A Study of 1 Jn.4:1 – 5:3
True fellowship with God and other believers should be evident in our character. Here, John warns us that we should not accept all that we hear or are taught from Scripture, we need to be fully informed by Testing the Spirits <1 Jn.4:1-6>, as he continues to teach the characteristics of our fellowship with God. “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” <1 Jn.4:1 (NIV)>. John instructs us to “test the spirits”; what does he mean by the spirits? An individual is moved by a spirit, either by The Holy Spirit or by an evil spirit; here he is reminding us of the fact that there are many that wish to identify as members of our churches who are not truly believers in Christ. They are being controlled by the spirit of Satan, because they have abandoned their faith in Christ <see 1 Jn.2:19; cf 2 Pet.1:21; 2:1; Matt.7:15; 24:11; 1 Tim.4:1>. The teachings of Gnosticism were a problem that faced the early church, and is still a bigger problem in the Church today.
John gives us two tests that will expose the false spirit. First, he states: “Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God” <1 Jn. 4:2 (NIV)>; those that do not acknowledge Jesus Christ, is not of God; for as he has previously stated, those that are from God will testify that Christ, who is God, has come in the flesh, (human form) <see 1 Jn.1:1-4; cf Jn.1:1-2, 14; Phil.2:5-7>, and that while in His humanity He fulfilled all that was prophesied in respect to Him <see Deut.18:17-22; Jn.1:45; 5:46>. Those then, who do not acknowledge that Jesus Christ has appeared in human form, and teach that He is not God, are exhibiting the spirit of the anti-Christ, and John again warns us that such spirits (persons) are already in our churches <1 Jn.4:3>, and that “They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them.” <1 Jn.4:5 (NIV)>. John gives a second test: “We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us.” <1 Jn.4:6 (NIV)>; and this test will prove the false spirit (person) because they will refuse to acknowledge the Deity of Christ since they acknowledge the viewpoint of humankind. John then concludes the test stating: “This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.” <1 Jn.4:6 (NIV)>, and it is appropriate for each of us as followers of Christ to be sure to test the teachings that we hear in our Churches today.
As he completes this section, John directs us to Love as Christ Loved <1 Jn.4:7—5:3>. Love is a word that is so misused in our society today. For most people it has no real meaning and is only used to express affection or some kind of appreciation. In this section John shows us that love is not only an expression but an action, for real love comes only from the One who is Love. “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” <1 Jn.4:7-8 (NIV)>. Here we see that love originates in God, and is passed on to the individual that is born of God <see Jn.3:6-7>; this is the source of our love for each other, the basis of Christ’s command <see Jn.13:34-35>, and the characteristic of true discipleship. This love was made possible for us as individuals because of God’s eternal love for us, for we could not possess or experience real love apart from God’s gift to us, and we are reminded of this in what John says here: “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” <1 Jn.4:9-10 (NIV); cf Jn.3:16; Rom.5:8>. The example of love is seen in God’s love for us as sinners by the sacrifice of His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and we should love each other as Christ loved us even though we did nothing to deserve it. We live in a society where true love is absent, and as Christ’s followers, we are commanded to express His love for others even when it may be difficult, and sometimes almost impossible! <see 2 Tim.3:2-5>.
John continues to describe the relationship of the believer to God, and that no greater or closer relationship can be conceived. First, he states that God lives in us and His love is made complete in us; “…but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.” <1 Jn.4:12 (NIV)>; and out of the depths of our relationship to God, because He has given us His Holy Spirit, when we express true love to others, we testify of God’s love to all people <1 Jn.4:14; cf Jn.15:26-27>. Secondly, he states that in our acknowledgement that Jesus Christ is God’s Son (Christ’s Deity), God lives in us: “If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.” <1 Jn.4:15-16 (NIV); cf 1 Jn.4:2>; confirming the close relationship that we have with God and Christ. This is the reason that we must express true love to others in obedience to Christ’s command! God’s love is made complete in us when we express His love (the love that He passes on to us) to others. His love removes the fear that the non-believer has for God; and we express love for others because God first loved us, even though there are times in our life when love is difficult to be expressed. We cannot say that we love God and not express that love to others, especially to other believers: “…. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.” <1 Jn.4:16-21 (NIV)>.
John commenced this section by stating: “Dear friends, let us love one another…” <1 Jn.4:7 (NIV)>; and in view of Christ’s teaching <see Matt.22:36-37>, why does he say “love one another”, instead of “love God”? As he has stated here in the conclusion of the section, only the true believer in Christ has the characteristic of the love of God; so, when we express love for other believers (and non-believers) we are expressing the love of God, and is the evidence of our real love for God. Further evidence of this is seen in his statement: “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome” <1 Jn.5:1-3 (NIV)>. When we are obedient to Christ’s command to love each other, this is proof that we love God!
The questions that need to be asked is: Where do I stand, or what is my position, pertaining to John’s teaching? Do I simply accept all interpretations of the Scriptures, or do I verify the Scriptures for myself? Do I express the love of Christ in all my relations with other believers and non-believers?