1 John 4:1-21.
God's Purpose of Love

American Journal of Biblical Theology, www.biblicaltheology.com
Copyright © 2015, John W. (Jack) Carter     Scripture quotes from KJV

Every individual that God has created is unique, shaped by a likewise unique set of circumstances and influences.  Everyone is defined by their world-view, a complex pattern of beliefs that are informed by the culture within which they are immersed and shaped by their selection of which voices and authorities that they listen and submit to.  All of these influences work to shape the very personality of an individual, and influence oneís every-day choices.  Consequently, it is imperative that people of faith are listening and responding positively to the right voices: those influences that draw them to godly choices.

The church today, like the first-century church, is likewise immersed in a cacophony of voices, and its direction is largely shaped by the world views of its members.  The early church lacked many of the doctrinal resources that we have today, and was often easily misled by those who would press their own views upon others, introducing a conflict to the church that virtually all of the apostolic leaders were forced to respond to.

Not much has changed today.  Though people of faith have the resources to know the truth, most ignore them.  Bibles remain dusty residents of untouched bookshelves.  Very few people of faith are engaged in any meaningful effort in Bible study or discipleship training.  This growing ignorance of the truth is enabling entire denominations of Christians to set aside the truth of the gospel, replacing it with a pattern of views that strive for acceptance by this pagan world by compromising the demands of holiness.

As John observed this pattern in the early church, he provided relevant advice that could turn a wandering congregation back to the truth of the gospel, and back to the purpose of agape love that the LORD intends. 


1 John 4:1-3.  Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. 2Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: 3And 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.

If our choices are so shaped by the voices we listen to, it is important that we listen to the correct ones.  In this passage John is responding to a relatively specific heresy that is being promoted by some in the church.  Referred to as Docetic Gnosticism, or Docetism,[1] this position held that Jesus, being fully God, is fully Spirit, and only appeared to be human.  They held that, since the world is evil, Godís purity would prevent him from being fully part of it.  They fully denied Jesusí humanity, resolving a seeming conflict that Jesus could not be fully man and fully God at the same time. 

Though the verses speak to one particular heresy, it does instruct us on an important point:  to deny the true nature of Jesus Christ is to deny Christ, and to deny the faith.  One who denies Christ is an antichrist and his/her words are not to be given any authority in the fellowship of believers.

The idea of Docetism came from some basic pagan Greek philosophical beliefs, and in the first-century it was Greek philosophy that tended to define the ideas that shaped their culture.  This was a man-made, worldly system of beliefs that served to establish many ideas still held today, including secular humanism, a philosophy that denies God, replacing him with the cosmos and people at its center.

John instructs believers to test every philosophy to determine if it is from God or from the world.  How we relate to the things of this world does play a large part in shaping our views.

1 John 1:4-6.  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. 5They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them. 6We 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.

It is easy for us to hear what sound like logical, impressive, and charismatic arguments when they come from those who sound authoritative.  It is human nature to submit to those who are seemingly more powerful, whether their power is in physical or philosophical force.  John reminds the faithful that, as powerful and charismatic as those who preach false doctrines may appear, they are still of the world, still submitted to the prince of darkness.  Because of this, regardless of their seeming power, the power of the Holy Spirit that is within the heart of every believer is the true power.  Against the power of the LORD, the antichrist is impotent, and so are his minions.

By testing the spirits against the Spirit of the LORD a believer can determine what is truth and what is error, and reject the error without regard to the nature of its source.

Faced with these heresies, John was also aware of a great strength of the Greek churches: they knew how to love one another.  The expression of phileo (as well as eros) love was a fundamental building-stone in the foundation of their culture.  We might be reminded that their love for ďphilosophyĒ is in itself the study of the expression of phileo love.  It was from this existing understanding of love that John was able to share the gospel message, showing the Greeks a higher love that comes only from God.

It is important that Christians understand the difference between phileo love and agape love as they seek to be obedient to Godís call to love.  Without this understanding one can be exercising only phileo love, thinking that they are sharing Godís love, and become satisfied with something that is far short of Godís purpose for our lives. 


What are some of the things that can cause us to lose God's love?

Romans 8:38-39.  For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, 39Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

There is nothing in this world or in heaven that can cause us to lose Godís love.  This is extremely important, particularly for those who struggle with sin in their lives.  Many may testify that ďI am not good enough for God to love me,Ē or ďGod canít love a person as bad as me.Ē  The truth is simply that God loves both the saint and the sinner alike and does not predicate that love based upon our behavior. 

As we exercise agape love in our lives, it has that same unconditional characteristic.  Whereas we can easily withhold phileo love from someone whom we do not like, agape love cannot be withheld.  When we give a greater love to one person than we do to another, that love is not agape; it is phileo.  Phileo empowers us to withhold love as we express our prejudice towards others.  Agape love knows no such distinctions.  Just as Godís love for us is unconditional, a true agape love that is expressed for others is likewise unconditional.  We love because God loves us, despite all of our shortcomings and sins.  In the same way we love others unconditionally, despite any of their shortcomings or sins. 


What did we do to deserve God's love? 

Romans 5:8.  But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

Since Godís love is without condition, He did His work in our lives while we were yet sinners.  We cannot clean up our lives enough to stand before God without any sin, so it was necessary that God reach down through time and space to touch our hearts even when we were immersed in our sinful state.  Without this grace, saving faith would be impossible.

When God created this universe, He loved it and all that is in it, declaring it good.  Like the prodigal son, we have all sinned and gone astray while a loving Father waited for our return. 

Likewise agape love is not given to others as a reward for their loveliness.  People may earn our phileo love, but they can never earn agapeAgape is freely given to all based upon what God has done, and it is not based upon what the one receiving the agape love has done.


Understanding this agape love that God has for us, we also understand that God intends that we share this same unconditional love with one another.

1 John 4:7-8.  Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. 8He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.

The book of 1 John contains several comparisons of what is of God and what is not.  First, we are called to love one another, not with phileo love, but with agape love.  Why is this so important?  It is this love that comes from God and rises far above the worldly phileo love that is so subjected to sin.  John states that the presence of agape love in a person is a litmus test of their true salvation experience.  Johnís purpose, based upon the previously quoted verses, is not to cause us to doubt our salvation.  It is, rather, to assure us of that salvation and to open up our hearts to express God's love openly and freely. 

However, if the agape love of God simply does not exist within us, according to John, the true experience of salvation has not yet happened.  We may have been convinced that we trust God because we believe in Him, yet Satan believes in God.[2]  John describes Godís provision for salvation in verse 9.  So, how does one come to a true and saving faith?

1 John 4:9-10.  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. 10Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

First, accepting salvation requires a decision to do so.   The lost person must understand their lost state: each person is a sin-filled soul who is not worthy to enter the presence of a perfect and pure God.  One must decide to remove themselves from the throne of their own life, and place Jesus there.  The person must decide to acknowledge God as the authority in his/her life.  Then, once the decision is made, the person may confess to God that he/she is a sinner who chooses to repent of that sin, and accept Jesus as Lord and Savior.

This is the process by which Jesus serves as the ďpropitiationĒ for our sins.  Once we have placed our faith in God, sin no longer has the power to separate us from Him.  Still the price of that sin must be paid, the very price that Jesus paid when He went to the Cross of Calvary.  Jesus bore the burden of the sin for all those who place their faith and trust in God.  Consequently, it is only through the work of Jesus that people can be saved.

Once the decision for salvation is made, the Holy Spirit, seals that decision.  Paul states his understanding of that security in his second letter to Timothy:

2 Timothy 1:12.  For the which cause I also suffer these things: nevertheless I am not ashamed: for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.

Some would teach a heresy that states that one can lose their salvation through the expression of any individual, or any number of sins.  Some teach that salvation is lost for any sin that one has not subsequently repented of and sought forgiveness.  However, the scriptural evidence is clear that salvation is secure, simply because sin no longer has the power to separate us from God.  God keeps the commitment for us.  The decision for faith was not a vow to stop sinning.  The decision for faith was a commitment to repent from our sin, as we strive to live a life of obedience to the one to whom we have committed our lordship.


1 John 4:11-16.  Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. 12No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us. 13Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit. 14And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world. 15Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God. 16And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.

In verse 11, John repeats what he stated in 3:1, that since we are loved of God, we also love one another.  How do we show such love?  1 Corinthians 13 is sometimes used to illustrate the love between a bride and groom, but such use is actually not the focus of that passage.  1 Corinthians 13 provides a point-by-point description of the difference between the expression of true agape love and sin-immersed phileo love.  Agape love is always expressed in patience, kindness, without envy, without boasting, without pride or rudeness, it is not self-seeking, not easily angered, keeping no record of wrongs, not delighting in evil, rejoicing with the truth, always protecting, always trusting, always hoping, always persevering and never failing in these.  Phileo love can fail in all of these areas.

Note that phileo love can inspire us to do these same things, but agape love makes these things a basic part of our nature.  A person of the world demonstrates such acts of phileo love by choice.  A Christian demonstrates acts of agape love because it is the fruit of their nature.  What causes the Christian to fail to act this way?  How can a faithful Christian be impatient, unkind, envious, boastful, proud, rude, self-seeking, easily angered, bearing grudges, delighting in evil, failing to protect, trust or hope?  This will happen when we take our focus off of Jesus, take our focus off of the truth of Godís Word and rely on phileo love to motivate our relationships.


Without God in us, we are still incomplete, unfulfilled, and imperfect.  It is through God's love that this void is filled.

1 John 4:17-18.  Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world. 18There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.

By placing His Holy Spirit, the person of His love in us, we are finally made complete.  The King James Version of the Bible uses the word "perfect" to describe our condition.  In old English, the word perfect was used to mean without flaw.  However, it was also used to mean "complete" and "fulfilled."  This is the meaning here.  God's love in us is a perfect fruit living in an imperfect soul, fulfilling the purpose that God has for us.

What will be the state of a Christian on the Day of Judgment?  When God looks upon a person of faith He will see the reflection of His own agape love in their heart.  The presence of the Holy Spirit in that heart serves as the seal of that individualís decision for faith, described in the metaphor of Revelation 20 as a name forever written in the Lambís book of Life.

What will be the state of a lost person on the Day of Judgment?  The presence of only phileo love in the heart of the lost does not reflect Godís love. Instead, by living a life that rejected faith in God, the individual will be only continue that rejection as they are forever cast from His presence, and from the comforting and sustaining power of the Holy Spirit.

As scary as this scenario may sound, people of faith have nothing to fear.  They will be able to stand before God, not on our own righteousness, but by the propitiation of Jesus as our advocate, our lawyer, and our Paraclete. 

Should a Christian fear death?  It is certainly reasonable to fear the event that is so frequently characterized by suffering, and to regret the impact on our death on others.  Still, we have no reason to fear the judgment, regardless of the sins we have committed in our time.  The lost will always fear punishment, never knowing for sure if they have been ďgood enough.Ē  People of faith have no need to have such fears.  John writes of the final judgment when the sins and deeds of all will be exposed.  Every idle word we have stated will be revisited.  However, those who have placed their faith in God, those whose hearts are filled with Godís agape love, will find that they have been forgiven, and will not be condemned for their sins.


1 John 4:19-21. We love him, because he first loved us. 20If 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? 21And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.

Why do we love one another with an agape love?  God first loved us with that form of love, and put it into our hearts with the presence of the Holy Spirit.  John reminds us that we are now to be fully characterized by God's agape love.  What should we do if we are harboring a grudge?  We must first acknowledge that this attitude is not one agape love, but is an expression of the sinfully conditional phileo form of love. 

If we find that we are characterized by a critical and condemning spirit, if we find that we are quick to complain and bicker, if we find that we can easily withdraw our love from any individual, we have uncovered an important need in our lives: to replace that phileo love that has for so long disguised itself as agape, seek forgiveness, and repent by making a recommitment to God to shed the limitations of phileo love, and fully appropriate for ourselves the expression of agape love towards one another. 

If we have lived our Christian life on the power of phileo love, shedding its hypocrisy can be difficult.  Phileo love establishes a pattern of self-desires, self-will, and hypocrisy that will be hard to break.  However, with God, all things are possible.  The Christian can take this need to God in prayer, asking for a better understanding of the appropriate expression of agape love.

Once we have shed ourselves of the prejudices and limitations of phileo love, and appropriate for ourselves a heart that is fully expressing agape love, there will be no limit to the way that God can use our gifts for the purposes of the kingdom.  There is no limit to the way that God can use us to touch one another with acts of love and charity that serve to strengthen our relationships with one another, encourage one another, and develop a closer relationship with God.

Why would we choose the phileo love of this world?  We have been commanded to replace the worldly phileo that characterized our heart before salvation with Godís agape love that will form the basis of our nature when we are fully submitted to the Lord.  Let us, even at this time, make a new commitment to love God and love one another in the way that He has called us to do.

[1] The word Gnosticism is based upon the Greek word gnosis, meaning knowledge.  The word Docetism is based upon the Greek word dokesis, meaning appearance. There were two groups of Gnostics, the Dosetics and the Cerinthians (not to be confused with Corinthians.)  The Dosetics denied the humanity of Christ, seeing him as a mythical god much like the Greek gods.  The Cerinthians accepted Jesus' humanity, and taught that he first received the Holy Spirit at His baptism, and gave it up on the Cross. 

[2] James 2:19