward God will be.[11] [12]


[1] 1 John 4:14; See John 14:9-10

[2] Meyer, Frederick B: Through the Bible Day by Day, op. cit., StudyLight

[3] Cf. 1 John 2:4; 3:17; and 4:12, 21

[4] Cf. Luke 10:27; John 13:34, 35; 14:21; 15:9, 10, 12

[5] Sinclair, William: A New Testament Commentary for English Readers, op. cit., p. 490

[6] Morgan, James B., An Exposition of the First Epistle of John, op. cit., Lecture XXXVIII, p. 375

[7] Gore, Charles: The Epistles of St. John, op. cit., pp. 186-187

[8]Come, O Thou Traveler Unknown” by Charles Wesley (1742)

[9] Ironside, Harry A., The Epistles of John and Jude, op. cit., pp. 181-182

[10] Cf. Romans 8:35-39

[11] Psalm 73:25-26

[12] Kretzmann, Paul E., Popular Commentary on the Bible, op. cit., Vol. II, pp. 574-575

About drbob76

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