1 John 4
The apostle John wrote, “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, New King James Version). Let’s examine the life of love as described by John in the fourth chapter of his first letter.
John begins by pointing us to the source of love:
Love comes from God.
If love comes from God, then love links us to God. Love shows we know God. Thus the pity we feel at the plight of another is God’s pity. The helping hand we lend is God’s hand. Traveling a distance, spending money, taking risks in the service of others – these are ways we practice the love of God.
My son rode 16 hours with a group of students to hurricane-ravaged New Orleans. There they shoveled mud, tore out moldy drywall, and hung Sheetrock. The work was hard, but all agreed it was more than worth the trip.
Not everybody gets the opportunity to travel far to help the victims of a disaster. But every Christian gets the daily opportunity to “go the distance” in love. The trip will invariably take us farther than you thought! It will keep us longer and cost us more than we thought! For love is costly.
“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” (1 John 4:10-11).
“Propitiation” means payment. My dad used to say, “You get what you pay for.” In order to secure us for himself, God had to pay for us. C.S. Lewis wrote, “Love is as hard as nails. Love is nails . . . ” God paid for us not with cold, hard cash, but with the warm, wet blood of his own Son.
If love cost God, it will cost us. Daily we will be called upon to love people who won’t love us back. Daily we’ll have to deal with people born in the “kick-ative case and the objective mood.” I’ve seen church leaders struggle to maintain their composure in the face of raw, seething rebellion. I’ve listened to preachers pour out their frustrations. One told me, “You know you’re leading when you feel them kicking you from behind.”
Why not walk away then? Leave the unlovely to wallow in their ugliness? In a few words John tells us why: Love comes from God. It doesn’t come from nice people like us any more than it comes from nasty people like them. None of us deserves love, certainly not the love that went to the cross to save us. Elsewhere John writes, “See how great a love the Father has lavished on us.” God has slopped and splattered us with love, as an inexperienced painter might slop and splatter walls, ceiling, and floors. Herein lies the reason not only to love God but also to try again to love the other guy. After all, how else will he learn how much God loves him?
For if love comes from God, then . . .
Love proves God.
“No one has ever seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us and His love is perfected in us” (1 John 4:13).
The best proof of God’s existence comes not from an argument but from a life of love. We can’t see God any more than we can see the wind, but we know him by effect. The invisible God becomes visible through our love. As we allow his Spirit to work in us, he loves through us.
I knew a man named John who loved to walk the beach and watch the ocean. He thrilled to the sight of fat flakes of snow flying in the sky. “Here is God,” he thought. “In nature. Not in those hypocritical churches.” Then John had to undergo heart surgery. His hold on life was shaken. A man he barely knew drove a considerable distance to pray with him before the surgery. The heart patient was touched by this demonstration of love. Slowly, he realized that God was evident in certain people, not just in nature. As time went on, he saw that the people who showed the most love were the ones who worshiped Christ. Eventually he decided to throw his lot in with them.
Love surprises, like God surprises. Once when I was a college student, I stood in the checkout line in a grocery store fumbling for money to buy some food. Suddenly one of my professors appeared and put a ten-dollar bill in the hand of the cashier. I stammered, “You don’t have to do that!” He replied, “I know it.”
This is perhaps the most inviting, yet daunting, quality of love. It doesn’t have to do what it does. Love doesn’t have to wait on someone to do something for it first. Love is as free and open and direct as a child. Love will therefore be an uncomfortable fit at first, like a four year old clumping around in his dad’s size 11 shoes. Nevertheless our heavenly Father expects us to grow into his shoes, into the “measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13).
Love comes from God. It proves God. But love isn’t automatic.
Love is a choice.
We can always find a good reason not to love. It’s inconvenient. It’s hard to love the people we dislike. We have to look out for ourselves, and so on. The alternative to love, however, may be more costly than we realize.
“By this love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment, because as He is, so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love” (1 John 4:17-18, New American Standard Bible).
God is love. The choice of whether to love, then, is ultimately the choice of God or something less. No choice is made without consequences. John gathers all the choices of a human life and submits them as evidence before the Supreme Court. How can we hope to survive the Day of Judgment if we haven’t spent many days in love? Whatever fear we have of loving “old so-and-so” pales beside the promise of final judgment. But love wipes out fear, whether of men or God.
In case we’ve still missed the vital necessity of love, John gets quite blunt: “If someone says, I love God, and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:20). John doesn’t explore nuances. He says nothing about indifference being worse than hate. For John, we either love or we hate. There’s no middle ground.
Here, then, is the love of God – costly, daring, free. It’s the love he’s called us with, the love he calls us to. Love jumps down into the pit of human need. Mike Yaconelli wrote of a woman tearfully requesting prayer for her father’s illness. Another woman named Sadie walked back to where she sat. She knelt down, put her head in her lap, and cried with her.
“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways” – help in the nursery, talk to people we don’t know well, invite those sitting alone to sit with us, invite people other than friends to a meal, kneel down to talk to children, visit with the aged. Ask God to show us a need we can meet.
Do we wonder how loving we are? Here’s a simple test. At the end of each day ask, “What did I do for someone today that was messy, inconvenient, or time-consuming?” The love God displayed in Christ was all those things. If we claim to know him, so must our love be.
Gary Robinson is minister at North Side Christian Church in Xenia, OH.