By Dr. Robert R Seyda


CHAPTER FIVE (Lesson XIV) 10/13/22

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.

If the Apostle John was right about so-called Christians, says Findlay, there is a grave mistake or misunderstanding in such instances. Some people are more spiritually minded than they realize and are aware of others with much less. John says, “We know that we love the children of God when we love God and do His commandments.” We must, to be sure, take the word “love” in its biblical sense as agápē. It has nothing to do with human affection that is nothing more than animal passion, nor with a father or mother’s compassion for their children, family, friends, and relatives. It often does not exist outside a narrow circle, including love for humanity. We agree there is much humane affection for the object of its adoration’s physical well-being, but without any thought for that person’s inner health of the human soul.” [1]

William Macdonald Sinclair (1850-1917) is confident that love and obedience to God will validate our love for others. These are signs of having knowledge and love for Him.[2] They are inseparable. If love for God is absent, then our love for others is not genuine – it is earthly and makes a mockery of agápē. If the love of other Christians is missing, then we have no love for God. Therefore, we must test all friendships with our loyalty and love for God. Then, we can examine our love for Him through our generosity.[3]

Charles Gore (1853-1932) believes the Apostle John begins by saying that when we affirm that Jesus is the Anointed One, it is the mark of divine kinship. Thus, we have equal love for our spiritual brothers and sisters and our heavenly Father. On the one hand, you cannot love the Father (“Who birthed you”) unless you love the other children born again through His Son. But, on the other hand, you cannot love His children unless you love them to show your love for Him.

Love for God means nothing except diligently keeping His commandments which are not a burden too hard to carry. They seem heavy to worldly people addicted to worldly things like “the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and self-pride.” However, as newborn children of God, we are strengthened to have victory over the world’s Satanic powers. And the instrument of this victory is our faith. Christian faith has triumphed because it believes in Jesus as God’s Son. The world seemed to be winning over Him, rejecting Him, and crucifying Him. Yet, He was triumphant through His death and resurrection as our Lord and God. And through faith in Him, John now tells us, His conquest is ours. And there is no other instrument of success except faith.[4]

Alonzo R. Cocke (1858-1901) points out that we should love the parent if we love the children because of their inherited life. On the other hand, love for our Christian spiritual brothers and sisters is the best evidence of our love for God. Let us never forget this double exhibition of the truth in the first and second verses. We must never separate love from obedience:[5]

According to Robert Law (1860-1919), love is finally tested by doing what’s right toward God or others. To begin with, in verse two, the Apostle John says that genuine Love must be holy. It is a verse of great significance which may be easily overlooked. Its statement of the necessary relationship between love for God and love for mankind is the exact opposite given in the preceding verses. There it has been shown that by a threefold necessity of opportunity,[6] obedience to express ordinance of the Divine Will,[7] and the instincts of spiritual kinship,[8]  love for God can only realize itself in love to others.

On the other hand, Law maintains that love for our fellow humans only exists when it is rooted in and governed by love for God. Reverence for God without compassion is unreal and might be immoral – giving a snake instead of a fish or a stone instead of bread[9] – at best, it is important to give the highest good. It is a great ethical principle that John here voices his opinion that we cannot bless our fellowman unless, in our personal lives, we follow the highest good – “Love God and do His commandments.” The person who gives a lot to charity but lives an immoral and godless life does more harm than good. The Anointed One’s love made a maximum contribution, not in His feeding the hungry or giving sight to the blind, but in this – “Making Himself completely ready to serve. He did this for us so we might be fully qualified for His service.” [10] The highest service anyone can render to humanity is to “love God and keep His commandments.” [11]

Alan England Brooke (1863-1939) notes that the Apostle John adds a test by which the sincerity of love may be determined. “By this” is used in this Epistle in pointing forward to “when.” The usual constructions “but if” or “that” are employed to connect sentences. But the effort is not confusing, probably because “by this” should be interpreted as usual. Whenever our love for God is evident and issues in active obedience to His will, we know by this that our love for His children is real. Thus, the duty of loving our spiritual brothers and sisters is part of the natural law of affection.[12]

David Smith (1866-1932) sees love for God as the inner principle and love for fellow believers as its outward manifestation. Everyone who believes in the Incarnation of God’s Son is God’s child, and everyone who has faith in the Incarnation loves God’s children. These are the two commandments of God, the fundamental and all-embracing Christian duties to love God and each other. And faith in the Incarnation is an inspiration for both “believing” and “assurance.” [13] [14]

Ronald A. Ward (1920-1986) finds that the Apostle John is unwavering that the regenerate are “God’s children.” He views them here collectively, in the previous verse individually, with a slight emphasis on personal relationships rather than community ones. So as not to let our love for fellow believers become mere sentiment, we can impose a check on ourselves. We love them when we love and obey God. Notice that John interlocked our love for God with each other.[15] [16]

Ian Howard Marshall (1934-2015) points out that the Apostle John now concludes his Epistle. We would expect him to say, “Everybody born of God (the Father) must love all of God’s children.” But this is not what he says. His expression is more complicated. The KJV renders it, “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments.” The NIV adopts one common interpretation of the text by placing a forward reference in this verse: “In fact, this is love for God: to keep His commands.” It, however, is not what we would expect John to say. Typically, he argues that we love our spiritual brothers and sisters because we love God; love for fellow believers is evidence and proof that we love God and keep His commands.[17]

The NLT gives us a better sense of “Loving God means keeping His commandments.” Once we adopt this sense, it is apparent that “this is” did not refer forward. Instead, it referred to something already said and done. The content of loving God and keeping His commands must involve love for His children. So, Marshall says that what we expected John to say, he expresses himself differently. It is worth asking why John described himself like this. The most probable answer is that he wished to move on to the thought of keeping God’s commandments and therefore tried to include this idea, placing it at the end of the verse to form a link to his next statement.[18]

John Painter (1935) The final and most problematic use of the “by this we know” construction appears here in verse two. The problem is that it seems to make loving God and doing God’s commandments the test of loving God’s children. Such a reading runs contrary to John’s argument in this letter.[19] The phrase “by this” makes good sense as a reference to verse one. The problem is that the structure of verse two seems to imply a forward connection to the conditional “when.” So, we can say that the test of verse two arises from the conclusion in verse one. Or is the specific reference of “by this” to “when” here in verse two?

Nevertheless, verse two tells us what we know. “We love God’s children when we love God and keep His commandments.” However, John does not tell us what “by this” points out. But we know “by this” refers to “everyone loving the Birther loves the ones birthed by Him.” This way, “we know that we love the children of God when we love God and do His commandments.” Painter’s reading of the Greek shows what the text means. The early scribes found no problem with the rendition because they have not corrected this part of John’s Epistle. Revising is common where the text is unclear.[20]

Muncia Walls (1937) finds the Apostle John’s approach very interesting when he emphasizes our love for God. But it seems backward as one cannot love God without loving His children, as John wrote earlier.[21] [22]

For Michael Eaton (1942-2017), the Apostle John’s next concern is that readers correctly understand the Love he urges.  At first, this verse might seem to turn everything around. After everything John has written so far, we expect him to say, “we know that we love God when we love His children and obey His commands.” It is true both ways. We show genuine love for God through our love of His children, but it is also true that love for His children is authentic only when it arises from love for God and the particular ways in which He demands we show love. Not every kind of generosity is the kind of love John is talking about here. Even less does the world’s immoral expression of sexuality worth being called “love.” While love is the test of knowing God, knowledge of God is also the test of love.[23]

These comments sound very much like the old question: “What came first, the chicken or the egg?” I find this simple logic helpful. First, God showed us what divine love is by sending His Son to save us.[24] Second, by accepting Him as our Savior, God’s Spirit took that same divine love (agápē) and poured it into our hearts.[25] Third, we began loving with agápē all His children as He loved us in gratitude for this gift.[26] Fourth, in so doing, we showed God how much we love Him. Following this circle formula perfects God’s love in us.[27]

[1] Findlay George G: Fellowship in the Life Eternal: An Exposition of the Epistles of St. John, op. cit., p. 369

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

[3] Sinclair, W. M: New Testament Commentary for English Readers, Charles J. Ellicott, (Ed.), op. cit., Vol. III, p. 490

[4] Gore, Charles: The Epistles of St. John, op. cit., p. 191

[5] Cocke, Alonzo R: Studies in the Epistles of John; or, The Manifested Life, op. cit., p. 122

[6] 1 John 4:20

[7] Ibid. 4:21

[8] Ibid. 5:1

[9] Matthew 7:9-10

[10] John 17:19

[11] Law, Robert: The Tests of Life: A Study of the First Epistle of St. John, op. cit., pp. 253-254

[12] Brooke, Alan E., A Critical and Exegetical Commentary of the Johannine Epistles, op. cit., pp. 129-130

[13] 1 John 5:4

[14] Smith, David: Expositor’s Greek Testament, 1 John, op. cit., p. 193

[15] Cf. 1 John 14-21

[16] Ward, Ronald A., The Epistles on John and Jude, op. cit., p. 53

[17] 1 John 3:14-19; 4:20

[18] Marshall, Ian Howard. The Epistles of John (The New International Commentary on the New Testament), op. cit., pp. 227-228

[19] 1 John 3:16-18; 4:11-12, 20-21; 5:1

[20] Painter, John. Sacra Pagina: 1, 2, and 3 John: Volume 18, op. cit., loc. cit., Kindle Edition

[21] 1 John 4:20

[22] Walls, Muncia: Epistles of John and Jude, op. cit., p. 82

[23] Eaton, Michael: Focus on the Bible, 1,2,3 John, op. cit., pp. 174-175

[24] John 3:16

[25] Romans 5:4

[26] John 15:12

[27] 1 John 4:17-19

About drbob76

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