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the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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1 John 4

Mahan's Commentary on Selected Books of the New TestamentMahan's Commentary

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Verses 1-6

A special test for false preachers

1 John 4:1-6

In this chapter, the apostle warns against evil seducing spirits, advises us to examine and try the spirits, gives rules by which evil spirits are recognized and then returns to his favorite subject brotherly love!

v.1. ‘Beloved, believe not every spirit.’ The word ‘spirit’ signifies to a man who claims to be endowed with the gift of the Spirit to perform the office of prophet, preacher, or teacher. God’s word is received from the mouth of man, but some who claim to speak for God are false preachers and are sent by Satan to deceive and disturb the church. There were false teachers among Israel, there were false teachers in the days of the apostles and there are false teachers today (2 Peter 2:1-3; 2 Corinthians 11:13-15). Let this fact be fixed in our minds that, from the time the gospel began to be preached, false prophets immediately appeared, and we must not be dazzled by everybody who claims to be holy, to speak for God, to work wonders and to be a minister of righteousness. We must try these spirits (these preachers and religious leaders).

v.2. Let all preachers and religious leaders be tried by the word of God first (Acts 17:11; Isaiah 8:19-20). This will expose most of them, for they do not preach the word of truth at all. Their messages are full of free will, human righteousness, life by law and works, the advocacy of Mary and saints, God’s weakness and inability, sabbath keeping, rituals and holy days, infant salvation and all manner of tradition and open error. But John lays down a special mark by which we can easily distinguish between true and false prophets. Christ Jesus is the object of true faith and the whole foundation of acceptance with God. Therefore, he is also the stone at which all heretics stumble, and his person and work will be the place where error will be most evident.

1. When the apostle says Jesus Christ ‘is come’ we conclude that he was, before he came, with the Father, co-equal, co-eternal. He is very God of very God (Isaiah 9:6).

2. By saying he came ‘in the flesh,’ he means that Christ, by putting on flesh, became a real man, of the same nature with us, that he might become our Brother, except that he was free from every sin and corruption (Hebrews 2:14-18; John 1:14).

3. And lastly, by saying that he came, the cause of his coming must be declared, for the Father did not send him here for nothing (Matthew 1:21; Luke 19:10; Isaiah 53:10-12; Romans 3:25-26; Galatians 4:4-5). As some heretics depart from the faith, denying the divine nature of Christ, and others depart from the faith denying the effectual, sufficient and substitutionary work of Christ, leaving the final redemption of men’s souls up to their own free will, works, or co-operative efforts (Hebrews 10:11-18).

v.3. This attack on the person and work of Christ, whatever direction it may take, is satanically inspired, for it robs Christ of his merit and glory! It is the spirit which motivated Cain to reject the blood atonement, the Galatian heretics to preach circumcision, the Catholics to enthrone Mary and fundamentalist of today to say, ‘Christ has done all that he can do; now salvation is up to you’ (Romans 8:28-34). This spirit is not anti-religion, not anti-morality, not even anti-good works; it is anti-Christ! (Colossians 1:14-20).

v.4. ‘Ye are of God. You are born of God (John 1:12-13), and by the power of God ye shall discern error and overcome false preachers.’ The Spirit of God in us is greater than the spirit of evil and error in the false prophets.

v.5. There is no reason for us to be disturbed. These heretics are of the world system of which Satan is the prince, and it is not unusual that those under his direction should listen to him.

v.6. ‘We are of God’ true preachers, true believers and the true gospel of Christ. All who are of God know God, are chosen of God and will hear God’s word (John 10:24-28; Acts 12:48). ‘Hereby know we the spirit of truth and the spirit of error,’ by the answer to this question: ‘What think ye of Christ?’

Verses 7-13

Let us love one another

1 John 4:7-13

In these verses, John enforces brotherly love for the following reasons:

1. Love is of God;

2. Love is a fruit of his spirit and grace;

3. Love is an evidence that we are born of God.

This is the epistle of the doctrine of faith and the exhortation to love, and the apostle continually passes from one to the other.

1 John 4:7-8. ‘Let us love one another’ not just our friends and those who love us, but all people, especially all believers (Luke 6:32-35; Galatians 6:10). ‘For love is of God.’ That is, love not only is the command of God, according to his will and well-pleasing in his sight, but love comes from God (Romans 5:5). It is the fruit of his spirit (Galatians 5:22) and is the evidence of regeneration, for everyone that truly loves is born of God!

‘God is love.’ His nature is to love, to show mercy, to forgive. God is the fountain of love and this effect flows from him. A person who is born of God has his nature regenerated in him, knows God in a personal, intimate relationship and will by the presence of this new nature love others. If this fruit of love is absent, then God is not there at all and this person, though he professes to know God, does not know God at all.

vv.9-11. God’s love to us is revealed and manifested in many ways, but particularly in two.

1. ‘God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him’ (John 3:16; Romans 5:8). This is the principal evidence of God’s love for us and far surpasses all others. It ought to fill our minds with wonder and amazement. He subjected Christ to all the sorrow, grief, suffering and death of this world that his wounds might restore us to life.

2. ‘He loved us; we did not love him’ (Romans 5:10; Ephesians 2:1-5). He freely loved us when there was no return of love on our part. In order that sinful men may possess life and happiness, it was necessary that their sins be paid for and an atonement made for them, that the justice of God should be honoured and satisfied (Romans 3:25-26), that peace and righteousness be reconciled. Christ’s death did not make God love us but was because God loved us. His coming into the world was the effect of God’s love.

‘Beloved, if God loved us so freely, so sacrificially, so infinitely, we ought also to love one another.’ It should not be difficult for one who is the object of such love to manifest it toward others! It should not be difficult for one who has been forgiven so freely to forgive! It should not be difficult for one who has received such mercy to show mercy!

1 John 4:12-13. ‘No man hath seen God at any time.’ The same words were spoken by John the Baptist in John 1:18, but they have not the same thing in view. In John 1:18, the Baptist is saying that God cannot be known, except as he reveals himself in Christ, and the apostle is saying here that a man cannot know that God dwells in him by seeing God or talking to God, but he can know that God dwells in him when the Spirit of God produces in him the nature of God and the fruit of God, which is faith and love. If we truly believe in him and sincerely love one another, we have good evidence that God dwells in us (1 John 3:24).

‘His love is perfected in us.’ This grace of love will not be perfect and complete until we are perfectly conformed to his image in glory, when faith and hope shall be no more; but the sense is that this grace of love is growing in us. It is sincere and genuine, not in word and tongue but in deed and truth. The fruit of the Spirit is present in every believer, but as believers grow in the knowledge of Christ and his word, they grow in grace and the fruit of his spirit.

Verses 14-21

The fruit of love

1 John 4:14-21

v.14. When John declares that ‘We have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son,’ he refers chiefly to himself and the other apostles. They were eye-witnesses to his glory (1 John 1:1-3). They had seen his works and miracles; they had seen him dying, rising and ascending to glory.

‘To be the Saviour of the world’ not of the Jews only (1 John 2:2), but of the Gentiles as well. He is the Redeemer of all who believe on him, without distinction of nation, sex, age, state, or condition. He came to save us from the power of Satan, from the bondage and curse of the law and from wrath to come. He is the only Saviour of sinners (Acts 4:12).

v.15. We are united to God only by Christ. The Father has vested all things pertaining to life eternal in the Son, Jesus Christ (Colossians 2:9-10; 1 John 5:11-13; John 14:6). He that hath the Son by faith hath the Father! (1 John 2:12; 2 John 1:9). This confession, that Christ Jesus is not a mere man but the everlasting God in human flesh (Isaiah 9:6), is not merely a mouth creed, but a heart belief (Romans 10:9-10).

v.16. It is the same as if he had said, ‘We know the love of God for us by believing. Such knowledge is only attained by faith! The love of God is in Christ (Romans 8:38-39). No man knows or can be certain of the love and mercy of God to sinners except as he believes in and knows Christ (Matthew 11:27). We go from faith to love; by faith in Christ God dwells in us, and God is love. Then wherever God abides, love will be there. Hence it follows that he that exercises love to God and to men dwells in God and God in him.

v.17. John begins to show the fruit of God’s love to us and our love for God; we can dare to stand boldly before God, now at the throne of grace (Hebrews 10:19) and later at the final judgment. By nature we dread the presence of God, and justly so, for our sins hold us guilty; therefore, condemnation and hell must come to our minds when we think of God. Natural man has reason to fear and shun the presence of God. But the believer does not fear the Day of Judgment; on the contrary, we approach death and judgment confidently and cheerfully because of his love to us in Christ. As Christ is the Son of God by nature, we are sons of God by adoption. As he is loved by the Father with an everlasting and unchangeable love, so are we loved by him with the same kind of love even while we are in this world (1 John 3:1-2). As he was a man of sorrows, afflicted, tempted, hated and tempted by Satan, so are we! Moreover, as he is now in Heaven, so are we reprehensively in him (Ephesians 2:6).

v.18. When the love of God in Christ is seen and known by faith (how God can be just and justifier, how God is reconciled in Christ, how sins are purged, cleansed and forgiven by Christ’s obedience and death), peace is given to our hearts, so that we no longer fear the curse of the law and the condemnation of God (Romans 5:1; Romans 8:1).

Genuine, sincere and believing love does away with slavish and servile fear (Romans 8:15-17). When a person still fears the curse and condemnation of the law and justice and is tormented by a dread of wrath and judgment, it is quite certain that he is filled with unbelief concerning the person and work of Jesus Christ. He does not believe and trust Christ.

v.19. Lest love to God and so to one another should be thought to be a product of our own nature, the apostle reminds us that God’s love to us preceded our love to him. Our love for him and our love for the brethren is a gift of his grace shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. I am what I am, have what I have and do what I do by the grace of God.

v.20. Nothing can be more contradictory than for a man to say, ‘I love God and hate my brother.’ This is a lie that he speaks and a thing impossible. A man cannot love God and hate the image of God before his eyes, for God is before us in those who bear his image and the likeness of his Son.

v.21. This is another argument for brotherly love drawn from the authority and commandment of Christ. He not only commanded us concerning the love of the Father, but commanded us to love one another (1 John 3:23-24).

Bibliographical Information
Mahan, Henry. "Commentary on 1 John 4". Mahan's Commentary on Selected Books of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/hms/1-john-4.html. 2013.
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