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A Warning against False Teaching

Delightfully loved friends, don’t trust every spirit, but carefully examine what they say[a] to determine if they are of God, because many false prophets have mingled into the world. Here’s the test for those with the genuine Spirit of God: they will confess Jesus as the Christ who has come in the flesh.[b] Everyone who does not acknowledge that Jesus is from God has the spirit of antichrist, which you heard was coming and is already active in the world.

Little children, you can be certain that you belong to God and have conquered them,[c] for the One who is living in you is far greater than the one who is in the world.[d] They belong to this world and they articulate the spirit of this world, and the world listens to them. But we belong to God, and whoever truly knows God listens to us. Those who refuse to listen to us do not belong to God. That is how we can know the difference between the spirit of truth and the spirit of deceit.[e]

God Is Love

Those who are loved by God, let his love continually pour from you to one another, because God is love. Everyone who loves is fathered by God and experiences an intimate knowledge of him. The one who doesn’t love has yet to know God, for God is love.[f] The light of God’s love shined within us[g] when he sent his matchless[h] Son into the world so that we might live through him.[i] 10 This is love:[j] He loved us long before we loved him. It was his love, not ours. He proved it by sending his Son to be the pleasing sacrificial offering to take away our sins.[k]

11 Delightfully loved ones, if he loved us with such tremendous love, then “loving one another” should be our way of life! 12 No one has ever gazed[l] upon the fullness of God’s splendor.[m] But if we love one another, God makes his permanent home in us, and we make our permanent home in him, and his love is brought to its full expression in us. 13 And he has given us his Spirit within us so that we can have the assurance that he lives in us and that we live in him.

14 Moreover, we have seen with our own eyes and can testify to the truth that Father God has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 Those who give thanks[n] that Jesus is the Son of God live in God, and God lives in them. 16 We have come into an intimate experience with God’s love, and we trust in the love he has for us.[o]

God is love![p] Those who are living in love are living in God, and God lives through them. 17 By living in God,[q] love has been brought to its full expression in us[r] so that we may fearlessly face the day of judgment,[s] because all that Jesus now is,[t] so are we in this world. 18 Love never brings fear, for fear is always related to punishment. But love’s perfection drives the fear of punishment far from our hearts. Whoever walks constantly afraid of punishment[u] has not reached love’s perfection. 19 Our love for others is our grateful response to the love God first demonstrated to us.[v]

20 Anyone can say, “I love God,” yet have hatred toward another believer. This makes him a phony, because if you don’t love a brother or sister, whom you can see, how can you truly love God, whom you can’t see? 21 For he has given us this command: whoever loves God must also demonstrate love to others.[w]


  1. 4:1 Although “what they say” is implied, it is clear that John is speaking of those who prophesy, and it is made explicit by the mention of “false prophets.”
  2. 4:2 Or “confesses that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh.”
  3. 4:4 That is, the antichrists who deny that Jesus is the Christ.
  4. 4:4 That is, the devil. We have the Word of God, the Holy Spirit, the favor of God, and Jesus Christ. Within us is more than enough power to overcome the evil in this world. John uses the word world (Gr. kosmos) more than any other New Testament writer (104 times) to convey the concept of this world system or world order. One could describe it as “the culture of the world.”
  5. 4:6 The New Testament gives us a number of ways we can discern true prophets from false ones. John gives us eight here: (1) They must confess that Jesus the Messiah has come in bodily form (vv. 2–3). (2) They must not come in the spirit of this world (v. 5). (3) They must listen to the truth (v. 6). (4) They must demonstrate love (vv. 7–21). (5) The Spirit of Truth must be in them (vv. 4–6). (6) They must remain true to the written Word of God (v. 6; 5:10; 2 Tim. 3:16). (7) They must be overcomers who have the greater One living in them (v. 4). (8) They must have a commitment to the body of Christ (2:19).
  6. 4:8 Or “God continually exists, being love.”
  7. 4:9 Or “God’s love was revealed among us.” The base word for “revealed” is phainō, “to shine light.”
  8. 4:9 Or “only begotten.” That is, Jesus had no beginning and was the eternal Son of God as part of the triune essence or Godhead.
  9. 4:9 The Aramaic can be translated “that we might live in his hand,” considered to be an idiom for living by his grace.
  10. 4:10 The Aramaic can be translated “This is how love was born.”
  11. 4:10 The Greek term hilasmos can be described as “a cleansing, satisfying sacrifice that provides a covering shelter.” A form of the word is used for “mercy seat” in Heb. 9:5. God’s love provides the answers for life’s greatest questions: (1) Why was I created? To receive and experience God’s love. (2) Does God care about me? God’s love is indiscriminate; he loves everyone and cares about every detail of our lives. (3) Am I really free to choose or reject God’s love? Yes—love must be a choice, freely and without compulsion. (4) What is the way of salvation? Love became a man, Jesus Christ, who died as our sacrificial offering and by believing in him we receive the gift of salvation. (5) How can I really know that I am saved? When we respond with faith to God’s loving invitation and then demonstrate it by loving others, we have the assurance of our salvation. (6) How can I know that God loves me? His love prompted him to send his unique and beautiful Son to the earth to be our Savior and Redeemer. He offers to everyone the invitation to experience even deeper measures of his love. And he gives us his Holy Spirit as confirmation that he loves and cherishes us and gives us the power to love others. See Eph. 3:14–21.
  12. 4:12 Or “watched.” The Greek verb theaomai is used in classical Greek for “watching a play or spectator sport.”
  13. 4:12 See John 1:18; 5:37; 6:46.
  14. 4:15 As translated from the Aramaic.
  15. 4:16 Or “in us.”
  16. 4:16 Or “God continually exists, being love.”
  17. 4:17 Or “By this” (relationship with God).
  18. 4:17 Or “love has reached its goal/destiny within us.”
  19. 4:17 The Aramaic can be translated “we will have open faces on the day of judgment.” For the true believer filled with God’s love, the day of judgment is not to be feared but looked forward to, for perfect love will have made us completely like Christ. Love provides us with no reason to fear the future or to fear punishment from God. See 1 Cor. 4:5.
  20. 4:17 Or “because we are what he is in this world.” The verb tense is important. We are not like Jesus was, but because of grace, we are like he is now: pure and holy, seated in heaven, and glorified. See Rom. 8:30; Eph. 2:6; Col. 3:1–4. Faith has transferred his righteousness to us.
  21. 4:18 The immediate context shows that it is the fear of correction, “punishment,” or rejection. The Aramaic can be translated “Fear is suspicious.”
  22. 4:19 Or “We [continue to] love because God first loved us.” Some manuscripts read “We love God because he first loved us.”
  23. 4:21 The real proof of our love for God must always be in how we express love and treat others with dignity and respect, esteeming them in love.

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