WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER FIVE (Lesson XI) 10/10/22

5:2 So you can find out how much you love God’s children – your brothers and sisters in the Lord – by how much you love and obey God.

Catholic theologian George Haydock (1778-1862) shares that we must all know why we love God’s children. Of course, all mankind, especially the faithful, whom He chose as His adoptive children. When we love God and keep His commandments, these two branches of kindness, love for God and our neighbor, are inseparable: the one is known and proved by the other.[1]

William Lincoln (1788-1844) focuses on the first two verses in this fifth chapter; an important opinion is put in a two-fold form, as is frequently done in Scripture. It means if a person says they love God, God says, you will love My people then; or if an individual proclaims that they love God’s people, God says, You will love Me, who as a Father, loves His children. Therefore, you must love my other children as well. Thus, we see that the Apostle John comes at it from both sides. Do not, beloved friends, think that the double exhibition of the truth is not needed; it is sorely needed.

You see, in some minds, says Lincoln, there is a tendency to put too much weight on one approach. For instance, many worship God only on Sundays. On top of that, we all know our “Christian principles” [2] as outlined in the Gospels. Now we have people who are either too strict or too lax. Some put too much emphasis on loving their fellow believers; they forget about God; or make such a fuss over loving God that they ignore their spiritual brothers and sisters. Both sides are wrong. Who would feel comfortable fellowshipping with those who believe they are better than all the rest? Loving one’s spiritual brothers and sisters in the Lord is on the same level.

The Apostle John combined these two factors in the first two verses of this fifth chapter. You love the child if you love the parent. On the other side, you love the parent by loving their child. We must be on guard for any danger, either excessive liberality or having no preference for either view. We must be careful where anything concerning the truth, honor, person and the work of the Lord Jesus is involved. For Lincoln, he observed the devil’s influence in breaking up God’s people over the doctrine that sought to eliminate eternal punishment.

Albert Barnes (1798-1870) points out that it is universally true that if we love Him who birthed us, we also love our spiritual brothers and sisters because they are His children. In other places, the Apostle John says that we may know that we love God if we love those He birthed in His image.[3] However, there is another way of determining what we are. If we feel that we love God, we might conclude that we possess love for His children. We may be conscious of it, find pleasure in meditating on it, and feel sure that we are motivated to obey Him by being in union with Him as our heavenly Father.

But how does this prove that we genuinely love His children? Is it not easier to determine this by itself than it is to decide whether we love God? To this, it may be answered that we may love Christians because of many motives: we may love them as personal friends; we may love them because they belong to our church, sect, or party; we may love them because they are naturally amiable: but the apostle says here, that when we are conscious that an attachment does exist towards Christians, we may ascertain that it is genuine, or that it does not proceed from any improper motive, by the fact that we love God. Consequently, we will love them as His children, whatever other grounds of affection there may be towards them.[4]

Lincoln concludes we must all stand up for God and His Word. We must keep our eye on the Lord. Individuals will not listen to sound preaching because of some philosophical rule invented by those who love unfounded propositions. We should hear both sides, but they all must be in harmony with God’s Word. So, it is when John says that if we love Him who gave us new birth, we must love all those for whom He did the same. Here, we see the working of divine life on both sides.[5]

Richard Rothe (1799-1867) finds that the Apostle John’s appeal to practicing brotherly love ends here.[6] It came to a close by pointing to the fact that love for each other is indispensable in proving the genuineness of one’s love for God. John now declares that genuine agápē has loving God as its premise, just as love for God is the basis for loving one another. John derives this position directly from the thought of the previous verse, from which it logically follows. If Christians love their neighbor as one born of God, this is impossible without their loving God simultaneously. Therefore, it is considered normal for a Christian to love their neighbor. As one is likewise born of God, the believer loves their neighbor like a spiritual brother or sister. To expose this connection, John does not write “fellow believers” but “God’s children.” [7]

Heinrich A. W. Meyer (1800-1882) says that verse two reverses what chapter four outlines. There, the thought is: “If we love our spiritual brothers and sisters, we may be sure that we love God.” But here, in verse fourteen, we have: “If we love God, we may know that we love our spiritual brothers and sisters.” The explanation of this change seems to be twofold: First, it is a case similar to that in the Christian life.[8] The proof moves in both directions. Secondly, John desires to bring out the inseparable connection between love for our spiritual brothers and sisters and devotion to God: If we love God, we love God’s family. That verifies that whenever we love God, which is real and genuine so that we keep His commandments, it comes with the awareness that we also love our spiritual brothers and sisters in God’s family.” [9]

Robert Jamieson (1802-1880), Andrew Fausset (1821-1910), and David Brown (1803-1897) look at the Apostle John’s inquiry on how we know that we love God’s children? It depends on our love for spiritual brothers and sisters, which is a sign of our love for God. Not only that, but our love for God is tested by “keeping His commandments,” which is the ground and only valid basis of our love for them. John does not mean the outward criteria of genuine brotherly love but the inward spiritual standards. The consciousness of our love for God manifests itself in the satisfactory keeping of His commandments. When we have this inwardly and outwardly confirmed love for God, we can be sure that we genuinely love God’s children. At one time, Christians believed that love for one’s spiritual brother or sister came after our love for God. But recently, they began accepting that love for one’s fellow believers came before[10] love for God.[11] [12]

Johann Eduard Huther (1807-1880) notes that the difficulty of interpreting when the Apostle John speaks of keeping the commandments as evidence of loving God[13] now presents the opposite relationship. John makes the cause (love for God) the effect of loving our fellow believers. The explanation is that these two elements, “love for God” and “love for God’s children,” prove one another. John makes it clear that love for God shows itself in obeying His commandment to love one another. This obedience, rooted in love for God, is equally tied to brotherly love because God’s commandments include the duties we owe to each other. Therefore, those who regard it as mandatory to fulfill God’s commandments possess evidence that they love their Christian spiritual brothers and sisters. It means their love for them is not mere appearance but a reality. Let us further observe that the first use of agápē is not related to expressing what is imagined, wished, or possible. Neither is it futuristic in scope. Instead, it is used to describe actions that take place in the present or which occur regularly.[14]

Daniel D. Whedon (1808-1885) points out that the Apostle John said earlier that our love for fellow Christians proves our love for God.[15] Here, he states that our love for God proves our love for each other. The first goes in the order of effect to cause; the second goes from cause to effect. Obediently following the commandments is the external form of expressing our love for God.[16]

Henry Alford (1810-1871) sees how inseparable loving God and loving others seem. Earlier,[17] the Apostle John declared that our love for each other was a sign and necessary condition for loving God. Now here, we validate our love for God by keeping His commandments. That is a measure of our love for God’s children. Both are in the present tense, followed by the other. By this, we know that we love God’s children.[18]

William Graham (1810-1883) asks, “How do we know that we love God’s children?” We find the answer here in verse two, which gives us two infallible proofs of this brotherly love: First, by loving God. And second, by loving His children. So closely are the children united to the Father, and so thoroughly is the Father’s image etched in their hearts that in the assurance of your love for Him, you are confident of your love for them. The Apostle John finds it impossible to love God and not love or despise His children; therefore, he makes loving God the ground or foundation for loving His family.

Graham has a message for those pretenders wrapped up in their heavenly enthusiastic, and delightful emotions of divine love who do not take the time to consider the needs and the weaknesses of their spiritual brothers and sisters. For Graham, such spiritual bliss is a delusion of the human mind spawned by the devil and will not withstand the fire of God’s righteous judgment. Keep in mind God’s love is not some tender, dreamy emotion. On the contrary, agápē is a strong and impulsive current that flows out of the believer’s heart into acts of faith and labor of love to all who are within its reach.[19]

William E. Jelf (1811-1875) finds love for God and His children so closely connected that loving our spiritual brothers and sisters is not self-enhancing love done to please oneself. Instead, if we love God, we know that we love our fellow believers in union with the Anointed One for His sake. Jelf wants to prevent anyone from feeling that love for God is an experiment. So, the Apostle shows that there is another test to be applied before we can be sure of the reality and purity of our love for others in that it gives us a solid commitment to keep His commandments. Hence, the message is clear: those who love their spiritual brothers and sisters prove their love for God by practicing that love through obeying God’s command to love one another.[20]


[1] Haydock, George L., Catholic Bible Commentary, N. T., op. cit., p. 519

[2] These beliefs and practices of the Plymouth Brethren churches reflect their early influences. They accept no creed but the teaching of the New Testament and stress obedience to Jesus the Anointed One and a simple way of life. Like their Anabaptist forerunners, they reject infant baptism in favor of adult baptism.

[3] 1 John 3:14

[4] Barnes, Albert: New Testament Notes, op. cit., p. 4873

[5] Lincoln, William, Lectures on the Epistles of St. John, op. cit., Lecture VIII, p 141

[6] See 1 John 3:10

[7] Rothe, Richard: Exposition of the First Epistle of St. John, op. cit., January 1895, p. 175

[8] See 1 John 4:16

[9] Meyer, Heinrich A. W., Critical Exegetical Handbook New Testament, op. cit., Vol.10, p. 811

[10] 1 John 4:20

[11] Ibid. 5:2

[12] Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, New Testament Volume, op, cit., pp. 728-729

[13] Cf. 1 John 2:3; 4:20-21

[14] Huther, Johann E., Critical and Exegetical Handbook on General Epistles, op. cit., pp. 601-602

[15] 1 John 4:12

[16] Whedon, Daniel D., Commentary of the New Testament, op. cit., p.

[17] 1 John 4:20

[18] Alford, Henry: The Greek Testament, Vol. IV, op. cit., p. 497

[19] Graham, William: The Spirit of Love, op. cit., pp. 308-309

[20] Jelf, William: Commentary on the First Epistle of St. John, op. cit., p. 60

About drbob76

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