First John 4:7-21
I. Introduction: The Apostolic Message - 1:1-4
II. The First Series of Tests - 1:5-2:27
III. The Second Series of Tests - 2:28-4:6
IV. The Third Series of Tests - 4:7-5:17
Stott summarizes the thrust of 4:7-21 -
"In 3:23 John summarized God's commandment as being 'to believe in Christ and love one another'. He has unfolded in 4:1-6 some of the implications of belief in Christ; he now turns abruptly to the subject of mutual love. This is the third time in the Epistle that he takes up and applies the supreme test of love. . . . Each time the test is more searching. In this third treatment the author is concerned to relate the love which should be in us not to the true light which is already shining (2:8,10), nor to the eternal life of which it is the evidence (3:14,15), but to God's very nature of love and with His loving activity in Christ and in us" (159).
Finally, in 4:13-21, John combines the doctrinal and social tests. Having previously exhorted Christians not to believe every spirit (4:1-6) and having stated that brotherly love is incumbent upon all born of God (4:7-12), he now merges these two tests and applies them in a more personal way. The belief and love for which John has just appealed are now assumed, and certain deductions drawn from them (4:13-21).
A. The Social Test (3) - 4:7-12
1. Christians are obliged to love one another because of (1) the nature of God as love (7-8), (2) the historical manifestation of that love in Christ (9-11), and (3) the resulting perfection of God's love in those who do love one another (12) - 4:7-12
The theme of this paragraph (4:7-12) is easily seen by noting the 3-fold refrain: "love one another." It occurs as an exhortation in 4:7, a statement of duty in 4:11, and as a hypothesis in 4:12. What John seeks to do here is set forth the grounds of such an obligation, i.e., the reasons why Christians ought to love one another. Three such reasons are now given.
a. since love is of God (source) and God is love (nature), Christians should (are obliged to) love one another - 4:7-8
1) Christians should love one another for love is "of" (source) God - 4:7
Many today believe that the goal of salvation is the deification of man, i.e., that man should become a god or in some way experience a transformation in his essential being such that God's nature is infused into ours thereby making it like His. The NT rejects this notion, yet it does indicate that by the power of the HS the virtues and perfections of God's personality are to be reflected in how we think, feel, and act. Here John says that since true love is only from God, the one who manifests such love shows himself to have been born of God and to be one who truly knows God. This does not mean that anyone who shows love is a child of God, irrespective of what they may or may not believe about Jesus. This misunderstanding, notes Marshall,
"can only arise . . . if we take this statement and wrench it out of its context in the letter. John makes it plain enough elsewhere that the true child of God both believes and loves (3:23). Nevertheless, we might still want to ask how it is possible for people who do not believe in Jesus Christ to love one another as they manifestly do. There is love outside the Christian church, and sometimes non-Christians seem to love one another better than Christians do. How is the existence of such love to be explained, and what does its presence indicate regarding the status before God of those who show it?" (211-12)
Marshall's question may be answered by considering several factors:
* the doctrine of the imago Dei ("image of God")
* the doctrine of Common Grace (both negative [restraint] and positive [the inspiration of good])
* the general influence of the gospel
Yet ultimately, Marshall continues,
"it is belief in Jesus Christ and love for God which matters. Human love, however noble and however highly motivated, falls short if it refuses to include the Father and Son as the supreme objects of its affection. It falls short of the divine pattern, and by itself cannot save a man; it cannot be put into the balance to compensate for the sin of rejecting God. Love alone, therefore, is not a sign of being born of God" (212).
2) Christians should love one another because God "is" (nature) love - 4:8
A Christian is one who has been born of God and thus received of his nature. God's nature is love. Hence whoever does not love shows that he has not been born of God and does not know him. Here again we have an instance where John seeks to emphasize his main point (v. 7) by stating the converse (v. 8). The argument is plain and compelling:
"For the loveless Christian to profess to know God and to have been born of God is like claiming to be intimate with a foreigner whose language we cannot speak, or to have been born of parents whom we do not in any way resemble. It is to fail to manifest the nature of Him whom we claim as our Father ('born of God') and our Friend ('knoweth God'). Love is as much a sign of the new birth as is righteousness" (Stott, 161).
b. Christians are obliged to love one another in view of the historical manifestation of Jesus Christ, the supreme display of God's love for them - 4:9-11
How do we know God loves us? Because . . .
* He gave his Son, the most precious gift possible; not an angel, but his Son
The word translated 'only begotten is monogenes (9x in the NT) and is better rendered 'unique or 'one and only (NIV). See Luke 7:12; 8:42; 9:38; Heb. 11:17. It is used 4x in John's gospel (1:14,18; 3:16,18). The stress in each instance is on the uniqueness of Jesus as God's one and only son (the word 'begotten is a poor rendering).
* He gave his Son to die; not primarily to live or to teach or to exhort or to be an example but to die
* He gave his Son to die for sinners (Rom. 5:6-8); not for righteous people or loving people or kind people or pretty people, but sinners.
c. Christians are obliged to love one another as an expression of God's abiding presence and because of the resulting perfection of his love in us - 4:12
John says that "no one has beheld God at any time." Cf. 1 Tim. 1:17; 6:16; Ex. 33:20; John 1:18. If God cannot be seen, how then can he be known? In John 1:18 the answer is given: "the only begotten Son who is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him" Fine, but why is such a theological declaration included at this point in John's argument? The answer is that
"the unseen God, who was once revealed in His Son, is now revealed in His people if and when they love one another. God's love is seen in their love because their love is His love imparted to them by His Spirit. . . . The words do not mean that when we begin to love, God comes to dwell in us, but the reverse. Our love for one another is evidence of God's indwelling presence" (Stott, 164).
In other words, although God cannot be seen in himself, he can be seen in those in whom he abides! The full height of God's love for us and the purpose for which it was manifested is perfected or achieved only when we love one another. John's point is that the ultimate end for which God's love as manifested in Christ was designed is not merely our salvation, but our love for one another.
B. The Doctrinal Test (3) and Social Test (4) combined - 4:13-21
The previous verse (12) ended by speaking of God abiding in us and of his love perfected in us. These two ideas are now developed further: God's abiding in vv. 13-16, and the perfect love in vv. 17-21. In other words, v. 12 provides us with an outline of the rest of the paragraph.
1. we have the assurance of eternal life, or assurance that we do indeed abide in God and he in us, because (1) he has given us of his Spirit (13), (2) because we have come to confess that Jesus, the Savior of the world, is the Son of God (14-15), and (3) because we abide in love (16) - 4:13-16
That the concept of the divine indwelling or abiding is primary here can be seen by the three-fold reference to it: (1) 4:13, (2) 4:15, and (3) 4:16. In each of these statements concerning the abiding of God in the believer, evidence of it is given: (1) 4:13 - "because he has given us of his Spirit," (2) 4:15 - "whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God," and (3) 4:16 - "the one who abides in love."
a. we know mutual abiding (i.e., God in us and we in him) to be real because he has given us of his Spirit - 4:13
This verse is inseparable from the next three verses. The development of thought is as follows: we know that God abides in us because we have his Spirit. But how do we know we have his Spirit? Because we confess Jesus (vv. 14-15) and abide in love (v. 16). It is by the Spirit whom God has given to us that we are enabled to confess Jesus and love one another. In other words, we take note of the fact that we both confess Jesus and love the brethren, and ask ourselves, "How am I capable of doing such things, or, by what am I so motivated?" The answer: by the Spirit whom God has given us!
b. we know mutual abiding to be real because we have come to confess that Jesus, the Savior of the world, is the Son of God - 4:14-15
Food for thought: in what sense can we say that Jesus is "the Savior of the world" when most of the "world", it would appear has not been, is not, and most likely will not be saved? Is this a title of mere potentiality or actuality?
c. we know mutual abiding to be real because we abide in love - 4:16
Once again, "the apostles does not mean that the way to come to dwell in God and He in us is to confess Christ's divine Sonship (v. 15) and to abide in love (v. 16), but the reverse. It is the divine indwelling which alone makes possible both belief and love. They are its fruit, and therefore its evidence: 'he who dwells in love is (i.e., is thereby seen to be) dwelling in God' (NEB)" (Stott, 168).
2. if (1) we have confidence and not fear before God (17-18), and if (2) we have a love for the brethren (19-21), we may truly know that God's love is perfected in us - 4:17-21
a. he who has confidence and not fear before God is one in whom God's love is perfected - 4:17-18
1) confidence before God on the day of judgment is a sign that his love is perfected in us - 4:17
2) the love that brings confidence is at odds with fear, hence he who fears is not perfected in love - 4:18
Here we see once again that God's love has a goal. God does not love us aimlessly. John speaks of God's love being perfected or coming to full expression in us. Look at what he says:
'By this, love is perfected with us, that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He [Jesus] is, so also are we in this world (1 John 4:17; NASB).
I believe that John is saying much the same that Paul said in Romans 5:5. The Father's love for His children reaches its intended goal when it produces in them a feeling of security so powerful that they lose all fear of judgment. When our sense of being loved by God becomes so internally intense that we can only smile at the prospect of judgment day, His passion has fulfilled its purpose!
Someone might think it presumptuous to have lost all fear of judgment. But John clearly says that our confidence is based on the fact that the believer is 'as He [Jesus] is. What could that possibly mean? In what sense is the Christian 'as Jesus is in the world? John may mean that we are righteous, as Jesus is righteous. By faith in Him we are justified, declared righteous in the sight of God and therefore we look forward to judgment day confident that there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (cf. Romans 8:1). That's possible, but I think the answer lies elsewhere.
Look again at 4:17. John is saying that our confidence is linked with God's love for us and that in some sense we are as Jesus is. These two pieces of the puzzle are put together in John 17:23 where Jesus affirms that the Father loves the disciples 'even as you [the Father] have loved me [Jesus]. This is astounding! Jesus is saying that the Father loves us just like or even as He loves Jesus! Think for a moment of the magnitude of affection God the Father has for God the Son. That's how much God loves you! Therefore, when John says that our confidence is based on the fact that we are as Jesus is, he means we are loved by the Father as Jesus is loved by the Father! No wonder all fear is cast out (v. 18). There is no need to fear Him whom you know feels only love for you.
Again, the "fear" of which John speaks is not godly reverence for Jesus but the dread of the criminal who stands guilty in a court of law awaiting sentence. But we no longer fear the punishment of God as judge because we know and are assured of the pleasure of God as Lord and Lover and Savior of our souls!
b. he who truly loves God will also love his brother (indeed, God's love for us reaches its designed goal when it is reproduced in us, i.e., when we love one another with the love with which God loves us); consequently, an absence of love for the brethren precludes the possibility of love for God - 4:19-21
"If what a man is contradicts what he says, 'he is a liar.' To claim to know God and have fellowship with God while we walk in the darkness of disobedience is to lie (1:6, 2:4). To claim to possess the Father while denying the deity of the Son is to lie (2:22,23). To claim to love God while hating the brethren is to lie also. These are the three black lies of the Epistle, moral, doctrinal, and social. However loudly we may affirm ourselves to be Christian, our habitual sin, denial of Christ and selfish hatred expose us as the liars we are. Only holiness, faith and love can prove the truth of our claim to know, possess and love God" (Stott, 170).