4:12 “No one has ever watched God. If we are loving each other, God is staying in us, and His love in us is perfected.”
Verses 12-16 seem to lay special focus on the mutual relationship of the believer with God. The phrase “in us” or “in Him” is repeated no less than 7 times!
I see three conditions laid out for this mutual abiding:
1. “The one who keeps His commands abides in Him and He in Him” (3:24)
2. “The one who abides in love abides in God and God in Him” (4:16)
3. “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him and he in God” (4:15)
The second two flow from the first, for confessing faith and loving others are the fulfillment of the command (3:23).
But the verse starts by saying that no one has ever seen/watched/beheld God. That seems at first incongruous with the message of loving others. “God because of His essential nature, has never been understandingly perceived by any one at any time” (Dana 63).
The word for seen/watched/beheld is “often used of public shows” and connotes viewing “attentively, contemplating” (Thayer). We may not have ever seen God, but God can sure been seen in us! “God’s love finds… tangible expression in the love of His children” (Dana 63). “The fellowship we have with God is invisible… the greatest love we can show to God is to love His image in His servants” (Cotton 446).
We can’t visibly see whether we are mutually abiding with an unseen God, but we can still be assured that He is staying in us because we are giving and accepting love from others.
The construction of the Greek clause “if we love one another” indicates that John expects this to be true, not that he’s not sure whether we’ll be loving or not; for him it’s a given–if you’re a Christian, you are loving! And if we are loving others, God’s love in us is perfected. I have deviated from the standard translations because the Greek word order is “His love in us is perfected” not “His love is perfected in us.”
I think this is more consistent with the other “in us” phrases throughout this passage. Westcott (152) states that the Perfect Paraphrastic form (“is perfected”) “emphasizes the two elements of the thought: ‘the love of God is in us’ [meaning His loving character], and ‘the love of God is in us in its completest form.’It is through man that ‘the love of God’ finds its fulfillment on earth.”
Cotton enumerates what it means to be perfected:
4:13 “In this we know that we are staying in Him and He in us: that He has given out of His Spirit to us.”
This verse parallels 3:24 exactly: we know that we mutually abide with God because of the Spirit which He has given us. Both verses use the same word for “Spirit” and for “has given.” There is an “out” in the Greek text not picked up by the major English translations; it is literally “out of His Spirit He has given to us.”
By Nate Wilson.