What does 1 John 4:21 mean?
ESV: And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.
NIV: And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.
NASB: And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God must also love his brother and sister.
CSB: And we have this command from him: The one who loves God must also love his brother and sister.
NLT: And he has given us this command: Those who love God must also love their fellow believers.
KJV: And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.
This summarizing verse includes aspects from both verses 19 and 20. Believers must love God, and they must love other people. John specifically refers to this as a "commandment." Believers keep God's commandments (1 John 2:3). John mentioned other commandments in his letter, including loving one another (1 John 2:7–8) and believing in the name of Jesus (1 John 3:23). Here, love for God and others is included as a third commandment.
While this focus on commandments may seem difficult, 1 John 5:3 adds, "For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome." In comparison to the laws of men as well as the many laws found in the Torah, Christ's commandments are few in number. However, His commandments are difficult in the sense that no one can perfectly love God and others. This is an ongoing goal that every believer must practice daily.
First John 4:20–21 concludes chapter 4 by clearly stating the importance of love in the life of a believer. Those who cannot love people they can see cannot love a God they cannot see. Anyone who harbors hate, but claims to love God, is a liar. Other parts of this letter have explained that love, shown by Christians, is meant to be how God is ''seen'' by the world.
Chapter 4 warns Christians not to accept every claim they hear. Instead, believers are to compare what they hear to the basic truths of the gospel. John then returns to the theme of love, explaining how believers ought to live out the presence of God's love in their lives. In addition, living according to God's love takes away our fear of judgment. In no uncertain terms, those who claim to love God, but hate others, are liars.
First John chapter 4 emphasizes the way God's love removes the natural human fear of rejection. Fear is a punishment of its own, and those who do not believe have reason to fear judgment. Believers, on the other hand, have confidence. Not only has Christ forgiven our sins, but He gives us God's love. Following in this love leads to acceptance, which leads to confidence, driving out fear. This passage is the key section of John's letter, explaining how confidence in the life of a believer ought to be accomplished.
First John seems to assume that the reader is familiar with the gospel. Rather than re-state these facts, John is concerned with building confidence in Christian believers. At the same time, his words encourage believers to examine their own lives for signs of their relationship with Christ. This letter also challenges false teachers and their incorrect claims about Jesus. Many themes are shared with the Gospel of John.
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