By Dr. Robert R Seyda


CHAPTER FIVE (Lesson XIII) 10/12/22

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.

As the Apostle Paul declares: “How blessed is God! And what a blessing He is! He’s the Father of our Master, Jesus the Anointed One, and takes us to the high places of benefits in Him.”[1] Long before He laid down the earth’s foundations, we were on His mind;[2] the focus of His desire was to make us whole and holy by His love. Then He adopted us into His family through Jesus the Anointed One. (What pleasure He took in planning this!) He wanted us to enter the celebration of His lavish gift-giving by the hand of His beloved Son.”[3]

John James Lias (1834-1923) points out that verse two distinctly asserts the opposite of the Apostle John’s earlier proposition – we cannot love God unless we love our spiritual brothers and sisters.[4] And if we want to know if we love our Christian family members, we must first ask whether we love God. Thus, keeping God’s commandments tests our love for God. Furthermore, it is how we display our love to our neighbors. Yet, even in so prominent a duty as the display of love, we need directions.

Sometimes, says Lias, a person’s weak compliance with God’s command is often proven to be the opposite. If we want to know how to display love to our spiritual brother or sister, we must seek God’s source of our inspiration. He is love, and to do what He tells us must be to love our neighbor. If we want to know whether we plan our actions out of love, let us make God the object of all our aspirations and let His Word guide all our attempts, and we can’t go wrong. We can emphasize this truth when motivated by God’s love and following His commandments. This way, we may be sure that we are fulfilling the great duty of Christian love. We may compare the expression “do His commandments” with the still more remarkable term “do the truth.”[5] [6]

Lias also notes “The Paradoxes of Scripture.” He points out that we frequently confront possible contradictions in the Bible. For instance, King Solomon says, “Don’t answer the thoughtless arguments of fools, or you will become as foolish as they are.” Then he says, “Be sure to answer the foolish arguments of fools, or they will become wise in their estimation.” So, which is it? Then the Apostle Paul tells us to “Share each other’s burdens.” Then says, “You must each accept your responsibilities.” And most are familiar with the apparent contradiction in words between the Apostles Paul and James on faith and works.[7] Now John seems to contradict what he said in the last chapter. There, the love of our neighbor is the test of our love for God.[8]

But here, in verse two, love for God and keeping His commandments is the test of our love for our neighbor. And yet, there is no fundamental contradiction in any of these. Truth is many-sided based on context. Therefore, the contradiction becomes a compliment when every fact stays within its proper limits. I have not found any of these instances as contradictions; they represent both sides – thesis (idea or theory) and antithesis (opposite idea or theory). It helps form a synthesis (a combination of ideas from both views and theories) to create a solid understanding. It was how the United States Constitution was written and adopted.

Lias then explains that the definition of Christian love is found in certain factors: Mankind is uninformed, not knowing how to direct their steps.[9] Nor can they demonstrate love for their neighbor for the following reasons: 1. They don’t know where to look for directions because it’s outlined in God’s Holy Word, which they ignore. 2. What do the Scriptures say? God is love, and we can only carry out the principle of brotherly love by acting in His Spirit. These directions are twofold; principle and, better still, precedent, like that of Jesus the Anointed One, whom they do not know.[10] Thus a person cannot love God unless they include their neighbor. Neither can they learn how to love their neighbor unless they love God and seek direction from Him.[11]

Robert Cameron (1839-1904) asks, how can we know that we love God’s children? Only when we love God and observe His commandments. As we have seen, love for a spiritual brother or sister proves the reality of love for God. In verse two, we learn that love for God is the test of love for each other. Thus, we prove the existence of love for a spiritual brother or sister by love and obedience to our Heavenly Father’s commands. As such, compliance is possible because of the new life we possess. Now, if a person is born of God and it becomes an incentive to love, it follows that we should love all who are born again.

Consequently, we exercise our love toward fellow believers, not merely because we find them pleasant and agreeable companions but because they are our spiritual brothers and sisters. John previously stated that love for others is a sign and condition of love toward God. So here in verse two, our love for God manifested in keeping His commandments is a sign and measure of love to the children of God. It is “children” here, those in whom the divine life may have the least possible development but in whom the life indeed exists. So we may say we love the brethren we see, and therefore we love God whom we have not seen. Conversely, we may say we love God and keep His commandments; therefore, we love our spiritual brothers and sisters. The existence of one form of love is reasonable ground for assuming the presence of the other. And because of this inward experience of love and outward obedience to commandments, we come to know that we love God and love His children also.[12]

Erich Haupt (1841-1910) does not believe the Apostle John intends to show that God’s love and loving each other must go hand in hand. On the contrary, the only basis is that our relationship with God must become the standard for loving our spiritual brothers and sisters. Verses one and two, therefore, are connected as “general” and “particular” expressions of loving God and each other. The thought presented by the second verse is, however, very striking. It would be clearer if it said in verse one that our affection for one another rests upon agápē as the causa essendi.[13] But what of the causa cognoscenti[14] Has not John, at the end of verse one, explained simply that shared Christian love is the symbol of God’s agápē? But, first, let us observe that the approving mark of loving fellow believers is not God’s love itself unless connected to “keeping His commandments.”

Meanwhile, in the first part of verse three, we read about the relationship between love for God and obedience to His commandments. There we find the love for God is none other than that which approves itself in obedience. Thus, we see the exact relation between love and practical obedience in John’s Gospel: “The world must know that we love the Father. Therefore, we do exactly what the Father told us to do.”[15] [16]

In verse two, Alfred Plummer (1841-1926) finds a couple of syllogisms[17] condensed into irregular Sorites.[18] Believing the Incarnation involved God’s Son motivates loving our heavenly Father. So, to have faith that Jesus is the Messiah is to trust that a God-man fulfilled a Divine commission; that He who was born of a woman and died as a human is the Anointed One, the world’s Savior. Believing this means accepting the First and the Final Covenants and that Jesus is all He claimed to be. Thus, being equal with the Father, Jesus demands every believer must surrender themselves to Him.[19] However, it takes more than saying you believe. The Apostle James tells us that belief without love is what the demons have.[20]

To prove this, Plummer suggests that the Apostle John gave these tests: “Do you love God?” “Are you striving to obey Him?” “Is your love of others morally right”? For the characteristic phrase “keep His commandments,[21] the accurate reading seems to “do His commandments,” – a phrase which occurs nowhere else. All ancient Bible Versions[22] and several early church Fathers support this rendering. In addition, Plummer wants us to take note of the Greek particle hotan, translated as “when” in verse two, or more literally, “whenever” or “as long as.”[23]  Thus, we have fresh evidence that our compassion is Godly whenever we love and obey.[24] The Greek is in the present tense, meaning, once started, keep it going.

For Ernest von Dryander (1843-1922), the Apostle John invites us to notice how serious this demand of obedience to the Father is. It is the one and infallible sign of our fellowship with God. This indispensable condition is irreplaceable; no confession notwithstanding it being faithful; no “Lord, Lord,” though earnest; no church-going, despite being regular; no commission, and no matter how high. Nothing can take the place of obedience to the Father. Not to sin is, in other words, to obey God’s commandments. Suppose anyone at the highest level of thought revealed a new sphere of understanding of brother-to-brother, sister-to-sister, and brother-to-sister relationships in the Gospels, which opened our eyes to a holier, more profound conception of God. In that case, that man is the Apostle, John. But this same John is so intensely practical that when he wishes to show a way towards attaining a more excellent knowledge of God, he says, in simple words, “don’t sin.”

The fulfillment of this precept brings with it the knowledge of God, declares Dryander, which must be the ultimate aim of all Christians. God is not comprehended with primitive understanding, as though any simple-minded person could attain a profound knowledge of God. We can only comprehend God by the spiritual impulse we feel inside. One of the early Church scholars said, “He is only known in proportion as He is loved; He is only understood by him who becomes like Him.”[25] So that there is only one infallible sign of His fellowship: “whereby we know that we know Him if we keep His commandments.”[26]

George G. Findlay (1849-1919) taught the same principle of God’s solidarity with mankind in Jesus the Anointed One. We cannot love one another without loving God, who is Love. Such is the Apostle John’s argument contained in verse two. If our love for others proves our love for God, then loving God proves the value of loving others. In other words, loving God is impossible without loving our fellow man. Still, loving those around us is possible but is imperfect and unsure without love for God. While human affection reveals the existence and employs the energy of Divine love, it takes agápē to guard the purity and sustain the faithfulness of human respect. Indeed, some love others without regard for God – friendly, generous, courteous people who are not religious.

[1] Ephesians 1:3-6 – The Message cf. 1 Peter 1:3-4

[2] Reminds me of the song by Ronald Michael Payne, “When He Was on the Cross, I Was on His Mind,” which my favorite singer Maricris Bermont Garcia sang when I was in the Philippines.

[3] Spurgeon, Charles H., Salvation Altogether by Grace, Sermon No. 421, at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington, July 29:1866, p. 449

[4] 1 John 4:20

[5] Ibid. 1:6

[6] Lias, John James: The First Epistle of St. John with Exposition, op. cit., pp. 356-357

[7] Ephesians 2:8-9; James 2:20

[8] 1 John 4:20

[9] Proverbs 3:5-6

[10] Philippians 2:5

[11] Lias, John James, The First Epistle of St. John with Homiletical Treatment, op. cit., pp. 356-357

[12] Cameron, Robert: The First Epistle of John, or, God Revealed in Life, Light, and Love, op. cit., p. 208

[13] Causa essendi is the Latin term for “cause of being.”

[14] Causa cognoscenti is the Latin term for reason to know.”

[15] John 14:31

[16] Haupt, Erich: The First Epistle of St. John: Clark’s Foreign Theological Library, Vol. LXIV, op. cit., pp. 288-289

[17] Syllogism is a rhetorical device that starts an argument with reference to something general, and from this, it draws a specific conclusion, much like deductive reasoning.

[18] Sorites is an argument having several premises but one conclusion.

[19] Matthew 10:38

[20] James 2:19

[21] Ibid. 2:3

[22] See Wycliff Version; also see Revelation 22:14

[23] Cf. Matthew 6:5 et al.

[24] Plummer, Alfred: The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges, The Epistles of St. John, op. cit., pp. 155-156

[25] Aquinas, Thomas: Summa Theologica, Vol. 3, op. cit., p. 361

[26] Dryander, Ernest von: A Commentary on the First Epistle of St. John in the form of Addresses, op. cit., III, Obedience, p. 33

About drbob76

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