Read 1 John 4:7-21
We frequently hear reference to the “love chapter” as 1 Corinthians 13. This may be true, but after re-reading this passage, we might think differently about this assertion. The overwhelming theme of John’s thoughts here is love. Here are some phrases that grab my attention in today’s reading:
- God is love.
- God lives in us.
- His love is complete in us.
- He has given us His Spirit.
- We rely on the love God has for us.
- Whoever lives in love lives in God.
- In this world, we are like Jesus.
- There is no fear in love.
- Anyone who loves God must also love his brother and sister.
That’s quite some list! Each item could be a book title (probably already published, but I’m not looking). In an attempt to unpack these powerful thoughts, let’s take a look at the bookends, then add the filling. Think about this like an Oreo cookie.
God is Love
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 1 John 4:7-8
Many years ago I led the worship team at Monument Community Presbyterian Church. One of the songs we sang too many times was based on these verses; well, it was precisely these two verses sang over and over again. The ending of the song was a rather cheesy tag: First John four seven and eight! I’ll never forget the passage as a result. Isn’t that part of the goal for songs?
The thought John is planting in our mind is simple and yet profound: God is love. The real kind of love. The type of love Paul talked about in his letter to the church in Corinth. It is possible to have this kind of love in our lives because we have the Spirit within us. I would venture to say it is not possible to have complete love for another without Christ, though the world would suggest otherwise.
I listened to an Andy Stanley sermon recently that suggested that Jesus offered both grace and truth at the same time. This might seem like a contradiction in our minds, but the great reality is that God’s love for us is both comforting and convicting at the same time. It’s both.
The other bookend in this passage tells us to do something.
Love our Brothers and Sisters
Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister. 1 John 4:20-21
Did John call me a liar? That’s not very loving, is it? Truth doesn’t always come across as loving. Thinking back on the Stanley sermon mentioned above, when the Pharisees departed the scene and the woman caught in adultery was left alone with Jesus, He didn’t say, “there, there, it’s all good…” Instead, Jesus pointed out the truth of her sin and left her with this thought:
And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.” John 8:11
Read the whole story from John’s perspective or perhaps my blog post from last year. The last five words are key: Go and sin no more. The truth is, those Pharisees that just walked away were right; she was caught in the act of adultery. But Jesus looks beyond the sin into the eyes of the sinner. Grace remains. Leave your life of sin and chase after that which is of God.
It might be a challenge to love your brother and sister, but the truth is we must do both.
If those are the bookends, the chocolate cookie part of the Oreo, what’s in the middle? I’m glad you asked! John tells us what we need to know at the beginning and end of his thought. In the middle, he provides some practical how-to steps.
To begin with, God showed us how to love by sending Jesus to live with us, to walk around in the flesh (see the previous post), and then to offer the ultimate sacrifice on our behalf. That last step is not for us to repeat, per se; rather, it’s meant to drive home the significance of Christ’s earthly ministry. I’m sure you get that, but I didn’t want to leave that hanging out there!
With these events in mind, John tells us we should love one another. The resurrection of Jesus proved beyond a doubt that He was the Messiah. His promise of sending the Spirit was fulfilled in a few weeks after the first Easter. Here is our first how-to step:
If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. 1 John 4:15-16
The evidence of acknowledging that Jesus is the Son of God is not a badge to wear or an inscription in the cover of a Bible given to us on that great and wonderful day when we publicly declared our faith. Those are good things, but the complete expression is demonstrated by acting like Jesus.
This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. 1 John 4:17
I find this verse challenging and inspiring at the same time. We are like Jesus. I don’t know about you, but that just raised the standard a mile for me.
One last thought about the middle of this passage: fear.
There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. 1 John 4:18
Why would John bring up fear? Remember that all of John’s friends from the beginning of his ministry have been hunted down and killed for their faith. Martyrs for Christ. Another badge you should not seek to earn.
Our first-century leaders were seen as revolutionary. They were leading a cause that was counter-cultural. In a time when hostile takeovers were demonstrated by physically taking over areas of the world, killing all who stood in the way, and demanding submission, the disciples were preaching love.
Fear was likely the first thought that entered the mind of someone that encountered the early Christians. Fear of family rejection. Fear of social condemnation. Fear of being seen as one standing against the local authorities. Fear was real. John needed to make the point that love is far greater than fear.
I mentioned Oreo cookies as the metaphor for this post, but if you know me, you know that I don’t eat Oreos anymore. When I did, it was the double-stuffed Oreos. And then I would carefully remove the cookie parts and make double-double-stuff. I liked the creamy insides a lot more than the cookie outsides. There’s the rub.
The bookends of this story are incredibly important. We must recognize that God is love, then demonstrate our understanding by loving our brothers and sisters. That’s not a suggestion; it is what we must do.
Lord, help us to live out these words with confidence that You are working in our lives.