“No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us … If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one 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, that the one who loves God should love his brother also” (1 John 4:12, 20-21).
“No one has seen God at any time” (1 John 4:12). This truth is axiomatic. “God is Spirit” (John 4:24). He is “eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God … whom no man has seen or can see” (1 Timothy 1:17, 4:16). The question becomes, how do we see God? John suggests an answer, “If we love one another, God abides in us” (1 John 4:12). “That is, the unseen God, who was once revealed in His Son, is now revealed in His people, if and when they love one another. God’s love is seen in their love because their love is His love imparted to them by His Spirit” (Stott, 1981, p. 164).
Turning to 1 John 4:20, what is the love about which this text speaks? “Love is no merely passive involuntary emotion awakened in one person by another” (Law, 1968, p. 77). Instead, “It is an active principle, a determination of the will to do good, to do the highest good possible, to its object” (Law, 1968, p. 252). The definition of Shedd (1969) is pertinent, “Love is inclination” (p. 208). Now, John compares the visible brotherhood and the invisible God. Law (1968) comments, “Visibility and invisibility signify the presence or absence, not of attraction or incitement to love, but of opportunity for loving” (p. 252).
Earlier, John makes a similar point. “No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us” (1 John 4:12). “That is, the unseen God, who was once revealed in His Son, is now revealed in His people, if and when they love one another” (Stott, 1981, p. 164). Nicoll (1961) adds, “Love for the invisible Father is manifested in love for the brother by our side, the image of the Father” (p. 193). Therefore, Law (1968) concludes, “In the nature of the case, there is no other medium through which our love to God, who first loved us, can be realized than by loving our brother, especially if he has not first loved us” (p. 252). “The one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.” John adds to the argument by reminding us that love for God and love for the brother are inseparable.
“And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also” (1 John 4:21). “The conjunction καὶ, ‘and’ … links the teaching of this verse firmly to v[erse] 20” (Smalley, 2008, p 252). And as Stott (1981) points out, “Jesus Himself taught this two-fold commandment. It was He who united Deuteronomy vi. 4 and Leviticus xix. 18 and declared that all the law and the prophets depend upon them” (p. 171). John affirms Jesus’ teaching with his grammatical construction. He uses a present participle, literally, “the one loving,” with “should love,” a present subjunctive main verb. “The Present Participle most frequently denotes an action in progress, simultaneous with the principal verb” and “not infrequently denotes the same action which is expressed by the verb of the clause in which it stands” (Burton, 1976, pp. 54-55). In this case, the same or simultaneous action is “love.” As Stott (1981) again observes, “Man may not separate what Jesus has joined” (p. 171).
And John emphasizes, “This commandment we have from Him.” Fittingly, it is the membership of the church community as a whole to which Jesus delivers this two-fold command (Smalley, 2008, p. 252). In loving God by loving one another in the church community, we make God visible to a watching world.
Burton, E. D. (1976). Syntax of the Moods and Tenses in New Testament Greek. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark.
Law, R. (1968). The Tests of Life. Grand Rapids: Baker.
Nicoll, W. R. (Ed.). (1961) The Expositor’s Greek Testament (Vol. 5). Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
Shedd, W. G. T. (1969). Dogmatic Theology (Vol. 2). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
Smalley, S. S. (2008). 1, 2, and 3 John. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
Stott, J. R. W. (1981). The Epistles of John. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.