What Is Love? 1 John 4b
1 John 4:7-11
Stephen Caswell © 2001
To Ships: I Love You
Many lonely sailors have been cheered by the flashing signal from Minot’s light off Scituate, Massachusetts. The signal spells I love you in nautical code. Several years ago the Coast Guard decided to replace the old equipment. They announced that for technical reasons the new machines would be unable to flash the I love you message. The public protested, and the Coast Guard weakened. The old equipment remains and continues to send its message of cheer to sailors. In a much greater way God has proclaimed His love to mankind through His Son. 1 John 4:9: In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him.
After an important discussion on truth and error, John returns to the theme of love for the third time. Love is mentioned 27 times in this fourth chapter. This does not mean John has run out of ideas and has to repeat himself. It simply means that the Holy Spirit, who inspired John, presents the subject once more, from a deeper point of view. First, in ch 2 love for the brethren has been shown as proof of fellowship with God then in ch 3 it has been presented as proof of sonship. But in ch 4, we get down to the very heart of the matter. Here, we discover why love is so important to a Christian life that is real. This is because God is love. Love is part of the very being and nature of God. Since we are united to God through faith in Christ, we share His nature. And since His nature is love, love is the test of the reality of our spiritual life. Today we will see two things about love. Firstly, God Is Love, and secondly, God Revealed His Love.
Firstly, God Is Love
This is the third of three expressions in John’s writings that help us understand the nature of God: God is spirit. John 4:24; God is light. 1 John 1:5; and God is love. 1 John 4:8. None of these is a complete revelation of God, of course, and it is wrong to separate them. The nature of God is love. This does not mean that love is God. And the fact that two people love each other does not mean that their love is necessarily holy. It has accurately been said that love does not define God, but God defines love. God is love and God is light; therefore, His love is a holy love, and His holiness is expressed in love. All that God does expresses all that God is. Even His judgments are measured out in love and mercy. Lamentations 3:23
Farmers Weather Vane
A farmer placed a weather vane on his barn and inscribed them with the words, God Is Love. One day a traveler stopped by the farm and watched the weather vane moving with the breeze. Then with a smirk on his face, he asked the farmer, Do you mean to say that God changes like the wind? The farmer shook his head and replied, No. What I mean to say is that no matter which way the wind blows God is love! But how does this affect us?
a. God Requires We Love - A New Commandment
1 John 4:7a: Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God;
To begin with, God requires us to love one another. This commandment is repeated over and over again in the Scriptures. The basic mandate for every child of God is love. We cannot please God if we don't love one another. Firstly, husbands and wives are commanded to love each other and their children. Secondly, we are commanded to love one another. Thirdly, we are commanded to love our neighbor. Finally, the Lord also commands us to love our enemies. There is no escaping it; to please God, we must love everyone. Why is love so important to God? Because His very nature is love. He loves all of His creatures regardless of their conduct, and He requires us, His children to love the same way.
A Church That Takes Love Seriously
A Church in America takes the commandment to love one another very seriously. At the close of the Sunday morning service they sing a song based on John Wesley's words. They sing, Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in every place you can, at all the times you can, to everyone you can, as long as you ever can, do all the good you can!
But how can we sinful creatures be expected to love like God loves? That's a good question. But God has made it possible. John talks about that next
b. God Restores Our Love - A New Birth
1 John 4:7: Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.
Secondly, God restores His love in us. For fallen man to love the way that God loves, requires a new beginning, a new birth. Yes, we must be born again. And that's exactly what John says here. Through the new birth we receive a new nature, the divine nature. It is God's nature that leads us to love our fellow man. Christian love is a special kind of love. A love that is born out of the very essence of God must be spiritual and holy, because God is spirit and God is light. This true love is poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. Romans 5:5 Love, therefore, is a valid test of true Christian faith. A child of God has been born of God, and therefore shares God’s divine nature. Since God is love, we must love one another. The logic is unanswerable! If you've been born again you must love.
A large quantity of radioactive material was stolen from a hospital. When the hospital administrator notified the police, he said: Please warn the thief that he is carrying death with him, and that the radioactive material cannot be successfully hidden. As long as he has it in his possession, it is affecting him disastrously! A person who claims that he knows God and is in union with Him must be personally affected by this relationship. If God is love and we have been born of Him then we must love too. Christians carry God Himself around with them. He doesn't make them radioactive, but love active. They must impact the world.
c. God's Relationship Demands We Love - A New Relationship
1 John 4:7-8: Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.
Not only have we been born of God, but we also know God. In the Bible, the word know has a much deeper meaning than simply intellectual attainment or understanding. For example, the verb know is used to describe the intimate union of husband and wife. To know God means to be in a deep relationship with Him, to share His life and enjoy His love. This knowing is not simply a matter of understanding facts; it is a matter of perceiving truth. Knowing of God is not the same thing as knowing God. I know of the Queen of England. I have read about her and know about her life, but I don't know her personally. We have never met. But members of the royal family and her close friends know her majesty well. We must understand he that loves not knows not God, in this light.
Certainly many unsaved people love their families and even sacrifice for them. And no doubt many of these same people have some kind of mental understanding of God. What, then, do they lack? They lack a personal experience of God. To paraphrase 1 John 4:8: The person who does not have this divine kind of love has never entered into a personal, experiential knowledge of God. What he knows is in his head, but it has never gotten into his heart.
A Child Grows
Children enter a family by being born into it. Through birth a child receives the nature of his parents. But he doesn't automatically know his parents. A relationship with his parents only develops as he spends time with them. He enjoys their love and learns about them as they share life together. The same is true in God's family. We are born into His family when we believe in Jesus Christ. But we don't immediately know our Father at this time. It requires spending time together with Him; we grow in His love. We experience His life as our love for God and the other members of His family grows. Hatred, bitterness and indifference keep us from knowing God. Christians who disobey their heavenly Father won't get to know Him.
What God is determines what we ought to be. The fact that Christians love one another is evidence of their fellowship with God and their sonship from God. It is also evidence that they know God. Their experience with God is not simply a once-for-all crisis; it is a daily experience of getting to know Him better and better. True theology is not a dry, impractical course in doctrine — it is an exciting day-by-day experience that makes us Christlike! If God is love shouldn't His children be loving too? Are you keeping your Father's requirement to love your brother? Are you living the new life you were born to? How well do you know God? Do you know Him intimately or is it just facts from an old book? God is Love, do you demonstrate His love? How do you love your brother?
Secondly, God Revealed His Love
a. God Sent His Son
1 John 4:9: In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him.
Love has always been part of God's nature. In fact He loves us with an everlasting love. But love must be revealed before it can be appreciated. God revealed His love most brilliantly through Jesus Christ. The word manifest fanerow means to declare, show, reveal, display. To manifest something means to bring it out in the open, to be make it public. It is the opposite of to hide, to make secret. Under the Old Covenant, God was hidden behind the shadows of ritual and ceremony; but in Jesus Christ the life was manifested. This verse is similar to another one of John's. John 3:16: For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. God revealed His love by sending His Son into the world to give us life.
Jesus Christ died that we might live through Him, for Him, and with Him. A sinner’s desperate need is for life, because he is dead in trespasses and sins. Ephesians 2:1 It is something of a paradox that Christ had to die so that we may live! We can never probe the mystery of His death, but this we know: He died for us. John pondered this in: 1 John 3:1: Behold what manner of love the Father has given unto us that we should be called the children of God. Could God love us any more? He sent His only Son that we might live!
Sacrifice In A Russian Prison
Uri was a Christian imprisoned in Siberia. He was desperately trying to keep warm during a cold winter's night. Uri clung to his blanket managing to stay alive. The temperature was well bellow zero. During the night another prisoner was brought into the room. As Uri looked at his beaten form shivering in the cold, the Lord spoke to him. He won't live through the night without a blanket. Uri said, I know Lord. The Lord said, give him yours. But Lord I will die. The Lord said, I know, give him your blanket. In the morning the new prisoner was alive and warm. He looked at the blanket and wondered where it came from. Then he noticed Uri's lifeless body on the bed across from him. As a result, this prisoner came to trust in Jesus Christ. God sent His Son that we might live through Him. He brought us life!
b. God Sacrificed His Son
1 John 4:10: In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
The sending of Christ into the world, and His death on the cross, were not prompted by man’s love for God. They were prompted by His love for man. The world’s attitude toward God is anything but love! Two purposes are given for Christ’s death on the cross: that we might live through Him and that He might be the propitiation for our sins. His death was not an accident; but an appointment. He did not die as a weak martyr, but as a mighty conqueror.
The death of Christ is described as a propitiation. We should remember that propitiation does not mean that men must do something to appease God or to placate His anger. Propitiation is something God does to make it possible for men to be forgiven. God is light, and therefore He must uphold His holy Law. God is love, and therefore He wants to forgive and save sinners. How can God forgive sinners and still be consistent with His holy nature? The answer is the cross. There Jesus Christ bore the punishment for sin and met the just demands of the holy Law. But there, also, God reveals His love and makes it possible for men to be saved by faith.
Psalm 85:9-11 shares this: Surely His salvation is near to those who fear Him, That glory may dwell in our land. Mercy and truth have met together; Righteousness and peace have kissed. Truth shall spring out of the earth, And righteousness shall look down from heaven.
Sometimes love hurts. Parents often express these thoughts over their teenage children. C.S. Lewis wrote this in his book, The Four Loves. To love is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully around hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness .... The only place outside heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers of love ... is hell. To love is to take risks, to expose our hearts. Sometimes it hurts! It hurt Christ, but He kept on loving, even though it cost Him His life.
c. God Sends His Saints
1 John 4:11: Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
For the second time, believers are exhorted to love one another. This commandment is to be obeyed, and it's based on God's nature. God is love; we know God; therefore, we should love one another. But the exhortation to love one another is presented as a privilege as well as a responsibility: If God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. We are not saved by loving Christ; we are saved by believing on Him. But after we realize what He did for us on the cross, our normal response ought to be to love Him and one another. Jesus commanded the disciples to love as He had loved them. John 13:34-35: A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another. Jesus said this to the disciples in the upper room. Shortly after He died for them.
It's important that Christians progress in their understanding of love. To love one another simply out of a sense of duty is good, but it's far better to love out of appreciation rather than obligation. John shares this idea in 1 John 3:16: By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.
Service Of Henry Martyn
Henry Martyn had already done more than his share of missionary service in India when he announced he was going to Persia. Doctors had told him that the heat would kill him if he stayed in India, and the heat in Persia was worse. Martyn arrived, studied the Persian language and translated the New Testament and Psalms in an amazing nine months. But then was told he must have the Shah’s permission to circulate it. Martyn traveled 600 miles to Tehran, only to be denied permission to see the Shah. He then turned around and made a 400 mile trip to find the British ambassador who gave his credentials and said, This is all I can do. You will have to present them yourself.
Barely able to stand, Martyn rode at night on the back of a mule and rested in the daytime, protected only by a strip of canvas from the sweltering heat. He was received by the Shah who gave permission for the Scriptures in Persian to be circulated. Ten days later, in 1812, he died in Turkey. Shortly before he had written in his diary, I sat and thought with sweet comfort and peace of my God. In solitude my Companion, my Friend, and Comforter. Henry Martyn gave his life for the benefit of others. He gave his all because he appreciated the great sacrifice Jesus Christ had made for him. Can we do any less?
As we have seen God is love. But, how has He revealed His love to mankind? By sending His only begotten Son into the world. Was this costly? Yes! Jesus gave His life that we might be saved from God's judgment and wrath. It was His sacrifice that made peace between sinful men and a holy God. John says, Behold what manner of love the Father has given to us. How should we respond to His love? By loving one another the same way. Do you love your brother as Christ loved you? Do you make sacrifices to meet His need? God commands us to! What is your response to His commandment? Will you love your brother sacrificially? Will you put his needs before your own? Or will you love yourself instead?
Today we have seen two things about love. Firstly, God Is Love, and secondly, God Revealed His Love. If God is love, shouldn't His children love one another? If we have been born into His family and experienced the Father's love won't we love others? How did God reveal His great love toward us? By sending His only begotten Son to die for us. If God has loved us so richly, shouldn't we love one another the same way? Yes we should!
Hebrews 13:20-21: Now may the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.