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Sunday, September 24th, 2023
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25
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Bible Commentaries
1 John 4

Hampton's Commentary on Selected BooksHampton's Commentary

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Verses 1-3

Testing the Spirits

Every person claiming to teach God's law is not from God ( Mat_7:15-20 ). Moses told the children of Israel they could test a prophet by whether or not his words came to pass ( Deu_18:22 ). If the prophet's words came to pass and he tried to get the people to follow other gods, one could also know he was not from God ( Deu_13:1-5 ). Coffman notes the literal meaning in 1Jn_4:1 is "stop believing every spirit", which may indicate they were very gullible. As the latter part of this verse shows, the spirits John is speaking of are false prophets. Woods says the word "test" means "run an assay on them as a metallurgist does his metals and determine whether they were of God." Our testing today must be done by aligning their teachings with the word of God ( 2Ti_3:15-17 ; Gal_1:6-9 ; Jud_1:3 ; Act_17:10-12 ).

Central to Christianity is the doctrine that Jesus Christ is the Son of God ( Joh_20:30-31 ; Mat_16:13-20 ; 1Co_12:3 ). Any man affirming such clearly identified himself as God's prophet. To deny Jesus was God's Son come in the flesh was to identify oneself as one who partook of the spirit of the anti-Christ ( 1Jn_4:2-3 ).

Verses 4-6

Distinguishing Between the Spirits of Truth and Error

The Christians' victory over such false teachers is assured because they are on God's side ( Rom_8:31 ). The false teachers had abiding in them the spirit of the devil who is the prince of this world ( Eph_2:1-2 ; Eph_6:10-13 ). They followed worldly ways and said things pleasing to worldly minded people. Thus, they met with success and approval from the worldly. This helps us understand why false teachers meet with great success. They are saying what the world wants to hear ( 1Jn_4:4-5 ).

John said he, the other apostles, and all those who teach the truth like them are of God. All those who are in intimate relationship with God through the obedience of righteousness will recognize their teachings and follow them, but those who are not will fail to follow ( Joh_8:47 ). This is yet another test of the true Spirit in the teachers of truth versus the false spirit that was in the heart of the false teachers ( 1Jn_4:6 ).

Verses 7-11

God's Children Are Known By Their Love

God's children can be identified by their love for others, which was first demonstrated by the Father. God was willing to give up His Son for the good of those loved, and Christians must be willing to give up self for the sake of others. Some may have yielded to Christ but still hated former enemies who were now their brethren. Such stands as proof that individual is not a child of God. One cannot truly claim to be a Christian, or child of God, if he does not love. Love is one of God's characteristics, just as surely as it could be said He is light and spirit ( 1Jn_4:7-8 ; 1Jn_1:5 ; Joh_4:24 ).

God's love for lost mankind was shown in the sending of His only one of a kind Son, or only begotten ( Heb_11:17 ). God does have other sons ( Rom_8:14-17 ) but Christ partakes of the nature of God in a way none other does ( Joh_1:1-5 ; Joh_1:14 ; Php_2:5-11 ). He came to earth for the specific purpose of dying for the sins of lost humanity, that they might have the opportunity to live ( Joh_3:16-17 ; Rom_5:6-10 ). God showed the meaning of true love when He loved sinful man, who seemed unlovable ( Tit_3:3-5 ). The love of His followers for God did not come first but is an outpouring of thanks to the Almighty for the great sacrificial gift he gave for sin on Calvary ( 1Jn_4:9-10 ; 2Co_9:15 ).

God's great love for all those in Christ compels them to love one another ( 1Pe_1:18-19 ). The word translated "if" in 1Jn_4:11 would be better translated "since", as it is a clear conclusion based upon what John has already written. The love John calls upon Christians to have for the brethren is continuous, or ongoing.

Verses 12-16

Love, A Means of Seeing God

No man has ever seen God in the fullness of His nature ( Joh_1:18 ). However, Jesus came to declare the nature of God to man. While man has not seen God in all His glory, when believers love one another, He indwells them and His love is brought to maturity in them. As one evidence of God's indwelling the faithful and their abiding in Him, John gives the indwelling of the Holy Spirit ( Act_2:38 ). Woods notes the first fruit of the Spirit is love, which is interesting in light of John's present discussion ( 1Jn_4:12-13 ; Gal_5:22-23 ).

While no man has seen the Father, John and the other apostles had seen God in the flesh. Further, they were witnesses of God's having sent His Son in the flesh to take away the sins of the world ( Joh_3:16 ; Joh_1:29 ; Luk_19:10 ). The apostle of love further informed his readers that anyone who confesses Jesus as God's Son has God abiding in him. The confession here must at least be somewhat synonymous with keeping Jesus' commandments since both are said to cause the Father to abide in Christians. This confession is more than mere acknowledgment of Christ's Sonship ( Mat_7:21-23 ; Mar_1:23-24 ; Jam_2:19 ). It is the full belief in His Sonship that motivates one to do His will knowing he is truly Lord of all ( 1Jn_4:14-15 ).

The apostles knew Jesus, who declared the authority of the Father. He declared that authority because of the love the Father had for Him from eternity. Once they yielded to that known Lord and the authority of His Father, His love extended to them also ( Joh_17:24-26 ). These thoughts which are essentially illustrated in Jesus' prayer for unity, should help disciples to see how they can know and believe the love God had for them in sending His Son. That love, which comes through knowing God's Son, is the Christian's abode and because we abide in it God abides in us, since God is love ( 1Jn_4:16 ).

Verses 17-19

Mature Love Gives One Boldness in Judgment

When the love of God becomes mature in His children, like the ripening of fruit, they can face the judgment with boldness. Such boldness arises from the fact that Christians are of Christ in that they have taken on His great nature of love. When John says there is no fear in love, he speaks of the trembling fear of one who has done wrong and awaits punishment. When one abides in love, or in Christ, such fear of judgment is banished from his heart. When one is not seeking to fully keep the commandments of Christ, he can know love is not fully grown, or ripened, in him, which will result in the fearful wait for punishment common to the disobedient ( 1Jn_4:17-18 ).

In 1Jn_4:19 , the American Standard Version has the better rendering, "We love, because he first loved us." The Christian's love for God, neighbor, enemy and brother, is a direct response to the love God first had for His children. Some have tried to make God an angry creator whom Jesus appeased by dying on the cross. This verse, along with Joh_3:16 , and Rom_5:8 , proves God loved lost mankind first and sent Jesus to die to satisfy the requirements of justice.

Verses 20-21

Loving the Brethren

Generally speaking, it is easier to love that which is near and seen than that which is far away and unseen. Earlier, John had said, "No one has seen God at any time (verse 12). It is important to remember that man was created in the image of God ( Gen_1:26-27 ). Christians should love that spiritual image in every man. To fail to do so is to fail to love God. Such love should especially be shown for brethren in the family of God, or the church. The love commanded by John is not affection but a looking out for the best interests of the object loved. In fact, that is the same love God's children are commanded to have for their enemies, their neighbors and their brethren ( 1Jn_4:20-21 ; Mat_5:44-48 ; Mat_22:35-40 ; Joh_13:34-35 ).

Some may have been thus led to ask, "Who is my brother?" Those who continue to believe Jesus, the man, is also the Christ, deity, are born of God, or His sons. God is the one who begat all Christians ( Jam_1:17-18 ) and those begotten of Him would all be brethren in the Lord. Thus, when one loves God, who begat him, he should also love his brethren, who were likewise begotten of the Father ( 1Jn_5:1 ).

The Christian's love of God and keeping His commandments is the perfect display of his love for the brethren. For example, Gal_6:1-2 commands all the spiritual ones to restore brethren overtaken in faults and help bear one another's burdens. Heb_10:24-25 commands Christians to provoke one another unto love and good works by being present at all the assemblies of the saints to encourage them to keep on going despite daily pressures. By giving careful attention to himself and the doctrine, Paul told Timothy he would be able to save himself and his listeners ( 1Ti_4:16 ). So, Christians in the first century were given a number of instructions intended to direct them in properly loving God through displaying love for their brothers ( 1Jn_5:2 ).

Bibliographical Information
Hampton, Gary. "Commentary on 1 John 4". "Hampton's Commentary on Selected Books". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ghc/1-john-4.html. 2014.
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