WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER FIVE (Lesson XXIII) 10/26/22

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

Such obedience does not diminish love to some mechanical reaction but infuses it with proactive commitment. Unlike those parts of the Apostle’s writings and Christian tradition that struggle to relate “faith” and “works,” John does not attempt to separate “love” and “doing.” Instead, he restates his formula, “observe His commands,”[1] and offers a reminder that such doing is always in relationship to God. [2]

It is Vincent Cheung’s (1952) conclusion that the Bible teaches a different definition of what it means to love God. As Moses said, “Carefully obey the commands, I am giving you today, love the Lord your God, and serve Him with all your heart and soul,[3] so Jesus told His disciples, “Those who really love Me are the ones who not only know my commands but also obey them. My Father will love such people, and I will love them. I will make Myself known to them.”[4] Thus, we must not define “Love for God” as fondness or admiration but as obedience. And only faithful Christians can love God as defined by these verses – they obey God’s commands and submit to Him in thought and action. Of course, a Christian may be fond of God, but it is insincere affection if they do not obey God’s divine commands.[5]

In emphasizing what the Apostle John says about everyone born of God overcomes the world, Bruce B. Barton (1954) sees this as a victory of Faith over despair. It means that love for God and others does not exist alone in a believer;[6] it must be accompanied by obedience. Therefore, John added, Love for God: is to obey His mandates. It echoes what Jesus said to His disciples, as recorded in the Gospel of John.[7] Jesus had one commandment for them: Love one another.[8] This one directive is not grievous, heavy, or burdensome; it should delight the believer to love God through their obedience.[9] God’s commands do not destroy people’s freedom, creativity, or spontaneity. They are not like the laws of the Pharisees that weighed people down. However, they direct people (freedom doesn’t mean arbitrary action) and restrain them (freedom doesn’t mean giving free rein to human desires). Unfortunately, this world puts so much emphasis on experience and feeling instead of duty and action. God, however, wants Christians’ outward conduct to demonstrate their inward devotion to Him.[10]

As stated in Daniel L. Akin’s (1957) interpretation of this verse, the Apostle John returns to the theme of obedience to God’s mandates.[11] Although John knew that loving God and obeying God was distinguishable, he also knew they were inseparable.[12] Here he adds a new perspective on obedience that is liberating. We find it at the end of verse three, where he says that God’s commands “are not a burden.” How does that work itself out? John says that in the new birth, we receive a new nature. This new nature brings new affections, passions, treasures, and values. Because we now love God instead of hating Him, we treasure and value Him above everyone and everything else. And because we do, our delight is in obeying Him. Now we find why His commands are not a burden but a blessing. They are not a struggle; they are a delight.

Classically thinking, Bruce G. Schuchard (1958) sees these first of six stylized beginning instances with an attention-grabbing “this is” that helps to mark the midpoint of subunit one[13] – for this is the love of God. “This” points emphatically forward both to the related clause “love” and to the completing statement offered by the clause that follows, “for” is self-explanatory.[14] “Of God” describes the object of our love, “when we love God,” in verse two. And yet, “only because God loves us are we able to love one another.[15] The second of three references to God’s “instruction[16] reinforces the importance of our adherence to it. Again, the meaning here of “embrace’’ differs little from that of “live for the sake of.[17]

The weighty adjective “burdensome” is a word that appears only once in this Epistle. The thinking behind John’s statement “runs deep in the biblical tradition.”[18] Having criticized the secessionists for failing to heed God’s instructions, John now demonstrates a pastoral awareness that his “demands” may risk discouraging rather than encouraging his followers. And so, at his Epistle’s end, John attaches to his final reference to the necessity of love, the encouraging reminder that for God’s children, such instruction is never burdensome but is instead a delight. God’s teachings invite us all to receive, cherish, and abide in the communion of the saints that our God is gracious to provide. His mandate summons all believers to faith and a life that is the fellowship of the beloved with the Father and with the Father’s Son,[19] Jesus, the Anointed One, God’s Son. [20]

As modern Bible scholar David Guzik (1961) remarks, someone said that the best thing a father can do for his children is to love his wife as their mother. Even so, the first way for a child of God to love their spiritual brothers and sisters in the Anointed One is to love God and obey Him. And, if you love the parent, you will love the child. It all works together. When our love and obedience for God grows cold, we not only harm ourselves – we wound our spiritual brothers and sisters also. At the very least, the damage occurs because we strain our fellow believers’ spiritual progress. Nevertheless, if we refuse to love and obey God for our sake, we should at least do it out of love for others.

But the Apostle John has good news for both saint and sinner: God’s commandments are not a burden. Here we see how wise and good God’s guidelines are as gifts to show us the best and most fulfilling life possible. God’s instructions are like the “manufacturer’s handbook” for life; He tells us what to do because He knows how we work best. God does not give us His mandates to bind or pain us because God is like an irritated old god. His commandments don’t weigh us down because we receive new hearts that wish to please God by instinct when we are born again. God wrote His law in every believer’s heart as part of the Final Covenant.[21]

So, instead of the burdensome requirement to keep hundreds of little rules and regulations, Jesus says to us, “Love Me and love my people, and you will walk in obedience.” When we love God, we want to obey Him and please Him. When you love someone, it seems little trouble to go through many difficulties to help or please them. You enjoy doing it, though if you had to do it for an enemy, you would constantly complain. Therefore, just as the seven years of Jacob’s service for Laban seemed only a few days to him because of his love for Rachel.[22] So, obeying God’s commands does not seem like a burden when we love Him. An old proverb says, “Love feels no load.”[23] [24]

As a lover of God’s Word, Peter Pett (1966) wants the Apostle John to explain how we know that we love our spiritual brothers and sisters. The answer is evident in the fact that we love God and obey His commandments. These commandments show how we should act with specific guidelines: “You must love your neighbor as yourself” – called “the Royal Law.”[25] If we fulfill these, we love our spiritual brothers and sisters in the way required. Here we are told that God’s commandments are not “overweight or too heavy to carry.” The idea here is that they are not “burdensome” or “difficult.”

Also, as Moses stresses, they are near and not far off.[26] They are in their mouths and hearts because they love God.[27] In contrast, Jesus spoke of the Pharisees as those who “bind heavy loads, hard to bear, and put them on people’s shoulders.”[28] So they are not burdensome because we love God and delight in doing His will and because they are a response to God’s love, carried in the heart, and not a way of earning it.[29]

Unorthodox Bible scholar Duncan Hester (1967) says that the Apostle John’s language here implies that being born of God is something done to us, something received rather than of our volition. It is the birth of the Spirit.[30] Also, the language of “overcoming” is used elsewhere in John about the Judaist false teachers and infiltrators,[31] just as the Lord overcame the Jewish world.[32] Overcoming that world is based on faith in the Father and Son. Again, we see a colossal conflict between Judaism, worldliness, and Christians in the Lord Jesus. But, then, the neuter adjective “Whoever” does not identify the gender of the believers.[33]

Bright seminarian Karen H. Jobes (1968) sees the Apostle John reassure believers of eternal life based on God’s love, expressed on the cross, and that love, when properly understood, frees us from fear of God’s coming day of judgment.[34] Perhaps a primary reason so many people have difficulty trusting God’s love is that society at large, and the church, to some extent, let go of the idea that a final exam is coming after this life. Then we will be judged by a holy and righteous God.

Consequently, the gracious atonement for our sin is not viewed as the greatest gift of love but as an irrelevant and outdated belief of primitive religion. Instead of pondering the cross of Jesus the Anointed One, fallen creatures seek God’s love and goodness elsewhere in a fallen creation. Horrible things such as the untimely death of an innocent child, destructive violence, catastrophic natural calamities, and “man’s inhumanity to man” seem to weigh heavily against God’s goodness. All of which causes many to doubt God’s love for us. If there is no sin and no judgment of sin, then Jesus’ death was a horrible farce.[35]


[1] See 1 John 2:3

[2] Lieu, Judith: The New Testament Library, I, II, & III John, op. cit., p. 202

[3] Deuteronomy 11:13

[4] John 14:21; cf. 14:23-24; 15:14; 1 John 2:4-6; 5:3; 2 John 1:6

[5] Cheung, Vincent. Systematic Theology, op. cit., loc. cit., Kindle Edition

[6] 1 John 5:2

[7] John 14:15, 21, 23-24, 31; 15:10

[8] Ibid. 13:34; 15:17

[9] Matthew 11:29-30

[10] Bruton, Bruce B., 1, 2, & 3 John (Life Application Bible Commentary), op. cit., p. 107

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

[12] John 14:15

[13] 1 John 5:1-4

[14] Ibid. 5:3; cf. 2:19; 4:20

[15] Ibid. 4:10,19

[16] Ibid. 5:2b, 3c

[17] See especially 1 John 3:22; see also Revelation 12:17

[18] Deuteronomy 30:11; Matthew 11:30

[19] See 1 John 1:3

[20] Schuchard, Bruce G., Concordia Commentary, 1-3 John, op. cit., pp. 524-525

[21] Jeremiah 31:33

[22] Genesis 29:18

[23] Appeals for Purity, Sexual  Purity, Truth, February 7, 2020

[24] Guzik, David: Enduring Word, 1,2, & 3 John & Jude, op. cit., pp. 87-89

[25] See Matthew 19:19; 22:29; Romans 13:9-10; Galatians 5:14; James 2:8

[26] Deuteronomy 30:11-14

[27] Cf. Matthew 11:30

[28] Ibid. 23:4

[29] Pett, Peter: Commentary on the Bible, op. cit., loc. cit.

[30] John 3:3-5

[31] John 16:33; 1 John 2:13,14; 4:4; 5:4, 5; See also Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 26; 3:5, 12, 21; 5:5; 6:2; 11:7; 12:11; 13:7

[32] Ibid. 16:33

[33] Heaster, Duncan. New European Christadelphian Commentary: op. cit., The Letters of John, p. 69

[34] 1 John 5:17-18

[35] Jobes, Karen H., 1, 2, and 3 John (Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on The New Testament Series Book 18), op. cit., p. 211

About drbob76

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