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1 John 4:12-16: Seeing God Through Love

I once read a story about some college students listening to an old missionary who said, “I have seen the face of God.” There was a bit of unbelief as these young students thought about his remark. Then he told this story: It was in India during the great plague that was killing people by the thousands that he was on horseback, riding swiftly through the country in the fear of contracting the black plague. When in small village he saw a young British girl standing beside the roadside. He reigned his horse in and stopped to warn the young girl of the danger she faced. He spoke with her, “Miss, you are in grave danger of contracting the plague, you must leave now!” She said to him, “Sir, God has placed me here to tell these people about Jesus, I cannot leave until my job is finished.” The man said, “Bless you young lady, I would like to shake your hand.” With that she brought her hands from behind her back and they were almost eaten away by the plague. The old missionary said, “at that moment I saw the face of God in the face of a young lady that loved people more than her own life.”

Verse 12a: “No one has seen God at any time…”

The words used signify absolute negation. It wood read, “absolutely no one!”

“Has seen” means more than simply to see, see but to gaze until one grasps the significance of what they are beholding. Absolutely no one has gazed at God.

John 1:18, “No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.”

1 Timothy 1:17, “All honor and glory to God forever and ever! He is the eternal King, the unseen one who never dies; he alone is God. Amen.”

1 Timothy 6:16, “Who alone has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see, to whom be honor and everlasting power. Amen.

No one can see God since God is a spirit. “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:24).

“This is not the first time this expression is found in the Scriptures. In John 1:18 you will find the exact same words, “No man hath seen God at any time.” Let’s examine these controversial words, for Scripture seems to indicate that there were many instances where men saw God. Didn’t God speak with Moses face to face, and didn’t He put him in a cleft of the rock while He passed by? Didn’t Adam speak with God in the garden? And doesn’t Isaiah say that “In the year that king Uzziah died, I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple” (Isaiah 6:1)? Didn’t Ezekiel have visions of God, and didn’t the glory of the Lord appear to Daniel and many others? Yes, and yet it remains true that, “No man hath seen God at any time.” God is a Spirit, infinite and eternal, and is Himself invisible. Christ, however, has revealed God to men. But before Jesus became incarnate, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit were all invisible. The Old Testament characters of whom it is written that they saw God, saw a form that God took-a Theophany-by which He revealed Himself to them. They saw His glory and splendor, but they could not see His deity. No one, in a sense, has ever seen you. People have seen your body, your face, and your eyes, but they have never seen the real you-the spirit that looks out through your eyes. We cannot see the real man, for under present conditions the spirit of man is invisible. We shall never really see one another as long as we are in the flesh, but in eternity we shall see and know one another in spirit. No one has ever seen the sun. Someone might object to that and say, “How can you tell me that I have never seen the sun! Of course I have seen it. I have seen it rise, I have seen it moving through the heavens, I have seen it set as it dips into the west.” But you are mistaken. You have never seen the sun! You have seen the robe of glory that envelopes it, but you cannot pierce that glory and see behind the flame that enfolds mat great globe. That would be impossible. It is the sun that gives out that glory and you cannot even gaze on that in its full strength at noonday for one minute, because of its blinding glare.” –Harry Ironside

Exodus 33:20, God declares, “You cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.” These Scriptures seem to contradict other Scriptures which describe various people “seeing” God. For example, Exodus 33:11 describes Moses speaking to God “face to face.” How could Moses speak with God “face to face” if no one can see God's face and live? In this instance, the phrase “face to face” is a figure of speech indicating they were in very close communion. God and Moses were speaking to each other as if they were two human beings having a close conversation.

“This verse could mean several different things. It could mean: since we can’t see God, the best way to show our love to Him, is to love those He loves. We understand this. When someone shows love to our kids, we feel loved. When someone hurts or attacks our child we feel attacked. In the same way, John may be saying, when you love the people around you. You are loving God. When you treat others with respect and regard, you are showing the same to God. In Matthew 25 Jesus pretty much says this. When we give food to one who is hungry, water to one who is thirsty, and when we visit someone in jail, it is as if we are doing it to the Lord.

But the verse could also mean, No one has ever seen God…but when we love each other, people will see God reflected through us. Jesus told Philip in John 14:9 ‘He who has seen me, has seen the Father.’ This should be true of every follower of Christ. When people look at us, they should see a reflection of Him. When they look at how we treat each other, they should see an example of agape love. Our lives should be like sunlight shining through the trees.” –Rev. Bruce Goettsche,

Verse 12b: “If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us.”

“We cannot see God, because He is spirit; what we can see is His effect. We cannot see the wind, but we can see what it can do. We cannot see electricity, but we can see the effect it produces. The effect of God is love. It is when God comes into a man that he is clothed with the love of God and the love of men. God is known by His effect on that man. It has been said, “A saint is a man in whom Christ lives again” and the best demonstration of God comes not from argument but from a life of love.” –Barclay

Verse 12c: “Abides,” meno in Greek. In simple terms it means to take up permanent residence or to make yourself at home, to remain in the same place or position over a period of time. It means to reside, stay, live, lodge, tarry or dwell.

It refers to our personal fellowship with Jesus Christ. To abide in Christ means to remain in spiritual oneness with Him, so that no sin comes between us.

Verse 12d: “His love has been perfected in us.”

“Perfected” in Greek is teleioo it means to accomplish or bring to an end or to the intended goal. It means to be complete, mature, fully developed, full grown, wanting nothing necessary to completeness. It is perfect tense meaning, has been made perfect or complete, and exists in its finished results. This represents a past fact in the saint’s life and a present reality.

“God’s love is proclaimed in the Word (“God is love”) and proved at the cross. But here we have something deeper: God’s love is perfected in the believer. Fantastic as it may seem, God’s love is not made perfect in angels, but in sinners saved by His grace. We Christians are now the tabernacles and temples in which God dwells. He reveals His love through us. Dr. G. Campbell Morgan, famous British preacher, had five sons, all of whom became ministers of the Gospel. One day a visitor in their home dared to ask a personal question: “Which of you six is the best preacher?” Their united answer was, “Mother!” Of course, Mrs. Campbell Morgan had never preached a formal sermon in a church; but her life was a constant sermon on the love of God. The life of a Christian who abides in God’s love is a potent witness for God in the world. Men cannot see God, but they can see His love moving us to deeds of helpfulness and kindness.” –Weirsbe

“God abides in us, He's perfecting His love in us and thus He's putting Himself on display. That's the point. If we love one another, God is on display. By this, Jesus said in John 13:34 and 35, shall men know that you're My disciples if you have...what? for one another. Don't go out and witness about Christ unless you are manifestly loving one another. The unseen God becomes seen in the love of believers. When we love, as we should, when His love is perfected in us, we reveal that He abides in us. Our love is evidence of His indwelling presence and it becomes the revelation of that presence to others.” –John MacArthur

People may never read the Gospel of Matthew, never look at the Gospel of Luke, never heed the Gospel of Mark, and never consider the Gospel of John, but they are reading the gospel of you-they are watching you, listening to you, and observing you. They are getting their ideas of Christ and of God from what they hear and see in you.

Verse 13a: “By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us…”

It is obvious as we read First John that God wants us to know something

•2:3, “ Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments.”

•2:5b, “Whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him.”

•3:14, “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren.”

•3:19, “And by this we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him.”

•3:24b, “And by this we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.”

•4:2, “By this you know the Spirit of God…”

•4:6, “We are of God. He who knows God hears us; he who is not of God does not hear us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.”

•4:16, “And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.”

•5:2, “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments.”

•5:13, “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.”

Verse 13b: “because He has given us of His Spirit.”

“Has given” is in the perfect tense which speaks of the permanence of the Father's Gift given of the Spirit at the moment of regeneration. He is in us to stay.

The Holy Spirit of God, who gives the ability to worship; who gives us understanding; who penetrates our lives with the reality of God; He will speak of Jesus as the Son of God, who, “became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Jesus said: when the Holy Spirit comes, “He will bring glory to me....” (John 16:14). The work of the Spirit is to magnify Christ.

God has not changed! The same Spirit that was active in creation; the same Spirit that led the children of Israel by fire and smoke, and that filled the Tabernacle in the Wilderness; the same Spirit that filled the Solomon’s Temple with fire and smoke; the same Spirit that sat in cloven tongues of fire on the disciples of Pentecost; the same Spirit that filled the powerful preachers of history is the same Holy Spirit that lives in every believer!

There is no such thing as a Christian without the Holy Spirit! When you accepted Christ as your Savior and Lord, the Spirit took up residence in you. Every believer is indwelt by the Holy Spirit! “But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you. And remember that those who do not have the Spirit of Christ living in them do not belong to him at all” (Romans 8:9 NLT). And He is there in His totality! He is the Third Person of the Trinity. He is not an impersonal power like electricity, He is a person, and He lives in every believer!

The indwelling of the Spirit is a constant, it cannot be changed. He moved in when I got saved! And He lives in me. The sealing of the Spirit is the same, when He moved in He sealed my future. Ephesians 4:30, “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” We do not get the Holy Spirit in doses, a little at a time, we receive all of Him at salvation. Every believer has the same amount of the Spirit, but the Spirit dies not have the same amount of every believer!

Verse 14a: “And we have seen and testify…”

This, of course is speaking of the apostles. As we have noted in 1 John 1:1,2. “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life—the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness.” Acts 1:8, “…you shall be witnesses to Me…” That’s job one for every believer to be witnesses, to testify that God sent His Son…1 John 4:9, “In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him.”

Verse 14b: “the Father has sent the Son…”

There are some religions that teach that Jesus became the Son of God, either at His birth, His crucifixion or His resurrection.

“He (John) says that ‘the Father sent the Son.’ There are many people who are confused about this, and think that Jesus became the Son of God when he was born as a babe in Bethlehem's manger. But he was the Son before he came. The Father sent the Son. Christ Jesus was the eternal Son of God, and always the Son. This relationship of Father and Son is an eternal relationship.” –Ray Stedman

The doctrine of ‘eternal Sonship’ simply affirms that the second Person of the triune Godhead has eternally existed as the Son. In other words, there was never a time when He was not the Son of God, and there has always been a Father/Son relationship within the Godhead. This doctrine recognizes that the idea of Sonship is not merely a title or role that Christ assumed at some specific point in history, but that it is the essential identity of the second Person of the Godhead. According to this doctrine, Christ is and always has been the Son of God.” –

“I am now convinced that the title ‘Son of God’ when applied to Christ in Scripture always speaks of His essential deity and absolute equality with God… So when Jesus was called ‘Son of God,’ it was understood categorically by all as a title of deity, making Him equal with God and (more significantly) of the same essence as the Father. That is precisely why the Jewish leaders regarded the title ‘Son of God’ as high blasphemy. If Jesus' sonship signifies His deity and utter equality with the Father, it cannot be a title that pertains only to His incarnation. In fact, the main gist of what is meant by ‘sonship’ (and certainly this would include Jesus' divine essence) must pertain to the eternal attributes of Christ, not merely the humanity He assumed…” –John MacArthur

Verse 14b: “…as Savior of the world.”

1 John 2:1,2, “And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.”

Notice he doesn’t say that he came to save the world. He came as the “Savior of the world,” the whole world could be saved if they would only believe. But as the Scriptures make abundantly clear, it is only those who believe that are saved. So His blood is sufficient for the whole world, but efficient only for those who come to Him for salvation.

John 3:16, “…whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

To the Philippian jailor, Paul says, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved…” (Acts 16:31).

Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.”

“So, though He came to be the Savior of the world, in the sense of providing a redemption adequate for everyone, everywhere, it is only to those who lay hold of it by faith in His word, and make it personal in their lives, that it becomes experiential and evidential. Now, John says, this that happened to the apostles will happen to you, if you believe.”-Ray Stedman

Verse 15: “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.”

What is John saying? If we confess as the apostles did, that Jesus Christ is the eternal Son of God, our Savior, where did that idea come from? You didn’t come up with that idea on your own. It came from the Spirit of God who moved in when you accepted Christ. This is evidence that God “abides,” has taken up permanent residence, making Himself at home in our lives. So your confession is given to us by God Himself, through His Spirit.

Matthew 16:15-17, “He (Jesus) said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter answered and said, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.’”

Verse 16: “And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.”

John now reiterates his earlier thesis that “God is love.” We can say that God's nature is love, that God's actions are loving, that God repeatedly demonstrates love for us and others, that God loved even a hostile world and that God sent Jesus to die for us to prove His love. Human love derives its character and shape from the standard of divine love.

“How far is this true of all of you? How many here can join with the beloved apostle, and say, ‘We have known and believed the love that God hath to us?’ We know it; we have felt it; we are under its power. We know it still, it remains a matter of faith to us; we believe it. We have a double hold of it. ‘We know,’ we are not agnostics. ‘We believe,’ we are not unbelievers.”–C.H. Spurgeon

Johnny Lee wrote “Lookin’ for love”

Well, I spent a lifetime lookin' for you!

Single bars and good time lovers were never true.

Playin' a fool's game, hopin' to win,

And tellin' those sweet lies and losin' again.

Many people in this world are looking for love that can only be found in God. They look for love in relationships, material things, drugs and alcohol, success, popularity and religion, but all fail to satisfy our need for love.

A certain medieval monk announced he would be preaching next Sunday evening on "The Love of God." As the shadows fell and the light ceased to come in through the cathedral windows, the congregation gathered. In the darkness of the altar, the monk lighted a candle and carried it to the crucifix. First of all, he illumined the crown of thorns, next, the two wounded hands, then the marks of the spear wound. In the hush that fell, he blew out the candle and left the chancel. There was nothing else to say.

People who have given up on love probably agree with the words to the song “Lemon Tree” by the folk group Peter, Paul, and Mary:

“Don’t put your faith in love,my boy,” my father said to me,

“I fear you’ll find that love is like the lovely lemon tree.”

Lemon tree very pretty and the lemon flower is sweet

But the fruit of the poor lemonis impossible to eat.

Many people feel that way. “Love is bitter,” they say, because they’ve been used or abused. But there is a love that is sweet: “God is love”

**NOTE: Unless otherwise noted, the New King James Version of the Bible was used. Also The New Living Translation (NLT); The New American Standard Bible (NASB); The Message (MSG); The New Century Version (NCV); The Amplified Bible (AMP); The King James Version (KJV), The New Life Version (NLV); English Standard Version (ESV); J.B. Phillips New Testament; Easy to Read Version (ERV); Common English bible (CEB); NET Bible (NET) and The Living Bible (TLB).**

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