1 John 4:7–21: Love
So far in 1 John, the apostle has spoken at length on four main subjects:
- The perfect righteousness of the God-who-is-light, in whom there is no darkness whatsoever (1 John 1:5). This righteousness is characterized by love (1 John 3:10).
- Our sin (1 John 1:6, 8, 10), which has infinitely alienated us from the God-who-is-light. Additionally, John warns us not to fall back into sin (1 John 3:4–10), whether through the temptation of the world (1 John 2:15–17) or the lies of antichrists (1 John 2:18–27, 4:1–6).
- Our salvation, which was purchased by the blood of Jesus Christ (1 John 1:7), who is the eternal Son of God (1 John 2:22–23), yet who became human (1 John 4:2–3) and submitted to death to propitiate (i.e., to appease) the Father’s wrath against our sinfulness (1 John 2:2). Through Christ, we have already become God’s children, even though the fullness of our glory has not yet appeared (1 John 2:28–3:3).
- Our love for one another (the brothers), which is the litmus test for the genuineness of our faith and our salvation (1 John 2:9–11, 3:11–24).
Many commentators describe John’s writing in this letter as a spiral, in contrast to the straight line of logic the Apostle Paul typically uses in his writing. Paul writes by developing an argument verse by verse, chapter by chapter, always building on what he has already written and rarely going back to pick up topics again that he has already covered in a particular letter. John, on the other hand, circles back again and again to these four major emphases. John never repeats what he has already said, but he is always spiraling in from one theme to another, then to another, then the next, and then back again to the first. Bit by bit, he gets closer and closer to the core of his message, until he arrives at the center of his message at the very end of this letter. Not a word is wasted, but John never gives his exhaustive message on any subject in a single shot.
In 1 John 4:7–21, John ties all of these themes together explicitly for the first time. He explains the link between the four themes in this way: since (1) God is love, and since (2) we are sinners who have been (3) saved by God’s gracious love, (4) we ought to love one another in the same way God has loved us. John writes:
7 Beloved, let us love one another, for the love is from God, and everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9 In this the love of God is manifested among us, for God has sent his only begotten Son into the world in order that we might live through him. 10 In this is the love, not that we have loved God, but that he has loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation concerning our sins. 11 Beloved, if in this way God loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12No one at any time has beheld God. If we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. (1 John 4:7–12)
Here, John gets to the core of his message about Christian love. As we looked at in our study of 1 John 3:11–24 in chapter 6, John grounds God’s commandment to love one another in the character of God, “for God is love.” In this passage, John calls our attention to three characteristics of God’s love that prove how necessary it is that we should love one another, just as God has loved us.
1. If you were going to describe God’s love to someone else, what would you say? How would your description align with what John describes in this passage? How would your description align with the example of Jesus dying on the cross?
2. How does a full understanding of the nature of sin change the way we view God’s love in comparison to our own love?
3. What role does the Holy Spirit play in your salvation? How aware are you of his presence?