the one who does not love does not know God for God is love 1 John 4:8 NASB
Not – This is a harsh verse. It may not seem harsh because we are likely to modify its meaning. We want to feel better about our efforts to meet its demands, so we lessen the impact of the verse by acting as though it says, “people who are not kind and generous and don’t care about others – they don’t really know God.” But that isn’t what the verse says. John is very deliberate here. He uses two different words that mean “not.” The first is me. The second is ou. He uses two different words because he wants us to see something very important, something completely obscured in English.
Me means a conditional “not.” It is the “not” that is governed by circumstance. For example, “I may not go to lunch today” is governed by factors that might change my plans. This “not” is used in the first part of the verse - “the one who does not as a result of conditions and circumstance, love (that is, give hesed to another).” The idea is that this person weighs the consequences to determine whether or not circumstances are in his favor before he decides to act on behalf of another.
Then John uses the other word for “not” – ou. This “not” is absolute. It has no qualifications. It means “never the case.” John says that someone who is swayed by conditions in giving love never (under any circumstances of conditions) knew God at all. This is about as strong a statement as you will find. It is simply not possible to say that you know God if your demonstration of love is subject to weighing the conditions. God’s love demonstrates itself by giving no matter what the circumstances and conditions. Period!
Do you feel the incredible tension here? How easy it is for us to want to water this down. We want to say, “Oh, John couldn’t have meant that! Why, I always try to do the best thing. There will always be people that I really don’t like; that’s just the way life is. But I take care of my own. And I give to charity too. Sacrificing myself for everybody? No one does that!”
How sad it is that the church has accommodated to a culture of self-interest. We have to be un-educated. Throughout the Bible, love is demonstrated as sacrifice and undeserved suffering. But putting that into daily practice means becoming a real slave of YHWH, and for many people, that’s just too much to ask. They would rather think that acting good is good enough. I remember Yeshua’s judgment, “I never knew you.” It’s very scary. It uses the same words that John uses.
Topical Index: not, ou, me, hesed, love, 1 John 4:8