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Elgin’s Books


  • Christianity and Secularism

  • Evidence for the Bible


  • The Epistles of John: Living in Truth and Love. 1 John 4:11-21

    Study

    John now begins a summary starting with a summary of the key points in this section but then moving into a summary of the letter. Such summaries are very helpful in making sure that our understanding of the key points in this letter, line up with John’s intent.

    g. Summary: Love leads to perfection (4:11-5:12)

    i. The significance of God’s Love (4:11-12)

    11 – Dear friends, if this is the way God loved us, we must also love one another.

    - John now begins his summary where he started this section – love one another. He starts by taking God’s example of love and applies it to us. This is more than just an example, it is an obligation. Note that this is not a command to love God, but to love others.

     

    12 – No one has ever seen God. If we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.

    - It is likely that some of those who left, were claiming visions of God. Here John is pointing out that this is not possible, and that if we really want to experience God we do so, not through mystical visions, but by serving others.

    his love is perfected in us.

    - Lit: the love of him (ἡ ἀγάπη αὐτοῦ ) It is not completely clear what John means here. This could refer to: Our love of God; God’s Love for us; or the type of love God has. The context here would seem to support either 1 or 3.

    - True Christianity is not to be found in retreating from the world in prayer, but working in the world through love and service.

     

    ii. How we know we abide in him (4:13-15)

    13 – This is how we know that we abide in him and he in us: he has given us his Spirit.

    - This here refers to in the living out of our faith in the service of others. There is a dual point being made here. First, that we can know our personal relationship to God. Second, we can test the relationship of others. Do they live the love of Christ?

    - The spirit also reveals himself in our service to others.

    14 – We have seen for ourselves and can testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.

    - John return to the opening of the letter: as statement of his personal witness.

    - Here the focus is on Jesus as the savior of the world. God’s love was not limited to Christians. Our love is, likewise for the world. Gnostic had secret teachings for the few, We have service to all.

    - Given the context, it is likely that the “We” refers to the Church as a whole, rather than just the apostles, as in the opening.

    - Can we say this today? Have you seen the work of Christ in your life? It is the Holy Spirit that testifies to us.

     

    15 – God abides in the one who acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, and he abides in God.

    - John again return to the concept of abiding, and thus these three verses are in the form of a chiasmus, the focus of which is on our testimony.

    Abide – v13

    Testify – v14

    Abide – v15

    that Jesus is the Son of God

    - An emphasis on the human side of Jesus.

     

    The results of abiding in God (4:16-18)

    16 – We have come to know and rely on[1] the love that God has for us. God is love, and the person who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.

    And rely on (πεπιστεύκαμεν)

    - Believe – trust – perfect tense indicates lasting conviction

    the love that God has for us

    - Lit the love which has the God in us. (τὴν ἀγάπην ἣν ἔχει ὁ θεὸς ἐν ἡμῖν) This would seem to indicate that the love here includes the love of the Cross and the gift of the Holy Spirit

    God is love

    - John is giving us a logical argument here. Since God is Love (also v 8) therefore to abide in love is to abide in God. Abiding in love is a result of abiding in God. Scholars debate whether or not this is Love of God, or love for one another. John makes no real distinction, to do one is to do the other. It is a demonstration and source of comfort for relationship with Christ

     

    17 – This is how love has been perfected among us: we will have confidence on the day of judgment because, during our time in this world, we are just like him.

    - The perfection of God’s love leads to confidence. Do you have confidence about Judgment day?

    during our time in this world, we are just like him

    - Some claim a contradiction with 3:2. While a superficial reading can lead to a contradiction, as usual context is very important. The context here is Judgment Day. What is critical to judgment? Sin. Give this, how are we like him? We are sinless because of his love, and that is why we can have confidence.

     

    18 – There is no fear where love exists[2]. Rather, perfect love banishes fear, for fear involves punishment, and the person who lives in fear has not been perfected in love.

    - Because of this, there is no fear. After all, what do we have to fear of Judgment day? Nothing! We have been washed clean but the blood of the lamb. We abide in the perfect love of God. We are indwelt by the Holy Spirit.

    - How does this line up with verse like Phil 2:12

    And so, my dear friends, just as you have always obeyed, not only when I was with you but even more now that I am absent, continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling

    That we do not fear judgment day does not mean we lose our respect for God position.

    has not been perfected in love

    - This is not necessarily referring to those who are lost. It means that God’s love needs to be perfected in them.

     

    To love God is to Love one another (4:19-21)

    19 – We love[3] because God[4] first loved us.

    - Our love for God is not grounded in a threat of punishment. It is a response to the love that God has already shown us. It is grounded in gratitude, not fear.

     

    20 – Whoever says, “I love God,” but hates his brother is a liar. The one who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love the God whom he has not seen.

    - John returns again to the claims of those who left, but here he is making a larger point. We cannot see God, but we can see our brother. So while we might not really be able to tell if someone loves God, we can tell if someone loves his brother.

    - This works both ways. Sometimes is it easier to love God, because we do not see him. Sometimes it is easier to love people because we do see them. True love covers both.

     

    21 – And this is the commandment that we have from him: the person who loves God must also love his brother.

    - This is more than just a guideline, this is a commandment. In John 13:34 Jesus said,

    I’m giving you a new commandment…to love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.

    - John started his summary with how we should Love, which was one the key errors of those who left. Why do you think John has stressed this point so often?

     

    If you have question or comments about the class, feel free to send me an email at elgin@hushbeck.com and be sure to put “Epistles of John” in the header.

    See here for references and more background on the class.

    Scripture taken from the Holy Bible: International Standard Version®. Copyright © 1996-2008 by The ISV Foundation. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED INTERNATIONALLY. Used by permission. www.isv.org

    Note: Some places I have modify the text from the ISV version. Passages that I have modified have been noted with and * by the verse number and the ISV text is included in a footnote.


    Footnotes:

    [1] 4:16 Lit. believe in
    [2] 4:18 Lit. in love
    [3] 4:19 Other mss. read love him; still other mss. read love God
    [4] 4:19 Lit. he

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