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1 John Chapter Four


1 John 4

Now, to make use of this last proof, caution was required, for many false prophets would assume, and even in the time of the apostle had already assumed, the semblance of having received communications from the Spirit of God, and insinuated themselves among the Christians. It was necessary therefore to put them on their guard, by giving them the sure mark of the real Spirit of God. The first of these was the confession of Jesus come in the flesh. It is not merely to confess that He is come, but to confess Him thus come. The second was that He who really knew God hearkened to the apostles. In this way the writings of the apostles become a touchstone for those who pretend to teach the assembly. All the word is so, doubtless; but I confine myself here to that which is said in this place. The teaching of the apostles is formally a touchstone for all other teaching-I mean that which they themselves taught immediately. If any one tells me that others must explain or develop it to have the truth and certainty of faith, I reply, "You are not of God, for he who is of God hearkens to them; and you would have me not to hearken to them; and whatever may be your pretext, you prevent my doing so." The denial of Jesus come in the flesh is the spirit of Antichrist. Not to hear the apostles is the provisional and preparatory form of the evil. True Christians had overcome the spirit of error by the Spirit of God who dwelt in them.

The three tests of true Christianity are now distinctly laid down, and the apostle pursues his exhortations, developing the fullness and intimacy of our relationships with a God of love, maintaining that participation of nature in which love is of God, and he who loves is born of God-partakes therefore of His nature, and knows Him (for it is by faith that he received it) as partaking of His nature. He who loves not does not know God. We must possess the nature that loves in order to know what love is. He then who does not love does not know God, for God is love. Such a person has not one sentiment in connection with the nature of God; how then can he know Him? No more than an animal can know what a man's mind or understanding is when he has not got it.

Give especial heed, reader, to this immense prerogative, which flows from the whole doctrine of the epistle. The eternal life which was with the Father has been manifested and has been imparted to us: thus we are partakers of the divine nature. The affections of that nature acting in us rest, by the power of the Holy Ghost, in the enjoyment of communion with God who is its source; we dwell in Him and He in us. The first thing is the statement of the truth in us. The actings of this nature prove that He dwells--that, if we thus love, God Himself dwells in us. He who works this love is there. But He is infinite and the heart rests in Him; we know at the same time that we dwell in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. But this passage, so rich in blessing, demands that we should follow it with order.

He begins with the fact that love is of God. It is His nature: He is its source. Therefore he who loves is born of God, is a partaker of His nature. Also he knows God, for he knows what love is, and God is its fullness. This is the doctrine which makes everything depend on our participation in the divine nature.

Now this might be transformed on the one hand into mysticism,--by leading us to fix our attention on our love for God, and love in us, that being God's nature, as if it was said, love is God, not God is love, and be seeking to fathom the divine nature in ourselves; or to doubt on the other, because we do not find the effects of the divine nature in us as we would. In effect, he who does not love (for the thing, as ever in John, is expressed in an abstract way) does not know God, for God is love. The possession of the nature is necessary to the understanding of what that nature is, and for the knowledge of Him who is its perfection.

But, if I seek to know it and have or give the proof of it, it is not to the existence of the nature in us that the Spirit of God directs the thoughts of the believers as their object. God, he has said, is love; and this love has been manifested towards us in that He has given His only Son, that we might live through Him. The proof is not the life in us, but that God has given His Son in order that we might live, and further to make propitiation for our sins. God be praised! we know this love, not by the poor results of its action in ourselves, but in its perfection in God, and that even in a manifestation of it towards us, which is wholly outside ourselves. It is a fact outside ourselves which is the manifestation of this perfect love. We enjoy it by participating in the divine nature; we know it by the infinite gift of God's Son. The exercise and proof of it are there.

The full scope of this principle and all the force of its truth are stated and demonstrated in that which follows. It is striking to see how the Holy Spirit, in an epistle which is essentially occupied with the life of Christ and its fruits in us, gives the proof and full character of love in that which is wholly without ourselves. Nor can anything be more perfect than the way in which the love of God is here set forth, from the time it is occupied with our sinful state till we stand before the judgment-seat. God has thought of all: love towards us as sinners, verses 9,10; in us as saints, verse 12; with us as perfect in our condition in view of the day of judgment, verse 17. In the first verses, the love of God is manifested in the gift of Christ; first, to give us life-we were dead; secondly, to make propitiation-we were guilty. Our whole case is taken up. In the second of these verses the great principle of grace, what love is, where and how known, is clearly stated in words of infinite importance as to the very nature of Christianity. Herein is love, not that we have loved God (that was the principle of the law), but in that He has loved us, and has given His Son to make propitiation for our sins. Here, then, it is that we have learnt that which love is. It was perfect in Him when we had no love for Him; perfect in Him in that He exercised it towards us when we were in our sins, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for them. The apostle then affirms, no doubt, that he who loves not knows not God. The pretension to possess this love is judged by this means; but in order to know love we must not seek for it in ourselves, but seek it manifested in God when we had none. He gives the life which loves, and He has made propitiation for our sins

And now with regard to the enjoyment and the privileges of this love:-if God has so loved us (this is the ground that He takes) we ought to love one another.

No one has ever seen God: if we love one another, God dwells in us. His presence, Himself dwelling in us, rises in the excellency of His nature above all the barriers of circumstances, and attaches us to those who are His. It is God in the power of His nature which is the source of thought and feeling and diffuses itself among them in whom it is. One can understand this. How is it that I love strangers from another land, persons of different habits, whom I have never known, more intimately than members of my own family after the flesh? How is it that I have thoughts in common, objects infinitely loved in common, affections powerfully engaged, a stronger bond with persons whom I have never seen, than with the otherwise dear companions of my childhood? It is because there is in them and in me a source of thoughts and affections which is not human. God is in it. God dwells in us. What happiness! What a bond ! Does He not communicate Himself to the soul? Does He not render it conscious of His presence in love? Assured]y, yes. And if He is thus in us, the blessed source of our thoughts, can there be fear, or distance, or uncertainty, with regard to what He is? None at all. His love is perfect in us. We know Him as love in our souls: the second great point in this remarkable passage, the enjoyment of divine love in our souls.

The apostle has not yet said,"We know that we dwell in him." He will say it now. But, if the love of the brethren is in us, God dwells in us. When it is in exercise, we are conscious of the presence of God, as perfect love in us. It fills the heart, and thus is exercised in us. Now this consciousness is the effect of the presence of His Spirit, as the source and power of life and nature, in us. He has given us, not here "his Spirit"-the proof that He dwells in us, but "of his Spirit;" we participate by His presence in us in divine affection through the Spirit, and thus we not only know that He dwells in us, but the presence of the Spirit, acting in a nature which is that of God in us, makes us conscious that we dwell in Him. For He is the infiniteness and perfection of that which is now in us.

The heart rests in this, and enjoys Him, and is hidden from all that is outside Him, in the consciousness of the perfect love in which (thus dwelling in Him) one finds oneself. The Spirit makes us dwell in God, and gives us thus the consciousness that He dwells in us. Thus we, in the savour and consciousness of the love that was in it, can testify of that in which it was manifested beyond all Jewish limits, that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world. We shall see further another character of it.

If we compare verse 12 of our chapter 4 with chapter 1:18 of the Gospel by John, we shall better apprehend the scope of the apostle's teaching here. The same difficulty, or if you will, the same truth is presented in both cases. No one has ever seen God. How is this met?

In John 1:18 the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him. [1] in the most perfect intimacy, in the most absolute proximity and enjoyment of the Father's love, the one eternal, sufficient object that knew the love of the Father as His only Son, has revealed Him unto men as He has Himself known Him. What is the answer in our epistle to this same difficulty? "If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us." By the communication of the divine nature, and by the dwelling of God in us, we inwardly enjoy Him as He has been manifested and declared by:His only Son. His love is perfect in us, known to the heart, as it has been declared in Jesus. The God who has been declared by Him dwells in us. What a thought! that this answer to the fact that no one has ever seen God is equally, that the only Son has declared Him, and that He dwells in us. What light this throws upon the words, "which thing is true in him and in you!" [2] For it is in that Christ has become our life that we can thus enjoy God and His presence in us by the power of the Holy Ghost. And from this we have seen that the testimony of verse 14 flows.

We see, also, the distinction between God dwelling in us and we in God, even in that which Christ says of Himself. He abode always in the Father, and the Father in Him; but He says, "The Father who dwelleth in me, he doeth the works." Through His word the disciples ought to have believed in them both; but in that which they had seen-in His works--they had rather seen the proof that the Father dwelt in Him. They who had seen Him had seen the Father. But when the Comforter was come, at that day they should know that Jesus was in His Father-divinely one with the Father.

He does not say that we are in God, nor in the Father, [3] but that we dwell in Him, and we know it, because He has given us of His Spirit. We have already noticed that He says (chap. 3:24) "hereby we know that he God abideth in us, because he has given us his Spirit." Here he adds, We know that we dwell in God, because it is-not the manifestation, as a proof, but-communion with God Himself. We know that we dwell in Him, always as a precious truth-an unchangeable fact; sensibly, when His love is active in the heart. Consequently it is to this activity that the apostle immediately turns by adding "and we have seen and do testify, that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world." This was the proof for every one, of that love which the apostle enjoyed-as all believers do-in his own heart. It is important to notice how the passage thus first presents the fact of God's dwelling in us, then the effect (as He is infinite), our dwelling in Him, and then the realisation of the first truth in conscious reality of life.

We may remark here that, while God's dwelling in us is a doctrinal fact and true of every real Christian, our dwelling in Him, though involved in it, is connected with our state. Thus chapter 3:24, "He that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him." Chapter 4:16, "He that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God and God in him.''

Love one to another is indeed taken as the proof that God is there, and His love is perfected in us-this to contrast the manner of His presence with that of Christ. (John 1:18) But, what we thus know is dwelling in Him and He in us. In each case this knowledge is by the Spirit. Verse 15 is the universal fact: verse 16 brings it fully up to its source. We have known and believed the love that God hath to us. His nature is there declared in itself (for we joy in God); God is love, and he who dwells in love dwells in God and God in him. There is none anywhere else: if we partake of His nature, we partake of it, and he who abides in it abides in God who is the fullness of it. But then remark that while what He is is insisted on, His personal being is carefully insisted on. He dwells in us.

And here comes in a principle of deep importance. It might perhaps be said that this dwelling of God in us and our dwelling in Him depended on a large measure of spirituality, the apostle having in fact spoken of the highest possible joy. But although the degree in which we intelligently realise it is in effect a matter of spirituality, yet the thing in itself is the portion of every Christian. It is our position, because Christ is our life, and because the Holy Ghost is given us. "Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him and he in God." How great the grace of the gospel! How admirable our position because it is in Jesus that we possess it! It is important to hold fast this, that it is the portion of every Christian, the joy of the humble, the strongest reproach to the conscience of the careless.

The apostle explains this high position by the possession of the divine nature-the essential condition of Christianity. A Christian is one who is a partaker of the divine nature, and in whom the Spirit dwells. But the knowledge of our position does not flow from the consideration of this truth, though it depends on its being true, but of that of God's own love, as we have already seen. And the apostle goes on to say "We have known and believed the love that God has to us." This is the source of our knowledge and enjoyment of these privileges, so sweet and so marvelously exalted, but so simple and so real to the heart when they are known.

We have known love, the love that God has for us, and we have believed it. Precious knowledge! by possessing it we know God; for it is thus that He has manifested Himself. Therefore can we say, "God is love." There is none beside. Himself is love. He is love in all its fullness. He is not holiness, He is holy; but He is love. He is not righteousness; He is righteous. [4]

By dwelling then in love I dwell in Him, which I could not do unless He dwelt in me, and this He does. Here he puts it first, that we dwell in Him, because it is God Himself who is before our eyes, as the love in which we dwell. Therefore, when thinking of this love, I say that I dwell in Him, because I have in my heart the consciousness of it by the Spirit. At the same time this love is an active energetic principle in us; it is God Himself who is there. This is the joy of our position-the position of every Christian.

Verses 14 and 16 present the twofold effect of the manifestation of this love.

First, the testimony that the Father has sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world. Quite outside the promises made to the Jews (as everywhere in John), this work is the fruit of that which God Himself is. Accordingly whosoever confesses Jesus to be that Son enjoys all the fullness of its blessed consequences.

Secondly, the Christian has believed for himself in this love, and he enjoys it according to its fullness. There is only this modification of the expression of the glorious fact of our portion-that the confession of Jesus as the Son of God is primarily here the proof that God dwells in us, although the other part of the truth equally says that he who confesses Him dwells also in God.

When speaking of our portion in communion, as believing in this love, it is said, that he who dwells in love dwells in God; for in effect that is where the heart is. Here also the other part of the truth is equally true; God dwells in him likewise

I have spoken of the consciousness of this dwelling in God, for it is thus only that it is known. But it is important to remember that the apostle teaches it as a truth that applies to every believer. These might have excused themselves for not appropriating these statements as too high for them; but this fact judges the excuse. This communion is neglected. But God dwells in every one who confesses that Jesus is Son of God, and he in God. What an encouragement for a timid believer! What a rebuke for a careless one!

The apostle returns to our relative position, viewing God as outside ourselves, as Him before whom we are to appear and with whom we have always to do. This is the third great proof and character of love in which it is complete, testifying, as I have already said, that God has thought on all as to us from our sinful state to the day of judgment.

Herein is love perfect with us (in order that we may have boldness for the day of judgment), namely, that as He is, such are we in this world. In truth, what could give us a more complete assurance for that day than to be as Jesus Himself-like the judge? He who will judge in righteousness is our righteousness. We are in Him the righteousness according to which He will judge. We are in respect of judgment as He is. Truly this can give us perfect peace. But observe, that it is not only in the day of judgment that this is so (it gives us boldness for it), but we are it in this world. Not as He was, but in this world we are as He is, and have our known place already, as needed, and according to the nature and counsels of God, for that day. It is ours as being livingly identified with Him.

Now in love there is no fear; there is confidence. If I am sure that a person loves me, I do not fear him. If I am only desiring to be the object of his affection, I may fear that I am not so, and may even fear himself. Nevertheless this fear would always tend to destroy my love for him and my desire to be loved by him. There is incompatibility between the two affections-there is no fear in love. Perfect love then banishes fear; for fear torments us, and torment is not the enjoyment of love. He therefore who fears does not know perfect love. And now what does he mean by "perfect love"? It is that which God is, and which He has fully displayed in Christ, and given us to know and to enjoy by His presence in us, so that we dwell in Him. The positive proof of its complete perfectness is that we are such as Christ is. It is manifested towards us, perfected in us, and made perfect with us. But that which we enjoy is God, who is love, and we enjoy Him by His being in us, so that love and confidence are in our hearts, and we have rest. That which I know of God is that He is love, and love to me, and nothing else but love to me, because it is Himself who is so. Therefore there is no fear. [5] If we inquire practically into the history, so to speak, of these affections; if we seek to separate that which in the enjoyment is united, because the divine nature in us, which is love, enjoys love in its perfection in God (His love shed abroad in the heart by His presence therefore); if we wish to specify the relationship in which our hearts find themselves with God in regard to this, here it is: " we love him because he, first loved us." It is grace and it must be grace because it is God who is to be glorified.

Here, it will be worth our while to notice the order of this remarkable passage. Verses 7-10: We possess the nature of God; consequently we love, we are born of Him, and we know Him. But the manifestation of love towards us in Christ Jesus is the proof of that love; it is thus that we know it. Verses 11-16: We enjoy it by dwelling in it. It is present life in the love of God by the presence of His Spirit in us; the enjoyment of that love by communion, in that God dwells in us, and we thus dwell in Him. Verse 17 His love is perfected with us; the perfection of that love, viewed in the place that it has given us in view of judgment-we are, in this world, such as Christ is. Verses 18-19: it is thus fully perfected with us. Love to sinners, communion, perfection before God, give us the moral and characteristic elements of that love-what it is in our relationship with God.

In the first passage, where the apostle speaks of the manifestation of this love, he does not go beyond the fact that one who loves is born of God. The nature of God (which is love) being in us, he who loves know# Him, for he is born of Him-has His nature and realises what it is.

It is that which God has been with regard to the sinner which demonstrates His nature of love. afterwards, that which we learnt as sinners we enjoy as saints. The perfect love of God is shed abroad in the heart, and we dwell in Him. As already with Jesus in this world, and as He is, fear has no place in one to whom the love of God is a dwelling-place and rest.

Verse 20: the reality of our love to God, fruit of His love to us, is now tested. If we say that we love God and do not love the brethren, we are liars; for if the divine nature, so near us (in the brethren near us), and Christ's value for them, does not awaken our spiritual affections, how then can He who is afar off do so? This also is His commandment, that he who loves God love his brother also. Obedience is found here also. (Compare John 14:31)

Love for the brethren proves the reality of our love for God. And this love must be universal, must be in exercise towards all Christians, for whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God; and he who loves a person will love one who is born of Him. And if the being born of Him is the motive, we shall love all that are born of Him.


[1] Note, it is not "was." It is never said in scripture, as often, He left the Father's bosom; but "the only begotten Son who is in the bosom of the Father." As so knowing God, He revealed Him on earth.

[2] This gives us too, in their highest character and subject, the difference between the gospel and Epistle.

[3] The only expression in the word that has some resemblance to it is "the church of the Thessalonians, which is in God the Father." This is addressed to a numerous corporation in quite another sense.

[4] Righteousness and holiness suppose reference to other things; thus, evil to be known, rejection of evil, and judgment. Love, though exercised towards others, is what He is in Him self. The other essential name that God bears is " light." We are said to be "light in the Lord " as partakers of the divine nature; not love, which is, though the divine nature, sovereign in grace. We cannot therefore be said to be love. (See Eph. 4 & 5)

[5] It is striking to see that he does not say, We ought to love Him because He first loved us; but we love Him. We cannot know and enjoy love to us without loving. The sense of love to us is always love. It is not known and valued without its being there. My sense of love in another is love to him. We ought to love the brethren, because it is not their love to us which is the spring of it, though it may nourish it in this way. But we love God because He first loved us

── John DarbySynopsis of 1 John


1 John 4

Chapter Contents

Believers cautioned against giving heed to every one that pretends to the Spirit. (1-6) Brotherly love enforced. (7-21)

Commentary on 1 John 4:1-6

(Read 1 John 4:1-6)

Christians who are well acquainted with the Scriptures, may, in humble dependence on Divine teaching, discern those who set forth doctrines according to the apostles, and those who contradict them. The sum of revealed religion is in the doctrine concerning Christ, his person and office. The false teachers spake of the world according to its maxims and tastes, so as not to offend carnal men. The world approved them, they made rapid progress, and had many followers such as themselves; the world will love its own, and its own will love it. The true doctrine as to the Saviour's person, as leading men from the world to God, is a mark of the spirit of truth in opposition to the spirit of error. The more pure and holy any doctrine is, the more likely to be of God; nor can we by any other rules try the spirits whether they are of God or not. And what wonder is it, that people of a worldly spirit should cleave to those who are like themselves, and suit their schemes and discourses to their corrupt taste?

Commentary on 1 John 4:7-13

(Read 1 John 4:7-13)

The Spirit of God is the Spirit of love. He that does not love the image of God in his people, has no saving knowledge of God. For it is God's nature to be kind, and to give happiness. The law of God is love; and all would have been perfectly happy, had all obeyed it. The provision of the gospel, for the forgiveness of sin, and the salvation of sinners, consistently with God's glory and justice, shows that God is love. Mystery and darkness rest upon many things yet. God has so shown himself to be love, that we cannot come short of eternal happiness, unless through unbelief and impenitence, although strict justice would condemn us to hopeless misery, because we break our Creator's laws. None of our words or thoughts can do justice to the free, astonishing love of a holy God towards sinners, who could not profit or harm him, whom he might justly crush in a moment, and whose deserving of his vengeance was shown in the method by which they were saved, though he could by his almighty Word have created other worlds, with more perfect beings, if he had seen fit. Search we the whole universe for love in its most glorious displays? It is to be found in the person and the cross of Christ. Does love exist between God and sinners? Here was the origin, not that we loved God, but that he freely loved us. His love could not be designed to be fruitless upon us, and when its proper end and issue are gained and produced, it may be said to be perfected. So faith is perfected by its works. Thus it will appear that God dwells in us by his new-creating Spirit. A loving Christian is a perfect Christian; set him to any good duty, and he is perfect to it, he is expert at it. Love oils the wheels of his affections, and sets him on that which is helpful to his brethren. A man that goes about a business with ill will, always does it badly. That God dwells in us and we in him, were words too high for mortals to use, had not God put them before us. But how may it be known whether the testimony to this does proceed from the Holy Ghost? Those who are truly persuaded that they are the sons of God, cannot but call him Abba, Father. From love to him, they hate sin, and whatever disagrees with his will, and they have a sound and hearty desire to do his will. Such testimony is the testimony of the Holy Ghost.

Commentary on 1 John 4:14-21

(Read 1 John 4:14-21)

The Father sent the Son, he willed his coming into this world. The apostle attests this. And whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God. This confession includes faith in the heart as the foundation; makes acknowledgment with the mouth to the glory of God and Christ, and profession in the life and conduct, against the flatteries and frowns of the world. There must be a day of universal judgment. Happy those who shall have holy boldness before the Judge at that day; knowing he is their Friend and Advocate! Happy those who have holy boldness in the prospect of that day, who look and wait for it, and for the Judge's appearance! True love to God assures believers of God's love to them. Love teaches us to suffer for him and with him; therefore we may trust that we shall also be glorified with him, 2 Timothy 2:12. We must distinguish between the fear of God and being afraid of him; the fear of God imports high regard and veneration for God. Obedience and good works, done from the principle of love, are not like the servile toil of one who unwillingly labours from dread of a master's anger. They are like that of a dutiful child, who does services to a beloved father, which benefit his brethren, and are done willingly. It is a sign that our love is far from perfect, when our doubts, fears, and apprehensions of God, are many. Let heaven and earth stand amazed at his love. He sent his word to invite sinners to partake of this great salvation. Let them take the comfort of the happy change wrought in them, while they give him the glory. The love of God in Christ, in the hearts of Christians from the Spirit of adoption, is the great proof of conversion. This must be tried by its effects on their temper, and their conduct to their brethren. If a man professes to love God, and yet indulges anger or revenge, or shows a selfish disposition, he gives his profession the lie. But if it is plain that our natural enmity is changed into affection and gratitude, let us bless the name of our God for this seal and earnest of eternal happiness. Then we differ from the false professors, who pretend to love God, whom they have not seen, yet hate their brethren, whom they have seen.

── Matthew HenryConcise Commentary on 1 John


1 John 4

Verse 1

[1] Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.

Believe not every spirit — Whereby any teacher is actuated.

But try the spirits — By the rule which follows. We are to try all spirits by the written word: "To the law and to the testimony!" If any man speak not according to these, the spirit which actuates him is not of God.

Verse 2

[2] Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God:

Every spirit — Or teacher.

Which confesseth — Both with heart and voice.

Jesus Christ, who is come in the flesh, is of God — This his coming presupposes, contains, and draws after it, the whole doctrine of Christ.

Verse 3

[3] And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.

Ye have heard — From our Lord and us, that it cometh.

Verse 4

[4] Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.

Ye have overcome these seducers, because greater is the Spirit of Christ that is in you than the spirit of antichrist that is in the world.

Verse 5

[5] They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them.

They — Those false prophets.

Are of the world — Of the number of those that know not God.

Therefore speak they of the world — From the same principle, wisdom, spirit; and, of consequence, the world heareth them - With approbation.

Verse 6

[6] We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error.

We — Apostles.

Are of God — Immediately taught, and sent by him.

Hereby we know — From what is said, 1 John 4:2-6.

Verse 7

[7] Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.

Let us love one another — From the doctrine he has just been defending he draws this exhortation. It is by the Spirit that the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts. Every one that truly loveth God and his neighbour is born of God.

Verse 8

[8] He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.

God is love — This little sentence brought St. John more sweetness, even in the time he was writing it, than the whole world can bring. God is often styled holy, righteous, wise; but not holiness, righteousness, or wisdom in the abstract, as he is said to be love; intimating that this is his darling, his reigning attribute, the attribute that sheds an amiable glory on all his other perfections.

Verse 12

[12] No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us.

If we love one another, God abideth in us — This is treated of, 1 John 4:13-16.

And his love is perfected — Has its full effect.

In us — This is treated of, 1 John 4:17-19.

Verse 14

[14] And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world.

And in consequence of this we have seen and testify that the Father sent the Son - These are the foundation and the criteria of our abiding in God and God in us, the communion of the Spirit, and the confession of the Son.

Verse 15

[15] Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God.

Whosoever shall, from a principle of loving faith, openly confess in the face of all opposition and danger, that Jesus is the Son of God, God abideth in him.

Verse 16

[16] And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.

And we know and believe — By the same Spirit, the love that God hath to us.

Verse 17

[17] Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world.

Hereby — That is, by this communion with God.

Is our love made perfect; that we may — That is, so that we shall have boldness in the day of judgment - When all the stout-hearted shall tremble.

Because as he — Christ.

Is — All love.

So are we — Who are fathers in Christ, even in this world.

Verse 18

[18] There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.

There is no fear in love — No slavish fear can be where love reigns. But perfect, adult love casteth out slavish fear: because such fear hath torment - And so is inconsistent with the happiness of love. A natural man has neither fear nor love; one that is awakened, fear without love; a babe in Christ, love and fear; a father in Christ, love without fear.

Verse 19

[19] We love him, because he first loved us.

We love him, because he first loved us — This is the sum of all religion, the genuine model of Christianity. None can say more: why should any one say less, or less intelligibly?

Verse 20

[20] If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?

Whom he hath seen — Who is daily presented to his senses, to raise his esteem, and move his kindness or compassion toward him.

Verse 21

[21] And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.

And this commandment have we from him — Both God and Christ.

That he who loveth God love his brother — Every one, whatever his opinions or mode of worship be, purely because he is the child, and bears the image, of God. Bigotry is properly the want of this pure and universal love. A bigot only loves those who embrace his opinions, and receive his way of worship; and he loves them for that, and not for Christ's sake.

── John WesleyExplanatory Notes on 1 John


Chapter 4. The Knowledge of Spiritual Fellowship

Perfect Love
Drive Out Fear

I. Test the Spirits

  1. The Spirit of Truth
  2. Spirit of Falsehood
  3. Resist Evil Spirits

II. The Meaning of "God Is Love"

  1. Love comes from God
  2. God Loves Us
  3. We love God

III. We Love Because God First Loved Us

  1. The Motive of Love
  2. the Actuality of Love
  3. The Practice of Love

── Chih-Hsin ChangAn Outline of The New Testament

Test The Spirits! (4:1-6)
1. So far in this epistle, John has discussed what our relationship 
   should be (or not be) in regards to:
   a. God - 1:5-6
   b. Jesus - 2:3-4
   c. The things in the world - 2:15
   d. Sin - 3:4-5
   e. Our brethren - 3:11
2. As chapter four begins, we find John exhorting us concerning a very 
   real danger:  false prophets! - cf. 4:1-6
[With another term of endearment ("beloved"), then, John exhorts his 
brethren to...]
      1. I.e., don't believe everything you hear, or everyone who 
         claims to be from God
      2. How foolish it would be to do so should be obvious...
         a. We would be in a constant state of confusion (believing one
            thing one moment, and another thing the next)
         b. We would be easily misled by those teaching error
      1. The word "test" ("try", KJV) means...
         a. To examine, prove scrutinize (Thayer)
         b. To see whether a thing is genuine or not
      2. So don't just accept what some teacher or preacher is saying;
         examine what is being taught
      3. Those who have this attitude are highly commended in the 
         a. The Bereans - Ac 17:11
         b. The Ephesians - Re 2:2
      1. This is the reason we must "test the spirits"
      2. Others have also warned us of this fact...
         a. Jesus - Mt 7:15
         b. Peter - 2 Pe 2:1-3
         c. Paul - 2 Co 11:13-15
      3. So we must examine, prove, and scrutinize those who would 
         teach us!
         a. Even though some teachers might consider it insubordinate
         b. Even though some might not like the possible controversy it
            can cause
      4. Whether one teaches in our classes, pulpits, radio, 
         newspapers, etc., we must "test the spirits!"
[But HOW shall we test the spirits?  In our text, John shares with us 
several tests...]
II. THE TESTS (2-3, 6)
      1. Verses 2-3 are best understood in light of the Gnostic-like
         errors that were prevalent at that time...
         a. In which some denied Jesus Christ actually came in the 
            flesh - cf. 2 Jn 7
         b. Whose doctrine was leading many astray, possibly because 
            the false teachers claimed inspiration by the Spirit
      2. But those who would teach such falsehood are not led by the 
         Spirit of God, but possess the spirit of the Antichrist! - 
         again cf. 2 Jn 7
      1. Verse 6 reveals how we can distinguish between "the spirit of
         truth" and "the spirit of error"
         a. Those who truly know God listen to the apostles
         b. Those who are not of God will reject them
      2. I.e., does the teaching agree with what the apostles teach?
         a. For Jesus taught that to receive them was to receive Him 
            and God - Jn 13:20
         b. Thus the early church continued steadfastly in the 
            apostles' doctrine - Ac 2:42
         c. For they recognized their words as the commands of the Lord
            - 1 Co 14:37
         d. And even the apostles recognized their fellow-apostles' 
            writings as equivalent to inspired scriptures - e.g., 2 Pe
         -- Therefore, those who are of God will heed the apostles, and
            agree with their teaching!
      3. This is a test that we can easily apply today on virtually 
         every issue!
         a. But it implies knowledge and understanding of the apostles'
            doctrine on our part
         b. Yet that should not be a problem if we follow the example 
            of the first church in Jerusalem - cf. Ac 2:42
      1. The test of Deu 18:21-22
         a. To be used when a person claims to be a prophet of God
         b. If their prophecy fails, they are shown to be a false
      2. The test of Deu 13:1-4
         a. To be used when wonders are performed, and prophecies seem 
            to be fulfilled
         b. If their doctrine contradicts what God has already 
            revealed, they are to be rejected (this is akin to what 
            John wrote)
1. In the midst of these warnings to "test the spirits", John provides
   some comforting words in verses 4-5
   a. By being of God (because they have heeded the words of His 
      1) They can overcome the false prophets
      2) For the One in them is greater than he (Satan?) who is in the
   b. Don't be surprised to see the world following after the false 
      1) For the false prophets are of the world and speak in a way as
         to appeal to the world
      2) Therefore don't be deterred by the "apparent success" of the 
         false teachers (size and numbers are not a proper measure of 
2. In view of the proliferation of religions and various doctrines 
   bombarding us today, all in the name of Christ and the Spirit of 
   God, the exhortation of John is very relevant and important for us:
            "Beloved, do not believe every spirit,
               but test the spirits, whether they are of God"
Are you continuing steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine so you can 
properly apply the test?


An Exposition On Brotherly Love (4:7-21)
1. Who is best known as "the apostle of love"?
   a. The apostle Paul is certainly worthy of such an appellation in
      view of his discourse on love in 1 Co 13:1-13
   b. But because of the many references to love in his first epistle,
      John has come to be known as "the apostle of love"
2. We have already seen where John declared that love is evidence of...
   a. Abiding in the light, i.e., having fellowship with God - 1 Jn
      2:10; cf. 1:5-7
   b. Being children of God - 1 Jn 3:10,14
3. And we have already seen where John has touched upon...
   a. The definition of love - 1 Jn 3:16
   b. The value of love - 1 Jn 3:18-19
4. But now, in the passage which serves as the text for our study, John
   expounds upon the theme of brotherly love in much greater depth - 
   1 Jn 4:7-21
[In "An Exposition On Brotherly Love", John begins by reminding us 
      1. As will be illustrated shortly, true love (the Greek word is 
         agape, "active goodwill") emanates from God - 1 Jn 4:7a
      2. That is because "God is love" - 1 Jn 4:8b
         a. Every action of His is motivated out of an "active
            goodwill" toward us
         b. This does not mean He overlooks sin, for God is also
            "light" - cf. 1 Jn 1:5-6
      1. They demonstrate that they are "born of God" and "know God" -
         1 Jn 4:7b
      2. But if one does not love as God does, then they have not yet
         come to truly know God - 1 Jn 4:8a
[But lest any misconstrue the kind of love being discussed, he expands
upon the definition of true love mentioned earlier in 1 Jn 3:16...]
      1. He sent His "only begotten Son" - 1 Jn 4:9; cf. Jn 1:14,18;
      2. He sent His Son, not because we loved Him, but because He
         loved us - 1 Jn 4:10; cf. Ro 5:8
      3. He sent His Son for two reasons:
         a. That we might live through Him - 1 Jn 4:9; Jn 10:10
         b. That He might be the propitiation (an appeasing sacrifice)
            for our sins - 1 Jn 4:10
         -- Jesus died not just to provide forgiveness, but also to 
            provide new life!
      1. If this is kind of love God has had toward us...
         a. I.e., active goodwill
         b. I.e., manifested unconditionally (to a certain extent, of 
      2. Then this is the kind of love we should have toward one 
         a. Where we love, not because we are loved first
         b. But as God is love, so we are to be as His children! - cf. 
            Lk 6:35
[With "brotherly love" properly defined, John continues to point out 
      1. No one has seen God at any time - 1 Jn 4:12a; cf. Jn 1:18
      2. However, when we keep the command to love one another, God 
         will abide in us, and His love will be perfected in us! - 1 Jn
         4:12b; cf. 1 Jn 3:24a
      3. We know this is true because of the Spirit which God has given
         - 1 Jn 4:13; cf. 1 Jn 3:24b
         a. The Spirit was to remind the apostles of all that Jesus 
            taught - Jn 14:26
         b. This included Jesus' teaching on how the Father and the Son
            would abide in them (i.e., through keeping the 
            commandments) - Jn 14:21,23
      1. The apostles have testified that Father sent the Son to be our
         Savior - 1 Jn 4:14
      2. And so we must be willing to confess Jesus as the Son of God -
         1 Jn 4:15
      3. Then, when we have known and believed the love God has for us
         (manifested in the sending of His Son), we are in a position 
         to fully accept two basic principles of the gospel:
         a. God is love
         b. He who abides in love abides in God and God in him - 1 Jn
[In the next section of this "exposition on brotherly love", John 
touches again on a theme mention back in 1 Jn 3:19-21...]
      1. As we grow and become more complete and mature in brotherly 
         love, we will be able to have boldness in the day of judgment
         - 1 Jn 4:17a
      2. The boldness will come from knowing that as His children we 
         were like Him in this world - 1 Jn 4:17b
      1. Because the prospects of torment naturally produce fear, the 
         more we grow in God's love, to that degree fear is dispersed 
         - 1 Jn 4:18a
      2. If we fear the day of judgment, that is an indication we need
         to grow in love! - 1 Jn 4:18b
      3. Growing in love is made so easy for us, however, because God 
         first loved us! - 1 Jn 4:19
[Finally, John ends this "exposition on brotherly love" by proving...]
      1. Like those who claim...
         a. To have fellowship with God while they walk in darkness - 
            1 Jn 1:6
         b. To not have sinned - 1 Jn 1:10
         c. To know Jesus while not keeping His commandments - 1 Jn 2:4
         ...so is one who claims to love God while hating his brother:
            John says that they are all liars! - 1 Jn 4:20a
      2. For to love one whom we cannot see (God) requires that we 
         first be able to love those whom we can see - 1 Jn 4:20b
      1. This is why we have the commandment from Jesus - cf. Jn 13:
      2. Indeed, Jesus taught that loving God and one another were the 
         two greatest commandments of the old law! - Mt 22:35-40
1. If "brotherly love" is...
   a. Evidence of sonship
   b. Defined by God's love for us
   c. Evidence of fellowship with God
   d. A means of providing assurance in the day of judgment
   e. Essential to loving God
   ...then how dare we neglect this most essential commandment of God?
2. While there are other commands of our Lord that we must be careful
   to obey, none is so important, so essential to our spiritual life as
   God's children, as this one:
         "This is My commandment, that you love one another
            as I have loved you." - Jn 15:12
Are we letting the love that God displayed toward us through His Son
Jesus to teach us how to love one another?


--《Executable Outlines


The knowledge of spiritual fellowship

Perfect love

Drive out fear


I.  Test the Spirits

1.    The Spirit of truth

2.    Spirit of falsehood

3.    Resist evil spirits

II.The meaning of “God is love”

1.    Love comes from God

2.    God loves us

3.    We love God

III.       We love because God first loved us

1.    The motive of love

2.    The actuality of love

3.    The practice of love

-- Chih-Hsin ChangAn Outline of The New Testament


The Love that Casts out Fear

I. The Source of the Love—it ‘is of God’ (4.7)

II. The Standard of that Love—God so loved us (4.11)

III. The sphere of that Love—in God (4.16)

IV. The Security of that Love—boldness in the day of judgment (4.17)

V. The Scope of that Love—God and his brother also (4.21)