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Chapter Four - Living In God's Love
Jesus Christ Come in the Flesh (1 John 4:1-6)
The Scriptures recognize the fact that there is an unseen spirit world, and in that world there are both good and evil spirits. Of the angels it is written, He “maketh his angels spirits, and his ministers a flame of fire.” These good spirits have a certain ministry to the people of God here on earth, for we read, “Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?” (Hebrews 1:7; Hebrews 1:14). Their ministry has to do with temporal mercies rather than with the unfolding of spiritual truths. There is another Spirit greater than all created spirits, whose job it is to guide us into all truth-that is the Holy Spirit of God. We as believers are not to look to angels for guidance and understanding, but to the Comforter, the Holy Spirit. This third person of the Trinity came into the world to take the things of Christ and open them to us.
On the other hand, there is a realm of evil spirits. We are told in Ephesians 6:12 that “we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” It is possible for a man to be under the control of the Holy Spirit to such an extent that He is able to use that man to spread the truth of God in a mighty way. It is just as possible for a man to be under the control of the evil spirits, and teach lies instead of truth. When under their control he will seek to turn people away from the revealed message that God has given in His Word, and bring them into bondage to some form of error. It is important, therefore, that we be able to distinguish between the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.
In the early days of the Christian church there were those who came in among the assemblies, professing to be speaking by the Spirit of God, but teaching something contrary to what was plainly declared in God’s Word. So John wrote, “Believe not every spirit, but try [or test] the spirits whether they are of God.” But how do we test them? Study Scripture to see if what they say is in accordance with what is revealed in the Bible, for it was given by inspiration of God. “Holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (2 Peter 1:21). Therefore, no one who is truly speaking through the Holy Spirit will teach anything that contradicts that revelation.
John’s exhortation is of tremendous importance today as well, for there are still multitudes who profess to interpret the message of God to man, and claim to be under the controlling power of the Holy Spirit, who in reality are controlled by evil spirits. They speak things that they ought not to speak. Scripture says that for the sake of money many false prophets are gone out into the world. A prophet is not necessarily one who foretells the future, but also one who comes to man with a message from God. “He that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort” (1 Corinthians 14:3). So, when one comes professing to be a messenger from God, he must be tested by the Word of God.
The test is given in 1 John 4:2-3, “Hereby know ye the spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.” Notice the simplicity of this test. Does a man confess that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh or does he deny the great doctrine of the incarnation? If a man confesses the incarnation, he is of God. That does not mean that everything else he teaches is necessarily Scriptural, but he had the right foundation if he confesses the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.
We begin-the whole Christian system begins-with the incarnation, not with an apotheosis. I do not like to use this theological term, for some of you may wonder what it means. But it is such a convenient term, and stands in direct contrast to the term incarnation. The word apotheosis comes from two Greek words, one meaning “from,” and the other “god” or the “deity.” So we speak of an apotheosis as a man entirely under an influence from God-a deified man. There are many ministers and instructors today who teach that our Lord Jesus Christ was a remarkable youth, a child born into this world in many respects the superior of any other child, a religious genius, who from budding consciousness was God-intoxicated. His sole direction in life was toward a greater knowledge of deity. He was always reaching out after God. They teach that Jesus was so constantly under God’s influence and so absorbed in Him that He eventually became like Him. Therefore, we see in Jesus Christ, God manifested. That is an apotheosis, and what is commonly taught by those who are called modernists. They deny the incarnation and affirm an apotheosis. The Word of God does not teach an apotheosis, but it does teach the incarnation.
What do we mean by the incarnation? We mean that God, who existed from eternity in three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, desired to make Himself known to men, and take upon Himself man’s sin and iniquity, thus making full atonement for them. He stooped in grace in the person of the Son to identify Himself with humanity, and became incarnate by taking upon Himself flesh and blood. But, remember, it was God who did that. The baby in Bethlehem was not merely a remarkable child who was born with a great religious instinct, but that baby was God the Son. It was God who stooped in grace to dwell in the virgin’s womb, and was born into this world as man. But He did not cease for one moment to be God. “Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, is of God.” Not that Jesus Christ began to be when he was born into the world, but that He came-from where?-from Heaven. This is the incarnation, and every spirit that confesses this is of God.
Did you ever stop to think what a remarkable expression this is, “Jesus Christ came?” You were born into the world; you had no existence before you were conceived. Poetically, we ask,
Where did you come from, baby dear?
Out of the everywhere into here.
Where did you get those eyes so blue?
They came from the sky as I came through.
But that is only poetry. You began here on earth. You came into existence when you were born of your parents. But Jesus did-not begin to be when He was born in the stable and cradled in the manger. He came from Heaven’s highest glory down into this world to be the Savior of the world. He who was higher than all of the angels-He, their Creator-became a little lower than these glorious beings in order that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for every man.
Men may profess to honor Him while teaching an apotheosis. They may profess to think a great deal of Him by speaking of Him as the greatest religious genius that the world has ever known. They may even go so far as the French infidel, Renen, who declared, “From henceforth shall no man distinguish between Thee and God.” But Renen only meant that Jesus, a man, had become so godlike that we saw God revealed in Him. That is not the incarnation. The great truth is that “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:19). “Great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory” (1 Timothy 3:16). This is the Christian confession. Men may profess to honor Jesus by recognizing Him as the mightiest among the mighty, the greatest of all the great men of the world, the most marvelous of all its ethical teachers, but in reality they are only degrading Him unless they acknowledge Him as God over all. Jesus is God come in the flesh.
The denial of this fundamental doctrine is the spirit of antichrist. Notice, whether this denial is couched in rude or ignorant terms, or presented in beautiful language, it is the denial of the incarnation. To think of Jesus as anyone else than God-the Creator become man for our redemption-is to deny the truth concerning Him revealed in this Book and is the spirit of the antichrist.
Turning to believers with a word of warning, the apostle said, “Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world” (1 John 4:4). None of us would be what we are apart from the work of the Holy Spirit. It is not by chance that one person believes in the deity of Jesus and one does not. No man would ever acknowledge Him as God become flesh except by the illumination of the Holy Spirit. Even if men only acknowledge it intellectually, they do so because God has illumined the mind. But when men bow at the feet of the Savior and own Him as their Lord and Redeemer, that is the work of the Holy Spirit of God winning their hearts for Himself. From that moment on it is He who dwells in them and leads them on into fuller and clearer light and enables them to overcome. The believer takes no credit for himself, but gives all the glory to God for illuminating him and saving his soul.
My responsibility begins here. The Spirit of God illumines the mind and exercises the conscience, and I follow in accordance with His leading, until I am brought to a full acceptance and acknowledgment of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. The man who follows the leading of the Holy Spirit of God must see in Jesus Christ, God the Son become man for our redemption. It is to these believers that John said, “Ye are of God.” When we speak of believing on the Lord Jesus Christ, we mean a great deal more than simply accepting a dogma regarding the deity of Jesus Christ. If I acknowledge Jesus Christ as God, I owe the allegiance of my heart and life to Him, and when I have been led by the Spirit of God to so put my trust in Him that makes me a Christian.
To believe in Him is to trust Him. You could stand by the sea looking at a large ship lying at anchor, and say, “I believe that is a splendid ship. I believe that it is thoroughly seaworthy and properly manned. I believe it would take me on a long journey.” You may believe all that, but if you don’t step aboard that ship it will never take you there. And so intellectually you may believe what is recorded about Jesus Christ, you may accept the full Scriptural declaration about Him, but unless you trust yourself to Him, He will never be your Savior and Redeemer. When you trust Him, you come into this family of which John is writing, and are made one of God’s children. So it can be said of you, “Ye are of God, little children.” When you turn away from the world and walk in obedience to His Word, you are a member of His family, not through any power of your own, but through the indwelling Holy Spirit, for, “greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.”
Those who deny the deity of our Lord are of the world. They will always be popular in the world’s eyes because “they speak of the world, and the world heareth them” (1 John 4:5). The world will always ridicule the person who stakes everything for eternity on a divine revelation, and it will honor the man who says, “I do not accept anything from God. I depend entirely on my own sound judgment.” The world understands that kind of talk, for the wisdom of God is foolishness to the worldly-wise, but “it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching [not, through foolish preaching] to save them that believe” (1 Corinthians 1:21). Those who are born of God have an understanding far beyond that of earth.
It is not egotism that leads John to say, “We are of God” (1 John 4:6). This was a truth that he and his fellow apostles could claim having had the privilege of walking with the Lord for three-and-one-half years. John said of Jesus Christ, “the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father), full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Knowing Him so intimately, John had irrefutable proof that Jesus was more than man. When He died, and rose triumphantly from the tomb, they met Him on resurrection ground and their faith was again confirmed. Later, when the Holy Spirit descended at Pentecost and brought them the message that the risen Christ was exalted to God’s right hand, they were empowered to go out and preach the gospel. There were no doubts left-the last vestige of unbelief disappeared, and they could say, “We know that ‘we are of God.’”
“He that knoweth God, heareth us; he that is not of God, heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error” (1 John 4:6). Any man who knows God will hear the Word of God. We can test ourselves by that. Do you accept the testimony given in God’s Word-the testimony of our Lord Himself? He that is of God hears this testimony, and he that is not of God rejects it. John says, “Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error.” What a blessed thing it is to know God as revealed in the Lord Jesus Christ. What a wonderful thing it is to realize that He has come so close to us. Jesus, the infinite holy One-the One whom our poor finite minds could not comprehend-has become man that we might see in Him God fully revealed. Shouldn’t we praise and adore Him?
Life and Propitiation in Christ (1 John 4:7-10)
After the parenthesis of verses 1 Timothy 6:0 (1 John 4:1-6) in which believers are warned against the false teachers and evil spirits that are seeking to turn the hearts of God’s people away from Christ, the apostle returned to his previous theme-the love that gives evidence of the divine nature.
If you remember from our study in chapter 3, there are two words for love used in the New Testament- phileo and agapao. Phileo refers to a mere human affection, although it is used once when God is spoken of as being a friend to man. Agapao speaks of a more utterly unselfish affection, a love which is seen in all its fullness in God Himself, and which was displayed in our Lord Jesus Christ here on earth. When the apostle said, “Beloved, let us love one another,” he does not merely seek to encourage a natural affection, but has in mind a divine affection. As believers, the love of God is poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit. Being possessed of a new and divine nature, having been regenerated, the natural thing for the believer in the Lord Jesus is to love. “Let us love one another: for love is of God” (1 John 4:7). This love is simply the manifestation of the divine nature He has implanted within us. If you find a person who is not characterized by divine love, bearing the name of Christian, you can be reasonably sure that person has not yet been born again. On the other hand, be careful about snap judgments lest you yourself fail to exhibit divine love.
“Every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.” Not merely everyone who has natural affection for a father or mother or children or sister or brother, but everyone who loves in this divine unselfish way, demonstrates that he is born of God. Have you been born of God? I’m afraid too many people get in the habit of attending services and listening to Bible expositions, and to a certain degree even enjoying them, yet the power of God’s Word never grips their souls. Let us never forget the solemn words of our Lord Jesus Christ, “Ye must be born again.” We are told that John Wesley used to preach on this text over and over again, until some people grew weary of hearing it and wished that he would use another theme. Once after having preached on it in a place where he had done so many times before, someone said, “Mr. Wesley why do you preach so often on that one text, ‘Ye must be born again?’” “Why?” exclaimed Mr. Wesley. “Because ‘ye must be born again!’” Many people think they must join the church, be benevolent, turn over a new leaf, be good citizens, or be one hundred percent American in order to be a Christian. But you can do and be all these things and yet be lost for all eternity. “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” The proof that someone has been born again is that he exhibits this divine love. “Every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God” (1 John 4:7). On the other hand, “He that loveth not, knoweth not God; for God is love” (1 John 4:8). Twice in this chapter we have that wonderful statement, “God is love.” Nowhere else in the world will you find this wonderful truth than in the Bible.
Years ago a lady who prided herself on belonging to the intelligentsia said to me, “I have no use for the Bible, Christian superstition, and religious dogma. It is enough for me to know that God is love.” “Well,” I said, “do you know it?” “Why, of course I do,” she said; “we all know it, and that is religion enough for me. I do not need the dogmas of the Bible.” “How did you find out that God is love?” I asked. “Why,” she said, “everybody knows it.” “Do they know it in India?” I asked. “That poor mother in her distress throwing her little baby into the Ganges to be eaten by filthy and repulsive crocodiles as a sacrifice for her sins-does she know that God is love?” “Oh, well, she is ignorant and superstitious,” she replied. “Those poor natives in the jungles of Africa, bowing down to gods of wood and stone, and in constant fear of their fetishes, the poor heathen in other countries-do they know that God is love?” “Perhaps not,” she said, “but in a civilized country we all know it.” “But how is it that we know it? Who told us that God is love? Where did we discover it?” “I don’t understand what you mean,” she said. “I’ve always known it.” “Let me tell you this,” I answered. “No one in the world ever knew it until it was revealed from Heaven and recorded in the Word of God. It is here and nowhere else. It is not found in all the literature of the ancients.”
“God is love”-this is the divine nature, the very nature of God, and twice over you get it in this Epistle. How has that love been manifested? That is what the apostle explained in the next two verses.
“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” (1 John 4:9). That is the first manifestation of divine love. Creation proclaimed God’s omnipotent power and wisdom, but creation could not proclaim His love. When God looked down on a world groaning under the sentence of death because of sin, a world of people who were alive to the things of this life, but dead to the things of God, God found it in His heart to go down after those people and find a means of bringing “whosoever will” into newness of life. He said in effect, “I am going to give them the greatest gift that one could possibly give, My only begotten Son. I am going to send Him into the world that they may have life through Him.”
Five times in the New Testament you will find the expression, “The only begotten,” and it always speaks of our Lord’s eternal relationship to the Father-the eternal Son, the Only Begotten. It doesn’t imply priority or generation. Notice the use of the same word in Hebrews 11:0. There you read of Abraham who had received the promise and offered up his only begotten son. Isaac was not his only son. Abraham was the father of Ishmael years before Isaac was born, but Isaac is called his only begotten son. Why? Because Isaac was his son by a miraculous, unique relationship in which no other son could ever share. He had other sons afterwards, through Keturah, but none had the same relationship to him that Isaac had. And so this term “The only begotten son,” describes our Lord as one person of the trinity in eternal relation with the Father. It might be translated His unique Son. Others are sons by creation, as Adam was and as angels are, or by new birth, as believers are, but Jesus alone is the unique Son.
Five times He is called “The only begotten,” and five times “The first begotten.” In the latter term you have a different thought altogether. You have Christ coming into the world, going down into death, and rising in triumph at the head of a new creation. Thus He is the First Begotten, through whom God is “bringing many sons into glory” (Hebrews 2:10). In eternity the many sons will shine resplendent in the same glory, but not one of us will enter into the relation of the Only Begotten Son. That relationship remains unique for all eternity. Think of it! God the Father loved a world dead in trespasses and sins in such a way that He gave His unique Son, the darling of His bosom, that we might live through Him.
Because we were dead we needed life, and there is no life apart from Him. “He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son hath not life” (1 John 5:12). No work or effort of our own, could ever produce divine life. You cannot make yourself become a Christian. You cannot become a child of God by any effort of your own. No prayers or penances can produce one spark of divine life within your soul. But the moment you receive Christ, you have received Him who is the life. “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him, should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
Life is found alone in Jesus,
Only there ‘tis offered thee-
Offered without price or money,
‘Tis the gift of God sent free.
Take it now, and happy be.
While it is true that as dead sinners we need life, there is something required in order that God may righteously accept us as being perfectly justified in His sight. There was a work that had to be done that we could never do. That work God, in His infinite love and grace, sent His Son to accomplish. The second great proof of His love is found in verse 10 (1 John 4:10), “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” It is God who came out to us. We did not seek after Him. We did not love God, and our hearts were filled with hatred for Him. But He met our every need. You see, because we were dead we needed life and God sent Christ that we might live through Him. Because we were lost and guilty sinners it was necessary that a propitiation be made for sin, and God sent His Son to effect that propitiation.
It is an interesting fact that the original word translated “propitiation” is exactly the same word that is used for “atonement” in the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament. In this Greek translation of the Old Testament, wherever the translators sought to reproduce the Hebrew word caphar, or atonement, they used the Greek word here rendered “propitiation.” The Hebrew word atonement comes from a root meaning “to cover.” This word speaks of an expiation, a settling of the sin-question, so that one who was once lost and guilty may stand in the presence of God without one charge against him. All his transgressions are covered by the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ-covered so effectually and completely that they will never be found again.
“Clean ev’ry whit;” Thou saidst it, Lord;
Shall one suspicion lurk?
Thine surely is a faithful Word,
And Thine a finished work.
On the cross the Son of God took our place in judgment. It was not merely the sufferings that men heaped on Jesus that settled the sin-question, but there as he hung upon the cross and supernatural darkness covered the scene, we read that Jehovah made “his soul an offering for sin” (Isaiah 53:10). In those hours of darkness God was dealing with His Son in judgment. There He bore in His inmost soul the punishment that you and I would have to bear ourselves for all eternity if left without a Savior. There He became the propitiation and expiation for our sins. It is at the cross that we see the fullest extent of God’s love.
“Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10). This indeed is love. We hated Him, we loved our own way, we wanted to take our own course, and we did not want to be submissive to His will. But He loved us and looked upon us in grace. He yearned to have us with Him in glory, free from every stain of sin. And because there was no other way whereby we could be justified, He sent His Son to become the propitiation for our sins. Don’t talk about believing God is love if you won’t accept the gift of His love, the Lord Jesus Christ. It is in Christ alone we have life and propitiation. “There is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12), but the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
God Manifested in Love (1 John 4:11-13)
Notice carefully what the Spirit of God brings before us here. First, “Beloved, if God so loved us” (1 John 4:11). What does he mean when He puts in this little word so? He is referring back to the tenth verse, “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” That is how God so loved us. He did not wait for us to love Him first; He did not wait for us to behave ourselves before loving us, but “God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). God loved us when there was nothing lovable about us. God loved us when we were at enmity against Him and “alienated…by wicked works” (Colossians 1:21). God loved us when our desires were contrary to His desires, when we were trampling His Word beneath our feet, spurning His grace, and breaking His commandments. Now we read, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.”
We remember the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, “If ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?” (Matthew 5:46) Even the most corrupt people in the world love those who seem to give them some return for their affection. But the great principle laid down here is that after we have been born of God and are partakers of the divine nature, we will not wait for people to love us, but will love them no matter how they behave. That is divine love demonstrated through the new nature. This kind of love is a challenge even to Christians, because we still have the old nature in us. Though born of God, the Christian has a nature that came from fallen Adam, and that nature is selfish and is looking for satisfaction in others and in the things of this world. It is only through the power of the new, divine nature inherited at the second birth, that the Christian can rise to the standard set before him.
“Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.” I like that word, ought. It suggests duty. Sometimes Christians do not like to be reminded of duty, for they have an idea that duty is not consistent with grace. But the grace of God, when it is active in the life, leads men and women to do the things they ought. Here is one thing we ought to do-we ought to love one another. We ought to love those who do not love us, who mistreat us, who speak evil of us, who harm us, and who would ruin us if they could. That is the way God loves us. Nothing that men did to our blessed Lord Jesus, nothing that they said about Him, could change the attitude of His heart toward them. As He was hanging on the cross and the angry rabble cried out for His life, He prayed, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). This is not natural love. No one loves like this naturally. This is divine, spiritual love, and is possible only by walking in the power of the new nature, which God gives to those who believe.
“No man hath seen God at any time” (1 John 4:12). This is not the first time this expression is found in the Scriptures. In John 1:18 you will find the exact same words, “No man hath seen God at any time.” Let’s examine these controversial words, for Scripture seems to indicate that there were many instances where men saw God. Didn’t God speak with Moses face to face, and didn’t He put him in a cleft of the rock while He passed by? Didn’t Adam speak with God in the garden? And doesn’t Isaiah say that “In the year that king Uzziah died, I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple” (Isaiah 6:1)? Didn’t Ezekiel have visions of God, and didn’t the glory of the Lord appear to Daniel and many others? Yes, and yet it remains true that, “No man hath seen God at any time.” God is a Spirit, infinite and eternal, and is Himself invisible. Christ, however, has revealed God to men. But before Jesus became incarnate, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit were all invisible. The Old Testament characters of whom it is written that they saw God, saw a form that God took-a Theophany-by which He revealed Himself to them. They saw His glory and splendor, but they could not see His deity.
No one, in a sense, has ever seen you. People have seen your body, your face, and your eyes, but they have never seen the real you-the spirit that looks out through your eyes. We cannot see the real man, for under present conditions the spirit of man is invisible. We shall never really see one another as long as we are in the flesh, but in eternity we shall see and know one another in spirit. No one has ever seen the sun. Someone might object to that and say, “How can you tell me that I have never seen the sun! Of course I have seen it. I have seen it rise, I have seen it moving through the heavens, I have seen it set as it dips into the west.” But you are mistaken. You have never seen the sun! You have seen the robe of glory that envelopes it, but you cannot pierce that glory and see behind the flame that enfolds mat great globe. That would be impossible. It is the sun that gives out that glory and you cannot even gaze on that in its full strength at noonday for one minute, because of its blinding glare. A great astronomer was so delighted when one of the finest telescopes was first invented that, in his haste to look at the sun through it, he forgot to put the dark glass over the lens. Swinging that great instrument into place, he leaned down and with the naked eye looked through the lens at the sun. The next moment he uttered a cry of pain as the blinding light burned his eye, destroying its sight completely.
Plato said, “The radiant light is the shadow of God.” David declared of God, Thou “coverest thyself with light as with a garment” (Psalms 104:2). The light, the glory, the radiance is just the garment, and God is behind it all, invisible.
We read in John 1:18 that “the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.” Jesus Christ came into the world as God revealed in the flesh and made God known to man. We understand God as we could not have done otherwise. Jesus said, “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father” (John 14:9).
In Hebrews 1:3 we read that Christ is “the express image” of the Father. In other words, Jesus is the exact expression of God’s character. All that God is is seen in Jesus. Jesus walked this world for a brief period of thirty-three and one-half years, and during that time God was manifest, God was seen on the earth, in the person of His Son. When Jesus went back to Heaven was God left without any manifestation on earth? We read, “No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God [abideth] in us, and his love is perfected in us” (1 John 4:12). God dwells in all believers, but the Greek word for dwelleth is different from that for abideth. If we love one another, we exhibit the new and divine nature. If we walk in love, then men can see God in us, for God abideth in us. If we are living in fellowship with God, we are manifesting and making Him known.
We have read the account of the professed conversion of the President of China (Chiang Kai-shek). We hope there has been a real work in his soul, but only eternity will tell. I was reading how he came to his Christian wife who was saved long before he made a profession, and said, “I can’t understand these Christians. They have been treated most abominably here. They have been robbed, beaten, and many of them killed. They have been persecuted fearfully, and yet I never find one of them retaliating. Anytime they can do anything for China and for our people, they are ready to do it. I do not understand them.” “Well,” said his wife, “that is the very essence of Christianity. They do that because they are Christians.” That is how God is manifest in China, and how you and I are called on to manifest Him wherever we may be. There are many who will never read the Bible, but they are reading us. They are looking at our lives. How much of God is really seen in us?
You are writing a gospel, a chapter a day,
By deeds that you do, by words that you say.
Men read what you write, whether faithless or true;
Say, what is the gospel according to you?
People may never read the Gospel of Matthew, never look at the Gospel of Luke, never heed the Gospel of Mark, and never consider the Gospel of John, but they are reading the gospel of you-they are watching you, listening to you, and observing you. They are getting their ideas of Christ and of God from what they hear and see in you.
A number of years ago I was down in Ganado, Arizona, visiting a Presbyterian mission. In the hospital there was a poor Navajo woman who had been desperately ill but had been nursed back to life and health through the Christian missionary doctor and nurses. She was a poor Indian woman who had been cast out by her own people when they thought she was going to die. She had been thrown behind a clump of brush and left there for three or four days. It was the middle of August when the heat is terrific during the daytime and the nights become bitterly cold. There she lay without food or drink, suffering terribly. This missionary doctor found her, brought her to the hospital, and did everything that Christian love and surgical skill could suggest. At last he brought her back to health.
After nine weeks in the hospital, she began to wonder about the love shown to her and said to the nurse, “I can’t understand it. Why did he do all that for me? He is a white man and I am an Indian. My own people threw me out. I can’t understand it. I’ve never heard of anything like this before.” The Navajo nurse, a sweet Christian girl, said to her, “You know, it is the love of Christ that made him do that.” “What do you mean by the love of Christ? Who is this Christ? Tell me more about Him.” The nurse was afraid she would not tell it in the right way and so called the missionary doctor. He sat down and talked to her, and day by day unfolded the wonderful story.
After a few weeks (for she could take in only a little at a time) the hospital staff thought she understood enough to make her decision. They had a special prayer meeting for her then gathered around her bed and prayed that God by His Spirit would open her blind eyes. Again they told her the story of God’s love, and asked, “Can’t you trust this Savior? Turn from the idols you have worshiped, and trust Him as the Son of the living God!” She looked at them with her big dark Indian eyes and was silent a long time. Then the door to her room opened and the doctor stepped in. Her face lit up and she said, “If Jesus is anything like the doctor, I can trust Him forever,” and she came to Christ. Do you see what had reached her? She had seen divine love manifested in a man. That is what you and I are called to exhibit to the world.
“No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth [abideth] in us, and his love is perfected in us.” The love that was revealed so fully in Jesus is now being revealed in those who have trusted in the risen Christ. They are called to make known to a lost world the same wondrous love that led Him to go to the cross. So the apostle concluded this section by saying, “Hereby know we that we dwell [abide] in him” (1 John 4:13). If we love in this divine way, we abide in Him. You cannot abide in Christ and have hatred in your heart. You cannot abide in Christ and have jealousy in your heart; you cannot have unlovely thoughts and unholy desires. All these break fellowship with the Lord.
“Hereby know we that we abide in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit.” Notice carefully these last words. Notice what John does not say, and then what he does say. The longer I live the more I am filled with admiration for this wonderful book. It is absolutely perfect. God does not say here that He gives us His Spirit, although He does that at salvation. We would not be Christians if He had not given us His Spirit: “If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his” (Romans 8:9). But He is speaking to people here to whom He has already given His Spirit and is telling them how they can show divine love. “Because he hath given us of his Spirit.” What does that mean? He has Himself implanted within us something that He has given us from His Spirit. That is the new nature. His Spirit is that of love, and this is the very essence of the new nature. All you and I have to do is to let the Spirit of God control us and we will manifest the love of Christ.
To an unbeliever, this seems like a high standard, and they may say, “I don’t see how I could ever live up to this, and what is more, I don’t know that I have ever seen a Christian who fully did so.” Yes, I know I have failed to live up to Christ’s standard, but that is my objective, desire, and aim. It is better to have a high objective and fail to obtain it than to have a low one and meet it. Perhaps you feel you could never be a Christian because you can’t live up to divine expectation. An Indian once said to me, “Well, you know what I see in this? Here we are in our sin, and a great abyss is before us. On the other side is Heaven. We must get from our sins over to Heaven. There is a bridge across that chasm, but it is like a razor edge, and I have to walk on that in order to get to Heaven!” On the contrary, Christ Himself has bridged the chasm and will carry us over from sin to salvation, from Hell to Heaven. And in order that we may exhibit the love of Christ, He has given us His divine nature. We are called to receive Christ, and then He gives us the nature that delights to love. “Whosoever loveth [in this sense] is born of God.”
Perfect Love That Casts Out Fear (1 John 4:14-17)
We have already noticed that the manifestation of divine love is the gift of the Lord Jesus Christ. We had Christ presented to us in two different ways in verses 9 and 10 (1 John 4:9-10). Because we were dead in trespasses and sins, the Father sent the Son that we might live through Him. Because we are guilty on account of our iniquity, God sent His only begotten Son into the world to be the propitiation for our sins.
John summed it all up in verse 14 (1 John 4:14): “We [the apostolic company who knew Christ personally] have seen, and do testify [bear witness] that the Father sent the Son to be the Savior of the world.” Notice again, “The Father sent the Son”-the relationship of Father and Son did not begin after Jesus was born into the world. It existed from all eternity where the Father and the Son lived together in holy fellowship. Christ is the eternal Son. He did not become the Son after He was sent, but “the Father sent the Son to be the Savior of the world.” This does not imply, of course, that all men will be saved. It does imply that God has provided a Savior for all men. So the great question between God and man today is not merely the question of our sins but what are we doing with the Lord Jesus Christ?
“God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). If we have accepted Him and put our trust in Him, then we know Him as Savior. If we reject Him, all His wondrous work is worth nothing as far as we are concerned, and only adds to our condemnation. But “whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth [abideth] in him, and he in God” (1 John 4:15). There is no other meeting place between God and man except Christ Jesus. To accept Him as a great teacher does not save. To acknowledge Him as the greatest among the sons of men does not bring deliverance. But to own Him as Son of God-to put one’s trust in Him as Savior, and thus confess Him before men-this alone brings salvation.
You find the word whosoever used in John’s writings over and over again. What an all-inclusive word it is! We read in John 3:16, the verse that Luther called the miniature Bible, that “Godso loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” It is strange that anyone should question the universality of the offer of mercy with a verse like that in the Bible. “Whosoever believeth [hath]”-anyone in any circumstance or condition who puts his trust in the Lord Jesus Christ enters into the present possession of eternal life. And so we read in 1 John, “Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God.”
Notice, it is “whosoever shall confess,” not merely whosoever shall profess. There are a great many people who profess that they believe Jesus is the Son of God but they have never trusted Him as such. You cannot confess Him as Son of God until He is your own Savior. You confess the One in whom you have trusted. “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved” (Romans 10:9). But on the other hand, let us not forget that there is another very solemn “whosoever,” and that is also found in the writings of John, “Whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:15). Think of the solemnity of that declaration. It is the same word, whosoever. “Whosoever believeth…[hath] everlasting life,” therefore the believer’s name is inscribed in the book of life. Whosoever refuses to believe, whosoever will not put his trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, “whosoever” is “not found written in the book of life,” must be banished eternally from the presence of God.
After all the gospel preaching you have listened to, after all the Christian people you have known through the years, are you among those who have never yet definitely received the Lord Jesus Christ as their Savior? I beg of you not to postpone the settlement of this question for even one hour. Wherever you are, lift your heart to God. Tell Him you are the sinner for whom Christ died. Tell Him you are coming to Him for the salvation which He has provided through His blessed Son. Tell Him you are trusting the Lord Jesus Christ as your own Savior. Then go forth to confess Him before men, for, “Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him [God abideth in him] and he in God.”
“And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us” (1 John 4:16). This is the declaration of faith, the declaration of one who has definitely laid hold of the gospel message for himself. “And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love.” This is the second time that statement is made in this chapter. We have already considered it in verse 8 (1 John 4:8): “He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.” And now here again the Spirit reminds us that “God is love.” This is His very nature. This is the very essence of His being; and “he that [abideth] in love [abideth] in God, and God in him.” There you have fellowship in the light, according to the nature of God Himself. You cannot have fellowship with Him while harboring malice, unkindness, or hatred in your heart. It is impossible. All those things spring from that old corrupt nature inherited from Adam. But if converted we have received a new nature. We may sometimes forget Him for a while, and malice, envy, unkindness, hatred, and all these evil things spring up anew. But as long as we permit any of these evil things to control our lives, we are not abiding in love, and therefore not abiding in God. We are not living in fellowship with Him. Fellowship can only be enjoyed as we walk in light and in love.
Now that there may be no misunderstanding as to what this love is, John wrote in verse 17 (1 John 4:17), “Herein [hath love with us been perfected], that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world.” I confess there was a time in my Christian life when I was confused as to what these words really meant. Today, however, I know of no passage of Scripture that gives me greater joy or seems clearer, than this verse. As a young believer, I tried to understand it and gave up in frustration. I was misled by the King James version, and did not notice how beautifully it is corrected in other translations. I studied the words, “Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment,” and I said to myself, If boldness in the day of judgment depends on my love being perfect, how can I ever be sure that everything will be right with me on that day? I was looking within my own heart for perfect love, and as I searched that poor heart, I was always finding something there that was contrary to perfect love. How was I ever going to stand in the day of judgment?
It was like a second conversion when God showed me that perfect love is in another Man altogether. I had been looking for it in myself for six and one-half years until one day God turned me away from myself and said, “Look up!” By faith I saw another Man-the man Christ Jesus-seated in glory at the Father’s right hand. God said to me, as it were, “There is perfect love. It is displayed in Christ.” “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. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins…And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Savior of the world” (1 John 4:9-10; 1 John 4:14). At last I understood. Perfect love led Christ to come from the Godhead’s fullest glory down to Calvary’s depth of woe. Perfect love led Jesus to look at a lost, ruined, guilty world, take all our sins upon Him, and die in our place on a felon’s cross.
A line in one of our hymns says, “I lay my sins on Jesus.” But we do nothing of the kind. Scripture tells us that when Jesus hung on Calvary’s cross, the Lord “laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6). Bliss has written:
What, lay my sins on Jesus,
God’s well-beloved Son?
No, ‘tis a fact most precious
That God e’en that hath done.
God laid our sins on Jesus when He died on Calvary. He made full atonement, and there perfect love was displayed in all its fullness. Now He is seated at the right hand of the Father in Heaven. What about my sins? When He hung on the cross my sins were on Him. Are they on Him now as He sits there? Impossible. He could not have entered Heaven with one sin on Him. Perfect love has settled the sin-question. Perfect love has put my sins away forever, and now we may have “boldness in the day of judgment.” I am not afraid of the day of judgment now. Why not? Because my penalty has been paid-my case has been settled.
I would not be afraid to go into a courthouse to view an important case for I am only a spectator. There is nothing against me. And so I can be bold in the day of judgment because I am there with my Lord. I am not there to be judged. I am a spectator, and not just any spectator, but an associate of the Judge Himself.
Years ago we had a very odd judge out in San Francisco. Tourists going through the city would often be taken to see Judge Campbell’s court. One day a group of us were going through the courthouse, and in our party were four distinguished looking ladies. When the judge saw them, he invited them to join him on the judge’s seat. They went up and sat with him on the bench. He heard the evidence of the first case and then turned to one of the ladies and said, “I will let you pronounce sentence “I don’t know what to do,” she answered. “This offense would get from ten to thirty days,” the judge informed her. “Oh,” she replied, “don’t give him more than ten days.” “The lady says you are to have ten days,” the judge announced. Case after case of that kind came up while the ladies were sitting there, but they “had boldness in the day of judgment.” Why? Because they were not being judged. They were associated with the judge. If you are a believer in Christ, when the great white throne is set up, you are going to be there in association with the Judge. “The world shall be judged by you” (1 Corinthians 6:2), and I will tell you something more, you are going to see the devil, who has caused you so much trouble throughout the years, bound in chains and brought to your feet to know what you want done with him. The Bible says, “We shall judge angels” (1 Corinthians 6:3). The lost angels will receive their sentence of judgment from the people of God. No wonder the apostle Paul said, “The God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly” (Romans 16:20). Yes, we have boldness in the day of judgment because perfect love has settled the sin question.
Jesus said in John 5:24, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.” I like the Roman Catholic translation of that verse. The rendering of the Douay Bible is, “Amen, amen, I say unto you, He who hears my word and believes him who sent me, has eternal life, and comes not into judgment, but is passed out of death into life.” Isn’t that a wonderful message? It is enough to settle the sin question forever for anyone who believes. The person who knows Christ has eternal life here and now. He does not hope to have it eventually, but has it now, and shall never come into judgment, but is already passed out of death into life.
Look at the rest of 1 John 4:17, “As he is, so are we in this world.” Some of the greatest truths in the Word of God are packed into the shortest and simplest sentences. Sometimes when preachers want to impress their audiences, they use theological words that make things sound profound. One time a preacher was speaking in such a way that no one could understand the meaning, and a man spoke up and said, “Brother, put the cookies on the lower shelf so the children can reach them.” Spurgeon used to say, “The Lord said, ‘Feed My sheep,’ but some ministers have the idea that He said, ‘Feed My giraffes.’ They put things so high that few can attain to them.”
Here is one of the most profound truths of Scripture, and it is embodied in nine monosyllables, only three of which have more than two letters. “As he is, so are we in this world.” Nine monosyllables, and yet how profound. I used to think that this verse meant that “as he is, so ought we to be in this world.” I thought we were to aim for perfection-to be like Christ-and even if we could not hit it, it was better than aiming at something lower. But that is not what this verse means. Then I thought it must be, “As he is, so shall we be when we get out of this world and get safe home to Heaven.” But that is not what the verse says either. Instead, it means exactly what it says, as Scripture always does. “As he is [as Christ is] so are we in this world.” How are we like Christ? We are as He is in relation to judgment. When Christ died on Calvary for my sin, that was the judgment day. Christ settled everything for me that day. Now God has raised Him from the dead and taken Him to His own right hand, and there He sits exalted. Christ will never again come under judgment. Likewise, right here and now we have the testimony of the Word of God that we are just as secure from judgment as He is because we are accepted in Him.
So near, so very near to God,
I could not nearer be;
For in the person of His Son
I am as near as He.
So dear, so very dear to God,
Dearer I could not be;
The love wherewith He loved His Son,
Such is His love to me.
What an incentive to live for Him! What an incentive to yield our lives as a living sacrifice since He in grace has settled the whole question of our justification, our acceptance with God, and our immunity from judgment!
Made Perfect in Love (1 John 4:18-21)
We have noticed that perfect love is something that is not natural to us. No Christian, no matter how devoted or how mature, has ever on his own exhibited perfect love. There is always some selfishness, jealousy, envy, or self-seeking in the heart of every child of God. Sometimes people imagine that they have gotten beyond all this, but circumstances soon bring out the fact that they have not. When we look for perfect love, we find it only in the Lord Jesus Christ. It was manifested when He gave Himself on the cross for guilty sinners such as ourselves. It is the contemplation of this love that banishes all our fear.
“There is no fear in love” (1 John 4:18). If it were a question of our own love, then every honest Christian would be continually in fear if he thought that his final acceptance depended on his own inward perfection in love. But, thank God, we are turned away from ourselves and from our experiences and directed to the full revelation of perfect love in the cross. There you see love triumphant. Love expressed in all its fullness, reached down to the deepest depths and lifted up poor sinners utterly lost and ruined and undeserving. You can be sure He will never give you up. “Having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end” (John 13:1).
“There is no fear in love.” Watch a little child who really believes that you love him with all your heart and see how trustful that little one is. If you believe that “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life,” how can you ever fear that you may perish? How can you dread being shut out of Heaven, for “perfect love casts out fear?”
“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment.” This word torment is used elsewhere in Scripture. It speaks of a grief-a form of pain and anguish caused by spiritual and mental distress-which unsaved men and women have in this life, and which will go on eternally if they leave this world in their sins. The Scriptures plainly teach that if men and women die in their sins, they are going to suffer consciously under the judgment of God for all eternity. This should move our hearts to weep over lost men and women as the Lord did when He said, “Ye will not come to me, that ye might have life” (John 5:40). We read in Matthew that “these shall go away into everlasting punishment” (Matthew 25:46), and, “shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever” (Revelation 20:10). There is no hint that their suffering will ever come to an end. But now having said that, I want to say that while the Word of God plainly teaches the eternal punishment of Christ-rejecters, it never even so much as hints at the eternal torture of lost men. I say that because I think it is well that we should keep God’s character clear. There is nothing vindictive about God. He has no desire to inflict any unnecessary pain or anguish on men, so Scripture never speaks, as preachers sometimes do, of eternal torture. God will never torture men, nor will He permit the devil to torture them. He will never permit demons to torture them, and they will not be allowed to torture one another.
Hell is not a kind of pandemonium where wicked men and lost angels torture one another and sin against God for all eternity. It is God’s well-ordered prison house where men who never behaved before will have to behave at last, and where “every knee shall bow…and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10-11). Satan will not torture men, and he will not reign as king in Hell. He will be the most miserable being there. Hell was created for the devil and his angels, and it is his prison, where he will be in the lowest depths of the lake of fire, suffering for the sins he has committed throughout the ages. And so, every man will be judged according to his own sin and will suffer according to his own transgression. No statement is ever made in the Bible of the torture of lost souls. But while Scripture never teaches torture, it does teach the eternal torment of men who die unrepentant.
I know that our English words torment and torture come from the same Latin root, which means “to writhe and twist in anguish,” but torture suggests the infliction of physical suffering, and torment is used for the suffering of the mind. “Fear hath torment.” You know the awful anguish of mind that fear can throw you into. Here is a man who has shut his eyes to the perfect love of God, refused to believe the gospel testimony, and he sees rising before him the great white throne. He knows he must answer for his sins. He is rightfully filled with fear, and “fear hath torment.” If that man refuses to bow in repentance before God, and to accept the Lord Jesus Christ as his Savior, and goes out of this life spurning the grace of God, then he goes out to be tormented forever. I think the most awful torment that can come to a lost soul in Hell will be to think of days gone by, to remember mercies rejected, to meditate on grace despised, and cry in the anguish of his soul, “Jesus died for me, and I knew all about it. He shed His precious blood for sinners, and I heard about it over and over again. He died for me, and I rejected Him. I rejected His mercy, and here I am shut away from the light and joy of God for all eternity, and it is my own fault. I might have been saved from the penalty for my sins, but I refused to trust the Savior that God provided and now His wrath rests on me forever.” I cannot imagine anything worse. This anguish of soul and mind, as I understand it, will be the very essence of the torment that lost men and women must endure for eternity.
We remember the word of Abraham to that once-rich man, “Son, remember!” (Luke 16:25). All is wrapped up in that word, remember-remember for all eternity! Psychologists tell us that we never forget anything that we have ever known; it is all stored away in our minds. We may think we have forgotten, but things will come to the surface when we least expect them. They come to mind even when we are not thinking of them. So it will be with men in a lost eternity. Every sin, every iniquity, every transgression, and every disobedience will come to rememberance, and will remain throughout all the ages to come. Men will remember the follies of this life and how foolishly they treated God’s offer of mercy. “Son, remember!”
For the righteous, the word remember also has its place. We read, “Thou shalt remember all the way which the Lord thy God led thee” (Deuteronomy 8:2). Memory for the child of God is a blessed thing! Memory for the lost soul is a fearful thing! If you are still unsaved, I pray you will accept the perfect love manifested in the cross. Then all your fears will be dissipated, your torment will disappear, and your heart will sing, He “loved me, and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). This is the love that casts out fear.
John continued, “He that feareth is not made perfect in love.” Imagine a group of students in a Latin class. They know that next Monday there is to be an exam. All day Saturday some of them cram and endeavor to get ready for the test. Even on Sunday their minds are not quiet. Their fear tells us that they are not made perfect in Latin, and they know that they are not. They would not be cramming or worrying if they knew their lesson. Suppose there is another student in the class, a bright young girl who is neither cramming nor worried. One of the others meets her and says, “Don’t you realize you have a Latin examination on Monday?
“Well, aren’t you worried?”
“Not at all.”
“Why aren’t you anxious?”
“Because I have been studying every day. I am thankful to have a good memory. It is all stored away, and so I am not afraid.”
The one who is perfect in Latin is not afraid. The one who is not perfect in Latin is afraid. If we are made perfect in love, we have learned our lesson and our fear is gone. It is not my love that keeps; it is His love.
Now we come to the practical side in verse 19 (1 John 4:19), and I am going to remove a word from the text in the King James version, for if you will consult the Greek you will find that one word does not appear. It is omitted in all the older manuscripts. The correct rendering is, “We love, because he first loved us.” Maybe some of you feel that you have lost something. You like to read, “We love him, because he first loved us.” But think it over, and you will see how much more precious the correct translation is after all. It is easy to talk about loving Christ and loving God, and yet be cold and unkind and discourteous toward those for whom Jesus died. The test of whether we really love Him is found in the way we behave toward His people, and what a test that is! You say you love Him, but you do not love Him any more than you love the child of God of whom you think the least. Think of that cantankerous, ill-tempered person who always seems to upset you, and yet who you know belongs to the Lord Jesus Christ. You do not love Christ any more than you love that person, and so “we love, because he first loved us.”
When our hearts are occupied with His wonderful love, we remember that He loved us when we were unlovely, and some of us are not very lovely now. We remember that He loved us when we were unlovable, and some of us are not very lovable yet. If He could love us when we were rebellious, and if that same love is now filling our hearts, we ought to be able to love those who are sinful and unkind and selfish. It is love triumphing over evil. “We love, because he first loved us.”
Here is the last of the tests that John brings before us: “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?” (1 John 4:20) John used very strong language sometimes. A great many people have a wrong idea of the apostle John. Many of the ecclesiastical pictures present him as a fair and effeminate-looking individual, rather than a real vigorous man. He was probably a young man about eighteen years old when he and his brother James came to Christ, for John was the youngest of the disciples. As the Lord looked at those two brothers, James and John, in their earnest youth, He said in effect, “I am going to give you another name, I am going to call you Boanerges, the sons of thunder.” All of his life John was true to that name given by Jesus. Long after Paul and Peter and all the rest of the disciples had died, John was still ministering the Word at Ephesus, and afterward he was sent to Patmos because of his faithfulness in witnessing for Christ. He died about a.d. 96, and at that time he was an aged man and could look back to the days of his youth when he walked with Jesus. There was nothing effeminate about John.
On one occasion as they were going through Samaria James and John were so stirred up by the action of the Samaritans that they said, “Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elias did?” (Luke 9:54) You see the Samaritans at first were desirous to have Jesus with them, but when they noticed that He was anxious to get on to Jerusalem, they would have nothing to do with Him. They did not know that He was eager to go there in order to die for them. They thought He was not interested in them but only in the people at Jerusalem, and so they did not want Him. And because of this John and his brother wanted to destroy them. But Jesus said to James and John, “Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of (Luke 9:55). There was nothing gentle about wanting to call fire down from heaven! John was not an effeminate kind of a young man. He was strong, vigorous and red-blooded.
Notice the strong language John used. Turn back to 1 John 2:4, “He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” In verse 22 (1 John 2:22) of the same chapter we read, “Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ?” And now in verse 20 of chapter 4 (1 John 4:20), John used no fancy words but said, “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?” The way you treat your brother is the test as to whether you really love God.
“And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also” (1 John 4:21). If you do not keep His commandments, you are not walking in obedience to His Word. “A new commandment I give unto you…that ye also love one another” (John 13:34). We also need to remember the command, “Let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:18). Think of this the next time you feel provoked with somebody. Say to yourself, “How often I have grieved the Holy Spirit, but He loves me still. How often I have provoked the Lord to anger, but He loves me still. How often I have dishonored the Father, but He loves me still. Dear God, by Your Holy Spirit let that same divine all-conquering love be poured into my heart. May I never think of myself but of others for whom Christ has died, and be ready to give myself in devoted, loving service for their blessing.” This is Christianity in practice.
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Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on 1 John 4". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany