1 John 4 challenges a false philosophy that teaches that the physical is a barrier to the spiritual, or that sinful “flesh” is too corrupt to be the dwelling place of the living God. In our own day, 1 John continues to challenge a distorted understanding of the human body.
John is talking about discerning true and false doctrines about Jesus Christ and the requirement to love fellow believers. He is saying that false doctrines do not teach the truth about Jesus. The truth is that Jesus was God-in-the-flesh (or “God-in-sin,” c.f. 2 Cor. 5:21) and that by means of the flesh joined to the spiritual, God’s love has been made manifest to us.
Jesus as God-in-the-flesh means that the unseen, unknowable God has become visible and knowable. More importantly, this Jesus can love and be loved. In this time of waiting before His return, though we no longer have Him in the flesh to know and to love, we do have each other.
- 1 John 4:1-6
- 1. A warning against spirits not from God who inspire false teaching
- 2. A litmus test for knowing the Spirit of God: confessing that “Jesus is fully human”
- 3. A litmus test for knowing the spirit of the antichrist: “Jesus is something else”
- 4a. Believers are from God and have overcome the false spirits
- 4b. The Holy Spirit is in believers and is greater than Satan who is in the world
- 5. False prophets with the spirit of antichrist are listened to (and trusted by) the world
- 6. Believers recognize and know the Spirit of truth in other believers
- 1 John 4:7-12
- 7. If we love one another, it shows we are from God (v. 4) and that we know God
- 8. Haters (murderers) do not know God, because God is love (c.f. 3:12)
- 9. God’s love appeared to us as his only Son, Jesus (c.f. 1:2) so that we might live
- 10. God sets the standard for love, not humans
- 11. Love each other by God’s standard, not by man’s
- 12. By loving each other, God begins to live in us, and we begin to “see” God, even though God can’t be seen
- 1 John 4:13-21
- 13. The Holy Spirit active in a believer’s life is evidence that God abides in him / her (c.f. 12)
- 14-15. A litmus test for knowing that God lives in us: confessing that “Jesus is fully God”
- 16. Living in love is living in God
- 17. Jesus’ perfection becomes our own, so that we incur the Father’s pleasure and not his wrath
- 18. If we are still afraid; if there is still fear in us, it is because we are not yet in perfect (completed) love
- 19. Our love is a response to God’s love (c.f. 10)
- 20a. Hatred leads to lying. Liars are not lovers
- 20b. Love the brother you can see and you will love the God you cannot see
- 21. You cannot love God alone, you must love your brother and sister in Christ
“Toxic untruths” exposed by text
(1) The path to God is entirely spiritual. (2) God cannot be accessed by physical means.
Human needs identified in text
(1) The need for access to and knowledge of the truth. (2) The need for love.
By loving the brothers (and sisters) in Christ that we can see, we love Christ our brother, who, for at time, we cannot see.