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Tuesday, September 26th, 2023
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25
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1 John 4

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There are two principal subjects discussed in this chapter:

I. The method by which we may determine that we have the Spirit of God, 1 John 4:1-6. The apostle had said 1 John 3:24 that it could be determined that God dwells in them by the Spirit which he has given them; but as it is probable that the teachers of error, the persons whom John regarded as “antichrist,”1 John 2:18-19; 1 John 2:18-19, would lay claim to the same thing, it was important to know how it could be ascertained that the Spirit of God had been really given to them, or how it could be determined that the spirit that was in them was not the spirit of antichrist, the very thing against which he would guard them. In doing this:

(1) He cautions them against trusting to every kind of spirit, or supposing that every spirit which animated even the professed friends of religion was the Spirit of God, 1 John 4:1.

(2) Also, he shows them how it might be determined that they had really the Spirit of God, or what would be the effect of the influences of the Spirit on the mind. This evidence consisted of the following things:

(a) They had the Spirit of God who confessed that Jesus Christ had come in the flesh, 1 John 4:2;

(b) They who denied that, had not the Spirit of God and the denial of this was the real spirit of antichrist, 1 John 4:3;

  1. They who had the Spirit of God had not the spirit of this world,1 John 4:4-5; 1 John 4:4-5; and,

(d) They who had the Spirit of God would hear those who were his apostles, or who were sent by him, 1 John 4:6.

II. The duty, power, and influence of love, 1 John 4:7-21. This is a favorite subject with John, and he here considers it at length, as a subject that was essential in determining the evidences of piety. The duty and value of love are enforced by the following considerations:

(1) Love has its origin in God, and everyone who has true love is born of God, 1 John 4:7-8.

(2) God has shown his great love to us by having given His Son to die for us; and as He has so loved us, we ought also to love one another, 1 John 4:9-11.

(3) If we love one another, it furnishes the best evidence that God dwells in us, 1 John 4:12-15.

(4) God is love, and if we have true love we dwell in Him, and He dwells in us, 1 John 4:16,

(5) Love will furnish us great advantage in the day of judgment, by giving us confidence when we come before Him, 1 John 4:17.

(6) Love will cast out all fear, and will make our minds calm in view of the events which are to come, 1 John 4:18,

(7) The very fact that He has first manifested His love to us should lead us to the exercise of love, 1 John 4:19,

(8) A man cannot truly love God and yet hate his brother, 1 John 4:20; and,

(9) It is the solemn command of God that he who loves God should love his brother also.

Verse 1

Beloved, believe not every spirit - Do not confide implicitly in everyone who professes to be under the influences of the Holy Spirit. Compare Matthew 24:4-5. The true and the false teachers of religion alike claimed to be under the influence of the Spirit of God, and it was of importance that all such pretensions should be examined. It was not to be admitted because anyone claimed to have been sent from God that therefore he was sent. Every such claim should be subjected to the proper proof before it was conceded. All pretensions to divine inspiration, or to being authorised teachers of religion, were to be examined by the proper tests, because there were many false and delusive teachers who set up such claims in the world.

But try the spirits whether they are of God - There were those in the early Christian church who had the gift of “discerning spirits,” (see the notes at 1 Corinthians 12:10), but it is not certain that the apostle refers here to any such supernatural power. It is more probable, as he addresses this command to Christians in general, that he refers to the ability of doing this by a comparison of the doctrines which they professed to hold with what was revealed, and by the fruits of their doctrines in their lives. If they taught what God had taught in his word, and if their lives corresponded with his requirements, and if their doctrines agreed with what had been inculcated by those who were admitted to be true apostles, 1 John 4:6, they were to receive them as what they professed to be. If not, they were to reject them, and hold them to be impostors. It may be remarked, that it is just as proper and as important now to examine the claims of all who profess to be teachers of religion, as it was then. In a matter so momentous as religion, and where there is so much at stake, it is important that all pretensions of this kind should be subjected to a rigid examination. No one should be received as a religious teacher without the clearest evidence that he has come in accordance with the will of God, nor unless he inculcates the very truth which God has revealed. See the Isaiah 8:20 note, and Acts 17:11 note.

Because many false prophets are gone out into the world - The word prophet is often used in the New Testament to denote religious instructors or preachers. See the notes at Romans 12:6. Compare the notes at 2 Peter 2:1. Such false teachers evidently abounded in the times here referred to. See the notes at 1 John 2:18. The meaning is, that many had gone out into the world pretending to be true teachers of religion, but who inculcated most dangerous doctrines; and it was their duty to be on their guard against them, for they had the very spirit of antichrist, 1 John 4:3.

Verse 2

Hereby - Greek, “By this;” that is, by the test which is immediately specified.

Know ye the Spirit of God - You may discern who are actuated by the Spirit of God.

Every spirit - Everyone professing to be under the influence of the Spirit of God. The apostle uses the word “spirit” here with reference to the person who made the claim, on the supposition that everyone professing to be a religious teacher was animated by some spirit or foreign influence, good or bad. If the Spirit of God influenced them, they would confess that Jesus Christ had come in the flesh; if some other spirit, the spirit of error and deceit, they would deny this.

That confesseth - That is, that makes a proper acknowledgment of this; that inculcates this doctrine, and that gives it a due place and prominence in his instructions. It cannot be supposed that a mere statement of this in words would show that they were of God in the sense that they were true Christians; but the sense is, that if this constituted one of the doctrines which they held and taught, it would show that they were advocates of truth, and not apostles of error. If they did not do this, 1 John 4:3, it would be decisive in regard to their character and claims.

That Jesus Christ is come in the flesh - Benson and some others propose to render this, “That Jesus, who came in the flesh, is the Christ.” But this is liable to serious objections.

(1)It is not the obvious interpretation.

(2)It is unusual to say that Jesus “had come in the flesh,” though the expression “the Son of God has come in the flesh,” or “God was manifested in the flesh,” would be in accordance with the usage of the New Testament.

(3)This would not, probably, meet the real point in the case. The thing denied does not appear to have been that Jesus was the Messiah, for their pretending to be Christian teachers at all implied that they admitted this; but that the Son of God was “really a man,” or that he actually assumed human nature in permanent union with the divine. The point of the remark made by the apostle is, that the acknowledgment was to be that Christ assumed human nature; that he was really a man as he appeared to be: or that there was a real incarnation, in opposition to the opinion that he came in appearance only, or that he merely seemed to be a man, and to suffer and die. That this opinion was held by many, see the Introduction, Section III. 2. It is quite probable that the apostle here refers to such sentiments as those which were held by the “Docetae;” and that he meant to teach that it was indispensable to proper evidence that anyone came from God, that he should maintain that Jesus was truly a man, or that there was a real incarnation of the Son of God. John always regarded this as a very important point, and often refers to it, John 19:34-35; John 20:25-27; 1 John 5:6. It is as important to be held now as it was then, for the fact that there was a real incarnation is essential to all just views of the atonement. If he was not truly a man, if he did not literally shed his blood on the cross, of course all that was done was in appearance only, and the whole system of redemption as revealed was merely a splendid illusion. There is little danger that this opinion will be held now, for those who depart from the doctrine laid down in the New Testament in regard to the person and work of Christ, are more disposed to embrace the opinion that he was a mere man; but still it is important that the truth that he was truly incarnate should be held up constantly before the mind, for in no other way can we obtain just views of the atonement.

Is of God - This does not necessarily mean that everyone who confessed this was personally a true Christian, for it is clear that a doctrine might be acknowledged to be true, and yet that the heart might not be changed; nor does it mean that the acknowledgment of this truth was all which it was essential to be believed in order that one might be recognised as a Christian; but it means that it was essential that this truth should be admitted by everyone who truly came from God. They who taught this held a truth which he had revealed, and which was essential to be held; and they thus showed that they did not belong to those to whom the name “antichrist” could be properly given. Still, whether they held this doctrine in such a sense, and in such connection with other doctrines, as to show that they were sincere Christians, was quite another question, for it is plain that a man may hold and teach the true doctrines of religion, and yet have no evidence that he is a child of God.

Verse 3

And every spirit that confesseth not ... - That is, this doctrine is essential to the Christian system; and he who does not hold it cannot be regarded either as a Christian, or recognised as a Christian teacher. If he was not a man, then all that occurred in his life, in Gethsemane, and on the cross, was in “appearance” only, and was assumed only to delude the senses. There were no real sufferings; there was no shedding of blood; there was no death on the cross; and, of course, there was no atonement. A mere show, an appearance assumed, a vision, could not make atonement for sin; and a denial, therefore, of the doctrine that the Son of God had come in the flesh, was in fact a denial of the doctrine of expiation for sin. The Latin Vulgate here reads “qui solvit Jesum,” “who dissolves or divides Jesus;” and Socrates (H. E. vii. 32) says that in the old copies of the New Testament it is written ὅ λίει τὸν Ἱησοῦν ho liei ton Hiēsoun, “who dissolves or divides Jesus;” that is, who “separates” his true nature or person, or who supposes that there were “two” Christs, one in appearance, and one in reality. This reading was early found in some manuscripts, and is referred to by many of the Fathers, (see Wetstein,) but it has no real authority, and was evidently introduced, perhaps at first from a marginal note, to oppose the prevailing errors of the times. The common reading, “who confesseth not,” is found in all the Greek manuscripts, in the Syriac versions, in the Arabic; and, as Lucke says, the other reading is manifestly of Latin origin. The common reading in the text is that which is sustained by authority, and is entirely in accordance with the manner of John.

And this is that spirit of antichrist - This is one of the things which characterize antichrist. John here refers not to an individual who should be known as antichrist, but to a class of persons. This does not, however, forbid the idea that there might be some one individual, or a succession of persons in the church, to whom the name might be applied by way of eminence. See the notes at 1 John 2:18. Compare the notes at 2 Thessalonians 2:3 ff.

Whereof ye have heard that it should come - See the notes at 1 John 2:18.

Verse 4

Ye are of God - You are of his family; you have embraced his truth, and imbibed his Spirit.

Little children - Notes, 1 John 2:1.

And have overcome them - Have triumphed over their arts and temptations; their endeavors to draw you into error and sin. The word them in this place seems to refer to the false prophets or teachers who collectively constituted antichrist. The meaning is, that they had frustrated or thwarted all their attempts to turn them away from the truth.

Because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world - God, who dwells in your hearts, and by whose strength and grace alone you have been enabled to achieve this victory, is more mighty than Satan, who rules in the hearts of the people of this world, and whose seductive arts are seen in the efforts of these false teachers. The apostle meant to say that it was by no power of their own that they achieved this victory, but it was to be traced solely to the fact that God dwelt among them, and had preserved them by his grace. What was true then is true now. He who dwells in the hearts of Christians by his Spirit, is infinitely more mighty than Satan, “the ruler of the darkness of this world;” and victory, therefore, over all his arts and temptations may be sure. In his conflicts with sin, temptation, and error, the Christian should never despair, for his God will insure him the victory.

Verse 5

They are of the world - This was one of the marks by which those who had the spirit of antichrist might be known. They belonged not to the church of God, but to the world. They had its spirit; they acted on its principles; they lived for it. Compare the notes at 1 John 2:15.

Therefore speak they of the world - Compare the notes at John 3:31. This may mean either that their conversation pertained to the things of this world, or that they were wholly influenced by the love of the world, and not by the Spirit of God, in the doctrines which they taught. The general sense is, that they had no higher ends and aims than they have who are influenced only by worldly plans and expectations. It is not difficult to distinguish, even among professed Christians and Christian teachers, those who are heavenly in their conversation from those who are influenced solely by the spirit of the world. “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh,” and the general turn of a man’s conversation will show what “spirit is within him.”

And the world heareth them - The people of the world - the frivoulous ones, the rich, the proud, the ambitious, the sensual - receive their instructions, and recognize them as teachers and guides, for their views accord with their own. See the notes at John 15:19. A professedly religious teacher may always determine much about himself by knowing what class of people are pleased with him. A professed Christian of any station in life may determine much about his evidences of piety, by asking himself what kind of persons desire his friendship, and wish him for a companion.

Verse 6

We are of God - John here, doubtless, refers to himself, and to those who taught the same doctrines which he did. He takes it for granted that those to whom he wrote would admit this, and argues from it as an indisputable truth. He had given them such evidence of this, as to establish his character and claims beyond a doubt; and he often refers to the fact that he was what he claimed to be, as a point which was so well established that no one would call it in question. See John 19:35; John 21:24; 3 John 1:12. Paul, also, not unfrequently refers to the same thing respecting himself; to the fact - a fact which no one would presume to call in question, and which might be regarded as the basis of an argument - that he and his fellow apostles were what they claimed to be. See 1 Corinthians 15:14-15; 1 Thessalonians 2:1-11. Might not, and ought not, all Christians, and all Christian ministers, so to live that the same thing might be assumed in regard to them in their contact with their fellow-men; that their characters for integrity and purity might be so clear that no one would be disposed to call them in question? There are such men in the church and in the ministry now; why might not all be such?

He that knoweth God, heareth us - Every one that has a true acquaintance with the character of God will receive our doctrine. John might assume this, for it was not doubted, he presumed, that he was an apostle and a good man; and if this were admitted, it would follow that those who feared and loved God would receive what he taught.

Hereby - By this; to wit, by the manner in which they receive the doctrines which we have taught.

Know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error - We can distinguish those who embrace the truth from those who do not. Whatever pretensions they might set up for piety, it was clear that if they did not embrace the doctrines taught by the true apostles of God, they could not be regarded as his friends; that is, as true Christians. It may be added that the same test is applicable now. They who do not receive the plain doctrines laid down in the word of God, whatever pretensions they may make to piety, or whatever zeal they may evince in the cause which they have espoused, can have no well-founded claims to the name Christian. One of the clearest evidences of true piety is a readiness to receive all that God has taught. Compare Matthew 18:1-3; Mark 10:15; James 1:19-21.

Verse 7

Beloved, let us love one another - This verse introduces a new topic, the consideration of which occupies the remainder of the chapter. See the Analysis. The subject is one on which John dwells more than on any other - that of love. His own character especially inclined him to the exercise of love; and the remarkable affection which the Lord Jesus had shown for him, seems to have had the effect to give this grace a special prominence in his views of what constituted true religion. Compare John 13:23. On the duty here enjoined, see the John 13:34-35 notes, and 1 John 3:11, 1 John 3:23 notes.

For love is of God -

  1. All true love has its origin in God.

(2)Real love shows that we have his Spirit, and that we belong to him.

(3)It assimilates us to God, or makes us more and more like him.

What is here said by the apostle is based on the truth of what he elsewhere affirms, 1 John 4:8, that God is love. Hatred, envy, wrath, malice, all have their source in something else than God. He neither originates them, commends them, nor approves them.

And everyone that loveth, is born of God - Is a regenerated man. That is, everyone who has true love to Christians as such, or true brotherly love, is a true Christian. This cannot mean that everyone that loves his wife and children, his classmate, his partner in business, or his friend - his house, or his farms, or his horses, or his hounds, is a child of God; it must be understood as referring to the point under discussion. A man may have a great deal of natural affection toward his kindred; a great deal of benevolence in his character toward the poor and needy, and still he may have none of the love to which John refers. He may have no real love to God, to the Saviour, or to the children of God as such; and it would be absurd for such a one to argue because he loves his wife and children that therefore he loves God, or is born again.

Verse 8

He that loveth not, knoweth not God - Has no true acquaintance with God; has no just views of him, and no right feelings toward him. The reason for this is implied in what is immediately stated, that “God is love,” and of course if they have no love reigning in their hearts, they cannot pretend to be like him.

For God is love - He is not merely benevolent, he is benevolence itself. Compare the notes at 2 Corinthians 13:11. Never was a more important declaration made than this; never was more meaning crowded into a few words than in this short sentence - “God is love.” In the darkness of this world of sin - in all the sorrows that come now upon the race, and that will come upon the wicked hereafter - we have the assurance that a God of infinite benevolence rules over all; and though we may not be able to reconcile all that occurs with this declaration, or see how the things which he has permitted to take place are consistent with it, yet in the exercise of faith on his own declarations we may find consolation in “believing” that it is so, and may look forward to a period when all his universe shall see it to be so. In the midst of all that occurs on the earth of sadness, sin, and sorrow, there are abundant evidences that God is love.

In the original structure of things before sin entered, when all was pronounced “good;” in the things designed to promote happiness, where the only thing contemplated is happiness, and where it would have been as easy to have caused pain; in the preservation of a guilty race, and in granting that race the opportunity of another trial; in the ceaseless provision which God is making in his providence for the wants of unnumbered millions of his creatures; in the arrangements made to alleviate sorrow, and to put an end to it; in the gift of a Saviour more than all, and in the offer of eternal life on terms simple and easy to be complied with - in all these things, which are the mere expressions of love, not one of which would have been found under the government of a malignant being, we see illustrations of the sublime and glorious sentiment before us, that “God is love.” Even in this world of confusion, disorder, and darkness, we have evidence sufficient to prove that he is benevolent, but the full glory and meaning of that truth will be seen only in heaven. Meantime, let us hold on to the truth that he is love. Let us believe that he sincerely desires our good, and that what seems dark to us may be designed for our welfare; and amidst all the sorrows and disappointments of the present life, let us feel that our interests and our destiny are in the hands of the God of love.

Verse 9

In this was manifested the love of God - That is, in an eminent manner, or this was a most signal proof of it. The apostle does not mean to say that it has been manifested in no other way, but that this was so prominent an instance of his love, that all the other manifestations of it seemed absorbed and lost in this.

Because that God sent his only begotten Son ... - See the notes at John 3:16.

That we might live through him - He died that we might have eternal life through the merits of his sacrifice. The “measure” of that love, then, which was manifested in the gift of a Saviour, is to be found,

(1)In the worth of the soul;

(2)In its exposure to eternal death;

(3)In the greatness of the gift;

(4)In the greatness of his sorrows for us; and,

(5)In the immortal blessedness and joy to which he will raise us.

Who can estimate all this? All these things will magnify themselves as we draw near to eternity; and in that eternity to which we go, whether saved or lost, we shall have an ever-expanding view of the wonderful love of God.

Verse 10

Herein is love - In this great gift is the highest expression of love, as if it had done all that it can do.

Not that we loved God - Not that we were in such a state that we might suppose he would make such a sacrifice for us, but just the opposite. If we had loved and obeyed him, we might have had reason to believe that he would be willing to show his love to us in a corresponding manner. But we were alienated from him. We had even no desire for his friendship and favor. In This state he showed the greatness of his love for us by giving his Son to die for his enemies. See the notes at Romans 5:7-8.

But that he loved us - Not that he approved our character, but that he desired our welfare. Hc loved us not with the love of complacency, but with the love of benevolence.

And sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins - On the meaning of the word “propitiation,” see the notes at Romans 3:25. Compare the notes at 1 John 2:2.

Verse 11

Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another -

  1. Because he is so much exalted above us, and if he has loved those who were so inferior and so unworthy, we ought to love those who are on a level with us;

(2)Because it is only in this way that we can show that we have his Spirit; and,

(3)Because it is the nature of love to seek the happiness of all. There are much stronger reasons why we should love one another than there were why God should love us; and unless we do this, we can have no evidence that we are his children.

Verse 12

No man hath seen God at any time - See the notes at John 1:18, where the same declaration occurs. The statement seems to be made here in order to introduce a remark to show in what way we may know that we have any true knowledge of God. The idea is, “He has never indeed been seen by mortal eyes. We are not, then, to expect to become acquainted with what he is in that way. But there is a method by which we may be assured that we have a true knowledge of him, and that is, by evidence that we love another, and by the presence of his Spirit in our hearts. We cannot become acquainted with him by sight, but we may by love.”

If we love one another, God dwelleth in us - Though we cannot see him, yet there is a way by which we may be assured that he is near us, and that he even dwells in us. That way is by the exercise of love. Compare the notes at John 14:23-24.

And his love is perfected in us - Is carried out to completion. That is, our love for each other is the proper exponent of love to him reigning in our hearts. The idea here is not that we are absolutely perfect, or even that our love is perfect, whatever may be true on those points, but that this love to others is the proper carrying out of our love toward him; that is, without this our love to him would not have accomplished what it was adapted and designed to do. Unless it produced this effect, it would be defective or incomplete. Compare 1 John 4:17. The general sense is this: “We claim to have the love of God in our hearts, or that we are influenced and controlled by love. But however high and exalted that may seem to be as exercised toward God, it would be defective; it would not exert a fair influence over us, unless it led us to love our Christian brethren. It would be like the love which we might profess to have for a father, if it did not lead us to love our brothers and sisters. True love will diffuse itself over all who come within its range, and will thus become complete and entire.” This passage, therefore, cannot be adduced to demonstrate the doctrine of sinless perfection, or to prove that Christians are ever absolutely perfect in this life. It proves only that love to God is not complete, or fully developed, unless it leads those who profess to have it to love each other. See the notes at Job 1:1. On the meaning of the Greek word here used, (τελειόω teleioō,) see the notes at Philippians 3:12. Compare the notes at Hebrews 2:10.

Verse 13

Hereby know we that we dwell in him - Here is another, or an additional evidence of it.

Because he hath given us of his Spirit - He has imparted the influences of that Spirit to our souls, producing “love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,” etc., Galatians 5:22-23. It was one of the promises which the Lord Jesus made to his disciples that he would send the Holy Spirit to be with them after he should be withdrawn from them, John 14:16-17, John 14:26; John 15:26; John 16:7, and one of the clearest evidences which we can have that we are the children of God, is derived from the influences of that Spirit on our hearts. See this sentiment illustrated in the notes at Romans 8:16.

Verse 14

And we have seen - Notes on 1 John 1:1.

And do testify - Notes, 1 John 1:3. That is, we who are apostles bear witness to you of this great truth, that God has sent his Son to be a Saviour. Compare the notes at John 20:31. The reason why this is referred to here is not quite apparent, but the train of thought in this passage would seem to be this: The writer is discoursing of the love of God, and of its manifestation in the gift of the Saviour, and of the proper influence which it should have on us. Struck with the greatness and importance of the subject, his mind adverts to the “evidence” on which what he was saying rested - the evidence that the Father had really thus manifested his love. That evidence he repeats, that he had actually seen him who had been sent, and had the clearest demonstration that what he deemed so important had really occurred.

Verse 15

Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God - In the true sense, and from the heart. This will always prove that a man is a Christian. But the passage cannot mean that if he merely says so in words, or if he does it insincerely, or without any proper sense of the truth, it will prove that he is a Christian. On the meaning of the sentiment here expressed, see the notes at 1 John 4:2. Compare the notes at Romans 10:10.

Verse 16

And we have known and believed ... - We all have assurance that God has loved us, and the fullest belief in the great fact of redemption by which he has manifested his love to us.

God is love - Notes, 1 John 4:8. It is not uncommon for John to repeat an important truth. He delights to dwell on such a truth as that which is here expressed; and who should not? What truth is there on which the mind can dwell with more pleasure; what is there that is better fitted to win the heart to holiness; what that will do more to sustain the soul in the sorrows and trials of this life? In our trials; in the darkness which is around us; in the perplexities which meet and embarrass us in regard to the divine administration; in all that seems to us incomprehensible in this world, and in the prospect of the next, let us learn to repeat this declaration of the favored disciple, ““God is love.”” What trials may we not bear, if we feel assured of that! What dark cloud that seems to hang over our way, and to involve all things in gloom, will not be bright, if from the depths of our souls we can always say, “God is love!”

And he that dwelleth in love ... - Religion is all love. God is love; he has loved us; we are to love him; we are to love one another; we are to love the whole world. Heaven is filled with love, and there is nothing else there. The earth is filled with love just as far as religion prevails, and would be entirely if it should prevail everywhere. Love would remove all the corrupt passions, the crimes, the jealousies, the wars on the earth, and would diffuse around the globe the bliss of heaven. If a man, therefore, is actuated by this, he has the spirit of the heavenly world reigning in his soul, and lives in an atmosphere of love.

Verse 17

Herein is our love made perfect - Margin, “love with us.” The margin accords with the Greek - μεθ ̓ ἡμῶν meth' hēmōn. The meaning is, “the love that is within us, or in us, is made perfect.” The expression is unusual; but the general idea is, that love is rendered complete or entire in the manner in which the apostle specifies. In this way love becomes what it should be, and will prepare us to appear with confidence before the judgment-seat. Compare the notes at 1 John 4:12.

That we may have boldness in the day of judgment - By the influence of love in delivering us from the fear of the wrath to come, 1 John 4:18. The idea is, that he who has true love to God will have nothing to fear in the day of judgment, and may even approach the awful tribunal where he is to receive the sentence which shall determine his everlasting destiny without alarm.

Because as he is, so are we in this world - That is, we have the same traits of character which the Saviour had, and, resembling him, we need not be alarmed at the prospect of meeting him.

Verse 18

There is no fear in love - Love is not an affection which produces fear. In the love which we have for a parent, a child, a friend, there is no fear. If a man had perfect love to God, he would have no fear of anything - for what would he have to dread? He would have no fear of death, for he would have nothing to dread beyond the grave. It is guilt that makes people fear what is to come; but he whose sins are pardoned, and whose heart is filled with the love of God, has nothing to dread in this world or the world to come. The angels in heaven, who have always loved God and one another, have no fear, for they have nothing to dread in the future; the redeemed in heaven, rescued from all danger, and filled with the love of God, have nothing to dread; and as far as that same loves operates on earth, it delivers the soul now from all apprehension of what is to come.

But perfect love casteth out fear - That is, love that is complete, or that is allowed to exert its proper influence on the soul. As far as it exists, its tendency is to deliver the mind from alarms. If it should exist in any soul in an absolutely perfect state, that soul would be entirely free from all dread in regard to the future.

Because fear hath torment - It is a painful and distressing emotion. Thus men suffer from the fear of poverty, of losses, of bereavement, of sickness, of death, and of future woe. From all these distressing apprehensions, that love of God which furnishes an evidence of true piety delivers us.

He that feareth, is not made perfect in love - He about whose mind there lingers the apprehension of future wrath, shows that love in his soul has not accomplished its full work. Perhaps it never will on any soul until we reach the heavenly world, though there are many minds so full of love to God, as to be prevailingly delivered from fear.

Verse 19

We love him, because he first loved us - This passage is susceptible of two explanations; either.

(1)That the fact that he first loved us is the “ground” or “reason” why we love him, or.

(2)That as a matter of fact we have been brought to love him in consequence of the love which he has manifested toward us, though the real ground of our love may be the excellency of his own character.

If the former be the meaning, and if that were the only ground of love, then it would be mere selfishness, (compare Matthew 5:46-47); and it cannot be believed that John meant to teach that that is the “only” reason of our love to God. It is true, indeed, that that is a proper ground of love, or that we are bound to love God in proportion to the benefits which we have received from his Hand; but still genuine love to God is something which cannot be explained by the mere fact that we have received favors from Him. The true, the original ground of love to God, is the “excellence of His own character,” apart from the question whether we are to be benefited or not. There is that in the divine nature which a holy being will love, apart from the benefits which he is to receive, and from any thought even of his own destiny. It seems to me, therefore, that John must have meant here, in accordance with the second interpretation suggested above, that the fact that we love God is to be traced to the means which he has used to bring us to himself, but without saying that this is the sole or even the main reason why we love him. It was His love manifested to us by sending His Son to redeem us which will explain the fact that we now love Him; but still the real ground or reason why we love Him is the infinite excellence of His own character. It should be added here, that many suppose that the Greek words rendered “we love” (ἡμεῖς ἀγαπῶμεν hēmeis agapōmen are not in the indicative, but in the subjunctive; and that this is an exhortation - “let us love him, because he first loved us.” So the Syriac, the Arabic, and the Vulgate read it; and so it is understood by Benson, Grotius, and Bloomfield. The main idea would not be essentially different; and it is a proper ground of exhortation to love God because He has loved us, though the highest ground is, because His character is infinitely worthy of love.

Verse 20

If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother - His Christian brother; or, in a larger sense, any man. The sense is, that no man, whatever may be his professions and pretensions, can have any true love to God, unless he loves his brethren.

He is a liar - Compare the notes at 1 John 1:6. It is not necessary, in order to a proper interpretation of this passage, to suppose that he “intentionally” deceives. The sense is, that this must be a false profession.

For he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen ... - It is more reasonable to expect that we should love one whom we have seen and known personally, than that we should love one whom we have not seen. The apostle is arguing from human nature as it is, and everyone feels that we are more likely to love one with whom we are familiar than one who is a stranger. If a professed Christian, therefore, does not love one who bears the divine image, whom he sees and knows, how can he love that God whose image he bears, whom he has not seen? Compare the notes at 1 John 3:17.

Verse 21

And this commandment have we from him - That is, the command to love a brother is as obligatory as that to love God. If one is obeyed, the other ought to be also; if a man feels that one is binding on him, he should feel that the other is also; and he can never have evidence that he is a true Christian, unless he manifests love to his brethren as well as love to God. See the notes at James 2:10.

That he who loveth God love his brother also - See the notes at John 13:34-35. Compare John 15:12, John 15:17.

Bibliographical Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on 1 John 4". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bnb/1-john-4.html. 1870.
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