By Dr. Robert R Seyda


CHAPTER FIVE (Lesson XXI) 10/24/22

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

It is defendable that love without absolute submission to God is nothing more than human attraction, loyalty to family, or adherence to some group. The test of God’s love is doing His commandments. We know we love our fellow believers when God is the object of our affection, and His mandates are the guide of our conduct. True love can never go outside these commands in ministering to God’s family. No matter how logical the reason, any apparent service that requires disobedience to God is, by that very fact, barred from the sphere of agápē. This test explains that love for God consists of this one thing: we have a continuous and watchful endeavor to keep His directives in our hearts. It means that all instructions from God’s Word will be closely examined and followed. This regard will lead to keeping His guidelines in everyday life. In every case where there is love and obedience to God, we will come to know that we still love our Christian spiritual brothers and sisters, despite misunderstandings, separations, and estrangements.[1]

Manifestly, Erich Haupt (1841-1910) indicates that the first clause of verse three has been made clear. The firm connection between love for God and obedience, previously introduced momentarily, is now definitely established. It is the motivation and the tendency of love to fulfill God’s commandments. Not only from the idea of love but also from how it was brought into our hearts. If love is the reference of one “I” to another “I,” then love for God is the reference and subjection of my will to God’s will. Furthermore, if the genesis of my love for God is that His agápē love has been infused into my nature, God’s will must have become my will. So, with the Apostle John’s directed obedience to the divine mandates, he now proceeds to say it is not that hard.[2]

Take note that the Greek adjective barys primarily means “pressing,” “hard,” and “not easily fulfilled,” but it comes only from the fact that 1) we cannot fulfill them or 2) fulfill them only with much pain. The two meanings come to the same thing. God’s laws are not termed light in themselves, as if they did not require anything complex or complicated. Strictly speaking, nothing is easy or difficult in itself. All struggles to comply involve the relationship between the thing necessary and the power of the individual concerned.  Only to Christians are the divine commandments easy; in the power of that faith which links them with the Anointed One, there is the strength of union between their will and the divine will. But in the spiritual realm, the measure of one’s will and willpower are the same. Every sin rests not only on a deficiency of power but also on a lack of will.[3]

To begin with, Ernest von Dryander (1843-1922) reminds us that obedience to a strict master is challenging but always easy for a kind and loving one. Here is a Savior who generates in us what He demands of us. Here is a Redeemer in whose presence all mediocrity must disappear. It involves a spirit that seeks immunity from guilt while reveling in sin. It is like holding heaven’s door open with one hand and leaving the back door unlocked for worldliness to sneak in. Here is a Master we follow who helps us see how horrible and hideous our sins are, yet mercy and goodness are ever more attractive.[4] He is a Master who teaches us to make corruption harder and harder for ourselves and obedience to Him easier and more manageable. Because the more we know and understand Him, the more we realize the truth of what the Apostle John says here in verse three, that God’s mandates are not grievous. On the contrary, obedience to God becomes light to all who allow Him to lead them.[5]

After scrutinizing what the Apostle John is proclaiming here, Aaron M. Hills (1848-1931) asks, “What do we have to say about all these commands?” Is God a heartless tyrant issuing orders to a race of moral beings that are impossible to keep? These mandates are as authoritative as any in the Bible, and if holiness is not attainable, God demands what is impossible. For God to entertain such thoughts is a terrible reflection of His holiness. However, someone has observed that all God’s instructions are enabling. Whatever He requires, He furnishes a gracious ability to perform. The Apostle Paul states, “It is not that we think we are qualified to do anything on our own. Our qualification comes from God.”[6] A sanctifying Spirit and an indwelling Messiah can live a holy life in us, “which is our reasonable service[7], because His commandments are not challenging assignments.[8]

Seemingly, says George G. Findlay (1849-1919), the Apostle John’s first characteristic of “our faith” is viewed in its operative force. He then adds a second – the discipline into which Divine love translates itself.[9] In Jesus, the Son of God, humanity found its Master. We have in Him a King to obey, a law to fulfill, a pattern to follow, a work to do, and a Church – His body to serve as limbs and organs. Discipleship spells discipline. Love exhausts itself in fruitless emotions; it exhales lifeless sentiments. Like rivers, it needs banks and channels along natural lines. This way, it turns thousands of mill and power wheels and spreads health, fruitfulness, and beauty over the land. However, left unbridled and unguided, it becomes a stagnant marsh.

There is nothing that sustains and deepens true feelings like self-constraint and the routine of well-planned efforts. What happens to those touched with God’s love and the fire of the new life who are not taught, or refuse to learn, the right ways of the Lord? How will they ever be productive?  The Apostle Paul urges believers to recognize the value of those who work hard among them – those who care for them and tell them how to live as followers of the Lord.[10] Wholesome, honest love always means commandment-keeping.[11]

Undoubtedly, remarks Charles Gore (1853-1932), we should take comfort in noting how the Apostle John interprets God’s love as having no other meaning than keeping His commandments and doubtless also the “love of fellow believers” as a willing and whole-hearted service to them. Feelings of affection typically follow such devotion to serving God and mankind. The test is not a matter of sensing or feeling. His commandments are not “grievous” or “heavy.” On the contrary, there seems to be an apparent reference to our Lord’s words about His easy yoke and the light burden we carry.[12] [13]

Beyond doubt, notes Alonzo R. Cocke (1858-1901), we are conscious of God’s affection by loving Him supremely. But consciousness is only a subjective test; the objective test is obedience. Therefore, we demonstrate our love for God by obeying His commands instead of a risky effort to keep His mandates. A child of God that loves their Heavenly Father does not hesitate to walk in the path of obedience; they will walk with a wholesome and contented heart. God’s spiritual life is in the believer’s heart, which gives them the strength to keep His words. Power comes with life in the Anointed One.[14]

It is unmistakable, says James B. Morgan (1859-1942), that God’s love for His children is essential to the believer’s character. It cannot exist without it. Therefore, the Apostle John is committed to explaining how the mind produces it. He traces it through faith, regeneration, and God’s love and shows how it results from these principles. First, the sinner believes that Jesus is the Anointed One and finds Him an all-sufficient Savior. Then this born-again child embraces their Savior as a prophet, priest, and potentate. The significant moral change of regeneration accompanies this faith in Jesus. While the mind discerns the truth, the heart is brought under its power and sanctified by it. This miraculous change is due to God’s sovereign grace.

It is freely acknowledged to the glory of God that “He saved us because of His mercy, not because of any good things we did. He saved us through the washing that made us new people. He saved us by making us new through the Holy Spirit.”[15] The soul comes alive with gratitude and “We love Him because He loved us.”[16] The progress of the love of God’s children is natural and easy.[17] This is the theory by which we account for the love of fellow believers. But, being thus inseparably connected with the great principles of the Gospel, it becomes a question of great importance, how shall we be certified that we love all God’s children? To reply to this inquiry seems to be the specific object of John’s statement: “Every person who believes that Jesus is, in fact, the Messiah, is God-born. If we love the One who conceives the child, we’ll surely love the child. The reality test on whether we love God’s children is this: Do we love God? Do we keep His commands? The proof that we love God comes when we keep His commandments, which are not troublesome.”[18] [19]

It seems evident that Robert Law (1860-1919) takes the Apostle John’s message as echoing his Master’s words written in John’s Gospel. In doing so, John proclaims that to speak of a love for God does not naturally signify that our moral integrity has the right to speak of what does not and cannot exist. To love God is not only a motive compelling us to obey; it is, in itself, being in union with God. To love God is to love all of “righteousness and true holiness.”[20] It has no other meaning than this: Love for God has shown the necessity of love for our spiritual brothers and sisters in the Lord and our moral trustworthiness. Hence, neither of these can genuinely exist without the other.[21] It is the Apostle John’s last word on Love in this Epistle.[22] [23]

In reviewing what the Apostle John said about obeying God’s mandates, Archibald T. Robertson (1863-1934) points out that by using “This” . . . “that” in the first line is similar to what he said in his Gospel,[24] to show what “the love of God[25] in the objective sense is, not mere oratorical boasting,[26] but obedience to God’s commands, “that we keep on keeping (as present  active subjunctive) in His commandments.[27] This factor is the supreme test that God’s commands are not grievous – not heavy. Love for God lightens His commands.[28]

In characteristic fashion, Alan England Brooke (1863-1939) explains that obedience to God’s commands is the outcome of love for God. There is no such thing as a genuine love for God which does not issue in obedience.[29] But love adds more to obedience than carrying out definite commands. It accepts them as the expression of an underlying principle capable of forming the whole character, which must be kept alive and allowed to grow more mature. Believers are given the necessary power for this through the indwelling Holy Spirit.[30]

[1] Cameron, Robert: The First Epistle of John, or, God Revealed in Light, Life, and Love, op. cit., p. 210

[2] Cf. Matthew 11:30

[3] Haupt, Erich: The First Epistle of St. John: Clark’s Foreign Theological Library, Vol. LXIV, op. cit., pp. 291-292

[4] Psalm 23:6

[5] Dryander, Ernest von: A Commentary on the First Epistle of St. John in the Form of Addresses, op. cit., II, Obedience, p. 41

[6] 2 Corinthians 3:5 – New Living Translation (NLT)

[7] Romans 12:1

[8] Hill, Aaron M., Holiness and Power, Ch. 6, pp. 96-97

[9] 1 John 5:3

[10] 1 Thessalonians 5:12

[11] Findlay, George G: Fellowship in the Life Eternal: An Exposition of the Epistles of St. John, op. cit., p. 371

[12] Matthew 11:28-30

[13] Gore, Charles: The Epistles of St. John, op. cit., p. 195

[14] Cocke, Alonzo R: Studies in the Epistles of John; or, The Manifested Life, op. cit., pp. 122-123

[15] Titus 3:5

[16] 1 John 4:19

[17] Ibid. 5:1

[18] Ibid: 5:1-3

[19] Morgan, James B., An Exposition of the First Epistle of John, op. cit., Lecture XL, pp. 394-395

[20] Ephesians 4:24

[21] Cf. 1 John 3:10

[22] 1 John 5:1-3

[23] Law, Robert: The Tests of Life: A Study of the First Epistle of St. John, op. cit., pp. 254-255

[24] John 17:3

[25] Cf. 1 John 4:9, 12

[26] Ibid. 4:20

[27] Ibid. 2:3

[28] Robertson, Archibald T., Word Pictures of the New Testament, op. cit., p. 1966

[29] Cf. John 17:3

[30] Brooke, Alan E., Critical and Exegetical Commentary of the Johannine Epistles, op. cit., p. 130

About drbob76

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