1 John 4

1 A Christian is not to simply believe everything he hears, even if it comes from someone claiming spiritual authority. In particulars, "alarm bells" should go off if someone says something that contradicts Scripture. Satan is not so concerned that people are religious because he knows that those who do not follow sound doctrine with faith will not be able to please God.

We can be discerning because God has given us His Spirit. When we are listening to Him, we will not be deceived. God has also given us His word. As Christians, we must read, study, and understand the Bible if we are to know what pleases God.

2 One of the particular heresies that concerned John was the teaching of Gnosticism. This system of belief held that Jesus could not have dwelt in a human body because the material world is "inherently evil." The Bible, however, teaches that the fleshly incarnation of the Messiah was necessary to fulfill the sacrificial dictates of God's justice.
3 A demonic spirit can be detected by its contradiction or misuse of Scriptural principles. Most "Christian" pastors will extol Jesus as a man who lived an extraordinary life, was spiritually connected, and did good things for many people. However, the false teachers will stop there. They do not believe that Jesus is God incarnate. This also means, by default, that they do not believe the Scriptures, which can lead to all kinds of teachings and actions that are displeasing to God. It is up to the individual believer to learn the truth of Scripture and apply it to their daily lives. This includes measuring their spiritual leaders by it, regardless of how supernaturally "powerful" or mature they may appear. If a Christian does not use discernment in deciding whom to follow, he may unwittingly find himself in league with the devil. The spirit of antichrist is already in the world; it is not waiting for the end times. An antichrist will gladly wear the label of "Christian" if that is what it takes to get people to follow him or his true master, Satan.
4 Since God lives within Christians, we should not be surprised that we can see through clever arguments or other deceptions that Satan may use to distract us from Him. Satan may be able to fool many people, but he can not fool God.
5 The world is more likely to accept the teachings of an ungodly teacher because he panders to their greed, lust, and pride. The majority of the world is religious, but they are not righteous because they do not worship or follow God. Some ungodly religions are blatantly satanic, some focus on the mind of man, some have deified animals or the earth, some worship false gods, and some appear to be Christian on the surface, but the common factor is that they stray from Scripture. Worldly people prefer false teachings because they do not want to submit to God's authority.
6 However, the world will ignore or despise those who preach God's word because it reveals our weaknesses, errors, and poverty in His eyes.

John is speaking here by the authority granted him as an apostle and eyewitness. Those who contradict the Gospel as presented in the Scriptures are in rebellion against God, and should not be followed. A teaching that contradicts what is taught in the Bible is a lie.

7 John returns to the theme of love from chapter 3. God is love, so it is appropriate that His followers love each other. True expressions of love are the evidence of our relationship to God.

The kind of love that John is speaking of is agape love. It is not the erotic or friendly kind of love often associated with this word in English. It is godly love. This kind of love cares for the other person regardless of one's emotional or physical attraction to him or her. The primary component is the concern that the other person knows the salvation from God and is daily growing in his relationship with Jesus. Another concern is for the general welfare of the other person, that is, meeting his physical or emotional needs. Most often, these needs are met within the fellowship of believers. The evidence of our love for each other includes communicating, spending time with, and helping one another. If someone has wronged another, then both sides seek forgiveness and a restored relationship. It is sacrificial love, and may involve giving up one's very life for the good of others. The primary focus and outcome in all this is that all believers have a closer relationship with God.

8 Conversely, those who love selfishly do not know God. They may love others sexually, have close friends, and even be very generous and compassionate for the less fortunate. Their motivation, however, is not to please God. Sometimes their motivation is to gain fame. Sometimes it is to ease their conscious. Sometimes they are motivated by an ungodly philosophy, religion, or simply because it is their "social duty." In all these cases, their works will be in vain because people are ultimately accountable to God alone.

Loving works done in the name of Jesus should draw others to Him. Good works done for any other reason will draw people to that reason and away from God. This is why God will send those non-Christians who the world sees as "good" to hell. God has defined the standard, not the people of the world. It is not only to "love" your neighbor, but it is to love God through a relationship with Jesus Christ first and foremost. Without a loving relationship with God, it is impossible for people to love others in the way that God defines love. Thus, those who reject God can not love their neighbors.

9 God sent Jesus to be the example of what agape love is. God's expression of love towards us could not be clearer. Jesus died for us so that we could live with Him forever. He sacrificed everything He was for us so that we would not suffer the ultimate punishment for sin. His actions made it possible for us to enjoy the permanent places in heaven, of which none of us is worthy.
10 This is another characteristic of love -- it initiates the relationship. God did not wait for people to love Him. He did not wait until people became "good enough" for Him to show mercy to. Neither event was going to happen. Instead, God demonstrated His love for us while people did not love Him (Rom 5:8). Even today, most people turn away from and even hate God. Yet, He still reaches out wanting to give everyone the chance to respond in a positive way to His love. As His followers, we should also take the initiative. Especially within the church, we should act in loving ways towards one another, even when we are not asked to. We should also be this way to people in the world, including those who many might not consider "good enough." When people hate and harm us, despite our loving actions, we must continue to love them in the hope that they respond to God's love, which we display through our words and actions.

God loved each of us even before we were born. He already knew that we would be unable to pay the "debt" that His justice demanded for our sins, so He sent Jesus to pay that debt for us.

The Greek word used here literally means "a covering," and was used by the Septuagint scholars who translated the Old Testament to Greek to refer to the Mercy Seat on the Ark of the Covenant. The word "propitiation" used here means "to satisfy," but only highlights one aspect of the mercy seat. However, it is profoundly significant to recognize that Jesus is the mercy seat for the Christian. He alone is the person through whom we meet God (Exo 25:21-22, Lev 16:2, John 14:6). He alone is the person through which we find permanent forgiveness for sin (Lev 16:11-17, Heb 9, Acts 4:12).

11 While we can not pay for another's sin the way Jesus did, we should do everything we can to help others start or grow their relationship with Jesus. In the eternal perspective, there could be no greater expression of love on our part. We should not do this out of guilt, pressure, or selfishness. We must be genuinely concerned for the spiritual and physical welfare of others.
12 God's true, spiritual nature is not visible to our human eyes, but we can make it known by becoming conduit of love between Him and the world. His love become "perfected," that is, it accomplishes it purpose, when we display God's love for others.

Some people have questioned the accuracy of this verse since verses like Exo 33:11 would seem to indicate that others have seen God. If we take a closer look at Exo 33:11 we find that Moses did not see God's face, but heard His voice. In fact, just a few verses later, Moses asks to see God's glory, and in part of His reply, God says that no one may see His face (Exo 33:18-20). There are several other passages where God appears as a theophany (e.g., Isa 6:1-5). These are either physical incarnations of God, angelic representatives, or possibly even early appearances of Jesus.

13 This kind of love can only come from the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. He produces the loving fruit in us that the Father desires (Gal 5:22-23).

These three verses give us a quick glimpse at the Trinity. We know that God the Father dwells in us because of the physical testimony of Jesus and the spiritual testimony of the Holy Spirit.

14 For John, the Gospel was not a story from long ago. He saw Jesus with his own eyes. He watched Him minister, perform miracles, die, and ascend after His resurrection. The apostles passed on this Good News to others so that we might also believe, even though we did not witness the events ourselves (John 20:29).
15 God loves all people and provides us the opportunity to live forever with Him through the death of His Son. However, the transaction can only be completed when we believe that He has indeed done this for us and submit ourselves to His authority.
16 Faith in Jesus is the same as believing in God's love for us. He abides in believers through the Spirit. We abide in him today in obedience and prayer. After the Resurrection, we will abide with Him in His Kingdom forever.
17 Our freedom from sin and its punishment gives us confidence that we will be rewarded on Judgement Day. Since we have established a loving relationship with God, we expect that it will continue in heaven as He has promised.

We were each designed to have a personal, loving relationship with God. The completed work of God's love is that our good relationships with Him will last forever. It starts here, in this lifetime, and will continue into eternity.

18 When we are in a loving relationship, we can freely confide our weaknesses and vulnerabilities. We are assured that we will be supported, helped, and even rebuked to help us become better people. Fear, on the other hand, breaks apart or prevents loving relationships because one or both sides is reluctant to reveal things that they (presumably, incorrectly) feel might result in ridicule or rejection. In our relationship with God, we do not need to fear rejection because the Christian is already saved. We might do things that disappoint Him, and we might do things that have painful consequences, but He already paid for our shortcomings so that we could be joyful in our assurance of heaven.
19 John has already told us that God loved us when we were undeserving. We have already discussed what godly love is, and why it is not possible to have it without knowing Christ. Here, John simply puts this as a cause and affect. Only after we have experienced the love of God through Jesus can we love others the way God intended.
20 Love is not confined to the realm of the abstract. If we do not love others in real and practical ways then we do not really understand what love in the abstract is. If we do not love those whom God was willing to die for, can we really love God? When we despise those made in God's image, we are really placing ourselves above God. After all, He descended from the highest heavens to meet the lowest need. As His followers, it can not be beneath us to love those around us since we are all in the same place of spiritual want.
21 An example of this command to love is found in John 13:34-35. It is a command, which indicates that love is not based on emotion or attraction. It is a command that can only be followed when we have the love of God in our hearts. It is a command that is possible to obey, so we must not complain that it is too hard to do. We must rely on the Holy Spirit to teach and give us strength to love those around us.