Summary: 1) Perfect Love & the Character of God (1 Jn. 4:7–8), 2) Perfect Love & the Coming of Christ (1 Jn. 4:9–11), 3) Perfect Love & the Christian’s Claim of Faith (1 Jn. 4:12–16), 4) Perfect Love & the Christian’s Confidence in Judgment (1 Jn. 4:17-21).
In scientific experimentation, a Litmus Test is a test to establish the acidity or alkalinity of a mixture. The phrase has also been applied metaphorically to represent a crucial test using a single issue or factor as the basis for judgment. (Random House Kernerman Webster's College Dictionary, © 2010 K Dictionaries Ltd. Copyright 2005, 1997, 1991 by Random House, Inc. All rights reserved.)
Throughout the scriptures, love is presented as a litmus test of one’s relationship to God. It is a love that does not derive from mystical experience or attach to emotional sentimentality, but that originates in salvation (cf. Rom. 8:28–30) and demonstrates itself in the good works of sanctification (cf. Eph. 2:10; Heb. 10:24). The fullest expression of it occurs when believers obey the Lord: “Whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected” (1 John 2:5; cf. 5:3). But our understanding of doing this starts with God’s nature.
When we look at the world with all its evil and suffering, so many damaged and broken lives, how can there be a God who really loves? Yet, John insists, this is the very nature of God…Amazing enough, He is so great that he can be bothered with each of us individually (Jackman, D. (1988). The message of John’s letters: living in the love of God (p. 117). Leicester, England; Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.).
The Apostle John first presented love in 1 John 2:7–11 as a proof of true fellowship. Then in 1 John 3:10–17 John discussed love as evidence of believers’ sonship. Now here in 1 John 4:7-21, this third discussion of love is an example of John’s cycling back through the letter’s moral and doctrinal proofs of salvation, each time providing his readers with greater depth and breadth. He shows love reflected in 1) The character of God (1 John 4:7–8), 2) The coming of Christ (1 John 4:9–11), 3) The Christian’s claim of faith (1 John 4:12–16), and 4) The Christian’s confidence in judgment (1 John 4:17–21).
1) Perfect Love and the Character of God (1 John 4:7–8)
1 John 4:7–8 7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. (ESV)
John addressed his audience as beloved (agapētoi, “[divinely] loved ones”) (cf. 2:7; 3:2, 21; 4:1, 11) whom he urged to love one another. Again, unlike emotional, physical, or friendship love, agapē (love) is the love of self-sacrificing service (Phil. 2:2–5; Col. 3:12–14; cf. Rom. 14:19; 1 Cor. 10:23–24; 13:4–7), the love granted to someone who needs to be loved (Heb. 6:10; 1 Peter 2:17; cf. Rom. 12:15), not necessarily to someone who is attractive or lovable. “Godly love is the willingness to inconvenience yourself to bring benefit to somebody else.” Christian families and fellowships are full of examples of the Spirit at work in people’s hearts (Jeske, M. A. (2002). James, Peter, John, Jude (p. 256). Milwaukee, WI: Northwestern Pub. House.)