John has exposed religious error (specifically Gnostic teachers) and called upon his brethren to reject that heresy. Now he turns his attention to strengthening the fellowship of the saved through the love of God (4.7-21).
1 John 4:7–21 (ESV)
7Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.
Beloved—tender term of endearment from aged John; but also a possible play on words: “Beloved…love one another.” Since you are loved (of God) love one another.
Let us love one another—14 x’s in NT you have this command (Jn 13.34; 15.12, 17; Rom 12.10; 13.8; 1 Thess 4.9; 1 Pt 1.22; 4.8; 1 Jn 3.11, 23; 4.7, 11, 12; 2 Jn 5). Important? Yes! Why love one another?…
For love is from God—or love is out of God. This has to do with origin; love originates in God, He is its source, author. Not only that, He is love. Based on the continuing love of God, our loves continues (present tense).
Whoever loves has been born of God—If love originates from God, it makes sense that those who practice love are “from” or “out of” God. We were begotten and stand begotten before God. And we love the other begotten ones of God, our brothers and sisters. ”Love is the one characteristic of the Christian religion which it is impossible to counterfeit!” (Woods 294) We cannot have new life without love.
And knows God—present tense, we continue to know God through the manifestation of brotherly love. “Know” is Gk. Ginosko, that knowledge which comes through experience.
8Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.
Anyone who does not love—settled, habitual practice of no brotherly love (hatred).
Does not know God—aorist tense; has not once know, hence, has never known God.
God is love—”and love thus becomes the infallible test of the birth from above.” – Woods. This idea (God is love) is very anti-Gnostic; The Gnostic would agree with God is spirit (immaterial being) and God is light (immaterial), but God is love is foreign to Gnostic philosophy.
“The anarthrous predicate suggests a qualitative force, not a mere abstraction, so that a quality of God’s character is what is described here.” (NET). So no interchangeability (love is God).
We can wrap ourselves in all the trappings of religiosity, but it is ultimately void and hollow without love not only for God, but for one another. Love is a sign that we have truly been born of God and know God (1 John 4.7). Love was manifest in the man Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, the Son of God (4.9-10). And when we love one another as we should, even as Christ loved us (John 13.34-35), the love of God is perfected in us and God lives within us (4.11-12). What a fantastic concept! How vitally important this is for the church today!
“A wicked man may have baptism. He may have prophecy. He may receive the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ. All of these things a wicked man may have. But no wicked man can have love.” (Augustine quoted in Woods 294).
9In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.
In this (what follows “that”) the love of God… – Here we have the heart of God on full display. God revealed His love for man, a love that existed even before time began. It existed and from it sprung the eternal plan of redemption.
Was made manifest—aor. Passive, ind.; He appeared (cf. 3.5) once and stands revealed.
Among us— lit. in us. In our midst, reminiscent of John 1.14.
That (hoti) God sent his only (begotten) Son into the world—herein is the love of God manifested. The root of “sent” is the same word we get “apostle” from. Jesus emphasized in His ministry that He had been sent from heaven (John 5.23; 6.29; 8.29, 42). One commentator says that this verse might serve as a summary of John’s gospel. But the perfect tense is used in pointing to the permanent mission of the Son. There are permanent abiding results from God’s sending of His unique Son. “Only begotten” (monogenes) points to the fact that although God has begotten many children (2.29; 3.9; 4.7), Jesus the Son is unique from His brothers and sisters (even as Isaac was unique from Abraham’s other sons (Heb 11.17). “Only” seems as a partial translation of this word, implying God (Abraham) has no other children.
So that we might live through him—Jesus’ death was vicarious, for us. We might have eternal life (even now) only through the Life, the Lord Jesus Christ.
10In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
In this is love—that is, in what follows in this verse.
Not that we have loved God—Perfect v. aorist tense; some mss have perfect, but oldest mss (Sinaticus) has aorist. Point: it does not matter whatever kind of love man may have for God, you don’t find the true nature of love in man’s love for his Maker. Rather, you find it in God’s love for man.
Sent his Son—aorist, points to the completed mission, accomplished in Christ’s life.
To be propitiation for our sins—John has called Christ “propitiation” before (2.2); it is the means of forgiveness, Christ being the sacrifice for (concerning) our sins. Whatever obstacles may have hinder/inhibited fellowship have been removed by the cross.
11Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
If God so loved us—or “since God so loved us.” It is a matter of fact.
We also ought to love one another—”ought” has come up before (2.6) and points to a debt, something we owe one another (cf. Rom 13.8). Because/since God has sent Jesus to die for us, we live through Him by expressing agape love for one another.
12No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.
No one has ever seen God—”God” is emphatic. Further, there is no article before “God” (common in NT to see o theos). Here just theon, no one has ever seen Him. God’s character/nature/essence is emphasized and stressed. No one has ever seen deity in its essence.
If we love one another—obedience to the commandment of Christ. We don’t have to…
(1) God abides in us—God dwells in His people (collectively). This is fellowship language.
(2) His love is perfected in us—Perf. Pass. Part. Love “has been made perfect or complete and exists in its finished reality” (Wuest). God brings it to completion (passive). God’s love manifested among brothers. God is revealed in His people if and when we love one another. In us (the people of God collectively) is brought to maturity/completion, finds fulfillment when we love one another. God’s love is perfected is us only when it is reproduced “among us” in Christian fellowship.
13By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.
By this (what follows “because”) we know (present) that we (collectively) abide in him (God) and he in us (body) – Further, “know” is ginosko, that experiential knowledge. We know God lives in us and we in God because we have experienced the Spirit of God.
Because he has given us of his Spirit—”he has given” (perfect tense); he has given and we currently possess God’s Spirit. “This gift of God is proof of our fellowship with God” (Robertson). God gives, we receive (Acts 2.38). Reception takes place at the baptistery and we possess God’s Spirit.
14And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.
And…and—kai…kai in the Greek translated “both…and’ in English.
We have seen—perfect tense; the apostles saw in the past and presently experience results from it. This has to do with the manifestation of the Son coming in the flesh.
Testify—present tense; John, with the apostolic college in total, is bearing witness (Gk. Martureo) to the coming of the Son as Savior of the world.
The Father has sent his Son—perfect tense, same as v.9. There are permanent abiding results of the Father having sent His Son on a mission into this world. Namely…
To be the Savior of the world—salvation. The lost-ness of the world is implied; the world was/is in need of a Savior. Indeed, Jesus is propitiation for the sins of the whole world (2.2). John is the only one who uses this title for Jesus (see 4.42).
15Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.
Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God—(aorist) agree with, speak the same word as God about Jesus: He is the Son of God. “Whoever has once for all taken up the position of confessing” (Pulpit Comm.) or the position that Jesus is Son of God. This characterizes people who have accepted the witness/testimony of the apostles.
God abides in him, and he in God—John has tied this fantastic thought throughout this section that we can have the abiding presence of God, enjoying close fellowship with God. This is the present reality for the one confessing Jesus as the Son of God. God has taken up his residence in the individual.
16So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.
So…and—kai…kai in the Gk again. Should be “Both…and”
We have come to know—perfect tense; came to know in the past and continue to know at present. Know what? The love of God. Ginosko root, experiential knowledge.
To believe—or “trust” or “rely on.” Perfect tense; we came to trust and continue to trust. Trust in/rely on what? The love of God.
In John’s writing, knowledge and belief are often coupled in the same context (see John 6.69). “It appears that the author considered both terms to describe a single composite action.” – NET
The love that God has for us—should be “in us” or “among us.” Through the manifestation of love in the believing body we experience and depend on the love of God. In other words, we need the love from one another. Without it, the greatest dimension of our faith is removed.
God is love—seen this before in v.8. Is this important? Absolutely. But be careful with this; so many people get caught up in “God is love” and forget that there are other descriptions of God elsewhere in Scripture: vengeance and judging (Heb 10.30-31), light (1.5 which exposes darkness/sin), consuming fire (Heb 12.29).
Whoever abides in love abides in God—or “the one abiding in love.” The one who’s practice is to demonstrate love (for one another). “Live in love” – Stott. It makes sense that if “God is love” then to live in love would be to live in God. Again, fellowship with God.
God abides in him—He (presently) takes up his residence in us. The residence of God in the individual is highlighted here but it points to the community (v.17).
17By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world.
By this (what follows “because”) is love perfected with us—This idea of perfected love has come up before (v.12). Love “has been made perfect or complete and exists in its finished reality” (Wuest). God brings it to completion (passive). God’s love manifested among brothers. “With us” emphasizes cooperation, that is man’s cooperation with God. Participation in the love of God. “If saints have this agape love habitually for one another, that shows that this love which God is in His nature has accomplished its purpose in our lives.” (Wuest)
So that (purpose) we may have confidence… – We have seen this concept of confidence on Judgment Day in 1 John already (2.28). Confidence is the freedom to speak. Even on Judgment Day, we who have had love perfected in us, within us have nothing to fear. Here is the assurance Christians have: you don’t have anything to worry about come judgment day.
Because (hoti) as he is so also are we in this world—Here is the reason love is perfected with us. “He” who? Jesus (based on Greek ekeinos which John uses often to speak of Jesus; see 2.6; 3.3, 5, 7, 16). How is He? Pure (3.3), righteous (3.7). Christians resemble Christ. Indeed, only because we are as he is (present tense) do we have love perfected with us and therefore confidence on Judgment Day. No man can look forward to that Day with confidence without these.
18There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.
There is no fear in love—many commentators point to “servile fear” as the fear being spoken of here pointing to Rom 8.15. Possibly. But the word used here is phobos, which is a word used for fear in general. Dread and terror accompany it. It can also mean “reverence.” But there is no dread or terror of judgment in love. That’s the context.
Perfect love casts out fear—this complete/perfect love casts/throws out the dread and terror of judgment and this is replaced by confidence (v.17). The Gnostic has cause for fear; his love is not perfected. Indeed, the Gnostic hates and is a liar. The Christian, though, has no fear but confidence even in the presence of the Judge.
For (hoti) fear has to do with punishment—lit. “fear has punishment.” “Punishment” implies severe suffering, torment even (some translations have “torment”). Jesus is the only other person in the NT to use this word (Mt 25.46). Even now, presently, fear has punishment in its anticipation of the punishment. Or fear carries a special punishment in itself; “Fear is always revolving in the mind the punishment deserved.” (JFB)
Whoever fears has not been perfected in love—lit. the one fearing. This is tied directly to “No fear in love.” From the abstract (no fear in love) John makes it personal (whoever fears). What is your habitual practice, career? One of fear? Or one consumed with love for God and brethren? John says the two cannot coexist (like love and hatred).
19We love because he first loved us.
We love because he first loved us—KJV, NKJV, Young’s Lit.: “We love him…” Vulgate: “We love God…” The earliest mss do not have “him”; it is just “We love” the love being quite general, i.e. there is no object. Present tense: “We keep on loving…” Subjunctive or indicative mood? Subjunctive: “Let us keep on loving.” Indicative: “We keep on loving.” Is it an exhortation or expressing reality? Either is fine, but it seems John “states as fact what ought to be a fact” (Pulpit). Love who? Certainly God. Brothers; in context (v.20-21), it would seem John may emphasize the brethren. We Christians do not fear; we love. To not love after what God has done for us out of His incredible love for man would be monstrous. Our love is in response, then, to His love for us “first.” “All human love is preceded and generated by the love of God.” – Vincent. “This is the foundation of our love to God” – Clarke. Christ was not sacrificed so that God could love mankind; Christ died because God already loved mankind.
20If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.
If anyone says—this seems to be a variant of John’s tool to expose error we saw earlier in the epistle (“If we say…”; 1.6, 8; 2.4, 9). John exposes the person who’s profession does not match his practice. Instead of practicing Christianity, this person is pretending at it.
“I love God” – any and every Christian would profess this. This is very similar to the person of 2.9. To claim to know God, love God, make God your aim/standard for conduct and yet walk in darkness/disobedience to God’s commandment (“Love one another”) makes one a (monstrous) liar. Loving God necessitates loving God’s children (brethren).
Hates his brother—lack of love or even indifference toward his brother. Present tense: keeps on hating his brother. Again, settled practice, career of brotherly hatred.
He is a liar—what a scathing rebuke from the apostle of love! John has called many people liars (1.6; 2.4) and contrasted this with God’s word (cf. 1.8, 10) and the anointing from Christ (2.27b). Basically, John says the profession (“I love God”) is false if the accompanying action is in contradiction to the commandment of God.
For (gar) he who does not love his brother—lit. the one not loving (or the unloving one) his brother. That is, the one hating his brother. Here is direct disobedience to the command of God (love one another). Your brother is your fellow Christian.
Whom he has seen—perfect tense; has seen and continues to see (even daily, cf. Acts 2.46; 5.42). They didn’t “go to the church” because they were too busy being the Church. They saw their brothers daily. John says, if you hate this person (your brother) whom see constantly…
Cannot love God whom he has not seen—one has not seen nor presently sees God (as opposed to your brother). John’s argument is somewhat akin to what Jesus does in the gospel accounts: which is easier? Sight aids one in love; it is easier to love something/someone you can see. No one has ever seen God (v.12) but you see your brother constantly. So if one cannot do the easier of the two, he cannot perform the more difficult. “To affirm one’s love for the unseen while failing to love the seen is to enter the realm of fantasy” (NBC). Love for one another is the best indicator of love for God.
21And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.
And this commandment we have from him—Just as God given the greatest commandment (Mark 12.30), obligatory to obedience to this command is obedience to the command “love one another.” Each is just as binding. From whom have we this command? God.
Exegetical note: there is a hina that belongs between “from him” and “whoever” which the NET translates epexegtically to “this” at the beginning of the sentence.
Whoever loves God must also love his brother—lit. the one loving God, again present tense pointing to habitual practice, career. You’re a God-lover, then you had better also love your brother. This is, though, a positive command. We are privileged to love our brother, children of the Father. And better yet, we are privileged to love the Father.