By Dr. Robert R Seyda


CHAPTER FIVE (Lesson XXII) 10/25/22

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

We can see, points out Neal M. Flanagan (1908-1986), that the preceding section in chapter four on love,[1] joins verses one to three here in chapter five as an added section on faith. The creedal statement proposed here is that Jesus is God’s Son[2] who is also thoroughly human, both at His baptism[3] and in His bloody death that terminated it. Son of God, yes – but Son of God whose humanity was essential.[4]

It is definite, says Ronald A. Ward (1920-1986), that according to the Apostle John, loving God is more than a feeling. It includes prayer, worship, and fellowship, and “obedience” contains all these virtues.”  To love God is to obey Him – to spend time with Him delighting in His Word, to take part in the life and work of the Church – and to love one another.[5] God’s commandments are not a burden but weighty.[6] Jesus promised that with His help, they could feel light.[7] For instance, we cannot lift an automobile to change a tire, but it seems more manageable when we use a ‘car jack.’ It is all a question of power.[8]

As Peter S. Ruckman (1921-2016) sees it, the Apostle John warns those unacquainted with God’s Word who rebel against any scripture that contradicts their interpretation and tries to dodge the truth coming at them.[9] Instead of being like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego,[10] they look for a place to hide.[11]

It is evident, says Ian Howard Marshall (1934-2015), that the Apostle John’s readers know that love for God is expressed in keeping His commands.[12] Now they are reminded of that fact. It is an appropriate addition, for elsewhere, John has shown that God’s commandments are summed up in the mandate to love one another. However, here the thought is a bridge, leading to the main point that these instructions are not burdensome and the duty of loving one another. They are not beyond our ability to keep. On the contrary, Jesus offers us an easy yoke and a light burden.[13] If tempted to think that the love and obedience demanded of Christians are beyond our powers, this verse comes to us as a welcome source of strength and encouragement.[14]

It is evident, notes John Painter (1935) that the Apostle John refers to God’s “commandments” in the plural. It means we are not subject to one commandment but them all.[15] Thus, a case can be made for reading the singular “commandment” as a reference to the love mandate given by Jesus.[16] But the first use of the singular in verse twenty-three is an apparent reference to instructions given by God. It is less evident in its second use, which could refer to Jesus’ demand to “love one another.[17] [18]

Seeking harmony with the Apostle John, Muncia Walls (1937) proposes that our love for God is the motivating factor that gives us the desire to keep His commandments. Seeking and hungering after righteousness becomes our joy and living a life of love becomes our delight. God’s mandates bring us the freedom and the liberty we so ardently desire. Thus, doing His Word and His Will does not bring us grief. The word “grievous” means something heavy, burdensome, or cruel. God’s guidelines are not like this. Those who truly love God do not find His commands a burden placed upon them but a pleasure and joy to the person in love with the Author of the demands – Jesus, the Anointed One. [19]

Apparently, Michael Eaton (1942-2017) feels that keeping God’s mandates on love does not present a heavy burden too difficult to carry. Some might not be ready to think that the command of love is “not burdensome.” Yes, Love is definable: it has clout and content. But it is not rightly expressed in the Mosaic law, and the implementation is inadequate to articulate what it means to love. But this does not mean that love cannot be expressed in words. The Final Covenant is full of appeals, partial expressions of the love command. Although no list of commands can sum up every requirement for the situation, each practical exhortation is a bright flash of light from the sparkling diamond of the love command. John does not give a list of requirements; promoting a code of Law with a list of demands when loving is keeping the Law would be deceptive. [20]

After a long look at what John is writing, William Loader (1944) became conscious of the tension between obligation and spontaneous love response. Love is a command. Conscious choice is involved. Yet, the Apostle John is not dealing with obligatory mandates or a set of burdensome orders. They do not sit unnaturally on our shoulders as an awkward oppressive weight. They are not troublesome because they make few demands: on the contrary, the call to love is to call to action! Rather, they are not grievous because they flow naturally from who we are as children of God. We are in a relationship with the One who loves us and whose love enables us to love and fulfill His demands. This recalls the invitation of Jesus to come to Him to find rest and put on His light yoke.[21] [22]

It is unmistakable, notes David Jackman (1945), that the Apostle John makes it plain that faith not only includes obedience to God’s commands related to love, but it is our way of loving God. It is what gives love its moral fiber. It needs reemphasizing because we live in a generation where the sovereignty of emotions and feelings has come to mean even emptying the word “love” of its moral content. Because we love God, we genuinely want to please Him in our thoughts, words, and actions. For us, it is no longer an external matter of moral duty to obey a law so much as to please our dearly loved heavenly Father. This lies at the heart of Christian discipleship. And the glory of the Final Covenant is precisely the inner love for God which prompts obedience.[23]

After researching these verses, John W. (Jack) Carter (1947) encourages us to note the use of a “chiasmic structure[24] common in Greek literature and often used for effect. It repeats a phrase with another part added on. The sequence is then repeated in reverse order. Here John adds the simple point that when one truly loves the LORD, they will find obedience to be a pleasure, not a burden. One is burdened by another when there is no love relationship between them. A dictator can easily place a tremendous burden on others. Those in the fellowship acting like little dictators who burden those they work to control. There is little joy in the effort when forcing someone to submit to such authority unwillingly.  However, love is the fundamental relationship between the LORD and a person of faith. Now, while using Torah as an overbearing weight on those not born of God through love, God’s Word, including Torah, is a comfort to those who love God.[25]

It is apparent to Robert W. Yarbrough (1948) that verse three concludes this subsection’s commendation of personal faith as love for God. It does so in activist terms. While love can be viewed as an emotion or sentiment and a relational component of affection. As the Apostle John conceives it; here, he portrays it as keeping God’s commandments with an attitude of glad acceptance, if not joy, rather than some grim moral resignation. The verse begins with “For this love for God.” Only 2 John 1:6 offers any close parallel of the near demonstrative pronoun with agápē. John’s statement departs from the previous verse, in which he implies a contrast between love and God’s mandate to love. But later, John makes this connection explicit.[26] This “love for God” God is the object of the verbal action implied in Love. John talks about human love for God, not God’s love for people.[27]

Colin G. Kruse (1950) decidedly points out how the Apostle John reverts to the usual way of contrasting love for God and love for others. He says: The visible mark of loving God is obeying His commands. These instructions always include love for one’s fellow believers.[28] In these verses, John brings the long section 4:7-5:4a to a close by affirming: “And His commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world.” The ability to love one another does not prove tiresome for those who have a personal relationship with God, having been born of Him. Thus, love for others born of God is a natural expression. That is why John adds, “for everyone born of God overcomes the world.”[29]

To Ben Witherington III (1951), this is where the Apostle John reiterates that we can define love for God as keeping His commandments. He also tells us that God’s mandates are neither burdensome nor irksome. It means that they are not so oppressive that it squelches the spontaneity in love. However, he certainly does not mean they are easy to carry out. He does not imply that God’s demands upon us are less challenging than we supposed, but that the assurance and strength to fulfill them comes with it. Nor is John suggesting that God does not require believers to give their all to keep them.[30] The early Jewish idea here of heavy/light commandments may be in the background,[31] but more probably, there is an echo of the saying of Jesus about the easy yoke.[32] The point seems to be that these are still commandments, not just suggestions, but they are not unbearable or unfulfillable.[33]

Judith Lieu (1951) feels that the issue of obeying God’s commandment out of love is sufficiently important to require restating, reinforced by “for this” at the start of the verse.[34] Elsewhere the characteristic formula, “and this is,” reminds readers of the certainties they heard and the confidence they experienced.[35] It is not achieved by logical deduction but by induction to something they recognize as accurate to their experience. In addition, the term “love of God” (KJV) is unclear and should read “love for God” (NIV).[36] The Apostle John does not say that love for God leads to obedience as though they were two separate activities. In his Gospel, John notes that Jesus is the object of love, and obedience, is the content of that love.[37]

[1] 1 John 4:7-21

[2] Ibid. 5:5, 10, 12

[3] John 1:33-34

[4] Flanagan, Neal M., The Johannine Epistles, Collegeville Bible Commentary, op. cit., p. 1025

[5] Cf. John 14:15, 23ff; 1 John 2:5

[6] Matthew 23:4; Luke 11:46; Acts of the Apostles 15:10

[7] Matthew 11:30

[8] Ward, Ronald A., The Epistles on John and Jude, op. cit., pp. 53-54

[9] See Deuteronomy 32:31; 35:2; Numbers 33:52; Judges 5:19-20; 1 Samuel 2:4; Habakkuk 3:13; etc.

[10] Daniel 3:10-11

[11] Ruckman, Peter S., General; Epistles (Vol. 2 (1-2-3 John, Jude Commentary, op. cit., loc. cit.

[12] 1 John 2:4f.; 2 John. 6; cf. John. 14:15, 21

[13] Matthew 11:30

[14] Marshall, Ian Howard: The Epistles of John (The New International Commentary on the New Testament), op. cit., p. 228

[15] Cf. 1 John 2:3, 4; 3:22, 24; 5:2, 3

[16] John 13:34; cf. 15:12

[17] See 1 John 2:7, 8; 3:23; 4:21

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

[19] Walls, Muncia: Epistles of John and Jude, op. cit., p. 83

[20] Eaton, Michael: Focus on the Bible, 1,2,3 John, op. cit., p. 175

[21] Matthew 11:28-30

[22] Loader, William: Epworth Commentary, The First Epistle of John, op. cit., p. 61

[23] Jackman, David: The Message of John’s Letters, op. cit., p. 140

[24] Chiasmic means having or denoting a structure in which words are repeated in reverse order

[25] Carter, Dr. John W. (Jack). 1,2,3, John & Jude: (The Disciple’s Bible Commentary Book 48). op. cit., p. 118

[26] 1 John 5:3

[27] Yarbrough, Robert W., 1-3 John (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament), op. cit., p. 273

[28] 1 John 3:23

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

[30] Matthew 16:26

[31] See Matthew 23:23

[32] Ibid. 11:28-30

[33] Witherington, Ben III, Letters and Homilies for Hellenized Christians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on Titus, 1-2 Timothy and 1-3 John, op. cit., loc. cit., Kindle Edition

[34] See 1 John 2:19; 4:20

[35] Ibid. 1:5; 2:25; 3:11, 23; 5:4, 11, 14

[36] Contrast 1 John 2:5 with 4:9

[37] John 14:15

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s