1 John 4

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  • 1 John 4:1.
  • Beloved ones, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.

    Those being addressed are again called “beloved ones,” members of the family of God’s children. They are admonished to guard against giving credence to every “spirit,” claimed spiritual influence, or expression asserted to be the product of a spirit. Believers know their Father and his Son. Daily, their personal prayers and virtuous lives that reflect genuine love expressed in actions prove whose children they are. The working of God’s spirit within them started with their acceptance of Jesus Christ as their Lord who died for them.

    God’s children, therefore, were in a position to test the spirits by determining whether the individuals claiming to be under a spiritual influence were treating them as beloved members of their heavenly Father’s family and did not distort the identity of their Lord. Testing spiritual utterances was necessary because many false prophets had gone out into the world of mankind. These false prophets were antichrists, because their teachings misrepresented the Son of God. They maintained that they were a channel for the “spirit,” but their expressions and bearing toward God’s children proved that this “spirit” was from an alien source.

    Notes:

    Only God’s children are in a position to “test the spirits.” There is a distinct difference between being a nominal professor associated with a “church” or a religious movement and the possessor of the inner conviction that Jesus is the Son of God, evident in a daily life of faith and love. This distinction becomes especially apparent when disillusioned former members of religious organizations cease to profess belief in the Father and his Son and begin a life that ignores accountability to them. Their association with the “church” gave the appearance of faith but, in reality, was not a faith or unqualified trust in God and his Son.

    Upon seeing what happens to a considerable number of those who depart from the “church,” many of those remaining are strengthened in the erroneous belief that approved membership in their particular denomination or nondenominational movement is essential for salvation, and they remain blind to the grave danger of looking to any human or group of humans as a divinely appointed channel of truth. Only the Son of God is “the way and the truth and the life.” Through him alone is salvation possible.


  • 1 John 4:2.
  • By this you know the spirit of God, every spirit that confesses Jesus Christ as having come in the flesh is from God.

    This letter addressed erroneous teachings that were then being spread and set forth the basis on which believers would know or be able to determine whether a spirit (or teaching represented as having its source in a spirit) is from God. The acknowledgment was the one that rested on the historically verified reality that Jesus Christ had come in the flesh. (See 1:1.) The confession or acknowledgment of Jesus Christ’s true identity has its source in the Father. When Peter made his unqualified confession, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God,” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 16:16, 17, NRSV)


  • 1 John 4:3.
  • And every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God, and this is the [spirit] of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and now is already in the world.

    Teachings purported to have a spiritual source but denying or not acknowledging the true identity of Jesus are not from God. Instead of being from God, the “spirit” is that of the antichrist. (Although the word “spirit” does not precede “antichrist” in the Greek text, this meaning is indicated by the genitive construction.) It is a spirit that stands in opposition to the Christ and, therefore, also to the Father.

    Whereas in 2:18 the focus is on the antichrist, here the emphasis is on the “spirit,” disposition, inclination, or influence of the antichrist. This spirit was then already at work in the world of mankind alienated from God.

    Notes:

    The words “not confessing” have the best extant manuscript support, but there is also the reading “every spirit that nullifies” (loosens, unfastens, or destroys).

    The oldest extant manuscripts read “the Jesus.” Other manuscript readings include “Jesus Christ,” “Jesus [the] Lord as coming in the flesh,” “the Christ,” “the Jesus as coming in the flesh,” “Jesus [the] Lord as coming in the flesh,” and “Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh.”


  • 1 John 4:4.
  • You are from God, little children, and you have conquered them, because the one in you is greater than the one [who is] in the world.

    For the believers who are affectionately addressed as “little children” or “dear children,” there was no question about their identity. They were “from God,” belonging to him as his beloved children. By not yielding to the influence of false prophets or teachers and becoming their prey, believers had come off victorious or conquered those who would have harmed them spiritually. This conquest, however, was not achieved in their own strength. They attained the victory because the “one” in them, with whom they were united, was greater than the evil one. The expression “the one in you” could be understood either of the Father or the Son. (Compare John 17:20, 21.) If, however, “God” is regarded as the antecedent, the reference would be to the Father (as in 4:12, 16).

    The world at enmity with God is in the realm of the “evil one.” (5:19) All who belong to the world, therefore, could not possibly be at one with the Father. The one who is “in” them or at work in their lives is the inferior—the devil or the ultimate slanderer.


  • 1 John 4:5.
  • They are from the world; therefore, they speak [what is] from the world, and the world listens to them.

    The false prophets or false teachers were part of the world at enmity with God. In disposition and action they violated the law of love and demonstrated that they were from the world. Their message had its source in the world, for it was a message that contradicted the historical truth respecting God’s beloved Son. Those of the world recognize who are just like them and listen to their own. Therefore, in the world at enmity with God, the false prophets did find hearing ears.


  • 1 John 4:6.
  • We are from God; the one who knows God listens to us. Whoever is not from God does not listen to us. From this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of deceit.

    Believers are “from God,” for they are his children. Persons who know God as evident from the purity of their conduct and their compassionate concern for others recognize other children of God and listen to them. Those who are not from God and, therefore, not members of the one spiritual family do not listen to his children. The response or lack of response to God’s children is the means for ascertaining the nature of the “spirit,” the spiritual influence, or the spiritual source. Teachings that are repugnant to persons whose conduct is virtuous and reflects love in action could not possibly be from God. The “spirit” could not be one that has its source in truth (the truth embodied in Jesus Christ’s example and teaching). Whatever appeals to the world of mankind alienated from God and does not harmonize with a life of uprightness and love in action stems from a “spirit of deceit” or error. The spirit of error results in defilement. Often that defilement is reflected in a disposition that can readily be identified as arrogant and unloving.

    Note: The expression ek toútou (from this) has the best manuscript support. There is limited evidence for en toúto (in this).


  • 1 John 4:7.
  • Beloved ones, let us love one another, because love is from God. And everyone who loves has been generated from God and knows God.

    In the case of the “beloved ones,” their love for one another as fellow children of God would be of an abiding nature. Because this love has its source in their Father, they, as his children, should continue to love one another. Everyone who thus persists in living a life of love is revealed as having God as his Father and knowing God as his obedient child.


  • 1 John 4:8.
  • The one who does not love does not know God, because God is love.

    When genuine love that expresses itself in selfless action is absent, so is any relationship with God. The person who does not live a life of love does not know God as his Father. This is because “God is love.” Love sums up all that God is in his very being, making it impossible for those who are unloving to have any personal knowledge of God. They may have intellectual knowledge about God based on what they have read or heard others say, but they have no relationship with him that is based on an inward realization of the depth of divine love, appreciation for which engenders love. The Father is unknown to them, and he does not recognize them as his children.


  • 1 John 4:9.
  • By this the love of God has been revealed in us, because God sent his only-begotten Son into the world that we might live through him.

    God took the initiative in manifesting or revealing the depth of his love. Although the Greek word for “in” (en) can mean “among,” it seems more likely that the reference is to the love God has shown “in” the case of believers.

    He sent his unique Son, the one with whom he enjoyed the most intimate relationship. It is a relationship that existed before the beginning of the universe, belongs to the realm of the infinite, and is beyond human grasp. The greatness of the love existing between the Father and the Son defies comprehension and cannot be adequately described in human terms. Therefore, the revelation of the Father’s love in sending his Son into the world of humankind likewise transcends every expression of love that humans have ever experienced. That manifestation of the Father’s love made it possible for his Son to surrender his life so that all who gratefully, like trusting children, accept this provision for them would “live through him.” Instead of remaining dead in trespasses and sins, they would enjoy a newness of life as God’s pardoned children.

    Note: The Greek term monogenés (often rendered “only-begotten”) points to the uniqueness of the relationship of the Son to the Father. There is no other son like him. The emphasis is not to be placed on the second part of the compound (begotten), but the expression is to be regarded as a unit. This is evident from the way the term is used in the Septuagint as a rendering for the Hebrew term yahíd (only, only one, alone). Jephthah’s daughter was his only child. (Judges 11:34) The psalmist pleaded that YHWH might rescue his “only-begotten one” (Brenton), meaning the only life he possessed or his precious life. (Psalm 21:21 [22:20(21)]; 34:17 [35:17]) He also prayed for mercy because he identified himself as an “only-begotten,” that is, one of a kind (like an only child). In this case, the Hebrew often has been translated “lonely” or “alone.” (Psalm 24:16 [25:16])


  • 1 John 4:10.
  • By this the love is [evident], not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins.

    The outstanding aspect about God’s love is that humans were not the initiators and could not have been such. As sinners, all are in a helpless condition, totally lacking in anything that could be offered to God, and without any basis for reaching out to him in a gesture of love. God, however, by sending his Son, provided the basis for reconciling flawed humans to himself and, on the basis of his Son’s sacrifice, made it possible for them to become his beloved children.

    The Father’s initiative in sending his Son is the utmost demonstration of love. He did not just send one of his sons or angels, but his unique Son, his Son of sons, the one to whom he was lovingly attached in the most intimate relationship from time immemorial.

    The greatness of the sacrifice that resulted in atoning for the sins of believers reveals the depth of the Father’s love in a manner that no other act could have done. Moreover, what this act of love required of the Son in willingly surrendering his life in expression of his love also makes the seriousness of sin, all sin, apparent in a manner that nothing else could.

    As in the first century, unbelievers may look upon the sacrificial death of God’s Son for sinners as something foolish or meaningless or even find it offensive. For believers, however, the unparalleled expression of the Father’s love has been the transforming power in their lives.

    Notes:

    After the noun “love” (agápe), fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus adds “of God.”

    Regarding “expiation” (hilasmós), see 2:2.


  • 1 John 4:11.
  • Beloved ones, since God has thus loved us, then we are obligated to love one another.

    Believers regard and treat one another as “beloved ones.” God’s great love for us in sending his Son places a debt or obligation on us. This obligation is that we love one another as beloved members of God’s family.


  • 1 John 4:12.
  • No one has ever seen God. If we love one another, God abides in us and his love is made complete in us.

    No human has ever seen God. His glorious manifestation would be too much for frail humans to behold. (Exodus 33:20) It is, however, possible to enjoy his abiding presence. If we love believers as members of our family, we reveal that we have God as our Father. We are at one with him and so he abides in us by means of his spirit. Because to love his children means to love him as their Father, the “love of God” (here probably meaning “love for God,” a love having the potential for growth) is perfected or brought to its finished or competed state.


  • 1 John 4:13.
  • By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us from his spirit.

    Believers abide or remain at one with the Father and he abides or remains at one with them. This is evident from his having given them “from his spirit.” Therefore, they possess everything needed to guide, sustain and strengthen them.


  • 1 John 4:14.
  • And we have seen and are testifying that the Father sent the Son as Savior of the world.

    John and others had personally seen the Son of God (1:1), enabling them to provide firsthand testimony about him. Based on what they had seen, they were convinced that the Father had sent his Son as the Savior of the world of mankind. Therefore, the opportunity to benefit from the divine arrangement for salvation was open to all, provided they were willing to accept it in faith.


  • 1 John 4:15.
  • Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him and he in God.

    Apart from Jesus Christ, a relationship with the Father is impossible. Only by confessing or acknowledging Jesus as the Son of God who surrendered his life to effect the liberation from sin and death can an individual become reconciled to the Father. The person responding in faith comes to be at one with or “abides in” the Father, and the Father, by means of his spirit, “abides in” or makes his home with the believer.

    Note: Fourth-century Codex Vaticanus adds “Christ” after “Jesus.”


  • 1 John 4:16.
  • And we have known and believed the love that God has in us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God and God abides in him.

    Believers know or are fully aware of God’s love. They believe in, are fully convinced of, and put their full trust in his love. They have experienced it “in” their own case.

    The Father is the embodiment of love. (See 4:8.) Therefore, abiding, remaining or living in love—being loving as God is loving—is the condition for abiding in or being at one with him. Furthermore, God abides in, remains in, or is at one with the believer who lives a life of love.

    Note: Fifth-century Codex Alexandrinus and a number of later manuscripts do not include ménei (abides) in the concluding part of the verse, where the reference is to God. This omission, however, does not change the meaning.


  • 1 John 4:17.
  • By this love has been perfected with us, that we may have confidence in the day of judgment, for as he is, so are we in this world.

    The expression “by this” or “in this” (en toúto) could refer to the state of oneness with the Father (abiding or remaining in God) mentioned in the previous verse. Love is brought to its completed or perfected state by our being at one with the Father and he at one with us. There is also a possibility that en toúto is to be linked with what follows. Love is perfected or brought to a completed state when the coming day of judgment can be anticipated with confidence (not terror), the kind of boldness or freeness of expression characteristic of a trusting and obedient child. (Also see 2:28 and 3:21.)

    Translators commonly render meth’ hemón (with us) as “among us.” It may be, though, that the preposition “with” is to be understood of God’s working “with” the believer and the believer’s cooperative response. The reference could also be to the perfecting of love in the relationship “with us.” A love that is not fully developed does affect one’s relationship with God, as it interferes with one’s having childlike trust.

    Evidently regarding this “day of judgment” before God’s appointed judge, Paul said, “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive recompense, according to what he did in the body, whether good or evil.” (2 Corinthians 5:10, NAB)

    The basis for confidence with reference to the judgment to come is that, in the world of mankind, believers are like Jesus Christ. A few manuscripts add that he “was blameless and pure in the world.” Like the Son of God, believers are blameless and pure in the world alienated from the Father. (Ephesians 1:4; 5:27; Philippians 2:15; Colossians 1:22; Jude 24) Therefore, because of living an upright life in keeping with Jesus’ example of love, believers have no reason to fear the day of judgment.


  • 1 John 4:18.
  • Fear is not in love, but perfect love casts out fear, because fear has punishment, and the one who fears has not been perfected in love.

    Where genuine love prevails, fear is banished. A person would never be in terror before those whom he loves and who love him. A perfect or fully developed love has no room for fear; any lingering fear is expelled.

    The Greek word kólasis is commonly rendered “punishment.” This could mean that the words “fear has punishment” could mean that “fear has to do with punishment.” (NAB, NIV, NRSV) There is, however, another possible significance. The related verb kolázo can mean “punish” (Acts 4:21) but may also denote “prune,” “curtail,” or “check.” Accordingly, the meaning may be that fear curtails or checks the development of love, not permitting it to reach its full potential. The person who remains in a state of fear has not been made perfect or complete in love.


  • 1 John 4:19.
  • We love because he first loved us.

    Fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus and numerous later manuscripts read either “love God” or “love him.” It is because God first loved us (the superlative expression of that love being the sending of his Son to surrender his life for us) that we love. The reality of our love for God is manifest in our active loving concern for others. Having learned from God (also from his Son) what real love is, we are motivated to love.


  • 1 John 4:20.
  • If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar, for one who does not love his brother whom he has seen is not able to love God whom he has not seen.

    Hatred of one’s brother is irreconcilable with a claim of loving God, for the brother is the child whom the Father loves. Therefore, the one claiming to love God while hating his child is a liar. Although children of God are unable to reflect the image of the Father flawlessly, they do strive to conduct themselves in harmony with his upright ways. Accordingly, the person who sees the “brother” who is endeavoring to be a loving and obedient child of God and then hatefully turns away from him could not possibly love God whom he has never seen.

    Note: The oldest extant manuscripts read “not able to love.” Many later manuscripts, however, read “how able to love God.”


  • 1 John 4:21.
  • And this is the command we have from him, that the one who loves God should also love his brother.

    Jesus Christ did command his disciples to love one another. (John 13:34, 35) Whereas he may be understood as being the one giving the command, there is also the possibility that the reference is to the Father with whom the command to love originated. Fifth-century Codex Alexandrinus does read “from God” (not “from him”). Believers recognize that, as children of the Father, they should love him and their brothers. Where love for a brother is nonexistent, also nonexistent is love for God.