Notes on 1 John 4:7-11

by Jonathan Spurlock
(Holts Summit, MO)

1 John 4:7, KJV Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.

The Holy Spirit led John to write these words. It is true that one of the hallmarks of genuine Christianity was how believers loved one another. It is also true that in some occasions, that love was lacking or almost gone: witness Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5, when they lied to the Holy Spirit and paid with their lives when they did so; the extra caution almost to the point of aloofness when Saul came back to Jerusalem literally a changed man (Acts 9:26); and the problem/s between Euodias and Syntyche in Philippi (Phil 4:2). Paul also wrote in 1 Corinthians 13 that if he did have many different good things, but didn’t have love, it wouldn’t do him any good. Later the Lord Jesus Christ would remind the church in Ephesus that they had left their first love (Rev. 2:4).

John also gave a promise or reminder, perhaps both, that everyone who loves is born of God and knows Him; the present tense of the verb indicating a continuous action.

8 He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.

Love is one of the so-called “definitions” of God, namely, that God is (fill in the blank). Besides love, God can also be defined as Spirt (John 4:24), light (1 John 1:5), and a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29). Certainly these speak to characteristics, not necessarily literal depictions: one Bible teacher mentioned somewhat humorously that saying “God is a consuming fire” did not mean God was a literal blast furnace!

The “Christian Life New Testament” with 15 master study outlines gives an excellent summary of the doctrine of God the Father, including these definitions.

John also contrasts the ones who know and love God with those who do not love, and because of that, do not know God either. Paul had experienced something like this at Philippi (Acts 16), where he and Silas were beaten then thrown into the jail. After the jailer and his household believed, he washed the wounds of Paul and Silas—true proof of genuine love.

Paul also experienced this at Athens (see Acts 17), where even among all the idols in that city, there was an altar “to the Unknown God (Acts 17:23)”. Paul experienced very little love among the pagans because even though they knew all about the “gods” of their own religion, they never knew the True God personally. Once Dionysius, Damaris, and the few others became believers in Jesus, they should have been able to experience the incredible true Love that God has for us.

9 In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.

John uses the words “manifest” and “manifested” six times in this letter. Here he explains this by saying God sent His only begotten Son into the world (compare John 3:16) so that we might live through Him.

10 Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son (to be) the propitiation for our sins.

Now John begins another mention of God’s love. God took the first step, so to speak, by loving us—even though we have sinned and fallen short of His glory (Romans 3:23). Paul also spoke of this in Romans 5:8-12, explaining that while we were (still) sinners, Christ died for us. “Propitiation” was mentioned once before in this letter, I John 2:2.

11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.

John reminds the readers that we should love one another because God loved us—and still does! The problem of believers not truly or not actually loving each other is a recurring theme in this letter and in James, too. James gives a number of examples of non-brotherly love, such as preferential treatment, withholding wages, and so forth.

Scripture quotations taken from the King James Version of the Bible (KJV).

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