God is love, let us love. 4:7-12
The passage before us is part of a larger section which examines the close relationship between righteousness, love and belief, 4:7-5:12. John initially deals with the relationship between love and belief. Together, these two confirm a person's relationship with God. Our passage for study examines John's first point, namely, that God is love and thus a child of God loves, 4:7-12.
v7-8. John exhorts us to love one another, for love is of the being of God. That is, love is an aspect of the Divine nature which we can share. Those who love have entered into a relationship with God - they know him, believe in him, are born of him, are one with him. Those who do not love, do not know God. The reason for this is simple enough, God's very nature is expressed in love, so those who are in a relationship with him tend to love, but is lacking in those who are distant from him.
v9-10. John goes on to clarify the idea of "love" by giving us to two examples of love in operation. First, God's love is demonstrated in the sending of Jesus to die for us. Here lies the perfect expression of love. Such love is self-giving to the point of self-sacrifice. The depth of this love is evident in the sending of the Son by the Father. Jesus was unique and yet the Father sent him into a hostile environment where he would inevitably be affronted. Such is God's love for us. More than this, Jesus was sent as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. This is a very important theological statement detailing for us the meaning of the cross.
v11-12. Second, God's love is seen in the love of the brotherhood; it is evidenced in the love that exists between believers. In fact, John makes a statement which is quite amazing. The very essence of God, which can't be seen, can be experienced in the loving relationships that exist between believers. We can touch Jesus in the loving touch of a brother. Of course, the world can also see God in this love. "All men will know that you are my disciples if you love one another", Jn.13:35. It is "the ultimate apologetic" said Francis Schaeffer. As to its practical expression, no better illustration exists than when Jesus washed his disciples feet, Jn.13:14-17. Of course, the "how" to love is always going to remain our problem. John simply rests on the idea, "since God so loved us", that is, the death of Christ supplies our motivation. Christ's death freed us from both the curse and the dominion of sin. On the one hand, we are no longer condemned, but totally accepted in God's sight. On the other hand, through the indwelling Spirit, the very essence of Divine love resides within us, motivating us to love as Christ loved. Our responsibility is but to cooperate with the Spirit's renewing work.
1. What is this love that comes from God?
2. God's love is demonstrated in the coming of Jesus. Explain the meaning of "sent his son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins."
3. In what sense is it that if we love one another God's love is made complete in us?
4. "Whoever does not love does not know God". Discuss this rather blunt statement.
"I write this to you that you will not sin." 2:1. Central to John's purpose in this letter is his desire to have us examine our lives to see whether we truly stand with Christ. John doesn't want us to live a lie. At this particular moment in our lives we may feel that we are active believers, but at the same time we may well be fooling ourselves. For this reason, John comes up with a number of tests. In 4:7-5:4 John writes about the test of love. In his introduction to this subject John summons us to live a life of brotherly love, a summons which, if we truly follow Christ, will give direction to our life.
"It is only through beauty that man makes his way to freedom", Friedrich Schiller. Secular philosophers have long realized that human ingenuity is driven, not by science, but by the arts, by the humanities. Great ideas are the product of inspiration rather than reason. Divine revelation takes us to the nub of the matter by identifying an inner quality which transcends all other humanities and aligns us the divine. That quality is love, brotherly compassion.
John tells us, first of all, that love derives from God. Of course, everything derives from God, but love, in particular, because it is a quality which characterizes the divine nature. In fact, it is possible to say "God is love."
John then tells us about the effects of love. Love, like the common cold, is infectious. A person who knows God, or more simply put, a person who believes in Jesus, will be a loving person. In Jesus God loves that person and so naturally they tend to love in return. Love is infectious. So, a person who doesn't believe in Jesus will tend not to be a loving person. Now of course, John is dealing with principles here and so they are a bit black and white. All human beings possess the spark of the divine and so are not devoid of compassion, and no believer is perfectly compassionate. Still, the test applies, where love is lacking, God is lacking. John goes on to explain the means by which God realizes love in his creation. Love is realized in the new life found in Christ, made possible by his death on the cross for our sins. Christ's atoning sacrifice is love in action; it both witnesses love and empowers love. Christ's sacrificial death on the cross sets us free to live the new life of love in an eternal relationship with him. If Christ sets us free, we are free indeed.
Finally, John lets us into a most amazing secret about love. Brotherly love, exercised within the Christian fellowship, enables us to faintly touch the invisible transcendent God. It's like when Jesus tells us that were two or three are gathered together in his name he is present - and in love we touch his presence.
I remember a Lost in Space episode on TV where the Robinsons were confronted by an alien force which was about to consume them. Yes, I know, a blast from the past with a rather common plot! The alien force was set to flight by a tear of compassion. Brotherly love is a natural consequence of God's love for us. "So dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought love one another."
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