1 John 4:1
Beloved, 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.
(a) Beloved; see entry for 1 John 2:7.
(b) Do not believe every spirit, or do not believe everything you hear. The Corinthians were suckers for false teaching (2 Cor. 11:4) and so were the Galatians (Gal. 3:1). In contrast, Jesus praised the Ephesians for testing those who falsely claimed to be apostles (Rev. 2:2).
(c) We test the spirits by asking questions about those who would speak into our lives. Do they preach the same Jesus that the apostles preached? Do they have the same spirit and the same gospel (2 Cor. 11:4)? Do they confess that Jesus was fully man and fully God (1 John 4:2)? Do they teach that Jesus was the Son of God (1 John 3:8)? Do they proclaim the righteousness that comes by faith alone (Rom. 1:17)? Or do they preach law like a Pharisee (Acts 15:5), compromise like a Nicolaitan (Rev. 2:15), or immorality like a Jezebel (Rev. 2:20)?
(d) Test the spirits to see whether they are from God. Origin determines destination. A Spirit-filled teacher or prophet will always point you to Jesus (John 15:26). Someone who lacks the Spirit will point you to yourself or the world.
(e) False prophets. John warns at length about the many false prophets or deceivers (2 John 1:7) and antichrists (1 John 2:18) who have gone out into the world preaching a false message.
A false prophet describes any teacher who denies that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God who came in the flesh as a man (1 John 2:22, 4:3, 2 John 1:7). A false prophet may have a good reputation in the world (1 John 4:4), but they do not believe in Jesus or the righteousness that comes from God (1 John 2:4, 3:10). Since they do not abide in the teaching of Christ (2 John 1:9), the effect of their message is to deceive and lead people astray from the simplicity of the gospel (1 John 2:26). Why do they do this? John doesn’t say, but Peter says false prophets do it for the money and to justify their sinful lifestyles (2 Pet. 2:1–3).
1 John 4:2
By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God;
John provides his readers with yet another a litmus test for recognizing false teachers. “If they deny Jesus was fully man and fully God, don’t listen to them” (2 John 1:7)
1 John 4:3
And every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world.
(a) Every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. Demons believe in God (Jas. 2:19), but they don’t preach the good news of Jesus who came from God. Those in the enemy’s camp are very much anti-Christ. Similarly, those who dismiss Jesus as a mere man or historical figure, are under the influence of an antichrist spirit.
(b) The antichrist, see entry for 1 John 2:18.
(c) Which you have heard that it is coming. Like many believers today, first-century Christians anticipated a coming antichrist.
(d) And now it is already in the world. The antichrist spirit is not some future figure of political power, but a Christ-denying spirit that has been operating in the world since the time of Jesus. Such a spirit was behind the Pharisees’ rejection of Jesus, and was also likely the influence behind Gnosticism.
1 John 4:4
You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.
(a) You are from God if you believe in Jesus and are born of God (1 John 5:1).
(b) Little children; see entry for 1 John 2:1.
(c) Have overcome them meaning not just the false prophets of 1 John 4:1 or the antichrist spirits of 1 John 4:3, but the whole Satanic realm behind them (1 John 5:4).
(d) He who is in you. Jesus, the living and powerful Word of God, resides within the believer (1 John 2:14).
(e) Greater is he who is in you than he who is in the world. You have nothing to fear from storms or sickness or anything in this world because you are one with the Lord. Even if life buries you under a world of hurt, the Risen Lord will raise you up (John 11:26).
1 John 4:5
They are from the world; therefore they speak as from the world, and the world listens to them.
(a) They are from the world. False prophets, deceivers, and antichrist spirits are not from God but are part of the fallen Satanic system or kosmos. See entry for 1 John 2:15.
(b) They speak as from the world. Instead of revealing the favor of heaven, false teachers emphasize worldly principles and human effort. They tickle the intellect but leave the spirit untouched. They feed your doubts and starve your faith.
(c) The world does not know us (1 John 3:1) but the world listens to them because they preach a worldly message of self-improvement. Their message may be wrapped up in spiritual language, but ultimately it is all about you and what you need to do to get ahead. There is nothing inherently wrong with wanting to educate and improve yourself, but any message that leads you to rely on yourself instead of Jesus is fatal.
1 John 4:6
We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.
(a) You are from God (1 John 4:4) and we are from God. John is talking about himself and other teachers of truth.
(b) By this we know; see entry for 1 John 2:3.
(c) By this we know the spirit of truth. John has listed several ways to recognize false prophets, most of which have to do with examining the fruit of their lives (1 John 2:4). Another way for discerning truth from error is by “listening to us,” meaning John and those who wrote the Bible. If someone preaches a message which is contrary to scripture, that’s a good sign they are not on the same page as those who know the Lord.
(d) The spirit of truth; see entry for 1 John 5:6.
1 John 4:7
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.
(a) Beloved; see entry for 1 John 2:7.
(b) Love one another; see entry for 1 John 3:11.
(c) Let us love one another, not because we have to but because we are born of God and because we know the God-who-is-love.
(d) Love is from God; see entry for 1 John 4:8.
(e) Everyone who loves with the agape-love of God does so because God loved them first (1 John 4:11). “Love is from God.” Again, this should not be interpreted as a qualification test for heaven, as in, “If you don’t love everyone, you’re not saved.” Some have trouble loving others because they have been hurt or betrayed. They don’t need more condemnation. They need to receive the healing love that comes their Father.
(f) Born of God; see entry for 1 John 5:1.
1 John 4:8
The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.
(a) The one who does not love does not know God. You cannot give what you haven’t received and unconditional love comes from God.
(b) God is love. God does not possess love as though it were one of his many attributes; God is love. He is the very source and definition of unconditional love. God does not love you with frail human love. His is an infinite and relentless love that is revealed to us through the sending of his Son (1 John 4:9).
The Greek word for God’s type of love is agapē, and the best description of this kind of love is found in 1 Corinthians 13:4–8. God is patient. God is kind. God does not seek his own or take into account a wrong suffered. God bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. The love of God never fails.
You need to understand that there is nothing you can do to make God love you more, and nothing you can do to make him love you less. He loves you when you do well and he loves you when you don’t. Why did God send his Son to save us? Because he loves us (Rom. 5:8). Why does he shower us with mercy and grace? Because of his great love for us (Eph. 2:4).
1 John 4:9
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.
(a) The love of God was manifested or revealed to us. God does not love us merely with words or positive thoughts. His love is demonstrated with actions and truth (1 John 3:18), and in the sending of his Son to save the world (1 John 4:14).
“Because he loves me” is the answer to nearly every question you might have about God. Why did he make me? Why does he care? Why has he forgiven all my sins? Why is the universe so big? Why does he accept me? Why is he leading me this way? Why did he make butterflies? Why do we have the Bible? Why did he send Jesus?
(b) God has sent His only begotten Son; see John 3:16.
(c) So that we might live through Him. God sent his Son to bring us into fellowship with him (1 John 1:3). Elsewhere John says that Jesus came to take away sins (1 John 3:5) and to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8). But these actions were incidental to God’s ultimate purpose of loving us into his family.
1 John 4:10
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.
(a) In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us. Our love for God and others can only ever be a response to his love for us (1 John 4:19).
(b) And sent His Son; see John 3:16.
(c) Propitiation. Jesus came to take away our sins. See entry for 1 John 2:2.
1 John 4:11
Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
(a) Beloved; see entry for 1 John 2:7.
(b) If God so loved us with the sort of extravagant love revealed to us through the Person and sacrifice of Jesus…
(c) We also ought to love one another. Extravagant love deserves an extravagant response.
If you hear the second part (love one another) without the first part (God so loved us), you will feel an unholy pressure to do that which is impossible. All exhortations to love one another (and the Bible has many) are built on the revelation that God is love. Love is a noun before it is a verb. Love is not something to manufacture; it is Someone to receive. And when we receive from the abundance of the Father’s love we are able to love others. See also the entry for 1 John 3:11.
1 John 4:12
No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us.
(a) No one has seen God at any time except Jesus who came from God (John 6:46) and who is the image of the invisible God (Col. 1:15, Heb. 1:3). Jesus is the answer to the question, what is God like? If you have seen the Son you have seen the Father (John 14:9).
(b) If we love one another, God abides in us. When the God-who-is-love dwells in you, you can love others (1 John 4:19).
Religion turns promises into pep talks and puts price tags on the free gifts of grace. “If you want God to abide in you, you need to love others.” That’s back to front. We are only able to love others because he first loved us (1 John 4:19). You can’t give what you haven’t received.
(c) His love is perfected in us or made complete when we pass it on to others. The love of God is meant to be shared and because you can’t out give God, the more you give away, the more you receive.
1 John 4:13
By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit
(a) By this we know; see entry for 1 John 2:3.
(b) Abide in him; see entry for 1 John 2:28.
(c) He has given us of His Spirit. The indwelling Holy Spirit is evidence that we are in fellowship or union with the Lord. “We are sure that we live in union with God and that he lives in union with us, because he has given us his Spirit” (GNB).
1 John 4:14
We have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world.
(a) We have seen and testify. John reminds us that he witnessed firsthand some of the things he has been talking about (1 John 1:1–2).
(b) The Father; see entry for 1 John 3:1.
(c) For a third time, John declares the Father sent the Son (1 John 4:9, 10). Jesus did not come on his own initiative but was sent by God to rescue us and…
(d) To be the Savior of the world. Jesus is not just the Jews’ Messiah; he is the Savior of the Gentiles as well (1 John 2:2). This was radical news at the time, but it was a revelation that John received direct from Jesus (John 3:16).
1 John 4:15
Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.
(a) Whoever confesses or calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved (Rom. 10:13). You are not saved because you spoke the magic words; you are saved because you called to a Savior and he heard you. And how can we be sure this Savior can save? Because he is the Son of God sent by God for the purpose of saving you (1 John 4:14).
(b) The Son of God; see entry for 1 John 3:8.
(c) Abides in him; see entry for 1 John 2:6.
(d) God abides in him, and he in God. Eternal life is so much more than getting your name recorded in the Book of Life. Eternal life is knowing God and living out of the intimacy that comes from being in union with him (John 14:20). Note that God abides, he dwells, he stays. The moment you acknowledged Jesus as Lord, he moved into your life and he will never leave.
1 John 4:16
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.
(a) We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. You can know something in your head without believing it your heart and you can believe in your heart without knowing why, but when you both know and believe, then you are fully persuaded. Because the Son of God was sent to save you (1 John 4:14), you can be fully persuaded that God loves you.
(b) God is love; see entry for 1 John 4:8.
(c) The one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. Some people are restless because they do not know the love of God. Others are restless because they have heard that God loves them but they don’t believe it. But when you know and believe that God loves you with a love that never gives up, you will be restless no more. To abide or dwell in God is to be settled in the rock-solid certainty of his love for you.
1 John 4:17
By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world.
(a) There are two ways to tell if God’s love is perfected with us. The first way is we are free to love others with the love we have received from God (1 John 4:12). The second way is…
(b) We have confidence in the day of judgment. Those who are secure in their Father’s love do not fear the future. One with the Lord, they know his future is their future.
If you are uncertain about your Father’s love for you, you will be anxious. Have I done enough? Will God find fault with me? Will he broadcast the secret sins of my life on a screen for all to see? These are the sorts of questions asked by those who have heard the bad news of DIY religion. To these questions the gospel of grace offers emphatic answers. God loves you and is pleased with you, and he is not holding your sins against you.
(c) Because as He is, so also are we in this world. You are in Christ.
There are no levels to Christianity: You are either in Christ, or you need to be. If you have been clothed with Christ, you are a brand new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). You have been raised up with Christ and are seated with him in heavenly places (Col. 3:1, Eph. 2:6).
The moment you were placed into Christ, your imperfections were wrapped up in his perfections (Col. 3:3). Since Christ is perfectly holy and righteous, you are perfectly holy and righteous. Your behavior may not be holy, but in Christ you are as holy as he is for Christ is your holiness. Why does the Bible call us to be holy? Because it’s who you truly are. You are holy, so be holy as he is holy (1 Pet. 1:16).
You are a new creation, but your body is still subject to decay. This is why John says, “It has not appeared as yet what we will be” (1 John 3:2). One day, you will be clothed in glory, and there will be an outward change to match the inward change that has already taken place
1 John 4:18
There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.
(a) There is no fear in love. You don’t ever need to be afraid of your loving Father.
(b) But perfect love casts out fear. Your Father’s love is the remedy for fear.
We were designed for a life of dependence on God, but sin taught us to be afraid of our Father (Gen. 3:10). Fear diminishes our lives. Is causes us to take no risks and to stay silent when we might speak. The cure for a fearful life is a revelation of how deeply God loves you.
(c) Fear involves punishment. Those who fear God’s punishment are ignorant of the cross. They don’t know that the punishment that brought us peace was on Jesus (Is. 53:5). Because a just God can never punish the same sin twice, in Christ you are eternally unpunishable.
Manmade religion has told people that God is out to punish them. They are sinners in the hands of an angry God. The tragedy is that the threat of punishment, even a punishment that can never happen, leads to fear which in turn creates its own punishment in the form of worry, anxiety, distress and illness. The remedy is to preach the good news so that people might know how much God loves them.
(d) The one who fears is not perfected in love. If you are not fully convinced of how much God loves you, you will be anxious and fearful. You’ll think God is mad at you when really he is mad about you.
All fear is rooted in the lie that you are on your own, apart from God, and without help in this world. Conversely, all faith is grounded in the revelation that God loves you like a Father, and he cares for you more than you can know or imagine.
1 John 4:19
We love, because He first loved us.
(a) We love. We were created to receive and give love. The greatest thing in the whole world is to be loved and to love in return.
(b) Because He first loved us. God does not love us because we loved him first. God loves us because he is love (1 John 4:8). He is the fountainhead from which all love flows.
In the new covenant of grace, God takes all the initiative: He loves us first, he forgives us first (Col. 2:13), and he accepts us first (Rom. 15:7). And as we receive from the abundance of his love, we are able to love, forgive, and accept others.
1 John 4:20
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.
(a) If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar. Again, the fruit reveal the tree (see entry for 1 John 2:4). Haters gonna hate because hate is in their heart, but if you have been apprehended by the love of your heavenly Father you won’t be a hater anymore. You’ll be a lover and a forgiver.
(b) The one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. Loving the people that God loves is one of the ways we know we have received the love of God. Conversely, hating the people that God loves—and God loves everyone, even our enemies—undermines anything we might claim about loving God. The one who hates his brother is unacquainted with the love of God (1 John 2:9).
1 John 4:21
And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also.
(a) This commandment we have from him; see John 13:34.
(b) The one who loves God should love his brother also. Not for the first time John reminds us of the message or commandment we received from Jesus (see entry for 1 John 3:11).
The Grace Commentary is a reader-funded website. Got something to say about the commentary? Please use the Feedback page. To report typos or broken links or give feedback on this specific page, please use the comment form below.
- 1 John 4:1
- 1 John 4:2
- 1 John 4:3
- 1 John 4:4
- 1 John 4:5
- 1 John 4:6
- 1 John 4:7
- 1 John 4:8
- 1 John 4:9
- 1 John 4:10
- 1 John 4:11
- 1 John 4:12
- 1 John 4:13
- 1 John 4:14
- 1 John 4:15
- 1 John 4:16
- 1 John 4:17
- 1 John 4:18
- 1 John 4:19
- 1 John 4:20
- 1 John 4:21