For an introduction to this series, click here.
January 21, 2008John goes directly at the heart of gnosticism at the beginning of this chapter.
"Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error." (4:1-6)
Gnosticism, among other things, taught that the material world and everything in it is evil. The Gnostics began from that premise and taught that Jesus did not come in a fleshly body, but instead was only a spirit form. Not only did John know better than this because he witnessed Jesus' ministry, but he also recognized the serious doctrinal error involved. These teachers were denying the humanity of Jesus. John attacks this directly. He tells his readers that they need to listen carefully to all their teachers and make sure they are teaching the truth. And one sure sign that they are teaching error is that they deny the humanity of the Lord Jesus.
Another sign of a false teacher is that they put down or disregard the teaching of the Apostles. This is what John means when he says that a true teacher "listens to us." Of course the Apostles are no longer with us, but any teacher who tries to explain away or deny the plain truth of the Word of God is a false teacher.
"Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another." (4:7-11)
Once again, John returns to the theme of love. He states in this passage that God is love. Since love is an essential attribute of God, it follows naturally that those to whom He gives His Spirit will display love in their lives. There could be no clearer statement than "anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love."
John explains this concept even further in the rest of the chapter:
"By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, 'I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother." (4:13-21, ESV)
Love is not an outward action. True love will certainly produce loving actions, but it begins in the heart. And a heart of love comes from God. And that love from God will spill over and display itself in all sorts of visible ways in love for each other. John is merely stating a fact here, and it is an important fact.