John's writing is beautiful and easy to memorize, but it's also hard hitting, solid theology.
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1 John 4 (ESV)
1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit,
test the spirits
to see whether they are from God,
for many false prophets have gone out into the world.
2 By this you know the Spirit of God:
that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh
is from God,
3 and every spirit
that does not confess Jesus
is not from God.
This is the spirit of the antichrist,
which you heard was coming
and now is in the world already.
4 Little children,
you are from God
and have overcome them,
for he who is in you
is greater than he who is in the world.
5 They are from the world;
therefore they speak from the world,
and the world listens to them.
6 We are from God.
Whoever knows God listens to us;
whoever is not from God does not listen to us.
we know the Spirit of truth
and the spirit of error.
let us love one another,
for love is from God,
and whoever loves
has been born of God
and knows God.
who does not love
does not know God,
because God is love.
9 In this the love of God
was made manifest among us,
that God sent his only Son
into the world,
so that we might live through him.
10 In this is love,
not that we have loved God
he loved us
and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
God so loved us,
we also ought to love one another.
12 No one has ever seen God;
if we love one another,
God abides in us
and his love is perfected in us.
13 By this we know
that we abide in him
and he in us,
he has given us of his Spirit.
14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.
15 Whoever confessesthat Jesus is the Son of God,
God abides in him,
and he in God.
16 So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us.
God is love,
abides in love
abides in God,
and God abides in him.
17 By this is love perfected with us,
so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment,
because as he is so also are we in this world.
18 There is no fear in love,
but perfect love casts out fear.
For fear has to do with punishment,
and whoever fears
has not been perfected in love.
19 We love because he first loved us.
20 If anyone says,
“I love God,”
and hates his brother,
he is a liar;
for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen
cannot love God whom he has not seen.
21 And this commandment we have from him:
whoever loves God
must also love his brother.
1 John 4 Summary
John opens this chapter with a command that we must 'test every spirit.' What he means is we must thoroughly evaluate every idea and opinion that we encounter.
Ideas which acknowledge Jesus Christ - not just in name, but as the eternal, incarnate Son of God, who has fully accomplished salvation and changes the life of those who are in Him - these ideas have validity.
But most ideas and opinions today do not have their basis in Christ, even those which come from people identifying as Christians. John gives us a good way to quickly test ideas in v5: if the world really likes it, the idea is of the world, and not of God.
In the second half of chapter four, John uses his trademark writing style to make it clear that since one of God's essential attributes is love, we must reflect His love in the way we treat those around us.
In doing so, John showcases both the beauty and usefulness of theology. These words certainly have an aesthetic beauty; just look at the outlined version (in the drop down menu above) and you can see their symmetry and even a rhythm to them. It's no wonder so many verses in this chapter are easily memorized or turned into catchy songs.
Lots of churches are very good at engendering a sense of external beauty of the Christian religion, but John shows that solid theology must do more than just promote majestic aesthetics; it must dictate both what we do and why we do it.
We often look to Paul's epistles for the well reasoned, technically precise what's and why's of Christianity, but be sure not to miss John's elegant theology! Here's just one of the logical syllogisms that John 4 presents:
God is love (v8, 16) God abides in you (v4, 12, 13, 16) Therefore, His love must be evident in your life in how you treat others (v7, 8, 11, 19)
ACKNOWLEDGE WHO GOD IS: God is love (v16), and He loved you before you loved Him (v19)
ALIGN YOUR LIFE WITH GOD'S WILL: Ask God for His love to flow through you and out to others
ASK GOD FOR WHAT YOU NEED: