1 John 4:2-3 – The Spirit that Does Not Confess Jesus

John began the Gospel by declaring the Word was God in the beginning (1:1), but the Word became flesh (1:14). This balances the divinity of Jesus with his real human flesh.

What are the opponents teaching about Jesus? The usual suggestions include Docetism (Jesus only appeared to have real flesh since human flesh is by nature evil), Cerenthus (the earthly Jesus is different than heavenly Jesus), or even a teaching that Jesus was flesh, but his flesh was important for our salvation (Von Wahlde, Epistles of John, 142-43). The problem is the later descriptions of these classic Christological heresies fit what John says. Perhaps it is better to take this false teaching about Jesus John is concerned about as similar to these later rejected Christologies.

For John, the test is not that someone should confess Jesus was really human, but that they confess Jesus Christ, the one who has come in the flesh. In some ways, this is shorthand for “Jesus as presented in my previous book the Gospel of John, especially in the prologue, John 1:1-18.” Obviously John would not refer to his book in this modern form of citation, but if one were to ask John “what do you mean by when you sat Jesus Christ,” he would respond with the content of John 1:1-18.

Based on the content of 1 John, it is likely the opponents were denying Jesus was fully human and also that he was the Jewish messiah (the Christ). Based on John 20:30-31 the purpose of the whole Gospel of John was to convince the reader to believe that Jesus is the Messiah and that by believing in him to have life in his name; that name is Jesus Christ.

To read this as simply a confession that was a human would mean anyone who thought Jesus really existed historically could be speaking the truth and therefore acceptable as a teacher in John’s churches. This is obviously not the case, since someone could announce they believe in the historical Jesus but not that he was the son of God or that he was crucified and raised from the dead.

The spirit which does not confess Jesus Christ came in the flesh is antichrist. This recalls the beginning of this portion of the letter, recalling 2:18. In 4:5 John says these false teachers are speaking from viewpoint of the world and are therefore speaking in the “spirit of falsehood.”

John’s warning is clear, do not believe everyone who claims to be a Spirit led teacher because not everyone is speaking the truth. John’s readers do not need to fear these false teachers since God is greater than anyone in the world.

1 John 4:1 – There are Many False Prophets in the World

John commanded his readers to “test the spirits” in order to avoid a teacher who is not speaking from the spirit of God. He then focuses on those who are speaking from a different spirit, false teachers. This refers to those who left John’s churches, those who have already been called antichrist and sons of the devil. How is it that these people can speak God’s word in the Spirit?

It is quite possible these people are not actually Christians and are under the inspiration of demonic forces to appear to be from God, or they are faking the ecstatic speech in order to give their teaching the appearance of spiritual authority. They may not even be aware their activity is false; ecstatic speech can be learned and a person could be fooling themselves into thinking their speech is from God.

Who Is the Antichrist?It is also possible the opponents are well-meaning Christians who are genuinely trying to teach accurately about Jesus, but they sincerely disagree with John about who Jesus was. In the Gospels themselves it is clear even the disciples were not exactly clear on who Jesus was or what he came to do. When Peter finally confesses Jesus as messiah, Jesus tells Peter the purpose of the messiah is to go to Jerusalem to suffer and die. Peter rebukes Jesus since this is not what he expected messiah to do! When the false prophets “go out into the world” they have demonstrated their rebellion from God. In John’s Gospel the world is a place of darkness and it is the domain of Satan.

There are many warnings to not believe every teacher who claims to be teaching the truth about Jesus in the New Testament. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says not everyone who says “Lord, Lord” will enter into the Kingdom of God (Matt 7:21-23). These people will claim to have prophesied in the name of Jesus, cast out demons and other miracles in the name of Jesus. Jesus says he will “tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you.’”

In the Olivet Discourse Jesus says many false prophets will compete with the Gospel until he returns to establish his kingdom (Matt 24:22). In Matthew 24:24, the false messiahs will do “great signs and wonders in order to deceive.” In the final three parables in Matthew 25 there are a series of people who think they ought to be in the kingdom at the time of the final judgment yet are left on the outside, in the darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. In 25:11, the foolish virgins say “Lord, Lord” yet remain in the darkness; in 25:30 the foolish servant is cast out into the darkness, and the ones who failed to help “the least of these brothers of mine” will be sent off to the hell prepared for the devil and his angels (25:41; 46).

Paul warns the Corinthian church about “false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ” (2 Cor 11:13-14). He draws a parallel to Satan who disguises himself as an angel of light. Although Paul does not specifically mention it 2 Corinthians, it is quite likely these “super apostles” did the same kinds of signs which accompanied the Twelve Apostles in order to authenticate their message. In fact, Paul included “lying signs and wonders” in his description of the coming man of lawlessness in 2 Thessalonians 2.

The book of Revelation has much to say about deceptive signs and wonders. The Lord comments the church at Ephesus for testing the who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false” (2:2). This is important since 1 John was written to the churches in Ephesus at the same time Revelation was written. In the church at Thyatira there was a false teacher John calls Jezebel who calls herself a prophetess and deceives people (2:20). During the tribulation period itself the false prophet will do great signs which will deceive the people of the earth and convince them to worship the image of the beast (13:11-15).

John is therefore consistent with the rest of the New Testament when he tells his congregation to “test the spirits” by not believing everyone who claims to be a Spirit inspired prophet. In this context he gives only criterion for testing a teacher, “what do they confess about Jesus?”

1 John 4:1 – Not Every Spirit Speaks the Truth

John tells his readers to not believe everything they hear, but test the spirits (4:1a). The “spirits” in this context refers to individuals in a local church who teach or preach as they are led by the Holy Spirit.

This may be a local pastor or elder, an individual in the church, or a traveling teacher who may (or may not) be authorized by John to teach. If there were perhaps a dozen small congregations in the greater urban area of Ephesus, then John may have sent a person on a pastoral tour of the churches to deliver a message and help with any issues which the church may have had. On the other hand, the opponents may have done the same thing, so that a local church could have a visiting teacher who was not strictly orthodox from John’s perspective.

Wolf in Sheep's ClothingIn either case, these traveling teachers would have had limited access to Scripture. It is unlikely any of these small congregations would have even small portions of the Old Testament in Greek. They may have had limited copies of some of Paul’s letters and perhaps other communiques from John. These traveling teachers would therefore rely upon the Holy Spirit to call to mind Scripture which they had memorized and their teaching was done “in the Spirit.”

It is difficult to know how these teachers functioned as Holy Spirit led preachers, but it is important to realize this may have included the gift of prophecy (properly defined as a powerful Spirit led exposition of Scripture to a current situation). But if a teacher arrived in a local church and claimed to his message was from the Holy Spirit and they had a manifestation of tongues or some ecstatic prophecy, then the local congregation might be swayed to believe them!

Testing refers to a critical examination of something in order to determine the quality of something. The verb (δοκιμάζω) can be used for testing gold, but also testing one’s character. In LXX Jer 6:27 testing gold is used as a metaphor for testing one’s character. Compare Psalm 66:10 (LXX Ps 65:10), the Lord has tested us like silver. Proverbs 17:3, the Lord tests the heart like someone might test gold and silver in a crucible. This is the sense of the verb in 1 Peter 1:7, the trials a Christian faces is like “a refiner’s fire.”

In 1 Corinthians 16:3 Paul used the word for approving men to be sent with Pau to deliver the collection of money for the poor in Jerusalem. Secular Greek might use this word for approving or ratifying a law or examining the character of a person to determine if they are worthy to hold office. In 1 Timothy 3:10 Paul tells Timothy deacons ought to be examined (tested) before they are permitted to serve as deacons. It is also the word used in 2 Tim 2:15, Timothy ought to strive to be an approved workman who has been tested.

In the context of 1 John 4, how does the church “test a spirit”? The content of any teacher ought to be examined closely in order to determine if it is from God.

In the original setting of this letter, this likely refers to the activity of a traveling preacher or teacher. Third John concerns hospitality towards traveling teachers sent out by John, it is likely the opponents have also been sending out trained teachers who might visit a church and try to sway a local community toward their theological and practical false teaching.

What is being tested? Both doctrine (what they say about Jesus) and behavior (what is the content of their character). Both are important as we apply try to find appropriate application of this teaching to contemporary church problems. There may be teachers who have good doctrine but their character is questionable (in the ministry for the money, dictatorial and abusive, etc.) But there are other teachers who have very good character but teach clear false doctrine (perhaps a very moral person, good family values, but heretical on Jesus).

1 John 3:4-6 – Sin is Lawlessness

In contrast to the one who is pure, the one who makes a practice of sinning is practicing lawlessness (3:4). The word lawless evokes memories of the old west, people living without restraint and making their own rules. The old west bad guy might “make it a habit to be bad.”

In the Greek Old Testament, the word ἀνομία meant far more than breaking the Mosaic Law. It has the sense of disdain for the Law. In classical Greek the noun had the connotation of the denial of a law (Brill DAG). Those who are lawless believe they are not under the authority of the law.  For example, when the state of Michigan passed the seatbelt law, many people simply ignored it and lived as if that law did not apply to them. They lived in denial of the clear command of the state government (until the police started writing tickets for not wearing your seatbelt).

Applied to a theological idea like Jesus is the Messiah, the opponents certainly know this is what John has said in his Gospel, but they deny that it is valid and they reject that teaching as having any impact for their lives. I might read an essay on the importance of going to confession and doing penance in the Catholic tradition. I can hear the words and understand what they are saying, but I will deny that it has anything to do with me as a Protestant.

The opponents seem to say that since Jesus has died on the cross and fulfilled God’s Law, God’s Law no longer any authority over them. If (as Paul says) we are free from the Law, then what the Law said was sin is no longer sin. If a kid who is a day short of his twenty-first birthday buys cigarettes and alcohol, then they are breaking the law. But if they wait a day and buy it after their birthday, that law no longer has any authority over them and they are free to drink and smoke legally. The opponents are simply saying if the Law is fulfilled in Jesus, then the old laws do not apply anymore. They can “drink and smoke” all they want since they are not under those old laws.

Karen Jobes points to Leviticus 26:43 as an example of the use of the world in the Septuagint. To be lawless is to have disdain for the Law of God, to knowingly suppress the clear revelation of God and do what he has said “ought not be done” (1, 2, & 3 John, 143). This is not far from Paul’s description of the human race in Romans 1:18-32.

In the context of eschatological judgment, it is possible John knew the teaching of Jesus in the conclusion to the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7:21). When the many who did miracles in the name of Jesus come before the Son of Man at the judgement at the time of the second coming, Jesus will send them away into the darkness where there is gnashing of teeth, saying “I never knew you, away from men you evildoers (ἀνομία).

Is this a reference to the opponents who have gone out from John’s churches? Likely, they are denying the clear revelation of God’s word through the witness, the last of the Apostles, John. They know what John has said about Jesus and they are simply denying it as valid for them.

Since Jesus has dealt with sin, the one who remains in Jesus does not make a practice of sinning (3:5-6). This is the second “appearing” of Jesus in this section of 1 John. In 2:28, the word refers to the future appearing of Jesus in judgment. Here the word refers to the incarnation, he appeared to take away sin.

Since Jesus has no sin, the one who is abiding in him should not keep on sinning. In the context of these verses, John is making a contrast with the ones who are lawless, who deny that God’s clear revelation has any authority over their lives. For the one who is remaining in Christ, it is impossible to think God’s revelation has no authority over them!

The grammar is once again very important for understanding the practical theology of this verse. The Greek phrase καὶ οὐ δύναται ἁμαρτάνειν can be understood as “he is not able to sin,” of “and he cannot sin” (KJV). This sounds like the opponents as I suggested above. But the present tense verbs are usually taken here as continuous, so that most modern translations say no one who abides/remains in Jesus will “keep on sinning” (as in the NIV, ESV).

The argument John makes is also based on the nature of Jesus: he took sin away and he himself had no sin, so those who are so closely associated with Jesus that they can be called the children of God (as he is the son of God) ought to live a life without sin.

1 John 3:1-3 – Purify Yourself!

Because we are the dearly loved children of God, God gives us the gift of his love. A son might expect to receive something from his father, the wealthier the father, the more extravagant the gift. If we have been born again then God is our father and God has access to all of the wealth of the universe, so his gifts to us can be lavish indeed!

Because we are children of God and have received the love of God in this way, the world does not know us (3:1b). The world did not understand Jesus in the Gospel of John, there are many examples of Jesus stating something which was misunderstood (Nicodemus thinking he needed to be literally reborn, for example).

100% PureIf a person is in Christ they are a new thing, a new category which the world does not fully grasp. In the Roman world, it was very hard to understand why these Christians were willing to give up their lives for a belief in a crucified God. They did not understand why faith in Jesus brought men and women, slaves and free together as a new family, and they certainly could not understand why Christians would help the poor, care for the needs of the orphan or widow, help people who were sick with dangerous diseases, etc.

Even though we are children of God, we have cannot fully understand what this means (3:2). Continuing the metaphor of a parent and child, it is possible a child has no idea the exact wealth of their parent. Imagine a child who has a famous and wealthy father, but they do not realize who wealthy until they are an adult. As Karen Jobes says, “the full effect of being a child of the Father with eternal life is not something anyone can comprehend now” (1, 2, & 3 John, 142).

The one who has this hope purifies themselves because God himself is pure (3:3). This “hope” refers to the love god has lavished on us, but possibly as far back as the hope of confidence on the day of judgment.

To be pure has the sense of both ritual and moral purity. The verb (ἁγνίζω) is used for Judeans who purify themselves as they go up to Jerusalem to worship at Passover (John 11:55). In Acts 21:24 Paul goes up to the Temple to assist some men who were completing a Nazarite vow, they “purify themselves.” The verb is used as a metaphor in the New Testament, James 4:8 refers to purifying one’s heart and 1 Peter 1:22 refers to purifying one’s soul.

It may be a coincidence, but Paul does not use this language when describing sanctification, possibly because it is a very Jewish metaphor; the one who is purifying themselves is getting ready to worship God at the Temple. They are drawing near to the presence of God and therefore take the necessary steps to be ceremonially clean.

The child of God purifies themselves. Being born of God was passive, we do nothing to be born again, but John says there is some responsibility on the part of the believers to purify themselves.

Developing the Father and child metaphor just a bit more, if the Father is has some characteristic, then his child likely has the same attribute but the child will needs to make some effort to develop that attribute be more like the father. In this case, God is perfect purity, the child will not reach that same kind of purity, but that is what the goal ought to be.

1 John 2:28-3:3 – How Do We Know We Are the Children of God?

First, we have confidence at the final judgment (2:28). Remaining in Christ will make the believer confident at the judgment when Christ appears.

John uses two different words for the Second Coming, judgment of Jesus. In the first case, he uses φανερόω, usually translated “appears.” In the Gospel of John the verb is regularly used for the incarnation In 1 John 1:2, the life “was manifest” (ESV); in 1 John 3:5, 8 Jesus “appeared to take away sin.”

In the second case, the word παρουσία (parousia) is a common word used for the second coming of the Lord. It is associated with the arrival and presence of a person (as opposed to absence). In the New Testament it most often refers to the Second Coming of Jesus as the Messiah. In 2 Thessalonians 2:8 Paul refers to the both the appearing (ἐπιφάνεια) and coming (παρουσία) of the Lord.

John is has in mind the second coming of the Messiah, when he judges the nations as he is establishing his kingdom This is different than the judgement seat of Christ (2 Cor 5:10), when the members of the church, the body of Christ stand before Christ to receive our reward.

If the believer is abiding in Christ, then they will have confidence when they face this future judgment before the Messiah. Confidence (παρρησία) is boldness to speak in a public venue. Luke used this word to describe the Gospel in the last verse of Acts, Paul continued to speak boldly and without hindrance (Acts 28:31). To “not shrink back” translates αἰσχύνω, to be ashamed. In early Greek the verb was associated with a hideous deformity or injury (Iliad 18.24, a disfigured face), but came to be used for anything that brought shame (or should bring shame, in the sense of “are you to ashamed to say this?)

John’s point here is we know we are a true child of God because we have that unusual confidence at the final judgment that we will be found worthy of eternal life based on the work of Jesus on the Cross.

Second, we practice righteousness (2:29). God defines righteousness (v. 29a) and the believer does that righteousness in daily life.

The verb is “doing” (ποιέω), a common word in 1 John. Once again John reflects the Jewish view that one “does righteousness” In Micah 6:8, for example, God has shown humanity what he wants: to act justly, or “do justice.” The noun (מִשְׁפָּט) is the common word in the Hebrew Bible for legal decisions. The judge is to render justice, make the correct decision. But more than this, to do justice is to treat all people right, so not giving favors to the wealthy or mistreating the poor.

In the context of 1 John doing righteousness begins with loving one’s brother and sister in Christ and not hating them (1 John 2:9-11). The one who is practicing righteousness has (already) been born of God (v. 29b).

The idea of being born of God is an important theme in the Gospel of John. For example, in John 3:3-8 Jesus explains that no one can enter the kingdom of God without first being “born again.” This causes some difficulty for Nicodemus who does not understand the metaphor. In John 1:13 those who believe in the Word are born, not of natural descent but from God.

The grammar is important, John says the one doing righteousness was born of God in the past and is still in the state of “born of God” at the present time (over interpreting the perfect tense verb here). In addition, the verb is passive, one does not birth themselves. We became the children of God when we accepted Jesus savior.

So a person does righteousness not to make themselves worthy to be children of God, but because they are the children of God. “A person’s righteousness is thus the evidence of his new birth, not the cause or condition of it” (Stott, Letters of John, 122).

This might be a different way of looking at righteousness. Righteousness is not the result of some pious ritual or spiritual discipline, but it is the natural result of being born of God.  In essence, Christian ethics can be summarized as, “be what you are, a child of God.” And when we are living a life that pleases our Father in heaven, we will not lack confidence when he calls us into account at a future judgment.

1 John 2:20-23 – Who is the Antichrist?

In contrast to the ones who have left John’s circle, the readers have been anointed by the Holy One and know the truth (2:20-21). Although John does not specifically say this is the anointing of the Holy Spirit, the word anointing found here is used in the NT only with God as the subject and the Holy Spirit as the object. God is the Holy one, but in John’s gospel Jesus is the holy one, “We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:69). In addition Jesus will send the Holy Spirit who “will teach them the truth (John 15:26; 16:7, 12–15)” (Kruse, 103).

By way of contrast, the antichrists who have already gone out from John’s apostolic circle are the ones who are not anointed by God and do not know the truth about Jesus (2:22-23)

  • They deny Jesus is the Christ, the messiah.
  • They deny the Father and the Son.
  • They do not confess the Son or the Father.
  • They try to deceive the true believers (v. 26).

Who are these antichrists? Are they even Christians? For John, they are not believers. Either they have rejected their faith or were never really believed in the first place. it is possible they are Jewish Christians who have rejected the idea that Jesus is the Messiah, or they could be Gentiles who have rejected the Jewish-ness of the Christian faith. We just do not know enough to be sure since we do not have anything reporting their side of this conflict with John and the apostolic churches in Ephesus.

Who Is the Antichrist?But do they think are Christians? As Kruse says, “In their own minds they had not ceased to be Christians, but the author believed they had, for no one could hold their Christology and still remain a Christian” (Kruse, 105). They are Christians who deny something fundamental about Jesus that he is messiah or the son of God, or (as John says later) that Jesus came in the flesh.

Why have they denied Jesus as the messiah? We cannot know for sure since we do not have the writings of the opponents. But if they were Jewish Christians, it is possible the idea of a crucified messiah was offensive to them. If they were Gentiles, converts from the Greco-Roman paganism of Ephesus, perhaps they had no idea what the Jewish Messiah was or why that concept was necessary for being a believer in Christ.

Because the readers have the Holy Spirit, they do not need anyone to tell them the truth. Whether that is the author of the letter, verse 21, or those who have gone out from John’s church.

For John, the ultimate test is one’s confession of Jesus. John will develop what a person must confess about Jesus in the following verses, but for now his point is the ones who have eternal life have confessed the Son and the Father has anointed them with the Holy Spirit.

This is the challenge for me as I read this passage. I find it very easy to look at another Christian denomination, one with a different theological approach than mine, or maybe one that is more legalistic (or more liberal) than me, and think of them as “not really Christians.” But if their Christology is biblical and they demonstrate the love of God, then I cannot really dismiss them even if I don’t like something about their doctrine or practice. This ought to lead to a more broad view of Christianity.

On the other hand, there are groups with claim to be Christian that have denied a biblical Christology (so theologically liberal) or do not practice love towards others. It is possible someone might have proper doctrine and practice hate towards people (common in extremely conservative Christian groups). Someone might demonstrate the love of God to all people in amazing ways, but really have no clue what the Bible actually says about Jesus. For John, both of these extremes are dangerous and obscure the truth of the Gospel. Real Christianity is not just proper beliefs, nor is it just proper behavior. Real Christianity is a balance of both doctrine and practice.

1 John 2:18-19 – The Coming of the Antichrist

John declares it is the “last hour” and the antichrist is coming (2:18). What does he mean by last hour? Most pop-evangelicals have a sense of antichrist from the Left Behind books and there are plenty of conspiracy theories out there proving your most hated political leader is The Antichrist. But every generation has had a group convinced they were living in the end times and every generation has named more than one enemy the antichrist.

Hillary Clinton AntichristAlthough this exact phrase doesn’t appear elsewhere in the New Testament, the idea of the last days is common. One characteristic of the last days is that false teachers will come (2 Tim 3:1; 2 Pet 3:3; Jude 18). Jesus taught many false christs (pseudochrist) would appear in the last days (Matt 24:24; Mark 13:22). There are other warnings against false messiahs in Jewish literature (see this post for examples).

Here John uses the title antichrist an expected way. Most think of antichrist as the leader of the rebellion against God in the future, but that is not how the word is used in the New Testament. The word does not appear in Daniel or Revelation to describe any leader coming in the future, and Paul calls the leader of the end times rebellion the “man of lawlessness” (2 Thessalonians 2, see this post). This alone ought to caution us against throwing around the term antichrist to condemn political enemies. That is NOT how the term was used in the Bible. In fact, the use here in 1 John is theological, a teacher who denies certain things about Jesus is an antichrist.

In 1 and 2 John, there are already many antichrists in the world. He is referring to those opponents who have left his congregation and are deny that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ. According to John, they “went out” from his church, but they were never part of that church because they did not remain (2:19). Since they deny Jesus is the Christ, they are the antichrist, the false prophets and teachers Jesus warned his disciples were coming into the world.

John says the presence of many antichrists is proof this is the last hour. There is a fair amount of application to be drawn from this passage. Certainly we live in a time when there are any number of people who have bad ideas and theology concerning who Jesus is. Although there are no more heretics today than in any other time in church history, the heretics have more access to public media than any other time in history. Just as Paul would say in the last days scoffers will come scoffing, John is saying that in these last days people who oppose Jesus as the Messiah and the son of God are common and they are extremely dangerous.

For John, any teaching that does not understand Jesus correctly is dangerous. If one does not understand who Jesus was and what Jesus did on the cross correctly, then they are in danger of misunderstanding salvation and not having eternal life. If one were to ask John “how do I define Jesus correctly?” he probably would responds, “read my book, the Gospel of John.” Obviously John did not have copies of his book on sale in the lobby, but 1 John assumes the theology of the Gospel of John, which was written to explain that Jesus is the Christ and that by believing one can have life in his name (John 20:30-31).

1 John 2:6-11 – The Danger of Hating a Brother or Sister

The next claim from the opponents is that they not only claim to know God (but they do not keep his commands), they are claim to abide in him but they are not walking like Jesus walked.

In John’s Gospel, “abiding” is an important theme. The word can refer to remaining or staying (so the disciples who follow Jesus in 1:39 remain with Jesus, or Jesus remained with the Samaritans for two days, 4:40). The word has the sense of continuing to live in a particular state or place, even a permanent state (LXX Psalm 9:8, the Lord’s throne abides forever). In John 6:56 the one who eats the flesh of Jesus and drinks his blood “abides in Jesus.” In 15:4, the believer is like a branch which remains a part of the vine. In John 5:38, the one who does not believe in Jesus or the one who sent him does not abide in the word if God (and it does not abide in them).

The one who is abiding in Jesus ought to walk just as Jesus walked. In verses 7-8 John clarifies this is nothing new, but the same thing he has always taught them. It may be the case the opponents are saying John is teaching something new and different, so here he says this is the same thing he has always taught.

This is an eschatological statement, the old age is passing away and the new age is dawning. The age of the Law is ending and the age of the Kingdom is coming soon. The time in which we now live is the period between those two ages For John, we live in the “already” of the inauguration of the kingdom, but also in time when the Kingdom has not yet been established.

John can claim the opponents are not abiding in Christ because they are hating their brothers and sisters. This has significant application to modern church relationship, how do we relate to people who have left our church, and perhaps talked badly against us, or said things about the church which were not true? How do we relate to another denomination? Do we express “hate” toward them because they are not us? As Paul says in Philippians 1, if the gospel is preached praise God!

This person is not in the light at all, but they remain in the darkness. This is a self-deception, they have blinded their own eyes. The one who cannot see cannot know where they are going, not only dangerous but unlikely to reach the right goal.

The person who loves their brother remains in the light and there is “no cause for stumbling,” a common metaphor for sin. The verb “to stumble” is used fifteen times in the New Testament, “always with the meaning of causing some sort of harm to a person” (Kruse, 86). In this case, it has the sense of causing someone to sin. If you cause somebody to sin, then they will be under judgment to their harm.

If you are living a well-lit place, you see things that might make you stumble and you avoid them. Living in the dark is dangerous since you may stumble and injure yourself since you cannot see the danger right in front of you.

Imagine telling somebody that it is perfectly acceptable and healthy to eat a 6000 calorie a day diet. Objectively, this is very dangerous and if someone tries to eat that much every day they will become extremely fat and sick and die. The teaching is false, and it leads people to death (quite literally in this case). This new diet might actually be very popular, since you can eat whatever you want to do as much as you wanted to. However being popular does not make it right.

It is likely the opponents are teaching something that is very attractive: What we do it doesn’t count as sin or that God is not going to judge some behavior like as if it is sin. This is would be a very popular teaching, but it is also false and very dangerous.

What are some examples from modern church experience of “hating a brother or sister”? How does this animosity affect a community of believers? Is John right that one cannot hate a brother and really abide in Christ?

1 John 2:4-5 – Can We Claim to Know God and Not Keep his Commands?

In the previous section of the letter John explained the one who knows God does what God has commanded. What about people who do claim to know God but choose to not keep his commands? The immediate application is likely to those who went out from John’s church, the opponents the apostolic teaching.

The way John expresses this statement is important. The verb is in the perfect tense, implying an action in the past which has some effect in the present of the speaker. In this case, the opponents have (already) said they know God and they are still claiming this at the time John writes. Maybe this is an over-interpretation, but imagine a person who made a public confession of faith, perhaps submitted to baptism, gave their testimony in front of the congregation, etc., and the continue to make that profession of faith by continuing to attend church and give to charity, etc.

If someone claims to know God but does not keep his commands, they are choosing to not know what God has revealed about himself and his will. They are a liar because they actually did not know God in the first place.

On the other hand, the one who does obey God‘s word, God‘s love is truly made complete in him. This is not a conditional sentence, although appears to be in the NIV. Notice that commandment and word are used in parallel here. To keep God’s word is to keep his commandment (cf., 1:8 and 1:10, see Lieu, I, II, & III John, 70). The very translated “obeying” is in the present tense, so an ongoing action. But “made complete” is in the perfect tense, so the past tense completed action.

Clean your room! By “the love of God” John means the love a believer has for God, so the love for God is perfect when we obey Jesus‘s command to love one another. The ESV translates the verb τελειόω as “perfected.” This may imply (in English) “made perfect.” The verb, however, has the sense of reaching the intended goal (Jobes, 1, 2, & 3 John, 86) or even reach a state of maturity. John is talking about our transformation as a child of God by means of obeying his commands, moving from immaturity to maturity.

By way of analogy, a child can be taught “clean your room,” perhaps rewarded or punished when that does or does not happen. But eventually a child matures to the point where they understand living in their own filth is not healthy and it is better to spend a little time clearing up their room on their own without the threat of punishment or the promise of a reward. They may even begin to discover ways to keep the command “clean your room” which go beyond a child’s immature view of what the command meant. As a child matures they (should) move from shoving clothes under the bed for the appearance of neatness to shoving them into a drawer, to folding them and placing them in a drawer, etc. As a child grows towards maturity, they discover new ways to obey the original command, and often that command starts to make more sense when viewed with mature eyes.

In a similar way, as the one who is in Christ obeys the commands of God, they ought to grow more mature and find ways to apply the command to “love one another” which are less obvious or more challenging.

The last phrase concludes the section, “By this we know we are we are in him.” But how does this work out in real life? What are some real indications of growing maturity in the Christian life?