March 7, 2021
If I were to ask you, what is the love chapter in the Bible, most of you would probably say…I Corinthians 13. And it is a great chapter on love. Coming in the middle of three chapters on spiritual gifts, Paul says the gifts must be exercised in love, or they are useless – a noisy gong or clanging cymbal. And so, since love is described in such meaningful ways, we often hear the love chapter appropriately read at weddings. You probably have it cross-stitched or engraved in the back of a closet somewhere:
Love is patient,
Love is kind and is not jealous;
Love does not brag and is not arrogant,
Love does not act unbecomingly;
Love does not seek its own, is not provoked
Does not take into account a wrong suffered,
Does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices in the truth;
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never fails.
And some of you get misty-eyed thinking of the chapter, and perhaps your own wedding ceremony. Ahh, true love. Go ahead, reach over and squeeze that special someone’s hand. Indeed, if you’re going for love, it is perhaps the second-most appropriate chapter to be read at your nuptials. Yes, I did say second-most. Did you know there is another chapter of Scripture that mentions love more than the love chapter? That defines love more clearly? You see, while I Corinthians 13 describes love, I John 4 defines it. More, the passage identifies where it comes from.
In fact, let me say something provocative. There is a source of true love that gives love its greatest and purest expression. And without that source, we wouldn’t even know love. We would not truly love. Oh, we might know selfish desire. We might know lust. We might know affection. We might even know a distorted love. But we would not know true love, pure love.
Further, those who know the true character and source of love know love in ways that others cannot. In other words, let me say it clearly: without God in your life, your love is inadequate, substandard, deficient. Some of you are wondering why your marriage is such a mess – it’s because your relationship with God is. Oh, you may have a Hallmark movie love, but it is not all God intended. Believers in Jesus Christ know a love and can express a love that the world of unbelievers can never know, and never express. That is provocative, but I am suggesting that without God, who is love, we cannot experience love the way He intends.
Believers in Jesus know and should express – even in the most intimate relationships – the truest and purest and best and most joy-filled and satisfying love. And so perhaps, just perhaps, our passage in I John 4 should be read more in wedding ceremonies. I would go so far as to say this: if your love – marital, familial, relational – is not based on the principles of I John 4 – it will never be ultimately satisfying. But this isn’t a message about marital love, or is it?
In this passage, which extends from verse 7 to verse 21, the word love is mentioned 29 times – almost twice per verse. In fact, the word love is mentioned more times in this passage than the four Gospels combined. And, I Corinthians 13 is a close second, but nonetheless second. Read it with me – I John 4:7-12.
A major theme of the book of I John is love – he mentions it 46 times – mostly in chapter 4 – fifteen times in the verses we just read. He covers it in chapter 2, then again in chapter 3, starting with, “For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.”
He went on to talk a lot about love – remember? Don’t have Cain-like hatred, have Christ-like love. Don’t take life, give life. This is how we know love – that He laid down His life for us. So, we ought to lay down our lives for each other. And he didn’t necessarily mean literally dying for each other – unless of course that is required. No, he meant living for each other, sacrificing for each other, meeting each other’s needs.
He ended chapter 3 with these words, “This is His commandment, that we believe in His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us.” Then he took a little aside – an important aside – to talk about testing the spirits – the one who has the Spirit of God is the one who confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh. We talked about that last week – the necessity of orthodoxy relating to the person and work of Jesus.
Now, John returns to this topic of love, and it will actually take us to the end of the chapter. But we’ll just look at verses 7-12 today. Remember, John keeps taking us back to those three tests – the theological, which we looked at decidedly last week – Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, come in the flesh to die and be raised for the sins of His people. The moral test: everyone who has been born of God, confessing faith in God through His Son, must seek to obey His commands. If you’re a disciple, be a disciple.
And the first command was the one from the beginning, that we should love one another, the relational test. Yes, he keeps talking about it – remember, it was said that every time John was given the opportunity to speak at the church in Ephesus, he reminded them, Little children, love one another.
So yes, we keep getting it, over and over. Now listen, these are meant to be an encouragement to us. They are not meant to cause us to doubt or wonder. No, we confess faith in Jesus Christ, and as a result, we seek to obey His commands, and love one another – demonstrating that we are followers of Jesus. You don’t have to leave from here wondering whether you are a Christian – you can know you are, John says, by believing, obeying and loving. And in this text, he:
- Identifies the Source of Divine Love (7-8)
- Demonstrates the Actions of Divine Love (9-10)
- Commands the Imitation of Divine Love (11)
- Describes the Perfection of Divine Love (12)
Again, I know we’ve talked a lot about loving one another, but John’s not done. And I’m not sure we’ll ever be done. Starting with the Source of Love in verses 7-8. Beloved, my loved ones, let us love one another – it’s not in the imperative, but it has imperatival force. Let us love one another, for…here’s the reason: love is from God. He is the source of love. If we say we walk in the light, if we say we know God, if we say we are born of God, then we must love like God. Like Father, like son is the idea. If you’re part of the family of God, then bear the family resemblance. Everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. And if you don’t, you don’t.
Because love is from God. In creating us, God made us to know Him, to be loved by Him, to love Him, and love one another. Of course, we rebelled against that – but the remnants of His creative actions are still present. People everywhere still retain the image of God, however marred. And so, people do know love, and want to love and be loved – however limited and selfish and marred that desire may be.
This is a common grace. People can love, however distorted. This is what I meant by, only believers can experience love the way God intended. Everyone else – substandard, deficient love. In fact, we love rightly inasmuch as we love like God, for love is from God. More, God is love. There is a sense in which that is love defined – God is love. You want to know what love is, see the perfect display of love? Look at God. He is the standard of love – He loves, because it is in His nature to love. And those born of Him, find their new nature to be that of love.
Now, we must be careful here. Yes, God is love – and many want to take that statement and make it the sole standard of measure. To reduce God to only this – God is love. How many times have you heard, Christians aren’t very loving if your God is love. You’re awfully judgmental. Further, they redefine love in their terms as accepting everyone and everything. Love is their measure by which we receive and accept and affirm everyone. We just need to be people of love – non-judgmental, fully accepting, affirming – after all, God is love.
And the truth is, many of you want to accept a God of love and grace, but refuse a God of righteousness and truth. Of course, God is loving and gracious, but this is not all the Scripture says of God. There are four times in the NT we are told God is something (predicate nominative) – and I John uses two of them.
Back in chapter 1, we saw God is light, and that was in the context of contrast – light and darkness, obedience and disobedience, righteousness and unrighteousness. Walking in darkness, not obeying His commands. So, to say God is love does not mean everything goes – no, He is also light. Which means God is the measure of all that is true and right and loving. Which also means this – everything that God does is loving – and right, because to be righteous is to be loving.
We also read God is Spirit in John 4, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth. Truth matters, you see. And fourth, we also read, our God is a consuming fire – He will execute righteous judgment against all that is unrighteous and therefore actually, unloving. When we say God is love and God is light – we can say everything God does is loving and in the light – righteous. In other words, to ignore righteousness is not loving. We must hold these truths is balance.
Conversely, everyone who does not love does not know God. He’s said that over and over, too. You cannot claim to be a child of God if you don’t love other children of God. Again, God’s children are people of love. Now, we don’t just confine our love to one another – no, we love people – all people – and want them to believe like we do, and become part of the family. That is how we love them best. Don’t let anyone every tell you that evangelism is unloving, judgmental, proselytizing – no, to leave them in their sin is unloving. But the emphasis in I John is on loving one another. We know there were people who had left, demonstrating a lack of love for one another.
I’ve said this before as well, but let me say it again. You cannot call yourself a Christian if you do not love other Christians. You cannot call yourself a Christian if you do not love the church. You say, well, I can love other Christians, but I don’t have to love the church. You cannot love Christ and have nothing to do with His church. The church is what He came to save and build. I know the church has problems, but it’s what Christ died to save.
You may have church preferences – we all do. But find one that is biblically faithful – large, small, young, old, traditional, contemporary, choirs, worship teams, pianos, organs, drums guitars, suits, jeans, Sunday School, evening services, small groups, soup kitchens, missions, evangelism, serving one another, serving others – find one that is biblically faithful, Christ-exalting, gospel-centered, and serve there. We need each other.
This is a problem in the Bible belt south. I’m currently reading a book titled, The Unsaved Christian, Reaching Cultural Christianity with the Gospel. It is amazing the number of people you talk to around here who say either, yes, I’m a Christian because I go to church, or, yes I’m a Christian but I don’t go to church – both are problematic. You’re not a Christian because you go to church; and you may not be a Christian if you have nothing with the church. I’ll say it this way: if you don’t love other Christians, you are not a Christian.
We fellowship with one another, we serve one another, we worship together because we love one another because we have been born of God. We don’t love one another to be born of God – we love one another because we have been born of God. And to say you are a Christian without being born of God or without loving brothers and sisters through commitment to a local church is a questionable faith – a weak faith at best, and a spurious faith at worst.
I’m deeply concerned. Over 70% of people in the US – more in the Bible Belt South – call themselves Christian. And yet, less than 20% are committed to a church. Further, it is said that if 20% of people who say they are Christians showed up on a given Sunday, our church buildings would not hold them. Do you see what I’m saying? The building is not the church. But our commitment to and love for one another is. And to say you are a Christian and kick the church to the curb is not biblical Christianity.
Let us love one another, for love is from God. How did He demonstrate this divine love? Verses 9-10. They are meant to be parallel. Look at them:
9 By this the love of God was manifested in (or among) us,
that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world
so that we might live through Him.
10 In this is love, (not that we loved God), but that He loved us,
and sent His Son (into the world)
to be the propitiation for our sins.
These are the demonstrations of divine love manifested to us. Namely, God sent His only begotten Son. Your translation may have it, one and only Son, or only unique Son. The idea is, within the Trinity, there is only one Son, eternally begotten of the Father. And this one, unique Son, God sent to the world.
Stop right there. First notice, God sent His Son which strongly implies preexistence. Jesus has eternally existed as God’s only begotten Son. He was not created, there has never been a time when He was not. No, God sent Him to us. Notice, God sent His Son to a world that had rebelled against Him. To a world that would not receive His Son. To a world dead in trespasses and sin. Paul said, God demonstrated His own love for us in this, that while we were still sinners – in rebellion against God – Christ died for us. II Corinthians 8 says it this way:
9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.
In this is love – not that we loved God. Don’t miss that. That means we didn’t do anything to merit His love and attention. His was not a love earned by our love. His was an unrequited love. He did not love us because we loved Him. Quite the contrary. He loved us, and proved it by sending His only begotten Son. For two purposes: First, that we might live through Him – both now, and into eternity. He loved us and sent His Son that we might have eternal life.
And second, that Jesus might be the propitiation for our sins. He said that back in chapter 2. Your translation may have it, the atoning sacrifice for our sins. That’s fine, as long as you understand that by being the sacrifice for our atonement – for the forgiveness of our sins – He made got propitious toward us, favorable toward us and turned away His righteous wrath from us.
That’s what we will celebrate in a few moments in our time of communion together. We were in active rebellion against God, not loving God, but He so loved the world anyway, that He sent His only begotten Son to bear our sins, and through faith in Jesus our sins would be wiped away. That is love.
Which brings us quickly to our third point – the imitation of divine love, verse 11. Beloved, loved ones, if God so loved us, in this incredible way, we also ought to love one another. Many suggest this is the central truth of this teaching of love, this chapter of love – indeed, some suggest it is a central truth of the entire letter. If God so loved us, how can we not love one another?
You say, well, there are certain people – Christians – who are hard to love. Who make it difficult to love them, let alone like them. Don’t you think that is true for every one of us as it relates to a just and righteous and holy God, against whom we rebelled? If God so loved us, unlovable as we are, we ought to love one another. He loved us when His love was undeserved, unearned. We don’t love one another because they are lovely, or they earned it – we love them because God does – and we are His. If God loved us, we ought also to love one another. Let’s stop setting a bar for people to clear. God did not do that for us – when we were dead, unable to jump, He loved us.
Finally, the perfection or completion of divine love in verse 12. This is an interesting verse – one that has caused some challenge. Right in the middle of talking about loving one another, John writes, no one has seen God. This a regular teaching of John, almost the same wording as:
John 1:18 – No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him. Meaning, Jesus has made the invisible God known.
John 5:35 – And the Father who sent Me, He has testified of Me. You have neither heard His voice at any time nor seen His form.
John 6:46 – Not that anyone has seen the Father, except the One who is from God; He has seen the Father.
Paul said the same thing in I Timothy 1:17 – Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever. Amen.
So God is an invisible Spirit, who made Himself known through His Son. Hebrews says Jesus is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature. Philippians says Jesus existed in the form of God. Colossians says He is the image of the invisible God. Jesus came to show us the Father, being one with God.
But now, Jesus is no longer in the world – not in the way He was when He took on human form. So John writes, no one has seed God at any time – but notice, if we love one another, then God abides in us, and His love is perfected or made complete in us. What does that mean? You see, the challenge with the verse is it seems we somehow make God’s imperfect love perfect. Which of course is not true. But that’s a challenge, so some have suggested this love of God is our love for Him – we make our love for Him mature. But that is not the context of what John is talking about – he’s not talking about our love for God, but His for us. So what does he mean when he says, God’s love is perfected or matured or completed in us – by our love for one another?
It means by our love for one another, we put God on display. We make the invisible God known. We make the invisible God visible to those around us, through our love for one another.
This is the purpose of God’s love – that it would be known, and that it would be seen, and that it would be brought to maturity in us as we love one another. John Stott says it this way:
“But here, to our astonishment and confusion, John goes on to say that if we love one another, God lives in us and His love is made complete in us. That is, the unseen God, who once revealed Himself in His Son, now reveals Himself in His people if and when they love one another.”
I close with Stott’s final statement on this passage:
“We are to love each other, first because God is love (8-9), secondly because God loved us (10-11), and thirdly because, if we do love one another, God lives in us and His love is made complete in us (12).”