“…Spirit and Life”: 1 John 4:13

1 John 4:13

As I discussed in the previous notes, in chapters 4-5 of 1 John, the theme of trust/faith in Jesus takes on greater prominence, though still interconnected with the theme of love among believers which was emphasized in chapters 2-3. These represent the two aspects of the two-fold command defined and presented by the author in 3:23-24. According to the author, only those who confess the proper belief in Jesus, and who demonstrate proper love, can be considered true believers. The act/behavior indicates the underlying reality (cf. 3:10). Consider how this is expressed here in chapter 4:

    • 4:1-6: Trust in Jesus—confession of proper belief in his identity, indicating that we are of/from God
    • 4:7-12: Love for one another—demonstration that we follow his (and God the Father’s) example
    • 4:13-21: Trust and Love together—we abide in God and God abides in us

The two themes are unified in vv. 13-21, as indicated by the opening words:

“In this we know that we remain in Him and He in us, (in) that He has given us His Spirit.” (v. 13)

Properly speaking, here God (the Father) is the one who gives us the Spirit (“his Spirit”), and yet elsewhere in the Johannine writings it is stated that Jesus (the Son) is the one who gives the Spirit (Jn 3:34; 7:37-39; 15:26; 16:7; 20:22). This is part of the essential theological viewpoint in these writings: the Father gives to the Son (Jesus), and the Son, in turn, gives to believers. Here it is said that the Spirit allows us to know—that is, to recognize and be aware—of God’s abiding presence in us. In this sense, the Spirit both testifies and teaches, according to Jesus’ words in 14:26; 15:26; 16:8-15. The knowledge believers receive is an intimate awareness and understanding of both God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ (Jn 17:3). The author essentially repeats here what he stated previously in 3:24 (cf. the earlier note on this verse).

The verb me/nw (“remain, abide”) is an important Johannine keyword, occurring 40 times in the Gospel and 27 in the Letters—more than half of all the occurrences (118) in the New Testament. It has tremendous theological significance (and symbolism), even when apparently being used in an ‘ordinary’ sense in the Gospel narrative (e.g., 1:38-39). It is perhaps the single most important word which summarizes the believer’s identity in Christ; it is both (a) reciprocal, and (b) establishes us in the chain of relationship Father–Son–Believers:

    • Jesus (the Son) abides in us, and we in him, and as a result:
    • We abide in the Father and, and the Father in us
    • Father and Son both abide (together) in us through the presence of the Spirit
      This unifying presence (of the Spirit) may be illustrated by the simple diagram:

An important aspect of the verb me/nw is idea of remaining—this relationship between Father, Son and Believer, through the Spirit, remains and continues “into the Age”. The traditional eschatological image of divine/eternal Life, which the righteous are though to receive following the Judgment, is “realized” and experienced by believers now, in the present, and will continue on into eternity. This is a fundamental aspect of Johannine thought, expressed many times by Jesus in the Gospel Discourses.

It is interesting to consider how this Christian identity, marked by the twin themes of trust/faith and love, is presented throughout this section. I offer the following (chiastic) outline:

    • Trust: Confession of Jesus’ identity—the Son of God, sent by the Father (vv. 14-15
      —God’s love for us—sending his Son to us (v. 16a, also v. 14)
      ——His love abides/remains in us, completing/perfecting us (vv. 16b-18)
      —God’s love for us—we follow his (and the Son’s) example (v. 19)
    • Love: Demonstration of love for one another [among believers] (vv. 20-21)

The “command” (e)ntolh/) given to us by God is here defined primarily by the second aspect, love—both God’s love for us and our love for one another. This is a uniquely Johannine expression of the great “Love command” in early Christian and Gospel tradition. In this regard, it is worth emphasizing again the distinctive use (and meaning) of the word e)ntolh/ in the Gospel and Letters of John, which is best understood by the literal (fundamental) meaning as something given to us (i.e. laid on us) to complete. Here this “completion” has a dual meaning—not only our completion of the duty/mission to love one another, but of God’s love being completed in us. This is at the heart of the passage, in vv. 16b-18 (cf. above):

    • “In this our love has been made complete [tetelei/wtai]…” (v. 17)
    • “…complete [telei/a] love casts out fear…the (one) fearing has not been made complete [tetelei/wtai] in love.” (v. 18)

Note the precise parallelism:

    • our love has been made complete
    • we have been made complete in love

This is the truest and deepest sense of the word e)ntolh/.