Studies in John’s Epistles – 1 John 4

After telling us how we can be certain that we are in the faith, John proceeds to give us a “litmus-test” to be able to judge whether others are in the faith. This test harkens back to what he has told us about Christ in the opening verses of this epistle, and to his warning concerning the Antichrists which are arising in our midst. He has already warned us of those who claim that Christ only “appeared” to be human, and now he nails it down with a sure-fire “litmus-test”. Call this a “spiritual pathology-report”. He now equates believing that Christ only “appeared” to be human with the spirit of the Antichrist (the Docetic view).

Testing the Spirits
4 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the Antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world. 4 You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world. 5 They are from the world; therefore they speak as from the world, and the world listens to them. 6 We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.

God Is Love
7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9 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. 10 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. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us. 13 By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. 14 We have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world.

15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16 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. 17 By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the Day of Judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. 19 We love, because He first loved us. 20 If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his 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. 21 And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also. (1 John 4)

Test the Spirits
Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world. (1 John 4:1-3)

Oh my word, what a timely text! With the previous chapter ending by saying that we can know that Jesus lives in us because of the (Holy) Spirit He gave us, now John takes another step forward in our experience. How can we tell who is right and who is not?

Simple! Test the spirits!

There are many Christians, who, while they will give mental ascent to Jesus’ humanity, can’t wrap their heads around the “nitty-gritty” of His humanity because they believe that this somehow “demeans” His deity. We see this subtly expressed in a phrase in the popular Christmas Carol, “Away In A Manger“; “But little Lord Jesus no crying he makes.” If Jesus didn’t cry, He wasn’t human.

A couple of years ago, I wrote a three-part series of articles entitled; “How Human Was Jesus?” approaching His humanity from a real-world perspective. I wanted to ground my own perspective in facts, not some “sanitized-version“. Part 1 of that series is included in today’s study packet, and for those joining us online, I invite you to read the whole series.

Well, it is actually simple, but at first it sounded a little creepy to me. On closer examination, however, it isn’t creepy and it isn’t hard. Does a teacher or commentator acknowledge that Jesus Christ came in the flesh? Do they acknowledge Him at all? If they do, they are from God; if they don’t they are not from God. If they don’t acknowledge Jesus, they aren’t from God, they are Antichrist. If this is so, would we consider them a reliable source of insight? Well, you can decide that one…

You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood. (1 John 4:4-6)

John finishes this thought in these verses, making his point even clearer. We have overcome the spirit of Antichrist, because the Holy Spirit within us is greater by far than the spirit of Antichrist could ever dream of being. Interesting point to bear in mind when reading commentaries, blogs and books! These false teachers speak from the viewpoint of the world, not from the viewpoint of God, and the world will listen to them. Yes, and while the world will listen to the false teacher, the spirit of Antichrist, the world will not generally listen to us, for they simply can’t fathom what we are talking about, so let’s not be surprised by this.

I’ve spoken with many Christians who fear that they might be tricked and led astray, and I always tell them that they will not be tricked and led astray if they have a strong relationship with Christ. That is precisely what John is asserting here. It’s so simple to tell the difference, and when you were little, your mother or father probably told you how to recognize who is credible and who is not, for I’ll bet they told you to “consider the source.” To put it another way, I wouldn’t recommend that we take spiritual advice from an atheist, nor would I suggest that we should take Bible instruction from a non-believer.

See how simple this stuff is?

This is Love
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. (1 John 4:7-10)

We are now beginning the central core of this letter, and this core runs from verse 7 to the end of this chapter. It is not only the central core of the letter, but it is also the central core of Christian theology. All of those comparisons at the beginning of the letter, and all of the discussion of evil, Antichrists and the testing of spirits comes back to this theme, for without it, the rest of the theology of our faith is rendered meaningless. In short, what is written in this section is the one thing that gives Christianity its power and authority, and against which the gates of Hell itself cannot, and will not stand.

John is giving us another “litmus-test” which demonstrates the reality of God’s love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. God hasn’t left us to question His love, He has graphically-demonstrated it so that we need not ever wonder whether God loves us. God has demonstrated His love for us by providing the WAY that we can be restored to fellowship with Him. He has done for us what we could never do for ourselves. If you ever doubt whether God loves you, look at the Cross, because it is the most graphic-evidence of God’s love for you. Furthermore, the Cross was no “Plan-B”. It was part of God’s plan for redemption even before Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden.

The last sentence in this text is the key: God loved us. In fact, he loved us while we were lost, and not loving Him at all. Yet God loved us anyway! He loved us so much that He sent Jesus to die for us. Yes, you’re right, this has already been pointed out in this letter, but here it is again, as the core of everything else; that is how important it is that we grasp this simple concept!

How could God love us so much in spite of everything? Because God is love! Love is an integral-part of God’s very nature. God cannot NOT love us, because to NOT love us would violate everything God is.

Because of God’s love, demonstrated on the Cross, we are to love one another just as God loved us. Nobody can do this unless God is in that person, which is to say that person is in Christ. Loving one another as God loved us runs counter to every teaching of this world, as it also runs against our natural human inclinations. Therefore, if a person does not love, it is because God is not in him or her.

More Love
Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. (1 John 4:11-12)

John is continuing his thoughts that we looked at in vv. 7-10, and as I mentioned last time, this is the central core of Christian theology, the part that everything else is built upon. Simply stated, this love core flows like this:
1. God loved us while we were still sinners.

2. God sent His Son to die for our sins.

3. We loved God and responded to the Gospel.

4. God loved our brothers and sisters in Christ.

5. Therefore, so do we.

We see this pattern at work once again in verse 11. God loved us, so we should love each other. Then John, as was his custom, takes one more step. Since no one has ever seen God, and since God loves all of us and we love Him, if we also love each other, God’s love will be complete in us and visibly expressed within His Body, the Church. This is as far as John has gone so far…

At this point, we can infer that there is another step. The other step is implied in John’s mentioning that “no one has seen God.” OK, why did he choose to write that? Think…

No one has seen God, but if we love one another as God loved us, then His love will live amongst us, and through us, all will see it.

During a recent debate about Evolution and Creation, there was an assumption that if we cannot observe some “evidence” that God exists, then we can determine that He does not exist. I’m no scientist, but this seems to be a natural inclination on the part of people who are educated with regard to the Scientific Method. Remember that one from your school days? It was the one about observations, and testing theories with observable evidence?

Back to John. Have you ever thought that it would be nice if you could find the positive “proof” of God’s existence? Yes, something that can be observed and studied?

Are you sitting down?

John just gave it to you! The proof is God’s love at work in our lives and within the Body of Christ. At least it should be! Maybe if we started taking these verses to heart and putting them into our everyday manner of living, like we are commanded by God to do, more people would notice that the greatest “proof” of God, the observable evidence is right there in front of us all: Love for one another as Jesus has loved us, and gave His life for us.

34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)

Consider this question: Do you ever wonder if it is a coincidence that the whole concept of Godly love has been corrupted and demeaned in our culture? After all, doesn’t society use the word “love” to mean just about anything other than Godly love?

God is Love
God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the Day of Judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. (1 John 4:16b-18)

This short text is tricky; we need to be sharp to get the full benefit of it. “God is love.” OK, so far, so good, this part is easy. Then John says, “Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them”. For us to live in love is to also live in God, and when we do that, God lives in us because God and His love are inseparable. Here comes the curve: John is building again. Because of the inseparable nature of God and love, living our lives in love will make love complete, and ensure that we will be confident on the day of judgment: This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: OK, this one is really interesting…

John finishes this way: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

Did you catch that? If we live in love, we live in God, and God lives in us. This is because love and God cannot be separated. If we live this way, we live like Jesus lived. Jesus did not fear death, why should He? He knew exactly where He was going! When we live in love, we need have no fear of judgment, for that love drives fear of judgment out of our lives.

When a person dies, the next step is judgment. You might believe that we die and immediately go to judgment, or you might believe that we die and sleep until judgment day, but to be honest, it doesn’t matter. Judgment is the next step either way. Just as Jesus knew exactly where He was going, so do we, we are going to be at His side.

So what really happens?
When we go to judgment, there are two sets of books. There is the Book of Life and there is the Books of Deeds. If your name is in the Book of Life, that’s it, you’re in! If not, the other books are consulted, and you are judged by your deeds. You don’t want to be involved in those deeds books! The judgment is not a horrifying ordeal if you are in the Book of Life. Your name is read and that’s it, “Welcome home!” What John is telling us here is that living in love means that our names are in the Book of Life.

Let’s put it another way: We read about this day in Revelation 21:11 ff. If you are in Christ, living in love (they are the same thing) your name is in the Book of Life. That being the case, you are not being put on trial or accused of anything at all, for your sins have been taken away entirely; they are as far from you as the east is from the west. There is no sin to even discuss: Period. That is why John can say here, that perfect love drives out all fear. The love God has always had for you terminated all discussion and your appearance at judgment is a welcoming ceremony, you might say.

We love because He first loved us
We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister. (1 John 4:19-21)

This just about sums it all up, don’t you think? God so loves us that He went to extreme measures in showing it, sending His Son to die for us… because so great was God’s love. (John 3:16)

If God loves us, and we in turn love God, then we must also love our brother or sister. As you can see from these verses, there is no negotiating to be done. In fact, John says that it is a command from God that we love our brother. End of discussion!

In verse 20, John gives us yet another “litmus-test”. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. We cannot claim to love God if we don’t love our brother also. Period!

Well… almost. It may strike some as odd that God has commanded love. It is really a fair question to ask if someone asked it… How can I be commanded to love? I see my brother or sister, and I don’t feel anything for them. As I’ve written before words are funny things; they mean stuff. In English, we only have one word: “Love.” John wrote in Greek. Greek has five words for our “love” and they mean different things. The word that John used here is agapaō which is the word used in the New Testament for God’s love. It is not the word for romantic love. When we are commanded to love one another, this command has nothing whatsoever to do with emotions. Instead, it has everything do with attitude and actions.

To love your brother or sister in Christ means to put their interests ahead of your own. If your brother or sister is in need, we are to take care of their need before we take care of our need. We are to be willing to set aside our cares and hurts to see to the needs of others… just like Jesus did. If we see our brother or sister hurting, we do something about it. Jesus saw us hurting from sin and death, so He did something about it, setting aside His own personal needs…that is, unless you’d claim that He really needed to be tortured and murdered.

This is the attitude that makes the Body of Christ possible. If we were to approach the Body (church) as our little plaything or as our chance to be important, or in the way humans often approach things, then the Body will fight and divide. Hmmmmm, we might think about that one! If we approach it as people who love one another and put others ahead of ourselves, the Body is the most amazing and awesome thing this side of Heaven, as they say.

History is rife with religious-persecution, Jews versus Christians, and Catholics versus Protestants, and yet they have always claimed to love and serve the same God. Muslims and Christians claim to serve the same God of Abraham, and yet Muslims slaughter Christians frequently, and Christians can’t get let off the hook either. Which one really loves God, and which one really loves their religion instead?

So, can we do it? Sure we can! We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. It begins with a commitment to follow Jesus, and it carries on when we are more satisfied in His presence than when we are any place else. Need help or guidance in this? No problem, seek Him, and follow where He leads. You’ll know what to do.

Sola Deo Gloria!