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‘Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but prove the spirits, whether they are of God, because many false prophets are gone out into the world.’
‘Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but prove the spirits, whether they are of God.’ We are here faced with a problem of interpretation. What does he mean by ‘every spirit’. At what point is an external ‘spirit’ being spoken of as compared with the actual inner spirit of the prophet? For Paul had spoken of ‘the spirits of the prophets’ and clearly meant by that their own spirits within them as stirred by the Holy Spirit. He would hardly have countenanced a multitude of spirits in the church, and there is no evidence of such elsewhere.
We certainly know of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth, and John also speaks of the spirit of error (1 John 4:6), although possibly not having in mind a specific ‘spirit’. In the light of what has been said elsewhere it is possible that we might see this spirit of error as hinting at the Evil One, the Devil (1 John 2:13; 1 John 3:8; 1 John 3:10; 1 John 5:19), or possibly some of his minions, the ‘evil spirits’ of the Gospels, who speak through the antichrists (1 John 2:18-62.2.19; 1 John 2:22). But then we might rather have expected him to speak of the ‘spirit of deception’. The idea of the spirit of error may simply therefore be of any ‘spirit’, whether the internal spirit of the prophet or an external spirit which possesses him, which prophesies error. For at certain times it might well be just a vivid imagination that was at work. Many things can lead to error.
By ‘every spirit’ John may thus mean that which was seen to be at work in the prophet, of whatever nature it was. It might be the Holy Spirit working through the prophet’s spirit, it might be the prophet’s own spirit stirred up to ecstasy and working on its own inspiration, or it might be an evil spirit possessing the prophet.
‘Prove the spirits.’ As we have suggested above, in 1 Corinthians 14:0 where Paul spoke of ‘the spirits of the prophets’ he was almost certainly speaking of the prophets’ inner spirit (1 Corinthians 14:32), for he would hardly have countenanced a number of spirits speaking through them. And the fact that John here speaks of ‘every spirit’ as possibly being used by the Holy Spirit confirms the same. There is nowhere else any suggestion of more than one Spirit at work in the churches. Thus this might well be what John mainly means here. But he would certainly recognise that sometimes at least there was something more sinister at work behind false prophets. Either way the test was necessary because there were now so many false prophets.
‘Are gone out into the world.’ These false prophets are of the world. They are not of God, and they have no message from God. They go to the world and preach what the world wants to hear.
But they also visit the churches. And we must remember with what eagerness the churches would welcome Christian brothers. That is why letters of introduction had in the end to take such an important place among them. But these false prophets have no place among Christians, for they preach error. Thus all prophets must be tested. For sadly Christians were becoming enticed by these false prophets. The love of the world still drew some of them.
Compare 1 Corinthians 14:29; 1 Corinthians 14:32
The Spirits of the Prophets (1 John 4:1-62.4.6 ).
John here warns of the dangers of listening to prophets without testing their message, in the way that Paul commanded in 1 Corinthians 14:29; 1 Corinthians 14:32. Prophetic men arise and can seem inspired, but the test is whether they speak according to the Scriptures and the testimony of the Apostles, the guardians of the truth appointed by Jesus Himself, who themselves received the truth from Him, especially when they speak about Jesus. That is, whether they are speaking by the Holy Spirit (although John in his letters never speaks of the Holy Spirit. He speaks of ‘the Spirit’. To him there is only one Spirit that counts, just as there is only one Father and one Son), or whether they but speak from within themselves, or even as influenced by the Evil One.
The early church had a regular ministry of prophecy as Paul makes clear in 1 Corinthians 14:0, and official prophets appear to have been appointed (Acts 11:27; Acts 13:1; Acts 15:32; Acts 21:10), probably on the basis of their continually accepted testimony and the witness of the Spirit in the churches. But such appointments could also spell danger if the prophet went astray, something which was quite possible in pneumatic people. It was therefore recognised that it was constantly necessary for the prophet to be checked out by fellow prophets (1 Corinthians 14:29; 1 Corinthians 14:32), and by the Apostles themselves. No one is more likely to go astray than one with an unchecked ‘prophetic spirit’, especially if they have powerful intellects too.
It is probable that prophets travelled from church to church. Their ministry supplemented the hearing or reading of the Old Testament Scriptures and the Testimony of Jesus, the traditions of the life and teaching of Jesus, and the letters of Paul (although smaller churches would have little of such helps and would thus the more eagerly welcome a prophet). So it was important that these prophets could be tested out to see whether they were truly of God.
At this time all the Apostles had probably died apart from John, and he therefore gives his verdict on the testing of the spirits of the prophets. He sadly acknowledges that many who give the appearance of being prophets have become false prophets. Thus he warns that prophets are not necessarily to be believed. Their words must be tested against the Apostolic teaching and the teaching of Jesus.
And one basic test must be their view of Jesus Christ. By this they can test whether their prophetic spirit is of God. Do they say that Jesus is the Christ and that the Christ has come in the flesh? If so they are of God. But if they do not acknowledge the human Jesus as also the Christ then they are not of God. They are antichrist.
The danger at this time was of ‘prophets’ declaring that the Christ had not become a human being. Their belief in the pollution of the flesh was such that many could not countenance such an idea. But the test itself is all inclusive, for it declares that what is meant by ‘Jesus Christ’ must be seen in the light of John’s Gospel and letter. See 1 John 3:22-62.3.24; and above on 1 John 3:21-62.3.23. The words spoken in John’s Gospel and the traditions of Jesus spoke of a human being come in the flesh, and His teaching had been proclaimed by a human being (John 1:14), and this same human being had in the body given Himself as a propitiation for our sins (1 John 2:1-62.2.2), and had at the same time revealed His own Godhood. Then He had risen from the dead in the same body, although a body transformed by the resurrection. If the spirits did not admit to this then they spoke falsely. There could be no compromise on this.
The Centrality of Christian Love (1 John 3:11 to 1 John 4:21 ).
The reference to loving one’s brother, deliberately added almost as an appendage in 1 John 3:10 in order to introduce the next section, now leads on to that section where love is pre-eminent. Previously any emphasis has been on God’s love for His own (1 John 2:5; 1 John 2:15; 1 John 3:1) although love of fellow-Christians has not been totally ignored (1 John 2:8-62.2.11), but from now on the thought becomes central. The emphasis has been on the fact that God is pure, unalloyed light (1 John 1:5), and His love must therefore be seen as coming from within that sphere of light, but now he tells us that from the God Who is light issues forth His holy love, for He is not only light but love (1 John 4:8). God, says John, is holy love, love which is also pure, righteous and true, and so we who live in the light should love one another, for if we are His it will be part of what we are.
‘By this you know the Spirit of God. Every spirit which confesses that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit which does not confess Jesus is not of God, and this is that of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming. And now it is in the world already.’
So the spirits of the prophets had to be tested against revealed truth which would determine whether their spirits were inspired by the Holy Spirit. If the prophecy was of new, previously untaught ideas it was probably false. But it could easily be tested out. The Spirit of God at work through the spirits of the prophets (‘every spirit’) could be tested in this way. If they were true their Spirit-inspired spirits would testify that Jesus, came as a human being in the flesh, but was equally the Christ, the One Who was uniquely ‘the Son’ (1 John 2:22-62.2.23). For that was the revealed truth as proclaimed by the Apostles, and prepared for in the Old Testament.
On the other hand those whose spirits do not prophesy of Jesus at all (but only speak of ‘the Christ’) are not of God, for what they teach is false. Rather they are that which is of antichrist, setting up false Christs instead of the true. The believers in the churches had heard that such were coming. Well, here they were, already in the world. Let them then listen carefully to what was taught before accepting a prophet.
The centrality of Jesus Christ to the Christian faith comes out here. Their view of Jesus Christ was of central importance. Christianity was Christ. All hinged on Him. To be wrong about Him was not to be a Christian at all. Teachers were thus to be tested by whether they proclaimed Jesus Christ, in His life, death and resurrection, as true man and true God.
‘You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world. They are of the world, therefore speak they of the world, and the world hears them.’
But he is confident that the true Christians will not be misled by false prophets because as true Christians they have ‘the anointing’ (1 John 2:20; 1 John 2:27). The Holy Spirit is within them. And He will lead them into truth. And the Father and the Son also abide within them (1 John 4:13; 1 John 4:16; 1 John 5:12). They are therefore very much ‘of God’. So greater is He (the Triune God) that is in them than the one who is in the world. That is why they overcome ‘them’ by not being deceived or led astray, but by holding firmly to the truth and continuing to win men to such truth. The church may sometimes seem to be on the back foot, but it is not. Through Him it goes forward to victory.
On the other hand the place for the false prophets is the world, for they are not ‘of God’ they are ‘of the world’, and speak what befits the world, and the world listens to them. To the world they are popular. They are ‘of the world’ because there is nothing heavenly about their message (although they would probably have been annoyed at such a suggestion). The content and effects of their teaching are strictly limited to this world and its fantasies and are not harsh on sin.
‘He that is in the world’ could here simply signify each and any false prophet, seen first singly and then in the plural, which might be suggested by the immediate move from ‘he’ to ‘they’. But there may be the thought behind it of the Evil One, who lies behind these false prophets, although we should note that John does not speak of him as being ‘in the world’, rather he describes the whole world as ‘lying in him’ (1 John 5:19). So if the latter thought is in mind it is not prominent. On the other hand Christians have earlier been described as ‘overcoming the Evil One’ (1 John 2:13), so the mention of overcoming here may well have him in mind, active in the background as he so often is.
‘We are of God. He who knows God hears us. He who is not of God does not hear us. By this we know the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error.’
The question here is who are ‘we’?’ Does he mean ‘we Apostles’ of whom he is now the representative, or does he mean ‘we churches’, especially the duly appointed leaders. Either way his message is emphatic. ‘We are of God.’ Thus we have the truth. And those who know God hear us, because the anointing within them reveals to them the truth through the word. On the other hand there are some that do not hear us. This demonstrates that they are not of God. That is how the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error can be detected, by whether such men speak in accordance with the true men of the Spirit, with the true Apostolic doctrine.
‘The spirit of error’ is probably intended to cover all angles, whether the prophets’ own spirits, or possessing spirits, or the Evil One himself. All are part of the ‘spirit of error’, the movement and trend in the world towards error.
Having dealt with the question of false prophets, and the importance of establishing the truth about Jesus Christ, John now moves on to deal in much more detail with the question of love within the Christian communities, and its source.
God Is Essentially Light and Love, Holy Love, And Therefore Those who Are His and Know Him and Abide in Him Will Reveal That Love To All Who Are His (1 John 4:7 to 1 John 5:3 ).
‘Beloved, let us love one another. For love is of God, and every one who loves is begotten of God, and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.’
This statement, beloved of all, especially the world which interprets it totally incorrectly, is not at all quite so simple to understand, and certainly does not mean what the world thinks that it means. It rather seeks to make the believer consider the heart of things. It seeks to settle him down and look at what is most important.
The first question we must ask is, what is meant by love? It is certainly not romantic love. That is represented by a totally different Greek word. Love which is simply the result of sexual arousal and sexual passion has no appeal to Him at all. Indeed He is angry at its misuse by men. Its purpose was to bind man and wife together. Any other use of it He sees as an abomination (Romans 1:24-45.1.28). Loving one another has nothing at all to do with this kind of love. God is not involved in emotional tangles.
Nor is it general affection, for the love spoken of is within the Christian community. It is a special kind of love, as exemplified in 1 Corinthians 13:0. It is a noble love. It is an attitude that intends well to its brother, even when the brother is totally undeserving or is totally the opposite of what appeals to us. It is a mutual oneness based on being in the light and in fellowship with God. It is a holy love. We may not like our fellow-brethren, they may even annoy us sometimes, but we still love them, we still direct our thoughts to their good, we still bear with them (1 Corinthians 13:0). Because they are in the light as we are, we still seek their sanctification. They are our fellow-travellers on the way to perfect righteousness, our fellow-workers in the purposes of God, our fellow-citizens of Heaven (Philippians 3:20) with whom we will spend eternity. It is the same kind of love as that described in the commandment, ‘you shall love your neighbour as yourself’, and yet goes deeper because it is between brothers. But it is not necessarily suggesting deep affection, but a right attitude of heart and mind. Although in the case of loving one’s neighbour the love reaches out beyond the brotherhood.
It gains its meaning from the fact that ‘God is love’. But that also does not mean that God looks on all people with general affection. ‘The wrath of God is revealed from Heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who hold down the truth by unrighteousness’ (Romans 1:18). There is no affection there.
Rather God’s love, coming from the One Who is light, is revealed by what He has done. He has sent His only Son into the world in order that we might have life. He has sent Him to a cross that He might become the propitiation for our sins. It is thus great benevolence acting towards those who were totally unworthy. His love comes from what He is, not from what we are. He has little affection for what we are in ourselves. His love comes in spite of what we are. He purposes good towards all (it is thus a true love), but without response His love is individually ineffective. It requires response.
It is specifically a love in the light. There is no love for what is in darkness, except in order to reach out and bring it into the light. His love is offered to all in darkness, to those at whom His wrath, His aversion to sin, is levelled, that He might bring them to His light. But He does not love them as they are. He loves them in spite of what they are. He so loved the world that He gave His only Son (John 3:16). But it is only to those who respond and believe, or to those that He knows will respond and believe because of His own working, that His love as described here becomes personal.
Thus when the Christian’s love for one another is compared with love as it is in God, it is thinking of love within the Kingship of light, within the sphere of God’s light. It is pure love, holy love. Its concern is for the true wellbeing of others, for their holiness, for their being made pure. It rejoices in righteousness, it strives to achieve righteousness for those within the sphere of that love. That is the love being described here. It is far from being a love that is indulgent towards men, however they behave.
That is not to deny a general benevolence of God in that He still allows provision for His rebellious creatures (Matthew 5:45; Acts 14:17), but it is not because of His love for them in the way described here, but because of what He is, Someone of general compassion. There it is a different kind of ‘love’. It is general benevolence. That is how we too should behave towards all mankind. But it is not love in the light.
‘Beloved, let us love one another. For love is of God, and every one who loves is begotten of God, and knows God.’ This makes instantly clear the unique nature of this love. It is a love that only those begotten of God know and experience. It is love within God’s pure light. It is a love that delights in righteousness and holiness. It is a love that is of God, and is directed at what God loves. It is a love that wants to bring about God’s will, a totally unselfish love. It is a love that the knowing of God produces. It is a love shared with those who love God and are loved by God.
‘He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.’ The one who does not have this kind of love for his fellow-believers does not know God. For if he did God’s love would possess his heart and he would love those whom God loves. For that is what God is like. He loves all that is within the sphere of holiness and righteousness. He loves in the light, and if we are in the light His love must affect us and love through us.
Thus His love surrounds all who have been accounted as holy and righteous in Christ, and in whose life He has planted His seed whereby they will grow into righteousness and true holiness. His love is effective in all who, because they are in Him, seek to walk without sinning, and who repent of sin when known, and receive His forgiveness and cleansing, all who walk in the light (1 John 1:7).
Note on ‘God is love.’
John reveals God in three ways, God is Spirit (John 4:24), God is Light (1 John 1:5), God is Love. He uses the most incorporeal things that he knows in order to describe God. To him none had physical form. God as He is in Himself is without body or physical attributes, He is totally separated from all that is evil and in darkness, He is pure light, and He is pure, righteous love. Thus all that He is seeks to produce what is holy, righteous and good, untainted by the effects of sin and of the world. That is what His love seeks to achieve, and will achieve. That is what His love offers. And we are to seek to be like Him. But it is not the physical world itself that is tainted, it is the spirit of the world (1 John 2:15-62.2.16). God does not love that. His general benevolence is towards His creation, for it is His workmanship. But he does not love the spirit of the world. The spirit of the world is what man has produced without God, with the aid of the Evil One, and love of it is thus condemned. It is self-seeking. It is thus in direct contrast with the ‘love of the brethren’, which seeks not wealth, nor physical satisfaction, nor honour and fame, but the good of others, and especially of those who are God’s.
As such God is totally distinct from His creation. He sees His creation as good. What is not good is what man and the Evil One have done with it, and the spirit that they have introduced into it. Both God’s light and God’s love abhor the spirit of the world. His light reveals it for what it is, and His love seeks to remove it and to call men out of it. It is the ‘power of darkness’, in contrast with ‘the kingly rule of His beloved Son’ where He gives to those who respond to Him ‘the inheritance of those who are separated to God in light’ (Colossians 1:12-51.1.15).
It is under that kingly rule, and to those who are under it, or who will be under it, that His love fully shines forth. To those who are ‘in the world’ He shows a general benevolence, but His love as the God Who is love is only fully shown to those who walk in His light, and have turned from sin in their hearts, for only they are receptive to it. His benevolence in general is open to all, His general benevolence reaches out to all, but His full love as the God Who is love can only become experienced and personal to those who respond to Christ and receive the life that He offers, eternal life, although the same love is active in seeking to bring men to this point. It is His love that draws men to respond to Christ (John 6:44). It is His love that has given to Jesus Christ those whom He has chosen (John 6:37; John 6:39).
God does not love all men as they are. His wrath is revealed at what they are (Romans 1:18). But His love reaches through with the aim of making some respond to Him so that they may enjoy His love. It is a love revealed to such from the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4) which will be fulfilled within His final purposes. It is holy love.
But the message that John is emphasising stresses that God in His ‘otherness’ from His creation Himself became true man in Jesus Christ, so that He might be the representative of man in His death on the cross and in His physical resurrection. It was as God-made-man that He died on the cross for our sins, and as glorified God-made-man that He took His seat at the right hand of God, a distinction necessary because while in His Godhood He was One with the Father on His throne, in His glorified manhood He received His own throne to which He calls His own (Revelation 3:21).
The physical creation is therefore not in itself evil. It is what man has made of it that is evil. And the creation itself will therefore be ‘redeemed’ by itself also being totally transformed, so that it will result in a new Heaven and a new earth in which dwells righteousness (2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:1; Romans 8:19-45.8.21). In this will His love for His creation be revealed, and all sin, all that is not light, will be done away.
End of note.
‘In this was the love of God manifested in us, that God has sent his only unique Son into the world that we might live through him.’
God’s love as in mind in this passage is a love revealed in sending ‘His only unique Son’, (in other words the only One of the same essence and being as Himself. This is using human terminology to depict a divine truth), into the world that we might live through Him. He sent Him in His great love, so that those who would truly respond to Him might have life. And the life we receive is His life, given to us, so that it reproduces His own righteousness and love. It will thus be revealed in love of those who are His.
‘In this is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.’
This is the final definition and revelation of love. It is not found in any love that we have, but in God’s great love in which He sent His own beloved Son to be the propitiation for our sins. It is a love that has provided a way back to Him. It is a love that provided a means of doing all that was necessary to remove the effects of sin from those who respond to Him. Propitiation might be too strong a word, because it might suggest unrighteous anger, and God’s ‘anger’ is holy and pure, and never unrighteous, but expiation is too weak a word because it does not take into account God’s positive aversion to sin. What this propitiation achieves is that what Jesus has done through His sacrifice of Himself can make a man as though he had never sinned, because all the consequences of God’s aversion to sin, and to man in his sin, were borne by Jesus Christ through His death on the cross. Through it He has redeemed man from sin, delivering him by the payment of a price, being made a ‘ransom in the place of many’ (Mark 10:45). He Who knew no sin was, as it were, made sin for us, suffering in our place, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21). There can be no greater love than this. It is the love which expressed itself when God Himself humbled Himself and in Jesus Christ became man in order to bear in Himself the sin of the world (Philippians 2:5-50.2.11).
‘Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.’
The greatness of this love of God, so wonderfully revealed, can only move those who believe in it and respond to it to love one another. How can we know that love and not love those whom God has called through it? We are one in that love. To know and to respond to God’s love should and will result in a desire to reveal that love to all who truly love Him, for we will be transformed by that love and desirous to ensure that the love which flows from what He is, is effective and continuing.
‘No man has beheld God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and his love is perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit, and we have beheld and bear witness that the Father has sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world.’
We do not abide in God by seeing Him. Indeed no one has beheld God at any time. But His presence among us, and His abiding in us is revealed in the love that flows from us to our fellow-believers. Those who are surrounded and possessed by the God Who is love will become channels of that love, especially to those who are also the channels of that love. This love, which is the evidence that we have been begotten of God and know God, this oneness of heart with God’s true people, this love of the truth and those who are in the truth, will result in God’s love being perfected in us. As we love each other we come better to know the love of God. For intrinsic within this is the response to the truth proclaimed by those who are truly His.
But in the end we know that we abide in Him because of what we have come to believe, for it is God Who has wrought it in us. We know that He has given us of His Spirit, Who has entered our lives giving us new life and making us new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17). And above all we know that the Spirit has revealed to us that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world. We have come to believe in the Father’s love in giving His only Son, we have come to believe in His only Son, Jesus Christ, Who came into the world in the flesh and was crucified for our sin and rose again in order to offer salvation to the world.
He is ‘The Saviour of the world.’ He is the One Whose sacrifice is sufficient for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2). But that sufficiency is only effective for those who believe. So ‘our hope is set on the Living God Who is the Saviour of all men, especially of those who believe’ (1 Timothy 4:10). It is not a question of numbers but of quality. His sacrifice is totally sufficient for all, but can only be effective in those who respond. They alone will be saved. If we have experienced that salvation, how can we not love Him?
‘Whoever will confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.’
God’s salvation is only effective through His Son. Each one who truly confesses Jesus as God’s Son, and as the Saviour of the world, believes in the fact that the only Son became flesh in the man Jesus and dwelt among us, and makes that confession as a response of faith in the light of all He has done for us in dying for us. Then as a result of this true faith he has God abiding in him, and himself abides in God. So salvation is through faith, and love for the brethren is one of the outwards signs of the reality of that faith and of our experience of God’s love.
‘And we know and have believed the love which God has in us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.’
John wants there to be no doubt about the love that God has for His own, and how it affects us. We who are His, know and believe the love that God has in us. Note that it is in us as well as for us. We have come to the Saviour of the world and experienced and come to appreciate that love, and rejoice that it is within us, resulting in an outflowing of love for God and love for our brothers. We know further that God is holy love, and therefore that to abide in the love with which He surrounds us, which we enjoy in Christ, and which he has placed within us, is to abide in God Himself, and to know that God abides in us. We live within the sphere of the love of God, as well as in the light of God. We thus seek to live in purity.
‘ Herein is love made perfect with us, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment, because as he is, even so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear, because fear has punishment, and he who is afraid is not made perfect in love.’
The one who knows the love of God in Christ in him and abides in Him finds that that love is made perfect within him (see 1 John 4:12). He is aware of that love as revealed in the giving of a Saviour, and the suffering of a Saviour. He is aware that that love has provided a propitiation for his sins. He is aware that that love has set him apart and will one day present him holy, and unblameable, and unreproveable before God (Colossians 1:22), that it has perfected for ever those who are sanctified (Hebrews 10:14). Thus he is filled with love for God, and for his brothers in Christ who are all within the sphere of that love. Thus he has boldness with regard to the day of judgment. He is unafraid because through the cross and through Jesus Christ he knows that God’s true love, His saving love, His accepting love, surrounds him. He is accepted as righteous in Christ, and that righteousness produces responsive love and acceptance of love. Of what then is he to be afraid? He will stand in the Judgment day in the love of Christ and of God. For he even walks in this world in the love of God, surrounded and sustained by that love, that holy love, so that he himself is ‘as Christ Jesus’. The love wherewith He loves His Son, such is His love for us who are His.
This love casts out all fear. The one who is safe in the love of God cannot be afraid. For there is no fear in love. To be within God’s love in Christ is to be free from fear. Love removes all fear, especially perfect love, which can only signify God’s love perfected in us (1 John 4:12). The one who has God’s love so perfected in him will not fear. It is only those who are to be punished who need fear, and we know that in His love He has been punished for our sin, He has been made a propitiation for our sin, and there is therefore no further punishment to come for us. Thus those who are afraid demonstrate by that fact that they have not been made perfect in love, they are not enjoying the full benefits of the Gospel. There is a lack of faith and trust and obedience and of walking in the light.
‘Fear has punishment, and he who is afraid is not made perfect in love.’ This may suggest that these ones who fear punishment are the false teachers whose end is destruction. They have cause to be afraid because their end is certain. But some fear because they do not trust. They are afraid of punishment when what they should be doing is being made perfect in love. They need to dwell more in His presence and absorb His love, especially as it is revealed through the cross.
‘We love, because he first loved us.’
‘We’. That is, we who are His, who have come to believe in Jesus Christ as our Saviour and Lord, who come together with His people that we might learn more of Him, who know that Jesus Christ is true man and true God, who have received Him as our means of reconciliation with God, of propitiation before God, who have come to understand His purposes for His own, all His own, who are continually experiencing the working of His Holy Spirit within us. But what is the source of this love which is perfected within us, which gives us this assurance? The source is His love which bestows on us all these things and reaches out to us to draw us ever nearer to Him. Because He first loved us we have entered into the sphere of His love, and this has produced love within us.
What then does this whole passage tell us about His love and what our love should be in relationship to God’s love?
a) That love is of God, He is its source and producer (1 John 4:7).
b) That we love because by His gracious goodness we are begotten of God and know God (1 John 4:7).
c) That God is love, holy love to those in the light (1 John 4:8).
d) That God’s love was made fully known in sending His only unique Son into the world that we might live through Him (1 John 4:9).
e) That He revealed His love by sending His Son to be the propitiation for our sins, that is, to be the means of turning away from us God’s aversion to and hatred of sin (1 John 4:10).
f) That because God so loved us this love should make us love one another. As we contemplate that our brothers are all taken up in God’s love, share with us in the life that God has given, have been made right with God as we have, are being daily transformed as we are being, bring to us the truth and maintain us in the truth, are fellow-workers together with us in His service and in the maintaining of His truth, are those who will be transformed with us at the Parousia, are those who pray along with us for the extension of His kingship, are part of our destiny, so will we love. It is not a love of affection, although that will grow, so much as of goodwill and fellow-feeling, a willingness to bear with them and show Christ’s kindness and compassion towards them, as they do to us, and be partakers with them in the service of Christ. It is a sharing love.
g) That God continually abides within us so that His love might be perfected in us (1 John 4:12), as we grow from one degree of glory to another (2 Corinthians 3:18).
h) That we know that He abides within us because He has given us of His Spirit (1 John 4:13).
i) That because of His love we have beheld and bear witness that the Father has sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world. It is His love for us that has brought this truth home to our hearts (1 John 4:13).
j) That it is God abiding within us in His love which results in our confessing Jesus to be the Son of God (1 John 4:15).
k) That our contemplating of Him brings home to our hearts His great love, so that we know that He is continuing love to all who are in the light. Thus through His love we know and believe it, and know that He abides in us and we in Him (1 John 4:16).
l) That His love being made perfect within us, coming home to us and possessing our hearts, and making us more aware of the truths about Him, and what He has done for us and of what He is, gives us boldness in the day of judgment. This is because He has made us as He is in this world, transforming us in Christ that we may be His witnesses by living to reveal Him in this world. To this end He has made us potentially like Himself in Christ, and has promised that He will conform us to the image of His Son (1 John 4:17; Ephesians 1:4).
m) That His making us perfect in love, which is His guaranteed purpose in Christ, casts out all fear. Once we have within us His assurance of love because we have been made His through Christ we will no longer fear His judgment.
How then can we not ourselves love, both Him and those on whom He has set His love?
‘If a man say, I love God, and hates his brother, he is a liar, for he who loves not his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.’
The result is that we will love all who are true brothers in Christ, those who are of and speak forth the truth. For they share the love that we enjoy, and they too are in His love. And they minister to us of Christ, as we should minister to them. Must they not then be within our love, which He has produced within us? It would be an impossible contradiction to be filled with God’s love and not to love those whom God loves. Thus if a man says, ‘I love God’, but hates his brother he is a liar. That is, he does not love God. This is the test of antichrist and of false teaching. They do not love the brethren because the brethren expose their false teaching for what it is, and refuse to countenance their fantasies.
Those who are our brothers in Christ are in fact what we actually see of God. His work is at work within them as it is in us. His work is being accomplished through them. Each member has his part to play, and without each member we are not whole. If we then do not love them, (purpose well towards them and seek their good and rejoice in the truth we share with them), then we do not love the unseen God Who dwells within them, nor are we aware of the purpose to which He has called us.
‘And this commandment have we from him, that he who loves God love his brother also.’
So God has made it a command. God commands us to love such brothers. So it is not only logically and spiritually necessary, it is commanded. We have no choice in the matter. We are to be as one (John 17:20-43.17.23), because he has commanded it. But it should be noted of what this love consists, it consists of the keeping of the commandments (1 John 5:2-62.5.3). It is a noble, moral love that seeks wholly the good of the one loved. It is an essential part of God’s whole purposes.
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on 1 John 4". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent