7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 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. 10 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. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.
13 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16 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. 17 By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. 18 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. 19 We love because he first loved us. 20 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. 21 And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.1 John 4:7-21
I chuckle as I begin writing to you today because I have had a song running through my head; I have even caught myself singing it. If you have a church background, you may be trying to guess which glorious old hymn or praise song about God’s love I am singing. And, if so, you are about to be terribly disappointed (although I imagine many of you singing along as you read the lyrics). The song is from 1984 – Tina Turner’s classic, “What’s Love Got to Do with It”. Here is the chorus:
“What’s love got to do – got to do with it?
What’s love but a secondhand emotion?
What’s love got to do – got to do with it?
Who needs a heart when a heart can be broken?”
To answer and apply Tina’s questions to today’s passage: EVERYTHING! Love has everything to do with today’s passage and everything to do with the lives of those who profess to know Christ. Over the next few weeks, we will be walking through this passage and find out just what it means for us and our lives.
At this point in John’s letter, he is beginning to wind down toward a close. The first half of the letter was devoted to making sure his readers (then and now) knew what it was to have life in Christ and walk in His light. Now, love is being treated similarly – both as an example of what He has given us and as a test to find out if we indeed do “walk in the light, as He is in the light” (1:7).
To some it may seem like John is repeating himself, but it is important to note that he is not merely writing a letter. First, this letter reflects his heart as an apostle and teacher of the Word to see his readers know Christ more fully and walk in Him. Second, this letter is “breathed out by God” (2 Timothy 3:16) through John, giving his audiences the Word they/we need to hear from the Lord. So, this is not John repeating himself but the Lord emphasizing truths He knows we need to hear again and again. With that in mind, we can see the importance of reflecting on past sections of 1 John:
- (1:5) This is the message we have heard from Him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all.
- (2:2) He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the world.
- (2:5) …but whoever keeps His Word, in Him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in Him….
- (2:29) If you know that He is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of Him.
- (3:10-11) By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.
It is easy to see how the Spirit builds these truths over the course of the letter, namely light, life, and love. Today’s passage begins the final build of the topic of love.
The teaching that we are supposed to “love one another” (v. 7) is not new. We have looked previously at how John’s message here comes directly from Jesus: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (John 13:34). The difference in John’s teachings on this in chapter 3 and our passage today is that John adds explanation to his earlier examples: “God is love”. Our lives cannot be characterized by hate and love at the same time any more than we can live lives that point to Christ while walking in darkness; we would be liars (1:5-7).
While v. 7 speaks positively to John’s “beloved”, what we find in v. 8 is tough love. A life that is absent of love is absent of God. I realize this sounds harsh, but the contrast is important. Just as you should love because “God is love”, hatred shows absence of God in one’s heart because “God is love”. This is meant to be tough because love, like we have seen throughout this letter (1:6, 1:8, 1:10, 2:4, 2:9, 2:11, 2:15-16, 3:6, 3:8, 3:10, 3:14, 3:17), is another means to test our lives. God very clearly wants us to know whether we are – or are not – His children (3:10), whether He does – or does not – abide in us (3:24). This is serious business and requires us to honestly check our lives.
On the subject of loving one another, it is important to see that John continues to emphasize this at the end of our passage. In v. 19, we see a bold statement that should give us pause: “we love because He first loved us”. This is reminding us of the love that Christ has shown us! And, while this is something that – if we have experienced it – we should not need to be reminded of, this is a common theme throughout Scripture. Throughout the Old Testament, God describes Himself as “abounding in steadfast love” (Exodus 34:6, Numbers 14:18). The Psalms remind us that God’s “steadfast love endures forever” (Psalm 136). The most widely known verse in the Bible proclaims it beautifully (John 3:16): For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.
That is a rare, unique love, so special that it multiplies in the hearts of those who receive it. Think back to how, earlier in this writing, we love others because “God is love” and our lack of love shows a lack of God. People do not like being presented with stark realities like that (think right/wrong, love/hate, etc.). In today’s world people want to blur the lines or add gray areas to soften hard truths we are not yet ready to face. But the Holy Spirit through John does not allow for softening this hard truth; look at v. 20: “If anyone says, ‘I love God’, and hates his brother, he is a liar”. That, dear Sojourner, is a stark reality. He continues, “for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.”
Look at that word “cannot” – can NOT. This word pains me because I struggle with loving people, struggle with hate in my own heart. It seems to say that hatred of a brother and love of God cannot both be in my heart at the same time. And, no matter how hard I try to rationalize – no matter how hard I try to make this fit in my justifications as to why what I feel is right, the Word of God says what it says. What does that mean for me?
It means I need to repent.
It means I need the love that Christ has shown me to impact my life.
I need to remember that “God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8) – that He died for me knowing all my sin. At the same time, I need to remember how much that love has changed my life: “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, now that we are reconciled shall we be saved by His life” (Romans 5:10). Basically, I need to remember that, in my sin, I was an enemy to God and that, while I was His enemy, He loved me enough that He lived for me, died for me, and rose again defeating death, hell, and the grave. If He could show His love for me while I was His enemy, what ground do I have to hate anyone, especially a brother.
“What’s love got to do – got to do with it?” Everything when it comes to knowing I am in Christ. I have to look at my life and test it according to the Word of God, and the Word of God says that hatred – again, especially for a brother (another belonging to Christ) – is evidence that I am not walking with Him. When faced with that fact, those who are not in Christ will make excuses and, ultimately, justify their behavior or decide that their will, their hatred, their sin trumps the Word of God. But, when one of God’s children is faced with the reality of their sin (hatred or otherwise), they are driven to repent and turn back to God.
Where does this leave you? Is your life characterized by love or hate? Do you love (v. 7) or not love (v. 8)? Do you say “I love God” while knowing full well the hatred in your heart (v. 20)? These are questions that I must answer for myself. And they are questions you need to answer on your own, and I pray that you do.
As usual, know that I love you and am praying for you. This week, I am praying specifically that the love of God is poured out on you and that, if necessary, God grants you “repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 2:25).