1 John 4 Commentary

vv.1-2 “Do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits” means that we shouldn’t believe everything we hear just because someone says it is a message inspired by God.  There are many ways to test teachers to see if their message is truly from the Lord.  One is to check to see if their words match what God says in the Bible.  Other tests include their commitment to the body of believers (2:19), their life-style (3:23, 24), and the fruit of their ministry (4:6).  But the most important test of all, says John, is what they believe about Christ.  Do they teach that Jesus is fully God and fully man?[1]

v.3 Here a negative confession gives the counterpart of that in v.2, and the source of this denial is seen as “the spirit of the antichrist.” John reminds his followers that Jesus had warned that the Antichrist would come. It is now John’s painful duty to announce that in the false teachers (cf. 2:18ff.) the spirit of antichrist is already present. By this the community was warned that the conflict between the false teachers and John was not a “leadership” or “personality” one. The Gospel itself was at stake. The struggle they were facing was not against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers (Eph 6:12). Hence, whatever success the opponents had had within the community resulted from satanic inspiration.[2]

 

v.7 Everyone believes that love is important, but love is usually thought of as a feeling.  In reality, love is a choice and an action, as 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 shows.  God is the source of our love: he loved us enough to sacrifice his Son for us.  Jesus is our example of what it means to love; everything he did in life and death was supremely loving.  The Holy Spirit gives us the power to love; he lives in our hearts and makes us more and more like Christ.  God’s love always involves a choice and an action, and our love should be like his.[3]

vv.7-8 Love has a double relationship to God. It is only by knowing God that we learn to love and it is only by loving that we learn to know God (verses ?7? and ?8?). Love comes from God, and love leads to God.[4]

v.9 If there was to be reconciliation between God and man, man ought to have sent to God; the offender ought to be the first to apply for forgiveness; the weaker should apply to the greater for help; the poor man should ask of him who distributes alms; but “Herein is love” that God “sent.” He was first to send an embassy of peace. (Spurgeon)[5]

v.12 It is by love that God is known (verse ?12?). We cannot see God, because he is spirit; what we can see is his effect. We cannot see the wind, but we can see what it can do. We cannot see electricity, but we can see the effect it produces. The effect of God is love. It is when God comes into a man that he is clothed with the love of God and the love of men. God is known by his effect on that man. It has been said, “A saint is a man in whom Christ lives again” and the best demonstration of God comes not from argument but from a life of love.[6]

v.14 It would be quite inadequate to think of salvation as mere deliverance from the punishment of hell. Men need to be saved from themselves; they need to be saved from the habits which have become their fetters; they need to be saved from their temptations; they need to be saved from their fears and their anxieties; they need to be saved from their follies and mistakes. In every case Jesus offers men salvation; he brings that which enables them to face time and to meet eternity.[7]

v.18 There is no fear in love: The completeness of love means we do not cower in fear before God, dreading His judgment, either now or in the day of judgment. We know all the judgment we ever deserved – past, present, and future – was poured out on Jesus Christ on the cross.[8]

If we truly abide in the Father’s love, we will be without fear. That “perfect love drives out fear” should be taken as a Christian truism as well as an allusion to the fear of God in judgment. Love and fear are incompatible. They cannot coexist. For the Christian love is first an experience of the Father’s love for us. That “love” is so powerful and life changing that when we know it, we are forever removed from the “fear” of God.

The fear spoken of here is not to be confused with reverence for God. Reverence will only deepen through the experience of God’s love. The experience of the holiness of God’s love makes us desire to be even more obedient to his commands. But it also removes us from the power of fear. Whatever may take place in this world cannot nullify the power of his love or separate us from it. Similarly, if we experience fear in any portion of our lives, to that extent we deny God’s love and fail to trust him.[9]


[1]Life Application Study Bible, study notes (co-published by Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan; Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1991) 2281.

[2] Kenneth L. Barker and John R. Kohlenberger III Gen Ed.Zondervan NIV Bible Commentary (2 Volumes) CD (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994).

[3] Life Application Study Bible, study notes (co-published by Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan; Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1991) 2281.

[4] William Barclay, The Letters of John and Jude, Daily Study Bible Series CD (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 2000).

[5] David Guzik, http://www.enduringword.com/commentaries/6204.htm

[6] William Barclay, The Letters of John and Jude, Daily Study Bible Series CD (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 2000).

[7] William Barclay, The Letters of John and Jude, Daily Study Bible Series CD (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 2000).

[8] David Guzik, http://www.enduringword.com/commentaries/6204.htm

[9] Kenneth L. Barker and John R. Kohlenberger III Gen Ed.Zondervan NIV Bible Commentary (2 Volumes) CD (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994).

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