4:7, 8 Here John resumes the subject of love for one’s brother. He emphasizes that love is a duty, consistent with the character of God. As has been mentioned previously, John is not thinking of love that is common to all men, but of that love to the children of God which has been implanted in those who have been born again. Love is of God as to its origin, and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God; for God is love. It does not say that God loves. That is true, but John is emphasizing that God is love. Love is His nature. There is no love in the true sense but that which finds its source in Him. The words “God is love” are well worth all the languages in earth or heaven. G. S. Barrett calls them:
… the greatest words ever spoken in human speech, the greatest words in the whole Bible.… It is impossible to suggest even in briefest outline all that these words contain, for no human and no created intellect has ever, or will ever, fathom their unfathomable meaning; but we may reverently say that this one sentence concerning God contains the key to all God’s works and way … the mystery of creation, … redemption … and the Being of God Himself.
- Dear friends, let us love one another,
for love comes from God.
Everyone who loves has been born of God
and knows God.
- Whoever does not love does not know God,
because God is love.
These two verses and the following two are among the treasured passages of the entire epistle. They speak of love that originates in God and describe the believer as a person who loves and knows God. By contrast, the unbeliever does not love because he does not know God.
- “Dear friends, let us love one another.” John addresses the readers with the familiar term dear friends (2:7; 3:2, 21; 4:1, 7, 11) which literally means “beloved.” He includes in the sentence an exhortation to love one another. He is not discussing the affection that family members have for each other. Rather, he writes the verb love, which means “divine love.” John indicates that God initiates love, showers it upon his people, and expects that in turn they express this same love to each other.
- “Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.” This, then, is the distinctive mark of the believer. The person who is born of God (2:29; 3:9; 5:1) is a window through which the love of God shines into the world. The believer expresses his love to his fellow man by doing for his neighbor what he himself wishes that others do for him. In short, he shows his love by obeying the Golden Rule (Luke 6:31). His love is genuinely unselfish.
The believer loves his neighbor as himself because, as John writes, the believer knows God. That is, he has fellowship with God the Father and his Son (1:3) and thus reflects the virtue of love.
Incidentally, when John says, “[he] knows God,” he may have intended to refute the Gnostic heretics of his day who prided themselves on having knowledge of God.
- “Whoever does not love does not know God.” John compares the believer with the unbeliever and observes that when love is absent, knowledge of God is nonexistent. The person who fails to commune with God in prayer and neglects to read the Bible cannot be the instrument through which God demonstrates his divine love. The unbeliever has not even begun to know God. Without knowledge of God, there is no love. Love and knowledge of God are two sides of the same coin.
- “God is love.” Children learn the words at home and in church. Adults treasure these three words, for in them John has stated one of God’s characteristics: love. This means not only that God loves his creation and his people, or that God is full of love. It means that in his very being God is love. And this is the message John conveys in his epistle.
Augustine observes, “If nothing were said in praise of love throughout the pages of this Epistle, if nothing whatever throughout the pages of the Scriptures, and this one thing only were all we were told by the voice of the Spirit of God, For God is love; nothing more ought we require.”
Perfect Love and the Character of God
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. (4:7–8)
John addressed his audience as beloved (agapētoi, “[divinely] loved ones”) (cf. 2:7; 3:2, 21; 4:1, 11) whom he urged to love one another. Again, unlike emotional, physical, or friendship love, agapē (love) is the love of self-sacrificing service (Phil. 2:2–5; Col. 3:12–14; cf. Rom. 14:19; 1 Cor. 10:23–24; 13:4–7), the love granted to someone who needs to be loved (Heb. 6:10; 1 Peter 2:17; cf. Rom. 12:15), not necessarily to someone who is attractive or lovable.
The first reason believers are to extend such sacrificial love to one another is that love is from God. Just as God is life (Ps. 36:9) and the source of eternal life (1:1–2; 3:1–2, 9; 5:12; 2 Tim. 1:1; Titus 1:2), and just as He is light (1:5–7; 2:8–11; cf. Isa. 60:19), He is also love (cf. 4:16). Therefore, if believers possess His life and walk in His light (righteousness and truth), they will also both possess and manifest His love, since everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Because they are God’s children, manifesting His nature, they will reflect His love to others.
As alluded to earlier, the love John refers to is the divine, perfect love that God gives only to His own. The verb rendered is born is a perfect passive form of gennaō and could be literally translated “has been begotten.” Everyone God has saved in the past continues to give evidence of that fact in the present. Those who possess the life of God have the capacity and the experience of loving. In contrast, the one who does not love does not know God. Those whose lives are not characterized by love for others are not Christians, no matter what they claim. The Jewish religionists (scribes, Pharisees, and other leaders) of Jesus’ day, as well as the false teachers in the church of John’s day, knew a lot about God, but they did not really know Him (cf. 1 Tim. 6:20; 2 Tim. 3:7). The absence of God’s love in their lives revealed their unregenerate condition as conclusively as did their aberrant theology.
God by nature is love, and therefore He defines love; it does not define Him. People constantly impose on God a human view of love, but He transcends any such human limitations. That God is love explains a number of things in the biblical worldview. First, it explains the reason He created. In eternity past, within the perfect fellowship of the Trinity, God the Father purposed, as a love gift to His Son, to redeem a people who would honor and glorify the Son (cf. John 6:39; 17:9–15). Thus, though God existed in perfect Trinitarian solitude, He created a race of beings out of which He would love and redeem those who would in turn love Him forever.
Second, the truth that God is love explains human choice. He designed sinners to know and love Him by an act of their wills (cf. John 7:17–18), though not apart from the work of His Spirit (cf. John 1:12–13; Eph. 2:5; Titus 3:5). God’s greatest commandment is that people love Him with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:29–30).
Third, the reality that God is love also explains His providence. He orchestrates all the circumstances of life, in all their wonder, beauty, and even difficulty, to reveal many evidences of His love (Pss. 36:6; 145:9; Rom. 8:28).
Fourth, that He is love explains the divine plan of redemption. If God operated only on the basis of His law, He would convict people of their sin, and justly consign everyone to spend forever in hell (cf. Ps. 130:3). But His love provided a remedy for sin through the atoning work of Jesus Christ (Matt. 1:21; Gal. 4:4–5) on behalf of all who repent of their sin and trust in His mercy (John 3:14–15). In the most well-known statement of His earthly ministry, Jesus said, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16; cf. 2 Cor. 5:19–20; 1 Tim. 4:10; Titus 3:4–5).
God’s general love for mankind manifests itself in several ways. First, He expresses His love and goodness to all through common grace. The psalmist wrote, “The Lord is good to all, and His mercies are over all His works” (Ps. 145:9; cf. Matt. 5:45). As part of this, God reveals His love through His compassion, primarily in that He delays His final judgment against unrepentant sinners (Gen. 15:16; Acts 17:30–31; Rom. 3:25; cf. Gen. 18:20–33). That compassion is further expressed in His myriad of warnings to sinners (Jer. 7:13–15, 23–25; 25:4–6; Ezek. 33:7–8; Zeph. 2:1–3; Luke 3:7–9; 1 Cor. 10:6–11; Rev. 3:1–3). He finds no pleasure in the damnation of anyone (Ezek. 18:23, 32; 2 Peter 3:9). Accompanied with His warnings, God extends His love to every part of the world through His general offer of the gospel (Matt. 11:28; John 7:37; 1 Tim. 2:4; Titus 2:11). As Jesus told the apostles, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation” (Mark 16:15; cf. Matt. 28:19).
That general love, however, is limited to this life. After death, unrepentant sinners will experience God’s final wrath and judgment for all eternity (Dan. 12:2; Matt. 25:41; 2 Thess. 1:9; Rev. 20:12–15). But God has a special, perfect, eternal love that He lavishes on everyone who believes. The apostle John aptly characterized that love Jesus displayed to the apostles when he wrote at the beginning of the upper room narrative: “Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love” (John 13:1b, niv). Paul later celebrated that special love in his letter to the Ephesians:
God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (Eph. 2:4–7)
(For a complete discussion of the love of God, see John MacArthur, The God Who Loves [Nashville: Word], 1996, 2001.)
 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 2320). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
 Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of James and the Epistles of John (Vol. 14, pp. 330–331). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
 MacArthur, J. (2007). 1, 2, 3 John (pp. 165–167). Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.