I John 4:7-21
God’s Love and Ours
7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
13 We know that we live 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 If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. 16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.
God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.17 In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. 18 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.
19 We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates their brother [or sister], they are a liar. For anyone who does not love their brother [or sister], whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother [and sister].
This reading comes from the First Letter of John, which is a book that doesn’t get that much attention in sermons and Bible studies. Actually, none of the three letters of John is studied that much. The third letter is just a couple of paragraphs talking about a very specific situation in early church life, but the first and second letters of John have some important teaching that’s definitely still relevant to our lives as followers of Jesus in the 21st century.
We might want to start with a little background on these letters and the others things that John wrote. Church tradition says that the apostle John wrote the Gospel of John, the Revelation, and the three letters that come shortly before the Revelation at the end of the New Testament.
The Revelation is obviously very different from most of the rest of the Bible. But the letters of John and his gospel emphasize two major ideas, both of which show up in our reading for today. One idea is that accepting Jesus as the messiah is the central question of the faith. The other idea is the importance of love – God’s love for us, and our love for God and for other people.
The first idea – the importance of recognizing Jesus as the messiah – appears in this reading in verse 15: “If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God.” In John’s understanding of the Christian faith, this is where the rubber meets the road, so to speak. He begins his gospel by explaining that Jesus is the reason that the whole universe was created, and he expresses in a number of ways his understanding that the real meaning of ‘sin’ is failing to accept Jesus as the messiah.
The second idea – the importance of love – is the main theme of this passage we’re thinking about today. John says that love is the central aspect of God’s nature, and that those who are really being guided and shaped by God will find that love is a central aspect of their own natures, as well.
John says that the incarnation – the appearance of Jesus in the world – is the plainest sign of God’s love for us. (It’s hard not to notice this link between John’s letter and the most famous verse of his gospel, John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”) John says that God came into the world in the form of Jesus to pay the price for our sins on the cross – a breathtaking expression of his love for us.
And now that God has expressed his love that way, John says that those of us who follow Jesus are supposed to demonstrate love in response. If we have really committed our hearts to following Jesus, if we have really placed our lives under God’s control, then our lives should start to show his love more and more in the world. And just to remind ourselves, when the New Testament talks about love, it doesn’t mean warm and fuzzy affection; it means a heartfelt commitment to the welfare of other people, whether we feel affectionate toward them or not. We can extend that kind of love to neighbors and even to enemies, not just to family and friends.
John mentions two other important things about this ‘Godly love’:
First of all, if we are really manifesting this kind of love for others, if we are actually trying to advance the welfare of others, then we don’t ever have to be afraid of God’s judgment. If our lives are taking on the shape of God’s love, then God’s Spirit is at work in us, and we can live without fear.
The second point John makes is that there’s no substitute for that love as a sign that we are living in God and following his Son. Understanding doctrines isn’t enough. Holding the right positions on hot-button issues isn’t enough. Carrying the Bible around and talking about Jesus in every conversation isn’t enough. You can do all those things and still be bitter, judgmental and loveless toward other people. But a person who is coming to have more and more concern for the welfare of others, a person who cares enough to help and encourage those around them, a person whose heart breaks for the same things that break the heart of God – that’s the person who is really demonstrating the saving presence of God in their life.
That, John would say, is when we’re really living a new and abundant life in Jesus – when God’s love for us generates our love for him, as well as for all the ‘neighbors’ around us.
Let’s pray. Lord, we ask you to pour out your Spirit on us more and more each day. Make us more and more aware of the great love you have shown us, and move us to embrace that love and pass it on to everyone we meet. Amen.
God in God’s Love,
(The other readings for today are Psalms 42 and 102; Proverbs 4:1-27; and Matthew 11:7-15.)