By Stan Brown
I John 4:21 And this commandment have we from him, That he who loves God love his brother also.
John doesn’t stutter. God is love and we must be all about love. In the previous verse, he has said if we don’t love one another we don’t love God. Now he mentions the converse as he says if we do love God, we will love our sisters and our brothers and this is not just a polite suggestion from John. He describes it as a commandment. This is not new from John. He has previously said, This is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us (1John 3:23). He declares that love is absolutely associated with abiding, The one who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him (1John 3:24).
Let’s step back for a moment and ask ourselves the question, “If God so loved the world, why does John seem to ignore the world and focus on love for other believers?” Didn’t Jesus say concerning the commandments “The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF’ (Matt. 22:39)? Perhaps John focuses on other believers because some believers are pretty difficult to love. God understands that. He loves us. Perhaps it is because we need to practice on one another before getting it right in the world. It is certainly because loving one another demonstrates God to the world. We become God’s message to the world when we love one another. The message is muffled when we fail to love each other. As He prayed to the Father, Jesus said, that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me (John 17:21). When we love we abide. When we abide we are the message. It is an amazing statement when Jesus asks that we might be united even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You. Without love for one another this is impossible. Without love for one another we fail to be God’s message to all those whom God loves.
In the previous fifteen verses the word love has occurred twenty-five times. John has just said if we are not loving our believing brothers and sisters, we are not loving God. It is also true that if we are not loving our fellow believers, we are not loving those who have not believed in the Son. Loving one another is the lynchpin that draws it all together. Love for God is nonexistence when it is not displayed in love for one another. Love for those in the world is displayed when we love one another. John never suggests that we are not to love the folks living in the chaos of the world but rather that the greatest thing we can do for them is display God’s love by loving each other. Let us be the Message!!
By Stan Brown
I John 4:20 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.
Put your action where your mouth is. In the previous verses John had extolled love for one another. Now, he gets down to the nitty-gritty as he says “prove it”. The outward demonstration of our love for God is not words but actions of love. One might say that love is a verb rather than a noun. Just as love is action rather than words, it is also action rather feeling. John shoots straight as he declares that those who claim love for God and cannot even love their sisters and brothers are in fact “liars".
So, I say “I love God” (and I may also declare that I love all the rest of His children), yet I ignore their real needs while I am quick to condemn their actions as I extol my own. The only logical conclusion is that I do not love God. I may be His child but I have no idea what it means to love Him. Remember the required action of love includes not only those brothers and sisters who are loveable but those who are unlovable as well. After all, I am the recipient of God’s love. If God loves me, I can love others.
It is true that John is emphasizing love for fellow believers here. After all, love begins at home. We learn to love by loving our spiritual brothers and sisters. In loving each other we demonstrate love to the world because it is this testimony that shows the world the truth of the message. We do serious harm to the message of the Gospel when we fail to love each other. Although John stresses love for each other, he in no way denies that we must also love everyone else in the world. Such a statement would be pure folly. After all, when the Jewish lawyer asks the question “who is my neighbor?”, Jesus responds with the parable of “The Good Samaritan”. In effect, he says that whoever is in need is my neighbor.
So, John continues his attack on what he sees as a failure to love with a down to earth statement. He attacks this practice as patently ridiculous. He declares, for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. Based on the fact that we live in a physical world in which everything we do and say is colored by the physical, a paraphrase of that statement might be; “Are you nuts? Look around! You have never even seen God yet you make the easy declaration that you love Him as you think no one will be able to call you on it. But wait a minute! You have all these brothers and sisters in need around you whom you continually ignore and you can see them. Their needs are continually before you. You have the resources to help and you ignore them. You claim love for God. Your deeds proclaim that you are a LIAR!
This verse rests on the great foundation of our Lord’s depiction of His commandments as He says, Matt. 22:37-39 And He said to him, “‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ “This is the great and foremost commandment. “The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF’ (Matt. 22:37-39).
Let us love one another!!!
By Stan Brown
I John 4:19 We love, because He first loved us.
Love continues to be John’s theme. Most modern translations read We love, because He first loved us. The New King James reads We love Him, because He first loved us. There is little practical difference between the two as John is stating that all love is sourced in God and we cannot truly love without understanding His love. This climactic verse concerning love states it concisely. This verse might be considered to be a succinct statement of the Gospel message itself so we will examine it from that perspective. In his gospel John writes, For God loved the world in this way: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).
Love always begins with holiness. It is meaningless apart from God’s righteousness. Love flows out from the presence of God who is absolutely righteous in His intrinsic character. He is not some namby-pamby, weak willed One who does not care what we do. He loves us supremely to the point that He wants to provide fellowship for us as we walk in the light of His holiness. Indeed, He desires that we heed the admonition of Peter as he quotes from the book of Leviticus, 1Pet. 1:16 because it is written, “YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY.”
God’s holiness demands eternal punishment for sin. God’s love provided the propitiation (satisfaction) for that sin through the blood of Jesus His Son. Love begins with God as He gave his one and only Son. John has just written, 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 (4:10). We respond to that love by believing in Him (everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life). So, we thus have eternal life but God offers more. He offers us the opportunity to love Him and love one another as He loves, We love, because He first loved us.
Thus, this is the Gospel message in its simplest form. God first loved us and provides us the opportunity to delight in His love as we become His conduits of that love to one another. In his Gospel, John takes it beyond just spending eternity with God as he quotes the words of Jesus, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him, and make Our abode with him (John 14:23). In his epistle, John describes it as the abiding relationship of we in Him and He in us.
By Stan Brown
I John 4:18 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.
Fear and love are completely incompatible as John says There is no fear in love. The first half of this verse looks at it from a positive perspective while the second half looks at it from the other side of the coin. Let’s first look at this verse in context. The previous verse has spoken about two things; (1)love is perfected with us, (2)that we may have confidence in the day of judgment. The kind of love that occurs when God abides in us and we in Him is a love that casts out fear. The context is one that speaks of our relationship with God as it speaks of boldness in His presence at the day of judgment. It is natural to approach such an occasion with fear but John assures us that perfect love casts out fear. This perfect love is a love that has been cultivated and matured over time as we walk with Him. Remember the last phrase of the previous verse that describes this perfect love. John has written the words as He is, so also are we in this world. Remember that perfected love does not mean we are sinless but rather that we take advantage of the cleansing blood of Christ as we confess our sins and enter His presence with boldness. This is a magnificent promise that as we live in a world that is full of fear, we can enter the safety of His presence apart from fear.
(This next part is the “grain of salt” part which means that I am sharing thoughts that might be taken with a grain of salt. “Grain of salt” starts here. I think about how often the Bible speaks about the fear of God. We usually mitigate that some by defining it as awe rather than terror but nevertheless standing in the presence of the Holy God is one that naturally engenders fear. I just wonder if John is picking up on that concept a little and is saying that we can enter that presence apart from fear because we understand His love and bask in it. Although the awe remains there is no fear in His presence because of perfected or completed love. That ends the “grain of salt” part.)
John also looks at this from the negative perspective as he writes fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. Fear is directly related to shrinking back at His coming and the day of judgment. We are frightened by the judgment we rightly deserve and are not thinking about the cleansing blood. John simply says if we are scared spitless at the prospect of entering His presence it means we are consumed by the fear that finds no harmony with the perfect love of God.
OK, so John tells us that we are able to enter God’s presence apart from fear which is a really big deal but what about the fear we have daily as we move about in a world ruled by Satan. We fear for ourselves, but often feel greater fear for the ones we love amid concern that they will be adversely affected by it. On a personal basis, the Psalmist has written The LORD is for me; I will not fear; What can man do to me? (Psa. 118:6). Paul has written, For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!( Rom. 8:15)” John will soon say This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us(1John 5:14).
God does not want us to be fearful in His presence so He perfects His love in us. God does not want us to be beset by fear in the world so He offers us a refuge from that fear, indeed the refuge available in His awesome presence. Praise His Holy Name!!!!
By Stan Brown
I John 4:17 By this, love is perfected with us, that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world.
Although I know little about the intricacies of music I will pretend for a moment as if I do. John has the soul of a musician as we move through his epistle and the various themes keep rising back to the surface. The themes of love, abiding, light, obedience and boldness (among others) keep rising to the surface. The theme of perfect love rises back to the surface here. Earlier John had spoken about the relationship between perfect love and obedience to His Word (1John 2:5 but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him). John also associates abiding with perfect love (1John 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.) In the immediate context love, indeed the One Who is Love (God is love) abides in us. It is the love that we have come to know as we have walked in the light with Him. It is this perfect love that flows through us to one another and ultimately to the world as we are God’s messengers.
As the theme of love rises back to the surface, the theme of boldness/confidence flows up alongside it. As we abide in His love, we may walk boldly into His presence at the Judgment Seat of Christ. Indeed, we may walk boldly into His presence today. Twice before, John has written about this bold confidence. He has written of an abiding that replaces shame with boldness. (1John 2:28 Now, little children, abide in Him, so that when He appears, we may have confidence and not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming.) He has written about the cleansing blood of Jesus that replaces condemnation with confidence. (1John 3:21 Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God;). Now it is perfect love that results in bold confidence in His presence. This is especially exciting. Just think, God allows us to come directly into His presence with neither announcement nor fear. His presence remains holy but we may enter confidently because of His great love. He even offers us bold confidence at a time that might ordinarily be fraught with trepidation; that is the day of judgment.
This verse ends with the magnificent statement (magnificent statements keep rising to the surface in John’s music as well.) because as He is, so also are we in this world. I mentioned earlier, that we are His messengers to this world, indeed as we love one another we are His message to the world. We will never be the perfect message that Jesus is but God has given responsibility of exemplifying the love of the Father and the Son in this world today, as He is, so also are we in this world.
I may have said some of these things before but that is only because John has said then before as these themes keep arising back into our consciousness through the beauty of the music John performs in our hearing. John wants these themes to keep rising into our awareness like the songs that we cannot get out of our heads. Too often, it is thoughts of sin that arise into our minds. John wants us to hear the sounds of love and confidence as they continually resonate in our thoughts.
By Stan Brown
I John 4:16 And we have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.
This section begins in 3:24 with the words abides in Him, and He in him and ends here with the words the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. One might suggest that the love of God reigns supreme as we savor His love and become His vehicles for spreading that love to one another and the world. This is where John desires us to be as we walk in His light each step of the way. Everything he has written has been directed toward our being described with the words abides in God, and God abides in him.
In this verse love is once more emphasized as it occurs three times. Let’s begin with the words that John earlier used in 4:8 where he writes God is love. In 1:5 John declared that God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. God is absolutely holy and cannot abide sin, yet because of his unlimited love we may freely enter into His presence. The love of God infiltrates every part of the essence of God just as does His holiness. Praise God for who He is. Throughout this epistle, John has been encouraging us to become mature in our relationship with God. He speaks of the results of walking with Jesus in the light over time as he and the other apostles had done. They had come to know the unimaginable love of God in a way that can only be achieved through a close personal relationship with Him over time. That is a relationship that is not hit or miss but rather one that continues and endures.
God is love! So, it naturally follows that abiding in love can only be achieved by abiding in the One who is love. The converse is also true; if we do not know God, we cannot understand love. For the fifth time in this letter, John describes the place to which God invites us with the words abides in God, and God abides in him.
Ah yes, my friends, remember that John tends to speak in absolutes. We may at times become frustrated as we fail to achieve the superlatives of which John speaks. John told us early on in this epistle the way we deal with falling short of the magnificent holiness and love of God. He did it because he knew we would fail and fall short many times. He has told us the answer. It is to admit that we sin and confess those sins as the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all unrighteousness and we continue to walk in the light. The magnificent love of God allows sinners like us to enter into His Holy presence. It, of course, begins with the death of the Son in our place. For us it begins when we place our faith in Him and receive eternal life but it does not end there. We can have intimate fellowship with Him as we walk in the light of His presence, indeed we may boldly enter that presence.
God has provided the means and invites us into His Holy presence to experience His love and become not just His messengers but indeed, His message of love to the world!!!!!!
By Stan Brown
I John 4:15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.
Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God. This is not merely saying “Hey guys, I think that Jesus is the Son of God”. This is what John the Baptist declared after seeing the Spirit descending out of heaven as a dove and landing and remaining on Jesus. The Apostle John may well have been there when John the Baptist testified “I myself have seen, and have testified that this is the Son of God. (John 1:34)”. This was Mary’s response when Jesus was about to raise Lazarus from the dead, I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world. (John 11:27)”. These are the words of Peter’s great confession. “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. (Matt. 16:16),” to which Jesus responded flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. This a confession that only comes from a relationship that is described by John as God abides in him, and he in God.
Confession means more than to acknowledge as a fact. It is a deeply held agreement with God about truth. John has previously spoken of confessing when he wrote If we confess our sins (1John 1:9). When we confess we agree with God about our sins. He also speaks of an association with confessing the Son and a relationship with the Father, the one who confesses the Son has the Father also (1John 2:23). John has also said every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God. When we confess Jesus, we agree with God about who Jesus is. There is a significant alignment between what we say and how we live. This a confession that only comes from a relationship that is described by John as God abides in him, and he in God. This is a confession by word and by deed that declares who Jesus is.
This is the fourth time John has discussed mutual abiding as he writes God abides in him, and he in God. He will say it one more time in the following verse. In 3:24 he coupled it with the one who keeps His commandments and the indwelling Spirit. In 4:12 it is associated with if we love one another. In 4:13 he once more speaks of the indwelling Holy Spirit. In the current verse he speaks of confessing our Lord in everything we do and say. In the following verse love will once more be emphasized.
It is simple enough. We have placed our faith in Him. We have come to the place where we have partaken of eternal life as we have believed that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. John describes this in his Gospel, that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God (John 21:31). We have eternal life, yet John writes that there is so much more available to us as we walk in the light, keeping His commandments and confessing our sins with the cleansing blood of Christ surrounding us. As we walk where He walks, the indwelling Holy Spirit saturates us with God’s love. We abide in Him and He in us. There is no better place to be.
By Stan Brown
I John 4:14 And we have beheld and bear witness that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world.
What a wonderful, magnificent, climactic verse (This might be a great place for John to end his letter). Everything that God has done for us, indeed for the world is summarized here. It may be described as a more concise statement of John 3:16. Both verses extol the love of God. Both verses are undergirded by the fact of God’s holiness. It is God’s holiness that makes possible an eternal future completely apart from the chaos we face in the world and it is God’s holiness that requires the greatest loving sacrifice ever contemplated. In John 3:16 John speaks of the universal opportunity for eternal life based on God’s great loving act, whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. In this verse, John concisely reminds us of what God has done to provide salvation. He has sent His Son.
John speaks as one who has seen and walked with the Savior and testifies concerning what he has seen. This is not the first time he has said this. In John 3:16 he said, whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. Twice before, in the immediately preceding verses, he has said that God has sent His Son. First, that we might live through Him and second that we might experience His awesome love as he writes in this is love. That love is seen when the Son came to be Savior. Jesus is Savior. Jesus is the only One who is able to offer salvation to a dying world. Jesus is Savior of the world. He makes this offer to everyone without exception or qualification, Rev. 22:17 And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.
God provided for us this fantastic manifestation of eternal life procured through love. This love is a magnificent way of testifying about the Savior of the world. The context would suggest that through love we may also testify to the greatness of this Savior.
One might ask, could not God have done it another way. The way he chose included people who would make decisions and choose to believe in Him and follow Him. The way He chose was to give us opportunity to love Him and fellowship with Him and mutually abide in Him. He created people with an opportunity to make the choice to serve Him. The process would have been simpler if He had merely spoken and had a bunch of folks ready to do what He said. He determined, rather, that He would create people to choose Him. In doing so, He provided all that was needed to make that choice possible and offers that choice to all, whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.
By Stan Brown
I John 4:13 By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit.
This verse is nearly a repetition of the second half of I John 3:24 And the one who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. And we know by this that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us. John is not speaking of an indication that we are saved (although if we are abiding, we are saved but just because we are saved does not mean we are abiding) but rather John speaks of that which is so close to his heart. That is the mutually abiding condition of we in Him and He in us.
In I John 3:24 he writes of one who keeps God’s commandments. The current verse is immediately preceded by a description of those who love. Love and obedience are intertwined perfectly as it is true that the one who loves is also obedient and the one who obeys is also loving. Being obedient to God’s commands displays itself in the fact that we love one another. The loving believer is always obedient to God’ Word.
Previously he has said that the one who abides will walk as Jesus walked. The one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked (I John 2:6). He has said that the one who abides will be living in the light. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you also will abide in the Son and in the Father (I John 2:24). He has said that the one who abides will be taught by the Holy Spirit As for you, the anointing which you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you; but as His anointing teaches you about all things (I John 2:27). It is the one who abides who enters God’s presence with bold confidence both now and at His coming. Now, little children, abide in Him, so that when He appears, we may have confidence and not shrink away from Him in shame at His coming(I John 2:28). The abiding presence of God is where we want to live.
The Greek word translated Spirit here has a couple of meanings in Scripture. It can mean an attitude such as described in 2Tim. 1:7 For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline. It can also refer to the person of the Holy Spirit. It is the indwelling Holy Spirit Who gives to us the spirit of love and obedience to His commandments. So how do we know that we are abiding in Him and He in us? It is because the Spirit who indwells us has given us a spirit of love and living out of God’s commandments, indeed, the Spirit has given to us His own spirit that the world may know who God is.
In effect, we demonstrate the central characteristics of God as we abide in Him and He in us. We demonstrate His holiness as we obey God and His love as we love. Just as these are never separate, but perfectly displayed together in our God, they are intertwined together in us as we abide in Him and He in us. Praise God for this relationship to which He calls us right now.
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.