Love God and Love your Brother/Sister—1 John 4:7-21

Last week we have seen that the apostle John was writing about the Spirit/spirits and that ultimately one’s own stand towards Jesus Christ determines whose we are. Today we want to take a brief look at 1 John 4:7-21 where the apostle returns to the subject of love. Today I will only be able to give my lecture notes which are not fully written out (i.e., there is not a nice flow today).
As this is quite a long passage here a little breakdown (taken from Kruse, PNTC, 156):
  • 4:7a: the exhortation to love one another
  • 4:7b–8: the assertion that those who practise love know God, while those who do not practise love do not know God
  • 4:9–11: the demonstration of God’s love in the sending of his Son as an atoning sacrifice, and the resulting obligation on the part of believers to love one another;
  • 4:12–13: love for fellow believers is evidence that people dwell in (the unseen) God and God in them
  • 4:14–15: belief in Jesus as the Son of God and Saviour is also evidence of this mutual indwelling
  • 4:16: believers know the love God has for them, and dwelling in love themselves is evidence that they dwell in God and God in them
  • 4:17–18: believers who are perfected in love have confidence and experience no fear as they face the day of judgement
  • 4:19–20: we love God because he loved us, but to say that we love God without loving one another means we are liars
  • 4:21: a reiteration of the obligation that those who say they love God should love one another also
In 4:7the author returns to the theme of “loving one another” (subject of 3:11-24) after talking about the different spirits and false prophets in 4:1-6. John again calls the readers “beloved” (as in 2:7; 3:2, 21; 4:1, 7, 11) to call the readers for special attention (Kruse, PNTC, 156). This is loved filled language: “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever lovesè  I wonder what the subject of this section will be…
Smalley states: “Anyone who enters into a real relationship with a loving God can be transformed into a loving person” (238; quoted in Witherington, 527). May I alter the “can be transformed” into a “will be transformed”. The reason why we should love one another is introduced by the “for”-clause which will be treated in more detail in vv. 8-12. John 1:12-13 gives us further explanation (see also Jesus’ discussion with Nicodemus in John 3): “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God”
In 4:8 the reverse of v. 7 is stated; the one who does not love is obviously not in relationship with God. Again the reason is introduced by “for.” Kruse (PNTC, 157) rightly observes that “God is love” is not an ontological statement but shows God’s very character in action as seen in vv. 9-10 (see discussion below).
Here (4:9) as well as in v. 10 the author lets us know what it means that “love is from God” (v.7). John 1:14 makes a similar statement: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” That Jesus became a human being that he came to humanity was “a public affair” (Kruse, PNTC,158). Because God loved, he sent His Son—His one and only Son (cf. John 3:16). This sending displayed God’s love but had the purpose for us to live by/through him. “The author uses the verb ‘to live’ (zaō) only here. Elsewhere in his letter he frequently uses the expressions ‘life’ (zōē) and ‘eternal life’ (zōē aiōnios), and this life is always identified with, or said to be found in, Jesus Christ” (Kruse,158). See also John 17:3 “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”
What the love of God consist of (4:10) is first stated negatively “we did not love God” then positively “but He loved us…” In 4:11 we can see that the author is not theologizing for theoretical sake, but for the practical implications and for the sake of the community. Kruse again: “The author is not giving a lesson about the love of God for its own sake, but to show that God’s love for us must cause us to love one another” (PNTC, 161). Culy (110) also mentions that the personal pronoun “we” (since it is stated explicitly in the Greek text) “serves to help highlight the necessary connection between the actions of God and the actions of the readers.”
Again (4:12) love is the mark of those who are in true relationship to the Father – the unseen God. In the Gospel John the invisibility of God is stressed as well (1:18; 5:37; 6:46). We also have an indirect dismissal of mythical experience for the establishment of Christian faith. Nothing like that is needed since Christ has come! We do not need to ascent (via vision!) because he became flesh (see Witherington, 532). Even though we have not seen God, we can perceive His presence by loving one another (cf. John 3 – “the wind blows…”). But he goes even further in stating that “his love is made perfect in us”. The word “to perfect” is found elsewhere in the letter (the following is from Kruse, PNTC, 162): In 2:5 the “completeness of love for God is expressed in obedience to his word” and in 4:17-18 “God’s love is said to have completed its work in believers when they can face the day of judgment without fear.” Westcott states: “Obedience, active love, confidence, these three, point to the same fact. Where the one is the other is. The source of all is the full development of the divine gift of love” (152).
The author talks about the assurance of the believer to be a true child of God in 4:13. Thus this verse connects with 4:12 as well as with 4:14-15. Kruse (PNTC, 163) lists three interpretations of the giving of the Holy Spirit as grounds for assurance:
1.      that the Spirit motivates love for fellow believers and the objective practice of love is the basis of their assurance
2.      that the Spirit teaches the truth about God’s sending Jesus as the Saviour of the world and knowing this provides believers with the basis of assurance
3.      that the very presence of the Spirit himself in believers creates the sense of assurance
Kruse opts for interpretation (2.) because of the connection to 3:24b which reads “And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us” which is then followed by the discussion “of the way the Spirit of Truth can be distinguished from the spirit of error, namely, that the Spirit of truth acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh and the spirit of error does not” (163).
Verse 4:14 is similar to the prologue (1:1-4). But is it a physical seeing? Is the “we” just referring to the apostles? Here Jesus as “Savior of the world” is stressed rather than his incarnation (Kruse, PNTC, 164). A new aspect of orthodox confession is introduced “Jesus is the Son of God” (4:15). Kruse maintains that “the full orthodox confession to be maintained in face of the secessionist denials was that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God, who came in the flesh as the Saviour of the world and gave himself as an atoning sacrifice for the sins of the whole world” (PNTC, 165). That we are in God and He in us is also stated in 3:24; 4:13, 16. Kruse again observes that “[a]ssurance of this mutual indwelling is related in two cases to the presence of the Spirit, who bears witness to Jesus (3:24; 4:13; see commentary ad loc.). In the other cases it is related to the confession of Christ (4:15) and abiding in love (4:16)” (165). “The Son of God is a messianic title!
In 4:16we do have the personal pronoun “we” explicitly stated. Kruse renders the expression with “know and rely on” and sees such as a hendiadys “the use of two words to express essentially one idea” (PNTC, 165). In support he refers to John 6:69:
and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God”. The statement “God is love” has already been uttered verbatim in 4:8 (see discussion there for a non-ontological understanding). That God is love is “a statement about the loving nature of God revealed in his saving action on behalf of humankind” (Kruse, 166)—see vv. 10-14. To love one another is a mark of a Christian – which is the theme of 4:7-21—to which the author returns at this point. 
Here (4:17) we have the third reference to love’s completeness (see 2:5; 4:12, 18)—the reference is to fearlessness on the Day of Judgment. It is “God’s love that is with us, which completes its work so that our fear as we face the day of judgment is removed” (Kruse, PNTC, 166). The boldness we can have we already encountered in 2:28 (“And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming”). In this verse parrēsiais equated with being unashamed before Christ at his coming, and in the context of 2:28 that confidence arises out believers’ obedience to God’s word” (Kruse, PNTC,167).
The reason for such confidence is given in the following manner: “because as that one is so we also are in this world” What does the clause “because as that one is so we also are in this world” mean? It could refer to the encouragement that God is with us in this current world. Kruse gives the following explanations (167-68):
1.      “Christ has retained in heaven the characteristics he had on earth, and, as Schnackenburg says, ‘he is still, even in the moral sense, what he was on earth, a pattern for those in union with him, with those who are still “in the World” ’.”
2.      “Believers are now children of God just as Christ is the Son of God, and in that sense they are in the world, just as he is.” (with reference to Brown)
3.      “We are in the world in the same way as he was”
[NOTE: In the GJohn “the agent of divine judgement is [always]Jesus Christ    (5:22, 27, 30; 8:16; 12:31–33)” (Kruse, 167)]
In 4:18 John further elaborates on the previous verse. We can have confidence (and thus no fear) because “there is no fear in love” and because “perfect love casts out fear” (cf. also Rom 8:15) Brown writes: “There is probably continuity with the theme of love that has run through the unit: an outgoing love that comes from God, is manifested in Jesus, gives us life, and remains in us actively manifesting itself in love of others and of God” (530). Kruse writes: “People cannot love God and fear his punishment at the same time” (168)
Again a connection of our love and the love of God is established (4:19). How has God first loved us? By sending his son (v. 9) to be an atoning sacrifice (v. 10).
The act of hating one’s brother as being exclusive for those who love God (4:20) is also found elsewhere in the epistle (2:9–11; 3:11–24; 4:7–21; 5:2). The author uses an a fortiori argument (from the lesser to the greater): “How can you love God if you cannot even love you brother.” Kruse states powerfully: “The nature of the true experience of God is such that it cannot exist without manifesting itself in love for God’s people” (170). Witherington writes: “God’s love poured into our lives enables us to love others. But doing the latter involves a conscious decision in effort; it does not happen automatically, and hence the command fro Jesus to love one another” (537).

Parallel passages to 4:21 are John 13:34: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another”; John 14:15: “If you love me, you will obey what I command”; John 15:12: “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you”; John 15:17: “This is my command: Love each other”.
Loving God and our brother and sister are intrinsically linked for the apostle. How can we love? How does that look like? In what way can I specifically this week show that I belong to God by loving others?

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