8 January 2014

1 John 4:7-10

“Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.” (v. 7)


The lectionary leaves out one key verse: "By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God…" (v. 2). This letter was written to a community of believers, probably Gentiles (non Jews), to help them to distinguish between false teaching ('spirits') and true. It was probably written between 95 and 110 years after the birth of Christ, when the heresy of Docetism was being taught.

Docetism was an error about the nature of Christ. It originated in a dualistic attitude to spirit and matter and argued that God was spirit and therefore could not be matter. Therefore, since Jesus Christ was God he could not also have been man. Docetists argued that Jesus onlyappearedto be a human; he was God, but looked like a human being and therefore didn't really suffer. One of our best-loved Christmas carols is docetic! "Away in a manger" says "the little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes". Anybody who has ever had a real human baby will know that this is not normal behaviour! If Jesus was fully human, then he must have screamed until he was blue in the face! And the writer of this letter insists that he was fully human! And true teachers can be identified by this - they affirm the humanity of Christ.

Today's passage could also be seen as foundational for the Methodist doctrine of prevenient grace. The meaning of love is not the love that we have for God, but the love that God has for us. Love is God's initiative!

I once heard a debate about the source of human identity. One person argued that our identity is the sum of what we do in love for others. The other, a very wise person, argued that our identity is the product of God's gift of love for us. This is gospel: we are who we are because God loves us.

To Ponder

  • "…everyone who loves is born of God and knows God." Do you know anybody who is not a Christian, but 'knows God'? How is this revealed in their lives?
  • In what ways and from what sources do you know yourself to be loved by God?

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.