GOD’S GREAT LOVE 1 John 4–5
“This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him” (1 John 4:9).We are to rest in the assurance of God’s great love.
False prophets deny Jesus Christ is God and man (4:1–6). Love is the external mark of spiritual birth (vv. 7–21). The believer loves and obeys God, overcoming the world (5:1–5). The person who trusts Jesus has God’s life within him (vv. 6–12). God wants us to know we have eternal life; to pray with confidence (vv. 13–15), to pray for those who sin (vv. 16–17), and to abandon sin (vv. 18–21).
Understanding the Text
“Test the spirits” 1 John 4:1–3.
In the first century, itinerant teachers traveled the Roman world. Second Peter 2 tells us that many false teachers were among them; men who saw teaching the new religion as a way to make money. This fit a well-established pattern, as teachers of philosophy and other religions also traveled, gathered little groups of followers, and charged whatever the market would bear. All these traveling teachers were trained in rhetoric, and were skilled hucksters. So John warned the gullible. Don’t be taken in by smooth-talking teachers. The critical test then and now is, does this teacher present Jesus Christ as God in the flesh? Any who honor Jesus with less than full Deity express the “spirit of the antichrist” rather than the Spirit of God. “The One who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” 1 John 4:4–6. Every now and then I run across someone who is anxious about possible demon possession. This verse can be a great comfort. The spirit that animates the antichrist, Satan himself, operates freely in this world. But the Christian is not part of the world! We have within us One who is far greater than Satan—the Holy Spirit of God. Let the Spirit fill your life, and you are in no danger of demon possession. Satan can manipulate the circumstances around you. But he cannot touch your heart or spirit as long as God’s Spirit lives within you. “Whoever knows God listens to us” 1 John 4:4–6. Don’t be defensive if others think your faith in Christ is foolish or peculiar. We Christians speak in the language of our land, yet what we say can’t be “heard” by those who do not know God. The viewpoint of the world has always been blind to Scripture’s God. Instead of being defensive, keep on loving and doing good. Every day God calls more men and women out of the world to Him. Some you speak to will suddenly begin to hear—and you’ll know that God is at work in their lives. “Whoever does not love does not know God” 1 John 4:7–12. Non-Christians frequently ask believers to “prove” God. You can’t see Him, or touch Him, they may say. How can you know God exists? On the one hand, you and I might argue from history. Jesus lived. He died. And His resurrection is the most thoroughly attested event in the ancient world! Those events demonstrate God’s existence, and His active love. But there’s an even better way to answer. God revealed Himself in the love Jesus showed in giving Himself for us. And God creates a Jesus kind of love in the hearts of those who know Him. Others can know that God is real by seeing Jesus’ kind of love expressed by Christians. It’s sometimes possible to reason another person into faith. But it is usually easier to love them to a personal trust in Jesus. “God lives in him and he in God” 1 John 4:13–16. The theme of “assurance” is strong in these last two chapters of 1 John. I’ve known folks who actually get angry if a Christian suggests he or she “knows” he is going to heaven. To some that’s presumption. To others it’s an insult—a sign that the believer thinks he or she is better than they. But John makes it clear that God wants us to know, for sure, that we are saved, and that God lives in us, as we live in God. It is not presumption to take God at His word, or to rely on the love God has for us. It would be presumption NOT to trust God’s promises. “Perfect love drives out fear” 1 John 4:17–18. I suspect that most people feel a twinge of anxiety, and glance at their speedometer, if they see a police car while on the road. We appreciate police as guardians of the public good. But most of us are a little nervous around one. It’s similar for most folks with God. The idea that God is over there in the next car, watching us, makes a person feel a bit edgy. John, however, said that we need have no fear or anxiety in our relationship with God. Any more than if the policeman we recognized in the next car was our dad. Then we’d just wave to him and smile. There would be no fear, because his presence near us offered no threat of punishment. Love does just this in our relationship with the Lord. On the one hand, we know He loves us. So He will do nothing to harm us. On the other, as we respond to Him with love, there’s no room left for fear. Terror of someone and love for him or her cannot exist at the same time. Real love drives out fear. So don’t fear God. Remember He loves you. And love Him in return. “He first loved us” 1 John 4:19–21. In God’s relationship with us, He is the initiator. He loves first. And His love makes a difference. It’s as if we were soaking wet kindling. We have no spark of love for God in us; no way to ignite a flame. But God’s love encompasses us. It warms and dries us, and finally kindles love’s fire in our own hearts. In our relationship with God love drives out fear. In our relationship with others, love creates true caring. What John was saying here is very important. If God’s love hasn’t warmed, dried, and kindled our own love for others, then we have not yet learned to love God. The same fire that warms God’s hearts warms our brothers and sisters. “His commands are not burdensome” 1 John 5:1–5. Again John insisted that God stimulates one love in our heart; a love that expresses itself both toward God and toward others. We can’t be warm toward God and cold toward our fellowman at the same time. There’s another exciting thing about love for God. It makes obeying easy. “Want to” is always easier than “have to.” As long as we feel that we are forced against our will to do certain things that God demands, those things will be burdensome to us. But if we eagerly want to do those same things, they seem to us to be a delight. You can easily check the state of your love for the Lord using this principle. If you find you want to do those things that you know please Him, you can be sure that your love for God is alive and well. “There are three that testify” 1 John 5:6–9. The meaning of the “water and blood” here is much debated. Perhaps the best way to understand them is to identify the “water” as Christ’s baptism, which introduced His public ministry here on earth, and the “blood” as His death, which ended it. Everything Jesus said and did in public, as well as His death, witness to His nature as the Son of God. The stories of Jesus’ life and death, confirmed in us today by the Holy Spirit, continue to identify Jesus as God’s Son and our Saviour. Anyone who rejects the record of Jesus’ life and death for us, as that record was inspired by the Spirit and is authenticated by the Spirit today, makes God out to be a liar (v. 10). How clearly this passage draws the issue for all mankind. We either believe God’s Word in and about Jesus, or we call God a liar. There is no middle ground. “God has given us eternal life” 1 John 5:10–11. Once again we have words of assurance. If you believe God’s words about Jesus, you have been given eternal life. That life is yours, now. “He who has the Son has life.” Since you believe, enjoy! Be assured of your acceptance by God, and revel in the love God has for you. That love is far more wonderful than all the riches of the world. “Ask anything according to His will” 1 John 5:14. It’s not that we have to guess at God’s will. This is a promise! As we live close to the Lord, He will guide our prayers, so that what we ask is what He wishes us to have. “Sin that does not lead to death” 1 John 5:16–20. “Death” here is biological, not spiritual. We see a parallel in 1 Corinthians 5, where Paul demanded that a brother who lived in open, persistent sin be expelled from the church, and also be handed over to Satan “so that the sinful nature may be destroyed” and his spirit “saved on the Day of the Lord.” It is persistent, determined continuation in known sin that puts a person beyond the reach of prayer, and exposes him or her to judgment in this life. But John wants us to realize true believers can sin, and should be the object of our prayers. And he wants us to be encouraged when we fall. God’s life in us will call us back to holiness, and we will “not continue in sin.” Don’t treat sin lightly. But don’t be overwhelmed when you fail. Draw on God’s strength, and stand again.
Blessed Assurance(1 John 5:11–15)
There are very few things in this world that we can be sure about. Becky Schmidt, our friend and our pastor’s wife went to the doctor for a regular checkup—and discovered she had cancer. She’s responding well to treatment. But suddenly the whole world of Richard and their three boys was shaken. Karl Klammer left the north to take a job here in Florida. The family sold their home, loaded their possessions in a U-Haul truck, and headed south. The day after he got here, the company he was to work for declared bankruptcy, and shut down operations. Last Saturday night a junior in our local high school was on her way to work. An- other car went through a stop sign, struck her vehicle, and killed her. Assurance—that confident assurance about ourselves and our future—is something that this world simply does not offer. Yet, right now, you and I can be absolutely sure, if we believe in Jesus, that we have eternal life. We can be completely confident that God listens to our prayers, and that as we ask according to His will, the answer is assured. The circumstances of our life on earth will always remain uncertain. We can be assured only of the reality, and the wonder, of our relationship with God.
Claim the blessings of assurance, that are your heritage through faith in Jesus Christ.
“To be assured of our salvation is no arrogant stoutness. It is faith. It is devotion. It is not presumption. It is God’s promise.” —St. Augustine