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( 1Jn_4:1-6 ). Before proceeding with this great theme, the apostle, in a parenthetical passage, warns us against false spirits. Such are in the world, and it is necessary to warn believers against them. We are warned of the necessity of proving the spirits by which men speak, and to beware of estimating people merely by their profession. Many who profess to be the prophets of God are in reality false prophets speaking by evil spirits. From the Lord's own words we know that a false prophet is one who has every appearance of being one of His sheep, for he comes in sheep's clothing, but inwardly he is but a ravening wolf bent on the destruction of the sheep ( Mat_7:15 ).
The apostle proceeds to give us three great tests whereby we can distinguish between the spirit of truth and the spirit of error:
(Vv. 2, 3). Firstly, the greatest of all tests is that which concerns Christ Himself. We can test whether men speak by the Spirit of God by their attitude to Christ. The testing question is, Do they confess Jesus Christ come in flesh? They may, indeed, confess that Jesus Christ is truly a man, and a pattern man; but do they confess that He has “come in flesh”, and therefore that He is a divine Person Who existed before He came in flesh? Moreover, to confess Jesus Christ come in flesh is not only to confess the truth of His Person, but also personally to bow in obedience to Him as Lord. The false teacher will neither confess the truth of His Person, nor own Him as Lord, and thus proves that he is not of God and is speaking by a false spirit, the spirit of antichrist that is already abroad in the world.
(V. 4). When these false spirits are detected, the believer can overcome them by the Holy Spirit that dwells in him, for the Holy Spirit is greater than the spirit of antichrist that is in the world.
(V. 5). Secondly, we can detect false spirits by their connection with the world. Are they popular with the world? Every false spirit is of the world and speaks as of the world, and therefore in accordance with the thoughts and principles of the world. As they thus speak, the world heareth them. It is evident that nothing that is truly of God will be popular with the world, for we know that all that is in the world is not of the Father ( 1Jn_2:16 ). Any preaching or religious book that is popular with the world will, in the measure of its popularity, stand condemned as not teaching the truth. How many religious movements of the day are at once exposed for the believer by this simple test!
(V. 6). Thirdly, a final test to detect the spirit of error is raised by the question, Do they accept the teaching of the apostles? The latter can say, “We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us.” How many infidel critics of the day dismiss the teachings of the apostles as being merely Johannine or Pauline doctrines to be treated as the opinions of partially instructed men, and therefore to be accepted or rejected according to whether their teachings fit in with the views of these days of professed greater enlightenment.
We may indeed grow in the knowledge of the truth that has been revealed, but there can be no development or advance upon truth given by inspiration. It follows that those who reject the apostolic teaching stand utterly condemned by this solemn passage as being “not of God”, for the apostle can say by inspiration, “He that is not of God heareth not us.”
We can thus detect the spirit of error and the spirit of truth, and we are able to escape the false prophets, the false systems and the false spirits that are abroad in Christendom today by asking these simple questions:
What is their attitude to Christ?
Are they popular with the world?
Do they accept the apostles' teachings?
The only safeguard of the believer, who has tried the spirits and found them to be antichristian, is to treat them as evil and wholly refuse them. It has been truly said, “As soon as the demon is discerned, there is but one course - to treat the demon as a demon. If this course is adopted, he will be found powerless before the name of Jesus; but if we resort to any other way, if we yield to human considerations, if we are amiable with the agents of the enemy, we shall soon find ourselves in weakness before Satan, God not being able to be with us in the course we have chosen” (J.N.D.).
Having given us this solemn word of warning, the apostle resumes the great subject of this portion of the Epistle already brought before us in the last verse of 1 John 3 - abiding in God and God in us. In order that these great truths may be a practical reality to us, the apostle presents the love of God in a threefold way. Firstly, in verses 7 to 11, he speaks of the love of God toward us, settling every question of our past. Secondly, in verses 12 to 16, he presents the love of God in us, governing our present life of testimony. Thirdly, in verses 17 to 19, he speaks of the love of God with us, in view of the future.
(Vv. 7, 8). The love of God toward us. In the enjoyment of this new life, the apostle addresses believers as “Beloved”, and he says, “Let us love one another.” In order to draw out our love toward one another, he reminds us of what God is and what God has done. God is love, and God has acted in love toward us. Thus there is a twofold motive for loving one another. Firstly, the very nature of God is love, and, being born of God, we partake of His nature. By loving one another, we give a practical proof that we are born of God and know God. If we have no love for the brethren, it would prove that we are strangers to God.
(Vv. 9, 10). “The love of God toward us” is a second great motive for love to one another. We have not only a statement that God is love, however true, but we have the manifestation of God's love toward us. In our unregenerate days we were dead to God and in our sins. In order that we might live and have our sins forgiven, God manifested His love toward us by sending “His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him” and, further, He “sent His Son a propitiation for our sins.”
(V. 11). If, then, God has thus manifested His love toward us, we, who are born of God, “ought also to love one another.” This love to the brethren is not mere natural affection, which can be found even in the brute beasts. It is love flowing from the possession of the divine nature, a love that was manifested toward us when we were dead and yet in our sins. It is therefore a love that can rise above all evil and anything that I may detect to be wrong in a brother. I love him, not because of what he is, but because of the nature I possess, which is love. The thought has been expressed that I ought to rise above all that is disagreeable and untoward in my brother, because God loved me when I was as untoward as possible.
(Vv. 12, 13). The love of God in us. Having spoken of the love of God toward us, the apostle passes on to speak of the love of God that has been “perfected in us.” With this is connected the great truth of the Spirit which has been given to us. This is more than having a new nature, for the Spirit is a divine Person. “No one has seen God at any time”; but we know that “the only-begotten Son, Who is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him.” The Holy Spirit makes good to our souls the declaration of God by the Son, for He bears witness to Christ, brings to our remembrance what Christ has said, and takes of the things of Christ and shows them unto us ( Joh_14:26 ; Joh_15:26 ; Joh_16:14 ). The very perfection of love, the greatest privilege that love can confer, is that “we abide in Him and He in us.”
(V. 14). Moreover, if the Spirit of God testifies of Christ and the love of God declared in Christ, the result of receiving this testimony will be that believers will testify to the world that “the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world.” The Lord could say to His disciples that “the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, He shall testify of Me: and ye also shall bear witness, because ye have been with Me from the beginning” ( Joh_15:26 ; Joh_15:27 ).
The love of God toward us, and the new nature in us, which is love, will lead us in the power of the Spirit to love one another and to render a testimony to the world that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world.
(Vv. 15, 16). Furthermore, we know that the Spirit of God dwells in us, not simply by the experiences that He gives us, but by the word we are assured of His presence in every believer, for we read, “Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.” Alas! we may at times live so carelessly that we have no consciousness of God being in us by His Spirit. We may grieve the Spirit into silence so that we have little enjoyment of the love that God has toward us. If we walk in the power of an ungrieved Spirit, we shall know and believe the love that God has to us and, abiding in love, we shall abide in God and God in us.
(Vv. 17-19). The love of God with us. Having spoken of the love of God “perfected in us”, the apostle now speaks of the love “perfected with us” (N.Tn.). The apostle writes thus in view of the future, the day of judgment. The love of God removes all fear as to the future by bringing us to see that as Christ is, so are we in this world. As believers we are as clear from our sins and the judgment they deserve as Christ Himself. When we appear before the judgment seat of Christ, we shall have our glorified bodies and be like Him; but, even now, while we are yet in this world, we are as clear from our sins as He is. Our righteousness before God is set forth in Christ in the glory. We have not to look in at our own hearts to see if we are clear of judgment; we look up at Christ and see that He is so clear of all our sins and judgment, which He bore on the cross, that He is in the glory.
Thus perfect love casts out fear. Delivered from the fear of torment, we are made perfect in love, our love being drawn out by this great love to us: “We love Him, because He first loved us.”
(Vv. 20, 21). Having spoken of our love to God, the apostle immediately gives us a test to prove the reality of love to God. For one to say that he loves God, while at the same time he hates his brother, would prove him to be a liar. We have not seen God actually, but we can see something of God in our brother, and, if the qualities of God in the saints do not draw out our affection, it is obvious that we do not love God. It is God's will that “he who loveth God love his brother also.”
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Smith, Hamilton. "Commentary on 1 John 4". "Hamilton Smith's Writings". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30