Bibliotheca Sacra 147 (1990) 69-88.

          Copyright © 1990 by Dallas Theological Seminary.  Cited with permission.

 

 

                               An Expositional Studio of 1 John

                                            Part 8 (of 10 parts):

 

 

                An Exposition of 1 John 4:7-21

 

 

                                             D. Edmond Hiebert

                             Professor Emeritus of New Testament

               Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary, Fresno, California

 

 

            In 1 John 4:7-5:5, the third major division of the epistle, John

presented an elaborate development of the nature and results of

Christian love. In 2:7-11 he already noted that love is one of the

signs of the believer's fellowship with God; in 3:13-24 he also por-

trayed the conflict between love and hatred as an assuring sign of a

vital Christian faith. Now John noted that love is related to the

very nature of God Himself. He spelled out the precise nature and

the results of the love demanded of all true believers.

                 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and every-

            one who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not

            love does not know God, for God is love. By this the love of God was

            manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the

            world so that we might live through Him. 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. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one an-

            other. No one 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 Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of

            God, God abides in him, and he in God. And we have come to know

            and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the

            one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this,

            love is perfected with us, that we may have confidence in the day of

            judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world. There is no

            fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves pun-

            ishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. We love, be-

            cause He first loved us. If someone says, "I love God," and hates his

 

                                                            69



70                    Bibliotheca Sacra / January--March 1990

 

            brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he

            has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this com-

            mandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love

            his brother also (1 John 4:7-21).

 

            In 1 John 4:7-16a John presented a comprehensive treatment of

the nature of true love, while in 4:16b—5:5 he set forth the results of

this love in the life of the believer. The presence and operation of

this God-inspired love is a further ground of Christian assurance.

 

                            The Nature of Redeeming Love

 

            John noted that the presence of love is basic for Christian assur-

ance (vv. 7-8). He portrayed the manifestation of true love in Christ

(vv. 9-10), stressed the need to practice mutual love (vv. 11-12), and

elaborated on the confirmation of redeeming love in Christian expe-

rience (vv. 13-16a).

 

THE ASSURANCE FROM THE PRACTICE OF LOVE (vv. 7-8)

            John called for the practice of mutual love because of the source

of true love (v. 7a) and declared, both positively and negatively, the

significance of such love (vv. 7b-8).

            John prefaced his discussion of Christian love with the direct

address "Beloved" ( ]Agaphtoi<), expressive of his own love for his

readers. Stott remarks, "The author practices what he preaches. In

urging them to love each other, he first assures them of his own love

for them."1 Four of the six occurrences of this term of address in this

epistle occur in passages where love is the theme (2:7; 3:21; 4:7, 11).

its use in 3:2 and 4:1 reflects John's pastoral concern for his readers.

            Mutual love grounded in God's love (v. 7a). The appeal, "let us

love one another" (a]gapw?men a]llh<louj), is a call for mutual love in

which John included himself. In form the verb may be either indica-

tive, "we love,"2 or hortatory subjunctive, "let us love." English

Bible versions and commentators generally accept the latter view,

taking the verb as a call for mutual love within the Christian broth-

erhood. It resumes the obligation to love expressed in 3:18 and

restated in 4:11. The present tense calls for love as a characteristic

practice, while the reciprocal pronoun "one another" insists that it

must be mutual: the love must flow in both directions! It is a call to

 

1   J. R. W. Stott, The Epistles of John, The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries,

(Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1964), p. 160.

2   Donald W. Burdick supports the indicative: "The main point being expressed in

verses 7-16 is not an exhortation to love but a declaration that Christians do love be-

cause they have been born of God, who is love" (The Letters of John the Apostle

[Chicago: Moody Press, 1985], p. 317).



                        An Exposition of 1 John 4::7-21                             71

 

seek unselfishly the true welfare of the one loved. Such love should

characterize the mutual relations of believers. Plummer notes, "The

love of Christians to unbelievers is not expressly excluded, but it is

not definitely before the Apostle's mind."3 This love will prompt

the believer to reach out to the unsaved around him, but this God-in-

spired love cannot find full mutual realization with unbelievers.

            The exhortation is grounded in doctrinal reality: "for love is

from God" (o!ti h[ a]ga<ph e]k tou? qeou? e]stin). The use of the definite

article with "love" (h[ a]ga<ph) centers attention on the kind of love

John was urging, "the love" that has its source in God. It is not the

natural love of the world for its own (John 15:19), nor the love of pub-

licans for fellow-publicans (Matt. 5:46), but a self-sacrificing love

motivated by good will and implemented in action, as portrayed in 1

John 4:9-10. The preposition "from" e]k, "out of") denotes that this

love "flows from Him, as the one spring, and in such a way that the

connection with the source remains unbroken."4

            Love as the revelation of character (vv. 7h-8). The call to love

is undergirded by the fact that its practice is a sure revelation of

character. Verse 7b states the positive revelation while verse 8

states the negative fact.

            The positive assertion, "everyone who loves is born of God and

knows God," identifies the true believer. "Everyone who loves" (pa?j

o[ a]gapw?n) includes every individual actively practicing the kind of

love of which John was speaking. No object of love is expressed; it is

his practice of this love that is the crucial test. The significance of

such love is indicated in the double assertion concerning hirn: he "is

born of God and knows God" (e]k tou? qeou? gege<nnhtai kai> ginw<skei

to>n qeo<n, which Rotherham renders, "Of God hath been born, And is

getting to understand God"5). The original order draws the two verbs

together, framed by the two references to God. The perfect passive

verb in the first expression denotes the definite experience of the new

birth as wrought by God, with the result that he is now a member of

God's family. The divine begetting preceded his loving; for his love

"is an activity of the implanted eternal life, and is therefore a proof

that the life is present."6 The second assertion, "and knows God," re-

 

3   A. Plummer, The Epistles of S. John, Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges

(reprint, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1938), p. 146.

4   Brooke Foss Westcott, The Epistles of St John (reprint, Grand Rapids: Wm. B.

Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1950), p. 147.

5   Joseph Bryant Rotherham, The Emphasized New Testament (reprint, Grand

Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1959), p. 247.

6   R. O. Orr, The Letters of John," in A New Testament Commentary, ed. G. C. D.

Howley (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1969), p. 617.

 



72                    Bibliotheca Sacra / January—March 1990

 

cords the sure result of the new birth. The present tense verb "knows"

points to his daily experience of getting to know and understand God

better.

            Verse 8, in typical Johannine fashion, presents the opposite pic-

ture: "The one who does not love does not know God." The negative

with the present tense participle (o[ mh> a]gapw?n) pictures one who is

unloving in attitude and practice. The absence of love in his life

proves that he "does not know God" (ou]k e@gnw to>n qeo<n), that he

has never come to know personally what God is like. The aorist

tense apparently looks back to the time of his professed conversion.

Not knowing love shows that he is still a stranger to God. McDowell

remarks, "Ignorance of God and, we may deduce, misinterpretations

and misrepresentations of God, are traceable to the absence of love in

men's hearts. . . . The reason for this is that God is love."7

            The assertion, "God is love" (o[ qeo>j a]ga<ph e]sti<n), is another of

the great biblical statements concerning the nature of God. It stands

parallel to two other statements from the pen of John: "God is spirit"

(John 4:24) and "God is light" (1 John 1:5). They set forth different

aspects of the essential nature of God. In the words of Marshall,

"'God is spirit' describes his metaphysical nature, while 'God is

light' and 'God is love' deal with his character, especially as he

has revealed himself to men."8 Since love is a personal activity, the

statement assumes that God is a Person. The two nouns in the state-

ment "God is love" are not interchangeable, since the definite article

occurs with "God" (o[ qeo>j) but not with "love."9 To make them re-

versible would offer a basis for pantheism. While John has just said

that "love is from God" (v. 7), one cannot say that "love is God," just

as one cannot say "light is God." Without the article, "love" is qual-

itative and depicts the nature of His being. The fact that God as a

Person is completely loving does not invalidate the fact that He is

also holy and righteous. All aspects of His nature belong together

and unite in determining His action. His actions are totally self-con-

sistent. "Because He is love, God works against whatever works

against love."10

 

7   Edward A. McDowell, "1-2-3 John," in The Broadman Bible Commentary

(Nashville: Broadman Press, 1972), 12:216.

8   I. Howard Marshall, The Epistles of John, The New International Commentary on

the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1978), p. 212.

9   “The article with one and not with the other means that the articular noun is the

subject. Thus o[ qeo>j a]ga<ph e]sti<n can only mean God is love, not love is God. . . . If the

article occurs with both predicate and subject they are interchangeable" (A. T. Robert-

son and W. Hersey Davis, A New Short Grammar of the Greek Testament [New York:

Harper & Brothers, 1931], p. 279).

10   Herschel H. Hobbs, The Epistles of John (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers,

 



            An Exposition of 1 John 4:7-21                              73

 

THE MANIFESTATION OF REDEEMING LOVE (vv. 9-10)

            Fallen humanity would never have known this love apart from

the fact that God took the initiative in revealing His love to

mankind. That love was manifested in the Incarnation (v. 9) and in

the Atonement (v. 10).

            God's love manifested in the Incarnation (v. 9). In verse 9 John

sets forth the manifestation of redemptive love in the Incarnation:

"By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His

only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through

Him." "By this" (e]n tou<t&) looks forward to and is interpreted by

the following "that" clause. The rendering "by this" interprets the

preposition (e]n) as instrumental, namely, that God's love was re-

vealed by means of the sending of His Son. It may also be understood

as locative, meaning that God's love was embodied in the sending of

the Son. Plummer suggests that "for the sake of uniformity with vv.

10, 13, 17" it would be preferable to render "herein" each time."11  The

verb "was manifested" (e]fanerw<qh), a favorite term with John,12

means "to make visible, make clear, come out into the open," and im-

plies that before the first coming of Christ, "the love of God" (h[

a]ga<ph tou? qeou?), that is, God's love for mankind, had not been dis-

played in such a personal, dynamic manner. In Him God's message of

love reached its climax (Heb. 1:1-2).

            John's statement that this love was manifested "in us" (e]n h[mi?n)

is differently understood. Some, like Smith, understand it subjec-

tively, "'in our souls'—an inward experience."13  But since John was

referring to a historical event, such a subjective meaning seems un-

likely. As relating to an objective event, the meaning may be "to us"

or "among us" as the sphere in which this manifestation took place.

Since those who beheld were not merely interested spectators, John

apparently meant that "the manifestation was 'in connection with

us,' it involved us as the recipients of God's love."14

            This manifestation consisted in the fact "that God has sent His

only begotten Son into the world" (o!ti to>n ui[o>n au]tou? to>n menogenh?

a]pe<stalken o[ qeo>j ei]j to>n ko<smon, literally, "that His Son, the

 

1983), p. 109.

11   Plummer, The Epistles of S. John, p. 148.

12   The verb fanero<w occurs nine times in 1 John, nine times in the Fourth Gospel, and

twice in Revelation. In Paul's epistles it appears 22 times, but only seven times in the

rest of the New Testament.

13   David Smith, "The Epistles of John," in The Expositor's Greek Testament, 5 vols.

(Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., n.d.), 5:191.

14   R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of the Epistles of St. Peter, St. John and St. Jude

(1945; reprint, Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1966), p. 500.

 



74                    Bibliotheca Sacra / January—March 1990

 

only begotten, God has sent into the world"). John's order places the

object, "His only begotten Son," emphatically forward. The manifes-

tation was personal, none other than the only Son of God. The re-

peated article makes both to>n ui[o>n au]tou? and to>n monogenh? promi-

nent and distinct. The former marks His deity, the latter His

uniqueness. "His Son" calls attention to the intimate Father-Son re-

lationship; in eternity past He was in an intimate face-to-face rela-

tionship with God (John 1:1).

            The second designation, "only begotten," is climactic. As ap-

plied to Christ, the term is unique to John (John 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18; and

here). Elsewhere in the Gospels it is used of an only child (Luke 7:12;

8:42; 9:38) and in Hebrews 11:17 it is used of Isaac to indicate his

unique relationship to Abraham as the only son of promise. Derived

from mo<noj ("only, single") and ge<noj ("kind"), monogenh?j denotes

uniqueness ("one of a kind"15) rather than origin. The term denotes

that "as the 'only' Son of God, He has no equal and is able fully to

reveal the Father."16 Marshall notes that in the Septuagint the

Hebrew word for "singly, only" is sometimes rendered in Greek as

a]gaphto<j ("beloved") and sometimes by monogenh?j, and concludes

that "monogenh?j may contain the nuance 'beloved,' especially since

an only child is particularly loved by his parents."17 But Cremer

notes that John's usage of monogenh?j does not quite correspond to

a]gaphto<j in the Synoptics but rather to Paul's "His own son" (tou?

i]di<ou ui[ou?) in Romans 8:32.18 The familiar English rendering "only

begotten Son" was based on Jerome's usage of unigenitus in the

Vulgate for the Old Latin translation unicus.

            John's term indicates the sacrificial nature of the Father's love

in sending His only Son. The perfect tense verb "has sent"

(a]pe<stalken) points to the abiding impact of that crucial sending.

Believers now enjoy its abiding blessings. This compound verb em-

bodies the thought of someone being sent forth as the representative

of another. The cognate noun (a]po<stoloj), commonly translated

"apostle," denotes one sent forth on a mission as the representative of

another. In Hebrews 3:1 this noun is used of Jesus Himself as the

commissioned representative of the Father, who sent Him "into the

 

15   James Moulton and George Milligan note that the term "is literally one of a kind,'

'only,' 'unique' (unicus), not 'only-begotten,' which would be monogennetos (unigenitus)"

(The Vocabulary of the Greek Testament [London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1930], pp.

416-17).

16   Ibid., p. 417.

17   Marshall, The Epistles of John, p. 214, n. 8.

18   Hermann Cremer, Biblico-Theological Lexicon of New Testament Greek, trans.

William Urwick (1895; reprint, Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1954), p. 150.

 



           An Exposition of 1 John 4:7-21                              75

 

world" (ei]j to>n ko<smon), the earthly scene where the people to

whom He was sent live.

            The purpose of this divine sending of the Son was "so that we

might live through Him" (i!na zh<swmen di ] au]tou?). The aorist sub-

junctive verb "might live" indicates the actual bestowal of life as

the intended result of His mission. This statement of purpose implies

that those to whom the Son was sent were spiritually dead (Eph.

2:1), but He came to give them life. The added words "through Him"

declare that the Son Himself was the mediating agent in this be-

stowal of life, imparting to them eternal life while they are still

living in this world. Eternal life is not merely future; through Christ

it is received here and now and will continue into the eternal future.

God's love manifested in the Atonement (v. 10). The love that

sent the Son "that we might live through Him" is now related to His

propitiatory work. The renewed statement, "In this is love" (e]n

tou<t& e]sti>n h[ a]ga<ph, literally, "the love" as just depicted), points

to a deeper aspect of that love. The words again look forward to the

concluding "that" (o!ti) clause where John used a double statement to

portray this love.

            The parenthetical negative, "not that we loved God" (ou]x o!ti

h[mei?j h]gaph<kamen to>n qeo<n), contradicts the misconception that

God, though altogether worthy of the believer's love, is loved di-

rectly by the natural man. Fallen human beings are not naturally in

love with the God whom the Son came to reveal.19 The emphatic

"we" (h[mei?j) stresses that as human beings believers did not origi-

nate the love John was writing about.

            Two facts concerning God's love are stressed. First, "that He

loved us" (o!ti au]to>j h]ga<phsen h[ma?j, literally, "that He Himself

loved us"). He took the initiative in revealing His love. His love

"was original and spontaneous, the source of all other love."20 The

aorist tense "loved" refers to the historical coming of Christ; re-

garded as a distinctive landmark.

            The redemptive purpose of His love is made clear in the addi-

tional fact that He "sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins."

This is a summary of the redemptive mission of Christ in His First

Advent. The connecting "and" (kai>) links the fact of God's love with

 

19   There is a textual problem with the tense of the verb we loved." Only Codex B

and y and a few minuscules have the perfect h]gaph<kamen; the majority of the manu-

scripts have the aorist h]gaph<samen. The aorist may be an attempt to conform the

unusual perfect to the other aorists in this verse. For the evidence see Nestle-Aland,

Novum Testamentum Graece, 26th ed. (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelstiftung, 1979).

20   W. H. Bennett, The General Epistles, James, Peter, John rind Jude, The Century

Bible (London: Blackwood, Le Bas & Co., n.d.), p. 312.

 



76                    Bibliotheca Sacra / January–March 1990

 

His loving act. The aorist "sent" (a]pe<steilen) views the First Ad-

vent as a mission that culminated in making "His Son to be the pro-

pitiation for our sins" (to>n ui[o>n au]tou? i[lasmo>n peri> tw?n a[martiw?n

h[mw?n). Since no verb is used, the expression may be rendered "His Son

to be the propitiation" or "His Son as a propitiation." John insisted

that the Son "Himself is the propitiation for our sins" (2:2). He was

not sent merely to be "the propitiator for our sins," like the high

priest under the Mosaic Law, but Himself became "the propitiation

for our sins" by shedding His own blood for the remission of sins.

Christ's self-sacrifice for sins made full atonement for all sins, thus

enabling God to pardon at His own cost the sins against Himself of

those who believe and to restore them to acceptance and fellowship

with Himself. In the words of Pentecost, "The death of Jesus Christ

did not change the heart of God, as if One who hated us now loves us;

rather it opened the floodgate so that the love of God for sinners

could be poured out to them through Jesus Christ."21  The words "our

sins" bear witness to the consciousness of John and his readers concern-

ing their own need of such a propitiatory sacrifice.

 

THE PRACTICE OF BROTHER LOVE (vv. 11-12)

            Having set forth the nature of redeeming love (vv. 9-10), John

then presented the resultant obligation of believers to love each

other (v. 11) and noted the significance of its practice (v. 12).

            The obligation of mutual love (v. 11). For the sixth and last

time John addressed his readers as "Beloved" (a]gaphtoi<), thus re-

verting to the admonition with which he began this discussion of

love (see v. 7). No further direct address occurs until the very last

verse of the epistle (5:21).

            John's appeal is, "if God so loved us, we also ought to love one

another." The first class conditional statement, "if God so loved us"

(ei] ou!twj o[ qeo>j h]ga<phsen h[ma?j), states gently the motivating re-

ality and implies no doubt. The adverb "so" recalls the sacrificial

love portrayed in verse 10, while the repeated use of "God" (o[ qeo>j)

stresses the majesty of the love shown by the God they have come to

know. The verse echoes John 3:16, but the use of the pronoun "us"

makes it more personal in its direct application to John and his read-

ers. God loved us "not because of our merit but because of our need."22

            In view of God's love "we also ought to love one another." The

verb "we ought" (o]fei<lomen) denotes not external compulsion but the

 

21   J Dwight Pentecost, The Joy of Fellowship (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing

I louse, 1977), p. 109.

22   Hobbs, The Epistles of John, p. 111.

 



               An Exposition of 1 John 4:7-21                              77

 

inner constraint of conscious obligation. The present tense marks this

as a continuing obligation, while "we also" stresses that believers

must sense this constraint because they have been brought into a rela-

tionship of love. God's children "ought" to be displaying their Fa-

ther's love. His love is the example as well as the stimulus. It is in

the practice of love for "one another" that the reality of love for God

will be tested, strengthened, and purified. In keeping with Jesus'

teaching (Matt. 22:37-40), John insisted that love for God and love

for believing brothers cannot be separated.

            The significance of mutual love (v. 12). John's assertion, "No one

has beheld God at any time" is unexpected. Houlden feels that it

"has the air of being misplaced," and suggests that it should stand

before verse 20, but he admits that his conjecture has no textual sup-

port.23 Marshall insists that its place here is deliberate and that

John was refuting those who claimed to know and love God because of

their mystical experiences.24 John insisted that God is not truly

known through such professed mystical visions of God but that He

can be known because He has revealed Himself through Christ and

the experience of His love in Christian relations. For those who dis-

parage the obligation to love the brethren, no vaunted mystical vi-

sions of God will ever enable them to attain to a vital relationship

with God. John had already informed his readers that such a direct

vision of God awaits the time of the Rapture (3:2).

            The word order of John's assertion is literally, "God no one at

any time has beheld" (qeo>n ou]dei>j pw<pote teqe<atai). The direct

object, "God," stands first and, used without the article, denotes His

essential essence, His deity. The negative "no one" allows for no per-

sonal exceptions, while the adverb "at any time" denies any past ex-

ceptions to this categorical assertion. The verb used here is not that

used in John 1:18 (e[w<raken), which simply denotes the fact of having

seen; the verb here (teqe<atai) implies a careful observation or close

scrutiny (the word "theater" is derived from it). The perfect tense

denotes an intimate gazing on the face of God by one who has entered

into close fellowship with God. Since God is spirit (John 4:24) and

invisible (1 Tim. 1:17; 6:16), the natural human eye cannot behold

Him in His true essence. What Moses saw on Sinai (Exod. 33:22-23),

or Isaiah in the temple (Isa. 6:1), were theophanies, revelations by

which God made Himself visible to the eye.

            John continued by pointing out that a believer's love for the

 

23   J. L. Houlden, A Commentary on the Johannine Epistles, Harper's New Testament

Commentaries (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1973), p. 114.

24   Marshall, The Epistles of John, p. 216.

 



78                    Bibliotheca Sacra / January—March 1990

 

brethren is closely related to his experience of God's love: "if we

love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us" (1

John 4:12). The third class conditional sentence, "if we love one an-

other" (e]a>n a]gapw?men a]llh<louj), leaves open the actual fulfillment

of the condition. John knew well that the condition was not true in

the lives of some professed Christians. But he anticipated that the

readers would practice mutual love. Such mutual Christian love is

evidence that "the unseen God, who was once revealed in His Son, is

now revealed in His people if and when they love one another."25

            The fact that "God abides in us" (o[ qeo>j e]n h[mi?n me<nei) is now

discerned through their continuing exercise of the mutual love that

God Himself implants through the Holy Spirit (v. 13; Rom. 5:5). As

believers experience His love in them, it will be expressed through

them. John pointed to the practice of brother-love as evidence that

God "abides" (me<nei) in the believer as a continuing reality.

            Their practice of mutual love further signifies that "His love is

perfected in us" (h[ a]ga<ph au]tou? en] h[mi?n teteleiwme<nh e]sti<n). In 1

John 2:5 John pointed to the believer's obedience to God's commands

as revealing that "in him the love of God has truly been perfected."

Here the evidence is the practice of mutual love. The genitive ren-

dered "His love" (h[ a]ga<ph au]tou?) may be understood (a) as an objec-

tive genitive ("our love for God"), (b) as a subjective genitive ("God's

love for us"), or (c) as a qualitive genitive to describe its Godlike

quality. Some take the genitive as objective,26 but this seems un-

likely since the context speaks about God's love for believers (4:10-

11). The discussion suggests the genitive is subjective: "God's love for

us, now dwelling in us."27 But it is quite possible that the second and

third view combine in John's thought, since the operation of God's

love in the hearts of believers inspires and develops a love in them

like His own. In this paragraph John has been describing the nature

of God's love, but he has also called for believers to respond to the

divine love in loving the brethren. The words rendered "His love is

perfected in us" do not denote an internal perfecting of God's love

through the elimination of inadequacies; they mean that God's love

 

25   Stott, The Epistles of John, p. 164.

26   Henry Alford, The New Testament for English Readers (reprint, Chicago: Moody

Press, n.d.), pp. 1741-42; Plummer, The Epistles of S. John, p. 150; Harvey J. S. Blaney,

"The First Epistle of John," in Beacon Bible Commentary (Kansas City, MO: Beacon

Hill Press, 1967), 10:391-92.

27   Lenski, The Interpretation of the Epistles of St. Peter, St. John and Jude, p. 505;

Rudolf Bultmann, The Johannine Epistles, Hermenia (Philadelphia: Fortress Press,

1973), p. 68; Stott, The Epistles of John, p. 164; Simon J. Kistemaker, Exposition of the

Epistles of James and the Epistles of John, New Testament Commentary (Grand

Rapids: Baker Book House, 1986), p. 335.

 



               An Exposition of 1 John 4:7.21                               79

 

has been brought to its intended goal in believers' lives through

their consistent practice of loving one another.

 

THE CONFIRMATION OF GOD'S LOVE (vv. 13-16a)

            In verses 13-16a John presented three grounds for assurance that

believers have come personally to know God's love. He mentioned

the gift of the Spirit (v. 13), the apostolic testimony concerning God's

saving work in Christ (v. 14), and the experience of fellowship with

God (vv. 15-16a).

            Confirmation through the gift of the Spirit (v. 13). The ringing

words "By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us" express

the basic assurance of the Christian life. The words "By this" (e]n

tou<t&) here, as usually in 1 John look forward to the gift of the Spirit

as expressed by the "because" clause.28 The present tense verb "we

know" (ginw<skomen) indicates "the process of obtaining knowledge by

experience, by observation, or by instruction.29  The content of this

ongoing knowledge is "that we abide in Him and He in us." The verb

"abide" portrays the continuing reality of this reciprocal abiding as

a close and intimate relationship—God dwelling in believers and

they in Him. John first mentioned the reality of this mutual interre-

lationship in 3:24. There the mutual indwelling was presented as

the experience of the individual believer, but here the use of the

plural pronoun, "we . . . us," underlines this relationship as the expe-

rience of the Christian community. Only in this verse does John

assert the communitywide scope of this interrelationship between

God and His people.

            The ground for this knowledge is "because He has given us of His

Spirit" (o!ti e]k tou? pneu<matoj au]tou? de<dwken h[mi?n). This knowl-

edge is not grounded in esoteric insight into the nature of God but

rather in God's own gift to believers. The perfect tense "has given"

denotes the resultant indwelling of the Spirit imparted at regenera-

tion. In 3:24 use of the aorist tense asserted the historical fact that

the Spirit was given; here His resultant presence is asserted.

            The statement that God has given believers "of His Spirit" (e]k

tou? pneu<matoj au]tou?) has been understood in two ways. Lenski

holds that the preposition (ac with the ablative) means that God

has given us "from His Spirit," namely, "when the Holy Spirit is

given to us, he does not enter our hearts without gifts for us."30  Thus

 

28   Others hold that the reference is to the preceding context in which John stated

that if Christians love one another God lives in them.

29   Burdick, The Letters of John the Apostle, p. 327.

30   Lenski, The Interpretation of the Epistles of St. Peter, St. John and St. Jude, p. 507.

 



80                    Bibliotheca Sacra / January—March 1990

 

Marshall suggests that John may have had in mind the charismatic

gifts which were the proof of the Spirit's indwelling.31 But since

John made no mention of such gifts, it is better with Burdick to hold

that "the statement refers simply to the presence of the Spirit."32

The expression seems best understood as having a partative sense,

that "Christians receive from God a share (only) in the Spirit who

fills the whole Church."33 Only of the incarnate Son could it be said

in the fullest sense that He received "the Spirit without measure"

(John 3:34). Given as the gift of the Father's love, the indwelling

Holy Spirit implants and molds the love of the believer.

            Confirmation through the apostolic testimony (v. 14). With a

connective "and" (kai>) John pointed to a further confirmation of God's

love, grounded in the apostolic testimony: "And we have beheld and

bear witness that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the

world.'" The "we" (h[mei?j) is emphatic and points to the apostolic ex-

perience and testimony. In saying "we have beheld and bear wit-

ness" (teqea<meqa kai> marturou?men) John affirmed that their apos-

tolic message was grounded in their own personal experience; it was

not speculative philosophy. The verb "have beheld" denotes a close

and careful observation, and the perfect tense indicates the abiding

impact of what they had observed. In their association with the in-

carnate Son they saw with their own eyes the outworking of His re-

demptive mission. What they beheld produced in them an abiding

conviction concerning His true identity, and that conviction prompted

there to continue to "bear witness" concerning Him. The Christian

life rests on the acknowledged reality of God's revelation of Himself

in His Son and a personal acceptance by faith, of the Son's unique

Person and ministry.

            The heart of the apostolic witness is "that the Father has sent

the Son to be the Savior of the world." The acceptance of this mes-

sage is the test of doctrinal orthodoxy. The perfect tense "has sent"

denotes the abiding significance of the sending of the Son "to be the

Savior of the world." The term, "the Savior" (swth?ra), used with-

out a verbal form, is the predicate accusative, "as Savior"; it de-

scribes what He is, not merely what He was sent to do. The salva-

tion He wrought is inseparably connected with His Person as the

unique Son of God. "The world," steeped in sin and corruption, needs

such a Savior. He is the Savior, not of Jews only, but of the entire

 

31   Marshall, The Epistles of John, p. 219.

32   Burdick, The Letters of John the Apostle, p. 328.

33   Stephen S. Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 51 (Waco, TX:

Word Books Publisher, 1984), p. 250.

 



              An Exposition of 1 John 4:7-21                              81

 

world. "There is no limit but the willingness of men to accept salva-

tion by believing on the Saviour."34

            In the New Testament the designation "the Savior of the world"

occurs only here and on the lips of the Samaritan believers in John

4:42. In classical Greek the term "savior" was applied both to the

gods and to men. In the Roman imperial cultus it was employed as

one of the titles of the emperors, many of whom were the most im-

moral of men. In the New Testament the term is applied both to God

the Father and to the Son.35 The term is applied to the Father as

the originator of the plan of salvation, who sent the Son into the

world "so that we might live through Him" (1 John 4:9); the Son is

the Savior as the one who wrought salvation through His death and

resurrection. The term is not directly applied to the Holy Spirit, but

the Father sent the Spirit to bring about salvation for those who be-

lieve (Gal. 4:4-6; Rom. 8:9-11). In verses 13-14 John accordingly men-

tioned all three Persons of the Trinity in his portrayal of redeeming

love.

            Confirmation through mutual fellowship between God and man

(vv. 15-16a). God's love is further confirmed in the experience of be-

lievers. Verse 15 indicates how men enter into fellowship with God,

and verse 16a states the believer's assurance concerning God's love.

The conditional statement, "Whoever confesses that Jesus is the

Son of God," indicates how God's redemptive purpose in sending

Christ becomes operative in human lives. The scope of the third

class conditional statement, "Whoever confesses" (o{j e]a>n o[mo-

logh<s^, literally, "he who if he may confess"), is restricted only by

the individual's willingness to make the indicated confession. The

aorist verb "confesses" denotes a specific and apparently public

confession born of an inner' persuasion. The verb, which basically

means "to say the same thing," denotes a personal acceptance of the

reality being confessed.

            The confession that "Jesus is the Son of God" ( ]Ihsou?j e]stin o[

ui[o>j tou? qeou?) is an explicit acknowledgement of the abiding real-

ity of the Incarnation, that the man Jesus is indeed the Son of God in-

carnate. It is a confession that the false prophets whom John con-

fronted refused to make. Because of their Gnostic philosophical pre-

supposition that spirit and matter are in opposition to each other,

they regarded such a confession as impossible. But John insisted that

 

34   Plummer, The Epistles of John, p. 150.

35   Of the 24 occurrences of the word "Savior," apparently eight refer to God the Fa-

ther (cf. Luke 1:47; 1 Tim. 1:1; 2:3; 4:10; Titus 1:3; 2:10; 3:4; Jude 25) and 16 to the Son

(Luke 2:11; John 4:42; Acts 5:31; 13:23; Eph. 5:23; Phil. 3:20; 2 Tim. 1:10; Titus 1:4; 2:13;

3:6; 2 Pet. 1:1, 11; 2:20; 3:2, 18; 1 John 4:14).

 



82                    Bibliotheca Sacra / January—March 1990

 

the confession is crucial, that it is precisely those who accept and

confess the reality of the Incarnation who have fellowship with

God. Stott well observes, "The theology which robs Christ of His

Godhead, robs God of the glory of His love, and robs man of the one

belief that generates a perfect love within him."36

            The truth thus expressed as a confession of personal faith assures

the believer that "God abides in him and he in God." It portrays a

vital twofold relationship that is both intimate and progressive.

The present tense verb (me<nei) stresses the present reality, "God lives

in him and he in God" (NIV).37 As Westcott notes,

            The two clauses mark two aspects of the Christian's life. The believer

            has a new and invincible power for the fulfilment of his work on earth:

            "God is in him." And again he realizes that his life is not on earth, that

            he belongs essentially to another order: "he is in God." The divine fel-

            lowship is complete and effective in each direction.38

 

            The amazing relationship with God which John held before

those willing to make the confession just indicated (v. 15) is now ex-

pressed as a living reality in the experience of true believers: "And

we have come to know and have believed the love which God has

for us" (v. 16a). The opening "we" (h[mei?j) is emphatic and denotes

John and the believing community. God's love evoked a response:

"we have come to know and have believed" that love. The two verbs

"have come to know" and "have believed," both in the perfect tense,

indicate the resultant experience flowing from initial faith and con-

fession. Burdick notes that the order of the two verbs indicates that

"a knowledge of basic facts must precede belief, for it is necessary to

know what is to be believed. Faith must be intelligent or it is sheer

gullibility."39 In John 6:69 these two verbs are used in reverse order,

thus indicating that in spiritual matters "the growth of knowledge

and the growth of faith act and react on each other."40

            One's growth in knowledge and faith relates to "the love which

God has for us." The words "for us" (e]n h[mi?n, literally, "in us") have

been understood in two ways. The rendering "for us" suggests that the

love God revealed in His incarnate Son was witnessed by those

 

36   Stott, The Epistles of John, p. 165.

37   See also The New Testament of the Jerusalem Bible, Reader's Edition, ed.

Alexander Jones (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., 1969); The New Testament in

Today's English Version (New York: American Bible Society, 1966).

38   Westcott, The Epistles of St John, p. 155.

39   Burdick, The Epistles of John, pp. 330-31.

40   A. E. Brooke, The Johannine Epistles, The International Critical Commentary,

(reprint, Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1964), p. 122.

 



            An Exposition of 1 John 4:7-21                              83

 

around Christ and intended to bring salvation. While the preposi-

tion e]n can have this remoter meaning (cf. John 13:35), its more natu-

ral meaning is "in us." Accepting the love manifested in Christ has

enabled that love to become operative in believers' lives. God's

love, poured into their hearts by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 5:5), is now

at work manifesting its presence in them. Since God's love is no

longer visible in the presence of the incarnate Christ here on earth,

God is manifesting His love as it is now displayed in His people.

 

                          The Results of Redeeming Love

 

            Having explored the nature of redeeming love, John next dealt

with the results of that love in believers' lives (1 John 4:16b-18), in

their relationship with others (vv. 19-21), and in their relationship

with God (5:1-5).

 

THE RESULTS IN BELIEVERS' LIVES (vv. 16b-18)

            God's love abiding within promotes the consciousness of recipro-

cal love (v. 16b), produces confidence in view of the future (v. 17), and

casts out the feeling of fear (v. 18).

            The experience of reciprocal love (p. 16b). The work of love in

believers' lives is connected with the fact that "God is love." This is

the only New Testament statement declaring the essence of God's na-

ture that occurs twice (see 4:8). While the restatement well summa-

rizes the discussion in 4:7-16a, the use of "and" (kai>) connects it with

what follows: "and the one who abides in love abides in God, and

God abides in him." The present articular participle, "the one who

abides in love" (o[ me<nwn e]n t^? a]ga<ph, "the one abiding in the

love"), describes the individual by his practice as continually

dwelling in the sphere of love whose very essence is God. He who

lives in this sphere must necessarily be permeated with love, result-

ing in a mutual interrelationship with God. The triple occurrence of

the verb "abide" (me<nw) strengthens the fact of the continuity. It is in

this mutual relationship that the believer's life finds its true ful-

fillment.

            The confidence of perfected love (v. 17). A life of love provides

a foundation for Christian hope: "By this, love is perfected with us,

that we may have confidence in the day of judgment." The opening

"By this" (e]n tou<t& , literally, "in this") may look back to what

precedes or forward to the "that" (i!na) clause. Lenski, connecting the

phrase with what follows, gives this translation: "In this has this

love been brought to its goal with us, that we have boldness in con-

 



84                    Bibliotheca Sacra / January—March 1990

 

nection with the day of the judging."41 Perfected love now gives be-

lievers confidence as they anticipate the coming judgment. Others

take John's expression (i!na with the subjunctive to express purpose)

to mean that Christians' present experience of perfected love now as-

sures that they will have confidence in that future day of judgment.

Some like Westcott42 and Burdick43 hold that "By this" looks back to

the double communion in verse 16b and that this brings love to its

goal, with the result that they will have confidence in that future

day of judgment. Under either view John insisted that one's experi-

ence of perfected love has a bearing on the future.

            John's statement that love is perfected "with us" (meq ] h[mw?n) is

unusual. It can mean "in us" or "in our case," but the preposition with

the genitive basically means "with us" and suggests that love not

only works in believers but also with them as God's people. Love at-

tains its goal when a believer also communicates His love.

God's love has as its intended goal "that we may have confi-

dence in the day of judgment" (i!na parrhsi<an e@xwmen e]n t^? h[me<r%

th?j kri<sewj). In 2:28 John spoke of this confidence before Christ at

His coming as gained through continual abiding in Christ; here its

basis is the experience of abiding mutual love. In that majestic day

God's children will come before the Judge not with terror but with

full assurance of having been accepted in Christ. Apparently the

reference is to the judgment seat of Christ when believers will ap-

pear before Him not to determine their salvation (John 5:24) but for

the evaluation of their lives for reward (2 Cor. 5:10; 1 Cor. 3:12-15).

He who has lived under the inspiration and power of perfect love

will experience "confidence," liberty to approach and commune with

Christ, in that day.

            The clause, "because as He is, so also are we in this world" (o!ti

kaqw>j e]kei?no<j e]stin kai> h[mei?j e]smen e]n t&? ko<sm& tou<t&), indi-

cates that confidence in that future day is grounded in present like-

ness to Christ. The demonstrative pronoun (e]kei?no<j, "that one"),

here rendered "He" as elsewhere in the epistle denotes Christ. The

comparative "as" (kaqw<j, "even as") marks close resemblance giving

assurance that confidence is not presumption. The use of "is," rather

than "was," makes clear that John is not thinking merely of the man

Jesus while He was here on earth. The present tense denotes His un-

changing character, "as he is eternally—past, present, and future."44

 

41   Lenski, The Interpretation of the Epistles of St. Peter, St. John and St. Jude, p. 510.

42   Westcott, The Epistles of St John, p. 157.

43   Burdick, The Epistles of John, p. 333.

44   Ibid., p. 335.

 



              An Exposition of 1 John 4:7-21                              85

 

The comparison, "as He is, so also are we," marks a likeness in char-

acter which is true of believers already "in this world." Varied

views have been expressed as to the nature of this likeness.45 The

context suggests that it is a likeness in love. Love is the theme in

this section (4:7-5:5), and in the next verse John explicitly singled out

love as the antidote to "fear" in believers' lives. Clearly John be-

lieved in a God-given love that works redemptively in its recipients

in this world and prepares them for the future.

            The operations of perfect love (v. 18). The mention of love-pro-

duced "confidence" led John to deal with the fact of "fear": "There is

no fear in love" (fo<boj ou]k e@stin e]n t^? a]ga<p^). Fear and love are

mutually exclusive in their nature. The word "fear" is used with two

meanings: it may mean "alarm, dread, fright," the self-regarding

fear of the criminal or slave because of a sense of guilt; or it can sig-

nify "reverence" or "respect." The latter meaning is not in view here.

God-inspired love is perfectly consistent with that reverential awe

before God which keeps Christians from doing what displeases and

grieves Him. The feeling of fear here is general, though fear of the

future judgment may be involved.

            The adversative "but" (a]ll ]; "on the contrary") introduces the

fact that fear and love are antithetical in action: "but perfect love

casts out fear" (a]ll ] h[  telei<a a]ga<ph e@cw ba<llei to>n fo<bon). "Per-

fect love," the love that has attained its goal of bringing believers

into abiding fellowship with God, by its very nature repeatedly

"casts out" (present tense) fear whenever it arises. "No believer's

love has ever been so perfect as to banish fear entirely; but every

believer experiences that as his love increases his fear dimin-

ishes."46 This is "because fear involves punishment" (o!ti o[ fo<boj

ko<lasi>n e@xei, more literally, "because fear has punishment"). The

noun ''punishment" occurs only here and in Matthew 25:46 in the New

Testament. Its root significance is that of "pruning," and so it came to

denote the process of correcting or punishing. The sense of fear

springs from the consciousness that punishment is deserved. But

John's precise wording "fear has punishment" implies that the pun-

ishment is not merely future, but that fear involves present suffering

because "fear anticipates and makes real the future punishment it

contemplates."47 Such fear is destructive of inner peace and mars the

consciousness of the love of God.

            The words "and the one who fears is not perfected in love"

 

45   For a summary of five views see ibid., p. 335.

46   Plummer, The Epistles of S. John, p. 152.

47   Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, pp. 260-61.

 



86                    Bibliotheca Sacra / January–March 1990

 

restate the impersonal principle, "There is no fear in love," in per-

sonal terms. The conjunction "and" (de>) implies that something fur-

ther needs to be said about the believer whose life is harassed by

fear. The present participle, "the one who fears" (o[ fobou<menoj)

pictures an individual whose life is habitually beset with fear. In

him love "is not perfect" (ou] tetelei<wtai), has not yet been enabled

to attain its intended goal in his life. The perfect passive verb indi-

cates that the believer is himself the sphere in which God's love is

at work to remove all fear by bringing him into abiding fellowship

with God.

 

THE RESULT OF REDEEMING LOVE IN BELIEVERS' RELATIONSHIPS

WITH OTHERS (vv. 19-21)

            In verse 19 John declared the origin of Christian love and then

insisted that this love involves the obligation of loving the brethren

(vv. 20-21).

            The divine initiative in Christian love (v. 19). The amazing

love of God in Christ is the basis of inspiration of all the love that

stirs believers' hearts. The form of the words "We love" (h[mei?j

a]gapw?men) may be understood as hortatory, "Let us be loving," but

the absence of any connecting particle and the use of the emphatic

"We" (h[mei?j) supports the indicative rendering.48 A number of

manuscripts have "God" (to>n qeo<n) or "Him" (au]to>n) as the

expressed object of the verb.49 Modern textual editors generally hold

that the reading without an object has good support and best

explains the other readings. It is more probable that the object

would be added than left out, because the scribes felt the need for an

accusative after the verb, especially if it was regarded as a

hortatory subjunctive. The asserted love is unrestricted in its scope.

The words "because He first loved us" (o!ti au]to>j prw?toj

h]ga<phsen h[me?j) explain the operation of love in Christians. The

subject "He" (au]to>j) is emphatic; "He" (and not "we") is the true

source of love. The adverb "first" stresses His initiative; He re-

vealed His love for mankind to awaken love in them. With his use

of "He" John again made no distinction between the Father and the

Son. The aorist "He loved" (h]ga<phsen) looks back to the historical

manifestation of His love in the life and death of Christ (vv. 9-10).

            The consequent duty of brother-love (vv. 20-21). John then as-

serted that God-induced love involves love of the brethren. The

 

48   The Latin and the Peshitta Syriac versions, as well as some Greek manuscripts, ac-

cepted a hortatory rendering and added a connective particle, ou#n, "therefore, then"

(see Nestle-Aland, Novum Testamentum Graece, 26th ed.).

49   For textual evidence see United Bible Societies, The Greek New Testament, 3d ed.

 



             An Exposition of 1 John 4:7-21                              87

 

scene in verse 20 is hypothetical: "If someone says, 'I love God,' and

hates his brother" (e]a<n tij ei@p^ o!ti  ]Agapw? to>n qeo<n, kai> to>n

a]delfo>n au]tou? mis^?). There is a contradiction between the individ-

ual's explicit claim to love God while he continues to hate his

brother. The Greek places "God" and "his brother" side by side, sug-

gesting that the two cannot be the objects of opposite feelings within.

"Inward condition is easily measured by outward behaviour."50 The

clear verdict is, "he is a liar" (yeu<sthj e]sti<n, "a liar he is"). "He is

either blind or a conscious hypocrite."51 It is not merely a matter of

making a false assertion; the noun insists on the falseness of his

character.

            The supposed personal scene is now undergirded with a general

statement: "for the one who does not love his brother whom he has

seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen." As Stott observes, "It is

obviously easier to love and serve a visible man than an invisible

God, and if we fail in the easier task, it is absurd to claim success in

the harder."52 It is a contrast not merely between the seen and the

unseen, but also between man and God, whose nature is very different

from man's.

            His failure to love on the lower and visible level proves that a

person "cannot love God whom he has not seen." The negative

"cannot" (ou] du<natai, "is not able") does riot assert man's abiding in-

ability to love an invisible God, but does declare that it is impossi-

ble for one who continues to hate his brother. Instead of the negative

(ou]) some manuscripts use the interrogative "how" (pw?j), thus

rhetorically questioning the claim made. Manuscript evidence fa-

vors the view that the blunt denial was apparently the original

reading.53

            In verse 21 John's "And" links his blunt rejection of the claim

made with the explicit command of God.' His reference to the "com-

mand we have from Him" apparently refers to the summary of the

Mosaic Law quoted by Jesus, "You shall love the Lord your God . . .

and . . . You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Matt. 22:37-39;

Mark 12:30-31). But the substitution of "brother" for "neighbor" may

suggest that John also had in mind the "new commandment" given by

Jesus (John 13:34; 15:12).

 

50   John Miller, Notes on James, 1 and 11 Peter, 1, 11 and Ill John, Jude, Revelation

(Bradford, Eng.: Needed Truth Publishing Office, n.d.), p. 90.

51   Plummer, The Epistles of S. John, p. 153.

52   Stott, The Epistles of John, p. 171.

53   For the textual evidence see United Bible Societies, The Greek New Testament, 3d

ed. Using a scale of A to D, the editors rate the reading ou] as B.

 



88                    Bibliotheca Sacra / January—March 1990

 

            The command as formulated, "that the one who loves God

should love his brother also," asserts that the Godward and man-

ward aspect of true love cannot be separated. The command clearly

refutes the heretical claim that some love God while they are hat-

ing their brother. The present tenses indicate that this is a continu-

ing obligation. The opening "that" (i!na) is generally taken as sim-

ply indicating the contents of the command. But Westcott says that

aim is also involved: "The final particle gives more than the simple

contents of the commandment. It marks the injunction as directed to

an aim; and implies that the effort to obtain it can never be re-

laxed."54 So understood John suggested that those who claim to love

God while they hate their brother stand condemned for their prac-

tice as well as their intentional failure to seek such love.

 

 

54   Westcott, The Epistles of St John, p. 162.

 

 

 

This material is cited with gracious permission from:

Dallas Theological Seminary

            3909 Swiss Ave.

            Dallas, TX   75204          

www.dts.edu

Please report any errors to Ted Hildebrandt at:  thildebrandt@gordon.edu