Commentary on 1 John 4:7-21
First John 4:7-21 calls its recipients to recognize the presence of God in their relationships, in terms of love for God and for one another, despite social, cultural, and mainstream challenges.
For analysis of the structure of 1 John, see the previous week’s commentary.
The author’s closing appeal to his new community focuses on the divine attribute that embodies all others—that God is Love. This is revealed in the love of the believing community for one another that manifests in full when God is present in all their relationships (1 John 4:7-21). Indeed, God is the foundation of all love which, in turn, actualizes a faith that conquers the world (1 John 5:1-12).
The author therefore begins his final appeal with the imperative for his “beloved” (a strong reflection to the Beloved Disciple of the Gospel as their model of faith and love), then repeats the “new commandment” of the Gospel, “let us love one another,” with a novel focus on origins, “because love is from God.” The author follows this command with his characteristic formulation of the children of God: “everyone who loves is born of God and knows God” (verse 7). God’s love is witnessed by the gift of the incarnation and atoning sacrifice of God’s Son and is perfected in the ongoing mutual indwelling love of the community (verses 9-10). Typical to Johannine narrative ethics, the indirect implication is that we are compelled to do likewise. God’s love is perfected when it manifests in our relationships both with our “inner circles” and those we consider “other” (verses 11-12).
The language of being and abiding in God and love comes to the fore in these verses as the author demands the presence of God in all our relationships. The Holy Spirit is operative in this activity of the ongoing abiding of God in the world. Our love in action in the world is simply the culmination of our believing and living in the love of God. This is what sustains us (verses 13-16). The paradox is that it is in this humility that we find our boldness. We love because God first loved us and there is no fear there (verses 17-20). The heart of this closing appeal is therefore: “The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also” (verse 21). And our family extends far beyond our kin to every human being in God’s good creation.
We must, therefore, challenge ourselves to push beyond our comfort zones to do new things. This, indeed, is how we love as Christ loved, and as God loves us. Sacrifice can be life and limb, and when it is it should be honored as such. But it doesn’t have to be. Every time we step beyond where we’d rather be, what we’d rather do, into what might embarrass or negatively impact us in order to share God’s love, we answer this call. This is our summons. God is love. Be bold. Don’t fear. Share yourself. Do love. This is what will sustain us in unity, strength, and the abiding love of God.