God's Word For You is a free Bible Study site committed to bringing you studies firmly grounded in the Bible – the Word of God. Holding a reformed, conservative, evangelical perspective this site affirms that God has provided in Jesus Christ his eternal Son, a way of salvation in which we can live in his presence guilt free, acquitted and at peace.



© Rosemary Bardsley 2022

Jesus said: ‘A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another’ (John 13:34, 35).

John seems to have had these words in mind as he wrote his first letter. Having already stated the critical significance of love in 2:7 – 11 and 3:10 – 24, he now returns to this theme. He has stressed before, and now he again stresses, that a person who claims to walk in the light, a person who claims to know Jesus Christ, will also be a person whose life is characterised by love.

We have noted before that John’s commands and statements about how we should live are written in the present tense. That is also true here where he talks about loving others – he writes about loving in the present tense: He is talking about living a life that is characterised by love, about a love that is habitual, a love that is the dominant characteristic of our life.

So we find:

Verse 7: let us love one another – Present Tense.
Verse 7: everyone who loves – Present Tense.
Verse 8: whoever does not love – Present Tense.
Verse 11: we ought also to love one another – Present Tense.
Verse 12: if we love one another – Present Tense.
Verse 16: whoever lives in love – Present Tense.
Verse 19: we love because he ... – Present Tense.
Verse 20: if anyone does not love his brother... Present Tense.
Verse 21: must also love his brother ... Present Tense.

There are times when it is difficult to love, and people whom it is difficult to love. There are moments when we do the opposite of love, if we honestly evaluate specific, individual words, attitudes or actions. As we have seen, John outlaws any claim to sinlessness. However, regardless of these individual lapses, the overall, continuing impression of our lives, observed by others, will be that we, the followers of Jesus Christ, love one another.



Returning to his focus on love John restates his strong teaching on the importance of love.

Read 4:7 – 21. From the verses and questions below discover why love is important.
Where does love come from? – 4:7

What distinguishes a person who knows God from a person who does not know God? – 4:7,8

Why? 4:8

What else does love tell us about a person? 4:7

How did God show his love? 4:9,10

What came first – our love for God or God’s love for us? 4:10

Why should we love one another? 4:11

What does loving one another demonstrate? 4:12


A.1 God is love
In verse 8, and again in verse16, John says ‘God is love’. This truth that God is love is the reason behind some of the things that John says:

Because God is love, God is also the source of love – verse 7.
Because God is love, everyone who is ‘born of God’ loves – verse 7.
Because God is love, everyone who ‘knows God’ loves – verse 7.
Because God is love, everyone who does not love does not ‘know God’ – verse 8.

In verse 12 John adds: ‘if we love one another, God lives in us ...’

John’s point is that because God’s nature is love, those who are ‘born of God’, those who ‘know God’, those in whom ‘God lives’, love. Although it is a command that we have to choose to obey, it is also a flow-on from knowing God, from being born of God, from God living in us and us living in God.

Both the Old and New Testaments teach us that the nature of a person’s ‘god’ impacts the person’s values and lifestyle.

Check these verses. What do you learn about people reflecting the nature of their ‘god’?
Leviticus 20:7

2Kings 17:14 - 17

Matthew 5:43 – 48

John 8:42 – 47


Ephesians 4:32 – 5:2


This concept of loving because our God, the God we acknowledge and worship, is love is anchored in two foundational concepts, one from the Old Testament, one from the New Testament.

A.1.1 Created in God’s image
Genesis teaches us who we are, and in teaching us who we are also teaches us what we are here for. Genesis 1:26, 27 tells us that we were originally created by God in his image. Scholars and Bible teachers have various ideas about what this means. Regardless of these various ideas there are two things that are clear in this concept: that it involves a certain relationship with God, and that it involves being like God in some way. An ‘image’ exists only because of a reality distinct from, and greater than, itself. An image takes its value and its identity from the reality that it images.

It is also debated what, if anything, happened to this ‘image’ in Genesis 3. Some say ‘nothing’ – they see the ‘image’ as a reference to the human abilities that are similar to the abilities of God – emotions, personality, creativity, administration, and so on. These abilities are obviously still present after Genesis 3.

But, if we believe that all humans are still the image of God, despite the ‘fall’ in Genesis 3, two questions confront us: [1] Why then does the New Testament teach us that Jesus Christ is the image of God (Colossians 1:15 and Hebrews 1:3)? If every human being is ‘the image of God’ it is not at all remarkable that Jesus is ‘the image of God’. And [2] Why does the New Testament teach us that those who believe in Jesus Christ are in the process of being transformed bit by bit into the image (2Corinthians 3:18)? If we still retain and express the image of God, we do not need this on-going transforming work of the Spirit.

Something clearly happened to the image in Genesis 3 when we embraced a corrupted understanding of ‘god’ and turned away from the real God. When we jettisoned our knowledge of the true God, we also, albeit unintentionally, jettisoned the image of God. Or at the very least, shattered the image. Just as a shattered mirror can no longer accurately reflect your face. Just as water disturbed by the wake of a vessel no longer images the adjacent scenery. When evil one dropped his deceitful words into our minds, interfering with our knowledge of God, this impacted our ability to be and to live the life God created us to be and to live – a life that imaged him. As Paul states in Romans 8:6 – 8, as sinners, without the Gospel, without the Spirit of God, rather than image God, we are ‘hostile to God’, do not and cannot ‘submit to God’s law’, and ‘cannot please God’.

But Jesus came to undo Genesis 3. The salvation we have in Jesus Christ is multi-faceted, including the restoration of our relationship with God, the restoration of our knowledge of God, and the on-going restoration of the image of God.

John tells us ‘God is love’. The image of God factor, reactivated and re-enabled by our restored relationship with God, means that the love of God will increasingly be reflected in our lives. The more we know God and walk with God the more our lives will be characterised by love. The Holy Spirit within us says to us ‘choose love, love one another’, in contrast to our old nature which wants to prioritize self (and so the tension that we saw in 3:19 – 24).

In 4:12 John says ‘no one has ever seen God’. But, he says, if we love another, God’s love will be seen because God lives in us. No one has seen God, but we will be imaging, reflecting, his love.

A.1.2 Jesus’ command: ‘Follow me’
The second foundational truth on which John’s ‘because God is love’ is anchored is Jesus’ call in the gospels - ‘follow me’. This was his initial command when he called his disciples (Mark 1:17; 2:14). It was part of his promise ‘Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness’ (John 8:12). It was in many ways a very demanding command: ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me’ (Mark 8:34). Jesus made it quite clear that following him meant holding on to him, and to his values and priorities, above all other values and priorities. When Jesus said ‘follow me’, his command was not to join him as a buddy, but rather to come under his authority and under the authority of the truth he taught.

How is this authority of Jesus evident in these verses?
Matthew 4:19

Matthew 8:18 – 22

Matthew 11:29

Matthew 16:24

Behind these demands for ultimate allegiance and commitment is the truth that Jesus Christ is the Lord: in commanding us to follow him he is demanding our submission to him as our God. Those who follow him are those who recognize his divine right to command their allegiance not only to him but also to his values and priorities. Following him includes recognizing him, knowing him. It is following him because he is who he is. Not for what we can get from him. Not for what he can do for us. But simply because he, and he alone, is the true God. That he does also save us is a bonus arising out of his amazing grace.

In John 10 Jesus, referring to himself as the good shepherd, said:

‘... the sheep listen to his voice’ – verse 3.

‘... his sheep follow him because they know his voice’ – verse 4.

‘I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me’ – verse 14.

‘They too will listen to my voice ...’ – verse 16.

‘My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me’ – verse 27.

And in this context Jesus pointed to the two central truths of the Christian faith:

His deity: ‘I and the Father are one’ – John 10:30.

His sacrificial death: ‘I lay down my life for the sheep’ – John 10:11, 14, 17, 18.

Jesus Christ is God: Those who follow Jesus have heard his voice; they have recognized him; they know that he is God. Jesus Christ is also the one who laid down his life for the salvation of his sheep. This is the Jesus who commands us to follow him.

The word ‘follow’ (akoloutheo) literally means to be on the same road as. To follow Jesus Christ is to be with him, on the same path as him.

He followed the path that brought glory to God (John 17:4).
He followed the path that lined up with God’s will (Hebrews 10:7).
He followed the path of love (John 13:1).

John has already referred to this in his letter: ‘Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did’ – 2:7.

When Jesus in John’s gospel commands us to ‘love one another as I have loved you’, when he says ‘follow me’, he is calling us back to our original created identity of the image of God, the identity that he revealed and expressed in his own life here among us.



With all of these commands to love one another it is important that we know what ‘love’ actually is. John, in telling us why we should love one another, twice states that ‘God is love’. That should tell us what love is like: it is like God. But our human perceptions of what ‘God’ is like have been accumulating corruptions and distortions ever since Genesis 3. There is no human consensus about the nature, or even the existence, of ‘God’. When God sent Jesus, Jesus, in his living and in his teaching, revealed God the Father. As John writes in 4:12 ‘No one has ever seen God’, but, as John also wrote, Jesus Christ ‘has made him known’ (John 1:18). In knowing Jesus we know the Father, and we also know love. We see the love of God in action in the life of Jesus Christ.

But there is more. There is one specific action of God that is the supreme demonstration of love.

Read 4:9, 10 and 14. How did God demonstrate his love for us?




John here confronts us with the love of God that is demonstrated in the fact of the incarnation which culminated in the death of Jesus Christ, God’s Son.

B.1 God loved us
When John writes about God loving us, he does not use the present tense as he does when referring to the love we are to have for one another. He uses the Aorist Tense, indicating a decisive, once-for-all, action.

Verse 10: ‘he loved us’ – Aorist Tense.
Verse 11: ‘God so loved us’ – Aorist Tense.
Verse 19: ‘he first loved us’ – Aorist Tense.

God is love. That is true all the time, in a present tense sense. Yet there is one action of God that affirms, that reveals, that demonstrates, far above all of his other actions, that God does indeed love us, and what his love is really like. That action is that God sent his one and only Son into the world to die for our salvation.

B.2 God sent his one and only Son
As we have seen previously, the false teaching that John was combating in his letter, denied that the man Jesus of Nazareth was also God. Because of this denial John identified these people as ‘antichrist’, ‘the antichrist’, ‘false prophets’, and ‘the spirit of antichrist’.

John began his letter by affirming that the real human Jesus was also the eternal God. Now, in explaining God’s love to us, by referring to the sacrificial death of Jesus, John draws our attention to the fact that the one whom God sent to die for us was his one and only Son.

This was no ordinary person who died for us. Yes. Jesus was fully and truly human. And that full and real humanity was necessary for him to take our place as our substitute under God’s judgement, and to be our representative in God’s presence. The letter to the Hebrews makes this very clear. But he was also the Son of God.

What do these texts say about the person who was crucified for our salvation?
Mark 14:61, 62

John 3:16

Acts 2:36

Romans 9:5

1Corinthians 2:8

Philippians 2:6 – 8


Colossians 1:15 – 20


The one God sent to die for us was his one and only, well-beloved, Son: the eternal One who was there, with God, in the beginning, the One who is the Creator and Sustainer of all that exists, the Lord of glory. He is the One to whom all power and authority belong.

John, in these verses in chapter four, defines the size and the nature of God’s love by reminding us who it is that God sent as our Saviour. God sent the ultimate being to redeem us. God sent the most precious, most loved, being to save us. That’s how much he loves us.

This informs us that God’s love is ultimate. It could not be any greater. It could not be any more powerful. It could not be any more sure and certain. Because of the identity of the one he sent.

God’s love for us is expressed in this: that he sent his one and only Son.

B.3 God sent ...
John tells us ‘This is how God showed his love among us’ –

‘He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him’ – verse 9.

‘he sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins’ – verse 10.

‘the Father has sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world’ – verse 14.

God’s action of sending his Son is a deliberate, intentional and purposeful action. It was not a knee-jerk reaction. It was not an ‘Oops. What on earth will I do now?’ response to our sin. Nor is our salvation something unwillingly granted by God the Father because the Son somehow twisted his arm. God sent his Son refers to something, the Bible tells us, that God planned even before he created us, a deliberate purpose put in place before the beginning of time.

When did God make this plan to send his Son to die?
Revelation 13:8

1Peter 1:19, 20

Titus 1:2

2Timothy 1:9

1Corinthians 2:7

These verses tell us that even before we sinned, even before God created us, God, knowing all things, had already decided what he would do to redeem us. When he created us, even then he knew what creating us would cost him. Even then, he had already planned our salvation through the death of his Son. Even then, the death of Christ was an eternal reality.

When God created the first hill – even then he had planned what would happen on the hill called Calvary.

When God created the first tree – even then he had planned the wooden cross.

When God created the first iron – even then he had planned the nails that would pierce the hands and feet of his Son.

When God created the first human hand – even then he knew of the Roman hand that would wield the hammer.

These words ‘God sent his one and only Son’ are a statement of incredible, indefinable, indescribable and unexplainable deep, deep, deep love.

How did Paul describe this incredible love of God?
Romans 5:6 – 8


Romans 8:37 – 39


Ephesians 2:7


Ephesians 3:18, 19


For further on this incredible love go to this study.


B.3 God sent his Son to be the Saviour
In three different ways John tells us why God sent his Son into the world:

That we might live through him – verse 9.
As an atoning sacrifice for our sins – verse 10.
To be the Saviour of the world – verse 14.

John has already referred to each of these earlier in his letter:

B.3.1 ‘that we might live through him’ – 4:9
John’s gospel, as we have seen previously, makes repeated connection between Jesus Christ and ‘life’. In his letter, he has said:

Jesus is the ‘Word of life’, ‘the life’ and ‘the eternal life’ – 1:1, 2.
He has promised us eternal life – 2:25.
We have passed from death to life – 3:14.
We live in him and he lives in us – 3:24, 4:15, 16.

And John makes even stronger statements in chapter 5:11, 12: ‘God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the son of God does not have life.’

As we saw in Study 1, our default position since Genesis 3 is that we are spiritually dead. Separated from God by our sin, we are separated from the Source and Giver of life. But, says John, God sent his one and only Son that we might live through him.

This is how much God loves us: even though we were alienated from him, cut off from him, dead in our sins, he did something to reverse all of that: he sent his Son to restore our fellowship with God and thereby change our spiritual deadness into spiritual life. Through the Son, because of who he is and what he did, we now live.

B.3.2 ‘as an atoning sacrifice for our sins’ – 4:10
This is the second time John has referred to Jesus as the ‘atoning sacrifice for our sins’ (2:2; 4:10. See Study 7, section B.4). When John says that God sent his Son ‘as an atoning sacrifice for our sins’, he is telling us that God sent Jesus to earth to die as our substitute: to put himself in our place under the wrath and judgement of God, bearing all of our sin, guilt and punishment. Jesus Christ turns God’s wrath away from us by suffering it himself.

That is what God’s love for us looks like.

The beloved Son of the Father, there on the cross forsaken by the Father.
The holy One, the Righteous One, there on the cross immersed in our sin and guilt.
The blessed One, cursed.
The Almighty Lord, powerless.
The Living One, dead.

Not accidently. Not unwillingly. Not as a helpless victim. But by his own choice. This is the greatness of his love.

What do these verses say about this?
Matthew 27:46

1Peter 2:24

Galatians 3:13

Isaiah 53:7

Luke 23:46

Isaiah 53:10

Mark 10:45


We, with our limited understanding of love, cannot really grasp the utter greatness of this love of God for us, that moved him to such an extreme and terrible action. The whole Godhead – Father, Son and Spirit – were involved in this immense expression of love. [For the Holy Spirit’s involvement see Hebrews 9:14).

But, even though we cannot really understand it because we ourselves do not love like that, we can understand why John, and Jesus, command us, as the recipients of such a great love, to love one another. A life of love is the only appropriate response for those who have been loved with so great a love.

B.3.3 ‘to be the Saviour of the world’ – 4:14
This is also the second time that John has referred to the global necessity and impact of the gospel. In 2:2 he said that Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for our sins ‘and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world’. Now in 4:14 he says that Jesus is ‘the Saviour of the world.’ We cannot understand these statements to teach that ‘everybody will be saved’; John makes it very, very clear that only those who believe in Jesus Christ are saved.

When John refers to Jesus as ‘the Saviour of the world’ he is telling us at least two things: [1] that the whole world needs to be saved; and [2] that Jesus, and only Jesus, is that needed Saviour. There is no other Saviour. Regardless of who a person is, and where a person lives in the world, there is only this one Saviour, Jesus Christ, the Son of God. God’s love thus embraces the whole world, indiscriminately. Anyone, from anywhere in the world, can receive this love of God and the incredible salvation he has provided in the death of his Son. [Note that the ‘Jesus’ of the false teachers is powerless to save; only the real Jesus, proclaimed by the apostles who were eye-witnesses, is the Son sent by God to be the Saviour.]

How do these verses refer to this trans-national purpose of God in sending his Son?
Genesis 22:18

Isaiah 45:21, 22

Isaiah 49:6

Matthew 28:18, 19

Revelation 7:9, 10


John has written very strongly about loving one another. He has also strongly affirmed the immensity of God’s love for us, by referring to the fact that God sent his one and only Son to die for us as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

For those who identify as Christians to not love contradicts the Christian faith which we profess:

To not love is contrary to the nature of the God whom we say we know – 4:7, 8.
To not love is contrary to the nature of the God who is the source of our new life – 4:7, 9.
To not love is contrary to the actions of God by which we are redeemed – 4:10.
To not love is contrary to the nature of the God who lives in us – 4:12, 13, 15.
To not love is contrary to the love of God upon which we depend – 4:16.