By Dr. Robert R Seyda


CHAPTER FIVE (Lesson XX) 10/21/22

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

With an inquiring mind, Johannes H. A. Ebrard (1819-1893) notes that the first part of verse three connects to verses one and two. In the last part of verse three, the Apostle John’s addition forms the transition to verse four. God’s commands do not cause grief because those born of God have the power to overcome the world by faith. To begin with, the “world” is not only what’s outside the believer but also “worldliness” inside. It also implies the temptations come from an unchanged and unrenewed world.[1] Hence, some say this connection makes it evident that grievous or burdensome does not refer to the substance of the new commandments are light compared to the yoke of the Jewish ceremonial law. This comparison is entirely foreign to the context. Instead, it refers to the power that dwells in those born of God to fulfill the commandments.[2] In other words, it’s not the weight of the mandates but how they are carried out.

After inspecting the previous verse, William Kelly (1822-1888) highlights another principle in the third verse. One can hardly conceive anything less logical according to the system of education. They would call it arguing in a circle and consider its flawed reasoning. Thus, it is fair to ask, what has logic got to do with the truth, grace of the Anointed One, and love for God and His children? What does reasoning have to do with life eternal? It is not a question of analysis but faith. Is it any wonder that thinking people cannot rise above logicr learning or science, making them hazy-minded intellectuals, blind, and lost to any characteristic truth in God’s word? They find His love and its fruit all unintelligible or false according to debate rules.

The spiritual soul receives no nourishment from endless arguments. If people want to find bread for this life, two distinct voices announced that mankind does not live by bread alone but by everything that goes out of Yahweh’s mouth.[3] Christians have found the way of everlasting life, divine love, and the workings of the Holy Spirit through God’s Word. They, therefore, bow to this remarkable insight from the Apostle John: “We know we love God’s children if we love God and obey His commandments.”[4] These are the various truths bound together as one. It is the reasoning of the heart purified by faith, not only from God but back to Him again, blending obedience with the love of God and His children. It is a most wholesome guard against deceiving or being deceived.[5]

Going along with what the Apostle John is saying about love, William B. Pope (1822-1903) comments that God’s love is in us and that we love to keep His commandments. Now, some truths are continuously suppressed. Thus, for example, the Apostle John asserted that loving seen believers was more effortless than loving an invisible God.[6] But some might, and some did pervert that principle. Although they claimed a theoretical, superior, and emotional love for God, they undervalued the security, depth, and acceptance of self-renouncing devotion to others included in the Anointed One’s command to love each other.

Furthermore, those whose love for God is a love of obedience know that such Christian love fulfills the mandate. It is nevertheless complicated.  Some say it is the “hard” part of the command to love each other. The general reply to those with despondent hearts is: “His commandments are not grievous.” this is a fundamental and boundless statement without the need for evidence. The laws of God are reasonable and in harmony with the purest ethical principles of reason, even the strictest of them.[7]

In agreement with the Apostle John’s thinking, William Macdonald Sinclair (1850-1917) believes that John introduced two different qualities when talking in verse two about how much we love God’s children and love and obey God. First, the real test on whether we love God, and His children, proves that we keep His commandments and do not find much trouble doing what He says. Second, John introduces a transitional thought for encouragement and forming a bridge to verse four.[8] God requires nothing from us for His sake but everything for our highest benefit and happiness. If we were perfect, we would not think of these as commands, for they would be our natural impulses. The more sincerely we serve God, the more enjoyment we derive from them. God’s laws seem irksome to those whose inclinations are distorted, perverted, and corrupted by sin.[9]

William Alexander (1824-1911) discernibly notes that the Apostle John ends verse three with, “And His commandments are not heavy.” We should not separate this from verse four because it gives the reason for the victory is that all who are born of God conquer the world.” What a picture of the sweetness of a lifetime of service! What a gentle smile must have been on the old apostle’s face as he said, “His commandments do not cause any grief!”[10] If we look at the Gospels and the two commandments Jesus joined together,[11] it is no wonder that the Apostle John saturated his Epistle with the meaning of those two mandates tied together.

Another way of appreciating these commandments is to imagine the Jews listening to our Lord when He joined these two commands together. These were Jews who knew the daily burden of trying not to break any of the Ten Commandments or the six hundred and thirteen Levitical mandates.[12] So, they knew what is innocent, and purity under Torah meant. So, He introduces a new sanctifying law, besides which all other human morality is colorless. Instead of these numerous directives mentioned above, now there were only two. Furthermore, John says that Jesus’ combined instructions are not burdensome. Was the Apostle John guessing? No, such a declaration could only come from John’s life and experience. That’s why he was so confident about his message. It also gave him the needed information to declare in verse four that everyone born of God overcomes the world. [13]

With much studying, Brooke F. Westcott (1825-1901) follows the same interpretative line as William Alexander (above). Only for Westcott, God’s love is not simply the keeping of God’s commandments but rather a continuous and watchful endeavor to observe them.[14] And the nature of the mandates is not meant to crush the freedom and spontaneity of love. They are not a grievous, heavy, oppressive, and exhausting burden.[15] [16]

For instance, Henry A. Sawtelle (1832-1913) explains that putting together God’s-loving and commandment-keeping directives is love’s nature and natural working. If we try to keep His commandments, love one another, and be indifferent to His will, it will be impossible to maintain divine or human relationships. This connection is so vital that we can say that “to love is to obey.” Love prompts obedience; life in the vine takes the form of fruit. Therefore, warn those who profess the love of God and yet are careless of His commands that they deny the very instinct of love’s nature.[17]

Certainly, says William Baxter Godbey (1833-1920), all regenerate believers have faith in their hope of seeing Jesus in His glory. The Apostle John makes no compromise with phony Christianity but assures us in verse three that all true Christians do press forward into entire sanctification, namely, “purify themselves, even as the Anointed One is pure.” This purity is undoubtedly a high standard of Christian sanctification. Holiness is original in God and imparted to us so that we are holy in our Savior. Hence, we see that a popular church dogma that fights the doctrine of purity cannot be part of God’s regeneration, but it is Satan’s counterfeit. Every time Christian takes the purity of the Anointed One as his standard and presses on it at every conceivable sacrifice. “Let God be true and every man a liar.”[18]

For John James Lias (1834-1923), the Apostle John amplifies verse two in verse three: loving God is shown in keeping His commandments. Obeying His commandments is the outer expression of our inner love for Him.[19] This side of the truth must be kept in mind. If we only looked at what the Apostle John said earlier about who we love and who we hate [20], we might have imagined that God’s love came from practice. It would leave the door open for us to commit the error of Pelagius (390-418 AD) so that we could rise to the level of God’s requirements on our own.[21] But such a view is shut out by the present passage, which represents love in us as the expression of the love of God, and God’s commandments as channels in which that expression of love must necessarily flow.[22]

With confidence, William Lonsdale Watkinson (1838-1925) tells us that every commandment is a part of Redemption’s plan. So, why is it that the commandments appear grievous? Because they offend our unnatural and inordinate desires. To resent the laws of Sinai is more foolish than complaining about the steel cages in the zoo that stand between the wild beasts and us. Any grievousness is found in us since the commandments are glorious salvation from our sinful tendencies who fear them. Therefore, not only are the commandments not grievous, but they are also gracious.

There are two kinds of grace, preventing grace and reclaiming grace. The reclaiming grace that absolves our sins covers our guilt, and brings abiding peace into our hearts and minds is precious indeed. Yet preventing grace is no less valuable. We see one of the grandest revelations of this preventing grace in the clear and authoritative publication of the Law. The commandments are not grievous anymore; the lighthouse is a warning, guiding, saving beacon.[23]

To be clear, Robert Cameron (1839-1904) comments that to ensure our love’s reality, we must walk in the path of obedience. It includes God and fellow believers. To try and love and fellowship with His children while still walking in the direction of disobedience would prove that God’s love is missing. We can only truly and wisely love God’s children when we love and obey Him, who gave us our new birth. Unless God has first place in our hearts, what appears to be brotherly love may only be a sentimental impulse that shuts God out from the whole sphere of our spiritual life. Thus, while extending a form of brotherly and sisterly love to God’s children, it refuses to consent to their teaching nor fellowship their walk.

[1] 1 John 4:4

[2] Ebrard, Johannes H. A., Biblical Commentary on the Epistles of St. John, op. cit., p. 314

[3] Deuteronomy 8:3; cf. Matthew 4:4

[4] 1 John 5:2

[5] Kelly, William: An Exposition of the Epistles of John the Apostle, op. cit., p. 351

[6] 1 John 4:20

[7] Pope, William B., The International Illustrated Commentary on the N. T., Vol. IV, op. cit., p. 37

[8] Cf. Mathew 11:30

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

[10] Alexander, William: Expositor’s Bible: The Epistles of St. John (Kindle Locations 3726-3729)

[11] Matthew 22:37, 39

[12] There is debate about who came up first with 613 as the number of commandments. The Talmud points to Rabbi Simlai in the 3rd century AD as the originator. However, there is no record of Rabbi Simlai listing all 613 commandments. The most accepted breakdown was done by Maimonides in the 12th century AD. Maimonides further divided the 613 commandments into positive, “do this” commandments, numbering 248, and negative, “do not do this” commandments, numbering 365

[13] Alexander, William: The Holy Bible with an Explanatory and Critical Commentary, Vol. IV, op. cit., p. 340

[14] Cf. John 6:29; 17:3; 2 John 1:6

[15] Matthew 11:30; cf. Matthew 23:4

[16] Westcott, Brooke F., The Epistles of St. John Greek Text with Notes, op. cit., p. 179

[17] Sawtelle, Henry A., Commentary on the Epistles of John, op. cit., p. 55

[18] Romans 3:4

[19] Cf. John 14:15, 21, 23, 31; also see 15:10; 2 John 1:6

[20] 1 John 4:20

[21] Pelagius held that everything created by God was good. Therefore, he could not see how God had made humans fallen creatures. (Augustine’s teaching on the Fall of Adam was not a settled doctrine when the Augustinian/Pelagian dispute began. Pelagius stressed human autonomy and freedom of the will, works against grace, and humanism versus spiritualism.

[22] Lias, John James: The First Epistle of St. John with Exposition, op. cit., pp. 358-359

[23] Watkinson, William L., The Ashes of Roses, p. 235

About drbob76

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