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Bible Commentaries
1 John 4

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Verses 1-6

God’s Spirit and the Spirit of the Antichrist

1 John 4:1. In the last verse of the previous chapter John has already highlighted the fact that you have the Holy Spirit. There he mentions Him as an emphasis of the security that God abides in you. In the section you now have in front of you he will put the work of God’s Spirit against the work of the antichrist.

You can discern what comes from God’s Spirit and what comes from the spirit of the antichrist by asking for the confession of Jesus Christ. That is the first touchstone. There is another touchstone in this section. That is the question about whom the audience is for the message of a person who presents himself as a teacher (see 1 John 4:6). There is mention of a company of listeners that consists of those who are from God and a company of those who are from the world. Those who are from God, listen to the apostles; those who are from the world, listen to the spirit of the antichrist.

John starts with addressing you as ‘beloved’. That is a wonderful starting point for the old apostle. It expresses his care for you. Out of that care he wants to warn you to not accept all kinds of nice talks about God and His Son as if those words automatically come from God. You may think that it is alright as soon as you hear someone talks about God and Jesus. That is certainly not alright. You ought to test the spirits and you ought to know from which resource they speak.

There are examples in the Bible which show that sometimes unbelievers have prophesied through the Spirit of God, like Balaam (Numbers 24:2). What he then said (Num 23-24) came from the right source. When he counseled the people against the Word of God to commit harlotry, he spoke from a wrong source (Numbers 25:1; Numbers 31:16).

It is not said that you should test people to know whether they are believers or that they share the right doctrine, but it is about testing spirits. It is not about an orthodox confession, but about the question from which source the people speak. Is the source the Holy Spirit or is it a demonic spirit? That is the question here. It is about unmasking people who present themselves as prophets and claim to come up with a message from God, while in reality they bring the lie and therefore speak through a demonic spirit.

It is about spirits that imitate the work of the Holy Spirit. The spirit of the islam for example is clearly a demonic spirit and not an imitation spirit. The case with the false prophets who went out, is different. They imitate the Spirit of God, behind which of course a demonic spirit was hidden. That they “have gone out”, indicates an activity. Activity always impress people. What also is impressive, is that they are with a lot of them. You may have an idea about that kind of influence. When many people claim something, it impresses more than when an individual says it.

1 John 4:2. The touchstone is the way people think about the Lord Jesus. The Holy Spirit only reveals what serves to the glorification of the Lord Jesus and He does that with joy. Satan and his angels are doing the reverse. They talk nicely, but there is nothing that glorifies Him. On the contrary, they seek to dishonor Him. It is not only about historical salvation facts, but also about facts related with the Person of Christ. He is to be confessed as the Word that really became flesh (John 1:14).

He has not put on the form of blood and flesh temporarily. That He came “in the flesh” means that He became Man. The fact that He is Man means that from the moment He became that it was indissolubly connected to His Person. He truly became Man and He will be that forever. If He would not be Man anymore now, then that means that He had never been truly Man.

That He “has come in the flesh”, implies by definition that He has always existed as God. A person can only come in the flesh when He has a preexistence as God. He has eternally existed as the eternal Son. The confession that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh, is therefore also a confession of the eternal Godhead of the Lord Jesus.

1 John 4:3. When you talk about the Lord Jesus with somebody and no clear confession about Him comes out of his mouth, then it is not right. Such a person is not of God, meaning that he is not born of God (1 John 3:9-2 Samuel :). Not being able to make this confession means that such a person has not been born again.

A person who is born of God and therefore has new life, loves the Lord Jesus. That will also be noticeable. Saying that you love Him without showing anything of it, is telling a lie. It is about the confession of ‘Jesus’. Where you meet new life, there will be no need for an extensive explanation of Him. Family members immediately recognize one another.

The spirit of the antichrist does not confess Jesus as having come in the flesh. It is not only about what this spirit says, but also about the whole spirit in which he comes and acts (2 Thessalonians 2:3). It is someone who does not confess Jesus and furthermore in no way he considers God. The antichrist is the man in whom sin is in its fullness. The antichrist as a person is still to come, but his spirit is now already in the world. That spirit is not of God, but comes from satan.

1 John 4:4. What should you do when you notice that you are dealing with such a spirit? You do not have to do anything. You may know something and that is that you are a conqueror of that spirit. You have not overcome him by winning a discussion. You should not even start a discussion, for then you will on the contrary be defeated. Eve went into a conversation with the devil and she was the loser. You do not need to know and rebuke all arguments of the adversaries. You should simply stick to what you have been taught from the beginning, which is to the truth that was manifested to you through the apostles.

You are born of God and you may see yourself in the position of conqueror, because you have the Holy Spirit within you through the faith in the Name of the Son of God. So you don’t need to ask who is greater, the Spirit Who is in you or the spirit in the world. Therefore you should not let yourself be impressed by the parade of spirits who try to fool you by saying that you are a follower of a pitiable faith and that they can introduce higher forms of truth to you. Hold on to the faith that you have heard from the beginning and behave like a conqueror and the enemy will flee (1 John 5:4).

1 John 4:5. The followers and proclaimers of the false doctrine “are from the world”. That’s their origin and there they are at home. Everything that comes from them is what they are and where they belong. That corresponds to all who belong to the world and not to the believers. The world is under the power of satan and he rules it. From that evil system he sends his demons to dispose of their pestiferous doctrines. What they bring perfectly corresponds with the people who belong to the world. Those people listen to them, because they speak the same language as the men of the world.

1 John 4:6. You do not belong to the world anymore. That’s why you do not listen to them. Because you know God you listen to the apostles, for they “are from God”. It is about a radical contrast, the contrast between truth and error. There is absolutely no relation between those two. Therefore there is also no relation between those who are of God and those who are not of God. The unbeliever doesn’t understand anything from what you as a child of God receive with love. He doesn’t listen to it.

You can also apply the words “listens us” in a broader sense than to the apostles alone. You may apply them to all who proclaim the Word of God. Then it is about the word of the apostles, in other words the inspired Word of God. Then you’ll love to listen to teachers who explain God’s Word to you and edify you in your faith. They do not point to themselves and they also do not try to win you for their ideas, but they point to Christ. If you hear them, it will find connection in your heart, because the Spirit dwells in there.

Actually, that will only happen if the words that you hear are in accordance with the Scripture. Thereby it doesn’t matter by whom they are spoken, whether it is a well-known preacher or a totally unknown believer. The touch stone is God’s Word, the written Word. When that is spoken under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, you will listen to it.

Now read 1 John 4:1-6 again.

Reflection: How do you know from what spirit something comes?

Verses 7-14

God Is Love

1 John 4:7. After the warning teaching with regard to evil spirits in the previous verses, John again focuses on the nature of God, which you have received as a child of God. He again starts with addressing you with ‘beloved’. In that way John wants to make you feel that he loves you, for you also have, like he does, the Lord Jesus as your life. By that he also means to say that you are a ‘beloved’ of God. It is God Who loves you.

The fact that you have the nature of God has to become visible, for love in itself is not to be seen. The love you have for the other person “is from God”. That love is from God does not mean that each form of love comes from God. From the context it appears that it is about a Divine love. In God’s Word you also read about the love of man, which he received from his Creator. That’s actually called ‘natural love’ and that indicates for instance the love of parents for their children and the other way around. That love is also given by God, but that love can cool down. It goes without saying that by natural love God has never intended a wrong love, such as homosexual love. That is against natural love (see Romans 1:26-Daniel :).

The Divine love can never cool down. That love is not dependent on the response of the person to whom it is expressed. That love is in you and is a proof that you are born of God and that you know God. You see how love is related to its origin and the knowledge of it. To live (through birth of God) and to know (the One Whom you are born of) belong together. Through the new birth you have a relationship with Him. You know to Whom you belong, you know Him.

1 John 4:8. A person with whom the Divine love is missing, has no relationship with God. Such a person has never even known God; there has never been a relationship with Him ever. However wonderfully a person might speak about Him, he is a fraud and a deceiver. Not knowing God means that there is no fellowship with God. The verb ‘to know’ in the Bible has the meaning of ‘having fellowship with’. The meaning of ‘knowing’ is beautifully expressed in Genesis 4:1 where you read: “And Adam knew Eve his wife” (NKJV). Fellowship is a matter of the deepest intimacy. Therefore it speaks volumes when John relates ‘love’ with ‘knowing’ God, because God is love.

The real love comes from God “for God is love”. Only when there is Divine love there will be love for one another, a love that comes forth from the fellowship with God. When we talk about God as love and that His love is in us and through that love we therefore are able to love, you can compare it with a sea. When it says here: ‘God is love’, then you, as it were, stand at the seashore. That He lives in you as love, you can compare it with a bucket that is filled with water from the sea. When you let a bucket sink in the sea you can say that the sea is in the bucket. That’s how it is with your heart which is sunk in the love of God. You should ponder on it for a moment and you will be overwhelmed.

1 John 4:9. God has given a great proof of the fact that He is love. Love is invisible and must be revealed. God dwells in an inaccessible light (1 Timothy 6:16). We would have never known anything of Him had He not revealed Himself. But He made His love visible by giving “His only begotten Son”, or better said, as it is written, by sending “His only begotten Son into the world”.

We would have never known God if He had not done this. We would have never known anything of the mystery in God regarding the mutual love between the Father and the Son. John speaks about the ‘only begotten Son’. That does not mean that He only became Son by His birth. He has always been the only begotten Son. ‘Only begotten’ means unique, the only one of His kind. As such the Father has sent Him and as such He came.

You read that that love “was manifested toward us” (NKJV). That implies that the proof of God’s love lies completely outside you. False teachers also speak about love, but then as a mystical experience in order to learn to know God in that way. In order to succeed you must turn into yourself and follow your own feelings. That’s of course not the way. ‘Toward’ you means that it surely lies outside you, but it also means that you were allowed to observe, acknowledge and accept that manifestation. That’s how you received life.

1 John 4:10. You had no life, for you were dead in trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1). Because you were dead it was impossible to love God. Besides that you were dead you were also guilty because you did not love God. That’s why you needed reconciliation. God also provided with that. A propitiation was needed to meet the holiness and righteousness of God.

There was no love for God to be found with you and me. Everything in God’s love came forth from Him. His heart went out to you, because He also wanted you to take part in a company of people whom He loves to bring into His presence, to His heart. He took everything away that stood in the way by sending His Son as “a propitiation for our sins” (which includes also yours). Herein you see the great price He was willing to pay for.

That God is love ought not to be lowered to the level of ‘God can love’, as if there are moments that He does not love. God’s love became evident on the cross of Calvary. That’s the way for you to know what love is. The measure is that love has given Himself for sins He Himself did not commit.

1 John 4:11. John concludes now that if God has loved us in such a lofty and impressive way, it cannot be otherwise than that we love one another too. In that way we make visible that God is love.

1 John 4:12. Nobody has ever seen God, but God’s love has become visible by His Son Whom He sent into the world (John 1:18). However, His Son is not on earth anymore, but the family of God is. This family has the Son as their life. What the Son first did when He was on earth, ought to be done now by the family of God. And how can the family of God make possible that God is seen? By loving one another!

The public testimony of Whom God is, is given when there is love among the believers, among those who have the nature of God. From your love toward your brother and sister it becomes apparent that God abides in you and that His love in you is perfect. That means that His love in you is fully expressed if you love your brother and sister. All your actions toward your brother and sister are then in fact God’s actions. The love toward the other person is being displayed to its full advantage.

When God, Who is the source of love, abides in you (and it does!), then love doesn’t work differently in you than it does in Him, Who is the source of it. Wherever the love of God is being expressed from that source, it can only happen in the perfection which is typical to that source.

You may know it in the meantime, but I still want to remind you of the fact that John presents the things in accordance to their essence and not in accordance to the poor practice we sometimes show. That must not cause you to become blind to the wrong things, but that is not the point here. You are seen here in relation to the propitiation due to which your sins have been taken away. God sees you without sins and that’s the way you should look at yourself and others too.

1 John 4:13. In case you may wonder how you could know that God abides in you and that you abide in Him, John gives another security. You actually can know that by the fact that God “has given us of His Spirit”. Due to the fact that He has given you of His Spirit you now already have part in the same sphere of fellowship that you soon will enjoy in the house of the Father. ”Of His Spirit” implies that the fullness of the enjoyment is still to come in the house of the Father. The Spirit has been given to you because only the Spirit knows what is in God (1 Corinthians 2:11). You have the knowledge of the truth – that you are in God and He is in you – not from yourself or another person, but from God’s Spirit. Through the Spirit you share with God what is His.

1 John 4:14. The Spirit therefore gives you the inner security that you abide in God and that God abides in you. But something more is added that is external, which means what is outside you, but what you actually see and what you testify of. You have not seen the Spirit nor do you testify of all kinds of spiritual gifts that you yourself or others would have. What the Spirit has shown you and the power He has given you to testify of it, refers to the Son, Who was sent by the Father “[to be] the Savior of the world”.

‘Seeing’ these things and ‘testifying’ of these things are also wonderful expressions of the new life that you have received. In that way those who are not yet partakers of it, are able to hear about it and if they convert they are also able to partake of it.

Now read 1 John 4:7-14 again.

Reflection: How did you get to know the love of God and how does that love work in you?

Verses 15-21

Perfect Love

1 John 4:15. There is another security to recognize whether a person abides in God and whether God abides in such a person. That security is the confession “that Jesus is the Son of God”. This confession is not a profound or inconceivable truth, but it is the confession of each true believer. There is no believer without this confession, regardless of his age. It is a great truth. The humiliated Man Jesus is the Son of God. He was that not only when He was on earth; He still is. He who does not believe that is not a child of God.

God has fellowship with those, who have exactly the same thought about Jesus as He does. Such people feel fully at home with God. That is what God desires. The word ‘confess’ also indicates that wonderfully. Confessing means ‘saying the same’ and in this case it implies: saying the same thing like God. You also find that thought in “if we confess our sins” (1 John 1:9). In that way we declare that God is right about everything He has always said about our sins. You have acknowledged and accepted His thoughts about His Son and about yourself and about the world. If you are aware that you have been far away from God and now have been brought in such a circle of glory, then you will surely ascribe all honor to God.

1 John 4:16. John speaks with certainty about what he and all believers (“we”, this word is put in front and therefore has emphasis) “have come to know and have believed”. It is beyond all doubts that false teachers want to sow about it. You can make this statement your own too. You have known and believed “the love which God has for” you. ‘Knowing’ means that you have realized, and ‘believing’ means that you have accepted.

Once more that wonderful expression sounds “God is love”. It makes you want to shout it out loud: God is love! You have experienced it, you have been saved by His love. You have seen the manifestation of His love by sending His Son and in the propitiation the Son has become for your sins. Due to that you have life from God. The Son is your life. That implies that you abide in love and therefore you abide in Him and that God abides in you.

1 John 4:17. That love can be with you, as well as it is with each other believer, not otherwise than “perfected”. When God is love and He abides in you and you in Him, there is no lack in that love. You can note that when you think of “the day of judgment”. Do you think that when that day comes the judgment of God will be different than it is now? Of course not. Therefore you are looking forward to that day with boldness. You do not need to have any fear for the Judge, because ‘you are in the world just as He is’. And how is He? He is in the glory, surrounded by glory, without having anything to do with sin. You know that He has finished the work and that you have Him as your life. Due to that you are as He is, although you are not there yet where He is.

Here it is not about your position in Christ before God. Your position in Christ before God is addressed by Paul in the letters that he has written. John shows that the Lord Jesus is with God and in full fellowship with God in a realm and place that harmonize with the love of God. In that place there is no thought that’s related with sin, for it has been completely propitiated. And what He is you are in the world. You are living in a realm where everything is against God, but as far as you are personally concerned you are as He is. There is full fellowship with God, harmony and rest and peace. You have been brought into fellowship with Divine Persons. There is no need for you to fear for the judgment.

John already spoke twice about confidence. In chapter 2:28 it is about the confidence at the coming of the Son: how you are able to look forward to Him without any hindrance. In chapter 3:21 it is said that you now already have confidence in respect to your relation toward God, in order to ask Him in confidence for what you are in need of.

When John for the third time speaks about confidence (boldness), then it is indeed in relation to chapter 2:28, but he now uses the expression “the day of judgment”. In that way he draws your attention to the moment that all things will be exposed in the true light. At this moment many things may still be unclear or in confusion to you, but on the day of judgment it will become apparent how things are in reality. Then the perfection of the love of God will only become even clearer. The day of judgment has not come yet, but the confidence definitely is here already.

1 John 4:18. The thought of fear does not belong to confidence, for fear does not go together with love. Love is the full expression of Whom God is and God has no fear at all. Now you know the perfect love and that perfect love is in you, the fear has been driven out. You see that God in His love has removed everything that hindered you to live in fellowship with Him. That life in fellowship with Him is just as perfect on earth as it is in heaven where we will be soon with Him. The circumstances will then be different, but not the new life that you now already have.

It is not imaginable that a person, after everything what John has explained in this letter, would still fear God concerning the eternal punishment. You will without a doubt agree that fear for a judging God has been completely removed because of what you have seen of His love. John says very fervently that the fear has been ‘cast out’. There is a power in love working that causes fear to lose the battle. He who fears, “is not perfected in love”. He who fears has not comprehended the love of God, because he has no part in it (cf. Matthew 25:25; Matthew 25:30). Such painful fear for punishment doesn’t fit in the sphere of confidence of love wherein God’s children may find themselves.

You may question yourself how this can accord with the appeal of Peter to fear God (1 Peter 1:17). But Peter does not refer to the fear for the eternal judgment, but he refers to the appropriate reverence for Him Who is full of majesty. You will agree with me that this is an aspect that you also must take into consideration. Therefore John does not intend to say that you should not have respect for God now. Confidence and respect go together very well.

1 John 4:19. In 1 John 4:19 John concludes the portion about love with a summary: “We love, because He first loved us.” Thereby he doesn’t say whether it is about our love toward God or our love toward the brothers and sisters. Both aspects are not to and cannot be separated from one another. That you are able to love is because He first loved you. He is the source. John does not go into details Who the ‘He’ is. It can be the Father and it can be the Son. It doesn’t matter. Both the Father and the Son are God and therefore both the Father and the Son are love. The Father has proven that by giving His Son for you and the Son has proven that by giving Himself for you. Therefore it cannot be otherwise than that he who knows this love also does love.

1 John 4:20. Now you have seen what love is up to 1 John 4:19, from 1 John 4:20 you read about the test of love. A person may claim to love God, but how can you know whether this is really true? Well, you have discovered again in this letter that God’s nature is also to be found in your brother and sister and that they are in the same relation toward God like you are. He who says that he loves God will love all who love the Son of God as their life. Life expresses itself. What is being claimed must be visible in the brotherly love. You cannot see God, but you can see your brother.

The word ‘seen’ means that you have seen something very well, that you have given full attention to it. This is how the disciples have seen the Lord Jesus (1 John 1:1), which caused them to learn to know Who the Father is. This is how you also should look at your brother for whom Christ has died.

A person with whom is hatred instead of love for his brother, while he says to love God, is a liar. As it has been noted more often, we find such a person in the company of Christians. In that company he calls the others ‘brother’, but that is a lie. He says of himself that he is a brother, but he is not. Life and love are completely missing.

1 John 4:21. Such a person also does not care about the commandment that the Lord Jesus has given that we should love one another. He does not have love within himself nor does he see anything in the other that he finds worthy to love. The commandment to love the brother is only possibly to be followed by those who love God, because they have known and believed God’s love.

Remember that it is a commandment and not a kind request that you can deal with at random. If you love God, you are to love each brother and sister without exception.

Now read 1 John 4:15-21 again.

Reflection: Why is it that there is no fear in perfect love?

Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op 1 John 4". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/1-john-4.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.
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