I John 4:7-21
In a Nutshell
John captures the name of God which is now revealed in the coming of His son, Jesus Christ: love.
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Did John find it difficult to formulate this confession: God is love? Do you find it difficult to do so? Why?
7 Dear people, let us love one another, because love is [given] from God; so, everyone who loves is born of God, and [in this way] knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 God's love was revealed among us in this way: God sent His only Son into the world so that through Him we might have life [given to us]. 10 And in this [act] is love, not that we loved God but that He loved us, sending forth His Son to be the one who took our sins away. 11 Dear people, since God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen [or ever sees] God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and His love is perfected in us. 13 By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has bestowed His Spirit upon us. 14 And we have been confronted and testify that the Father has sent His Son as the Saviour of the world. 15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God will find God dwelling with them, as they then dwell in God. 16 So we have come to know and believe the love that God has for us. God is [this] love, and those who abide in [His] love abide in God, and God abides in them. 17 This is the way in which love has been perfected among us so that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, since as He is [toward us], so are we in this world. 18 There is [therefore simply] no fear in love, since [such] perfect love expels fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached love's perfection. 19 We love because He first loved us. 20 Those who say, "I love God," while hating brother or sister, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. 21 The commandment we have from Him is this: those loving God must love their brothers and sisters also.
The English phrase "dear people" (4:7) that I have used here is also used elsewhere in John's letter (2:7, 3:2, 3:21, 4:1, 4:11). Here it is particularly "poetic" in the sense that the phrase addresses the "much loved" (AGAPETOI) exhorting them to love (AGAPOOMEN) one another, since love (AGAPE) is God's gift to them, it is what has brought them forth so that it can even be said that loving (AGAPOON) is to know God. To have no love (AGAPE) is to be ignorant of God. And then there is the clincher: for God is LOVE (AGAPE). Effectively, that is the name of God that His Son has now made manifest.
There are other appellations that John gives to his readers throughout this letter. There is what I have translated "my dear children" (TEKNIA MOU) (2:1, 2:12, 2:28, 3:7, 3:18, 4:4 and it is not used again until the final greeting 5:21.
TEKNA that is children is used twice 3:10 - as 'the children of God' and 'children of the devil', and also in 5:2 our love for 'the children of God'.
PAIDEIA is also used as a synonym for TEKNIA where it refers to children having been taught about the Father by their fathers and mothers.
This list is not merely to highlight technical facets of John's letter. Rather, it is to emphasize that this discussion of love is a concentrated account of the purpose of this letter-writing. John's aim is to encourage the members who have been adopted into God's family, to instruct "his dear children", the brothers and sisters of God's own Son.
The letter is written to remind readers of their status in this life - not just that they have a relationship with some kind of distant uncle called God, whose name is written there on the family tree but with whom they have never had any face-to-face contact. This is written to confirm among the disciples of Jesus, that "Our Father in Heaven" is no distant family relation. No. They are His children - they dwell in the circle of His love. When they love they show their surname and the surname they have is the one that Jesus Christ has bestowed on them.
We don't get John's point if we keep his letter at a distance from us. It is actually also written for all disciples; ourselves as well. The message is this: God our Father is so intimately involved with us in the details of our life that it is possible to say that life in His family is now nothing other than love because God is love. Here in this family circle, in this bond of love, we find that our fears have evaporated.
To experience God's love in Christ, is purely and simply, to experience God. There is nothing more basic to human experience than this. This is it! There is simply nothing else behind what has been revealed in Christ to account for what God has brought forth in us, and in His creation. Nothing at all.
In confronting Christ Jesus we confront God confronting us. It was not that we loved God but that He loved us first [PROOTOS] (4.19). In the experience of God's love we come to know the One who has given us everything in this life and all that we will ever experience. Does this change my life? my emotions? my perception? my social context? Yes. And it is this that has been at the basis of changes to my life, emotions, perceptions, social context in the past and will bring us to unspeakable joy when He fulfils all things.
Of course this changes our bodily life now. Of course this changes our sense of self! All these changes and all that changes in our experience are now seen in a new light in the experience of Christ Jesus, in the light of God's love. God is that love that personally lightens our path. There just isn't anything more basic than this.
God's presence with us is to be experienced by our love for God and for each other. God is not subject to our perception. Our perceptions are subject to His love. And our knowledge of His love is as certain as the breath He has breathed into us "from the beginning" and the Spirit that He has sent to be with us.
We love because He first loved us.
The call is not to engage in a game that uses God words and love words but to take hold of God's love and living by it in love for those who like us share His image, our brothers and sisters. This is also why in conclusion John will write, almost as an after-thought, with some urgency: "Beware of all substitutes!" "Guard yourselves against idols!" (5:21)