So this is the fifth in a series of topical messages from 1 John. The words we have been considering were lust, lies, life, light, and this week, love. Remember that the lust of the eyes, lust of the flesh and the pride of life are entirely inconsistent with the love of the Father. They are what caused our first parents to revolt against the Father. But in order to sustain the revolt, you have to go dwell in the land of lies. And the passport to this land of lies is the necessity of lying to yourself first. But God brings us to life in His Son through the gospel, and this life He gives is not darkness but rather light. We are not brought to life in some fetid swamp, but are rather brought to life in the uplands, with a lot of sky over us. Put it all together, tie it all together, as we hope to do here, and you discover that God has ushered you into His everlasting love.
Everyone agrees that love is a good thing, and nobody on the planet is against it really. The problems arise when we try to define what we mean by it. Some of these definitions vary wildly, and some are even opposites, contrary to one another. The prophet Isaiah pronounced a woe on those who called evil good and good evil (Is. 5:20), and he did this for a reason. The Lord Jesus solemnly warned those who attributed the work of the Holy Spirit to Beelzebub (Matt. 12:31), again for a reason. There are some who are so far gone that they assign epithets to our love for God’s holy law, calling it “hate speech.” But love embraces the law of God, as the apostle Paul argues (Rom. 13:8-10), and this most certainly includes the laws of God that challenge our lusts.
For our purposes here, we understand love to be what Christ reveals His Father to be like (John 14:9), as that love is mediated to us by the Holy Spirit, shed abroad in our hearts, as He ministers the Word to us. “And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us” (Rom. 5:5). But even this must be teased out further. As we consider what 1 John teaches about love, let your prayer be that the Spirit would use the occasion to shed His love abroad in your hearts.
“Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us” (1 John 4:7–12).
Summary of the Text
As believers, we summoned (as in, commanded, or required) to love one another. The reason for this is that love is of God (v. 7). If someone loves, this shows that he is born of God, and that he knows God (v. 7). A person who does not love does not know God (v. 8). It is that simple because God is Himself love (v. 8). God does not have love. God is love. This love of God was manifested toward us when God sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him (v. 9). And notice the echoes of John 3:16 in this verse. Going on, love is defined, not by our love for Him, but rather by His love for us—as marked and measured by propitiation (v. 10). Propitiation means the averting of wrath, and this shows us that the love we are talking about is a love that a holy God shows to a world full of rebels and liars. And if God loved us like that, how much more should we love one another like that (v. 11)? No one has ever seen God—except as God dwells in those who love each other, and so there we are seeing His love grow to perfection in us (v. 12).
God is Love
We have already seen that God is light (1 John 1:5). We see here in two places in 1 John that God is love (1 John 4:8, 16).
We see the principle most clearly with love, but we must understand that God is not separable from His attributes. All that is in God is God. It is not as though a certain percentage of the divine nature is love, another percentage is just, another percentage mercy, and so on. All that is in God is God, and that is in God is holy, holy, holy. We speak of different attributes of God, and look them up under different headings in our Bible dictionaries because of the tiny nature of our little finite minds.
But always keep in mind that God is a personal Lover, a personal Beloved, and personal Love, all three, and this triune God is the one eternal God.
As Finite Creatures Imitate It
Our love for God is of necessity exclusionary because no one can serve two masters. We have already considered what love for the world is, but we must also note what it drives out. “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15). If you have the one, you cannot have the other. If you love the world, you do not love the Father. If you love the Father, you cannot love the world.
And if we see, really see, what the Father has done for us, in calling us His sons, we will come to understand why the world is so bewildered by us.
“Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not”
1 John 3:1 (KJV)
Love is Obedience
When God loved the world, He went and did something (John 3:16; 1 John 4:9). So also, when we love we must act. Love is not mere sentiment. Love is not limited to our feelings. Love is not bounded by our emotions.
“For this is the message that ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another”
1 John 3:11 (KJV)
“By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous”
1 John 5:2-3 (KJV)
Faith in Christ leads inexorably to action. You have heard the advice that you should dance like nobody is watching, which is usually pretty bad advice. But here is something. Love your brothers and sisters as though you were not concerned at all about being accused of being in a cult. What is the main complaint unbelievers have about professing Christians? It is that we are just like everybody else, no different. But what is their complaint when the Holy Spirit moves, and we start loving each other the way 1 John requires? “That’s not normal. They must be a cult.” But cults don’t know love, just intense group idolatry. The world doesn’t know love either, just a broad cosmopolitan range of idols. A cult is a one-dish diner, and the world is a huge cafeteria, but all the entrees rely on sawdust filler.
“And this is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment”
1 John 3:23 (KJV)
Trying to obey an impersonal list of rules is not the way to assurance, but is rather the way to a screaming lack of assurance. Works righteousness and legalism breed either pride or despair—pride when you falsely think you have hit the mark, and despair when you realize you cannot. But the obedience of love is a different thing altogether—it leads straight into assurance.
“We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death”
1 John 3:14 (KJV)
In short, we know because we love. Love is an essential part of our epistemology, answering the question of how we know what we know. Love can know things that selfishness cannot know.
“But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him”
1 John 2:5 (KJV)
In short, if we keep His word about love, His love is perfected in us, and this also leads to assurance.
So Love Is More Than Big Talk
But we must guard against the common problem of those who learn the jargon, and substitute that for the reality. This is the all hat/no cattle problem. All foam/ no beer.
“Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth”
1 John 3:16-18 (KJV)
Stop asking whether your sentiments or feelings are loving, and start asking if your wallet is loving. Is your time volunteered loving? Does grace flow out from you?
Bring It Back Around
So the apostle John tells us an enormous amount about the love of the Father in this very short letter. Remember, the lust of the eyes, lust of the flesh and the pride of life remove you from the love of the Father. This lands you in the midst of a tangled cluster of lies—with you as the principal liar, and with you as the principal dupe. But God brings us to life in His Son through the gospel, and His life is not dark and murky but rather light. Put it all together, and you discover that God has ushered you into His everlasting love.
“And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him. Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love. We love him, because he first loved us. If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also”
1 John 4:16-21 (KJV)
So what does love in your life look like? If it doesn’t look like Jesus Christ, then you are hopelessly lost. And the only way it can look like Jesus Christ in your life is when it is Jesus Christ in your life. Who can do this thing? We cannot. We cannot love our way up to Jesus, and from there move on up to the Father. We cannot. This only happens, and can only happen, when the Father loves His way down to us. But when He loves His way down to us, in Christ, this is what it must look like. John is not here describing the ladder we must climb if we ever want to see Heaven. Rather, he is describing the way in which God down came to us.
If you want the love of the Father in your midst, then you must have the Spirit of Jesus Christ in your midst. He is the love of the Father.