WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER FOUR (Lesson CXLVIX) 08/29/22

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

John Phillips (1927-2010) says that the Apostle John will let us not get away with nothing less than agápē. He turns from the logic of love to the law of love: “God gave us this command: If we love God, we must also love each other as spiritual brothers and sisters.” It is not a suggestion; it is a command. Love, in the Bible, is not so much emotional as volitional. The Lord Jesus summed up the entire Torah in two commandments and, in so doing, reduced all of life’s obligations to the twofold law of love. We are to love God with all our hearts, minds, souls, and strength and love the other fellow as much as we love ourselves.[1] The reason behind this mandatory command is that this is the only way we can show our love for God. We can’t hug, kiss, or look tenderly at Him because He is invisible. But we can do all that when we love those in whom He dwells.

David E. Hiebert (1928-1995) states that the formulated command, “the one who loves God should love their Christian brother and sister also,” asserts that you cannot separate true love from its Godward and manward qualities. The command refutes the heretical claim that some love God while hating their fellow believers. The present tenses indicate that this is a continuing obligation. The opening “That” is generally taken as simply telling the contents of the command. The final particle “that” gives more than the simple contents of the commandment. It marks the injunction as directed toward a goal; and implies that the effort to obtain it can never be relaxed.”[2] So, John suggested we condemn those who fail to utilize agápē while hating their spiritual brothers and sisters.[3]

Warren W. Wiersbe (1929-2019) says that the Apostle John makes it crystal clear that spiritual honesty brings peace and power to the person who practices it. They do not need to record the lies they’ve told and do not use all their energy to cover it up. Because they live in open honesty with the Father, he can live in honesty with other people. Love and truth go together. Because they know God loves Him and accepts Him (even with all their faults), they are not trying to impress others. They love God and, therefore, love their fellow Christians.

Wiersbe then shares this clinical illustration. A college student’s grades were far below his usual performance, and his health seemed to fail. Therefore, his new roommate was concerned about him and persuaded him to talk to the campus psychologist. “I can’t figure myself out,” the young man admitted. “Last year, I was sailing through school, and this year it is like fighting a war.” “You’re not having trouble with your new roommate, are you?” the counselor asked. The student did not reply immediately, which gave the counselor a clue. “Young man, are you concentrating on living your life as a good student or trying to impress your new roommate with your abilities?” “Yeah, I guess that’s it,” the sophomore answered with a sigh of relief. “I’ve worn myself out acting and haven’t had enough energy left for living.” Confidence toward God and honesty with others are two marks of maturity that are bound to show up when our love for God matures toward perfection.[4]

Stephen S. Smalley (1931-2018) says that here the Apostle John gathers up all that he has been saying in this section about love, as a condition for living as God’s children, by reaffirming the love command given throughout the previous verses.[5] It now becomes defined as a spiritual necessity in the life of a Christian believer, which is also “an accelerated acquisition” to fulfill the urging of John here in verse twenty-one.[6] John has already articulated the command to love.[7] But his restatement of the ordinance here is no mere repetition. (a) It gains force and precision in the light of his description so far of the source,[8] inspiration, and practice of love. (b) The apostle speaks positively of the need to love God and others for the first time in this epistle.[9]

Dwight Moody Smith (1931-2016) says that a good strategy in preaching from this text would be to pick it up at the end where the Apostle John’s gripping and graphic denial that Christians can love the invisible God if they do not love their highly visible spiritual brothers or sisters.[10] John has a gift for stating first principles briefly but memorably; this is a prime example. Next, one may move back to where John articulates God’s agápē for us[11] and then move forward to mutual love in Jesus.[12] All the verses in-between may then be viewed as an elaboration upon the fundamental truth that “God loved us first;”[13]. After introducing the theme of judgment, John addresses the possibility of fear. Since one of his overarching purposes is to reassure the reader, he wants to stress the absence of fear for the one who is perfected or fulfilled in love. This emphasis on the positive side of judgment is entirely consistent with the nature of the Gospel itself: This is good news, not bad.[14]

Edward J. Malatesta (1932-1998) says that in verse twenty-one, John rephrases the relationship between God’s agápē and love for our Christian spiritual brothers and sisters. It also reintroduces the theme of the commandment, last mentioned in 1 John 3:24. It is like tying a string around a bale of hay to keep it from unraveling. The Apostle John uses the Greek verb agapaō in the present active sense, which many translators have rendered as “must love.” So, it is not a choice; it is a command, and obeying a declaration is necessary to stay in harmony with the one who gave the order.[15]

John Painter (1935) notes that the Apostle John asserts that “this is the commandment that we have from Him.” Many have taken sides as to whether John meant God or Jesus. It didn’t matter in John’s mind because both were God. John announces the commandment to those who claim to love God. We see the content of the commandment in the Greek conjunction hina (“that”) and the following verb “that he loves his fellow believer also.” There is no command to love God here that the person who loves God (or claims to) is the basis for the assumption to love one’s, fellow believers.

We may suppose, says Painter, that when John refers to “the person loving God,” he has in mind the one who says, “I love God.[16] I should remind a person of the command “that they love their fellow believer also.” On top of that, the idiom of loving one another has been dominant.[17] Yet reference to “his brother” returns here in verses twenty and twenty-one. The theme of loving and hating “his brother” first appeared in 2:9-11. 1 John 3:10 tells us about the identifying marks of God’s children and the devil’s offspring. The example of Cain, who murdered his brother, exemplifies the world’s hatred for the children of God.[18] In other words, it is like hating your brother as Cain did Abel. Here the opponents stand thinly veiled as part of the devil’s brood. John now turns from his positive exposition of the source and character of the command to love one another in combating his opponents’ false claims. Instead, he specifies that those who claim to love God should also love their spiritual brothers and sisters.[19]

James Montgomery Boice (1938-2000) reminds us that in verses thirteen to sixteen, John developed the first of two ideas introduced in verse twelve, First, the indwelling of the Christian by God. Now he returns to the second of those two ideas, the perfection of love, and explains what he means practically. Consequently, we might wonder how God’s agápē could be perfected in us or anywhere else. Many aspects of perfection exist, but John singles out two such possibilities. First, there is confidence because of God’s coming judgment in verses seventeen and eighteen. Second, there is the love of fellow believers in verses nineteen to twenty-one.

Boice notes that at the beginning of this chapter, someone asked the question, which is the most important of John’s three tests: righteousness, love, or truth? We answered that love was the most important, but at this point, we have several additional insights for knowing – why. First, we need love most, particularly in evangelical churches. These have sound doctrine, at least to a point. There is a measure of righteousness. But often, sadly, there is very little love. Without it, however, there is no actual demonstration of the life of the Anointed One within true worship of the Father.

***The second reason is that Jesus listed love in the first and second of the commandments. The first commandment is love for God.[20] The second is love for one another.[21] Therefore, the two properly belong together. As Jesus said, “The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”[22] The third reason is that the realization of this double love in us for God and humanity was the object of the Anointed One’s coming. John seems to speak about this in the opening verses of the letter when he says, “We proclaim to you that we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and His Son, Jesus the Anointed One.”[23] John’s proclamation that the Anointed One has come was so that those who hear of His incarnation might believe in Him. By this, they learn to love God and one another.[24] 


[1] Phillips, John: Exploring the First Epistle of John, op. cit., p. 158

[2] Westcott, Brooke Foss: The First Epistle of St. John, op. cit., p. 162

[3] Hiebert, David E., Bibliotheca Sacra, op. cit., January-March 1990, p 88

[4] Wiersbe, Warren W., Be Real: Turning from Hypocrisy to Truth (The BE Series Commentary), op. cit., pp. 158-159

[5] 1 John 4:17-20

[6] See 1 John 2:7-10; 3:10-23

[7] Note 1 John 3:23; cf. 4:7, 11

[8] 1 John 4:7-20

[9] Smalley, Stephen, S., Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 51, op. cit., p. 264

[10] 1 John 4:20

[11] Ibid. 4:18

[12] Ibid. 4:21

[13] Ibid. 4:19

[14] Smith, D. Moody. First, Second, and Third John: Interpretation, op. cit., pp. 116-117

[15] Malatesta, Edward J., Interiority and Covenant, op. cit. p. 297

[16] See 1 John 4:20

[17] Ibid. 3:23; see 4;7, 11, 12

[18] Ibid. 3:12-17

[19] Painter, John. Sacra Pagina: 1, 2, and 3 John: Vol. 18, loc. cit.

[20] Deuteronomy 6:4

[21] Leviticus 19:18

[22] Matthew 22:40

[23] 1 John 4:3

[24] Boice, James Montgomery: The Epistles of John, op. cit., pp. 121-122

About drbob76

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