9 January 2014

1 John 4:11-16

“God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.” (v. 16)


This passage concerns the means of revelation. Nobody has ever seen God, although those who saw Jesus Christ saw God made flesh, God's love in action in a human life. But the writer of this letter tells us that God goes on revealing Godself whenever Christlike love is enacted in any human life.

Yet there is an implied contradiction within this passage. The writer says both that "God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God" (v. 15) and that "God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them" (v. 16). Christianity is a confessional faith and the first statement is consistent with that. The second statement, however, implies that those who abide in love abide in God, even if they do not confess that Jesus is the Son of God.

But perhaps these two statements are not so much of a contradiction as they first appear. For what exactly is meant by 'confess'? The Greek 'homologeo' means "to declare openly", or "to agree" and obviously relates to logos, meaning word, but also to 'homo', meaning 'man'. This recalls the prologue to John's Gospel (John 1:1-14), where Jesus himself is called 'logos', or 'the Word of God'. God and man are one, spoken word and silent love are united. The Word became flesh and lived (or 'abided') among us (John 1:14), and God is revealed not only by Jesus' words, but by his very being and his whole life. In the same way, Jesus Christ is confessed as the Son of God not only in words, but also in action and in the quality of our love. Therefore, those who do not necessarily confess in words, but do 'abide in love' are incorporated in God and able to reveal God to others.

To Ponder

  • If somebody confesses in words that Jesus is the Son of God, but does not abide in love, to what extent does God abide in them?
  • What non-verbal ways of confessing Christ have you encountered?

Bible notes author

The Revd Anna Bishop

Anna Bishop is a wife, mother and Methodist presbyter. She is currently without appointment while her two small children teach her a spirituality of interruption! She is living in the Salisbury circuit, where she leads Baby-interrupted Bible Study and Little Blessings, a service of worship for babies, toddlers, pre-school children and their carers.