June 26: 1 John 4:7

1 John 4:7

Most of the remaining references in 1 John, touching on the theme of the ‘birth’ of believers as the “offspring of God”, occur in 4:7-5:4a. This is a major division of the treatise, following the second “antichrist” section (4:1-6). Throughout the body of 1 John, there is an alternation between the thematic emphases of trust and love—the two aspects of the great duty (e)ntolh/) required of all believers (3:23). The focus in the “antichrist” sections (2:18-27; 4:1-6) is on trust, dealing principally with the false belief of the opponents; whereas, in 2:28-3:24 and 4:7-5:4a, the focus is primarily on love.

In some ways, the beginning of this last section (4:7) picks up on 3:10 (discussed in the two previous notes), by essentially equating “doing what is right [dikaiosu/nh]” with loving one’s fellow believers (“loving one another”). In actuality, the fundamental characteristic of “doing what is right” means fulfilling the great two-fold duty (e)ntolh/) of trust and love. This can be seen quite clearly by comparing the wording of 4:7 with that of 5:1:

    • “every(one) loving has come to be (born) of God” [4:7]
      pa=$ o( a)gapw=n e)k tou= qeou= gege/nnhtai
    • “every(one) trusting that Yeshua is the Anointed has come to be (born) of God” [5:1]
      pa=$ o( pisteu/wne)k tou= qeou= gege/nnhtai

Every true believer—defined as one who “has come to be (born) of God” —regularly and characteristically will fulfill the great e)ntolh/ of love and trust. Once again, the author utilizes the familiar Johannine syntax of an articular substantive participle (e.g., “the [one] loving”, “the [one] trusting”), preceded by the comprehensive adjective pa=$ (“all, every”). Every true believer will be characterized by these two actions, in fulfillment of the great e)ntolh/: (i) a genuine trust in Jesus Christ, and (ii) love for other believers, following the example of Jesus himself. The focus here in vv. 4:7ff, as it was in 3:11-18ff, is on love.

Here is verse 7 in full:

“Loved (one)s, we should love each other, (in) that [i.e. because] love is of God, and every(one) loving has come to be (born) of God and knows God.”

Each component of this statement carries great significance for the author, who ‘unpacks’ and expounds them throughout the remainder of the section (which I would divide into three units: 4:7-12, 4:13-19, and 4:20-5:4a, cf. von Wahlde, pp. 152-81).

The author begins by addressing his audience as “loved (one)s” (a)gaphtoi/), which, of course, establishes the theme of love from the start. Like the term tekni/a (“[dear] offspring [i.e. children]”) in 2:28, etc, this is much more than simply a term of endearment. It plays on the Johannine theological vocabulary, as utilized by the author, and implicitly identifies the readers/hearers of the treatise as true believers. The noun tekni/on is a diminutive of te/knon, the very term used for referencing (true) believers as the “offspring [te/kna] of God”. Similarly, the adjective a)gaphto/$ alludes to believers—true believers—as those who demonstrate love.

Verse 7 can be divided into four component phrases or clauses:

    • “we should/must love each other”
    • “(in) that love is of God”
    • “every(one) loving has come to be (born) of God”
    • “(everyone loving) knows God”

The first two components comprise the exhortation to demonstrate love, while the last two components provide encouragement and affirmation for the believer—viz., if you regularly show love, then you are a true believer, one who has been born of God and who knows God. As noted above, each of these components is effectively expounded by the author in the remainder of 4:7-5:4a. It will prove useful to work from these four components as a way of analyzing the author’s thought and message in this section.

1. “we should love each other” (a)gapw=men a)llh/lou$)

The subjunctive mood/aspect of the verb (a)gapa/w, “love”), can be variously translated according to several different nuances: “we should love each other”, “we ought to love each other”, “we must love each other”. As an aspect of the great duty (e)ntolh/) required of believers, this statement is a direct echo of Jesus’ words in Jn 13:34:

“A new e)ntolh/ I give to you: that you should love each other [a)gapa=te a)llh/lou$]…”

Jesus adds the qualifying phrase: “…just as I [have] loved you”, that is, following Jesus’ own example of demonstrating love for his disciples/believers. He restates this in 15:12, giving the ‘command’ again in v. 17. As an effective exhortation, this aspect of the e)ntolh/ is repeated throughout 1 John, and also is emphasized in 2 John (vv. 5ff).

The author gives an initial exposition in vv. 11-12, following the theological explanation in vv. 8-10 (see below).

2. “(in) that love is of God” (o%ti h( a)gaph/ e)k tou= qeou= e)stin)

This statement is an example of Johannine essential predication: Divine subject + verb of being + predicate noun/phrase. Occasionally, an attribute of God can serve as the Divine subject, as it does here:

love [h( a)gaph/] | is [e)stin] | of God [e)k tou= qeou=]”

Love can be considered Divine since it comes “out of” (e)k, i.e. from) God Himself. Moreover, in the following verse 8, the author goes a step further, and gives the predicative statement in a different way, identifying God with love itself: “God is love” (o( qeo\$ a)gaph/ e)stin). Note the chiastic parallelism that is produced in vv. 7-8 (cf. von Wahlde, p. 152):

    • “we should love each other,
      • (in) that love is of God,
        • and every(one) loving has been (born) of God
          and knows God
        • the (one) not loving (has) not known God,
      • (in) that God is love.”

That which is of God (and comes out of Him) is Divine, and can be identified with God Himself. In vv. 9-10, the author explains further how the love which we, as believers, demonstrate has a Divine source, coming from God. This is explained two different ways: (a) by example, and (b) by abiding presence. First, we have the example: we are able to love because God has shown this love to us, principally by sending His Son to earth (in the person of Jesus) on our behalf. Verse 9 is practically a quotation from the Gospel (cf. 3:16) As a result of the Son’s mission, in which he himself demonstrated the Divine love, by laying down his life (in a sacrificial death), we as believers are able to live through him. In verse 10, this same proposition is explained in terms of the removal of sin (cf. the earlier sections of 1:5-2:2 and 3:4-9).

However, we do not love only by example, but also because of the abiding presence of God (and His love) in us. Here, again, the author utilizes an important Johannine keyword, the verb me/nw (“remain, abide”):

“…if we would love each other, (then) His love (truly) remains [me/nei] in us, and His love in us is made complete.”

The last statement (“His love in us is made complete”) is most remarkable, not least because this is another example of Johannine essential predication (see above). Again, God’s love serves as the Divine subject, but with the qualifying expression “in us”:

“His love in us | is | made complete”

In this instance, the predicate nominative is a substantive perfect (passive) participle: “(something) having been made complete” (teteleiwme/nh). The Divine love is a love made complete when it is present and active in believers—the offspring of God. That is to say, God’s love finds completion in His children.

This theme, utilizing the verb me/nw, continues in vv. 13-19, and will be touched on in the next daily note. At the same time, we will examine the final two components of verse 7, looking at how the author expounds these, as well, in the remainder of the section.

References above marked “von Wahlde” are to Urban C. von Wahlde, The Gospel and Letters of John. Volume 3: Commentary on the Three Johannine Letters, Eerdmans Critical Commentary (2010).

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