1 John


Argument Proper

x] The true nature of love


In 4:7-5:12 John examines the close relationship that exists between righteousness, love and belief. He initially deals with the relationship between love and belief, both of which serve to confirm a person's relationship with God. In the passage before us he establishes his first point, namely, that God is love and thus a child of God loves.


i] Context: See 1:1-5. It is generally accepted that we now come to another major step in John's argument, although probably more in terms of the third reworking of his thesis; the third spiral argument, 4:7-5:13. Kruse suggests that John, using the literary forms of the age (in this case epideictic rhetoric), presents his next theological proof / argument in 4:7-5:4a, namely "claims to love God tested by love for fellow believers."

Smalley suggests four subdivisions: i] the source of love, v7-10; ii] the inspiration of love, v11-16; iii] the practice of love, v17-20; iv] the command of love, 4:21-5:4. Marshall and Wahlde think that the first division of this unit consists of v7-12. Wahlde has the next two units as "The Spirit and abiding", 4:13-19, and "Loving God and loving one another", 4:20-5:5. Lieu, Yarbrough and Schnackenburg tend to align with Smalley. Schnackenburg, "the separation of those who belong to God from the world, in the true faith in Christ and in love", 4:1-5:12; Yarbrough, "Illustrative appeal, Renewed and expanded invitation to love", 4:15-5:15; Lieu, "The love that is God", 4:7-5:4. As already noted, Bultmann argues that the letter as whole is "something like the discussion in a theological seminar" - all over the place!

The true nature of love, 4:7-12

Assurance, 4:13-21

Begotten of God, 5:1-4a

True faith confirmed, 5:4b-12


ii] Background: See 1:1-5.


iii] Structure: The true nature of love:

God is life-giving light, let us walk in the light of his love

Argument #9, v7-12:

God's love is redemptive.

Love, its origin and effects, v7;

As exposition of love, v8-12:

the standing of a person who does not love, v8;

love's divine goal, v9;

the divine means of love's revelation, v10;

the effect of love, v11;

the significance of love, v12.


iv] Interpretation:

To properly understand this passage we must break open what John means by "love". This love, says John, is something that comes from God. As such, we are not dealing with emotions; we are not talking about sexual feelings, warmth toward others, bonding.... When it comes to love, we are dealing with something other than the affections. Gordon Clark calls it "a settled decision to obey God's laws." Lenski says "love is defined as the love of intelligence, of comprehension and understanding. It always has that meaning in the New Testament, most completely so here where it speaks of God's love." Love's outcome is "compassion and benevolence". So, love is an active compassion focused by truth. John encourages us to love, and if we truly are a friend of Jesus, then we will aim at love. If we are a fraud we will ignore the exhortation.

Love is shaped by the image of Christ's sacrifice. At the practical level, the image of Jesus washing the feet of the disciples best shows us the application of love, of active compassion. When it comes to the motivation of love, certainly Christ's love for us motivates us to love, but above all, it is his indwelling compelling that motivates us to love. The renewing work of the Holy Spirit shapes love within us. Yet, there is a more powerful motivation to love, for it is in loving one another that we actually touch the very being of God. No one has ever seen God, yet within the love of the brotherhood it is possible to experience the presence of God. In love we touch him; in loving he touches us.


v] Exposition: A simple exposition of this passage may be found in the linked pew-level Sermon Notes.

Text - 4:7

Arguments in support of the proposition, #9 - God's love is redemptive, v7-12: i] First, John calls for brotherly love, defining its origin and its effects, v7. Love, being of the very nature of God, motivates brotherly love by prompting love in those who have come into a relationship with God in Christ.

agaphtoi voc. adj. "dear friends" - beloved. Vocative, usually an intimate reference to fellow believers.

agapwmen (agapaw) pres. subj. "love" - let us love [one another]. Hortatory subjunctive.

oJti "for" - because. Introducing a causal clause explaining why we should love one another.

hJ agaph "love" - love. "This love is from God", Lenski, suggesting that the article makes the "love" demonstrative, although abstract nouns often have an article.

ek "[comes] from [God]" - [is] out of, from [god]. Expressing source/origin. John is unlikely to be suggesting that all forms of love come from God, given that God is the origin of all things (true though this is), but rather that the special love of the brotherhood, exampled in the sacrificial love of Christ, originates from God, it is divine.

paV oJ agapwn "everyone who loves" - all the ones loving. The adjective "all/every" with the articular participle presents a fairly common problem. Should the adjective be taken as the nominative subject and the participle as adjectival, attributive, or is the participle functioning as a substantive and the adjective as an adjective? Anyway, together they function as the nominative subject of the verb gegennhtai, "has been born", so "to love is to be God's child", Barclay.

gegennhtai (gennaw) perf. pas. "has been born" - have been born [from god and knows god]. Given the context, born of God has a similar meaning to knowing God. John says that a person who loves, knows God. This again indicates that love is certainly not some fuzzy emotion, but rather active compassion / mercy. The child of God will exhibit this characteristic of the Father (albeit imperfectly) because they "know" God, are "born of" God; in Jesus they are a friend of God.


ii] An exposition of love, v8-12. a) A person who is not loving does not know God, v8. John has already told us that such a person, a person without brotherly love, is a person who is not from God, 3:10 and is a person who "abides in death", 3:14, now he tells us that such a person does not know God.

oJ mh agapwn "whoever does not love" - the one not loving. The participle serves as a substantive, nominative subject of the verb "to know."

ouk egnw (ginwskw) aor. "does not know" - did not know [god]. To "know God" is not to just know intellectually about God, but to know him in the sense of entering into an intimate relationship with him. This knowing (often the word belief takes a similar sense) is integrally linked to loving; "love alone opens access to all God's words and works, and whoever lacks love is blind to God", Schlatter, via Yarbrough. The reason behind this is because "God is love."

oJti "because" - Introducing a causal clause explaining why a person who does not love does not know God.

oJ qeoV agaph estin "God is love" - god is love. "Is love" is the predicate of the clause, with "God" as the subject, the predicate serving to express a truth about God. Thus, the alternate is not true, ie., "love is God." When John describes God as love, he is not just describing his character, but rather the essence of his being. He is a caring relational God. The very nature of his being is triune, one God in three persons, and this provides the shape for his love - God interrelates within himself. The capacity for human beings to love is part of the image of God within us. Yet, John's point is not so much to note this common grace possessed by all humans, but rather to pinpoint a special grace for God's children, namely, brotherly love. For John, such love is the evidence that we are a child of God. Of course, we must not assume that "love" is an all encompassing definition for God's Character. Other one-liners are just as important: "God is spirit", "God is truth", "God is holy", ......


b) Brotherly love is possible because of the new life found in Christ, v9. God's love is demonstrated in the sending of Jesus to die for us. Here lies the perfect expression of love. Such love is self-giving to the point of self-sacrifice. The depth of this love is evident in the sending of the Son by the Father. Jesus was unique, and yet the Father sent him into a hostile environment where he would inevitably be affronted. Such is God's love for us.

en toutw/ "this is how" - in = by this. Instrumental; "by this means was the love manifested to us." "This" references forward to "he sent his only son into the world."

tou qeou "God" - [the love] of god. This fairly common use of the genitive is usually classified as adjectival, subjective (ie. God produces the action, he does the loving, although some have argued for an objective genitive, human love for God), or possessive. Possibly ablative, source / origin.

afanerwqh (fanerow) aor. pas. "showed" - was manifested, revealed, made clear... God is the agent of the manifesting and the agent of "love", prompting the NIV to ignore the passive. For the passive sense, "this is how the love of God has appeared (in the incarnation??) for us", Moffatt.

en + dat "among" - in [us]. Local, expressing space; where God's love is manifested. "Toward us", AV, "to us", NEB, makes sense, but not true to the grammar. The corporate sense, "in our midst" = "among us", NIV, RSV, is certainly possible, but probably better, "in us", "indwelling in us", "within us".

oJti "-" - because / that. Possibly introducing a causal clause, as AV, but better taken as introducing an epexegetic clause specifying "this"; God's love is manifested "by this .... namely that he sent ...."

autou gen. pro. "his" - [god has sent the only son] of him [into the world]. The genitive is adjectival, relational.

monogenh adj. "one and only" - only begotten, one and only, one of a kind, unique. "Unique", in the sense of the only one of its kind, gives the best sense of the word here, rather than the sense of "only son."

iJna + subj. "that" - that. Introducing a purpose clause, "in order that", so revealing why Jesus was sent; "in order that we might possess the fullness of new life in Christ."

di (dia) + gen. "through" - [we may live] through, by means of [him]. Expressing agency.


c) The atoning sacrifice of Christ is the means by which God realises his love, v10. Christ's atonement explicates love, but above all it empowers love in that the reception of this act of divine love provides the wherewithal to love in return, eg., a person who experiences forgiveness is more able to forgive.

en toutw/ "this" - in = by this [is love]. The preposition en is instrumental, with the close demonstrative pronoun toutw/ referring forward to the noun clause introduced by oJti, "by this means is love demonstrated .... namely, that God loved us ..."

oJti " that" - [not] that. As in v9. Here used twice to introduce two epexegetic clauses; "not that ..... but that ....." "This is what love is, namely, not that ....., but that ......"

hJmeiV pro. "we" - we. Emphatic use of the pronoun. "Love is not, in the first instance, what people do from themselves", Loader.

hgaphkamen (agapaw) perf. "loved [God]" - we have loved [god]. Perfect tense implies a past act with ongoing action - not our ongoing acts of love under God.

alla "but" - but. Strong adversative standing in a counterpoint construction, "not ..., but ...". Love is evidenced, not in our love of God, but of his love of us.

hgaphsen (agapaw) aor. "[he] loved [us]" - [that he loved us]. Aorist tense expresses a completed act. God's love expressed in a single moment of time, "his love for us - in the sending of his son", Moffatt.

kai "and" - The conjunction here is probably not just functioning as a connective, but rather is epexegetic, BAGD #3 p393; "God loved us, that is, he sent his Son ..."

autou gen. pro. "his" - [sent = gave the son] of him. The genitive is adjectival, relational.

iJlasmon (oV) "atoning sacrifice" - as a propitiation, an expiation. Accusative complement of the direct object "Son" standing in a double accusative construction, asserting a fact about the "Son"; the "Son" serves as a "propitiation / expiation", probably in the sense that he is the means by which propitiation is achieved. We need to note that the NIV, as with many modern translations, seeks to avoid the idea behind propitiation, namely that the sacrificial offering of the person of Jesus achieved the turning aside of the righteous wrath of God from the sinner to the sacrifice.

peri + gen. "for" - concerning, about. Best taken as referring to, "serving as a propitiation / expiation with reference to our sins"; "that he might be the means of expiating our sins", Cassirer.

hJmwn gen. pro. "our" - [the sins] of us. The genitive is adjectival, possessive, although often classified as verbal, subjective, ie. the sins which we commit, so Culy. "It is only through spiritual rebirth that people are infused with capacities that make reception of divine love, and thereby expression of divine love, a possibility", Yarbrough.


d) A second call for brotherly love, this time on the grounds of God's prior love, v11. In fact, brotherly love is the natural consequence of God's love for us, such that John's call to love is a call to be what we are - a loving-being in Christ. As noted above, some commentators think that this verse introduces a new paragraph, a second exhortation to love, v11-14.

ei + ind. "since" - [beloved] if [god so loved us]. Introducing a 1st. class conditional clause, where the condition is assumed to be true, "if, as is the case ....., then ...." = "since it is a fact that God's love was poured out on us in the atonement then ...."

ofeilomen (ofeilw) "we [also] ought" - we ought, are morally obligated. Expressing obligation, duty.

kai "also" - and = also. Adjunctive; "we also / too ought to love."

agapan (agapaw) pres. inf. "to love" - to love. The infinitive is complementary, complementing the sense of the verb "ought." "If God loved us like that, it is our bounded duty to love each other", Barclay.


e) The invisible God is experienced in brotherly love, v12. God's love is seen in the love of the brotherhood; it is evidenced in the love that exists between believers. In fact, John makes a statement which is quite amazing. The very essence of God, that which cannot be seen, can be experienced in the loving relationships that exist between believers. We can touch Jesus in the loving touch of a brother. Of course, the world can also see God in this love. "All men will know that you are my disciples if you love one another", Jn.13:35. It is "the ultimate apologetic" said Francis Schaeffer. As to its practical expression, no better illustration exists than when Jesus washed his disciples' feet, Jn.13:14-17. Of course, the "how" to love is always going to remain our problem. John simply rests on the idea, "since God so loved us", that is, the death of Christ supplies our motivation. Christ's death freed us from both the curse and the dominion of sin. On the one hand, we are no longer condemned, but totally accepted in God's sight. On the other hand, through the indwelling Spirit, the very essence of Divine love resides within us, motivating us to love as Christ loved. Our responsibility is but to cooperate with the Spirit's renewing work.

oudeiV .... teqeatai (qeaomai) perf. "no one has [ever] seen" - no one [ever] has beheld, seen [god]. "God's otherness is signified by his invisibility", Yarbrough. In making the negative statement that "no one has ever seen God", John seems to imply that although God is unseen, his invisible nature is manifest in the love of the brotherhood, and this because God's nature is love.

ean + subj. "but if" - if [we love one another]. Conditional clause, 3rd. class, where the condition has a possibility of coming true; "if, as may be the case, [we love one another] then ....."

menei (menw) pres. "lives " - [god] remains, abides, continue, stays. Expressing divine fellowship with the believer; "God becomes an integral part of our lives", Barclay. Although God's invisible nature is manifest in brotherly love it is surely going too far to assert that "God is accessible to us only as we love", Smith.

en + dat. "in" - in [us]. Local, expressing space; incorporative union. "In our lives", Barclay, if taken personally, or "in the midst of his people", if taken corporately.

kai "and" - and. Connective.

autou gen. pro. "his" - [the love] of him. Usually treated as a subjective genitive where the genitive substantive, "his", produces the action of the verbal noun "love", ie. God abides in us and we experience his loving of us, "we are the recipients of his love", Schnackenburg, so Brown, etc.. Of course, some others opt for an objective genitive where God abides in us and we respond by loving him, so Dodd. Of course, the genitive may just reflect Semitic influence and so treat it adjectivally, ie. a genitive of quality, it's "God's type / kind of love," "The love that comes from God", Smalley.

teteleiwmenh (teleiow) perf. pas. part. "is made complete" - has been perfected, completed. The participle + estin, the present tense of the verb to-be, forms a perfect periphrastic, probably serving to emphasise aspect; "has been made perfect", TNT. The sense "perfect" is somewhat misleading. God's purpose of shaping love in his children is made complete, finished, brought to its desired end, when we fulfil that purpose by loving our brothers. It is absurd to suggest that God himself is completed / perfected by the actions of his children, for then we suggest that God is limited, not perfect. "His love grows in us toward perfection", Phillips.

en + dat. "in" - in [us]. Obviously space / sphere, expressing location, but what does it modify? Presumably the perfect periphrastic "has been made perfect", as NIV, but "the love of God in us has been made perfect" is also possible, ie., modifying "the love of God." Also, is the "us" perceived as individuals, or the Christian community? Possibly, "God abides in us and the compassion which is poured out from him finds its completion in our compassion one toward another."


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