1 John 4:7-5:3a

This Bible Study was led by Larry Reynolds in the Spring of 2008.

Denton, TX

The Greatness of Love – 1 John 4:7-5:3a


            We have already seen that love is a major theme of 1 John.  The topic has been dealt with in some detail two previous times in this letter:

·         2:7-17 describes the duty to love as the greatest of the commandments

·         3:11-24 describes love as the mark of a true child of God

Now, in 4:7-5:3a John returns to the theme of love.  In this passage the word love, either as a noun or a verb, is used 32 times.  The word is used 46 times in the five chapters of 1 John.  As I’ve told you before, in the Greek vocabulary there are several words that are translated with the English word “love.” 

·         Philia carries the idea of friendship, affection, or brotherly love.  It is loving those who love us in return.

·         Eros carries the idea of sexual desire.  It is self-centered, taking what it can for one’s own benefit or pleasure.

·         Agape carries the idea of unselfish, self-giving love that has nothing to do with the person being loved but everything to do with the one doing the loving. 

Another way of looking at that is philia involves give and take, eros is all take, and agape is all give.  Not surprisingly, the word for love used throughout this passage is agape.

            A.T. Robertson, the famous Greek and NT scholar, compares this passage to Paul’s great chapter on love in 1 Corinthians 13:  “Paul’s chapter is like a perfect prose poem while John’s is like a diamond turned round and round for different angles of light to flash on it.”  John looks at love from various angles, describes its many splendors, and encourages us to practice it.  1 John 4:7-5:3a divides rather naturally into four parts:

  1. A call to love on another (4:7-12)
  2. The relationship between love and the indwelling of God in our lives (4:13-16)
  3. The perfection of love (4:17-5:1)
  4. The obedience of love (5:2-3a)



A call to love one another (4:7-12) – In these verses the phrase “love one another” is repeated three times.  It is the recurring refrain of these verses.

    • In verse 7 “love one another” is an earnest appeal
    • In verse 11 “love one another” is an imperative duty
    • In verse 12 “love one another” is the evidence of God’s dwelling in us


1)      An earnest appeal (vv.7-10) – Tradition says John continually preached about the importance of believers loving each other.  When asked why he so often returned to that theme, John said, “Because it is the Lord’s command, and if only this be done, it is enough.”  These verses give us two reasons to be characterized by love.

a.       Because love is of God (vv.7-8a - “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.  The one who does not love does not know God…”)

“from God” – Means love has its origin or source in God.  It flows from Him like light radiates from the sun.  The presence of love is evidence of the presence of God.

“does not know” – The absence of love is evidence of the absence of God.  Tense of the verb means has not once known God, regardless of confessions to the contrary.

b.      Because God is love (vv.8b-10 – “…for God is love.  By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him.  In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”)

“God is love” – This is one of the most profound and meaningful statements about God in the Bible.  It tells us that love is an integral part of God’s nature.  Love is never absent from God.  One writer put it this way:  “…to assert God is love is to say that love is of the very essence of God, that all His activity, therefore, is loving activity … if He creates, He creates in love; if He rules, He rules in love; if He judges, He judges in love.  All that He does is the expression of His nature, which is to love…”

Verses 9-10 point out that the act of God sending His Son is the way we know God is love.  The sending of Jesus is the means which made God’s love visible.  The greatness of God’s love is seen in:

·         The greatness of the One sent – “His only begotten Son” – Only John uses that phrase.  (cf. John 1:14; 1:18; 3:16; 3:18; 1 John 4:9) “No greater gift of God is conceivable because no greater gift was possible.” (John Stott)

·         The purpose of the Son’s mission – “that we may live through Him” – Reminiscent of John 3:16 and John 10:10.

·         God’s graciousness towards us – “not that we loved God, but that He loved us”

·         The sacrificial character of Christ’s death – “sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” – God’s love cost Him!

2)      The obligation to love (v.11 – “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”)

“ought” – A very strong word stressing moral obligation.  It carries the idea of being bound to do something. (cf. 1 John 2:6; 3:16)

“if God” – The motive of our loving others is God’s love for us, not the worthiness of those being loved.  “His love supplies the incentive, the motivation, and the example for ours.” (Vaughn)

“so loved” – Stresses both the quantitative (so much) and qualitative (in such a manner) aspects of God’s love.

3)      The function of love (v.12 – “No one has beheld God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us.”) – The kind of love John is discussing fulfills two functions in our lives:

·         It is the visible evidence that God dwells in us.  As we love others, the invisible God is seen.  The way that people see God is in the love of God’s people.

·         When we practice love, God’s love is perfected in us.  “Perfected” means to fulfill its purpose.  When we love one another, the purpose of God’s love for us has been fulfilled.


The relationship between love and the indwelling of God in our lives (4:13-16)

1)      The gift of the Spirit is an evidence of God’s indwelling (v.13 – “By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit.”) – In verse 12 we are told that the invisible God is revealed to others as they see Him in our loving deeds.  In this verse we are taught that He gives us a witness of His presence.

2)      The confession that Jesus is the Son of God is an evidence of God’s indwelling (vv.14-15)

Verse 14 – “And we have beheld and bear witness that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world.”  This verse sets for the testimony of the Apostles to the Son of His saving mission.

“we” – Very emphatic meaning, “We, on our part…”

“that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior…” – Their message was not just the recital of facts but the interpretation of those facts.

“have beheld” – Means to look closely or to take a contemplative look.  Perfect tense indicates a past act with continuing influence.

“bear witness” – Present tense indicating continuous action.

Verse 15 – “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in Him, and he in God.”  This statement suggests that confession of Jesus is a part of the plan by which Christ (who potentially is the whole world’s Savior) becomes one’s Savior in actuality.  The essence of confession is the acknowledgement of Jesus as the eternal Son of God (cf. 1 John 4:2).

“confesses” – Aorist tense which indicates a single, decisive act in the past.

3)      Abiding in love is an evidence of God’s indwelling (v. 16 – “And we have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us.  God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.”)

“we” – Probably refers to those who had been eyewitnesses to the Lord’s ministry.

“we know and believe” – Perfect tenses indicating a past act with continuing results.   The idea is, “We have come to know and believe and continue to know and believe.”

“for us” – In regard to us, in our case, or in our direction.

John repeats the profound statement that “God is love.”  However, he points out it is not enough merely to know that God is love.  Those who profess to know this must abide (remain, stay, live) in love; only those who abide in love truly abide in God and have God abiding in them.


The perfection of love (4:17 – 5:1) - As we saw in 4:12 “perfected” does not mean without flaw.  Instead, it means to fulfill an intended purpose.  Two things happen when God’s love is perfected, fulfills its intended purpose, in our lives.

1)   We have boldness in the day of judgment (vv.17-18 – “By this, love is perfected with us, that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world.  There is no fear in love; but perfect love cast our fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.”)

“by this” – Probably points forward to the remainder of these verses.

“confidence” – Third time John uses this word (cf. 2:28; 3:21).  Means freedom of speech or fearlessness.

“the day of judgment” – The time at the end of the age when all people will give an account of themselves to God.

“as He is, so also  are we” – Explains why confidence is possible.  Our standing before God is identical to that of Jesus.  When God looks at us, He sees His Son!

“there is no fear love” – Fear in this phrase is used as the opposite of bold confidence.  Love and fear are mutually exclusive.

“fear involves punishment” – Either means fear is associated with punishment or fear has its own built in punishment.

2)   We have loving concern for our brothers (vv.4:19 – 5:1 – “We love because He first loved us.  If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.  And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also.  Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God; and whoever loves the Father loves the child born of Him.”)  Verse 19 states the principle that love for other people is the natural result of being a recipient of God’s love and of loving God.  Verses 4:20 – 5:1 explain why love for God must express itself in love for others.

·         A matter of opportunity (v.20) – Loving others gives us the opportunity of demonstrating our love for God.  “Love must find an object and if it fails to find the nearer object (others) it will never reach the further (God)…” (Brooke)

·         A matter of obedience (v.21) – Loving others is not optional for those who love God.  The one who fails to love others is failing to love God.

·         A matter of family feeling (5:1) – Those who believe in Jesus are children of God.  Those who love the Father also love the Father’s children.


The obedience of love (5:2-3a)

Verse 2 – “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments.” – True love for others is grounded in love for and obedience to God.

Verse 3a – “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments…” – Where there is no obedience to God there is no love for God.  Where there is no love for God, there is no love for others.