1 John 4:7-21

Jimmy Jo1 John, SermonsLeave a Comment

Our passage today continues our study of 1 John.  We are reading from 1 John 4:7-21

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. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

13 This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. 16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. 17 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. 18 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.

19 We love because he first loved us. 20 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. 21 And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.

1 John 4:7-21

Now if we’ve been following along in 1 John, we’ve noticed that several main themes are repeated throughout the letter:  Right theology of Jesus (belief in Jesus – that is, the actual Jesus as He has revealed Himself), Holiness (avoiding sin), and Love (for one another).  Our passage today most obviously continues the theme of loving one another.  But what I want to suggest is that what John is talking about goes deeper than merely having good relationships (not to suggest that most of us would be so reductionist).  Rather, John is specifically indicating love for one another as a measure (so to speak) of true relationship with God. 

What we’ve seen in 1 John is that John is dealing with a community that is struggling with division and discord due to a group of opponents – that is, opponents of John and the apostles’ teaching, or those whom we’ve termed “false teachers.”  We’ve talked a little bit about the nature of this false teaching and, without going into it, they seem to have tendencies towards Gnosticism.  But more importantly, this false teaching seems to be suggesting that there is a different path – what they would probably call a “more complete path” to salvation, or to the kingdom of God. 

So John is speaking to this community, which has suffered under the divisive effects of the false teachers, to remind them of the one thing needed – that is, Jesus Christ. 

So the themes that we’ve been seeing repeated throughout 1 John have to do with addressing and refuting the false teaching, and re-affirming the proper ground of the community’s faith. 

Therefore, we see John frequently making reference to the true community of God – those who seek God and know God truly.  We see John using language like “walking in the light” vs. “walking in darkness,” “fellowship with Him [God]” vs. not (implied), “knowing God” vs. not knowing God, living in the truth vs. lies, loving (living in) the world vs. loving (living in) God, etc. 

So John’s themes of right theology, right living, and loving one another are his waypoints for having confidence or assurance that we are in/of God (and not in/of the world).  But we should notice that these are not merely tests to determine placement; they are also prescriptions for how to pursue or live out the life of the kingdom. 

So I hope it’s obvious that I point all of that out because of how it informs the verses that we’re reading today.  Again, these verses seem specifically to deal with the theme of loving one another.  And this has to do specifically with being of God vs. of the World – walking in the Light vs. walking in darkness, and etc.  John says over and over again that those who are in God must love one another.  And he says it again here. 

Now the passage that we’re looking at today engender a fair amount of debate regarding the structure or logical flow – something that we’ve encountered a lot.  But I’m going to suggest that it’s actually not that confusing. 

The passage opens up with the following verses: 

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. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 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 4:7-12

Now what I’m going to suggest is that this paragraph introduces the following three.  Or, to put it another way, the following three paragraphs expand on what John says in this paragraph.  Now I’m not married to this analysis, but it seems to make sense to me.  More importantly, it helps me to understand what’s going on.  So to expand on this, I want to break down what I think is going on. 

Now I hope you’ll forgive me for going through this so quickly, but I want to make sure that we cover the passage.  So, verses 7-8 read: 

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.

1 John 4:7-8

So again, John lays out his dualism very clearly.  Those who love one another are born of God, are in God.  Those who don’t love one another do not know God. 

And what I’m suggesting is that, when we read vv. 13-16, we can understand that John is building on or expanding on this theme of knowing God or not knowing God, walking in the light or walking in the darkness.  More specifically, John is speaking into the question of how we locate ourselves in terms of this dualism (which should recall our conversation about confidence previously). 

13 This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. 16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.

1 John 4:13-16

Now I’m not going to examine this passage in particular detail – especially the structure and syntax.  But what I do want to do is compare these verses with what John says in 1 John 2:20-23;

2:20 But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth. 21 I do not write to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it and because no lie comes from the truth. 22 Who is the liar? It is whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a person is the antichrist—denying the Father and the Son. 23 No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also.

1 John 2:20-23

In this passage, John is connecting truth with “an anointing from the Holy One,” which I believe is a reference to the anointing of the Holy Spirit.  (cf. the gospel of John 16:” 13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.”) 

Again, I’m abbreviating here, but what John seems to be saying is that the Holy Spirit speaks or reveals truth to His people, and that truth in the Epistle has particularly to do with Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God, saviour of the World.  If one acknowledges this truth, they are “in God.” And being in God, “we know and rely on the love God has for us.” 

The next verses I want to look at are vv. 9-10.  And this flows directly out of what we just read in v. 8:

…God is love.  9 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. 10 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 4:9-10

And the next paragraph (with which I’m pairing the previous verses) in our passage reads: 

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. 17 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. 18 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

Again, this passage (16-18) deserves more attention than we can give it here.  So I want to focus on verse 17 which says, “17 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.”  Now what exactly does that mean, “in this world we are like Jesus?”  In short, I think this is related to what we read in vv. 9-10.  And those verses talk about the love that God shows the world, shows His creation; a love that is so great that He gave his only Son to die on a cross so that we might be restored to life.  And God determined to save us, to redeem us from sin, not because of anything we had done, not because of any merit we demonstrated or earned, but purely because of His love for us. 

And I think John’s statement, “in this world we are like Jesus,” is essentially saying that in this world, to this world, we are an analogy of God’s love for us.  We are to love (and in particular, love one another) not because it has been earned or deserved.  We are to love because we are a reflection or an expression of God’s love for us. 

And to understand what this means – to really get at what John is trying to say, we have to understand the phrase, “10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us…”  Now there’s more to be said here – that the essential nature of God is love; that love has its very source, it’s very substance in God.  But for our purposes here, what’s important is the idea that God loves us because of Himself, not because of us.  That is, God loves us not because we are worthy of love but because God’s own nature is love.

And this is entirely contrary to the notion of love that is from the world.  The world tells us that we should love that which is worthy of our love.  The world tells us to love that which has value, that which has utility, that which has beauty.  And more problematic, the world tells us to love that which has value, utility, and beauty to us.  All of worldly love is contingent.  But God’s love is unconditional.  God’s love doesn’t depend on what good we are to Him.  God’s love depends only on His own essential nature.  God loves us because God is love. 

Therefore, because we are loved by God, and because God loves us because His very nature is love, there is no fear in love.  We cannot become unloved.  We cannot become unworthy of love.  If we are afraid (of being unloved) it is because we do not know God – we have not been made perfect in Jesus Christ. 

Now the final verses (or pair of verses) we are looking at read: 

11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 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

And the corresponding verses (as I’m arguing) are: 

19 We love because he first loved us. 20 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. 21 And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.

1 John 4:19-21

Now I’m hoping that, at this point, the significance of what John is saying is pretty clear.  The love that is demonstrated in the church (again, especially of one another) is important, is crucial, because it is reflective of the very God that we claim to serve.  We love because God loves us.  Not because we are trying to accomplish something, not because we are trying to get something.  We love one another not because the other is deserving, not because the other is useful, not because the other makes us feel a certain way.  Rather, we love because that is the kind of people we are created to be.  We are called to love because love is the very nature of God, and therefore should be the very nature of the community of the Kingdom of God. 

Now at this point, I want to acknowledge that John, in this letter, is very concerned with right theology (and he is particularly concerned about the theology or knowledge of Jesus); and we also have to acknowledge that John is very concerned about holiness.  However, the command to love shouldn’t be seen as contingent upon these things.  What I mean to say is that loving one another shouldn’t be restricted to those who agree with us on every single thing; nor should it be limited to those who live up to our standards.  What if God loved us in the same way?  No – God loves us, not because we are worthy, but because God is love.  And though no one has ever seen God, if we love one another with a Christ-like love, we can point people to the God who first loves us – we make the love of God manifest in the world.

So, to review and sum up, John once again calls this community (and all Christian communities) to love one another, because love is an essential characteristic of God.  And we, as the people of God, are called to demonstrate that same love with which God loves us with one another.  Because that should be our essential characteristic as well. 

Unfortunately, this has not always been the case in Christian history.  One might even argue that this has not often been the case in Christian history – that we are known for our love.  What John was dealing with – a divided people – is not at all foreign to us. 

And the reality is that all human beings are sinful.  All human beings suffer from myopia, ego-centrism, pride, and woundedness.  The question is not (or at least shouldn’t be) whether or not we disagree – but rather, how will we respond to one another when we do disagree.  How will we love each other. 

And I should include a proviso here – what John’s community was dealing with was a fundamental division in the nature and person of Jesus.  So I’m not advocating an acceptance of any and all points of view.  I do believe that there is a truth of the matter.  It’s important that we pursue and cling to the truth.  But I suppose what I’m saying is how we live out that truth matters.  How we proclaim truth matters. 

And what John is saying, I believe, is that the truth that we share is (among other things) the unconditional, unwarranted, unwavering love of God.

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