My Commentary on 1 John 4:7-12

Jaymes Lackey
November 29, 2011
Commentary of 1 John 4:7-12
Translation of the Text
(7) Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. (8) Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.
(9) God’s love was revealed to us in this way: God sent God’s only Son into the world so that we might live through him. (10) This is love: it is not that we loved God but that God loved us and sent the Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. (11) Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. (12) No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us, and God’s love is perfected in us.

2. Exegetical Idea:
God loves us. When we know God we are transformationally born of God to be able to love in the example of Jesus Christ, God’s only Son. When we love each other this way, though God has never been seen, God is revealed through our love towards each other.

3. Exegetical Outline
1.     We love each other because we are born of God (7-8)
2.     We know God’s love because God sent Jesus (9-10)
3.     When we love each other God is made known. (11-12)

4. Commentary
(7) Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.

Agaphtoi’’ is the noun form of that agape love that everyone knows about. This word sets the tone for what is coming, namely that “God love us” repeated twice in vv. 10 and 11; the crowning proof of which is that the Father sent the Son. The church is beloved not because the author loves those who have held fast to the apostolic witness, but because God sent Jesus “to be an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (10).  Judith Lieu points out that this is the beginning of the “we”/“us” inclusive language. This “continues emphatically through the rest of the chapter, and the author does not directly address his readers again as “you” until the letter draws to a close (5:13).”[1]

The word “allelouj” (“one another”) shows up again. This word by itself should be the clearest expression of what kind of love this is. This love is not love of enemies or even a general neighborly love reported in the Gospels. This agape love is the Christians love for other Christians. The love of Christians is to be directed towards one another because we are in God’s community. Love is the direct result from being born of God. When a Christian knows God, the key mark of the person is love because it is one of the key marks of God (v. 8). The character of the God’s community needs to be love for others in the community.

“…born of God and knows God”: Being born of God, in reiteration, is a transformational quality that makes us God’s children. This is not adoption as Paul sometimes talks about, this is much stronger language, this is having God’s DNA in us. We are the beloved of God, God’s children who are able to have the characteristics of God and know God. We love because we have been transformed by God’s love to love.

Knowing God is also a result of transformation. Knowing has a very clear meaning for the author of 1 John. It is not just knowing of God, for James would say, “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder” (2:19). As for both, this context and the context of James, knowing God requires: (1) obeying Jesus’ commandments (cf. 2:3-5) and (2) loving the community of believers (4:7). This definition of knowing God may account for much when it comes to the object of our love. Following Jesus’ commandments will certainly allow for us to love our neighbor and our enemy. Loving neighbors and enemies is a love we do, whether we want to or not, out of obedience. Loving the community of believers comes from comes from being transformed by the God who is Love.

(8) Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.

V. 8 is a parallel of v. 7 but in the negative form. It becomes a measuring stick for who is really born of God and who isn’t. It parallels v.7 in that those who love, they know God. The reverse is true and reiterated that way.

V. 8 also contains the strongest equation of God and love that is possible; “God is love.”  In this pericope, God is love because: (1) God is the progenitor of love to both the world (v. 9) and to God’s loving children, Christians (v. 10), (2) God is the example of love in (a) sending Jesus (v. 9) and (b) the Son dying for our sins (v. 10).

This phrase certainly parallels the earlier statement that “God is light” (1:5). The marks of God theologically mean something about God and transfer to be marking characteristics of his Children. In God there is no darkness. God sacrifices God-self for us, to be our Father and we God’s children. Likewise, God’s children are to be marked with holiness, purity and righteousness. God’s children are to be marked with love for their siblings, the community of God. These are the traits we inherit from our heavenly Father. As God’s children bearing God’s seed, we get God’s qualitative marks. Instead of having God’s nose or eyes, we get transformation into holiness and love.

It does need to be stated that love is not God. Lieu says it this way, “…the author is not engaged in abstract definitions of God… still less is he concerned with idealizing love… Love is not an abstract idea but is known through what God has done toward women and men; it finds its goal in the shared life of those who are formed by what God has done….”[2]

(9) God’s love was revealed to us in this way: God sent God’s only Son into the world so that we might live through him.

God’s love is centered on the Son and his appearance to us. Jesus becomes the example both of God’s sacrificial love and how we are to love. The “we might live through him” is an enigmatic passage. “Zesomen” is used only once in 1 John. “Through him,” in my opinion, is both (1) seeing Jesus as an example and (2) through the power of the transformation in being God’s children. Lieu points out that death isn’t mentioned here. For the author, it is the sent Son that is important. Atonement theories don’t seem to be important to the author of 1 John.[3]

It is interesting to note that with all the language of Christians being God’s literal children through transformation, bearing God’s seed and qualitative marks of holiness and love, Jesus is still regarded as God’s one and only Son. Maybe “only” shouldn’t be the translation. Maybe “unique” or “one-of-a-kind” or even “only-begotten.” “Monogenh/” is the term here. It is used primarily in the Gospel of Luke and John. Hebrews may be the key to this passage. In Hebrews 11:17 the word is used of Isaac as the “monogenh/” of Abraham. Clearly Abraham has another son, Ishmael. Isaac is the unique son of the promise, of the covenant and so maybe we should see Jesus in this light. Jesus is the unique Son of God in natural birth, covenant relationship and mission, but we are now children of God through Christ. St. Paul says it this way, “When we cry, ‘Abba!* Father!’ 16it is that very Spirit bearing witness* with our spirit that we are children of God, 17and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him” (Romans 8). We receive the same reward and punishment with Christ and children.

Lieu concludes that Jesus could be “monogenes” because he was sent. The authority of messengers as relating to the sender sets Jesus apart from us as children because Jesus was sent and was Son. Ultimately she concludes that there is nothing in 1 John that invites further reflection as the uses are probably formulaic.[4]

Yarbrough also wants to make a connection between “monogenes” and being sent. Though Yarbrough wants to uphold “one and only” which to me negates qualitative state of the believers. He, in passing, uses the word “unique” which may be a better translation preserving Jesus’ position but allowing believers to be totally transformed.[5]

Lieu and Smalley disagree on the word “world”. Lieu suggest that “kosmos” throughout 1 John is in reference to humankind and their sinfulness and therefore Jesus is sent to the world in this sense (cf. 2:2)[6]. Smalley suggest that it is neutral referring to Jesus as the incarnate one coming to the earth in time and space. He seems to think that is the context of v. 9 as expounded through the word “revealed”.[7] Though I see Smalley’s points, I think Lieu is the most consistent with the context of the word “kosmos” in 1 John and find that Jesus was sent for all people.

Wall wants to point out that the revealed one, the incarnation, is the basis for the apostolic witness. The apostle’s have seen and touched this Jesus who came to the earth. This Jesus is the greatest and highest example, the definition of God’s love and is the very same who the apostles have known.[8]

(10) This is love: it is not that we loved God but that God loved us and sent the Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins

This scripture defines love for us: God sacrifices God’s son. Jesus’ death is how we know that God loves us. This is not the first act of love, as the time sequence in the passage may seem to imply, but it is the greatest act of love. Nothing else compares to this.

 ,Ilasmon” shows up again here (cf. 2:2). This translation cannot be propitiation, which implies a wrathful deity being satisfied. Here, clearly there is a loving deity. God is defined as love. More than being love, this pericope is holding God up as the example of love in sending Jesus to be a sacrifice. The sacrifice is not in response to God’s anger but for the world’s (kosmos) sake, that the works of the devil may be destroyed in us (3:8).

(11) Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.

Here we have a reiteration of what has been said before (vv. 7-8) but with the elucidation of vv. 9-10. God loves us by sacrificing and this should be the example of our love towards one another (allelous). This love is not just a feelings love but an action love. It requires that we love others in the community of God at the expense of ourselves and everything we have (cf. 3:16-18). Lieu agrees that 3:16 is “the nature of authentic love… defined.”[9]

(12) No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us, and God’s love is perfected in us.

“No one has ever seen God…” certainly this is true in one sense. No one has seen God the Father. Even those who have seen parts of God have not seen the full glory of God. But we have seen the Son. The apostolic witness in 1:1-4 makes this clear that Jesus was here, touched and seen. The author wants to shock the audience a bit in that the Father does abide in the world. The Father is revealed in the community as each one loves the other. God dwells there, the Father abides in the love of the children for each other. The statement is conditional, it is only when we love that God shows up. God is only manifested when the children love one another. This may be the church’s greatest attribute and evangelistic tool.

Teteilome,nh” is an interesting word worthy of a vast more research. In a small sense, it means completed, perfected, a goal reached. In the four uses found in 1 John (cf. 2:5, 4:12, 4:17, 4:18) it should be noted that each occurrence is coupled with the context of love. For 1 John it would seem that the end result of God’s love is for us to love another. This is the goal of God’s love. It is the highest and best thing we can do as the beloved children of God. There is nothing worthier of our time and attention.

Lieu makes claim that this verse says that a loving community is the “most certain experience of God.”[10]

5. Theological Reflection
The community above all is the most important thing in the cosmos. God’s love has reached its perfect goal when we love each other in Christian community. This is the end all, be all of our faith. There are some presuppositions to this. We must know God, which implies that we will follow the commandments of Christ. That implies our Christian walks. Also, this love for each other is not open to interpretation but is clearly defined for us in 4:9-10. It must be a love like the one God has shown us through Christ, namely self-sacrificing love.

The community’s love for one another is the highest end of God’s love this side of resurrection. Though God has never been see, this is the way that God the Father is present in the world.

6. Lesson Plan for Preaching
Title: Our Ultimate Life’s Goal!
1.     Intro: What is our ultimate life’s goal. What does scripture tells us about what our greatest work in life is to be?
2.     We love each other because we are born of God (7-8)
a.     We are God’s children… we have his inherited trait of love.
3.     We love in the example of God sending Jesus (9-10)
a.     God’s love is our example
                                                 i.     God’s example is self-sacrifice
                                               ii.     We need to love each other in this way, through Christ.
4.     When we love each other God is made known and Love’s highest goal is reached. (11-12)
a.     This is God’s love reaching its highest goal in this world.
                                                 i.     By loving each other we are living into “our ultimate life’s goal”
b.     This is how God the Father chooses to manifest in the world.
                                                 i.     It is when we love one another through Jesus bringing us new birth, empowered by the Holy Spirit, that God abides.
1.     The Father abides in the community!
5.     Conclusion: Are we playing church or are we being the church? Is this time of a gathering and the highest expression of God’s love perfected or something else? Have our lives been about us and our individualism, being by ourselves in pursuit of our individual life’s goal or have we joined God’s family, for better or worse, to live into the fullest expression of God’s love here on earth?

Craddock, Fred B., Luke Timothy Johnson, David L. Bartlett, Duane F. Watson, C. Clifton
Black, and Christopher C. Rowland. 1998. The New interpreter's Bible: The letter to
the Hebrews, the letter of James, the first and second letters of Peter, the first,
second, and third letters of John, the letter of Jude, the book of Revelation. Volume
XII. Nashvville, Tenn: Abingdon.

Lieu, Judith., I, II, & III John: A Commentary. Louisville: Westminister John Knox, 2008.

Smalley, Stephen. 1, 2, 3 John. World Biblical Commentary, Vol. 51. Thomas Nelson, 2007.

Balz, Horst. ed.  Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans, 1993.

Schunack, G. “τύπος, ου, ” Pages 372-6 in vol. 3 of Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament. Edited by Horst Balz. 3 vols. Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans, 1993.

Yarbrough, Robert W. 1-3 John. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2008.

Wall, Rob. The Catholic Epistles of John. Disseminated through Blackboard as an inclass

[1] Leiu, I, II, III John: A Commentary, 176.
[2] Lieu, 177.
[3] Lieu, 180.
[4] Leiu, 183.
[5] Yarbrough, 238.
[6] Lieu, 180.
[7] Smalley, 1,2,3, John: World Biblical Commentary, 240-242.
[8] Wall, 24.
[9] Lieu, 177.
[10] Leiu, 186.


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