Post Series on 1 John 4:7-21:
- If God So Loved Us, We Also Ought to Love One Another (1 John 4:7-12)
- Whoever Abides in Love Abides in God, and God Abides in Him (1 John 4:13-16)
- But Perfect Love Casts Out Fear (1 John 4:17-21)
In the letter we call 1 John, the Apostle has spoken at length on three subjects:
- Our sinfulness, which has infinitely alienated us from our God who is light, and in whom there is no darkness whatsoever.
- Our salvation, which was purchased by Christ Jesus who is the eternal Son of God, yet who became human and submitted to death in order to propitiate (that is, to appease) the Father’s wrath against our sinfulness.
- Our love for one another, which is the litmus test for the genuineness of our faith and our salvation.
In 1 John 4:7-21, John brings all of these themes together in order specifically to press home the third subject as the application of the first two subjects in this list: since we are sinners saved by grace, we ought to love one another. He doesn’t mince words, either:
4:7Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9In 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. 10In 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. 11Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.
John wants believers to love one another, and he lists three major reasons why those who claim to be Christians must love one another. This is not optional because, as John explains, love is at the core of what it means to be a Christian.
First, John explains that we should love because God is 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.” What is important to note is that John is not crediting God as the source of all love for all peoples, but the source of a particular love for a particular people.
The Greek here is very specific–John is not writing about love in the abstract, but specifically about the love:
The first fact is that “this love is from God.” Note the article. When our versions translate “love is of God,” this is not exact….Only “the love,” the one that John urges, the one of one Christian toward another, is from God. (R.C.H. Lenski, The interpretation of the Epistles of St. Peter, St. John and St. Jude [Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1966], 495.)
God is the source of a very particular love: namely, this is the love of one Christian for another. The world cannot emulate this love because the world hates the brethren just as Cain hated his brother Abel, as John described in 1 John 3:11-15.
Yes, God loves the world. Yes, God sends his rain on the just and the unjust alike. Nevertheless, God bears a special love for his people, and he calls us to love one another in a manner that reflects his special love for his people. Paul makes a similar statement in Galatians 6:10: “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” This doesn’t lower the bar for the way in which we are to love the world; it simply raises the bar for the way in which we are to love our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.
Second, John warns us that failing to love is incompatible with knowing God, because in fact God is love. In other words, we need to see that God’s fundamental identity is so wrapped up in his love, that he himself defines love, rather than being defined by some abstract idea of love outside of himself. God determines the meaning of love because he is love.
But we should be careful not to fall into the mistakes of our culture, which cherishes the idea of a loving God because they think it authorizes anything they pursue in the name of “love.” C. S. Lewis gives one of my favorite definitions of “a loving God”:
You asked for a loving God: you have one. The great spirit you so lightly invoked, the “lord of terrible aspect,” is present: not a senile benevolence that drowsily wishes you to be happy in your own way, not the cold philanthropy of a conscientious magistrate, nor the care of a host who feels responsible for the comfort of his guests, but the consuming fire Himself, the Love that made the worlds, persistent as the artist’s love for his work and despotic as a man’s love for a dog, provident and venerable as a father’s love for a child, jealous, inexorable, exacting as love between the sexes. (The Problem of Pain)
The point that Lewis brings out here is that God’s love lays a claim on our lives–if indeed we have been claimed by God’s love! He cannot leave us as loveless, selfish, cold creatures because he would be unloving to do so. God’s love for us will without fail conform us to his own image–and one of his defining characteristics is that God is love.
Finally, John describes how God demonstrated his love to the greatest possible degree by sending his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Many people do not like the idea that God is our enemy because we are sinful; however, the gospel is not genuinely good news unless it frees us from something fearful–and there could be nothing more fearful than to fall into the hands of the living, holy God.
Justice forms the backdrop of Christ’s propitiation on the cross for our sins in order that the precious jewels of God’s love for us might sparkle more radiantly. The gospel is that God’s love overcame his justice (which could not be merely set aside) to save us.
And so beloved, if God so loved us–as the source of love, as Love Himself, and as the ultimate Lover who pursued us to the cross–then we also ought to love on another. To require love is not a burden that God lays on us, but merely the outworking of his own love for us.