1 John 4:12 ESV "No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us."

Does "his love" here refer to:

  1. 1 John 4:9. His love for Jesus, this reaches a teleological end when we experience "we might live through him","the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent" Col 1:18. Here "his love" is the love of tou theou, the Father for His preeminent Son.

  2. 1 John 4:10. His love for us, this reaches a point of perfection when we see how the Father has loved us by sending Jesus "to be the propitiation for our sins".

  3. 1 John 4:12. His love reaches its teleological end neither in his expression of it as in v9, or in our perception of it as in v10 ; [precious though these are] but in 1 John 4:12 "his love" reaches a teleological end in our expression of it "in us" when we "love one another".

  4. 1 John 4 12. "His love" refers only to when he "abides in us".

  5. Another possibility?

5 Answers 5


This NT passage in 1 John 4 (7-12) is a beautiful reflection on love. The words bring to mind a circle of love that begins with God. God is love and the source of love:

  • Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love – vv 7-8

Love cannot be understood or defined by our love for God. Love can only be understood by the revelation of God’s love for us in sending his only Son to atone for our sins:

  • In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. – vv 9-10

We join the circle of love when we receive the love that God gives to us, the love that redeems us, and in turn offer it to one another.

  • Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. – vv 4:11

When we love one another as God loves us, then God abides in us. Though no one has seen God, they can see his love reflected in our love for one another. The “teleological end” is reached when the love we have for one another allows others to “see” God or experience his love through us:

  • No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. – v 12

  • God is love, and the one who remains in love remains in God, and God remains in him. 17 By this, love is perfected with us – vv 16-17

No one has seen God, the way we love God is by keeping his commandment, which is to love one another.

  • We love, because He first loved us. 20 If someone says, “I love God,” and yet he hates his brother or sister, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother and sister whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God must also love his brother and sister. – vv 19-21

We speak of an end, but a circle has no end. In loving one another, the love that flows from God comes back to God and flows forth once more:

  • The one who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and the one who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will reveal Myself to him.” – Jn 14:21

The concept of God being "in us" and we being "in God" or "in Jesus" is frequent in the NT. here is a sample:

  • John 14:20 - On that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you are in Me, and I am in you.
  • John 15:4, 5 - Remain in Me, and I will remain in you. Just as no branch can bear fruit by itself unless it remains in the vine, neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in Me. I am the vine and you are the branches. The one who remains in Me, and I in him, will bear much fruit. For apart from Me you can do nothing.
  • John 17:22, 23 - I have given them the glory You gave Me, so that they may be one as We are one— I in them and You in Me—that they may be perfectly united, so that the world may know that You sent Me and have loved them just as You have loved Me.
  • John 17:26 - And I have made Your name known to them and will continue to make it known, so that the love You have for Me may be in them, and I in them.”
  • Rom 8:9 - You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ.
  • Rom 8:11 - And if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit, who lives in you.
  • 1 Cor 3:16 - Do you not know that you yourselves are God’s temple, and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?
  • 1 Cor 6:19 - Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own;
  • 2 Cor 13:5 - Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Can’t you see for yourselves that Jesus Christ is in you—unless you actually fail the test?
  • Col 1:27 - To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

The NT often expresses this a different way with other abstract concepts as well such as faith, love, the Word, etc. Here is a sample.

  • 2 Tim 1:5 - I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first dwelt in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am convinced is in you as well.
  • 1 John 2:14 - I have written to you, fathers, because you know Him who is from the beginning. I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.
  • 1 John 2:27 - And as for you, the anointing you received from Him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But just as His true and genuine anointing teaches you about all things, so remain in Him as you have been taught.
  • 1 John 2:24 - As for you, let what you have heard from the beginning remain in you. If it does, you will also remain in the Son and in the Father.
  • 2 Cor 8:7 - But just as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness, and in the love we inspired in you—see that you also excel in this grace of giving.
  • John 15:7 - If you remain in Me and My words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.
  • 1 Peter 3:15 - But in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give a defense to everyone who asks you the reason for the hope that is in you. But respond with gentleness and respect,

... and so forth. the Bible also talks about people having demons "in them" - that being demon possessed or "in them" was being controlled by the demon. The same is true of The Holy Spirit, Jesus, the Father, love, God's Word, etc; that which is "in us" controlled us and molds our charater and conduct. Paul observed the same this on the mars Hill in Athens when he said (Acts 17:28)

For in Him we live and move and have our being.

Jesus told His disciples during their final night together (John 13:34, 35)

A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you also must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.”

Back to 1 John 4:12. This verse is consistent with all the others - if Jesus' love abides in us and we in Jesus, then the love we have for on another will be obviously inspired by Jesus. Jesus said something similar in Matt 5:16 -

In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

Lastly, there is the question of what the "love of God" is; is it God's love for us, or, our love for God? I think the force of John's argument here is, if we understand God's love for us, and we respond with a reciprocating love for God, then that will manifest itself as a love for others who will recognize its divine origin - God working through us matures or perfects our love.

The Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary suggests this:

If we love one another, God dwelleth in us—for God is love; and it must have been from Him dwelling in us that we drew the real love we bear to the brethren (1Jo 4:8, 16). John discusses this in 1Jo 4:13-16.

his love—rather, "the love of Him," that is, "to Him" (1Jo 2:5), evinced by our love to His representatives, our brethren.

is perfected in us—John discusses this in 1Jo 4:17-19. Compare 1Jo 2:5, "is perfected," that is, attains its proper maturity.


Love is represented in scriptures as

  • an attribute of God

  • a Christian virtue

In this particular case, it's clearly the first case. According to The New Unger's Bible Dictionary

(...) Love is the highest characteristic of God, the one attribute in which all others harmoniously blend. The love of God is more than kindness or benevolence. The latter may be exercised toward irrational creatures, but love is directed toward rational, personal beings. The eternal love of God has never been without its object, a fact upon which we receive some light from the Scripture revelation of the threefold personality of God (Matt. 3:17; John 15:9; 17:23-26). The gracious love of God to men, even sinful men, is most strongly declared in both the OT and NT (e.g. Ex. 34:6; Isa. 63:9; Jer. 31:3; John 3:16; 1 John 4:10). The love of God underlies all that He has done and is doing, although many facts exist that we cannot reconcile with His love on account of our limited understanding. The highest disclosure and most complete proof of divine love is in redemption (Rom. 5:8; 8:32-39; 1 John 4:9-10). The reality and power of this love are properly apprehended only under the influence of the Holy Spirit. "The love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us" (Rom. 5:5).


In the Cambridge Commentary on 1 John 4:12 it says "The love of God in this Epistle commonly means man's love to Him, not His to man". It then mentions three verses to back this up. They are: 1 John 2:5. 1 John 3:17. 1 John 5:3.

This commentary does not go on to examine them in detail. In each of them we see "the love of God" [he agape tou theou].

Looking at one of these: 1 John 5:3. Is it saying if we love Him we will keep His commandments, or, God in His love for us has granted us that we keep His commandments?

The perfecting of His love occurs in us but that by itself does not prove, I think, whether it is His love for us, or our love for Him.

It appears to me that there is a consistent ambiguity in these verses as if the two possibilities were the two sides of the same coin and they are not independent of each other.

This being so I am not convinced yet by the Cambridge Commentary.


The love of God is explained in chapter 5:

For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous.

(1 John 5:3)

Anytime the Bible is talking about love or love of God it is not talking about a squishy feeling you get inside. It’s talking about the keeping of the Commandments. You cannot give God a hug or a kiss to show him you love him. You show your love by obedience to the commandments. This is the same for a wife. A wife that loves her husband will submit to him.

For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands:

(1 Peter 3:5)

  • Welcome to BHSE! Please make sure you take our tour. Thanks Dec 31, 2020 at 18:11
  • 1
    You need to explain that 1 John 5:3 is what exclusively defines agape love, or whether keeping God's commandments is simply a symptom of that love, else you are suggesting some kind of legalism.
    – Dottard
    Jan 1, 2021 at 10:53

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