God is Loving
Week of June 8, 2014
Bible Verses:† 1 John 4:7-12.
The Point:† Godís love empowers me to love.
Love is from God: †1 John 4:7-8.
† Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. † Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.
[7-8]† ďThe last three words of verse 8 form one of the most profound statements of the whole Bible and perhaps for many people today one of the hardest to believe: God is love. When we think of this small planet set in the vast infinity of space, our own lives as just moments in the onward surge of time, and our individuality among countless millions, can we really talk meaningfully about God loving us? And when we look at the world with all its evil and suffering, so many damaged and broken lives, how can there be a God who really loves? Yet, John insists, this is the very nature of God. And if we are not to empty the word God of all its meaning, we must realize that such an infinite yet personal Creator is not too great to be bothered with my tiny life. He is so great that He can be bothered with each of us individually. John, in the verses before this passage, has described the splendor of the Godís magnificent provision for His children in the revolutionary difference of their attitudes and actions when compared with those of the world. We can marvel at His detailed love and care for each one of us, accepting us in our weakness and producing confidence in our lives as we reflect His love. But now the magnificence becomes overwhelming as the throne-room doors are flung open and we are introduced to the glorious person who has done all this Ė the God who is love. Everything else in the splendor of these verses circles around this one supreme reality: God is love. John is not identifying a quality which God possesses; he is making a statement about the essence of Godís being. It is not simply that God loves, but that He is love. We are helped to understand this when we remember that God is revealed in Scripture as the holy Trinity, three persons in one God. We shall never be able to comprehend the full meaning of this with our finite minds, but at least we can grasp that at the heart of the deity there is a dynamic inter-relationship of love. Love flows between the three persons in a constant interaction, so that every activity expresses the love which is the divine nature. The Father loves the Son; the Son loves the Father; the Spirit loves the Son, and so on. This is not just a static description, but a living, active dynamism. God loves, within His own being, because His nature is to love. Therefore, to imagine that God does not love us is to deny His true nature, to repudiate His character. It is to distort the free grace of God into something much less worthy, a conditional love that depends on the attractiveness or worthiness of the object for it to be exercised. Divine love is utterly different. It cannot be earned; it cannot be deserved. God loves us because that is His nature. This helps us to understand more clearly what John means when he affirms in verse 7 that love is from God. He is as much its source as He is the source of all true light [1:5]. This will underline why love for one another stands along with belief in Christ as the main criterion for proving that we have a true knowledge of God. It also helps us to interpret the second part of verse 7, whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Clearly John is not teaching that every manifestation of human love is a sign of genuine spiritual life. While agreeing that the capacity to love is part of what is meant when we speak of man being made in the image of God, and that loving human relationships among non-Christian people are part of Godís common grace, we must not confuse this will being born of God and knowing God. There is no doubt that in verse 7 John is talking about Christian love for the brotherhood. The definite article before love in the Greek here particularizes that special quality of divine love which ought to characterize Christian fellowship. It is love for our fellow believers that John puts forward as irrefutable evidence of the new birth. Its absence, whatever a personís pretensions may be, indicates that he has no true personal knowledge of God . John is also aware, however, that the word love needs definition and clarification, and so he focuses on two great evidences, in which the love of God can be both seen and communicated.Ē †[Jackman, pp. 117-119]
The Manifestation of Godís Love: †1 John 4:9-10.
† In 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. † In 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.† [ESV]
[9-10]† ďVerses 9 and 10 are packed full of meaning as John elaborates his second great theme. Since God is love, all our definitions of what love is and how it behaves must be drawn from Him if they are to accord with reality. This also helps to elaborate and explain the quality of love, to which John has been referring in the previous two verses. The love which is the proof of a true relationship with God is a love which is manifested in actions for the benefit of others, even to the point of self-sacrifice. To understand that love we have to understand the heart of God Himself. We have seen that the action of Jesus in laying down His life for His people is the perfect demonstration of divine love [3:16]. Now, as John returns to the theme of the cross again, he begins by looking at its meaning from Godsí viewpoint. In this the love of God was made manifest among us. The verb, manifest, was used back at the start of the letter [1:2] to describe the coming of Christ, the life, into the world. Here the death of Jesus is seen as the public appearance of Godís love for His people. Let us also note at this point the important clause in verse 10, not that we have loved God. There is no reciprocation by God, meeting a person halfway because he has shown some desire to be right with his master. The initiative is entirely Godís. He decided to manifest His love to those who do not love Him and who do not want to love Him, to enemies and rebels armed to the teeth against Him, to a world of lost sinners. Let us acknowledge once and for all that if it were not for the fact that God is love, we would have no expectation of mercy or forgiveness, no hope and no future. The initiative in the work of manís salvation belongs entirely to the God of love. From verses 9 and 10 we can build up the full picture John wants to give us of this loving God in action. God sent his only Son into the world. To increase the emphasis on the amazing fact that God should bother with human beings, the word God is repeated over and over again in this passage. It was amazing that God should send a Son, but to send His one and only Son is a measure of the enormity of this love. We have here the idea of a Son who is specially precious and greatly loved because He is the only one. God had only one Son, and He was sent into a hostile environment, into a rebel world, on a rescue mission to redeem us and reconcile us to God. This is love. But there is more, for the precious, only Son was sent to be the propitiation for our sins. The thought of propitiation (or atoning sacrifice) is that the substance of the case presented for our defense by our advocate is that He Himself is the sacrifice that atones for our guilt. The Lord Jesus offered Himself on the cross as the means by which punishment is changed to forgiveness and wrath to mercy. Love finds the means by which just and righteous wrath can be satisfied and so turned away, in order that forgiveness may be offered and reconciliation achieved. The only way was at infinite cost to the One who loves. The depth of Godís love is to be seen precisely in the way in which it bears the wounds inflicted on it by mankind and offers full and free pardon. It is no help to our understanding to pretend that a loving God would not require an atoning sacrifice, because He would not punish sin. This would be to destroy the truth that God is light and to remove all grounds of morality. The nobler, biblical way is to magnify the love of God by seeing at what tremendous cost the atonement was made, and therefore of what amazing length, devotion and scope this love is capable. It also underlines the fact that only those who have been ransomed by that love know its full extent. Finally, let us grasp a further truth about what the death of Christ accomplished. He died for our sins. It was because of our sins that Jesus died, for He had none of His own. In that death He dealt with them, because He paid the penalty of separation from the heavenly Father, which we deserve. Our sins are therefore forgiven and removed because of the cross, the consequence being that we might live through him. So the ultimate purpose of this sending and commissioning was that we might receive eternal life in the place of certain death. It is only through Jesus that such life can come to us. He is the personal mediator who pleads for us at the Fatherís throne. He is the source and the channel of spiritual, eternal life. Not only are the rebels pardoned; they are made sons. This is love. Its source is in God; it is manifest in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ; its purpose is the blessing of a multitude of lives, made right with God, through the death of His Son.Ē† [Jackman, pp. 119-121]
The Necessity of Loving One Another:† 1 John 4:11-12.
† Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. † No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. [ESV]
[11-12]† ďVerse 11 calls not so much for comment as for grateful obedient implementation. Repeating the exhortation of verse 7 with which the section begins, let us love one another, John has now immensely strengthened his case and his readersí motivation. Note the little adverb so in the phrase if God so loved us. This takes us back to all the details of the preceding verses, and is intended as a further refutation of the heretics. The one who suffered was the eternal, unique Son of the Father. It was His blood that flowed for our forgiveness. And those who have been forgiven will demonstrate this revolutionary change at the heart of their life by a new love for one another. Godís love supplies both the reason and the resources. If we are truly His children we shall want to be like our Father. But there is also a dimension of obligation in the verb. This is not just an extra ingredient that we might add to our discipleship if we feel especially moved to do so. We owe it to the loving Father not to slander His name any further by denying His love in our human relationships. If we have been cleansed through Christís blood, our new lives must be clean, like His, as we mix with others in Godís family. If we have appreciated something of the infinite price paid for our redemption, then we shall see at once how vital it is that we do not continue to indulge ourselves in sin. There is a new constraint within us that longs to live differently [Rom. 5:5]. So the Christian church should be a community of love, unlike any other human society. This is the thought to which John moves us in verse 12, where the love between Christians is explicitly stated to reveal the love of God. It is an integral part of the witness of the church in the world to the reality of the gospel and the love of her Lord. No one has ever seen God is a statement almost exactly paralleled by John in the prologue to the gospel [John 1:18]. There it is the incarnation of Jesus which is thought of as the visible manifestation of the invisible God. Here it is the love between Christians. That in itself should make us stop and think about how important this responsibility is. If the church is the body of Christ on earth, then she must reflect His character in her relationships and inner life. The supernatural love of God for sinners like us has often been made more credible when unbelievers have seen it reflected in the lives of His children. Love is the hallmark, the family characteristic. People should be able to see Christís love in our fellowships. Christís physical presence is no longer with us in this world, but if people want to see Jesus, they should be able to meet Him in the churches. They should encounter His love in the love we Christians have for one another. Only then does Godís love take its fullest effect in our lives. As we love one another, the life of God is manifest in us and continues to grow. It is also true that as we experience more of the indwelling life of God the Holy Spirit within us, we shall love our fellow believers more fervently and more practically than ever before. So Godís love finds its completion by creating in us that same kind of self-giving love as His. It is a love that will send us into the world, as it sent His one and only Son. It is a love that the hard-nosed cynicism of our society desperately needs to see, because it is the nearest many people will ever get to seeing the invisible God. The responsibility belongs to Godís forgiven people. People should be able to look at a Christian fellowship and see the God of love within His people. That is the goal Godís love is working for, and for us to be content with anything less is to deny the gospel. If we know that God really loves us, let us allow that love to flow into and overflow from our lives.Ē †[Jackman, pp. 122-123]
Questions for Discussion:
1.†††††††† In verse 7, John instructs all believers to love one another. What are the three reasons John gives in verses 7-8 why believers should obey this command? Why does John connect love with knowing God? Define love based upon verses 7 and 8.
2.†††††††† How does John add to our understanding of Godís love in verses 9-10? Why did God send His Son? What does propitiation mean? Add to your definition of love from verses 7-8.
3.†††††††† In verse 11, John returns to the command he gave in verse 7. Note the ďif Ö thenĒ logic. If God so loved us, (then) we should love one another. Godís love supplies both the reason and the resources for us to obey the command. In verse 12, John adds one additional reason for loving one another. What is it? According to John in this passage Godís love is manifested in the world in two ways: His sending of His Son and in His children showing His love to each other. Pray that Godís love will be manifested in your local church by the way that you love one another.
The Message of Johnís Letters, David Jackman, Inter Varsity.
The Letters of John, Colin Kruse, Eerdmans.
1-3 John, Robert Yarbrough, BENT, Baker.