We continue to explore the basis of John’s understanding of God. The conclusion of John’s first epistle, what follows in his epistle, is basically a sermon by John.
Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. (1 John 4:7; NRSV)
One commentator put it, “here is concentrated the theology John”, God is love. How do you preach a sermon on a sermon? You let it stand in its integrity and identify the points it is highlighting.
In this day and age we could be mistaken of thinking that love is God and, where love is being practiced, there God must be. We might wonder, however, about the nature of the definition of love, particularly where the act of sexual intercourse is so commonly described as “making love”. Love does not equal God, but love, according to John, is the very nature and action of the Godhead. As someone once put it, God did not have to create everything there is, especially humans, but did so because it is in the nature of the Godhead to want to love outside of itself. God created us, because it is in God’s nature to love, “Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.” (1 John 4:8; NRSV)
The greatest evidence of God’s love towards us is declared in the work of Jesus on the cross.
God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. (1 John 4:9; NRSV)
The telling aspect of God’s love for us is not just in the work of the cross, not even our broken relationship that needed to be restore, reconciled. The power of God’s love is that despite the brokenness, God desires and works to fix it.
In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. (1 John 4:9-10; NRSV)
Not that we loved God, but that he loved us and it was for this reason he sent his Son into the world. You can almost hear the words of Paul to the Romans, “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)
I can’t help wondering whether the greatest problem we have in our evangelism, our work of helping others to have a relationship with God, is because we are continually inviting them to be a part of church, being involved in the things which are concerned with our work of reaching out to God. On the contrary, our greatest task is to help people become aware of the love of God for them.
Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us. 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 do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Saviour of the world. God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God. So we have known and believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. (1 John 4:11-16; NRSV)
We often speak about God as a God of love, it just rolls off our tongues, but I can’t help wondering whether the problem we have in helping others to know that God is love is because we have not yet grasped this reality deeply for ourselves. Consequently, we are not very good at witnessing that love, putting that love into practice with those around us, because we do not know it for ourselves.
One of the problems, I suspect that we have, is that we have a misplaced understanding of what love means. We can get so caught up in the idea of love that is about being nice. Such kind of love does not expect another to take responsibility for their life, their own choices and their own mistakes.
The word for love here is ????? (agape), the love that a father has for his children. It is the work of a father to enable his children to grow up into adults, not by age, but to be able to take responsibility for their own life: choices and mistakes, and in turn be able to raise their children to do the same. A father does not keep his children as children.
I don’t see anything in the love of God, described by John, that pretends there is not a problem, after all, that is why he sends his Son (v 10), he acts to fix the problem. This does not mean that the cause of the problem is overlooked for we will still need to give an account “on the day of judgement” (v 17), but because of the action of God in Jesus, we can have boldness in the face God’s judgement. We can stand assured that we are right with God.
I know I have said it to you before, that every relationship begins in fear. What I mean by that is, when we first meet someone, we are guarded in what we say and do, because we are afraid that, if we reveal certain aspects of ourselves, this new person will not like us, will reject us.
In God, however, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.” (v 18) So often, it seems, that Christians are in a constant fear of God. They will speak of God’s love, but the legalism of the religious life, the purely literal, or fundamental, reading and interpretation of the Bible, the condemnation of others for approaching things differently, all speak of a fear of getting it wrong. They are not in the love of God, they are in a perceived fear of being punished by God.
This must have been stirring in the camp of Christians to whom John was writing. The false teachers expressing the importance of having right knowledge, the fear of those Christians that they would miss out on the promises of eternal life, the kingdom of heaven, because they did not have the secret knowledge.
So John condemns such misguided understanding of a love that has no action and of a fear of God.
We love because he first loved us. Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also. (1 John 4:19-21; NRSV)
“Hate” is a very powerful word here and it is a word that receives bad press. We know that God himself hates so does Jesus. Hate comes out of passion. But I am sure that, while God hates our sin and Jesus hates the practices of the Nicolaitans, (Revelations 2:6) he does not hate a person. If “God sent his Son to be our atoning sacrifice”, even though he hates our sin, he does not reject us. Those false prophets who would condemn those who disagree with them, do not know God’s love and are, therefore, liars if they do. Their actions are a contradiction to what is revealed about God’s love in Jesus Christ death on the cross.
So the love of God that John is presenting to us here is an act of the will, a choice, to enable another, or ourself, to grow physically (body), psychologically (mind) and spiritually. It is an act of the will because we are inspired, compelled, to love when we realise the full extent to which we are loved by God.
So here is the basis of our faith, “We love because he first loved us.” (V 19) Love is the essential nature of God, according to John, and if we do not know that we are deeply loved by God, we will not be able to love God in return, as he deserves, and we will not be able to love those around us because we do not love ourselves.