As He is LOVE so we are LOVE in this World

There are two major points in 1 John 4. The first is that God is love and anything not of love is of the antichrist. The second is that just as God is love, so we not only ought to love, but actually are the embodiment of love in this world.

John begins this chapter by warning his readers against false teachers and tells them to test the spirits. We have nenikhkate (nenikekate) meaning victory in battle or surpassing ability, over these spirits because God remains in us and he is greater.

Verses 7 & 8 tell us that people who do not love, do not know God. In fact, by using the aorist (undefined) verbal form of ‘egnw (egno) it indicates that the person who does not love has never even begun to know God. We are given the reason this is the case in the next phrase: o{ti o{ qeos ‘agaph ‘estin (hoti ho theos agape estin): God is love. We should not mistake this phrase for ‘God is loving,’ because if love is only one aspect of God’s character then he could be known by other characteristics. But if love is his essence, then he cannot truly be known by one who does not know love, as stated in verse 8.

God demonstrates his love by sending his son as the i{lasmon (hilasmon) for our sins (verse 10) which is often translated propitiation (appeasing the anger or wrath of God). In the broader context of the letter, John is talking about cleansing (1:7&9), forgiveness / letting go (1:9 & 2:12), purification (3:3&5), and God being love (4:8); a love that makes us his children (3:1) and lays down its life (3:16). John has contrasted love and hate with light and dark (1:5-7 & 2:8-11); life and death (2:17 & 3:14-15); God and the Devil (3:8). He never once uses the word wrath or anger, and punishment does not occur until 4:17, which will be addressed shortly. {Ilasmon likely cannot mean propitiation in this context. In the Septuagint, Leviticus 16:13-15 uses the word i{lasthrion (hilasterion) for mercy seat in a context of cleansing. As John uses the same context, I believe John is also using i{lasmon as mercy seat.

John’s comment, in verse 12, that God is unseen seems to be a corrective toward the false teachers mentioned at the beginning of the chapter. They may have claimed to know and to see God through mystical visions, but John is saying we know and see God in the sending of his son which is the demonstration of his essence–love–and so we love one another. The secessionists did not believe they were subject to sin, and yet they were haughty and unloving. John makes love the highest test of a relationship with God, not visions or other mystical experiences. Verse 13 further emphasises John’s corrective by explaining that those who remain in him have the spirit of God. God’s spirit is not limited to the mystics.

The Father has sent the son as swthra (sotera) / saviour / rescuer / deliverer / preserver of the world (verse 14)! This implies universal salvation and verse 15 clarifies that whoever agrees / confesses Jesus as the son of God, remains in God. John further explains in verse 16 that it is those who love that remain in God and God in them. To truly agree with Jesus is to abide in his love, and therefore to love one another. This is the outworking of our salvation. So while I believe that the whole world is saved, I believe we are also being saved by the outworking of love in our lives. This may even take into eternity as we will see in the coming verses.

The word parrhsia (parresia) which we often translate ‘confidence,’ means speech that conceals nothing, / outspokenness / frankness / openness i.e. to the public / boldness / confidence / fearlessness. Parrhsia is also known as “the voice of friendship” in the Greco-Roman world, meaning confidence in the context of relational intimacy. It is assurance or security in the midst of raw, naked openness. So we will have confident-openness on the day of judgement if/because love is made complete within us.

Now we arrive at the crux of it all: {Oti kaqws ‘ekeinos, kai h{meis ‘esmen ‘en tw kosmw toutw, literally: that/since/because just as he/she/it is, so we are in this world. This follows John declaring that God is love twice in verses 8 and 16. I believe John intended to portray: ‘that just as he is love, so we are love in this world.’ Love is what we were created to be and love is what gives us confident-openness.

There is no fear of punishment in love. Interestingly, there are alternative views on the definition of kolasis (kolasis) which we generally translate as punishment. William Barclay connects it to pruning trees, which is something John himself refers to in his Gospel (chapter 15 in particular). I believe kolasis is remedial punishment not punitive. The “punishment” has to do with how well we love. If we hate our brothers and sisters we need to reconcile with them, forgive one another and learn to love. That is “punishment” if it is something we are resisting. But if we are perfect in love then there is nothing is punish, discipline or correct.

At the end of the chapter, John re-emphasises that we have not seen God, but we know him by his love which naturally causes us to love. If we do not love, then we do not know him and claiming to know him is a lie. Again, this could be aimed at the more mystical believers of John’s day, but is just as pertinent for us today.

In summary, 1 John is a letter about walking in the light as God is in the light. Since God is love, we are to walk in love. More than that, we know that we remain in him and he in us if we produce the fruit of love. In fact the fruit will grow naturally, because, just as he is love, so we are love in this world. Anyone who hates his brothers or sisters has not been made complete in love, and may not really have encountered the God who is love. We should beware of false teachers who do not walk in love because this is of the spirit of the antichrist.

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