07 Aug 2022
The God of Love
Passage 1 John 4:7-21
Speaker Chris Haley
Series 1 John: Confident Faith
1 John 4:7-21 – The God of Love
Does God love me? There is scarcely a bigger question we could ask! Some of you are thinking that’s bonkers, “Of course God loves me- John 3:16 For God so loved the world…
God loves everyone!” And that is true. God loves every person and every creature He has created. However, there is a special love that God has for some and not for others. I hope that’s not too controversial to say that God does not Vlad the Impaler or Herman Goering the same way that he loves the Apostle John, or Mary Magdalene.
So how do we know if God loves us that way, that we have God’s special love, the kind of love that means will spend eternity with him? The kind of love that means we will not face the fires of punishment? And that is what the letter of 1 John is about. That’s what this passage of 1 John is about. John wants us to know that we’re part of God’s people, that we’re loved by God. He wants us to know the hope we have. He wants us to have certainty about our standing. You see John wrote us his Gospel to introduce us to Jesus that we might believe in Jesus, and John wrote this letter “…to you who believe… that you may know that you have eternal life.” (1 John 5:13 ESV) This book is about assurance, knowing that we have eternal life.
So John is wanting to assure us that we really have believed in Jesus, that we really do have eternal life, that we really are loved by God with that special love. The way John has been doing that is he has been giving us sign, tests, as to whether we’re in or out of the faith. He has already laid down several tests, we looked at some of them this time last year, but in typical John style, he comes back to them all again, returning to them from another angle
So what is the first test he gives us? First the love test…
Do I Love Other Christians? v7-12 v20-21
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. (1 John 4:7-8 ESV)
John’s biggest test for us to see if we have God’s love is do we have that special kind of love for others. God is love, says John, so those born of God will bear the family likeness. Love is intrinsic to who God is, so much so that a child of God with no love is an impossibility, it cannot be. A Christian without love is like bread without flour, like dry water, like cold heat. If there is no love- then we cannot claim the name Christian for ourselves- whatever other tests we might pass. It’s not that being loving creates a Christian- as though our love earns God’s love, no our love is a sign, a marker, an indicator, that we have been loved by God. Those who have no love, have not been loved by God.
What is crucial then is that we understand this what ‘love’ this is talking about, what kind of love this is. Love is such a flexible term in English it can mean almost anything. As a society we’re really mixed up over what it means. I saw a poster during pride month last month which said ‘love is love’. That’s a bit like Teresa May when asked to define Brexit famously said ‘Brexit is Brexit’ (Don’t worry not going there!) We have programmes like Love Island- just had the final- as though what goes on on that island is love. Is that love? Swapping partners every five minutes? Competing with each other? Is that what love means? We have love songs, but they’re always romantic love. It’s all about warm fuzzy affectionate feeling in our chests. It’s about we feel- the butterflies, the overwhelming emotion.
It’s complicated by the fact there are at least four words in Greek translated into English as love. Eros- romantic love. Storgë – love for your family. Philia – to really like or love. And agape – a less used word in classical Greek, but much used in the Bible meaning, and that’s the word that’s used here: 28 times in 15 verses! It’s a word Christians made their own. It’s what CS Lewis called “gift love”. A love that loves the unlovable. A love that gives. A love that sacrifices. A selfless love that is passionately committed to the well-being of others. It’s this love that Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 13: that is patient, kind; that does not envy or boast; that is not arrogant or rude, irritable or resentful; that does not insist on its own way nor rejoice at wrongdoing. A love that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things and that never ends. That is the love John is talking about here. And in the Bible it always has an object- someone who is loved. It’s not an abstract thing, that we have, it’s a way we relate to other people. Here in 1 John the object is God, and our fellow Christian, and our love for God is shown by our love for our fellow-christia:
If anyone says, “I love God”, and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. (John 4:20 ESV)
We can’t say we love God and hate his children. We can’t say we love Christ and hate his bride. Yes, we are to love others in the world. Yes, we are to love, even our enemies, but the love that marks us out as believers is our love for our brothers and sisters, our fellow believers, the church- when rightly understood as the people. Loving other believers is the mark of Christian. It shows the world we’re Christians, and it assures ourselves that we’re Christians.
That’s one of things that makes things like choosing permanent “online church” such a tragedy. I’ll take the God stuff, but I won’t do the people stuff. I’ll take the teaching, the singing, but the relationships that’s just messy and hard, and yes they are! Often! Let’s face it! But that is the commandment we have from God
And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. (1 John 4:21 ESV)
This is not an optional add-on for the Christian life- it is a command of the living God. Physical church doesn’t let us pick and choose who we rub shoulders with. Physical church doesn’t let us decide who we run our race with- and that is a good thing! It knocks off our edges. It exercises our forgiveness muscles. It lets us show love to people we would not normally love. How can we show an un-irritable love to fellow Christians if we’re not forced to spend time with Christians who we might find irritating? The whole point is that this is above and beyond what the world shows to one another.
And love like this is the love that God shows to us. Jesus himself said on the sermon on the mount:
For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:46-48 ESV)
If that’s true in the way we love our enemies, how much more should that be true in the way we love our fellow-believers. And that really starts to get to the heart of what God through John wants us to understand here: The object of this love is Christians, but the model for this love is God Himself. This is the kind of love God wants us to have for one another
In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have 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 also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. (1 John 4:9-12 ESV)
The love, this agape love, we are to show is love that is seen at the cross of Christ. That’s what that word ‘propitiation’ alludes to: a propitiation is a sacrifice that takes away wrath, anger. It speaks of what Jesus accomplished on the cross absorbing the wrath of God at sin on himself. God sent His Son into the world to die for us- and that is God’s chosen definition of love. God sent his Only begotten Son into a hostile world to sacrifice Himself to pay for the sin, to bring us to Himself.
When we want to think about love we don’t start with us, we start with God. Our loves pales in comparison. It’s like that scene in 80s classic Crocodile Dundee, when someone attempt to mug Mick Dundee with a pocket knife. His girlfriend tells Mick to do as he says as “he’s got a knife” Without flinching Mick reaches back behind him and grabs the machete hunting knife he just happens to have in his bag, “That’s not a knife, THIS is a knife!” And of course the mugger runs away! Whatever our love is for God, it’s nothing in comparison to what God’s love is for us. Our love’s not love, says John, THIS is love, God’s love for us. But the love of God in giving us Jesus is the model for our love for one another: a self-giving love for the good of the other, a sacrificial life-giving love that pours itself out in service to others. That is the love that God is talking about. That’s not love island love. That’s not a warm fuzzy feeling. That’s love that meets the needs of others.
Do we have that love for fellow believers? Is that what characterises our relationships with those around us this morning and further afield? Now in one sense you’ll be relieved to hear the answer should be a resounding “no!” If you think you’ve got this box fully ticked there’s a problem! If you think you love other believers enough, look again at the cross! On the other hand though it should be something like this. It should share common features with the love God has towards us, that self giving love passionately committed to the well being of others. “No-one has ever seen God”, says John, “but they can see God’s love!” They can see God’s love displayed in the way we love one another. There’s a sense in which that becomes a way that God is seen by others, in our love for one another. Do I love the people around me that way? Do I love my fellow Christians that way? But that’s not the only test: the second one John gives us to tell whether God loves us is the doctrinal test, the teaching test…
Do I believe and confess sound Trinitarian doctrine? v13-15
By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Saviour of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. (1 John 4:13-15 ESV)
This is another of the four tests John gives us in the letter. We met this one before last year: the doctrine test. The Beatles were wrong: love is not all you need! You need sound doctrine too- especially about who Jesus is. Get your beliefs about God wrong and you’ll end up worshipping a fake God, an idol. And this is hard. Doctrines like the Trinity are hard, but they matter. Doctrines like Jesus as God and man are hard to get our head round, but they matter. In John’s day people were already getting all sorts of wrong ideas about who Jesus is. Throughout the book John gives us truths about Jesus we must confess in order to be sure we are a true believer. Here it’s that Jesus is the Son of God. He’s not the Father in disguise (Modalism). He’s not stopped being the Son of God (Cerinthianism). This is still Jesus, the God-man who is the Son of God. He’s not a temporary extension of God that has now been reabsorbed into God (some forms of Sabellianism). He is the Son of God- not was!
If you can’t agree with these things, however nice and loving you might appear, you’re not a Christian. Now that sort of statement doesn’t make you popular, but it is true! Our church has a statement of faith- taken from the FIEC. Here’s number 1: “There is one God, who exists eternally in three distinct but equal persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. God is unchangeable in his holiness, justice, wisdom and love. He is the almighty Creator, Saviour and Judge who sustains and governs all things according to his sovereign will for his own glory.” What would your personal statement of faith be about God, about Jesus? Have you ever even thought about that? Believe or not, says John, your eternal destiny hangs on what your answer is. Who is God? Who is Jesus? Our answers to those questions matter!
How specific do we have to be? I think there is a bare minimum, which is nicely summed up in our church statement of faith. Some bits I wish were a little bit longer, some a little bit shorter, but as statements go it’s not bad. I don’t think John is saying we need to have a degree in theology, that said don’t we want to know more about who God is? Should we be happy with the bare minimum? “Yes, I know enough about my wife now- I’m going to stop asking her things- I know enough to get by!”
In days gone by, and in some churches to this day to be baptised or welcomed into membership someone would have to memorise a series of questions and answers, a catechism.
What is God?
God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.
Are there more Gods than one?
There is but one only, the living and true God.
How many persons are there in the Godhead?
There are three persons in the Godhead; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory.
There’s real merit in learning a catechism, but I don’t think though when we get to judgement day there will be a Q & A quiz. I think about it more like a series of forks in the road. I think we see it like that in history, and it happens like that in our own lives. We start with a basic statement, and as we learn and our knowledge of God grows we begin to firm up our statement, make additions, reword bits to make them clearer. We come to understand God as Trinity, for example, and what we mean by that should become clearer as we grow in the faith. Here for example we see the whole Trinity at work: the Father sending the Son. The Son being sent to be the saviour of the world. And the Holy Spirit dwelling in us and enabling us to testify to that. Similar to 1 Corinthians 12:3b ESV …no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit.
Even the statement “God is love” implies a plurality in God. What did God love before he made the world? How could that love be a self-giving love like the one described here if there was no-one to love? No the Father and Son have been in loving communion from eternity with Spirit the very bond and seal of that love. Three persons, one God, from eternity, and our understanding of these things should grow as we travel further down the road. But if we take too many careless wrong turns at those forks or if we go wrong on the early fundamental ones then we’ll be on the wrong path entirely, and we can have no confidence that we are a Christian, because the truths that we believe will not be true! This really matters then doesn’t it.
So it’s not just a case of do I believe in God, but what God do I believe in? What do I believe especially about God, especially about Jesus? Is He the only begotten Son of God or is he someone else to you? If He’s someone else, then you need to go back to your Bible and change your thinking. Finally…
Am I trusting in God’s Love for me? v16-19
So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgement, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:16-19 ESV)
With all the other things going on I thought it would be worth dwelling for our last point on that massive phrase or just three words: God is love. You see as much as this passage wants us to think about our love towards each another, it wants us to think more of God’s love towards us. The tests are there and Biblical, but in the end the question of whether God loves us comes down to the character of his love; love that sent his Son to sacrificially die on our behalf, love that loves us first- we love, because He first loved us.
So our confidence then is not in how strong our love is, but on how strong God’s love is! That’s why it talks about a knowledge and belief in God’s love in verse 16. And it’s in his love we abide- we live, we set down our roots. It’s that that gives us confidence for the day of judgement: His love, His love poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, His love that changes us to love like Him. So that as he is, so we are in the world: We reflect God’s love to the world, as we love one another with that same love.
And his love means we have no need to fear. Why would we fear somebody who loves us with the kind of love God has shown? There is a right and Godly fear that we are to have towards God, a reverence, a respect, but the fear it talks about here is fear that God will punish us on the day of judgement. God’s complete and perfect love, his agape love, should cast our that fear. We have no need to fear his anger- Christ has died as our sacrifice, our propitiation, what more punishment is there to take? If we are fearing THAT punishment, we haven’t yet been perfected in love, as John puts it. We haven’t got our head round the greatness and completeness of God’s love, a love that loved us first, before we loved others.
So really the question we need to ask this morning is ‘Am I trusting in that love?’ That selfless love passionately committed to my good. That self-giving love that sent Jesus to the cross. Am I putting my faith in His love to me? You see our trust ultimately shouldn’t be placed in our love. Though it is a sign for our assurance, it is not the ultimate source or grounds of that assurance: it’s the smoke, but it’s not the fire. Neither should our trust ultimately be placed in our doctrinal soundness, which again whilst a sign, is not the source of our confidence. The ultimate source of our assurance is God’s unchanging, self-giving, eternal, selfless, faithful love. It’s bound up with his character, who God is- God is love.
When all else fails us, He will not fail us. When all else seems to crumble, He will never crumble. When all else causes us to doubt, God’s love never leaves us in any doubt. He’s shown us that love at the cross. His love is a steadfast anchor. His love is solid ground. His love is an unbreakable cord that binds us to himself.
Does God love me with that special love? If we have done what his Word says, if we have trusted in his Son and repented of our sin then YES, yes he loves us! He loves us and in response we love Him. So let our assurance lie in God’s love for us, not our love for Him.
For God so loved me, that he gave his only begotten son and because I believe in Him I will not perish, but have eternal life.