4:11 The phrase God loved us in this way means that Jesus was obedient to the point of death.
4:11 we also ought to love one another John links together the two main issues that the false teachers have misconstrued: love of God and love of neighbor. For John, the two expressions of love are inextricably tied together (see 2:8 and note; 2:10 and note).
4:11 Here and in v. 7 John uses a strong term of endearment, beloved (Gk. agapētoi), evidence that he himself has been mastered by the love he calls for. He uses the same word also at 2:7; 3:2, 21; 4:1. See also note on 2:1, “my little children.”
4:11 God’s sending His Son gives Christians not only salvation privilege, but obligation to follow this pattern of sacrificial love. Christian love must be self-sacrificing like God’s love.
4:11 An exhortation to remember when we are tempted to be unloving. Our love must not be a mere sentiment. God asks us to give ourselves for the good of others, just as He gives.
4:11. The use of the word so makes the total phrase, God so loved us, redolent of the words of John 3:16, “For God so (houtō[s]) loved the world.” Since the Lord spoke these words in John’s hearing so many years before, they no doubt had become richly valued by John and by those he taught. He thus chooses an echo of John 3:16 on which to ground his insistence that we also ought to love one another.
4:11 John now enforces the lesson of such love on us: “If God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” The if here does not express doubt, but rather is used in the sense of “since.” Since God so showered His love on those who are now His people, we also ought to love those who are members with us of His blessed family.
4:11 “if” This is a FIRST CLASS CONDITIONAL SENTENCE which is assumed to be true from the author’s perspective or for his literary purposes. God does love us (cf. Rom. 8:31)!
© “God so loved us” This should be understood as “in such a manner,” as in John 3:16.
© “we also ought to love one another” Because He has loved us we must love one another (cf. 2:6; 3:16; 4:1). This statement of necessity reflects the disruptive actions and attitudes of the false teachers.
The obligation to love (verse 11). In verse 11 John returns to the thought of reproducing God’s love in our own lives (cf. verse 7). There is, however, a slight difference in the statements of verses 7 and 11. Verse 7 is an exhortation: “Let us love one another.” Verse 11 is not an exhortation, but the statement of a fact: Beloved, if God so loved us, we [emphatic] also ought to love one another (asv).
The key word in verse 11 is “ought.” Used twice already in this epistle (2:6; 3:16), it is a very strong term expressing moral obligation. “We are bound” conveys something of its meaning.
John enforces the thought of our obligation to love by pointing to the matchless love of God for us: “If God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.” His love supplies the incentive, the motivation, and the example for ours. Conner has written: “If we do not love one another, we are not making the response to the love of God that we ought. If God’s love were only an abstract proposition without definite evidence to substantiate it, then the obligation to love on our part would not be so definite. But in response to such definite love manifested in what the Son of God did for us, there is a definite and inescapable obligation on our part to love one another” (p. 63).
In the phrase “so loved,” identical with the phrase used in John 3:16, the stress is on “so.” The idea is both quantitative (so much) and qualitative (in such a manner), but the emphasis is on the latter. God’s self-giving love was drawn forth by our need, not by any good within us, and it found in our sin the occasion for its fullest expression.
Ver. 11. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.
The Doctrine love a pattern for the human:—“God is Beauty,” said the Greek; “God is Strength,” said the Roman; “God is Law,” said the Jew; “God is Love,” says the disciple. “It came to this that the Son of God had for love to lay down His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” St. John seems to say, “Yes; but you will not be much called on to do that when things are settled. You will not be asked for your life—will you then give up something of your living? There is more call for that. Whoso hath the world’s livelihood (βίος) and looks on his brother in want, and locks his compassions out of his reach—how is God’s love imminent in him?” The barbed question is followed up by a glowing indignation, called for it would seem, even in those days of first love. Ah! “Little children of mine, do not let us be loving in word, nor even in tongue, but in deed and in truth.” Not so much theory, not so much even of warm expression, but reality. “If God so loved us, as now we know He did, we owe it to love one another.” It is a debt. That life was given, and given to us. There must be some obligations growing out of that utterly unearned increment. Surely it is by our working that God will cease to permit the misery that He has not made. Repay, redress, rebalance, we cannot by mere almsgiving, however liberal. But “this world’s goods”—“the life of this world (βίος κοσμου)” of which St. John asks us to give him some—“this world’s life” is more than its spare monies. Breath, light, space to be decent, and healthful food; order and peace and rest, and beautiful sights and sounds; knowledge and the power to care for it, time to consider, religion, and a belief that religion and worship are for the likes of them, and not a form of luxury; these are regions of “the life of this world” which we inherit, but which have been fenced and walled from millions. When we with the best intent are building, broad and high, castles of dwellings for artisans we still are not working on the lines of nature and society. Sanitation and accommodation, with even recreation added, are not all that the simplest society claims. Society, to be society, must have society. It cannot be all of one grain. The simplest must have some little range of ranks. It must have some elements of inspiration from without it, and from above it, in force sufficient to be felt. Some loving spirits must go and dwell among them; who will not hear of brutality being regarded as the natural law even of the lowest; who will begin by expecting of them, even as of others, soberness and honesty and care for the family, and through expecting patiently will create. There are the ἀρχηγοὶ of a new society, and there is no form of influence fuller of power, fuller it may be of trial, but also fuller of reward, and richer for the future. What the few bear who live thus, what discouragements, what broken pledges, what fallings back, what mad sounds by night, what sights by day, no novel and no visitor can describe. None know but they who live there. And yet there are the elements of society. There is duty constantly scorning selfishness, suffering brutality rather than wrongly escape from it, working itself to death for the children rather than take them to the workhouse. There are sacrifices as strange as the sins that impose them. Again, there are ears that will hear, men and families that will advance their whole standard of life, under the influence of those whom they have seen loving them for nought. (Abp. Benson.)
The Divine example of love:—
I. Love should be exercised by us after the example of the love of God (ver. 11). What, then, were the features of the Divine love, and what ought to be those of our love? 1. The love of God was universal. He expressed it to all, good and bad, worthy and unworthy. 2. More than this, the love of God has been conspicuous toward His enemies (Rom. 5:6, 8, 9). In this respect also we are bound to imitate the Divine example. 3. This is farther demanded, though it should be at the cost of the greatest self-denial. It need not be asked at what expense did God express His love for sinners? What, then, shall we refuse to suffer for the benefit of others? 4. Nor let us overlook that our love, like God’s, should be aggressive. We are not to wait until we are besought. God did not so deal by us. 5. To complete all, love should be constant. Nothing should weary it or cause it to relax.
II. In the exercise of this love we enjoy communion with God (ver. 12). “No man hath seen God at any time.” It is as if it had been said, although “no man hath seen God at any time, yet, if we love one another, God dwelleth in us.” 1. When we engage in duties of brotherly love we are conscious of the Divine approval. And this applies to all duties of brotherly love, whether those that relate to our immediate connections, or the Church of Christ, or the world. 2. There is a sustaining sense of the Divine co-operation. God is with us in them. 3. He will bless us and our work!
III. Thus also “his love is perfected in us.” This expression may be understood either of the love of God, as it is perfected when it produces love in us, or of our love when it is perfected in the exercises of brotherly love. 1. The love of God is perfected in us. From the beginning He had a design of love toward every one of His people. But that design is not carried out into completion until His grace secures the heart, and fills it with His love. 2. Or the saying may be understood of our love when it is perfected in the exercises of brotherly love. The Divine love is perfected when it inflames our souls, and makes us like God in love. And our love, thus kindled by the love of God, is perfected in the deeds of charity.
IV. In our brotherly love we are furnished with the evidence of our fellowship with God, as it is seen to arise out of the indwelling of the Spirit. “Hereby know we that we dwell in Him, and He in us, because He hath given us of His Spirit.” These fruits do not grow on the soil of nature. They are the plants of grace alone, and proclaim their heavenly origin. (J. Morgan, D. D.)
The love of the Father:—
I. The love of the Father an incentive to mutual love among Christians. 1. On the principle that like begets like—(1) spiritual love is the Divine nature; (2) The manifestation of Christly love is an evidence of spiritual regeneration; (3) The incentive to mutual love among Christians thus becomes all-inspiring and important. 2. On the principle of Christian professions—(1) Every professing Christian professes to “know” God; (2) But “he that loveth not, knoweth not God”; (3) Not to manifest the spirit of love is thus inconsistent with the profession a Christian makes of knowing God.
II. The love of the Father in its marvellous example.
III. The possession of this Divine love is an assurance of richest spiritual blessings—the Divine indwelling and perfection of love. Lessons: 1. The revelation of the Divine love in Christ and in Christianity the highest truth, and its demonstration most scientific and clear. 2. The leading design of the manifestation of God’s love in the new birth of souls into the same love the sublimest and most blessed of all possible objects. 3. The importance of each Christian being an exemplification of the reality of God’s love and of the gift of His Son is thus seen to be most vital, as constituting one of the leading features in Christian apologetics—an unanswerable argument for the fundamental fact of Christianity. 4. As love is the most essential force for elevation and regeneration of the human race, Christianity is the only spiritual force yet discovered for that most-devoutly-to-be-wished-for consummation. (D. C. Hughes, M.A.)
I. What relation we stand in to God.
II. The relation we bear to one another. 1. We are all creatures made of the same ignoble materials, and derived from the same Hand. 2. We all agree in one common nature. 3. We have all of us occasion for the assistance of one another. 4. As to the injuries we may receive, they do not come up to our sinning against God. (1) Our sins against God are more numerous than the injuries one man offers to another. (2) Another difference is the greatness as well as multitude of our sins. 5. Let us consider the relation we bear to one another as being united in one common Christianity, and having embraced the same profession of faith. A motive this, to love, the most prevailing that can possibly be urged.
III. What benefits God hath conferred upon us. Were our minds fully possessed of a hearty sense of the extreme bounty of God, we could not be so base as to deny Him the only returns we are capable of making, that is love and compassion for one another.
IV. The kindness and love we are capable of showing those of the same frame and constitution with ourselves, comes prodigiously short of the marvellous favours and repeated kindnesses we have received from God. (R. Warren, D. D.)
God’s love the pattern for our love:—“If God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.” 1. Because ignorance of what God means by love must now be wilful. 2. Because doubt and uncertainty as to the objects of love are for ever excluded. 3. Because the power of love to conquer obstacles and impediments is, in God’s case, most gloriously shown. 4. Because the restoration of love between man and man is one of God’s objects in that redemption which so proves His love for us. 5. Because we are required to be followers of God as dear children. 6. Because love on our part must be pleasing to God. 7. Because “hereby we express our love towards God.” (S. Martin.)
The Divine prototype of love:—“If God so loved us.” How? The preceding verse shows us some of the glorious traits of this love. 1. Its greatness and depth. One may dip out the ocean with a shell sooner than exhaust the ocean of God’s love with the little bucket of human conceptions. It is as boundless as God Himself, for “God is love” (ver. 8). But the apostle puts into our hand a scale to measure even such greatness (ver. 9). Is there for a father a greater offering than to give up his only son? “If God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.” The greatness of this Divine love ought also to be the motive to and the example for our love to our neighbour. (1) Surely the motive. How often are we stirred to love by beauty merely, by talent, or other excellences, or even sometimes by pleasing weaknesses; but not first and foremost by the thought that God the Lord in Christ went after him in love! (2) And our example. We are by nature egoists. “For all seek their own” (Phil. 2:21). The soul of God’s whole activity, from the creation to the new creation, is love. And now has God, indeed, opened “the bowels of His mercy and compassion” (Luke 1:78), and in Christ given Himself, His best, His heart, to men for their own; so that “whosoever receiveth Christ receiveth the Father that sent Him” (Luke 9:49). But we? Even when we make our loving sacrifices, we keep back to ourselves the greater part of ourselves. Do thou, my hard, selfish heart, with thy scanty, wretched love, which scarcely ever deserves the name, be transformed after this great, Divine pattern! But love shames us yet in many other things. We are further amazed at—2. The all-embracing extent of this love. God sent His Son into the world. He gave Him not to some few, but to all. How often our love suffers from a miserable straitness of heart! Towards some, sometimes towards those who love us, we are very kind and pleasing, but towards others indifferent. Some attract us, numberless others are repulsive. And oh! what wretched pettinesses often suffice to lock up our hearts so that not the least drop of love can flow out! God’s love did not suffer itself to be held back, nor to set itself any bounds: it embraced all, even its enemies. God finds people enough to love His beautiful and richly-gifted children; but few whose love goes far enough to receive the miserable ones also. If we desire to do what is pleasing to God’s heart, let us also love those whom no one else is likely to love! And if our courage fails us for this—for such love requires much courage—let us look up to the primal example of God’s love, which condescended to this miserable world. 3. The clearness and calmness of God’s love. The greater and stronger the love of men, so much the harder for it to remain clear and calm. The bleeding Lamb of God on Calvary shows not only how deeply and all inclusively, but also how clearly, and soberly, and holily God loves the world. He will heal its sin and guilt, and therefore He suffers the Lamb to bleed. He must judge while He heals, and He heals while thus judging. Thus clear and calm, too, was the love of Christ, in all its greatness. How He loved His disciples, and yet how soberly and calmly He pointed out to them their errors! “If God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.” Do we do it? Alas, how rare among us is that great and therefore sober love which steadily seeks to make our neighbour better! Either we continue clear and calm, and our love is, commonly, very lukewarm; or else it is great and warm, while we are as it were blind and dull. 4. Its unselfish disinterestedness. We love those who please us, who love us, or from whom we expect love. Therein appears the interestedness of our love. God loves those who love Him not; from whom, moreover, He can have no great hopes of love. Just as unselfish, too, is Christ’s love. In all His life of love He never seeks His own gain—not His honour, not His advantage, not His proper esteem, but only the honour of the Father and the salvation of the world. He puts away all self-help from His love (Matt. 4:3, &c.; 26:53, &c.); renounces the applause of the great masses, especially of the rulers; and walks the way of self-abnegation and the Cross. “If God so loved us, we ought also to love one another”—so unselfishly, so disinterestedly. How rare is the love in which one thinks not of himself, but only of the welfare of another; which forgets one’s self, seeks stillness and retirement, lets not its left hand know what its right hand doeth; yes, even expects nothing for itself, because it has its own reward in itself; which therefore rewards evil with good, which blesses them that curse us, and does good to them that hate us! 5. The steadfastness and faithfulness of the love of God; which is not less worthy of imitation. Only the unselfish love “never faileth.” Selfish love, in its very selfishness, has a worm in itself which speedily gnaws away its life. The purer love is, the less it changes. Because God’s love is without any mixture of impure self-seeking, therefore is it so steadfast. (Prof. T. Christlieb.)
Reflected love:—Observe clearly this line of thought. “If God so loved us, we ought also so to love Him.” That is the first plain inference. But how? There is only one way—“loving one another.” To love God as He is, in Himself, is an abstract thing. This is only a feeling. To “love one another” in Him, and Him in “one another,” is action, and love is action, and action tests reality. “We ought”—we are under a debt to love one another. God’s love has placed us under this obligation. Whom are we to “love”? “One another.” Who is “one another”? All the great brotherhood; in the family of God. And if it be asked, What! all? All! The poorest, the meanest, the most wicked, the vilest? Find your answer in that “us”; or rather, for so each one of us ought to do—in the “me,” which goes to make the “us.” But “to love one another”—one another! It is, by reciprocity, not only to love, but to be loved. Now, am I wrong in thinking that to some of us it is a harder thing to consent to be loved than it is to love? There is a feeling of superiority in being kind to a person. It is pleasant to nature. It is a sort of patronising. But to receive kindnesses, especially from some persons, is an act of great humiliation. But you must love, and be loved, if you would fulfil the duty. You must so speak and act as to make yourself lovable to everybody. But there is a little word in the text which teaches us great lessons. “God so loved us.” How did God love us? That is our copy. 1. I notice that God’s love was originating love. He completely took the initiative. We should do the same—not wait to be loved. 2. And I notice that God’s love is a wise and thoughtful love. Our love is often very unwise and unthoughtful. There is very little mind in it; no consideration; therefore our love often does harm where it is meant to do good. God’s love is so carefully, so exquisitely adjusted. It is so very wise. 3. And God’s love, tender as it is, is always faithful. So far as reproof is faithful, God’s love is faithful. An unfaithful love is worse than hatred; and I may say very unlike God’s! 4. And God’s love is self-sacrificing love. “He spared not His own Son.” 5. And God’s love is never capricious. It never changes, except to deepen. Is your love so? Concerning love, let me further observe this—God always looks to the reflection of Himself in all His creatures. He expects to find the image of one or other of His attributes. If He finds it not, He passes unsatisfied. If He finds it, He “rests.” There He is content. Many different gifts and graces reflect different parts of the character of God; but God reflects all. Love gives back God to Himself, for “God is love.” 6. And love is the atmosphere of heaven. We are all to love now, that we may be ready to go forward. (J. Vaughan, M.A.)
11. The historical manifestation of God’s love in Christ not only assures us of his love for us, but lays upon us the obligation to love one another. No-one who has been to the cross and seen God’s immeasurable and unmerited love displayed there can go back to a life of selfishness. Indeed, the implication seems to be that our love should resemble his love: since God so loved us, we also ought—in like manner and to a like degree of self-sacrifice—to love one another. Cf. 3:16, where the duty of Christian self-sacrifice is deduced from the self-sacrifice of Christ.
Ver. 11.—Beloved introduces a solemn exhortation, as in vers. 1, 7. The “if” implies no uncertainty (see on ch. 5:9); it puts, the fact more gently, but not more doubtfully, than “since.” The “so” (οὕτως) covers both the quality and the quantity of the love. Καὶ belongs solely to ἡμεῖς: “we also on our part ought to love one another.” We should have expected as the apodosis, “we also ought to love God.” But this link in the thought the apostle omits as self-evident, and passes on to state what necessarily follows from it. In ver. 12 he shows how loving God involves loving one’s fellowman (comp. ch. 2:5 for a similar passage over an intermediate link).
4:11 / Now the Elder draws the ethical consequences from God’s great act of love, of which he has been writing since v. 7. Dear friends (lit., “Beloved,” agapētoi) reminds the readers that they are loved, not just by the author but by God. Since is the correct translation of ei, not “if”; the case has been demonstrated in vv. 9–10. God loved: the aorist tense indicates the absolute and definitive quality of God’s love. As above, us is, for the Elder, primarily “we” who have come to know God’s love, without forgetting that God does love the whole world. The little word so (houtōs) deserves special attention. It can mean both “in this way” (as seen in God’s love in the previous verses) or “so much, excessively.” Both are true and make good sense in the present context. God’s love, not human love, is the model of authentic love (v. 10), and God’s gift of his only Son is an extreme act of love. God so loved us, both as to manner and as to intensity. This verse closely resembles John 3:16, and the entire passage (vv. 7–11) may be read as a commentary on it (Brown, Epistles, p. 519).
With God’s manifested (v. 9) love as the model and motivation, the community’s mandate is clear: we also ought to love one another. This resumes the thought of v. 7 and applies the lesson of vv. 7–10 to the relationships expected among God’s people. While those who have not experienced God’s love in Christ cannot be expected to love, we, the believing community, can and are. The verb ought (opheilomen) emphasizes love as our Christian obligation; we owe it as a debt (Rom. 13:8).
11 The recipients of such love have no choice as to their response. Their sins have been taken away by this gracious act of God. He has loved them in such a way as to arouse adoring wonder at the magnitude of his sacrificial giving. They cannot do anything else but show love to one another.
Moralists have long puzzled over the problem of how a command can be generated out of a statement. How can “we ought to love one another” be logically based on “God loved us”? John was no doubt unconscious of this problem. It was sufficient for him to claim that the recipients of divine love must demonstrate the same love. He could not understand how a person could experience divine love and remain unmoved by the obligation to love other people in the same way as God had loved him; the connection is not so much through the logic of moral philosophy as through the constraint of experienced love which generates fresh love. It is significant that John does not say that experience of God’s love should constrain us to love him in return; rather he speaks of our obligation to love others. Although he is thinking primarily of love within the Christian fellowship, the fact that he starts from a statement of God’s love for sinners strongly suggests that his vision is not limited to the church but extends to the world.
11 With this verse, John begins to develop the ethical implications of the incarnation. Those who, unlike the Antichrists, accept God’s love as expressed in the sending of the Son ought to love one another (cf. 1 Jn 3:16). The logic of this conclusion is similar to that underlying John 13:12–17. After washing the disciples’ feet, Jesus instructs them that they should do the same for one another because, if “I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet” (13:14). If Jesus served the disciples in a sacrificial way, they should follow his example by serving one another sacrificially. Similarly, if God has defined perfect love by sending his Son as a sacrifice, we should love other believers the way God does.
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