Sunday, March 15, 2020

1 John 4:7- 5:5 GOD’S LOVE AND OUR LOVE

John turns somewhat abruptly from his discussion of true and false teachers (4:1-6) to make yet another appeal to his readers, that they should love one another. In fact, this is now the third time that he exhorts his readers to love one another. [1]  This subject obviously weighs heavily on his mind.

Let us remind ourselves of what we have seen and learned previously. John started his letter with a great statement about the Lord Jesus Christ (1:1-4). He has seen Jesus personally in the flesh. He has looked upon Him and touched Him (1:1).  He was of the inner circle of Jesus, and he is frequently referred to as the disciple whom Jesus loved[2]

Church history tells us that the apostle John lived into the late 90’s of the first century. He was the last surviving apostle. John is literally a first generation Christian. He is a man who had walked with Jesus for a long way. His personal acquaintance, knowledge and experience of Jesus is profound.  We learn much about Jesus from the gospel of John, the three letters of John and from the Revelation to John.  He was known as the apostle of love. That is what happens if you spend a lifetime with Jesus. He became so much like Jesus.

The subject of love is at the heart of our text. In fact, this subject is at the heart of this entire letter. It is at the heart of John’s life and ministry.  This love however, does not stand on its own. It is rooted in the person of Jesus. It is rooted in the very being of God. It gives definition to God’s being: God is love!   (4:8,16)

It is very clear that John’s Christian readers were struggling with the world in which they were living. Their confidence in Christ was being undermined.  They needed answers and assurances from this senior brother and pastor. This was all due to the fact that their world (like our world) was contaminated by sin. The current worldwide   outbreak of the Covid-19 virus serves us with an illustration in terms of how pervasive and devastating sin is.    The devil [3] is the originator of sin in the world. He “has been sinning from the beginning” (3:8). “The whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (5:19).The devil, through the spirit of the anti-Christ [4] (2:18) takes people captive by replacing Christ[5] with other loves. This he does by making them focus on the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes and the pride of life (2:16). His agents on earth are deceivers, false prophets and false spirits (2:26;3:7; 4:1-6). They were replacing the Lord Jesus Christ and substituting His truth by promoting error in the world. False thinking about Jesus has leads humanity astray into sin of all kinds.

Even Christians get led astray. When sin and false thinking about Jesus dominates a Christian’s life, they struggle with lack of assurance, because the centre does not hold.  
Sin also infects fellowship; it affects our sense of assurance. It robs us of our joy. Walking in darkness (1:6); not loving the brothers (2:9,11; 3:10,15,17);  loving the world (2:15); accepting  false teaching about Christ  (2:18ff; 4:1-6)  are all hindrances  to our fellowship, assurance and joy

1 John 4:7-5:5

And so we take note that this is the third time that John addresses the matter of loving one another. The word for love here and throughout his letter is the distinct Christian word, ‘agape’. The possession of this unique   love is one of the evidences and assurances that one is a born again believer.  Remember again, that John wrote this letter to provide his readers with assurance and real joy. And again we must be reminded that the devil was hard at work through the spirit of the anti-Christ, the false prophets and the deceivers to undermine this assurance, by undermining the public’s confidence in Jesus.  This is very important for us to see.  Notice that John was busy writing about the importance of loving one another in 3:11-24, when he interrupted himself to speak about the disruptive work of Satan and his agents in 4:1-6 before he continues to speak about the importance of love again in 4:7-5:5.

The point is this. If you destroy the true testimony of Jesus, you destroy the true origin and meaning of love. If you can undermine confidence in the source of Christian love, you make agape love, Christian love, less profound than it is. So, it is important to see that John does not divorce truth (as it is in Jesus and God) from the exercise of love.  Love in itself without truth is merely sentimental. It is unprincipled. Conversely, truth without love can be harsh. John keeps the balance.  The child of God both believes, AND loves (see 3:23). John wants Christians to be rooted in Jesus- who is the truth, AND he wants them to exhibit the love of Jesus at the same time.    

So, as we look at our passage, we see that John is on about two things:
(i)               He wants us to see that the source of love is God. He wants us to draw from that source.
(ii)             He wants us to reflect God’s love. This is proof or assurance that we are the children of God. (Remember that this letter is about assurance!) 

In  4:7a    we see this clearly:  “Beloved, let us love one another for love is from God.”

Three things:

(i)               Notice how John lovingly addresses his readers: beloved (agapētoi) cf. 4:1,7,11. He leads by example. He practises what he preaches. He loves his readers
(ii)             The source of love (agapē) is from God. God is love (4:8). God defines love. He gives us the capacity to love  (cf. Rom 5:5)
(iii)           True believers manifest this love towards fellow Christians.

4:7b,8  “… 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.”  The presence or absence of such love determines whether one has been born again, and whether one knows God, or whether one is not born again and therefore doesn’t know God.  John makes his argument in a positive and in a negative way (Hebrew parallelism[6])

SUMMARY: Our text speaks about God, the source of love, and the believer as he / she reflects the love of God, particularly now among fellow believers.  In the text that follows,  John repeats this  thought in one way and another. We are not going to deal with the rest of our  text systematically but  thematically.  Let us then see what else we can learn about God, the source of love and the believer as he/she  expresses the love of God in practical ways to his /her fellow believer.   

1.     God – the Source of love

·       4:7 Love is from God
·       4:8  God is love. See also 4:16
·       4:9  The love of God was made supremely manifest in the giving of  Jesus  cf. John 3:16)
·       4:10a  (see also  4:19) The prior love of God. He loved us first.
·       4:10b He gave His Son as a propitiation for our sins. Propitiation = In Christ’s sacrifice God deals with the problem of His own righteous anger towards us. [Expiation = In Christ’s sacrifice God deals with the problem of our personal sin, by effectively removing  it. A ‘double cure’ is needed]

2.     The Believer – under obligation to  show the love of God  in their  love  for  fellow believers

John works  out the application of love in two ways:
(i)               Loving one another (positive)
(ii)             What  happens if  we  do not love one another (negative)

The act of loving one another is motivated by the understanding of the amazing manifestation of God’s love in 4: 9-11. John’s conclusion is, “Beloved, if God  so loved us  (in this wonderful  and astonishing manner), we also ought to love one another.   
Conversely, John spells out the implications of not loving one another. It is a sure sign of not being born again and of not knowing God experientially (4:7b). In particular  John challenges us that it is impossible to say that one is a Christian if one bears hatred in their heart towards  a brother or sister  cf. 4:20. (cf. 2:9-11) 

A  few more  general observations

1.     The call to love is rooted in the commandment of God (4:21, 5:2,3). Why must we love our brothers?  Because God has commanded it. Period!

2.     A word about the perfection of God’s love in the believer (cf. 4:12,17,18). Very often we sense that we are not perfect in the application of love. The perfection spoken about does not relate here to the fact that we always succeed, but the fact that God has placed within us a perfect and loving Saviour. I will find that I more I trust Him and the more I rely upon Him the more I shall find  supernatural capacity even to love  and  forgive my  enemy!  The Christian life lived by faith in the indwelling Christ constantly amazes.  Another wonderful   fact that relates to our assurance is found in  4:17,18: ”By this is love perfected with us  so that  we may have confidence (assurance)  on the day of judgement.”  The more we trust in Christ, the more our love is perfected, the less we shall fear the coming judgement.  And another wonderful  by-product of  a perfected love is this:  “There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, for fear has to do with punishment”. And again conversely,  “Whoever fears has not been perfected  in love.” (4:18

3.     A key word (also found in John 15) for maintaining biblical love is ‘abiding‘ (cf.4:12,13,15,16). Being rooted in Christ is the key. The Holy Spirit helps us in this regard (4:13)

5:1-5 Believing in Christ is the key to being able to manifest biblical love

As we close we take note how important it is to root our life entirely in Christ (5:1,5). All the fears, imperfections of our lives in this world are taken care of when we abide and grow  in Christ. Again, we take note how we cannot truly love without being rooted in the truth of Christ. The truth of Christ leads to authentic love. Sadly, so often a wedge is driven between those two things. We hear people say, “Doctrine (absolute insistence upon truth) divides! We need to stop talking about all this doctrine and just love one another.” As far as John is concerned, you cannot do that.  Truth as it is in Jesus energises love. Apart from this it is watered down. Truth and love go hand in hand. They cannot be separated without damage to one or the other.

I trust that you realise what is at stake here. I trust that you now appreciate the closing words in 5:3-5. This poor, messed up world will not be conquered and overcome if we do not continue to believe and abide in Christ, and if we are not ruled by the love of God. In fact the world will overcome and conquer us. We have relied on false versions of love for far too long.  And sadly we see that this compromise of church, and of many Christians, has led Christianity to be in such an impoverished state in our own society, and now the world is poorer for our absence. This world needs the truth driven love of God. You are God’s representatives.  Go and do something about it. It is not a suggestion. It is a command from God.  

[1] Cf. 1 Jn. 2:7-11 ; 3:11-18
[2] John 13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:7,20
[3] 1 John 2:13,14; 3:8,12
[4] 2:18,22
[5] That’s  what anti-Christ means –“ in place of”
[6] E.g. for further study   about Hebrew parallelism :

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