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Bible Commentaries
1 John 4

Gray's Concise Bible CommentaryGray's Concise Commentary

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Verses 1-6


The second cycle centers around the thought that God is righteous (1 John 2:29 ); hence, fellowship with God depends on doing righteousness.

In the working out of the proposition the apostle speaks of three things: (1) The motive for doing righteousness: the hope we have through our sonship to God (1 John 3:1-10 ); (2) The test of doing righteousness: love to the brethren (1 John 3:11-18 ); and (3) The reward of doing righteousness: assurance of salvation (1 John 3:19 to 1 John 4:6 ).

Referring more at length to the “motive,” notice that our sonship to God includes likeness to Christ in His manifested glory (1 John 3:2 ). Notice that the evidence of the sonship is bound up with expectation of His coming, and the holiness of living it begets (1 John 3:3 ). 1 John 3:3-8 continue the thought of Christ’s holiness, and His work on the Cross to make it possible in our experience. 1 John 3:9 , has presented difficulty to some. “Whosoever is born of God,” is taken by many to refer only to the new nature in the believer which does not sin. Others interpret the word “commit” in the sense of practice (compare Galatians 5:21 RV). It is one thing to fall temporarily into sin as a consequence of sudden temptation, and another thing to practice it, i.e., to live in continual transgression. This no regenerated man does. The teaching of this verse should be balanced with that of 1 John 1:8 , where the apostle is speaking to the same persons as in the present instance.

Referring to the “test” of doing righteousness, it is peculiar that brotherly love should be insisted on again as in the case of walking in the light. But it will be found to have an equally prominent place in the third cycle of thought, thus stamping this epistle as peculiarly the epistle of love. It speaks of God’s love toward us and our love toward Him, but either side of that truth with John always runs into the corresponding one of love toward one another in Christ. Notice what hinders the flow of this love (1 John 3:12 ). Notice its importance as demonstrating our spiritual condition (1 John 3:14 ). Notice the spiritual application of the sixth commandment (1 John 3:15 ). Notice the practical way this love should be demonstrated (1 John 3:16-18 ).

Referring to the “reward’ of righteousness as consisting in the assurance of salvation, notice the number of times and the different relations in which that word “know” is employed. This is the “assurance” epistle all the way through as well as the epistle of love, and it is more than a coincidence that these two things go together. See how assurance of salvation depends upon our having a good conscience and a warm heart in Christ (1 John 3:19-21 ). See how this assurance carries with it a corresponding assurance in prayer (1 John 3:22-24 ). See, again, that this is the evidence of the abiding life in Christ (1 John 3:24 ), and that just in the measure in which we are pleasing our Heavenly Father as Jesus did, will we receive the witness of the Holy Spirit to that fact as he did. Finally the Christian who thus lives obediently has his assurance increased in the testimony to his overcoming of temptation. He will not be carried away by false doctrines or deceived by any antichrist (1 John 4:1-6 ).


1. How is the thought of this lesson worked out?

2. How would you interpret 1 John 3:9 ?

3. What peculiar stamp is on this epistle?

4. What name might be given it from another point of view?

5. What lessons are here taught about assurance?

Verses 7-21


What is the third characteristic of God which John reveals (1 John 4:7-8 )? If, then, God is love, How is fellowship to be maintained with Him (same verses)? In the working out of the thought that fellowship with God is maintained by experiencing and exercising love, notice:

1. how His love was particularly manifested toward us (1 John 4:9-10 ); 2. how our love toward Him should be manifested (1 John 4:11-12 ); 3. how such love implies fellowship (1 John 4:13-16 ); 4. how it effects our spiritual life, begetting assurance (1 John 4:17-18 ); 5. how its absence destroys fellowship (1 John 4:19-21 ); 6. how the experience and exercise of love is only another aspect of walking in the light and doing righteousness (1 John 5:1-4 ); 7. that the basis and source of this love, is faith in Christ (1 John 5:5-12 ). In conclusion, note how many things we may thus know (1 John 5:13 ; 1 John 5:15 ; 1 John 5:18-20 ). A simpler outline of this last division which some might prefer is: (1) the reason for love, God’s love toward us (1 John 4:9-11 ); (2) the source of love, God’s dwelling in us (1 John 4:12-16 ); (3) the rest or confidence of love, boldness in the day of judgment (1 John 4:17-19 ); and (4) the fruit of love, loving the brethren (1 John 4:20 to 1 John 5:12 ).

The conclusion of the epistle (1 John 5:13-21 ) is easily to be interpreted in the light of what has preceded it.


1. can you name the seven divisions of the first treatment of this lesson?

2. Can you name the four divisions of the second treatment?

3. Have you considered all the things which the Christian may know?

4. Do you appreciate why John is called the apostle of love?

Bibliographical Information
Gray, James. "Commentary on 1 John 4". Gray's Concise Bible Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jgc/1-john-4.html. 1897-1910.
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