ITíS ALL ABOUT LOVE
Week of March 16, 2008
Bible Verses:† John 3:16; 1 John 3:16-20; 4:15-18; 5:2-5.
Biblical Truth: God loves every person because His nature is to love, and He expects all who know Him through faith in Jesus to show sacrificial love for others.
God Loves You: John 3:16.
† For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.†††† [NASU]
God loved the world. This is the first use of the Greek verb ďagapeĒ for love in the gospel of John, a verb that he is to use 36 times. It is a distinctively Christian idea that Godís love is wide enough to embrace all mankind. His love is not confined to any national group or any spiritual elite. It is a love which proceeds from the fact that He is love. It is His nature to love. He loves the world because He is the kind of God He is. John tells us that Godís love is shown in the gift of His Son. In typical Johannine fashion gave is used in two senses. God gave the Son by sending Him into the world, but God also gave the Son on the cross. Notice that the cross is not said to show us the love of the Son, but that of the Father. The atonement proceeds from the loving heart of God. His love is not a vaguely sentimental feeling, but a love that costs. God gave what was most dear to Him. Believes in Him means to trust the person of the Son. It is to believe in Him as He is. It is to believe that God is the God we see revealed in the Word and to put our trust in that God. This is more than simple credence. It is not believing simply that what He says is true, but trusting Him as a person. As we look at how John uses ďbelieving in HimĒ throughout his gospel, we discover that Johnís idea is not unlike that of Paul when he speaks of believers as being ďinĒ Christ. Faith, for John, is an activity which takes people right out of themselves and makes them one with Christ. It stresses the attitude of trustful reliance on God. The death of the Son is viewed first of all in its revelatory aspect. It shows us the love of the Father. Then its purpose is brought out, both positively and negatively. Those who believe on Him do not perish. Neither here not anywhere else in the New Testament is the dreadful reality behind this word perish fully brought out. But in all its parts there is the recognition that there is such a reality awaiting the finally impenitent. Believers are rescued from this only by the death of the Son. Because of this they have eternal life. John sets perishing and life starkly over against one another. He knows no other final state.
Godís Love Is in You: 1 John 3:16-20.
† We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. † But whoever has the worldís goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? † Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth. † We will know by this that we are of the truth, and will assure our heart before Him † in whatever our heart condemns us; for God is greater than our heart and knows all things.†††† [NASU]
[16-18]† John is continuing his exposition of how Christians may know that eternal life is theirs. Verse 14 sums up this paragraph with its assertion that brotherly love is an indispensable mark of genuine Christianity. Faith and love belong together throughout the New Testament. For Paul they are the essential evidence of genuineness, in which he frequently rejoices as he contemplates the churches to which he writes. For Johnís part, his concern is to explore and develop what brotherly love means in practice. He does this by continuing to draw contrasting pictures. Verse 16 depicts the representative action of a child of God, seen in the person of the beloved Son. If hatred ultimately reveals itself in murder, love, taken to its conclusion, reveals itself in sacrifice. Love does not destroy anotherís life, whether in thought or deed. Love gives its own life so that another may live. He laid down His life for us demonstrates Godís definition of love. It is not mere sentiment or emotion, not simply words, but deeds. And the deeds are not empty gestures; they actively transform the situation. Jesus laid down His life as a ransom price, so that we might be set free. And when we have been liberated, what then? We ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. This does not mean that a Christian can die for his brother or sister in the sense that Jesus did, in order to purchase forgiveness. His death was unique, and was totally sufficient for every sinnerís forgiveness and every captiveís release. But if love like that really wins our hearts and brings us to repent and to trust our lives to Christ, we shall want to express that same quality of love in our devotion to our fellow Christians. It is a love that gives without counting the cost, without any thought of return, without first weighing up whether or not such love is deserved, a love that is entirely without self-interest. And this love is the mark of a faith that is real. What we need to grasp is that love like this is always available from Christ, who is its only source. We do not have to look into our poverty-stricken selves to generate a love like that. The more we are open to receive it, the more Christís love will flood into our lives and overflow to others. We may never be called upon to risk our lives for another Christian, but what about the comparatively minor opportunities we do have for showing love? If we ignore them, how can we believe that our love for God is genuine? After all, this is where it really counts. Every time we come across a genuine case of a Christian in need, our love for God is tested. So John exhorts us not to be loving with the empty evidence of words, but with the genuine evidence of actions. It is love in deed and truth that is expected from a child of God, not the kind of pious talk that devalues the currency of heavenly love because it is unmatched by corresponding action.
[19-20]† John began this section [2:29-4:6] by addressing the question ĎHow may we be confident and unashamed at Christís coming?í The answer expressed in the phrases abide in Him and practice righteousness [2:29; 3:7,10] is tested by our love for our brothers. Now John addresses the question of assurance, our confidence before God. How may we know that we are of the truth  and how do we deal with our own condemning hearts [20-21]? The passage itself is complex in the Greek and allows several translations and interpretations. Probably the preferable interpretation is to understand this in verse 19 to not only point backward to 3:14ff but also forward to verse 20b. The meaning would be as follows: There are two ways we know that we belong to the truth: First, because we love in deed; second, God Himself assures us that we belong to the truth. He is greater than our heart and knows all things. What is stressed is agape love, which is always expressed first in deeds and is reassuring evidence that we are of God. Why our hearts should condemn us is not discussed by the author. Apparently it is not important. His readers, like all others, know how easily the conscience can render us ineffective. Doubt, guilt, and failure are never far from any of us. Sometimes our misgivings are the result of our own actions or inactions. Sometimes it is the ďaccuserĒ who seizes our weaknesses and shortcomings and so elevates them that we wonder whether we can really be in the truth. What then can we do? We can remember that God understands everything. His word and His truth are greater than our feelings or our conscience. We may rest ourselves in His love for us and live in that love and by that love. We will not excuse ourselves of any sin, but neither will we needlessly accuse ourselves.
Godís Love Removes Your Fears: 1 John 4:15-18.
† Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. † We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. † By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world. † There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involved punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.†††† [NASU]
† Here again we recognize Johnís blend of truth and love, as we put this verse alongside verse 12. The emphasis this time is on the outward confession of the inner conviction. Only by faith in Jesus as the Son of God can an individual be joined to God in fellowship. Our relationship with God therefore depends upon an historical incarnation, namely that Jesus is the Son of God. Clearly, John means more by confesses than simple intellectual acceptance of a fact of history; but today we have to stress that neither is it any less than that. Saving faith depends not just on a general warmth and positive feeling towards Christ. It depends on a doctrinal confession concerning the person of Christ, on which the whole of our experience of God actually depends. And further, the mark of that reality is a life which expresses personal faith in Christ as God, by obedience to His commands and growth like Him in character. Neither of the two strands of truth and love is optional. They cannot be separated. This was why the creeds were formulated. The church knew that its members must be instructed and encouraged in right believing, which is not a matter of the mind alone, but a commitment of the will and the heart. We need to remind ourselves of that in a day when creeds or doctrinal bases are all too often dismissed as unacceptably restrictive and inhibiting. Any personal relationship we may claim to have with God has to be rooted in His revealed truth if it is to be assessed as genuine and not just wishful thinking.
† Theological knowledge and doctrinal convictions are proved by living experience, and deepened by it too. Because our experience of Godís love is grounded in His unchanging character (God is love), as we live in a daily relationship of trust and obedience with Him, we are constantly in touch with that divine love and learn to rely on it more and more. A couple who have been happily married for some years often have such extensive areas of agreement and mutual understanding that each can tell what the other is thinking without any words being spoken. That sort of intimacy with God is possible only if we rely on His love and live in Him. If we would think His thoughts, we must give ourselves to the study of His Word. If we would experience more of His love, we must rely on Him more thoroughly. Sometimes we go through trials and testings for that very reason, because the God who loves us wants us to rely on Him more completely or to trust Him more fully. He allows such experiences to refine and strengthen our trust and to increase our appetite for Him.
† Godís love is always looking for and working towards completeness. Because He is perfection Himself, how can our loving Father be satisfied with anything less for His children? In verse 12 Johnís emphasis was on Godís love being seen in the love Christians have for one another, whereas here the perspective is forward-looking, to the purpose of this work in its completion, which is confidence in the day of judgment. The thought that ties the two verses together is that the more we grow to be like Jesus, the more Godís love is perfected in our lives. Even though we are on earth and He is in heaven, in His grace and love God has given us the privilege of sharing some foretastes of that inheritance which will be fully ours only when we see Him.
† Fear and love are mutually exclusive. If we are afraid that God is going to punish us, we cannot yet be aware of the fullness of His everlasting love. But the God who is love wants His children to have confidence. We can have complete confidence in Jesus, Godís Son. Because He shed His blood for our forgiveness, we can call God ĎFatherí, and know that we are fully accepted for the sake of His beloved Son [3:1-2]. Punishment is quite foreign to someone who is forgiven and loved. When we are in Christ, we are as He is. Does the Lord Jesus cringe in terror before the Father? Of course not. Then, humbly but sincerely, we may share His boldness, His confidence and freedom of speech. He has loved us with an everlasting love which will never let us down and never let us go. If we are always afraid of what the Father may do to us, we do not really love Him, and if we do not love Him it is because we do not really believe that He loves us.
Godís Love Moves You to Obey: 1 John 5:2-5.
† By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments. † For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome. † For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world Ė our faith. † Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? †††††[NASU]
John applies three tests to the professing Christian: faith, love and obedience. The words believe and faith occur in verses 1, 4 and 5; love in verses 1, 2 and 3; and obey or keep His commandments in verses 2 and 3. What John is at pains to show is the essential unity of his threefold thesis. He shows that they are so closely woven together into a single, coherent fabric that it is difficult to unpick and disentangle the threads. At the end of chapter four, John connected our love for God with our love for our brother. He now elaborates the essential connection between these two loves and between them and both belief and obedience. The real link between the three tests is seen to be the new birth. Faith, love and obedience are the natural growth which follows a birth from above, just as in 4:13-16 faith and love were shown to be evidences of the mutual indwelling of God and His people.
The new birth, which brings us into believing recognition of the eternal Son, also involves us in a loving relationship with the Father and His other children. A family relationship unites the two loves. Love for God has a second inescapable consequence, namely obedience. If we truly love God, we not only love His children, but also observe His commandments. In verse 3 John goes further. So inexorable is the connection between the two that love for God, which in one sense issues in obedience, in another sense may be identified with it. Love for God is not an emotional experience so much as moral obedience. Love for the brethren expresses itself Ďin deed and in truthí, in sacrificial service [3:17-18]; love for God in keeping His commandments. Jesus said the same thing about the meaning of love for Himself [John 14:15,21]. Nor should we find it difficult to express our love by our obedience, for His commandments are not burdensome. His commandments are the will of an all-wise, all-loving Father who seeks our highest welfare. The reason why we do not find the commandments of God burdensome lies not, however, only in their character. It lies also in ourselves, namely that we have been given the possibility of keeping them through the new birth.
Questions for Discussion:
1.††††††††† What does John 3:16 tell you about God the Father? About His love? About the world? What does it mean to ďbelieve in HimĒ?
2.††††††††† What is the test of love in 1 John 3:16-20? How can we discern genuine from fake love? Explain all the standards for identifying love you find in these verses.
3.††††††††† What is the relationship between truth and love in 1 John 4:15-18? Why is biblical truth necessary in order to have genuine love?
4.††††††††† What are the three tests John applies to the professing Christian in 1 John 5:1-5? What is the link between these three tests? Why are Godís commands not burdensome for those who are born of Him?
The Gospel According to John, Leon Morris, Eerdmans.
The Message of Johnís Letters, David Jackman, Inter-Varsity.
1 John, Glenn Barker, EBC, Zondervan.
The Epistles of John, John Stott, Eerdmans.