WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER FOUR (Lesson CXLVIII) 08/26/22

4:20If anyone says, “I love God,” but keeps hating their spiritual brothers or sisters, 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?

Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981) says that if we are not enjoying these full benefits of the Christian life and experience, as the Apostle John has explained, that is undoubtedly the first need for self-examination. Start with the fellow Christians you see; start with the person right before you. If you cannot love them, ask God to help you; humbly confess your failure and sin. Tell them about the hatred in your heart, expose it to yourself, and ask God to help you get rid of it, take it out of you, and then flood You with His agápē.

Don’t stop, says Lloyd-Jones; keep going to God until you have conquered and gotten rid of it, and the moment you love your spiritual brothers and sisters, you will find your fellowship and communion with God restored. As you bask in the sunshine of His face, it will fill your life with His agápē. Love is not a sentiment; it ultimately means having a close relationship with God. My God cries out Lloyd-Jones, give us the grace, to be honest with ourselves, examine and search ourselves, and not allow the devil to delude and fool us. You don’t want to be called a liar. Instead, let us humbly before God examine ourselves and thus rid ourselves of these hindrances to the whole experience of the communion and the fellowship of God and the joy of His salvation. [1]

Ronald Ralph Williams (1906-1970) feels that the Apostle John sees this relationship with God’s children as a source of confidence that even the coming day of judgment cannot destroy. What he seems to mean is this: God’s agápē, having flowed to us through the Anointed One, reaches its climax when it flows through us to others. This is, for us, the perfection of love.[2] It means there is an apparent similarity between our situation in this world and the circumstances the Anointed One faced when God’s agápē flowed through Him to all humanity.

Knowing this (however imperfect) makes fear for the future impossible – perfect love banishes fear. The thought is very much like that of Paul’s contemplation of what can separate us from the love of the Anointed One.[3]   Nothing in all creation can separate us from God’s agápē in the Anointed One, Jesus our Lord. “Fear,” we read, brings with it the terror of judgment.[4] It anticipates and makes real the pains it fears and awaits. John correctly sees that such an attitude indicates a faulty love relationship with God.[5]

William Barclay (1907-1978) has a lot to say about the Apostle John’s message in the final section of this fourth chapter. He says that because these verses are so closely interwoven, it is best to read them as part of a larger thought. John points out that Love has its origin in God, offering a double relationship with God. It is only by knowing God that we learn to love, and by loving, we learn to know God. In other words, love comes from God, and love leads back to God. To love God doesn’t mean we need to see Him; no one has ever seen God. But, just like the wind, we can see it in His effect on people. You do not need to see electricity from a socket before you have faith to plug in and receive it. However, God demonstrated His agápē in Jesus His Son. Therefore, let us keep our eyes on Him. It is a love that holds nothing back. It is an undeserved love, especially to wretched and disobedient creatures like ourselves.[6]

Noted hymn writer and theologian Frederick William Faber (1814-1863) expresses this same thought in a hymn he wrote:

He, whom no praise can reach, is affirmed

Men’s least attempts approving;

Whom justice makes all merciful

Omniscience makes all-loving.

How Thou canst think so well of us,

Yet be the God Thou art, is

Darkness to my intellect,

But sunshine to my heart.

Yet habits linger in the soul;

More grace, O Lord! more grace!

More sweetness from Thy loving Heart,

More sunshine from Thy Face![7]

But we must not forget, says Barclay, that human love responds to God’s agápē because He loved us first. And when this agápē fills our hearts and minds, fear of future judgment is driven away and fades. Let us always remember, however, that God did not share this agápē to obligate us to love Him. No, it was given to us by Him so we could also love our fellow believers and sinners. This energy of love discharges itself along the lines of a triangle,[8] God at the top, ourselves on the bottom left, our fellow saints on the bottom right, and then right back to God. This is the only way, says the Apostle John, to show that God lives within our hearts.[9]

GOD

Ourselves Saints

William Neil (1909-1979) So, if love becomes the ruling principle in our lives, we live in union with God, and the Day of judgment can hold no terror for us. Loving God and loving others are two sides of the same coin. If there is no charity in our hearts and actions while claiming to live for God, we are living a lie and defying our Lord’s Commandment to love one another.[10]

In this letter, F. F. Bruce (1910-1990) John has already emphasized that brotherly love characterizes the children of God. To hate one’s brother is to proclaim one’s kinship with Cain.[11] Here the same lesson is emphasized afresh, and the test of love is applied. Where God’s agápē or our love for God is mentioned, John makes no distinction between the Father and the Son. Alike in loving others and being loved by them in return, the Son and the Father are one.[12]

The Apostle Peter also speaks of the Anointed One, “whom, not having seen.”[13] John agrees but adds that love for the unseen One will be attested by love for His people whom we do see. So much verbal expression of devotion for the person of the Anointed One can coexist with remarkably unchristian attitudes towards the children of God, and John’s comment on this inconsistency is sharp and undisguised. In this, he is at one with his Master, who declared that behavior towards His brethren will be counted as behavior towards Himself in the judgment.[14] Those whose lives are marked by a lack of love in this regard may well have a sense of anxiety as they look forward to the day of the final review.[15]

Rudolf Schnackenburg (1914-2002) points out that along with the reasoned argument about loving one another comes the positive command of God here in verse twenty-one. It shows that mutual love is unconditional. The Gospels’ permanent bond between loving God and loving the neighbor is called “the great commandment.”[16] But since this verse operates precisely with this inner bond, the Apostle John must be referring to this tradition and not to John 13:34, as he did in 1 John 2:7ff. He brings the Synoptic report into conformity with his new commandment. Love of neighbor becomes the love of brother and sister.

The latter is seen as a concrete application of the former to the life of the Johannine community. In the Greek text, verse twenty-one begins with the Greek conjunction kai (“and”) omitted from New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). This forms a close connection with verse twenty. At the same time, this verse serves as a valuable early Christian commentary on the double commandment of love as preached by Jesus. Speaking only for the community, the Apostle John is convinced he has understood Jesus correctly in proclaiming mutual love as a necessary requirement and an unquestionable seal of one’s love for God.[17]

John R. W. Stott (1921-2010) The folly of the liar’s position is seen in its characteristic inconsistency and in the fact that love for God and love for our brothers and sisters form one command.[18] Jesus taught this. He united Deuteronomy 6:4 and Leviticus 19:18 and declared that all the Law and the Prophets are anchored in them.[19] So we may not separate what Jesus has joined. Besides, if we love God, we will keep His commands,[20] and His order is to love our neighbor as we want to be loved.[21]


[1] Lloyd-Jones, Martyn: Life in the Anointed One, op. cit., p. 559

[2] See 1 John 4:17

[3] Romans 8:35-39

[4] 1 John 4:18

[5] William, Ronald R., The Letters of John and James, op. cit., p. 51

[6] Hebrews 12:2

[7] Hymns selected from Frederick William Faber, published by Bridgman and Childs, Northampton, 1869 Harsh Judgments, “O God, Whose Thoughts are Brightest Light,” p. 73

[8] See 1 John 4:16

[9] Barclay, William: The Daily Study Bible, op. cit., pp. 109-111

[10] Neil, William: Harper’s Bible Commentary, op. cit., p. 529

[11] 1 John 3:12

[12] Cf. John 10:30

[13] 1 Peter 1:8

[14] Matthew 25:31-46

[15] Bruce, F. F., The Epistles of John: A Verse-by-Verse Exposition. Kingsley Books, Inc. Kindle Edition.

[16] Matthew 22:37-40

[17] Schnackenburg, Rudolf: The Johannine Epistles, op. cit., pp. 226-227

[18] Cf. 1 John 3:23

[19] Matthew 22:37-40

[20] 1 John 2:5; 5:3

[21] Stott, John. The Letters of John (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries), op. cit., p. 171

About drbob76

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