1 John 4 – Abiding in God and His Love
A. The spirit of truth and protection against the spirit of error.
1. (1) The fact of false prophets and the need to test the spirits.
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.
a. Do not believe every spirit: John warned against believing every spirit; that is, we are never to assume every spiritual experience or every demonstration of spiritual power is from God. We must test spiritual experiences and spiritual phenomenon to see if they are in fact from God.
i. Many, when first encountering the reality of the spiritual world, are too impressed and amazed to ask whether they are of God. This leads to easy deception.
b. But test the spirits: This is important because many false prophets have gone out into the world. Even though the early church had a strong life and a large measure of purity, John still knew the danger false prophets and their message was real in the early church.
c. Test the spirits, whether they are of God: This is the responsibility of every Christian, but especially of congregational leadership. According to 1 Corinthians 14:29 (let the others judge) and 1 Thessalonians 5:21 (Test all things; hold fast what is good), testing the spirits is the work of the body of Christ. This job is to be done using the gifts of discernment God has given to Christians in general, especially the leadership of a congregation.
i. All prophecy is to be judged by Scriptural standards. It is never to be received just because it is dramatic or given by a certain person. We trust in the principle that God will never contradict Himself, and we know what He has already said in His Word.
ii. 2 Peter 1:20-21 tells us true prophecy is never of any private interpretation. This means that there will be agreement and confirmation from the body of Christ, though perhaps (or probably) not everyone will agree or confirm.
2. (2-3) How to know when a false prophet speaks.
By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world.
a. Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God: True prophecy, and true teaching, will present a true Jesus. In John’s day, the issue was about if Jesus had truly come in a real body of flesh and blood. Many Gnostic-influenced teachers said that Jesus, being God, could not have actually become a flesh and blood human being, because God could have no partnership with “impure” material stuff.
i. “This statement would be directed against some form of Docetism, the view that Christ was a spirit who only seemed to be a true man.” (Boice)
ii. Today, some groups deny that Jesus is really God (such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, and Muslims). But way back in John’s day, in this time closest to the actual life and ministry of Jesus on this earth, people didn’t have a hard time believing Jesus was God. They had a hard time believing that he was a real man. This false teaching said Jesus was truly God (which is correct), but really a “make-believe” man.
iii. Today, we are passionate about saying, “Jesus is God,” and we should be. But it is no less important to say, “Jesus is a man,” because both the deity and humanity of Jesus are essential to our salvation.
b. Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God: Some think that this is the only test of false doctrine. This is not the only test, but it was the significant issue challenging the church in John’s immediate time. Today a person might confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh yet deny that He is God as the Bible teaches He is God. They also are giving false doctrine because they are not presenting a true Jesus.
i. The principle of presenting a true Jesus is essential to the testing of spirits. No one who presents a false Jesus, or one untrue to the Scriptures, can be regarded as a true prophet.
ii. Today, there is a lot of curiosity about the “true Jesus.” Many modern academics say they want to discover the “true Jesus” and when they say this they often mean, “The true Jesus is not the Jesus of the Bible. The Biblical Jesus is make-believe. We need to discover the true Jesus behind the myths of the Bible.”
iii. Not only is this position ignorant (ignoring the confirmed historical validity of the New Testament) it is also arrogant. Once any academic throws out the historical evidence of the New Testament and other reliable ancient writings, they can only base their understanding of Jesus on their own personal opinion. These academics present their baseless opinions as if they were scholarly facts.
c. This is the spirit of the Antichrist: To deny the true Jesus is the basis of the spirit of the Antichrist, which John has already mentioned in 1 John 2:18-23. It is the spirit which both opposes the true Jesus and offers a substitute Jesus.
i. The devil doesn’t care at all if you know Jesus or love Jesus or pray to Jesus – as long as it is a false Jesus, a make-believe Jesus, a Jesus who is not there, and who therefore cannot save.
d. Is now already in the world: Though it will have its ultimate consummation in an end-times political and economic ruler, the essence of this antichrist spirit is present with us today. It is found everywhere a false Jesus is promoted in place of the true Jesus of the Bible.
3. (4) The protection of the child of God.
You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.
a. You are of God, little children, and have overcome them: The child of God need not fear the spirit of Antichrist, even though they should be warned of it, because they have the indwelling Spirit of God (1 John 3:24). That indwelling Spirit is greater than he who is in the world – Satan and all of his allies.
b. He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world: The believer has a resource for victory, the vital presence of the indwelling Jesus, which makes victory always possible – if we will rely on He who is in you instead of relying on ourselves.
i. This understanding gives great confidence and spiritual power. For those walking in this truth, victory is assured – they have overcome them. It is a positive statement, not a wishful hope.
c. He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world: This means the Christian has no place for fear. We have many spiritual enemies, but not one of them is greater than Jesus who lives in us.
i. Earlier in the letter, John brought up the idea of the world and its threat to the Christian life (1 John 2:15-17). He presented the world not as the global earth or the mass of humanity, which God Himself loves (John 3:16). Instead it is the community of sinful humanity that is united in rebellion against God. Here, John suggests that there are forces of spiritual darkness that guide and influence the world.
4. (5-6) The contrast between those in the world and those who are of God.
They are of the world. Therefore they speak as of the world, and the world hears them. 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.
a. They are of the world: Those who are of the world are evident because they speak as of the world; the influence of the world is evident in their speech. As Jesus said, out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks (Matthew 12:34).
b. And the world hears them: Those who are of the world are also evident because the world hears them. They face none of the rejection the child of God will face from the world (1 John 3:1), because they are friends with the world.
i. The world hears them: The Christian always wants to speak to the world, and to bring the gospel of Jesus Christ to the world. It is exciting when the world will listen to the gospel, but we must take care that they are not hearing us because we speak as of the world. Just because the world is hearing the message doesn’t prove that the message is God’s message.
c. He who knows God hears us: Those who are of God enjoy fellowship with other believers; they speak the common language of fellowship with God and with each other, because one flows from the other (1 John 1:3).
i. This language of fellowship transcends language, culture, class, race, or any other barrier. It is a true gift from God.
ii. In its official doctrines, the Roman Catholic Church has claimed to be the “us” in He who knows God hears us; he who is not of God does not hear us. But John can only be talking about the apostles and their authoritative revelation in the Bible when he says us. When we know God, and are of God, we hear what the Bible says.
iii. “If this were a mere individual talking, the claim would be presumptuous. But it is not. This is one of the apostles citing the collective testimony of all the apostles and making that testimony the measure of truth and sound doctrine.” (Boice)
d. He who is not of God does not hear us: Understanding just who hears what God has taught us through the apostles, as recorded in the New Testament, helps us to know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error. If someone hears what God has said in the Bible, we know he has the spirit of truth. If he does not hear it, he has the spirit of error.
i. John makes it clear that error has a spiritual dynamic to it; it isn’t just about being educated or smart. Some very educated, very smart people can still be influenced mightily by the spirit of error. Since error has a spiritual dynamic to it, keeping in the spirit of truth is a spiritual issue.
ii. We keep in the spirit of truth by clinging to Jesus, the One who said I am the truth (John 14:6).
B. Love perfected among us.
1. (7-8) The call to love.
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.
a. Beloved, let us love: The ancient Greek sentence begins in a striking way – agapetoi agapomen, “those who are loved, let us love.” We are not commanded to love one another to earn or become worthy of God’s love. We love one another because we are loved by God, and have received that love, and live in light of it.
b. Let us love one another, for love is of God: John’s emphasis on love among the people of God (shown in passages like 1 John 2:9-11 and 3:10-18) is powerful. Here, he shows why it is so important. If love is of God, then those who claim to be born of God, and claim to know God, must be able to love one another in the body of Christ.
i. Again, John insists that there is something that is given to the believer when they are born of God; a love is imparted to their life that they did not have before. Christians are not “just forgiven” – they are born anew by God’s Spirit.
c. And knows God: There are several different words in the ancient Greek language translated “know” into English. This specific word for knows (ginosko) is the word for a knowledge by experience. John is saying when we really experience God it will show by our love for one another.
i. Of course, this love is not perfected in the life of a Christian on this side of eternity. Though it may not be perfected, it must be present – and it should be growing. You can’t truly grow in your experience of God without also growing love for one another. John can boldly say, He who does not love does not know God. If there isn’t real love for God’s people in your life, then your claim to know God and experience God isn’t true.
d. Love is of God: The love John speaks of comes from the ancient Greek word agape; it is the concept of a self-giving love that gives without demanding or expecting re-payment – it is the God-kind of love.
i. Since this is God’s kind of love, it comes into our life through our relationship with Him. If we want to love one another more, we need to draw closer to God.
ii. Every human relationship is like a triangle. The two people in the relationship are at the base of the triangle, and God is at the top. As the two people draw closer to the top of the triangle, closer to God, they will also draw closer to one another. Weak relationships are made strong when both people draw close to the Lord!
e. Everyone who loves is born of God… He who does not love does not know God: This does not mean that every display of love in the world can only come from a Christian. Those who are not Christians still can display acts of love.
i. “It is because men are created in the image of God, an image that has been defaced but not destroyed by the Fall, that they still have the capacity to love… 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.” (Marshall)
f. For God is love: This is a glorious truth. Love describes the character and heart of God. He is so rich in love and compassion, that it can be used to describe His very being.
i. When we say God is love, we are not saying everything about God. Love is an essential aspect of His character, and colors every aspect of His nature. But it does not eliminate His holiness, His righteousness, or His perfect justice. Instead, we know the holiness of God is loving, and the righteousness of God is loving, and the justice of God is loving. Everything God does, in one way or another, expresses His love.
ii. “He hates nothing he has made. He cannot hate, because he is love. He causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends his rain on the just and the unjust. He has made no human being for perdition, nor ever rendered it impossible, by any necessitating decree, for a fallen soul to find mercy. He has given the fullest proof of his love to the whole human race by the incarnation of his Son, who tasted death for every man. How can a decree of absolute, unconditional reprobation, of the greater part or any part of the human race, stand in the presence of such a text as this?” (Clarke)
iii. “Never let it be thought that any sinner is beyond the reach of divine mercy so long as he is in the land of the living. I stand here to preach illimitable love, unbounded grace, to the vilest of the vile, to those who have nothing in them that can deserve consideration from God, men who ought to be swept into the bottomless pit at once if justice meted out to them their deserts.” (Spurgeon)
iv. Great problems come when we try to say love is God. This is because love does not define everything in the character of God, and because when most people use the term love, they are not thinking of true love, the God-kind of love. Instead, they are thinking of a squishy, namby-pamby, have-a-nice-day kind of love that values being “nice” more than wanting what is really best for the other person.
v. The Bible also tells us that God is spirit (John 4:24), God is light (1 John 1:5), and that God is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29).
g. God is love: There are few people who really know and really believe that God is love. For whatever reason, they won’t receive His love and let it transform their lives. It transforms our life to know the love of God in this way.
i. “There is love in many places, like wandering beams of light; but as for the sun, it is in one part of the heavens, and we look at it, and we say, ‘Herein is light.’… He did not look at the Church of God, and say of all the myriads who counted not their lives dear unto them, ‘Herein is love,’ for their love was only the reflected brightness of the great sun of love.” (Spurgeon)
2. (9-11) The meaning of love and its application.
In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, 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 another.
a. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God sent His only begotten Son: This shows us what love is and what it means. Love is not only defined by the sacrifice of Jesus (as stated in 1 John 3:16); it is also defined by the giving of the Father. It was a sacrifice for the Father to send the Second Person of the Trinity, and a sacrifice to pour out the judgment we deserved upon God the Son.
i. We need to appreciate this fully, and receive the Fatherly love God has to give us. Some of us, for whatever reason, have come to think of God the Father as aloof and mean, perhaps the so-called “angry God” of the Old Testament. In this wrong thinking, many imagine they prefer the nice and loving Jesus instead. But the Father loves us too; and the love Jesus showed in His ministry was the same love God the Father has towards us. We can receive the healing power in our Father’s love.
b. That God has sent His only begotten Son into the world: John is careful to call Jesus the only begotten Son. This special term means Jesus has a Sonship that is unique (only) and begotten indicates that Jesus and the Father are of the same substance, the same essential Being.
i. We use the term create to describe something that may come from someone, but isn’t of the same essential nature or being. A man can create a statue that looks just like him, but it will never be human. However, we use the term beget to describe something that is exactly the same as us in essential nature and being. We are adopted sons and daughters of God, but we are not of the same essential nature and being as God – we are human beings. But Jesus is the only begotten Son, meaning His Sonship is different than ours; He was and is of the same essential nature and being as God the Father. We are human beings; He is a “God-being” – who added humanity to His deity.
c. That we might live through Him: The love of the Father was not only in the sending of the Son, but also in what that sending accomplishes for us. It brings life to all who trust in Jesus and His work on their behalf, because He is the propitiation for our sins.
i. Propitiation has the idea of a sacrifice that turns away the wrath of God. God rightly regarded us, apart from Him, as worthy targets of His judgment. We were rebels and enemies of Him, even if we didn’t know it. But on the cross, Jesus took the punishment our sin deserved – His sacrifice turned away the judgment we would have received. We easily think how this shows the love of Jesus, but John wants us to understand it also shows the love of God the Father: He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
ii. That we might live through Him: The greatness of God’s love is shown not only in saving us from the judgment we deserved, but also in wanting us to live through Him. Do we live through Him? This is a great way to define the Christian life, to live through Him.
d. God has sent His only begotten Son: This shows the love of God, because love gives its best. There was nothing better God the Father could give to lost humanity than the gift of the Son of God Himself. As Paul describes it in 2 Corinthians 9:15, Jesus was the Father’s indescribable gift.
i. “If there was to be reconciliation between God and man, man ought to have sent to God; the offender ought to be the first to apply for forgiveness; the weaker should apply to the greater for help; the poor man should ask of him who distributes alms; but ‘Herein is love’ that God ‘sent.’ He was first to send an embassy of peace.” (Spurgeon)
e. He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins: This shows the love of God. It might have shown enough love that the Father sent the Son, and not some lower-grade angel; but He sent the Son, not on a fact-finding mission or merely a mission of compassion – He sent the Son to die for our sins.
i. “If God had merely sent Jesus to teach us about Himself, that would have been wonderful enough. It would have been far more than we deserved. If God had sent Jesus simply to be our example, that would have been good too and would have had some value… But the wonderful thing is that God did not stop with these but rather sent His Son, not merely to teach or to be our example, but to die the death of a felon, that He might save us from sin.” (Boice)
f. For our sins: This shows the love of God. God gave His Son to die, and to die for sinners. We can think of someone paying a great price to save someone deserving, someone good, someone noble, someone who had done much for them. But God did all this for rebels, for sinners, for those who had turned their backs on Him.
i. “But who among us would think of giving up his son to die for his enemy, for one who never did him a service, but treated him ungratefully, repulsed a thousand overtures of tenderness, and went on perversely hardening his neck? No man could do it.” (Spurgeon)
g. In this is love: Real love, agape love, is not defined by our love for God, but by His love for us. His love for us initiates our relationship of love with Him, our love only responds to His love for us. We can’t love God the way we should unless we are receiving and living in His love.
i. Our love for God doesn’t really say anything great about us. It is only the common sense response to knowing and receiving the love of God.
h. If God so loved us: Having received this love from God, we are directed to love one another. This pattern of receiving from God, then giving to others was familiar to John (John 13:14).
i. When Jesus washed the feet of the disciples, and showed such great love and servanthood to them, we might have expected Him to conclude by gesturing to His own feet and asking who among them was going to do to Him what He had just done for them. Instead, Jesus said: If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet (John 13:14). The proper way to love God in response to His love for us is to go out and love one another.
ii. This love will lead to practical action. “Has anybody offended you? Seek reconciliation. ‘Oh, but I am the offended party.’ So was God, and he went straight away and sought reconciliation. Brother, do the same. ‘Oh, but I have been insulted.’ Just so: so was God: all the wrong was towards him, yet he sent. ‘Oh, but the party is so unworthy.’ So are you; but ‘God loved you and sent his Son.’ Go write according to that copy.” (Spurgeon)
iii. If we do not love one another, how can we say that we have received the love of God and have been born of Him? Love is the proof we are taught to look for. If you had a pipe that was clogged – water kept going into it, but never came out, that pipe would be useless. You would replace it. Just so, God puts His love into our lives that it might flow out. We want the Lord to clear us and fill us so that His love can flow through us.
C. The nature of a love relationship with God.
1. (12) Seeing God through the evidence of love.
No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us.
a. No one has seen God at any time: John relates a basic principle about God the Father – that no one, no one, has seen God at any time. Anyone claiming to have seen God the Father is speaking – at best – from their own imagination, because as John plainly states, no one has seen God at any time.
i. In speaking of God the Father, Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 1:17: Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible. Jesus declared of God the Father, God is Spirit, (John 4:24) meaning that God the Father has no tangible body which may be seen.
ii. Knowing God the Father is invisible should make us more humble in our relationship with Him. God the Father is not completely knowable by us; we can’t completely figure out God, or know all His secrets. He is beyond us.
iii. Of course, no one has seen God the Holy Spirit at any time either, though He has represented Himself in various ways. And just as certainly, God the Son, Jesus Christ, has been seen – John himself testified to this in 1 John 1:1-3. But of God the Father, it can truly be said, no one has seen God at any time.
iv. “The Old Testament theophanies, including the apparently contradictory statement in Exodus 24:10, did not involve the full revelation of God as He is in Himself but only a suggestion of what He is in form that a human being could understand.” (Boice)
b. If we love one another, God abides in us: This is the greatest evidence of God’s presence and work among us – love. Since no one has seen God at any time, this provides evidence for the presence of God.
i. Some people think the greatest evidence of God’s presence or work is power. Some people think the greatest evidence of God’s presence or work is popularity. Some people think the greatest evidence of God’s presence or work is passionate feelings. But the greatest evidence of God’s presence and work is love. Where God is present and working, there will be love.
ii. Sometimes Jesus seemed weak and lacking in power, but He was always full of love. Sometimes Jesus wasn’t popular at all, but He was always full of love. Sometimes Jesus didn’t inspire passionate feelings in people at all, but He was always full of love. Love was the constant, greatest evidence of the presence and work of God in Jesus Christ.
c. His love has been perfected in us: Perfected uses the Greek word teleioo, which doesn’t mean “perfect” as much as “mature” and “complete.” If we love one another, then the love of God is “mature” and “complete” in us.
i. John comes back to the familiar idea: if we really walk in God’s love towards us, it will be evident in our love for one another.
ii. The mature Christian will be marked by love. Again, the true measure of maturity is not the image of power, or popularity, or passionate feelings – but the abiding presence of God’s love in our lives, given out to others.
2. (13-15) Assurance of the work of the Triune God 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 seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.
a. We know that we abide in Him: By beginning with the words by this, John connected the thought of this verse directly to the previous verse. We can know by experience that we live in God, if His love has been perfected in us. And we know that His love has been perfected in us if we love one another.
i. Plainly, Christians can say, “We know.” We don’t have to merely “hope” we are saved, and “hope” we will make it to heaven, thus having no assurance of salvation before we pass from this world to the next. We can know, and we can know now, on this side of eternity.
b. We abide in Him, and He in us: Our abiding in Jesus is not a one-sided affair, with us struggling to abide in Him, and Jesus trying to escape us. Just as true as it is that we should abide in Him, it is true that He does abide in us.
i. Jesus said in John 15:4, Abide in Me, and I in you. And in John 15:7, He said, If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you. One of the ways Jesus abides in us – lives in us – is through His word.
c. He has given us of His Spirit: John brings up the work of the Holy Spirit in us at this point for two important connections. First, it is the Spirit of God in us that is the abiding presence of Jesus – the presence of His Spirit is how He abides in us. Secondly, it is the testimony of the Holy Spirit within us that makes it possible for us to know that we abide in Him. As Paul puts it in Roman 8:16: The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God. The Holy Spirit gives us this assurance.
d. We have seen and testify: The “we” who give testimony in this verse are those who saw Jesus originally, the eyewitnesses to His presence. They knew the Father sent the Son as Savior of the world.
e. We have seen and testify: Speaking as one who has the Spirit of God (He has given us of His Spirit), John declares three essential truths about who God is and how He saves us.
· That the Father has sent the Son.
· That He (Jesus) was sent as Savior of the world.
· Knowing and understanding Jesus is the foundation for abiding in Him (Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God).
f. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God: It isn’t enough to know the facts about who Jesus is; we must confess the truth. The idea behind the word confess is “to be in agreement with.” We must agree with God about who Jesus is, and we find out what God says about Jesus through the Word of God. You may know something without being in agreement with it; God demands our true agreement.
i. Though John has been writing much about love, he does not ignore the issue of truth. John does not think it is “enough” if a person has some kind of love in his life if he does not confess that Jesus is the Son of God. It isn’t a matter of deciding between love or truth; we must have both.
ii. “To acknowledge that Jesus is the Son of God is not simply to make a statement about his metaphysical status but to express obedient trust in the One who possesses such a status.” (Marshall)
iii. “To believe in Christ and to love the brethren are not conditions by which we may dwell in God but rather are evidences of the fact that God has already taken possession of our lives to make this possible.” (Boice)
3. (16) The Christian’s response to God and His love.
And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.
a. And we have known and believed the love God has for us: This is the Christian’s proper response to who God is, and how He loves us. We are called to take the love and grace God gives, to know it by experience and to believe it. This is what fellowship with God is all about.
i. People respond to the love of God differently.
· Some respond with a sense of self-superiority (“I’m so great, even God loves me!”).
· Some respond with doubt (“Can God really love even me?”).
· Some respond with wickedness (“God loves me, so I can do what I want”).
· God wants us to respond by knowing (by experience) and believing the love God has for us.
ii. The Christian must know and believe the love God has for us. We should consider what would it take to make us stop believing God loves us. Paul knew that nothing could separate him from the love of God that was in Jesus Christ (Romans 8:35-39), and each Christian should have the same confidence.
iii. “To feel God’s love is very precious, but to believe it when you do not feel it, is the noblest.” (Spurgeon)
b. He who abides in love abides in God, and God in him: The Christian who has this kind of relationship with God will be virtually “immersed” in God’s love; it becomes his environment, his place of abiding.
4. (17-18) The perfecting of love, both now and in eternity.
Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.
a. Love has been perfected: For perfected, John doesn’t just use the Greek word teleioo (which has the idea of “maturity” and “completeness); he writes teleioo teleioo – speaking of love that is “perfectly perfected” or “completely complete.”
b. In the day of judgment: This is when the completeness of love’s work in us will be demonstrated. As much as we can know the completeness of God’s love now, we will know it all the more in the day of judgment.
· You may know you are a sinner now; you will really know it in the day of judgment.
· You may know now you are not a better person than those who are going to hell; you will really know it in the day of judgment.
· You may know the reality of hell now; you will really know it in the day of judgment.
· You may know the greatness of Jesus’ salvation now; you will really know it in the day of judgment.
c. That we may have boldness in the day of judgment: This shows the greatness of God’s work in us. We might be satisfied to merely survive the day of judgment, but God wants to so fill our lives with His love and His truth that we have boldness in the day of judgment.
i. The Bible says that one day, all of humanity will gather before God’s Great White Throne and face judgment. This day is coming! “The day of judgment is as fixed in God’s eternal timetable as any other day in world history.” (Boice)
ii. Some think they will go there and judge God (“When I see God, there’s a few questions I have for Him!”), but that is nonsense. The only way to have boldness in the day of judgment is to receive, and walk in, the transforming love of God today.
d. Boldness in the day of judgment: How can anyone have such boldness? We can imagine Jesus being bold before the throne of God, but us? Yet, if we abide in Him, and He in us (1 John 4:13), then our identity is bound up in Jesus: as He is, so are we in the world.
i. How is Jesus now? He is glorified, justified, forever righteous and bold, sitting at the right hand of God the Father. Spiritually, we can have that same standing now, while we are in the world, because as He is, so are we in the world.
ii. Certainly, this glory is in us now just in “seed” form; it has not yet fully developed into what it will be. But it is there, and its presence is demonstrated by our love for one another and our agreement with God’s truth – and that all serves to give us boldness.
e. There is no fear in love: The completeness of love means we do not cower in fear before God, dreading His judgment, either now or in the day of judgment. We know all the judgment we ever deserved – past, present, and future – was poured out on Jesus Christ on the cross.
i. What about the many passages of Scripture, Old and New Testament (such as Ecclesiastes 12:13 and 1 Peter 2:17), which tell us we should fear God? The fear John writes of here is not the appropriate reverence we should all have of God, but the kind of fear which involves torment – that agonizing kind of fear which robs our soul of all joy and confidence before God. It is the fear that is the opposite of boldness in the day of judgment.
f. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love: If our relationship with God is marked by this tormenting fear, it shows that we have not been made perfect – that is, complete, and mature – in His love.
5. (19) The reason for our love to Jesus.
We love Him because He first loved us.
Charles Spurgeon was a man who preached the whole counsel of God’s word, and was careful to not excessively repeat himself in any one area. Yet, he preached five remarkable sermons on these eight words alone. The following comments draw much from Spurgeon’s work on this single verse.
a. We love Him: In this great statement, John begins by declaring the heart of every true follower of Jesus Christ. Simply and boldly put, we love Him.
i. This is a fact for every true follower of Jesus. “There is no exception to this rule; if a man loves not God, neither is he born of God. Show me a fire without heat, then show me regeneration that does not produce love to God.” (Spurgeon)
ii. It is something that every Christian should be unafraid to proclaim: “I love Him; I love Jesus.” Can you say that? Are you embarrassed to say it? Can you say, “I love Jesus”?
iii. “I cannot imagine a true man saying, ‘I love Christ, but I do not want others to know that I love him, lest they should laugh at me.’ That is a reason to be laughed at, or rather, to be wept over. Afraid of being laughed at? Oh sir, this is indeed a cowardly fear!” (Spurgeon)
iv. “Look through all the pages of history, and put to the noblest men and women, who seem to still live, this question, ‘Who loves Christ?’ and, at once, up from dark dungeons and cruel racks there rises the confessors’ cry, ‘We love him;’ and from the fiery stake, where they clapped their hands as they were being burned to death, the same answer comes, ‘We love him.’ If you could walk through the miles of catacombs at Rome, and if the holy dead, whose dust lies there, could suddenly wake up, they would all shout, ‘We love him.’ The best and the bravest of men, the noblest and purest of women, have all been in this glorious company; so, surely, you are not ashamed to come forward and say, ‘Put my name down among them.’” (Spurgeon)
v. “Be out-and-out for him; unfurl your colours, never hide them, but nail them to the mast, and say to all who ridicule the saints, ‘If you have any ill words for the followers of Christ, pour them out upon me… but know this – ye shall hear it whether you like it or not, – “I love Christ.”’” (Spurgeon)
b. He first loved us: This verse not only declares our love for Jesus, it also tells us when He loved us. Some people imagine that Jesus loved us because He knew we would love Him and come to faith in Him. But He loved us before that, and even before the worlds were created, when our only existence was in the mind and heart of God, Jesus loved us.
i. He loved us when we were still sinners: “Every man that ever was saved had to come to God not as a lover of God, but as a sinner, and then believe in God’s love to him as a sinner.” (Spurgeon)
ii. “Jesus loved you when you lived carelessly, when you neglected his Word, when the knee was unbent in prayer. Ah! He loved some of you when you were in the dancing saloon, when you were in the playhouse, ay, even when you were in the brothel. He loved you when you were at hell’s gate, and drank damnation at every draught. He loved you when you could not have been worse or further from him than you were. Marvellous, O Christ, is thy strange love!” (Spurgeon)
c. We love Him because He first loved us: This verse tells us where our love for Jesus comes from. It comes from Him. Our love for God is always in response to His love for us; He initiates, and we respond. We never have to draw God to us; instead, He draws us to Himself.
i. “1. We love him because we find he has loved us. 2. We love him from a sense of obligation and gratitude. 3. We love him from the influence of his own love; from his love shed abroad in our hearts our love to him proceeds. It is the seed whence our love springs.” (Clarke)
ii. “His is the fountain love, ours but the stream: his love the inducement, the pattern, and the effective cause of ours. He that is first in love, loves freely; the other therefore loves under obligation.” (Poole)
iii. “I have sometimes noticed that, in addressing Sunday-school children, it is not uncommon to tell them that the way to be saved is to love Jesus, which is not true. The way to be saved for man, woman, or child is to trust Jesus for the pardon of sin, and then, trusting Jesus, love comes as a fruit. Love is by no means the root. Faith alone occupies that place.” (Spurgeon)
d. We love Him because He first loved us: This verse tells us why we love Jesus, and how we can love Him more.
i. “Love believed is the mother of love returned.” (Spurgeon)
ii. “Yet we must not try to make ourselves love our Lord, but look to Christ’s love first, for his love to us will beget in us love to him. I know that some of you are greatly distressed because you cannot love Christ as much as you would like to do, and you keep on fretting because it is so. Now, just forget your own love to him, and think of his great love to you; and then, immediately, your love will come to something more like that which you would desire it to be.” (Spurgeon)
iii. “Now remember, we never make ourselves love Christ more by flogging ourselves for not loving him more. We come to love those better whom we love by knowing them better… If you want to love Christ more, think more of him, think more of what you have received from him.” (Spurgeon)
e. He first loved us: This means that it is true that He loves us now. Do you believe it? “Oh, if you do really believe that he has loved you so, sit down, and turn the subject over in your mind, and say to yourself, ‘Jesus loves me; Jesus chose me; Jesus redeemed me; Jesus called me; Jesus has pardoned me; Jesus has taken me into union with himself.’” (Spurgeon)
6. (20-21) The commandment to love.
If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also.
a. If someone says, “I love God”: It is often easier for someone to proclaim his love for God, because that regards a private relationship with an invisible God. But John rightly insists that our claim of loving God is false if we do not also love our brother, and that this love must be seen.
i. One may be a spiritual dwarf because one lacks love. One may know the Word, may never miss a service, may pray fervently, and may demonstrate gifts of the Spirit. Yet in it all, that one may be like Cain, offering to God the fruit of his hands and not the fruit of the Spirit.
b. If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar: By this crucial measure, Jesus said the world could measure our status as disciples by the measure of our love for one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another (John 13:35).
i. There is a difference between the love of man, and divine love. “These verses are the equivalent of saying that a person cannot practice agape-love unless he can first practice philia-love.” (Boice)
c. And this commandment we have from Him: We have a commandment to love. Though love springs forth from our abiding relationship with God and comes from our being born of Him, there is also an essential aspect of our will involved. We are therefore commanded to love our brother in Christ.
i. Being born of God and abiding with Him give us the ability to love; but it is a choice of our will to draw upon that resource and give it out to others. Therefore we are given a command to love, that he who loves God must love his brother also.
ii. Because of this, the excuse “I just can’t love that person” (or other such excuses) is invalid. If we are born of Him and are abiding in Him then the resources for love are there. It is up to us to respond to His command with our will and whole being.
d. He who loves God must love his brother also: We can also learn how to love God by loving people. One might say, “I want to love God more; I want to grow in my love for Him. But how can I love a God who is invisible?” God would say to us, “Learn to love Me, Whom you cannot see, by loving My children, whom you can see.”
i. Jesus said in Matthew 5:23-24, Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. God is more pleased when you get it right with your brother, than if you bring Him a sacrifice of praise or resources.
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission