1 John 4: Agape First and Last


The beginning of 1 John chapter 4 contains the first verse I ever memorized. It was during a dark time in my young life, I had been dabbling in the occult, searching for spiritual answers, and what I was discovering—replete with paranormal events that frightened me terribly—held me in the kind of thrall where terror pounds in the rib cage but fascination draws like a moth to flame.

During the same time I was rereading the Christian Testament, and had come nearly to the end of it when John’s words arrested me. As I whispered them to myself, I felt an immediate sense of quiet power from within, as though safety had wrapped itself around me.

You are from God, little children, and you have conquered them, for great[er] is the one in you than the one in the world.

1 John 4:4 (my translation)

That same day I took the latest book I was reading about witchcraft, sealed it in a plastic bag and buried it in our backyard. I have never gone back.

With these words, John had been introducing the latest of his proofs of salvation and its permanency. We have now read five together. Those who are born anew, from above, live by faith in

  1. Willing cooperation with the Spirit of Christ.
  2. Holding onto the teaching of the apostles.
  3. Consecrating ourselves in God’s love, no longer a part of the world, but now being transformed into the heavenly.
  4. Genuinely loving the brothers and sisters in Christ.
  5. trusting the Spirit’s discernment between truth and error.

Evidence of Salvation: Exhibit 6

Living by faith as begotten and beloved of God, loving with God’s love (agape).

There is a quality to agape that is unlike the other loves, for it comes from a place of fullness, a place of depth and peace, it is an overflowing kind of love that does not need a response to exist. God’s love is infinite and eternal, and flows through every believer from that infinite and eternal source.

Beloved (agape) ones, may we love (agape) one another, for love (agape) is from God, and everyone who loves (agape) has been begotten of God and knows God.

1 John 4:7 (my translation)

That is a stunning statement. Beloved ones, you are begotten of love, your nature is love, and you know your Father, Who is love. You and I were born to love, so may we love one another.

The one who does not love (agape) does not know God, for God is love (agape).

In this God’s love (agape) was made apparent in us, that God sent forth His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him.

In this is love (agape): not that we have loved (agape) God, but rather that He loved (agape) us and sent forth His Son [as] propitiation regarding our sins.

Beloved ones, if God loved (agape) us in this way, [then] we are obligated to love (agape) one another.

God has never been beheld [by] anyone—if we love (agape) one another, God is remaining in us and His love (agape) is being made complete in us.

1 John 4:8-12 (my translation)

The heart of the gospel and the heart of John’s letter is found here. Did you count how many times John wrote agape? All told, in five verses John spoke of God’s agape love thirteen times.

Paul spoke of this love being poured into us by the Spirit, saying

Suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

Romans 5:3-5 (NRSV)

Peter relied upon this truth when he wrote extensively about love, saying,

Your souls being purified and sanctified in obedience to the truth, into unfeigned (sincere and genuine, authentic) brotherly mutual love (philadelphia) from the heart, love (agape) one another fervently.

1 Peter 1:22 (my translation)

All Love Comes From God

Out of love—for God is love—the universe was created, humanity came into being, the earth and everything in it, the sky and the sea, the profusion of flora and fauna, the celestial orbs that sing their eerie praises to the Almighty Living God.

And from God’s agape come all the other forms of love there are, the love of parents for children, the love of friends for friends, the love of sweethearts for each other. All is a gift of God to the human race, like sunshine and rain, food, resources, everything that makes life beautiful, happy and wholesome.

Evidence of Salvation: Exhibit 7

Living by faith in the power of the Holy Spirit.

In this we know that we remain in Him and He in us, that He has given us of His Spirit.

1 John 4:13 (NRSV)

You and I may not always sense the Spirit’s presence, but God’s Spirit is there within us, always. John wrote extensively on Jesus’ teaching concerning the Holy Spirit, which you can read about here. Paul also taught often on the Spirit’s work both in the world and in believers. Important passages include the apostle’s warning not to grieve the Spirit,

Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption.

Ephesians 4:30 (NRSV)

Do not quench the Spirit.

1 Thessalonians 5:19 (NRSV)

Evidence of Salvation: Exhibit 8

Living by faith knowing God promises salvation to all who put their faith in Jesus.

And we have beheld and bear witness that the Father has sent forth the Son [as] Savior of the world.

Whoever would acknowledge that Jesus is the Son of God, God remains in that person and that person in God.

And we have known and have believed the love that God has in us. God is love, and the one who remains in love remains in God and God remains in him.

1 John 4:14-16 (my translation)

That is really where our confidence comes from: God’s nature, that God is love, and God will always love, no matter what. Out of Love, God longs that the world would be saved, and God has thrown open that door for restoration. Every person who believes Jesus receives that blank check of salvation—recreation and restoration. God will do whatever it takes, for God is love, and God loves.

In this love has been made complete within us, so that we may have confident intimacy in the Day of Judgement, that as that One is [so] also are we in this world.

John 4:17 (my translation)

Agape First and Last

John ended this section with a summary on agape love. His first point I have been mulling over for years, and have heard many different takes on what John must have meant by it,

Fear is not in love, but rather complete[d] love throws fear away, for fear has punishment and the one who fears has not been made complete in love.

John 4:18 (my translation)

When you and I have settled into God’s love for us, we believe Jesus, and we have put our faith in Jesus, when we accept with a settled peace that we are now born from above, begotten of God, beloved of God, then we no longer fear God’s wrath. We no longer live in a state of hypervigilance, jumping at every sound, anxiously second-guessing what we have said and done. We no longer ask God for blanket forgiveness just in case we’ve sinned in some way in ignorance.

Our reverence for God comes from a place of love and joy, not fear.

If the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, then resting in God’s love is the fulfillment of wisdom.

We love, because He first loved us.

John 4:19 (my translation)

And that love is see in how we are with the brethren and sistren, as we mirror God to each other.

If someone said that “I love God,” and hates their brother or sister, [that one] is a liar; for the one who does not love their brother or sister [whom] they have seen is unable to love God [Whom] they [have] not seen.

And this commandment we have from Him so that the one who loves God would love their brother and sister.

1 John 4:20-21 (my translation)

[Jesus’ parable of the return of the prodigal son is a beautiful illustration of God’s agape love | The Brooklyn Museum, James Tissot, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons]

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