I John 4:16-21
What an exciting day when a woman hears the words, “I love you, will you marry me?” Soon after that great effort is put into wedding plans and before long the big day arrives. As the bride waits in the back to walk down the aisle, she hears that the groom has not arrived yet and she waits. As time passes and he does not show up, she begins to worry about what has happened to him. Finally the message comes through. He has changed his mind and is not coming. Can you imagine the devastation? Ever since the proposal she has looked forward to living in a loving relationship and now she discovers that it will not happen. She feels abandoned, she feels unloved. How awful it would be to realize that you are not loved as you thought you were.
That may be one of the worst possible experiences of betrayal of love, but it is not the only one. In fact, there is no guarantee that any of us could not experience something similar. In human relationships love sometimes fails, but do we ever feel that God has stood us up at the altar? We expected Him to show up and our expectations were not met! Do we ever wonder if God still loves us? The good news is that God is the only one with whom we have a solid guarantee that He will not ever stop loving us.
This morning, I would like to examine I John 4:16-21 where we are invited to think about the promise of God’s love for us and also to consider the freeing and wonderful implications of knowing that we are loved.
I. We Know and Rely on God’s Love vs. 16
A. God is Love
The proper starting point for a discussion about love is not us, what we feel or experience, what we want or what we should do, but God. The starting point for a discussion about love is the recognition of the truth that “God is love?”
But what does it mean to say that God IS love? What is the difference between saying I am a man and I am a canoeist. If I say that I am a canoeist it means that this is an activity that I learned, that I enjoy, that I have taught at camp, but it isn’t more than that. The truth is I had never been in a canoe till I was a teenager. Some days I go canoeing and some days I don’t and when I get old it may be that I will not be able to get into a canoe. Being a canoeist is something I do not something I am. On the other hand I have always been male and always will be male. There is never a day when I do not function according to being male. It is part of my essential being. I believe that “God is love” is like the phrase, “I am a man” because loving is not just something God does, it is essential to his being. Love is a part of God’s character.
The difference is significant because it assures us about what we can expect of God. It assures us that it is completely within God’s character to love. It assures us that we can expect that God will act in a loving way. It means that we should not be surprised that God will do that which is loving. If love was merely an activity of God, we would not have these assurances. There would be doubt about whether he would choose to act in love today or not. But when we recognize that love is a part of God’s essential being, we know that every day, He will always operate out of this part of his being. God will always love because He is love.
Just before this phrase in I John 4:13-15 we read that God has demonstrated His love most clearly and powerfully by sending His Son to be the Saviour of the world. The motive for sending Jesus was love. The method by which He came was a loving action. The result of the coming of Jesus was a demonstration of His love for us.
God is love and has demonstrated His love most clearly in Jesus.
B. Knowing We Are Loved
Since God is love and has acted in love, we read in I John 4:16, “We have come to know the love God has for us.” The verb tense of the word “come to know” is perfect. A perfect emphasizes the present state of things which result from a past action. The past action of God was the sending of Jesus and because God sent Jesus, we know today that we are loved and we continue to live under His love.
A few months ago I participated in a study which someone was doing as a part of their requirements to finish their Master’s Degree in Sociology. They were studying the impact of having been a refugee from Russia during the Second World War. She interviewed those who had been refugees and their children. So she interviewed my mother and me. Although it wasn’t my experience, one of the things she discovered was that the children of such people were often not told by their mothers that they were loved. The trauma of loss during the whole experience somehow made it difficult for the mothers to tell their children, “I love you.” Although they knew they were loved, it was not often communicated.
Nothing like that has happened in our relationship with God. God is love and has communicated it to us and so we have come to know the love God has for us. Do you know that you are loved? Do you live daily in the knowledge of the love God has for you?
C. Relying on Love
But the text also says not only that we know that we are loved, but also that “we have come to rely on the love God has for us.” Once again it is a perfect tense verb which communicates that the love God has demonstrated still impacts us today. The knowledge of God’s love for us leads us to the place where we rely on that love.
Those of you who have been to Living Fountain Bible Camp have probably had a chance to go on the zip line. As long as you are standing on the tower, you are on a solid structure. It is like being on the ground, no problem, quite comfortable, but it is quite a different thing when you step off the platform and there is no longer anything solid beneath you and you have to rely on the harness and the cable to keep you up. I have watched people hesitate, back up and even quit because they were unable to step off and rely on the harness and the cable. I think we sometimes feel that way about relying on the love of God. It is a scary experience and we often doubt and sometimes we want to quit and rely on what we can see before us. But when we come to understand the love God has for us and know that He demonstrated that love by sending Jesus, we come to the place where we are able to rely on the love God has for us. If we know that we are loved, we have confidence to walk into the future assured that we walk in His love.
D. Living in Love
Since God is love and since we have come to know and rely on His love, the text goes on to speak about living in love. When we know that we are loved and when we rely on God’s love, we will find ourselves living in love.
Over 11 years ago a number of you helped us move our belongings into 498 River Rd. South. Since that time, that is where we have lived. That is home and when we don’t need to be somewhere else that is where we are. God has built a house for us and that house is love and we are able to live in that house. The Greek word conveys the idea of abiding, of remaining in one place, of living in a place. It is like moving into the house of God’s love and living there and finding that in such a relationship of relying on and living in His love we are living in a relationship of intimacy with God. That is the idea that I believe comes across when we read, “Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.”
What does this mean practically? It means that we live with the assurance that we are loved. It means that we love God. It means that love is the defining characteristic of our life.
Barker says, “The sequence of thought is this: First, we must know and rely on the fact that God loves us. Second, we come to realize through relying on his love (or having faith in his Son—the meaning is the same) that in his very nature God is love. Third, we discover that to live in God means to live in love. The fellowship we have with the Father and with the Son (1:3), the fellowship in which he lives in us and we live in him, is perceived as nothing other than a fellowship of love.”
II. Practical Implications of Living in Love
Now if we are living in love because we know and rely on God’s love that has powerful implications for life. Two implications are mentioned in the verses which follow.
A. Love Overcomes Fear vs. 17-18
1. There Is No Fear in Love
The first implication described in I John 4:17, 18 is that love overcomes fear. The question I would like to think about with you is, “How extensive is that?” Does love overcome all fear?
What is immediately clear is that we have no fear of what will happen in eternity. If we know that we are loved by God and if we know the love demonstrated by God through Jesus Christ and have received it by faith the text tells us that “we will have confidence on the day of judgment.” The Bible describes the Day of Judgment as a day when a throne will be set up and all people will be judged. Because we have come to know and rely on the love God has for us, we do not fear that day. If we would be called before a judge for a traffic violation, we would be in some fear because we have probably violated some traffic laws. But when we, as Christians, are brought before the judgment throne of God we have no fear because we have the assurance from God that our name is written in the lamb’s book of life. God does not see the sins which prevent us from being in His presence. He sees only the sacrifice of the Lamb and ourselves as pure in Jesus and so we have confidence on the Day of Judgment.
If we have accepted the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross as the atonement for our sins, we know that we are accepted. In spite of this assurance, many people still fear the Day of Judgment. Satan will tries to accuse us and make us fear. False teachers impose laws and cause us to doubt which leads to fear. But when we know and rely on the love God has for us that fear is cast out. The love of God casts out fear.
The question is, however, does love cast out all fear? I know that many people have trouble accepting or understanding that.
To understand how comprehensive this truth is we need to understand that we are not talking about the appropriate fear of God, which is a reverence and respect for God. We are called to fear the Lord and perfect love has a place for that kind of fear. We are also not talking about the kind of fear which prevents us from making mistakes. When I run a board through my table saw, I am always conscious of what that blade could do to my fingers and that fear makes me take precautions so it doesn’t happen. There is an appropriate place for that kind of fear. But I believe that love does cast out the kind of fear we have when we are terrified of potential disaster, or possible illness or the unknown of the future.
The reason I believe that this is a faithful application of this text is because of the phrase, “fear has to do with punishment.” If we are afraid that we are going to fail, if we are afraid that God is going to send some illness or difficulty our way that is a fear that doubts God’s love for us. Fear is cast out when we are convinced that our lives are in the loving hands of our Father who cares for us. That does not mean that difficulties won’t come, that trials won’t come, that persecution won’t come or that we will understand everything. It does mean that no matter what happens, we will know and rely on the love God has for us. The more perfectly we understand that, the more completely fear will be cast out from us. Romans 8 reminds that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. If we are convinced of that, we know that there is nothing to fear.
2. For We Are Like Him
The reason we can have confidence and why fear can be cast out is because, as verse 17 says, “…because in this world, we are like Him.”
When Jesus was on earth, He had a relationship with His Father of intimacy and love. Every time He spoke of His Father and every time He spoke to His Father the intimacy and love of that relationship was evident.
When Jesus came to earth to do the work of God He faced suffering and death and did so in complete confidence that the Father loved Him. As we live on this earth, we are like Him. We face the same kinds of things which He faced on earth. But like Him, we are also in such an intimate relationship with the Father that we are able to know and rely on the love God has for us.
Barker writes, “Jesus ‘abides’ in the love of the Father (cf. John 15:10), an abiding that already marked his earthly existence and gave him ‘confidence’ before God in the face of temptation, trial, and death, so “in this world” we also may abide in the Father’s love and share in that same confidence.”
So even though we are still on earth, we have the same love upon us as Jesus had from the Father when He was on earth. That is what casts out all fear.
3. Made Perfect in Love
Although we understand this, we also have to be honest that it isn’t always a reality in our life. John addresses this when he speaks about not being “made perfect in love.”
As I get older, I have to confess that there are things I am not willing to do anymore. I fear to play hockey because I don’t want to get checked or fall on the ice. The truth is my physical body isn’t what it used to be and that causes me to fear some things more than I used to. I have observed that for many people fear increases with age. That may be reasonable on the level of our physical bodies because they are not as flexible as they used to be and we don’t have the reflexes we used to have. In our spiritual lives, however, it seems that we should become more fearless. The older we get, the more we have experienced the love God has for us and as we grow in our love for God, we are being made perfect in love and we should fear less. Is that happening? Are we becoming more fearless? The way to become more fearless is to spend a lot of time coming to know more and more how much we are loved by God. The secret is not to bravely face our fears, but rather to confidently rely on God’s love, which will cast out our fears. May God help us to be made perfect in love!
B. We Love vs. 19-21
Another practical implication is that if we live in love, if we know we are loved, if we rely on His love we are free to love others. This is the implication of living in love which is described in verses 19-21. John chooses three ways in which to communicate this powerful truth.
In verse 19, he first of all says, “We love because He first loved us.” In other words, love for others is a response to the love we have received. We do not love others because we are love or because we know the right thing to do. We love others because we have been loved.
Therefore verse 20 goes on to show that love for others must be present if we claim to love God. As I read this verse, I thought, no, it is easier to love someone I don’t see. Why does John say it is a lie to say we love God if we don’t love our brother? The reason is that to claim to love God whom we have not seen while at the same time we fail to love our brother whom we have seen is completely incongruous. Love is not a good feeling or a warm fuzzy. Love is an action. Love is only love if it does something. That is why if our love for God is real we will exercise that love by extending it to those around us, including those who are broken and hard to love.
The text is very direct and says that if we fail to act in love to all those around us while claiming to love God we are liars. The lie may not be a deliberate fabrication, but may result from self deception, but it is a lie none the less. If we say that we love God, but do not love others it shows that the life of God is not in us, for if the life of God was in us, the consequence is that we would love others. The evidence of God’s presence with us is love for others. I like the way Calvin put it when he said, “It is a false boast when anyone says that he loves God but neglects His image which is before his eyes.”
Since that is true, verse 21 therefore follows with a simple and direct command. If the life of God is in us, we are called to obey Him by loving others. Ross says, “Love is not an emotion to which we may give expression now and then, as we feel inclined; it is a duty required of us at all times by God, and the children of God ought surely to obey their Heavenly Father.”
Wikipedia reports that 44 years ago yesterday The Beatles first sang the song “All You Need is Love.” It was performed on Our World, the first live global television link. The BBC had commissioned The Beatles to write a song for the United Kingdom's contribution. The Beatles were asked to come up with a song containing a simple message to be understood by all nationalities. "It was an inspired song and they really wanted to give the world a message," said Brian Epstein. "The nice thing about it is that it cannot be misinterpreted. It is a clear message saying that love is everything.”
The world recognizes the importance of love, but Jesus put added to the importance and understanding of love when He said in Matthew 22:37, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”"
Today we have examined how the apostle John adds more to the importance and understanding of love in I John 4, “God is love…And we know and have come to rely on the love God has for us.”
Since we are loved by God in this way and since love is so important in our relationship with God, as Christians we are called to live in love.
Do you know that God is love and loves you?
Do you rely on that love as a basic life principle?
Are you growing in that love so that fear is cast out?
Are you showing that love to others? Whom do you need to love and how will you show it?
May we live in love and so live in God!