By Dr. Robert R Seyda


CHAPTER FIVE (Lesson XV) 10/14/22

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.

William Loader (1944) says we can expect to love God’s children if we continue to love God and obey His commands. At one level, this is true because if we love God, we should keep His commands. But the Apostle John never remains at the level of obligation; there is more to Christian love than obligation and directives. From verse one, John argues about the natural connection between caring parents and their children. The same spontaneous linking should exist between loving God and loving His children. Where such loving does not happen, we are probably dealing with an understanding of God that is uninformed about love and denies God’s love for His creation. Such an attitude causes love and relationships to become personal ambition and authority. By doing so, these ill-informed Christians project careless conceit, which willingly dismisses people who do not fit into their narrative. Such is the approach of John’s opponents portrayed in this Epistle.[1]

David Jackman (1945) believes that if we rightly understand faith in Jesus as a sign of the new birth, then the evidence of faith that John now enumerates is a confirmation of the unique relationship between the spiritually newborn child of God and their heavenly Father. There are three ways to demonstrate faith’s reality in a Christian’s life. Initially, love. As soon as we realize what happened to us through the new birth, our spiritual response is gratitude and love for God. He is now our heavenly Father; we are members of a new family. Then, we have a special affection for and interest in God’s children at the human level. Consequently, by loving all His children, we express gratefulness to our heavenly Father for all He has done for us. It not only applies to our love for the only-begotten Son, the Lord Jesus but also to all of God’s adopted children, as verse two makes clear.[2]

John W. (Jack) Carter (1947) points to the fact that there is no work, no actions, no set of rules, no dress code, activities, or efforts; the rules we live by and how we determine our behavior neither provide for nor enhance eternal salvation. God’s Word and the Holy Spirit’s counsel teaches us that these are not agents of salvation; they are the fruit of a promised salvation already obtained. However, being informed of the Holy Spirit, there is a third indicator of true salvation: the desire to be obedient to the LORD. When John refers to keeping His commandments, he is not stating this as a law, nor is he referring solely to the Ten Commandments given to Moses in the First Covenant. Christians do not seek to obey God because He demands it:  they desire to follow the LORD because of their love for Him. Furthermore, keeping His commandments is not adhering to a long list of written instructions. Instead, the constant submission to the guidance of the Holy Spirit informs our spirit and encourages us to make them consistent with God’s Word as revealed by the Spirit’s guidance.[3]

As Robert W. Yarbrough (1948) interprets it, verse two begins with the fifth and final occurrence of “by this we know.” [4] Verse one spoke of divine parentage producing a faith that results in love, while verse two spoke of a love for fellow believers sparked by God’s agápē and compliance with His commandments. It means that God’s agápē is no idle thing. The phrase “this is how we know” looks forward to “when.” It introduces the two clauses that conclude the verse’s revelation – when we respond to His commands.[5]

Colin G. Kruse (1950) observes that the Apostle John made the point in verse one that those who love God also love His children. He explains how people may know they love God’s children. We know we love God’s children: by loving God and carrying out His commands. By saying this, John appears to be reversing the approach he uses elsewhere in the letter. His usual method is to say that people’s claims to love God get tested by the presence or absence of love for fellow believers. But here, in verse two, he does the reverse. He states that people loving God’s children can be proven by the presence or absence of love for God and obedience to His commands. Again, John’s thought appears to go in a circle. Perhaps it is because the two things involved cannot exist apart from one another as far as he is concerned. One cannot love God and keep His commands without loving God’s children, and one cannot love God’s children without loving Him and obeying His commands.[6] [7]

Judith Lieu (1951) says that the logic of the preceding verses suggests that love shown to fellow believers helps confirm love for God. Instead, it states the opposite: love for God approves the idea that this is how “we know” we are showing love to those who are His children. It provides the context for “when” such love is exercised. The effect sets love for God at the center around which all else orbits. The description of fellow believers as “the children of God” rather than as brother/sister belongs to the set of ideas associated with God as a birther,[8] but it also recalls the uncompromising opposition expressed in the last use of that phrase – the incompatibility between God’s children and the devil’s viper brood.[9] Hence, it excludes as much as to includes, and to that extent, so does love. Such love is measured at this point not by what it does but by the unbreakable bond of unity it shapes. However, what determines this unity is the status of being God’s children, something not shared with humanity at large. It is only possessed by those who recognize that God is their heavenly Father.[10]

Gary M. Burge (1952) points to the Apostle John’s principle that we should love all members of God’s family if we claim to love God. Other interpreters (including the NIV) prefer to point forward: “This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands.” Essentially, the question here is what fuels Christian love: Is it grounded in moral obligation or God’s love? Perhaps both should work together. The command in verse two is to love God’s children, which springs from a profound affection for God.[11]

Bruce B. Barton (1954) states that just as believers’ love for their spiritual brothers and sisters is the sign and test of their love for God, their love for God (tested by obedience)[12] is the only basis of their love for fellow Christians. John was not contradicting what he wrote earlier.[13] Instead, he insisted that we cannot separate our love for God and other believers. Christians cannot love God without loving their spiritual brothers and sisters in the Anointed One. They can be sure they love God and other believers if they obey Him. John first urged the effect (love for others); now, he champions the cause (love for God). The Apostle Paul, writing to various churches, often thanked God for the evidence of the believers’ love for one another.[14]

Bruce G. Schuchard (1958) states that in verse two, the Apostle John is responding to the unfaithfulness of the secessionists. In summary, John readdresses the question, “How can we know, how can we be certain, that ours and only ours is the knowledge of the one true God?” Then he answers: “Let me tell you in what way we can know.” The initial and emphatic “in this way” is anticipatory because of the “when” clause that follows. That is “when” we love the children of God by keeping His commands. Thus, John offers his final and perhaps most crucial answer to the question, “How are we to know?” “How can we be certain?” [15]

Duncan Hester (1967) suggests that “His commandments” refer to the one great commandment: love God’s children as the Lord loved them. It is why “doing” or “keeping” the commandments is always associated in the Apostle John’s writings with love, often love for God. Since he has taken the time to point out in chapter four, love for God and His children are interrelated. With the phrase, “This is how we know,” and similar language used elsewhere, John often speaks in absolute terms of our living in love with “eternal life.” Nevertheless, he recognizes that significant doubts may form within us as to whether we have reached that confidence in our love. So, by all means, John seeks to comfort and encourage. He looks at the equation of loving God and His children from the perspective of asking us to enquire whether we love God.[16]

Karen H. Jobes (1968) notes that here in verse two, the prepositional phrase “in this way” points forward to the “when” clause. Thus, upon reading, loving God, and carrying out His commands is how we know that we love God’s children, which seems to be the reverse of what he previously argued.[17] But rather than a contradiction or reversal, it is another way of saying that we cannot define love for others until we obediently love God. In other words, “Love is not instinctively defined but revealed[18] so that the knowledge that we love is grounded in our love for God and keeping His commandments.” [19]

5:3 Loving God means obeying His commands. And God’s commands are not too hard for us,


Just in case someone may have questioned the Anointed One on where He got this idea of loving one another, He could easily say to them, “Have you not read where Moses told the Israelites that God’s message to them contained a promise: ‘I will remain unswervingly loyal to the thousands who love Me and keep My commandments?’” [20] Later, in this second giving of “To-rah” (the Law).[21] Moses calls on Israel to remember what God said, even when troubled times may come. He asked them, “So, now, Israel, what does God expect from you? It’s elementary: Live in His presence with holy reverence, follow the road He sets out for you, love Him, serve God, your God, with everything you have in you, and obey the commandments and regulations of God that I’m commanding you today – live as a good person does.” [22]

Some people think that reading their Bible, praying, attending church, participating in praise and worship, and joining some church ministries prove they love God. John says this is useless unless they do so out of unconditional love for God’s Word and Will. John is not making this up on his own. Not only does he have the words of his Lord to back him up, but he can point even further back. After God gave Moses the Ten Commandments, He told him, “I will be very kind to people who love Me and obey My commandments. I will be kind to their families for thousands of generations.” [23]

[1] Loader, William: Epworth Commentary, The First Epistle of John, op. cit., pp. 60-61

[2] Jackman, David: The Message of John’s Letters, op. cit., p. 138

[3] Carter, Dr. John W. (Jack). 1,2,3, John & Jude: (The Disciple’s Bible Commentary Book 48) pp. 117-118

[4] Cf. 1 John 2:3, 5; 3:24; 4:13

[5] Yarbrough, Robert W., 1-3 John (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament), op. cit., p. 271

[6] Cf. 1 John 2:7-8; 3:22-24; 4:21

[7] Kruse, Colin G., The Letters of John (The Pillar New Testament Commentary, op. cit., loc. cit., Kindle Edition

[8] 1 John 2:29-3:2; 3:9-10

[9] Ibid. 3:10

[10] Lieu, Judith: The New Testament Library, I, II, & III John, op. cit., p. 201

[11] Burge, Gary M., The Letters of John (The NIV Application Commentary), p. 192

[12] 1 John 5:3

[13] Ibid. 4:20-21

[14] Burton, Bruce B., 1, 2, & 3 John (Life Application Bible Commentary), op. cit., pp. 106-107

[15] Schuchard, Bruce G., Concordia Commentary, 1-3 John, op. cit., p. 523

[16] Heaster, Duncan. New European Christadelphian Commentary: op. cit., The Letters of John, pp. 67-68

[17] 1 John 4:20

[18] Ibid. 3:16; 4:19

[19] Jobes, Karen H., 1, 2, and 3 John (Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on The New Testament Series Book 18), op. cit., p. 209

[20] Exodus 20:6; cf. Deuteronomy 5:10; 7:9

[21] I use the Hebrew word “Torah” without “the” because “To-rah” means in English “the Law.” So, there is no need to say “the” twice before “Law.”

[22] Deuteronomy 10:12-13

[23] Exodus 20:6, cf. Deuteronomy 5:10; 7:9-10

About drbob76

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