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Bible Commentaries
1 John 4

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Verse 1

Beware of False Teachers

Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.

Beloved, believe not every spirit: John expresses his deep love for his "children" in the gospel by calling them "beloved," or "beloved ones," three times in this chapter. He has urged them to love in word and deed, and now he exhibits that love in word by calling them "loved ones" and in deed by writing a letter designed to promote their protection from false teachers. " ’Believe not’ is in a construction in the Greek text that forbids the continuation of an action already going on. It is, ’Stop believing every spirit’ " (Wuest, I John 159). This warning seems to indicate that some are being affected by the teaching of the false teachers. John is so concerned that he urges them to cease from believing every person who claims to be a teacher from God. In chapter two, John calls the false teachers "antichrists"; here he calls them "spirits" and "false prophets." We should not attach more meaning to the word "spirit" than is indicated by John. Lenski says, " ’Spirit’ is the person as such with his inner, spiritual character. There is no need to put more into this word." He goes on to say,

Every person reveals what kind of a personality or spirit he is by his word and his action although he may try to hide what he really is. Proper testing will penetrate the deception, will show whether what is in his spirit or heart is ’out of, i.e., derives from, God’ or from some ungodly, antichristian source (485).

We are to understand, therefore, that "spirits" simply refers to people in this context, whether good or bad, true or false. More specifically, "spirits" refers to true or false teachers with whom these Christians would come in contact.

but try the spirits whether they are of God: "Try" is dokimazo and means "to put to the test for the purpose of approving, and finding that the person put to the test meets the specifications laid down, to put one’s approval upon him" (Wuest, I John 159). As when a person tests a metal to determine whether it is pure gold or not, these Christians are told to test the teachers who claim to be from God to ascertain whether they truly are "of God." "Of God" is a phrase used several times in the first seven verses of this chapter. It is ek tou theon and means "out of, or from, God." Barclay says, "Quite certainly it means that the person, the spirit, or the quality has its source and origin in God" (109). It is worth noting that the apostle is addressing ordinary Christians with this instruction to test the teachers. Every Christian has this responsibility. We must not leave it to the professionals, for they may be false teachers themselves. John’s instructions should not be lost on us today. As Stott says,

Still today there are many voices clamoring for our attention and many cults gaining widespread popular support. Some of them claim some special revelation or inspiration to authenticate their particular doctrine. There is an urgent need for discernment among Christians (153).

because many false prophets are gone out into the world: The false teachers who were called "antichrist" and "antichrists" (2:18) and "spirits" are now called "false prophets." A true prophet in New Testament times was one who had the "gift of prophecy" (Romans 12:6; 1 Corinthians 12:10; 1 Corinthians 13:2) and spoke for God. He was inspired by the Holy Spirit to be a proclaimer of God’s message unto men. A "false prophet" is one who claims to speak for God and pretends to be inspired by the Spirit of God. Jesus had predicted, "And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many" (Matthew 24:11). John says that this prediction was being fulfilled at that time.

On "are gone out into the world," Wuest says, "The verb is perfect in tense. They have gone out and they are as a present result in the world of mankind, and they have established themselves amongst the people" (160). The "antichrist" that "shall come" (2:18) had come!

Verse 2

Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God.

Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: "Hereby" means "in this" that follows. "Know" is ginoskete, to know by experience. John says that it is possible to perceive experientially whether a teacher is being inspired by the Spirit of God or not. He has told them to test the teachers, and now he gives the test.

Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: We have established that the word "spirit" refers to a person. Wuest says, "The word ’confess’ is homologeo, from homos, ’the same,’ and lego, ’to speak,’ thus, ’to speak the same thing as another,’ thus ’to agree with another’ on some particular thing" (160). The truth that a person must agree with and confess is that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. "Jesus" is the name God instructed Joseph and Mary to give to His son. It means "Jehovah saves." "Christ" means "the Anointed One" and parallels "Messiah" in the Old Testament. The teacher who has his origin in God must agree and confess that the man, Jesus, who is the Savior and the Anointed One, "is come" in the flesh.

"Is come" is in the perfect tense and indicates past action with existing results. Jesus, who has always been, came "in the flesh"; and the results of His coming still remain to bless the world. This is the cardinal truth that the false teachers were denying in John’s day, prompting him to emphasize strongly the coming of Jesus "in the flesh." The Cerinthian Gnostics could not abide the idea of deity being "in the flesh" or being "made flesh" (John 1:14), inasmuch as they considered the body altogether evil. They taught that Christ only "adopted" the body of Jesus for a time. It is significant to note that John does not say that Jesus Christ came "into" the flesh but that He came "in" the flesh, in the flesh of a babe. While John is writing especially to combat the doctrine of the Gnostics and the confession is applied expressly to them, this confession is an all-encompassing one. To confess that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is to agree with and confess everything there is about Jesus. When the evangelist, Philip, preached "Jesus" unto the Samaritans and to the Ethiopian Eunuch, he preached more than the simple truths about the person of Jesus. He proclaimed the truths that proceeded from Jesus, including God’s conditions for salvation (Acts 8:5-12; Acts 8:35-39). Today, when one confesses Christ, he commits himself to all that Christ is and to all that He requires.

Verse 3

And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.

And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: What John has said positively in verse 2, he says negatively in this verse. "Confesseth not," the opposite of "confesseth," carries the same weight negatively as the other does positively. To confess Jesus is to give evidence that a person has his origin in God while to refuse to confess Him is to prove that he does not. This is the test to be applied by John’s readers.

and this is that spirit of antichrist: Although "spirit" is not in the original text, most agree that it is rightly supplied. "Spirit" refers to the disposition, character, makeup, and nature of antichrist. It was said of John the Baptist, "And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias..." (Luke 1:17). That passage means that John would exhibit the same attitude and disposition that characterized Elijah. Here, John explains that the false teachers were exhibiting the nature of "antichrist." We have already noted that "antichrist" is the name given to the false teachers collectively whereas "antichrists" is the name given to them individually. All of the false teachers had this same spirit or nature; they were anti-Christs or opposed to Christ.

whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world: This statement is parallel to those made in chapter two, verse 18: "ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that is the last time." Prophets had foretold that antichrist would come at "last hour," and John says, "This is it, last hour." Antichrist, in the persons of the many opposers of Christ, had already appeared on the scene. In this verse, John says the same thing about the "spirit of antichrist." He says that they have heard that this spirit should come and that "even now already is it in the world." Readers, please do not look for a solitary man to emerge who is "the antichrist" as many do today. Be assured that he was already very much present in the persons of false teachers in the time when John was writing.

Verse 4

Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.

Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: As a father writing to his beloved children, John affectionately salutes them with his oft-used term of fondness and attachment, "little children." Wuest says that "ye" is intensive and should be rendered "as for you" (161). He wants to distinguish his readers from the anti-christian teachers. He affirms that his "little children" are "of God." They have the right source for their lives and teaching.

"Overcome" is nenikekate and "is perfect in tense, speaking of a past completed victory, and a present state of being a conqueror" (161). These Christians, having resisted the false doctrine of the antichrists, are standing firm in the victory they have gained over them. John says, "You have successfully defended your faith and have resisted their encroachments." This is victory.

because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world: The reason for their success is now attributed to the One Who indwells. Who is "He that is in you?" In the last verse of chapter three, John says that God abides "in" His people and that they know that He abides "by the Spirit" who was given unto them. God was the source of their strength in gaining a victory over the false teachers and their false doctrine. Who is "he that is in the world?" He can be no other than the devil himself, for he is the "prince of this world" (John 12:31; John 14:30; John 16:11).

Is there something in this teaching for us today? By all means, there is. When we depend on our own strength to overcome the devil, we will fail; but when we depend on the strength of the indwelling Deity, we will overcome. Paul, having told the Philippians to "work out" their own salvation with fear and trembling, quickly informs them that "it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure" (Philippians 2:12-13). Paul imposes the human responsibility to "work out" our salvation and then affirms the divine enablement of our God Who "works in" us to give the ability to "do" what pleases Him. Paul prays that the Ephesians will obtain the strength that comes through the medium of the Spirit of God "in the inner man" (Ephesians 3:16). When the world would overcome you and destroy your Christian faith, remember, "Greater is He Who is in you, than he that is in the world."

Some have affirmed that this passage shows that God is in us in the same manner Satan is in the world--that is, influentially. Since we are living this side of the miraculous age of the church, and no one has the power to "cast out devils," we know that Satan does not indwell individuals as he did in Jesus’ day. We conclude, then, that Satan only exercises influence over individuals. Some go on to argue that God, likewise, only dwells in us through influences rather than personally. On the surface this argument seems plausible, but consider the passage more closely. John does not say in contrasting his Christian readers with the anti-Christian teachers, "greater is He who is in you than He who is in them (the false teachers)." Rather he says, "Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world." There is a vast difference between those two statements. Satan is not said to be in the individuals the Christians had overcome but in the world.

"In the world" is a phrase found several times in John’s writings. Jesus, while on earth, said that he was "in the world."

As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world (John 9:5).

Then, again:

And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are. While I was with them in the world, I kept them in thy name: those that thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition; that the scripture might be fulfilled. And now come I to thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves (John 17:11-13).

John, too, speaks of Jesus being "in the world."

That was the true light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not (John 1:9).

Jesus’ disciples were said to be "in the world":

Now before the feast of the passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved His own which were in the world, He loved them unto the end (John 13:1).

These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world (John 16:33).

It is easy to see John’s pattern in the use of this phrase. Jesus was an inhabitant of the world, as were His apostles. He lived in the midst of a world of men, not in each person of the world. Neither is the devil. The world is the devil’s domain, his realm. Satan is "in the world" in the same sense that Jesus was in the world. It is my settled and cherished belief that God is in Christians personally through the Spirit to aid them in overcoming the wicked one who inhabits this world as his special domain.

Verse 5

They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them.

They are of the world: The pronoun, "they," is intensive here and could be rendered, "They themselves are of the world" (Wuest, I John 161). John wants to make a careful distinction between his readers and himself, and the false teachers. "They (the false teachers) are of the world." John’s readers are "of God" as their source and origin, but the false teachers have their origin in this world. "World" is used in same sense as in chapter two, verse 15: an evil system antagonistic toward God and godliness. These teachers do not belong to God, nor do they proceed from Him.

therefore speak they of the world: The teachings of these antichrists have no higher source than this world. Their doctrine has its origin in this evil system that militates against all that is holy. What a denunciation of the false teachers and their false teaching! This statement sounds much like the worldly wisdom that Paul contrasted with the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:20-21).

and the world heareth them: "The world" refers to those people in the world who adhere to this evil world-system with all of its pursuits, practices, and principles. They have no heavenly aspirations and admire no heavenly aspirants; hence, John says they are happy to hear a message that is purely of this present system of things. The people of the world listen to the spurious teachers as if they were men of true authority and, then, nod their approval whenever they speak. As Jesus says to his disciples, "If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you" (John 15:19). The world despises to hear the things of God but is eager to hear the wisdom that originates in this worldly system. Woods makes a heart-searching statement: "It is a sad commentary on human nature that the masses of people prefer to listen to pleasing falsehoods, rather than unpleasant truth" (292). (Compare 2 Timothy 4:1-4.)

Verse 6

We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error.

We are of God: Woods comments,

"We" is emphatic, and those included in it are put in contrast with the false teachers earlier considered. It does not embrace all of the saints (if so, who were those who heard them?), but the apostles primarily, and in a secondary sense, those who taught the same truth (292).

The apostle is now using the apostolic "we" as he asserts the authority given him by Jesus Christ. "We," the apostles, "are of God," and we have our source and origin in Him. Our message proceeds from God.

he that knoweth God heareth us: Wuest gives this definition:

"He that knoweth" is present tense, progressive action, speaking, not of a complete knowledge, but of a progressive, experiential knowledge. It is the growing saint to whom reference is made (162).

Vincent says that the one John refers to here is one "who is habitually and ever more clearly perceiving and recognizing God as his Christian life unfolds. The knowledge is regarded as progressive and not complete" (356). The word, "know" indicates a relationship between the person knowing and the one known. Paul says that the whole direction of his life was toward knowing the Lord in this very intimate fellowship (Philippians 3:8-10). While he already knew the Lord in a deeper relationship than most, he aspired to know Him better. John says that the person who really knows the Lord and wants to know Him even better, "heareth us" (the apostles).

Jesus says to his apostles, "He that heareth you heareth me; and he that despiseth you despiseth me; and he that despiseth me despiseth him that sent me" (Luke 10:16). To hear the apostles is to hear Jesus; and to hear Jesus is to hear the Sovereign of the universe, God Himself. Jesus gave to His apostles binding and loosing authority (Matthew 16:19; Matthew 18:18), promising them that the Holy Spirit would guide them into "all truth" (John 16:13). Paul suggests the ascendancy of authority in his letter to the Corinthians: "And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us unto himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation" (2 Corinthians 5:18-19). God, who holds primary authority in the universe, gave the first delegation of authority to His Son, Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:18); Jesus delegated binding and loosing authority unto His apostles (Matthew 18:18); and, finally, the apostles left the "word of reconciliation" as our only rule of faith and practice. Authority in religion today resides in the all-sufficient word of God which originated with God Himself. Today, John would say, "He that knoweth God, heareth God’s word as final authority."

he that is not of God heareth not us: John further emphasizes the necessity to recognize the authority of the apostles who spoke in the stead of Christ. A teacher, or any person, proves that he is not "of God" when he refuses to receive the word of God as it was delivered by the apostles. The test of false teachers is a simple one: if they will not conform their lives and teachings to the word of God, they do not have their origin in God. Jesus says, "He that is of God heareth God’s words: ye therefore hear them not, because ye are not of God" (John 8:47).

Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error: "Hereby" is ek toutou in this verse and means "from this," rather than "in this" as in other instances we have noted. It suggests a deduction reached from the consideration of certain findings. By observing the willingness or the unwillingness of teachers or anyone to accept God’s word as it is, we can determine who is manifesting the spirit of truth and who is demonstrating the spirit of error. "Spirit" should be understood to connote attitude or disposition. The fact that the King James Version and American Standard Version translators have "spirit" without a capital "s" indicates that they agree with this conclusion. The person who is willing to listen to God’s word and abide thereby has a spirit or disposition favorable to truth; the person who refuses to abide by the teachings of God’s word has a spirit or disposition agreeable to error. This is a test that we may apply freely today. The teacher who teaches only the word of God as final authority "is of God." The teacher who adds to or takes away from the word is "not of God." Paul says it well: "If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord" (1 Corinthians 14:37).

Verse 7

The Need to Love One Another

Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.

Beloved, let us love one another: This is the second time in this chapter that John uses this label, "Beloved" or "beloved ones." The first time, he uses it as he warns against false teachers and their false doctrine; this time, he fittingly uses it to introduce his repeated subject of brotherly love.

A distinctive feature of John’s epistle is to reiterate the same points. Coffman quotes J. W. Roberts: "John’s thought pattern continues to retrace ideas and to pick them up like an orchestra does the strains of a melody in order to develop them more fully" (427). This statement beautifully describes the return of the apostle to the subject of love time and again. The "apostle of love" exhorts again, "let us love one another." It is important that we understand the uniqueness of the love that God commands. This love is not from the Greek word, eros, which speaks of the love of passion; nor is it storge, which speaks of family love, such as the love of a parent for a child; nor is it phileo, which denotes a love of friendship. "Love" here is agapao (verb), or agape (noun), which speaks of the love that God had for us when He gave His Son and that Jesus had for us when He gave His life. It is a love of self-sacrifice, self-denial, and self-devotion. It seeks the highest good of its object. This love is peculiarly one that sets a value upon an object and responds to that value. This is the love Christians are to have for one another. "Love" is in the present tense and indicates that these "beloved ones" should continually practice agape love toward each other. Lenski has it: "Let us go on loving one another" (495). "One another" suggests reciprocity; this love is to be reciprocated mutually by fellow Christians. In other words the meaning is: "I love you, you love me, we love one another."

for love is of God: In the original text, the article appears before love and suggests that this is not love in general, but "the" very special love proceeding from God and manifested in the lives of Christians. This is the love that is really love in the fullest sense of the term. One reason that Christians should love one another is that "love is of God." True love comes from God as its source. Since all true love stems from God, it is only logical that the children of God will love one another.

and every one that loveth is born of God: "Every one that loveth"--that love is not only a love one has toward his brother but toward God and all men. The love should be an agape love. If we exhibit such love, we confirm the fact that we are "born of God." The love required of a disciple of Christ is a love peculiar only to those who have become the children of God. When one genuinely loves as God loves, his actions testify to his genuineness as one who has been born again. Please take notice, as stated before, that John is not giving the conditions for becoming a child of God. He is stating the evidence that one gives by his actions that he is already a child of God. Wuest says, "’Is born’ is perfect tense in the Greek text, literally ’has been begotten with the present result that person is a child’ of God" (163). "Loveth" is present tense and means that he is constantly loving as God loves. One act of love does not prove one is a Christian; love as a habit does.

and knoweth God: "Knoweth" is to know by experience, suggesting a relationship with the One known. The Christian who continues to love habitually with divine love testifies that he has a relationship with God. He is God’s intimate friend and constant companion in life.

Verse 8

He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.

He that loveth not knoweth not God: He now offers the negative side of this proposition. If one loves as God loves, he confirms that he is born of God and that he lives in a growing and holy fellowship with God; however, if one does not live in the practice of love, he proves that he is not a child of God and his relationship with God is null and void. "Knoweth" is aorist tense in the Greek text and means literally "did not know God" (Wuest, I John 168). Vincent renders it, "did not know, from the beginning. He never knew" (357). Woods affirms that such a person "was thus never genuinely converted" (295). One writer said it is "critical" that we love one another. Without it, he has no proof that he ever became a child of God; in fact, he proves otherwise.

for God is love: The unloving person proves that he does not enjoy this close and intimate relationship with God for this reason: "God is love." This affirmation is one of the most majestic statements in the word of God. Jesus says, "God is spirit" (John 4:24); John says, "God is light" (1 John 1:5); Moses says, "God is a consuming fire" (Deuteronomy 4:24; Hebrews 12:29); and here, John proclaims "God is love." In all of these instances, something is being said about the nature, essence, and character of God. It could read, "God, as to His nature, is love." Love is characteristic of God’s innermost being. John does not mean that love is all there is to God. Some have mistakenly said, "God is love; love is God." However important love is, it is only one feature of God’s nature. Vincent makes an astute observation: "Spirit and light are expressions of God’s essential nature. Love is the expression of His personality corresponding to His nature" (357). The Christian is never nearer to God than when he loves. It shows a real kinship to God and testifies to a living communion with Him. Clement of Alexandria once said that when a Christian loves, he "practices being God." To fail to love is to fail to show forth the nature of Him whom we call "Father."

Verse 9

In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.

In this was manifested the love of God toward us: In verse 8, John declares that God, as to His nature, is love; in this verse, he shows the manifestation and proof of that love. We are to love our fellow citizens in the kingdom of God not only because of the loving nature of our Father but also to imitate the supreme expression of that love. Love always reveals its presence by its actions. John says, "in this,"--that is, in the following action. "Toward us" is en hemin and means "in our case." John is about to tell how God revealed his love "in our case" or where we were concerned.

because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world: "Only begotten Son" is ton huion autou ton monogenes and literally means "his Son, the only begotten." Monogenes carries the idea of uniqueness of offspring. Jesus was one-of-a-kind in this birth, which is expressed well in "only begotten Son." Some want to make it simply "only Son"; but the language will not allow such a translation, and Bible translators have stayed with the accurate translation, "only begotten Son."

"Sent" is apostello and means "to send under commission, as an envoy" (Vincent 357). "Sent" is in the perfect tense and shows past completed action having present results. God sent Jesus to the earth with a special mission; He fulfilled His mission, and we continue to benefit from the results. He says that He came "to seek and to save that which was lost" (Luke 19:10) and "to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:28). He completed that mission through His life, death, resurrection, and ascension; and He ever lives to make intercession for us. "In this," John says, was the love of God made manifest in our case. (The word "sent" also clearly declares the preexistence of Jesus and His incarnation, a fact the Gnostics denied.)

that we might live through him: Jesus came that we might have a quality of life that Jesus calls "abundant" (John 10:10). There is a vast difference between a mere existence and real life. Most people have an existence on this earth; only those who "live through Him" have real life. John calls Jesus the "Word of Life" in chapter one, verse 1 and then goes on to specify that the life of Christ is "eternal life." Lenski says that the tense of the verb "live" effectively means that we "actually live through Him" (502). "Live" is the verb form of zoe. Vine has the following observation about the verb:

(Zoe refers to) life as a principle, life in the absolute sense, life as God has it, that which the father has in Himself, and which He gave to the Incarnate Son to have in Himself.... This life is not merely a principle of power and mobility, however, for it has moral associations which are inseparable from it, as of holiness and righteousness (336).

Because of the love of God, Jesus was sent by the Father with the special commission to make it possible for us to live in the fullest sense "through Him." The only people who are really living are those who are living for Christ; all others are merely existing with no meaningful purpose. God says, "I have created (man) for my glory" (Isaiah 43:7). Paul says that this purpose is accomplished in the church (Ephesians 1:10-12; Ephesians 3:21). Living for Christ in the church is fulfilling God’s purpose for our existence in this world. When we fulfill this purpose, we function smoothly and properly: we really live. Every day in the Christian’s life should be a thrilling adventure, for we are deepening our relationship with the Creator of the universe in each new experience with Him. It is a life of true peace, joy, contentment, and excitement. Jesus was "sent," incarnated in human flesh, that He might make such a life possible.

Verse 10

Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

Herein is love: "Herein," that is, in the fact that God sent His Son to accomplish a marvelous mission, "is love." The definite article appears before "love" again in the Greek text, which signifies the special love that is inherent in the nature of God. It is not just any love: it is God-originated love.

not that we loved God: God was not prompted to love us because we had shown love toward Him. In fact, the whole human race had displayed only rebellion toward God. Paul says that God "commended His love toward us" when we were "sinners" and "ungodly" and His "enemies" (Romans 5:8-10). When we were "hateful and hating one another," the love of God was manifested in mercy and salvation (Titus 3:3-5). God’s love for mankind was unmerited. "We" were undeserving, unloving, and unlovable when God chose to demonstrate His love in the giving of His only begotten Son.

but that he loved us: Wuest says, " ’He loved’ is constative aorist, giving a panoramic view of God’s love for the human race. God has always loved sinners" (164). He has been angry with man because of man’s sins, but He has never ceased to love him. This perfect picture shows the kind of love we are to have for our brethren and all men. Our love must not depend on the condition or personality of the person we are loving: we simply choose "to set a value on that person" and seek his highest good.

and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins: God showed his unmerited love for mankind by commissioning His Son to come to this earth, veil Himself in human flesh, and die on the cross as a sacrifice for our sins. The display of His love had two parallel purposes: "that we might live through Him" (verse 9) and "to be the propitiation for our sins" (verse 10). Without the propitiation, there could not be the life.

"Propitiation," as noted in chapter two, verse 2, is a sacrifice that restores a lost relationship. It is only through a living relationship with God that we have the true life described above. This union with God was broken by sin, and only the sacrifice of a perfect person could restore it. Jesus was the propitiator and the propitiation for our sins; He offered the sacrifice, and He was the sacrifice. God sent His Son into the world to offer himself as an expiatory sacrifice for the sins of men just because He loved, establishing the proof of His love in a deed no one can question. He sent His only begotten Son to endure the humiliation of human flesh and to offer the supreme sacrifice. How can anyone question the love of God?

Verse 11

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

John now reaches the point he has been pressing toward all along. For the third time in this chapter, he addresses these dear Christians as "beloved ones." The word "if" does not imply any doubt but introduces a settled fact. He is saying, "If it be true, and it is, that God so loved us." "So" speaks of the extent and degree of the infinite love and sacrifice that God displayed when Jesus, His only begotten Son, was "sent" to the cross. Inasmuch as God "so loved us," it is only fitting that we in the body of Christ should love one another. "Ought" speaks of moral obligation, a debt. In view of the fact that God went all the way in loving us, we are morally obligated to practice mutual love in the Christian brotherhood. Paul uses the Greek word for "ought" in his Roman letter: "Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law" (Romans 13:8). There is one debt we can never fully pay, the debt of love to our brother. It is a debt that renews itself every day and continues to demand payment. When we consider the great love of God that issued in the ultimate sacrifice, we should consider it a small matter to pay our debt of love to our brethren.

Verse 12

No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us.

No man hath seen God at any time: In the Greek, the word "God" comes first in the sentence and is literally translated "God no one at any time has seen" (Berry 614). There is no article before "God" and plainly indicates deity, rather than God the Father. No one has ever seen deity in its essence. The nature of God is that of an immaterial and invisible spirit. John uses the same language in his gospel: "No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him" (John 1:18). This passage clearly teaches that Jesus revealed deity in a fleshly body so that we might get some insight into the nature of invisible divinity. God tells Moses, "Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live" (Exodus 33:20). The point is clearly made. No one at any time has looked upon and beheld the essence of deity. Wuest says that the verb is perfect tense, denoting: "Deity in its essence no one has ever yet beheld, with the present result that no one has the capacity of beholding Him" (166).

If we love one another, God dwelleth in us: John proclaims a marvelous and exciting truth here. While no one at any time has had the experience of seeing deity, it is evidence that deity dwells in us if we love one another. "If" makes the indwelling of God conditional. It is conditioned on the habitual practice of agape love for brethren and sisters in Christ. The word "God" here does have the article in the Greek; therefore, it refers to God the Father Himself. "Dwelleth" is menei, the same word translated "abide" elsewhere and meaning that God continually (present tense) resides in the Christian. Wherever the loving Christian goes, God goes.

and his love is perfected in us: "His love," Vincent says, is "not our love to Him, nor His love to us, but the love which is peculiarly His; which answers to His nature" (358). This love, which is characteristic of God and was manifested in the gift of His Son, is brought to its fullness in us when we truly love one another. Love is a growing and maturing experience. As we continually love one another, the love that is distinctively God’s love is carried more and more unto a state of maturity.

Verse 13

The Indwelling Spirit

Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit.

Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us: John uses his usual "hereby" in introducing another fact that he validates. "Know" is ginosko, "to know by experience" (Wuest, I John 166). "Dwell" is meno, "which is used often in the Gospel narratives of one person dwelling in the home of another" (Wuest, I John 167). John speaks of the mutual dwelling of God in us and we in God. Wuest says that the pronoun "He" is intensive in the Greek and means "He (God) Himself in us" (167). This truth is exciting. It is thrilling to know that God Himself dwells in us. How do we know by experience that God Himself makes His home in us and that we make our home in God? God has given us evidence of that fact.

because he hath given us of his Spirit: The evidence of the indwelling of God and of our continued fellowship with Him is supplied by the gift of the Holy Spirit. Alford comments on this phrase, saying that it is,

...nearly repeated from chapter 3, verse 24. But why introduced here? In the former verse, the fact of His abiding in us is assured to us, if we love one another. Of this fact, when thus loving, we need a token. Him we cannot see: has He given us any testimony of His presence in us? He has given us such a testimony, in making us partakers of His Holy Spirit. This fact is one to which the Apostle here calls our attention, as proving not the external fact of the sending of the Son (verse 14), but one within ourselves, -- the indwelling of God in us, and our abiding in Him (492).

Alford goes on to say, "The connexion seems to be this: the inward evidence of God’s abiding in us and we in Him, is, the gift of His Spirit" (492). I believe this passage--as the one in chapter three, verse 24--teaches that the Holy Spirit is the personal representative of God and Christ in the Christian’s heart. As H. Leo Boles indicates in his book on the Holy Spirit, this is the age of the Holy Spirit. He was sent on the day of Pentecost to usher in this last age of man’s sojourn on earth. He gave life, organization, and a law to that spiritual creation called the church. He inspired the minds of the apostles and empowered them to impart miraculous spiritual gifts to certain Christians in the first century (Acts 8:18; Acts 19:6; Romans 1:11; 2 Timothy 1:6). These miraculous gifts were temporary in nature and were destined to come to an end when the full revelation of God’s word would be completed (1 Corinthians 13:8-13).

Did the work of the Holy Spirit end with the death of the apostles, who received the baptism of the Holy Spirit, and the completion of the revelation? No, Jesus says that the Holy Spirit would come and "abide forever" (John 14:16). "Forever" means "unto the end of the age." The Spirit came to stay. He was promised not only to the apostles and to those upon whom they laid their hands but also to "even as many as the Lord our God shall call" (Acts 2:38-39). When one becomes a child of God, the Spirit of God’s Son is sent into his heart (Galatians 4:6; Galatians 3:26-27). Paul says that the church is the "temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you" (1 Corinthians 3:16). That passage indicates that the church is the dwelling place of deity and that deity dwells in the Church in the person of the Holy Spirit. Since the Holy Spirit dwells in the church, he must dwell in the individuals who comprise the church. Paul makes that point clear in saying, "What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own" (1 Corinthians 6:19). The body of the Christian, which that passage says is capable of committing fornication, is the temple (dwelling place) of the Holy Spirit. Two things are necessary to constitute a temple: (1) It must be dedicated to deity, and (2) Deity must dwell in the dedicated temple.

The body of the Christian is dedicated to be an instrument of righteousness in the service of God when he is baptized into Christ. The heart is cleansed of sin at that time, and the pure Spirit of God takes up His dwelling in the thus purified heart. These passages leave no doubt concerning the fact of the indwelling Spirit. John says that the indwelling Spirit provides proof of the presence of God and the gracious fellowship we have by abiding in God. The Spirit provides this proof by strengthening the inner man with aggressive strength to go out and face the world for Christ (Ephesians 3:16), by helping us in our weaknesses (Romans 8:26), by leading us (bearing us along) (Romans 8:14), by helping us to overcome the flesh (Romans 8:13), by interceding in our prayers (Romans 8:26-27), by providentially working in our lives (Romans 8:28), by being the Comforter Who is called to our side to aid us (Acts 9:31), and, as Robert Milligan says, "at least by ways and means unknown to us, so as to strengthen our infirmities, and cause the word of truth to become more productive in fruits of holiness" (282). All of these things that the Holy Spirit does in our lives provides experiential knowledge that God does dwell in us and we in Him. Barclay says, "it is the work of the Spirit which makes us aware of the presence of God" (120).

Verse 14

Testify to the Testimony

And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world.

And we have seen: The "we" in this passage must refer to John and the apostles in view of the fact that they were the ones who could offer eyewitness testimony about Jesus Christ. Although no one had ever beheld the deity in its essence, the apostles had personally "seen" Jesus in the flesh. "Seen" is theaomai, meaning,

...to steadfastly and deliberately contemplate. The verb is in the perfect tense, speaking of a past complete action with its present existing results. The act of viewing was not a mere momentary thing. It consisted of a process, which process was a completed one, one in which an assured result would be obtained (Wuest, I John 167).

The apostles lived in association with Jesus for three and one-half years. Their eyewitness testimony was indisputable.

and do testify that the Father sent the Son: The present tense of "testify" lends to the rendition, "we keep on testifying." The apostles were fully qualified to bear witness about Jesus, for they had been with Him over a long period of time. There was no doubt in their minds that "the Father sent the Son." "Sent" is the same word as in verses 9 and 10 and means that the Son was sent as an agent of God with a mission. Jesus was sent into this world to give life (verse 9), to be a propitiation for our sins (verse 10), and to be the Savior of the world (verse 14). What a mission and commission our Lord did have. The word "sent" shows that He could stamp "mission accomplished" on all He did.

to be the Saviour of the world: His mission was to be the Savior. The apostles could unreservedly certify that this was His purpose in being "made flesh." Jesus says, "For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved" (John 3:17). The Samaritans were convinced that "this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world" (John 4:42). The Romans looked upon their Emperor as the savior of the world and were offended when Christians claimed that Jesus held that distinction. This belief led to bloody persecution. With hindsight, we can see that the Emperor certainly was no savior, but Jesus lives on as our Savior and Lord. "The world" points to a sinful society alienated from God because of sin and living under the power of the "evil one." Jesus is called "Savior" because he was sent to "save His people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21). Barclay further specifies:

Men need to be saved from themselves; they need to be saved from the habits which have become their fetters; they need to be saved from their temptations; they need to be saved from their fears and their anxieties; they need to be saved from their own follies and their own mistakes. In every case Jesus brings men salvation (120).

Verse 15

Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God.

Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God: "Confess" is homologeo, "to speak the same thing that another speaks" (Wuest, I John 168). It intimates that the person confessing is in agreement with a proposition formulated by someone else. In this case, the proposition is the teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ. The verb is in the aorist tense, denoting a single and decisive confession made once and for all. Such a confession represents a definite and unequivocal commitment to a truth or an idea. The confession is that "Jesus is the Son of God" or that Jesus is God the Son. If Jesus is the Son of God, then the doctrine of the Gnostics is false. They said that God could not occupy evil human flesh, but John says that Jesus was a flesh and blood person who is to be confessed as God’s Son. The deity of Jesus is affirmed. The confession is more than just a verbal statement--it is a commitment to a concept that will determine a person’s actions throughout life. Wuest quotes Robertson: "This confession of the deity of Jesus Christ implies surrender and obedience also, not mere lip service" (Wuest, I John 168).

God dwelleth in him, and he in God: Further evidence of the indwelling of God is offered. It hinges on a total commitment to the truth that Jesus is God’s Son. God will not dwell in a heart that denies His Son. Furthermore, He will not allow anyone who denies His Son to dwell or abide in Him. Thus we have the mutual relationship of Christian fellowship, God in us and we in God. It all depends on one’s commitment to Jesus as the Son of the living God.

Verse 16

Dwelling in Love Is Dwelling in God

And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.

And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us: The pronoun "we" is used in an intensive sense and reflects, "as for us, we have known and believed." "Both verbs are in the perfect tense, emphasizing not only a past completed act but abiding results in the present time" (Wuest, I John 168-169). Lenski renders it: "we have known and still know, and have believed and still believe" (508-509). John and these Christian readers have known and still know by God’s love and have believed and still believe "the love that God hath to us." Vincent says that to "have love" is stronger than simply to love (259), and it is undeniably appropriate that the stronger language should be used pertaining to God’s love "to us" (en emin, in us, or in our case). Coffman reflects on this unusual expression:

It is perhaps John’s way of referring to one’s knowing and believing the whole thesis and system of Christianity, which might be summed up, really, as "knowing and believing the love of God." What a beautiful way to express it! (429)

God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him: "God is love" is a repetition of the noble declaration of God’s nature made in verse 8. God’s essence is marked by immeasurable love. God is the epitome and personification of all that love is in its highest and greatest magnitude. Love originates with Him, proceeds from Him, and is adequately defined only by Him. To "walk in the light" is to live in fellowship with God, for "God is light"; to dwell in love is to dwell in God, for "God is love." When one submerges himself in a life of true agape love for God and all men, he lives and abides in God; and God in turn lives and abides in him. This is a comprehensive and exciting description of total fellowship with God.

Verse 17

Perfect Love And Fear

Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world.

Herein is our love made perfect: "Herein" refers to what the apostle had just said about a total fellowship with God, evidenced through a total immersion in love. Vincent quotes Westcott: "The fellowship of God with man and of man with God, carries with it the consummation of love" (359). The literal translation from the Greek text makes a most logical rendition: "In this has been perfected love with us" (Berry 615). True love is brought to maturity "with us" through a continuing fellowship with God. "Is made perfect" is in the perfect tense and suggests that in fellowship with God love is made complete and continues with finished results.

that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: Mature love promotes boldness in the presence of God. John has already mentioned the "boldness" of those who are in fellowship with God at the second coming of Christ (2:28) and the "confidence" (or boldness) of a clear conscience before God in the attitude of prayer (3:21). He now declares that this boldness will also be a distinguishing mark of the loving Christian in the day of judgment. "Boldness" articulates a poise that is free and fearless, unreserved and unshrinking in speech, with nothing to hide or to be ashamed of. This boldness is not egotism, arrogance, or vain conceit but a godly confidence founded upon a right relationship with God, a relationship born of true love. To the sinner, judgment day will be a day of dread and horror; to the true Christian who loves, it will be a day of great gladness and reward. The apostle reminds us again that love is critical--especially in the contemplation of judgment day.

because as he is, so are we in this world: What is the basis for such boldness in the day of judgment? John answers, "It is our likeness to Jesus Christ." How are we "as he is?" The context shows that we are like Him in love. Jesus is the perfect example of all that love is. He is love incarnate. To love as He loved is the highest ideal for Christians to aspire. Additionally, to love as He loved is to live as He lived, for Jesus was motivated by love in all that He did. Some day we will stand before the throne of judgment. The Judge will be Jesus (Acts 17:31) who will not condemn those who are like Him. We are to be like Him "in this world" in order to be accepted by Him in that Great Day.

Verse 18

There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.

There is no fear in love: We must consider this assertion in light of the "boldness in the day of judgment" (verse 17). There is no fear in the love that brings confidence. "There is no room for fear in love" (NEB). This fear is not the godly, reverential fear that is commanded by God (1 Peter 1:17; Hebrews 12:28). The Christian is to be motivated by a holy fear and dread of displeasing a loving God (2 Corinthians 7:1; Ephesians 5:21; Philippians 2:12). The fear that is noticeably absent in love is the servile fear of a slave toward a cruel master or of a guilty criminal appearing before his judge. This kind of fear and true love are totally incompatible. It is "the love" in the Greek, the love that is true love, "that perfected love of which John has been speaking" (Vincent 361).

but perfect love casteth out fear: This is that love made complete through dwelling in an intimate, loving fellowship with God. "Casteth out," ballei, is in the present tense and suggests that mature love keeps on casting out, or hurling away, this terrible slavish type of fear. Fear often creeps into the heart of even the strongest child of God. Only love that has its origin in God can toss that slavish, cringing, terrifying fear from our hearts and give us the "peace of God." The love of God and fear cannot co-exist in the same heart.

because fear hath torment: "Torment" is kolasis and conveys the thought of punishment just as Jesus does in Matthew 25:46 : "And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal." Vincent says, "Note the present tense, hath. The punishment is present. Fear by anticipating punishment has (punishment) even now...Fear carries its own punishment" (361). "The fearful" not only look ahead with dread to future punishment (Revelation 21:8) but they are experiencing a punishing mental anguish now.

He that feareth is not made perfect in love: The person who is afraid of God and looks forward with startling trepidation to judgment day attests to the fact that God’s love has not been brought to maturity in his life. Mature love will vigorously expel the fear of impending judgment.

Verse 19

We love him, because he first loved us.

"Him" does not appear in the best Greek texts. John says, "We love, because he first loved us." Wuest suggests that an exhortation is involved and that the expression should be translated, "As for us, let us be loving, because He Himself first loved us" (170). The point is that no objects of love are suggested; we are loving and are exhorted to love in view of the fact that "he first loved us." God is the primary example of love. All love is preceded and engendered by the love of God. It is His love that inspires us to love. Our love is a responding love, awakened by an encounter with His boundless and incalculable love.

Verse 20

To Love Not Is to Hate

If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?

If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: John often uses a hypothetical person in introducing a principle. His hypothetical person here is a supposed Christian who claims to love God while hating his brother in Christ. John says that such a person is a liar. John also uses this strong language in chapter one, verse 6, where he says that the claim to fellowship with God is a "lie" if one is walking in the darkness of sin. In this verse, John links the love of God with the love of one’s brother in Christ. The two go together; they are inseparable. A supposed love for God that excludes one’s brother is only a figment of the imagination. It is not truth: it is fiction.

for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?: John has emphasized in this chapter that no one at any time has seen God. His question is how can a person claim to love someone he has not even seen and hate someone who is in clear view? It is usually easier to love that which is near and observable than to love that which is far away. One explanation of John’s reasoning is that the unseen God indwells the brother who is hated. John says, how can you hate the brother you see on the outside and love the unseen God who dwells within him? The conclusion logically follows that our love for God is predicated on our love for others. In the day of judgment, our love and care for others will be considered as love and care for the Lord (Matthew 25:40).

Verse 21

And this commandment have we from him. That he who loveth God love his brother also.

This teaching is the number one reason for loving your brother regardless of any unpleasant qualities he may have. John has already discussed "this commandment" in this letter (2:3-8). It refers to the commandment Jesus gave in John 13:34-35 and taught in principle elsewhere. If one proposes to love God, he must decide to include his brother in that love. He cannot do otherwise and be pleasing unto God. The verbs are in the present tense and might be rendered, "he who is constantly loving God must be constantly loving his brother also." Coffman quotes Plummer: "Here is the Divine command to love, not only the invisible God, but the visible brother in whom the invisible God dwells" (433).

Bibliographical Information
Editor Charles Baily, "Commentary on 1 John 4". "Contending for the Faith". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ctf/1-john-4.html. 1993-2022.
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