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Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament

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1 John 4


 
Verse 1
Beloved, believe not every spirit, but prove the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets are gone out into the world.

Believe not every spirit ...
"The literal meaning of this is stop believing; evidently some of John's readers were being carried away by Gnostic teaching." F2

Every spirit ...
means every false prophet, or every false teacher pretending, or seeming, to be inspired. It is a gross misinterpretation of this passage to understand John here as "speaking not of men, but of spirits." F3 The final clause of the verse states flatly that the "false prophets" were in view. Such men pretended to be prophets of God speaking by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit; and the concurrent existence in the church of that period of true prophets (such as Agabus) tended at times to encourage Christians to listen to anyone claiming inspiration. Blaney was correct in identifying the false prophets of this verse with the antichrists of 1 John 2:18. F4 The problem of such men among God's people was nothing new; false prophets had often troubled the Israel of the Old Testament, and Christ himself warned of the "false prophets ... in sheep's clothing ... but who are ravening wolves, etc." (Matthew 7:15f). Likewise, Paul had to contend with the same thing at Corinth (1 Corinthians 12:3). The test which Christ gave for recognizing such false teachers was, "by their fruits ye shall know them." That test should be added to the ones John was about to cite here.

Whether they are of God ...
The expression "of God" is used seven times in these first seven verses; and, "It is of the first importance to attach a precise meaning to this phrase ... it means has its origin in God. F5

Prove the spirits ...
This admonition to establish the validity of the claims of any teacher claiming God as the origin of his message, was directed to the whole church. Every Christian is responsible for checking out the claims of allegedly inspired teachers, as noted by Sinclair: "This examination of truth and error is inculcated on all alike, not merely on an ordained or materially separate class." F6

The nature of the doctrine taught by the evil teachers is easy to read in the apostle's refutation of it in the following verses. Smith summed it up thus:

The Cerenthian heresy had much to say about the "spirit," boasting a larger spirituality. Starting with the theological postulate of an irreconcilable antagonism between matter and spirit, it denied the possibility of the Incarnation, and drew a distinction between Jesus and Christ. Its spirit was not the Spirit of truth, but the spirit of error. F7


 
Verse 2
Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God:

"The confession here is a Christian creed in brief compass." F8 Orr affirmed that a "better translation" of this verse is: "Every spirit which confesses Jesus as Christ come in the flesh is of God." F9 Whether or not that is the correct translation, it is, in any case, a proper understanding of what the passage means. This is evident, as Morris noted; since, "The reference to flesh puts emphasis on the Incarnation." F10 Smith also preferred the translation advocated by Orr, adding that, "It is an accurate definition of the doctrine denied by the Cerenthians," F11 and thus a perfect refutation of it.

This verse is actually a thumbnail summary of Christian doctrine, a synecdoche standing for all of it, as was pointed out by Ryrie, "From this verse, we are not to suppose that this was the only test of orthodoxy; but it is a major one, and it was the most necessary one for the errors of John's day." F12

The true teaching of this verse was paraphrased by Stott: "Far from coming upon Jesus at the baptism and leaving him before the cross, the Christ actually came in the flesh and never laid it aside." F13 This echoes the great confession by Peter in Matt. 16:13ff; and, properly understood, the great confession of the true identity of Jesus of Nazareth the Christ the Son of God includes the whole of Christianity. In this great fact, the entire Christian religion is unified and bound together. This is why the Lord Jesus Christ made this the dogmatic foundation of the church.


 
Verse 3
and every spirit that confesseth not Jesus is not of God: and this is the spirit of the antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it cometh; and it is in the world already.

That confesseth not Jesus ...
The person of the Son of God is the center of all true religion. No matter how attractive a system may be, no matter how skillfully it may be advocated by personable and attractive personnel, no matter how imposing are the names of "authorities" associated with it, no matter how popular it may become - any and every religion or philosophy that is not anchored in both the eternal deity of Jesus Christ and in his historical humanity is false, having its origin in Satan, not in God.

The New Catholic Bible translated this verse: "Every spirit that severs Jesus is not of God, but of Antichrist," admitting in the footnote, however, that this is not the best rendition of the Greek. F14 It is included here, however, as valid comment on the implications of the passage. The heresy of the age was that of making a "severance" between Jesus as a man, and the Christ. The church historian Socrates affirmed that this was the original reading of the letter, F15 but this is rejected by current scholarship.

The spirit of the antichrist ...
There is no need whatever to capitalize Antichrist. As Macknight said, "From this, as well as from 1 John 2:18, it appears that Antichrist is not any particular person, nor any particular succession of persons in the church." F16 It is thus clearly a mistake to identify this with Paul's "man of sin" in 2 Thess. 2, as so many have done. Both, however, share in the fact of originating in the devil, not in Christ, and also in this, that the spirit of both was already working in the world at the time the apostles wrote.


 
Verse 4
Ye are of God, my little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world.

Ye ...
Stott pointed out that 1 John 4:4; 1 John 4:5; and 1 John 4:6 all begin with an emphatic personal pronoun: "(1 John 4:4) ye ([Greek: humeis]), (1 John 4:5) they ([Greek: autoi]), and (1 John 4:6) we ([Greek: hemeis])." F17 These refer respectively to (1 John 4:4) John's readers in general, (1 John 4:5) to the false teachers, and (1 John 4:6) to John the apostle and other apostolic witnesses of Christ and the revelation of his doctrine to mankind. This distinction is important.

Ye have overcome ...
This ought to be understood as a statement of fact. "By refusing to listen to the false teachers, the sheep have overcome them, conquered them; the seducers have gone out, unable to hold their own within the fold." F18

He that is in the world ...
is a reference to the devil, "the prince of this world." F19 It also includes the meaning that the indwelling God in Christian hearts is greater than any particular advocate of Satan's teaching.

Morris was impressed that, "Apart from Revelation, where it is used 17 times, 1 John uses the verb to overcome more often than any other book (6 times)." F20

He that is in you ...
This is a clear reference to the fact of God indwelling, or being "in" Christians, a truth which is no different in any manner from Christ or the Holy Spirit dwelling in them. See more on this in my Commentary on Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians, pp. 97-99.


 
Verse 5
They are of the world: therefore speak they as of the world, and the world heareth them.

They are of the world ...
This is another in a series of tests by which evil teachers could be recognized and refused. Significantly, in the early church, there were persons supernaturally endowed with the ability to "discern spirits," that is, the ability to know which were of God and which were not (1 Corinthians 12:10); but it appears that John had the succeeding ages in mind here, a period when all who might have had that apostolic gift no longer lived. Other tests already stressed in this first paragraph of the chapter were: (1) the test of confessing that Jesus was the Christ who came in the flesh; (2) the test of whether or not they were indwelt by the Father (1 John 4:4); and (3) the test of their life-style. The false teachers were worldly, concerned chiefly with material and temporal things, living in pride and ostentation, being "of the world." These tests are still valid.

And the world heareth them ...
This is not surprising. "These false teachers speak from the same principle, wisdom, and spirit of the world; and, of consequence, the world approvingly hears them." F21 In our own times, the false teacher speaks the wisdom of the world, reasons from the worldly frame of reference, quotes its philosophers, heeds its authorities, accommodates to its theology, all the while neglecting to declare emphatically the precious teachings of the apostles of Christ as revealed in the New Testament.


 
Verse 6
We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth us not. By this we know the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error.

We are of God ... us ...
The apostle's high claim in this is that of "speaking for God in Christ," as one of the plenary representatives of the Son of God on earth and as one of the eyewitnesses of that full gospel which he declared, including his personal and first hand knowledge of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The blunt point of this verse is: that if the false teachers do not agree with the apostles of Christ, they are liars. Everything that was ever advocated in the name of Christianity must pass this test. As Roberts expressed it:

Notice that John sharpens the antithesis, the "us" (the apostolic teachers) and the "them," (the circle of the false teachers). They are two mutually exclusive groups with no neutral ground. F22

No private teacher could afford to say, as John said here that, "Whoever knows God agrees with me; and only those who are not of God disagree with me." F23 But as regards the holy apostles of Jesus Christ, this is the simple truth. In today's circumstances, this means that those who are of God and those who are not of God are revealed, absolutely, by whether or not their teaching agrees with the New Testament.

By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error ...
This is a fourth test of the false teachers, to be considered along with the three tests mentioned in the preceding verse. There is nothing exhaustive about this list of tests; John's extensive teaching on the tests of determining genuine Christianity reveal others.


 
Verse 7
Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is begotten of God, and knoweth God.

Here, of course, is another test, i.e., the love of "one another," such love being of God himself. One stands in amazement at a comment on this like the following:

"Every one" here includes all the human beings in whose nature love is or ever has been, whether they ever heard of God or Christ or not. F24

Such a comment is typical of much of the nonsense that has been written on this section of John's letter. "Love one another" is neither sexual love ([Greek: eros]) nor animal affection ([Greek: philo]), but Christian love ([Greek: agape]). This is a love known only "in Christ," being the gift of God himself, having no connection whatever with mere humanism. John's repeated stress of such Christian love in this epistle might have been due to the fact, as supposed by Macknight, that "some of the Jewish converts, retaining their ancient prejudices, still considered it their duty to hate the heathen," F25 even those who had accepted Christianity.


 
Verse 8
He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.

God is love ...
This profoundly beautiful and encouraging statement about the Father must rank, along with others, as one of the grandest in all Scripture. Wesley said, "Love is God's reigning attribute that sheds an amiable glory upon all of his other perfections." F26 Barclay called this, "probably the single greatest statement about God in the whole Bible ... It is amazing how many doors that single statement unlocks and how many questions it answers." F27

However, Wilder cautioned that, "God's nature is not exhausted by the quality of love." F28 God is light (1 John 1:5), and spirit (John 4:24), and (considering the oneness of the Father with the Son) he is life, and truth (John 14:6). Moreover, "Our God is a consuming fire" (Hebrews 12:29).

It is a failure to recognize that no single word is capable of describing the ineffable God which leads to a gross perversion of this marvelous text in the popular mind. Some hail this verse, as if it said, "Love is God; and here is a God we can all handle; bring on the love!" Many who read these precious words of John do not seem to be aware of the holy and self-sacrificing love about which John wrote. God's love for mankind and his glorious attribute of love do not in any manner alter or negate the revelation that "the wrath of God is revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men" (Romans 1:18), nor the revelation concerning God that he "will judge the world in righteousness" (Acts 17:31). Furthermore, there is no conflict between John and Paul on this point. John's description of the final judgment in Rev. 6:15-17 is as soul-shaking a view of the wrath of God in judgment as any in the whole Bible. The proper view of God's love must be big enough to understand that his final judgment and overthrow of wickedness will be, in itself, a mark of eternal love.

And yet such thoughts should not detract from the unique glory of this text. No one in the whole world ever knew that God is love until it was revealed from heaven and written in the New Testament. "It is here, and nowhere else; it is not found in all the literature of mankind." F29


 
Verse 9
Herein was the love of God manifested in us, that God hath sent his only begotten Son into the world that we might live through him.

The marginal reading "in our case" instead of "in us" appears as the true meaning, since it is God's sending his Son to die for the sins of the whole world, which is the manifestation spoken of, that not being something "in us" but "in our case," or on our behalf.

His only begotten Son ...
This is a better rendition than that of making it read merely "only Son," because it is admitted by all scholars that "uniqueness" is an essential quality of meaning in this word. F30 "Only Son" would therefore mean that God has no other sons; yet all Christians are "sons of God." "Only begotten" conveys that essential meaning of "uniqueness," exactly in the sense of the word ([Greek: monogenes]) as translated in Heb. 11:17 where Isaac is called Abraham's "only begotten son," there being a uniqueness in Isaac's sonship not found in Abraham's many other sons. It is therefore a most happy and appropriate translation which reads "only begotten Son."

While mentioning Buechsel in Kittel's Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, who defended this translation (only begotten), as "practically the only modern scholar" to do so, F31 Roberts went on to reject it. But the old rendition may not be disposed of so easily.

W. E. Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, Marshall's rendition of the Nestle Greek Text, the translation in the Emphatic Diaglott, Frances E. Siewert in The Amplified New Testament, the New Catholic Bible, to say nothing of that great galaxy of New Testament scholars who produced the American Standard Version (still referred to by F. F. Bruce as the most accurate of modern versions), and also Kenneth S. Wuest - all translate the word as meaning "only begotten." The present day meaning of "only begotten" exactly fits the legitimate meaning. "Only begotten" carries the meaning of "uniqueness" without denying the sonship of Christians, making it superior to the RSV, etc.

The same word ([Greek: monogenes]) was used of a man's son (Luke 9:38), of Jairus' daughter (Luke 8:42), and of the son of the widow of Nain (Luke 7:12). Roberts said, "It could hardly mean only begotten in that case (Luke 7:12), since begetting is a function of the male rather khan the female," F32 apparently overlooking the fact that nothing is said about the widow's having done the begetting! Her son was the "only begotten" of whoever begot him, just as Jesus was Mary's son, despite his having been the "only begotten of the Father."

Admittedly, this is a disputed translation; and the purpose here is to affirm appreciation and preference for the one that has come down through the ages. We simply do not believe that the modern scholars have any more information regarding this than did the translators of KJV and ASV, nor that the recent ones are any more competent.

That we might live through him ...
The great purpose of that visitation from the Dayspring from on High was that, through obedience to the Son of God, people might have the blessing of eternal life.


 
Verse 10
Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation, for our sins.

Herein is love ...
This carries the thought, "notice just what love actually is." John defined it, even in God's love, as being not merely a sentimental fondness for the human race, but a gracious, unselfish and unmerited act of divine giving of his "only begotten Son" to save people from eternal death. As Smith said:

The love which proves us children of God is not native to our hearts. It is inspired by the amazing love of God manifested in the Incarnation, the infinite Sacrifice of His Son's life and death. F33

To be the propitiation ...
For a discussion of this phrase, see under 1 John 2:2. The objection that "propitiation" leaves out of view the love of God is not well taken. As Denney observed:

So far from finding any kind of contrast between love and propitiation, the apostle can convey no idea of love to anyone, except by pointing to the propitiation. F34


 
Verse 11
Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

In this chapter, John repeated over and over again many of the closely related topics he had already mentioned, each time going a little further, giving a slightly different antithesis, stressing a little different aspect, or urging a closer attention, - all in such a marvelous way that, at last, his meaning becomes incontrovertible. In this verse, Christians' loving each other is motivated by the overwhelming majesty of the love of God himself.

One another ...
is incapable of meaning "everybody on earth," although of course, the love of every Christian reaches out to the ends of the world, but not in the intensity commanded here.


 
Verse 12
No man hath beheld God at any time: if we love one another, God abideth in us, and his love is perfected in us:

No man hath seen God at any time ...
Blaney was probably correct in seeing this as a warning to Christians against "trying to know God in any other way than the one he is describing." F35 Some have sought, outside of Christianity, to know more about God, hoping for a clearer perception; but this apostolic warning declares all such attempts to be futile. However, "John is not here discounting the visions of God reported in the Old Testament, but meaning that those visions were partial and incomplete. It is in Christ that we see God (John 14:9)." F36

If we love one another ...
Love of the brethren is the primary meaning of this. The humanistic philosophy that reads this "love of all mankind" is an inadequate conception. "Our love toward God is perfected and brought to maturity by the exercise of love towards our brethren in him (Christ)." F37

The warning in this verse to the effect that the revelation of God is available to people only in Christ is widely needed. All such things as astrology, spiritism, witchcraft and Satanism are basically ways of finding a so-called "reality" apart from Biblical revelation. This apostolic injunction states unequivocally that there is nothing out there which might enlighten or bless people. The true revelation has already been given through people who is "the way, the truth, and the life." Despite this basic truth, the spectacle of a high ranking ecclesiastic losing his life in a desert while trying to communicate with spirits, only recently, was spread on the pages of the newspapers.

God abideth in us ...
Why make excursions into deserts or dark rooms, or explore the mysteries of esoteric cults, or plunge into the abyss through drugs or alcohol? when all the while God himself will take up residence in the very soul of one who will through loving open up room for Him who is love.


 
Verse 13
hereby we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit.

In this paragraph (1 John 4:12-16), the indwelling God is mentioned three times, and the reciprocal nature of it (he in us, we in him) is stressed twice. The evidence of God's indwelling is differently stated as follows:

1 John 4:13, He hath given us his Spirit.
1 John 4:15, Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God.
1 John 4:16, He that dwelleth in love.

Because he hath given us of his Spirit ...
It should be carefully noted that the Christian's possession of the Spirit of God is an "evidence of," not an "antecedent cause" of God's indwelling our hearts. Furthermore, it is a mistake to suppose that there is even any microscopic difference between God's indwelling and the Spirit's indwelling. There are no less than eight different New Testament designations of that inner presence which differentiates Christians from the world (See my Commentary on Galatians, pp. 97-99), as set forth in Paul's writings; and John in this letter added to that list the fact that God's love abides in Christians, and Christians abide in God's love. This verse (1 John 4:13) is virtually a repetition of 1 John 3:24.

With regard to the question of prior conditions to be fulfilled by the believer before the indwelling of God, the reception of the Spirit, the indwelling Christ, etc., Peter's summary of this on the Day of Pentecost stands as the eternal answer, binding both on earth and in heaven. To believers who desire the forgiveness of their sins and the indwelling Spirit, the commandment of God is: "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of your sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38f).

In the introduction to this letter, it was pointed out that John follows no classical outline. Roberts has another beautiful word regarding 1 John, which, in a little wider sense, is applicable to all the New Testament books. He wrote:

John's thought pattern continues to retrace ideas and to pick them up like an orchestra does the strains of a melody in order to develop them more fully. F38


 
Verse 14
And we have beheld and bear witness that the Father hath sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world.

And we ...
This might be an epistolary, or editorial "we," for the apostle John, or, as Smith thought, "a reference to John and the rest of the apostles who were eyewitnesses." F39 The words "bear witness" indicate that the latter meaning is the true one. As Plummer said, "The language of this verse would be strained and unreal in one who had not seen Christ in the flesh." F40

A tremendous weight of Christian truth is concentrated in this verse.

The Father sent the Son ...
The entire story of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation is here reduced to one line.

To be the Saviour of the world ...
The world's being lost in sin is implied; otherwise no Saviour would have been required. Many do not seem to realize that they are lost without Christ. It is wrong to think of being saved, as if it meant, merely, to go to heaven when one dies. People are lost now; they need redemption now; We (all people) need salvation from ourselves, from our habits, our temptations, anxieties, fears, frustrations and uncertainties. One does not have to wait until he dies to be lost; every man without Christ is already lost. Only in the world's Saviour can human life be endowed with that purpose, significance and vitality, without which, human life tends to wretchedness and misery. In Christ all is changed. Life in him is so exceedingly rich that John called it "eternal life," thus naming it after the ultimate reward which is the central hope of that life, and the great motivator of it here and now.


 
Verse 15
Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God abideth in him, and he in God.

Confess that Jesus is the Son of God ...
There is a form of metonymy (synecdoche) in a statement of this kind. The primary pre-requirements of salvation, i.e., the so-called "plan of salvation" is meant by this. The New Testament reveals that "obeying the gospel" as the New Testament writers called it, meant believing in Christ, repenting of one's sins, confessing the Son of God, and being baptized "into Christ." As a consequence of such primary obedience, and subsequently to it, the Holy Spirit was given, not to make men sons of God, but because upon such initial faith and obedience they became sons of God (Galatians 4:6). There are two possible meanings of John's words here, and both of them may be correct.

  1. He refers to the Christian's obedience of the gospel at the time he became a Christian, the confession of faith in Christ, of course, being a prominent part of conversion. If this is what was in the apostle's mind, the meaning of it is almost identical with Peter's words on Pentecost (Acts 2:38f), Peter's "gift of the Holy Spirit" meaning exactly the same thing in that passage that John meant by "God abideth in him" here. There can be no difference in these.

  2. If, as Roberts thought, John was speaking of a time in the lives of Christians long after their conversion, then he may be "saying that if this confession can be sincerely repeated by the believer, that God abides in him, and he in God." F41

In either view, it is conversion itself, and primary obedience of the gospel to which this verse undoubtedly refers. This somewhat sudden mention of initial Christian obedience, after all John had been saying, and continued to say about "love," reminds us that:

With John, love always includes obedience to all God's commandments; and where obedience is not manifested, love is not. Even with God, love was not mere sympathy, but sending his Son to be the propitiation. F42


 
Verse 16
And we know and have believed the love which God hath in us. God is love; and he that abideth in love abideth in God, and God abideth in him.

Know and have believed the love which God hath in us ...
As Morris declared, "Believing and knowing the love is certainly a very unusual expression." F43 It is perhaps John's way of referring to one's knowing and believing the whole thesis and system of Christianity, which might be summed up, really, as "knowing and believing the love of God." What a beautiful way to express it!

Abideth in love ...
is in this verse equated to "abideth in God," making the expressions synonymous. It is an exercise in futility to attempt to make some kind of distinction between those and a dozen other similar expressions in the word of God. Note: It is undeniable that the New Testament teaches that Christians are in God, in Christ, in the Holy Spirit, and in love (in the sense of abiding in love); and at the same time the New Testament reveals that each of these: God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, and love all abide, indwell, or reside in Christians. There are other significant additions to this list, such as "the mind of Christ" (Philippians 2:5), and "the word of Christ" (Colossians 3:16), both of which are flatly represented as dwelling "in Christians." It is the conviction repeated several times in this series of commentaries, that it is absolutely impossible to distinguish such expressions as indicating different states or conditions of the soul; on the other hand, they are clearly multiple designations of a single condition, that is, the saved condition, that which belongs to every Christian.


 
Verse 17
Herein is love made perfect with us, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as he is, even so are we in this world.

Have boldness ...
One grand dividend received from a love-oriented and love-motivated life is a dramatic diminution of fear, both with reference to earthly fears and those regarding the ultimate summons of all people to the judgment of God.

In the day of judgment ...
John, like the Lord Jesus, did not speak of many judgments, but only one. There are literally dozens of places in which the New Testament makes reference to the event of final judgment; and in all of them, the reference is invariably in the singular: the day ... the day .... etc.

Even as he is ... so are we ...
It is Christ whom the Christians resemble, and therefore he is the one referred to here. Since all Christians are in the business of being like Christ, to the extent of denying themselves and seeking total identity with him "in Christ" and "as Christ," to the extent that this is achieved, through having love like him, it becomes also a pledge of our likeness to him in glory, the same being the firm ground of overcoming fear.


 
Verse 18
There is no fear in love: but perfect love casteth out fear, because fear hath punishment; and he that feareth is not made perfect in love.

The apostle John here presents one after another "all but impossible levels of Christian attainment"; F44 (1) the love of all people with a self-sacrificing love like that of Christ; (2) the living of a life free from every sin; (3) confidence in the hour of the final judgment when people are pleading for the rocks and the mountains to fall upon them; and (4) the banishment of all fear; and notice that last phrase made perfect in love. Is this anything less than the total God-like perfection enjoined by Jesus Christ in Matt. 5:48? Indeed, it is the same thing, exhibited, even as it was by the author of James, as God's basic requirement of all who would be saved! Impossible for people? Certainly, except in the manner revealed in Christ. To those who are "in Christ" and who abide in him, loving him, following him, obeying him to the fullest extent of human ability - to all such persons shall be given and certified the very blessings in view here; and thus "in Christ" they may attain the unattainable!


 
Verse 19
We love, because he first loved us.

Inherent in this epic declaration is the fact that Christ was not crucified in order to persuade God to love people, but because God already loved mankind, the divine love preceding the entire program of redemption, and even more, existing in the heart of God even before the world was. One great purpose of the cross was that of persuading people to receive the salvation God was so willing to give. Another truth evident in this is that, "Our love (whether of God or man) is a plain duty to us, since God first loved us." F45 It should be considered by all that the very fact of God's loving sinful and fallen humanity provides a powerful incentive for all perceptive souls to do likewise. Why did God love fallen and sinful men? Even their being sinful did not change the fact that they had been designed and created in the image of the Father; and through God's provident mercy, all of the moral and eternal consequences of their sins were potentially removable, through the means God revealed. Moreover, the disaster which had fallen upon humanity in the events of the Fall, had actually been brought upon them by the seduction and skillful cunning of their inveterate enemy, Satan. God pitied those human creatures who were so heartlessly betrayed and ruined by the sadistic moral rape of their innocence in Eden; and pity is never very far from love. And should not similar considerations today lead every Christian in the direction of loving all people, every man, who like himself is a victim of sin, and yet is potentially an heir of eternal glory as a beneficiary of the blood of Christ? "Such love flows from the nature of the lover, and not from the worthiness of the one loved." F46 The great redemptive purpose of God in Christ is that of making his children like himself, and, therefore, not to love is to negate our own redemption. "After God's love in giving his Son for us, it would be monstrous not to love ." F47


 
Verse 20
If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, cannot love God whom he hath not seen.

If people have any proper knowledge at all of God, they cannot fail, at the same time, to be aware of God-like qualities manifested in all human life, even in the unregenerated; for all people were made in God's image, irrespective of the eroding and defacing influence of sin. Failure to see this, with its consequent inclination to love people, is proof that the one so blind knows nothing of God and therefore does not love God. Loving God in some abstract sense is not the kind of love the apostle enjoined; and such a truth has many corollaries. In all times, people have found it easier to love mankind "away over there" in some foreign situation, than to love neighbors close to home. This truth reveals that if we do not love the man on our doorstep, we do not love any man who is unknown to us in any personal sense; and the same thing is true with loving God. The true test is found in the way we respond to people whom we know and with whom we associate, and whom, in many cases, we see every day.

In this verse, it is clear why John so boldly introduced the proposition in 1 John 4:12 that, "No man hath seen God at any time." He was leading up to the argument here.

In struggling to understand and walk in the light of a verse like this, many will encounter problems. One wrote to F. F. Bruce the following question:

I have a difficulty; it is not easy to love some of our brothers and sisters ... their inconsistencies which we cannot help seeing ... It seems much easier to love God, knowing how much He has done for us. F48

Who has not encountered the same difficulty? Bruce's answer pointed out: (1) that love in the sense intended here is not sentimentality, or feeling, but a conscious recognition of our necessity to do all that is consistent with the true welfare of others, also (2) this attitude does not come automatically, but that it is developed and grows in hearts attuned to God's will. (3) It is also aided by the Christian's realization that he himself has "inconsistencies" and much worse; and that he has been forgiven; and that we who have lost such an intolerable burden of guilt in the love of Christ can best show our appreciation of so great a boon by forgiving and loving others.

If what one is contradicts what one says, he is a liar.
One who claims to know God and walks in darkness is a liar.
One who "knows God" but denies the Son of God is a liar.
One who pretends to love God and hates his brother is a liar.

The last three of the above statements are really phases of the first proposition stated; and Stott called these "the three black lies of 1 John, in the aggregate contradicting the (1) moral; (2) doctrinal; and (3) social basics of Christianity." F49


 
Verse 21
And this commandment have we from him, that he who loveth God love his brother also.

This verse almost certainly relates to the great summary of all the law and the prophets as given by Jesus Christ in these words:

The first (and great commandment) is, Hear, O Israel; the Lord our God, the Lord is one; and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all they soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength. The second is this, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these (Mark 12:29-31).

That almighty God desires that his human creation should love him is one of the most revealing statements in Scripture. That purposeful desire of God lies back of all that God ever revealed, all that he ever did, to redeem mankind. How universally do people tend to fall short of this basic love! Much of the love that passes for such is merely bigotry. "The bigot loves those who embrace his opinions," F50 and receive his peculiar bias or prejudice; and he loves them for that, not for Christ.

Concerning Jesus' joining in this verse and in the Gospels these twin commandments to love God and love one's neighbor, Stott remarked, "What Christ has joined, let no man sever." F51 Plummer's summation of John's thoughts here is as follows:

Here is the Divine command to love, not only the invisible God, but the visible brother in whom the invisible God dwells. Sight may hinder as well as help; it is hard to love what is squalid and hideous. In such cases, let us remember the Divine command; let us remember the Divinity which even the most debased humanity contains. F52

May our attitude toward this holy commandment be that of freely confessing that the total fulfillment of it lies utterly beyond our unaided human strength to accomplish it; but may we also preempt unto that holy purpose the blessed promise of the apostle: "I can do all things in him that strengtheneth me" (Philippians 4:13). "In him?" Yes, "in Christ," in whom we shall at last be presented before the Father in perfection!

What a wonderful world this would be, and what an incredible sweetness would pervade it, if even any appreciable percentage of its population would live by the principles laid down in this chapter of the word of God!


Footnotes for 1 John 4
: Ibid.
1: R. W. Orr, A New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1969), p. 617.
2: Charles C. Ryrie, Wycliffe Bible Commentary, New Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1971), p. 1022.
3: Amos N. Wilder, The Interpreter's Bible, Vol. XII (New York: Abingdon Press, 1957), p. 274.
4: Harvey J. S. Blaney, Beacon Bible Commentary, Vol. 10 (Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 1967), p. 387.
5: William Barclay, The Letters of John and Jude (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1976), p. 92.
6: W. N. Sinclair, Ellicott's Bible Commentary, Vol. VIII (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1959), p. 487.
7: David Smith, Expositor's Greek New Testament, Vol. V (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1959), p. 189.
8: R. W. Orr, op. cit., p. 617.
9: Ibid.
10: Leon Morris, The New Bible Commentary, Revised (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1970), p. 1267.
11: David Smith, op. cit., p. 189.
12: Charles C. Ryrie, op. cit., p. 1023.
13: John R. W. Stott, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, Vol. 19 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1964), p. 154.
14: New Catholic Bible (New York: Catholic Book Publishing Company, 1949), New Testament, p. 317.
15: David Smith, op. cit., p. 189.
16: James Macknight, Macknight on the Epistles, 1 John (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, reprint, 1969), p. 88.
17: John R. W. Stott, op. cit., p. 157.
18: A. Plummer, The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 22, 1 John (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1950), p. 103.
19: W. N. Sinclair, op. cit., p. 487.
20: Leon Morris, op. cit., p. 1267.
21: John Wesley, Explanatory Notes upon the New Testament (Naperville, Illinois: Alec. R. Alienson, Inc., reprint, 1950), p. 914.
22: J. W. Roberts, The Letters of John (Austin, Texas: The R. B. Sweet Company, 1968), p. 109.
23: John R. W. Stott, op. cit., p. 158.
24: James William Russell, Compact Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1963), p. 603.
25: James Macknight, op. cit., p. 90.
26: John Wesley, op. cit., p. 914.
27: William Barclay, op. cit., p. 98.
28: Amos N. Wilder, op. cit., p. 280.
29: H. A. Ironside, Addresses on the Epistles of John (New York: Loizeaux Brothers, Inc., 1931), p. 138.
30: J. W. Roberts, op. cit., p. 115.
31: Ibid., p. 113.
32: Ibid.
33: David Smith, op. cit., p. 191.
34: James Denney, The Death of Christ (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1894), p. 152.
35: Harvey J. S. Blaney, op. cit., p. 391.
36: Leon Morris, op. cit., p. 1268.
37: A. Plummer, op. cit., p. 104.
38: J. W. Roberts, op. cit., p. 118.
39: David Smith, op. cit., p. 192.
40: A. Plummer, op. cit., p. 104.
41: J. W. Roberts, op. cit., p. 119.
42: William Hurte, Restoration of New Testament Christianity (Rosemead, California: Old Paths Publishing Company, 1964), p. 489.
43: Leon Morris, op. cit., p. 1268.
44: Amos N. Wilder, op. cit., p. 286.
45: J. W. Roberts, op. cit., p. 123.
46: Leon Morris, op. cit., p. 1268.
47: A. Plummer, op. cit., p. 105.
48: F. F. Bruce, Answers to Questions (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1972), p. 133.
49: John R. W. Stott, op. cit., p. 170.
50: John Wesley, op. cit., p. 916.
51: John R. W. Stott, op. cit., p. 171.
52: A. Plummer, op. cit., p. 105.
53: John Wesley, op. cit., p. 913.
54: Amos N. Wilder, op. cit., p. 270.
55: Ibid.
56: R. W. Orr, op. cit., p. 616.
57: William Barclay, op. cit., p. 88.
58: John R. W. Stott, op. cit., p. 150.
59: John R. W. Stott, op. cit., p. 151.
60: James Macknight, op. cit., p. 79.
61: John R. W. Stott, op. cit., p. 115.
62: David Smith, op. cit., p. 182.
63: James Macknight, op. cit., p. 577.
64: B. C. Caffin, op. cit., p. 71.
65: R. H. Strachan, op. cit., p. 147.
66: Michael Green, 2 Peter Reconsidered, p. 31 (As quoted by Robinson).
67: Michael Green, op. cit., p. 148.
68: B. C. Caffin, op. cit., p. 71.
69: James William Russell, Compact Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1964), p. 594.
70: David F. Payne, op. cit., p. 605.
71: B. C. Caffin, op. cit., p. 71.
72: Eldon R. Fuhrman, op. cit., p. 338.
73: B. C. Caffin, op. cit., p. 71.
74: R. H. Strachan, op. cit., p. 148.
75: James Macknight, op. cit., p. 578.
76: B. C. Caffin, op. cit., p. 71.
77: Albert E. Barnett, The Interpreter's Bible, Vol. XII (New York and Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1957), p. 206.

Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on 1 John 4". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". <http://classic.studylight.org/com/bcc/view.cgi?book=1jo&chapter=004>. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.  

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