By Stan Brown
I John 4:12 No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us.
Simply stated, although no one has ever seen God in all that He is, if believers live in the manner that John has explained in this epistle, God’s fantastic love will be reproduced in us as God abides in us. This certainly includes individual believers but it also involves the community of believers, indeed the church. In his Gospel, John has written almost the identical phrase when he writes John 1:18 No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him. As Jesus walked the earth everything he said and did, explained the Father. In this verse, John implicitly states that we explain God as we love.
When Isaiah saw the vision of God, it was His holiness that was described
“Woe is me, for I am ruined!
Because I am a man of unclean lips,
And I live among a people of unclean lips;
For my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.”(Isa. 6:4)
And John does not minimize His holiness for it is intimately related to His love else He would not have needed to die for us. John chooses rather to emphasize God’s love as he writes about seeing God.
Previously when John discussed abiding, he had included faith (believe) and holiness (keeps His commandments) and love (love one another) together in one place. 1John 3:23-24 This is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us. The one who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. We know by this that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.
All three concepts (faith, holiness and love) are central to abiding. Here, John opens with the phrase No one has seen God at any time. He immediately follows it with love one another. Seeing God and loving one another are thus closely intertwined. Although righteousness is vital since God is holy, John associates seeing God with loving one another. When we love one another two things are true. (1) God abides in us. We cannot love one another apart from God’s abiding (we in Him and He in us). In fact, when we love, God is abiding in us. (2) His love is perfected in us. When God’s love achieves its full measure in us, it is reproduced in us and flows out in our loving one another.
The Greek construction does not assume that this occurs in every believer. This is why John spends so much time on love and he still has more to say on the subject. Without God’s holiness we face anarchy, yet without His love we are utterly hopeless. We are to keep His commandments. When John writes of seeing God in us, it is love that he stresses. Let us love one another that others might see Him in us.