Why Does John Say “No One Has Ever Seen God?” – 1 John 4:12

One of my problems is that I often read Scripture too fast. In doing so I miss subtleties in the flow of a passage. Yesterday we received in a new book from B&H Books called Cross edited by John Piper and David Mathis.  Contributors include John Piper, Thabiti Anyabwile, Kevin, DeYoung, Matt Chandler, David Platt, and D.A. Carson. I started reading Carson’s chapter on “The Church as the Means and Goal of Missions” and enjoyed the following section.

“Notice how verse 12 [1 John 4:12] is transitional: ‘No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.’ What does the first clause contribute to the argument? ‘No one has ever seen God.’ Suppose we were to remove those words: what would be lost? Why don’t we read, more simply: ‘Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another’ (v. 11). And ‘if we love one another, God lives in us’ (v. 12). What is verse 12 adding?”

“John reminds his readers that we human beings–broken, fallen, sinful, sin-cursed human beings–cannot gaze on God and live. . . . Veiled in flesh the Godhead see; Hail the incarnate Deity. Pleased as man with men to dwell–Jesus our Emanuel. That’s as close as human beings are going to come to seeing God until the end of the age when Christ himself is revealed in the matchless glory of the noonday sun the time when his blood-bought people have so been transformed that they will be able to gaze on him who sits on the throne, and the Lamb, and be intoxicated by the unshielded glory.”

“How, then, shall people see God today? Verse 12 insists, ‘No one has ever seen God.’ No one. But then John adds, ‘but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us’ (1 John 4:12). In other words, in some measure we Christians are displaying him. After all, did not Jesus himself say: ‘By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another’ (John 13:35)? Do you see? The revelation of God in the church, not least in our love, is the way God discloses himself to a watching world. The church is God’s means of mission.” (pp. 164-66)

John Piper is pastor for preaching and vision at Bethlehem Baptist Church in the Twin Cities of Minnesota. He is the best-selling author of more than 40 books including Don’t Waste Your Life and Desiring God.

David Mathis is executive editor of desiringGod.org and an elder at Cities Church, Minneapolis. He is the author, editor, or contributor to several books, including Finish the Mission and How to Stay Christian in Seminary.

Cross is a hardcover book with 224 pages and sells for $22.99.



About Louis

I am a 1997 graduate of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
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