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Today’s post continues a study of St John’s epistles, which revolve around discernment, faith and love designed to elaborate more on the Christian life and sanctification.

As most of his letters have been excluded from the three-year Lectionary, they are perfect additions to my ongoing series Forbidden Bible Verses, also essential to our understanding of Scripture.

Today’s reading is taken from the King James Version with commentary from Matthew Henry.

1 John 4:14-21

14And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world.

 15Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God.

 16And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.

 17Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world.

 18There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.

 19We love him, because he first loved us.

 20If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?

 21And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.

——————————————————–

In last week’s reading, John explained that the love of God for His children is so great that he sent His only begotten Son Jesus Christ to die on the cross as the one complete propitiation for our sins. Therefore, if we have true faith, we will want to imitate this generous love towards Him and each other.

These epistles demonstrate clearly why John is known as the ‘apostle of love’. Today’s reading, as you have read, further develops the theme of Christian love.

Although John returns again to what he has said before, each revisiting of his themes adds to our understanding of his message.  Today’s verses build on last week’s, and we have read this development throughout the whole of 1 John.

In verse 14, he affirms on behalf of his faithful that ‘we’ believe that God sent Jesus Christ to be our Saviour and Redeemer. It is a statement of the faith they hold in common.  This is the most fundamental belief of Christianity.

Secondly, those who freely confess through the gift of the Holy Spirit that Jesus is the Son of God will find God’s spirit within them and they will dwell in Him now and forever (verse 15).

In verse 16, John makes that a highly personalised statement of belief: ‘we have known and believed’. That belief binds them to each other; hence John’s exhortation to love one another as Christ commanded.

Matthew Henry calls this a recounting of the history of divine love:

The Christian revelation is, what should endear it to us, the revelation of the divine love; the articles of our revealed faith are but so many articles relating to the divine love. The history of the Lord Christ is the history of God’s love to us; all his transactions in and with his Son were but testifications of his love to us, and means to advance us to the love of God: God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, 2 Co. 5:19.

We affirm this history and testify of it because of the Gospel story.  Furthermore, the more we read and understand the Gospels, the more profound this love becomes.  We see more clearly the depth of God’s love, His infinite mercy and His forgiveness of those who believe in His Son and readily confess His name. Bible scholars and good pastors spend their adult lives reading, rereading and examining Scripture. They continue to grow in insight — as should we.

Indeed, our sanctification should enable us to yearn for the day when we see the Lord face-to-face. We should be confident of our relationship with Him such that the Final Judgment holds no fear for us — that it should be a longing for our heavenly home (verse 17).

When we truly love Jesus and truly love God, our fear is dispelled (verse 18). That is because the spirit of Jesus, the spirit of God and the Holy Spirit are alive within us, enabling us to love them and love each other.

John points out that those who fear do not love. This is not to say that we never feel afraid in situations or of people — useful — but that our love of God has become deeper each day, our closeness to Him has increased, along with our longing for Him. Yes, we read of a ‘fear’ of God, but that in our day translates to ‘awe’ not ‘aversion’.

Henry explains:

The fear of God is often mentioned and commanded as the substance of religion (1 Pt. 2:17; Rev. 14:7); and so it imports the high regard and veneration we have for God and his authority and government. Such fear is constant with love, yea, with perfect love, as being in the angels themselves. But then there is a being afraid of God, which arises from a sense of guilt, and a view of his vindictive perfections; in the view of them, God is represented as a consuming fire; and so fear here may be rendered dread; There is no dread in love. Love considers its object as good and excellent, and therefore amiable, and worthy to be beloved. Love considers God as most eminently good, and most eminently loving us in Christ, and so puts off dread, and puts on joy in him; and, as love grows, joy grows too; so that perfect love casteth out fear or dread.

Verse 19 is easy to remember — especially when discussing the faith with children or potential converts:

We love him, because he first loved us.

That is the history of divine love which John so simply, yet so eloquently, summarises for us.

In verse 20, John returns to what he said earlier in 1 John 3 — the second part of verse 14 and verse 15:

He that loveth not his brother abideth in death.

Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.

And in 1 John 2:22 when he denounced the false teachers — the antichrists — who had taught among them:

Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son.

Now, he says (1 John 4:20):

If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?

Through his repetition and adding more each time, John is able to reinforce the truth. We cannot love each other unless we first love God. And we love God by loving Jesus Christ and by affirming that He is the Son of God. We do that by the power of the Holy Spirit. Each manifestation of love is God working through us. That is how others ‘see’ God through us, our heartfelt acts of love. That is how the unseen God manifests Himself to the world.

In verse 21, John closes with another exhortation to follow Christ’s commandment to love one another.

It is natural for true Christians to love God and to then express that love towards each other.  The more we communicate with God through prayer, the more constant these sincere expressions of love become — towards others and towards Him.

Next week: 1 John 5:7-13

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