7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides 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 given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16 So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. 17 By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. 19 We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.
The older I get, the clearer I see that “all Scripture is breathed out by God and is profitable” (2 Timothy 3:16). How else could words written so far in the past ring so true today? There is no literature that holds truth like the Word of God because the “sum of [God’s] Word is truth” (Psalm 119:160), specifically because God Himself in the Person of Jesus Christ is the Truth (John 14:6). That elevates the words on the pages of the Bible to more than mere literature, surpassing sentences, paragraphs, chapters, and books. We can read it and recognize the truth and beauty in the cry of the psalmist, “give me life according to Your Word” (Psalm 119:25), because that is exactly where we find Life – where we find Christ Himself!
In thinking about the way that today’s passage intersects with our present-day world, a call from the Lord to Israel comes to mind. Jeremiah 6:16 shows us how God called to Israel in the midst of their sin before disaster struck Jerusalem: “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.” He was calling them to repent – to change their ways – to turn away from their sin and back to Him. Yet their response to Him was simple: “We will not walk in it”.
As we have walked through 1 John verse-by-verse, we have seen how the Holy Spirit through John has pleaded with God’s people down through the ages to examine our lives and know whether or not we walk in the light (1:5, 7; 2:10; 3:10, 14), whether the truth is in us or the Truth shows us to be liars (1:6, 8, 10; 2:4, 9, 11, 22; 3:6, 10), and if we are God’s children with His Spirit abiding in us and us in Him (2:20, 24, 27-28; 3:6, 10, 24). The past two weeks (part 1 and part 2) looking at 1 John 4:7-21 feel like a Jeremiah 6:16 sort of crossroads. We see the ancient paths where the good way is (love), yet it is so easy to turn and follow sinful desires (hate, unforgiveness) in the wrong direction.
Our journey through this particular passage began as we looked at how the command to love one another flowed from Jesus’ original teaching (John 13:14), continued through the apostles into the early church (1:5, 2:24, 3:11), and suggested that it was intended to be lived out in the Church today (3:16-18). We then looked specifically at how the love that Christ showed the Church, His Bride, as “the propitiation for our sins” (v. 10), “and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (2:2). We continue today into the end of the passage, and it is tempting to pass over it, calling it merely repetitive because of similarities to other parts of 1 John. But the consequences could be eternally significant should we pass over these truths.
In today’s section, we see John revisiting the theme of assurance – the idea that we can truly know whether we or not we belong to God. We see v. 13 talk about it similarly to earlier in 1 John: “By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit.” We can know we belong to Him because His Spirit is in us, and we know that His Spirit is in us because He bears fruit in those within whom He abides, specifically “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). Those who do not bear this fruit – well, they bear fruit of their own sinful flesh (Galatians 5:19-21).
The difference between how John talks about assurance here than earlier in 1 John is how specifically he ties how we can know that we belong to God (are saved, born again, redeemed) to whether or not we love. In fact, one of the toughest and most alarming verses is the end of v. 20 where it clearly says “he who does not love His brother whom He has seen cannot love God whom He has not seen.” Cannot….
It seems here that he is revisiting v. 8 that showed us a lack of love shows a lack of God “because God is love” and v. 11 that shows “if God so loved us (specifically calling back to John 3:16), we also ought to love one another”. Guess what: he is revisiting it because we need to hear it again and again – because we are foolish and, in our selfishness, we forget (sometimes willingly). We do not want to hear again and again that hatred is evidence of not loving God, nor do we want to hear that a chronic lack of forgiveness and, let us call it what it is, blatant hatred of others is evidence of a spiritual problem. At its most severe, it can be evidence of lostness.
For a religion whose foundation is supposed to be love, there are people – individuals as well as groups – who have done great damage using the name of Christ while spreading and feeding their own hatred. I remember being shocked and dismayed when a coworker showed me a picture of Ku Klux Klansmen standing on the “altar” of a “church” (their sponsor, nonetheless), asking me how I could participate in a religion that condoned hatred and was actively evil. In fact, there are too many examples throughout “church” history of more of the same. But neither tradition nor history change the Word of God. The words of the Holy Spirit through John answer plainly: one cannot love God and participate in such things.
The most startling example perhaps is found in our own hearts – yes, mine as well as yours. Now, we would say that our hatred is different, but, then again, that is what we always say when the sin is our own. We have thought it out, rationalized and justified it. But the words of the Holy Spirit through John answer plainly: one cannot love God and participate in such things.
The word “cannot” sounds so final. That is because it is! What we see as a compound word in English is actually two separate words in the original language (not + a word describing ability or power through any means possible). This is significant because it carries much more weight than our simple “cannot”. The original context describes a situation in which there is absolutely no mindset, no set of circumstances, no ability, no power at all. Jesus uses this very same set of words in Matthew 7:18 to say “a healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit”, Mark 3:24 to say “if a kingdom is divided against itself [it] cannot stand”, Luke 14:26-27 to say that one whose ultimate love is not Christ “cannot be [His] disciple”, and John 3:3 to say that “unless one is born again he cannot see the Kingdom of God”. If Jesus is truly “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” and “[n]o one comes to the Father except through [Him]” (John 14:6), how can His cannot be wrong? Can cannot be as final as it sounds? Dear, Sojourner, when God’s Word says it, the answer can only be yes. He gets the final say-so because He is God.
We see here that we have reason to examine our lives, but this should lead us to repentance, not fear. This is why John tells us in this same passage that “perfect love casts out fear” (v. 18). He hails back to ch 2:4 when we see that in keeping and following the Word “truly the love of God is perfected”. If we genuinely believe that ALL “Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16), we must not hold only to the teaching and training; we need to submit our beliefs to reproof (God’s Word realigning our beliefs to itself) and correction (of sinful actions or behaviors). If God’s Word is indeed His Word, it must change our lives or else we simply do not believe it. How can one believe that it contains Truth that gives Life if it is impotent to change behaviors in those who claim to follow its teachings?
We know our hearts and our sinful imperfections (Romans 3:10, 23). Sometimes, when confronted with our sinfulness, we find ourselves falling into fear. This is why He gave us v. 18. It is easy to say that “perfect love casts out fear” but another thing entirely to practice it. He goes on to explain that “fear has to do with punishment”. When we are confronted in the Word with sinfulness – specifically hatred in today’s passage, it is good for us to examine our lives. Furthermore, it is good for us to know that hatred is a spiritual problem! But, rather than it driving us to fear – if we say we belong to Christ, it should drive us to repentance. You see, it is when we learned the reality of our sin that we first came to the Savior! Being confronted with sin (again and again) as we spend time in God’s Word, we should be driven to Him more and more.
We do not have to fear punishment because Christ – as propitiation – has “bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness” (1 Peter 2:24). Repentance – specifically turning from our hatred to His love and seeking to exhibit the forgiveness He shows His people – shows evidence of His Spirit (just as a lack of it shows the opposite). When confronted with hatred in my own heart recently, I realized that I first had to confess that sin to the Lord (1:9, Psalm 51:1), then confess the sin to brothers I trust to pray for me and hold me accountable (James 5:16), and genuinely seek the Lord for Him to soften my heart and grant repentance (2 Timothy 2:25).
What should we take from this?
First, we are sinners, and our sin is not to be taken lightly. The reality of Jesus being the propitiation for sin (v. 10) is heavy because that means He bore our sin because He had none of His own (2 Corinthians 5:21)! If you are His, that means His death was in the place of yours. And your Life is because of Him. In Him there is hope for us. We need to be thankful for mighty examples of repentance like we find in Psalm 51 so we can learn to seek after God’s forgiveness, grace, and mercy and ask that He “create in [us] a clean heart…, and renew a right spirit with [us]” (Psalm 51:10). We need to be reminded that if “while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8) and “if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son” (Romans 5:10), we can love because He first loved us (v. 19) – that we can love others because “God is love” and He is in us and we are in Him (vv. 8, 13, 16, 21).
Second, there are those who have misused the name of Jesus. They have claimed His name and committed all sorts of evil, devastating the lives of people in the fall out. We do not need to ignore those sins nor should we believe that atrocities done in His name will be easily corrected or wounds quickly healed. The words of the Holy Spirit through John answer plainly: one cannot love God and participate in such things. And the true Jesus – as found in His Word, does not need us to defend Him or seek to fix errors that others have made. He has spoken for Himself through John and offers the same hope to all that we have found in His Word ourselves. Christ could have hated us and left us in our sin – and been justified in doing it! But, praise God, He chose grace and mercy “because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses” (Ephesians 2:4-5).
If you are reading this and find yourself standing and the crossroads of love and hate and are offered the ancient paths, the good way of the love of Christ, may you respond in faith and repentance, not foolishly saying as those before us have: “We will not walk in it”.
 The English teacher in me would like to note that the lack of “and” at the end of what appears to be items in a series is not a typo. This list is known as the fruit (singular – not fruits) of the Spirit – one Spirit, these collectively are one fruit grown by Him in the lives of those who are born again.