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"Reasons for Love"
1 John 4:7-11
(Delivered Sunday, May 5, 2002 at Bethany Bible Church. All scripture quotes, unless otherwise noted, are from the New King James Version.)
The more I read the portions of the Bible that were written by John, the more convinced I am that his great theme is "love". John has been called "the apostle of love." When he mentioned himself in his gospel account, he delighted to refer to himself simply as "the disciple whom Jesus loved" (John 13:23; 20:2; 21:20). His own identity was lost in the wonder of Jesus' love for him. He was a man utterly transformed by the love of God.
I say this because, if you've been following along with us in our study of 1 John, it will seem to you as if we keep repeating - over and over - the same basic theme of love. This is because John himself returns to this theme again and again in this letter. He returns to it once more in this morning's passage:
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we 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 (John 4:7-11).
Someone might be tempted to say, "Do we have to hear this thing about 'love' over and over, again and again? Haven't we pretty much gotten the point already?" But I have to ask: Have we really gotten the point yet? Can we honestly say we've gotten the point until we see God's love at work in us as a dominant principle of behavior, and are constantly loving each other as He loved us? I know that I'm still very far from where I should be in exhibiting God's love toward others. Sometimes, my short-comings in this area shock and grieve me. I need constantly to be reminded of God's love for me; and I need constantly to be exhorted to display that love in my own life. I certainly hope that I'm growing; but I suspect I'll need to be reminded and exhorted over and over until I'm in heaven. Isn't it the same with you?
A non-believer once complained; "If you Christians truly believed one-tenth of what you say you believe, then you'd live ten times better than you do." That hurts; but I'm quite sure it's true. Biblically, the best evidence we can offer to the world that we genuinely believe what we say we believe is to live a life that's been radically transformed - at the behavioral level - by God's love. John doesn't apologize for repeating this command of God's love to us, because we need to be repeatedly exhorted to obey it. I don't believe I can be critical of the way John repeats this command until I'm more consistent in obeying it than I currently am.
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A few years ago, I experienced a personal turning-point in my appreciation of this command to love. This turning-point occurred through my marriage. My wife has given me permission to share this turning-point experience with you; and she has confirmed to me that, as far as she is able to tell, the transformation in me that I'm about to describe has truly happened.
I was preparing a sermon on God's principles for marriage, as those principles are given to us in Ephesians 5. That passage, as you might remember, teaches wives to submit to their own husbands as the church is subject to Christ's headship; and it teaches husbands to sacrificially love their own wives as Christ loves the church.
In the past, whenever I have read that passage, I tended to give the primary emphasis to the commands - that is, that wives were to submit, and that husbands were to love - and I tended to look at Jesus' love for the church as the example we're to follow in obeying the command. I understood this passage to be teaching that wives are to obey the command and submit themselves to their husbands, and husbands were to obey the command and commit themselves to loving their wives. In my mind, it was primarily a matter of being obedient to a command. And our obedience to this command was measured against a standard set by Jesus in His relationship to His church - a standard, of course, that was beyond our ability to achieve.
But on this one occasion, something different happened; and I can only attribute it to the Holy Spirit opening my eyes. I still maintain that this passage is intended to teach us the principles of harmonious married life. But something revolutionary happened in me when, for the first time, I placed the primary emphasis in this passage on the example of Jesus' love for His church instead of on the commands to husbands and wives. I spent a good, long time mediating on the love Jesus has for his church; and as a result, I began to look at my relationship with my wife from the perspective of Jesus' love for me rather than the other way around.
This happened when I personalized what Paul says in this Ephesians passage about Jesus love, and understood from it how Jesus loves me. I read there that Jesus is "the head of the church", and "the Savior of the body" (Eph. 5:23). That meant that He is my "head" - the one who exercises His authority and power to serve me and meet my needs. And it meant that He is my "Savior" - the one who took the initiative with me, rescued me from my separation from Him, and gave me new life.
I read that Jesus "loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish" (vv. 25-27). That meant that He loved me and gave Himself sacrificially for me on the cross, in order to continually cleanse me and wash me from the consequences of my sin; and in order to present me to Himself without spot or wrinkle or blemish, but holy and delightful to Himself in heavenly glory. I came to appreciate His immeasurable delight in me, and in His pleasure over the prospect of glorifying me for Himself eternally!
I read that Jesus loves the church today as His own body - giving Himself over to nourishing and cherishing it as if it were His own flesh and bones (vv. 28-30). That meant that Jesus loves me right now in that same way - that He was watching out for me, continually seeking my best interest, continually protecting me, continually nourishing and cherishing me, continually giving me what would fulfill and enrich me, continually treating me as preciously as if I were a member of His own body.
The more I read this passage with Jesus' love in the place of primary emphasis, the more I became overwhelmed with Jesus' deep, sacrificial love for me. I cannot say that I'm even remotely close to being the husband I should be; but I can honestly say that this new, growing appreciation of Jesus' love for me has genuinely transformed how I love my own wife. As a result of the personal impact of Jesus' love on me, His love for the church has become less of an unachievable "model" of the love I'm to strive toward in loving my wife; and more, instead, the great "motivation" and "inspiration" for my care and treatment of her.
After rediscovering Jesus' love for me in this way, I could never look at my wife in the same way again. How could I be the recipient of such love, and not be changed by it? I have been motivated ever since to love and serve her - in an ever growing way - as Jesus has loved and served me. I have been motivated to use my authority in the home to serve her and meet her needs. I have been motivated to sanctify her and seek her purity and holiness. I have been motivated to give her the things that she needs in order to be happy and enriched; and to find delight in seeing her become the fulfilled and satisfied person God meant for her to be. I have been motivated to nourish and cherish her as if she were my own body. I have a new, powerful inspiration to do this, because I just can't get over the fact that that's how Jesus has first loved me!
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I would never share all this with you unless I was confident my wife would agree that it was true. And the reason I'm sharing it with you today is not because I want to be thought of as a perfect husband; because I'm certainly not one. (If you need any clarity on that, just check with my wife!) Rather, the reason I share it is because it illustrates the transforming power of God's love that John is seeking to instill in us in this morning's passage.
The command that John gives us is a very simple one: love one another. It's not a suggestion; it's a command. But the full command is that you and I love one another we have been loved by Jesus! It's a command that assumes that we have personally experienced the love of Jesus, and that this love has transformed our hearts first. It's a command that we're motivated and inspired to obey toward one another, because the love of Jesus had a deep, personal, transforming impact upon us.
In this passage, I see that John gives three motivations for obeying this command. They are all based on taking a good, long look at the love God has shown us in His Son Jesus Christ; and on allowing the realization of that love to transform our hearts. I pray that, as we come to the Lord's table this morning to celebrate the remembrance of the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross for us, our look at these "reasons for love" will warm our hearts in a fresh way. I pray that we'll grow to appreciate the greatness of God's love for us, shown at the cross of Jesus. And I pray that, as a result, we will become motivated as never before to display toward one another the sacrificial love that God has showered on us.
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First, notice that John tells us to love one another ...
I. BECAUSE LOVE IS OF GOD (v. 7).
John writes, "Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God." This first reason for obedience to the command is based on the nature of love - that is, that genuine love has its source in God.
John, you'll remember, was writing this letter to help give assurance to his brothers and sisters in Christ that they were genuinely saved and were in authentic fellowship with Jesus Christ. He offers several "tests" to verify to us that we are in fellowship with Jesus; and one of these tests is the evidence of His love in us. Therefore, John says that if someone displays - as ongoing pattern of their practical life - the sacrificial love that Jesus showed toward us, then this is evidence that they are truly born-again and walk in fellowship with God. "Everyone," he writes, "who loves is born of God and knows God."
Why is such love evidence that we are born of God and know God? Its because of the nature of this kind of love. The love we're being called to here is not a mere feeling. It's the kind of love that Jesus Himself demonstrated toward us. It is a practical, sacrificial love that is like no other. It's a love that moved Him to give of Himself for those who were His enemies. It was a love that moved Him to suffer and die on the cross, in order to pay the price for our having shaken our fists at His Father and for having sinning grievously against Him. It was a love that redeemed us - His enemies - to Himself; so that we could be transformed into His beloved, beautiful, glorified Bride forever. Such a love as that is not a "natural" love. It's a "supernatural" love. And when people see this supernatural love in us - transforming us, and displaying itself in practical, self-sacrificing ways in our lives even toward our enemies - then they know that it's a love that could only have come from God.
The world cannot produce that kind of love. It's not to be found in nature. Have you ever watched one of those wildlife videos that show the "life-and-death struggle" of the animal kingdom? Have you ever seen an animal love its enemy? You may have; but it was with a very selfish kind of love - the same kind of love that you or I have toward a delicious meal. There's no "self-sacrificing love" in the natural world; only "survival of the fittest".
The love God calls us to is not to be found in the natural man or natural woman either. The love that comes "naturally" to fallen human beings is the kind of love that says, "I love what you do for me." Instead, the love God calls us to is a love that can only come from Him - a love that says, "I will love you, even though you can do nothing for me. I will give myself for you, even though you can give me nothing in return. I will serve you, even though you are incapable of serving me. I will meet your needs as if they were my own." This kind of love is one that testifies of God, because it can only have God as its source. That's why John can say, in verse 12, "No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another [that is, with Christ-like sacrificial love], God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us." That's why Jesus told His disciples;
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another (John 13:34-35).
And so, one of the reasons John gives for obeying the command of love is because of the nature of such love. It comes only from God; and when the world sees it, they see God at work. We bear witness to God before the world when we allow His supernatural love to be displayed in us. "... Love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God."
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The nature of Christ-like love - that is, that love is of God - is one reason John gives for obeying this command. Another has to do with the nature of God Himself; that is ...
II. BECAUSE GOD IS LOVE (v. 8).
John says, "He who does not love does not know God, for God is love". John has already said that "love is of God"; but this doesn't mean that "love" is something that is somehow distinct from what God Himself is - as if someone can somehow express the love of God in a way that is independent from God. There can be no such thing as real love apart from God because God is, Himself, love.
People often fail to embrace the true meaning of the phrase, "God is love". God is certainly loving toward all His creatures; but John isn't merely saying that "God is loving". And God certainly wants us to be loving toward one another, but John isn't merely saying that "God enjoys and recommends love." What John is saying is that "God is love" - that love is an essential attribute of God, an essential aspect of His being. He can never be anything other than loving, because He Himself is love, has always been love, and always will be love. A definition of love must always include God's being; and a definition of God's being must always include love.
Some have suggested that God created us because He wanted someone to love. But to say that "God is love" means that love didn't first come into existence when God created us. Love always was - even before the universe or anything in it was created - because love has always existed in the relationship between the Father and the Son. Love has always been essential to who God is, because the Father has eternally loved and delighted in the Son, and the Son has eternally loved and delighted in the Father. That love and mutual delight has always been complete and satisfying between them; and so God didn't create us because He "needed" someone to love. We were created by a God whose delight was already perfect in an eternal relationship of love. His work of creation was an act within the context of an already existing, already perfect love - a love in which, now, "the Father loves the Son, and has given all things into His hand" (John 3:35); and in which "the Son Himself will also be subject to Him who put all things under Him, that God may be all in all" (1 Cor. 15:28).
We - as God's redeemed creatures - were not made by Him because He needed something to love. Instead, we have been made by Him to be welcomed into the marvelous "overflow" 1 of the eternal love the triune God has always enjoyed in His own being. We have been brought into this wonderful fellowship of love through the ministry of the Holy Spirit because of our faith in Jesus. As Paul has written at the end of one of his letters, "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen" (2 Corinthians 13:14).
Think of what a wonderful privilege it is that we have been invited to share in that eternal love that is already shared within the Trinity! We would never dare to even imagine such a thing, if it weren't for the fact that Jesus Himself reveals to us that it is true! Our Savior, before He went to the cross, prayed to the Father for His disciples and said,
Now, the implication of all of this is this: If anyone claims to know God and yet harbors hatred in his or her heart for others, that person is fooling themselves. How can someone live a life of hatred, and still claim to have a relationship with the very one who is, Himself, love? It's impossible!
This, then, is another way to test whether or not you have genuine fellowship with Jesus Christ. But it's also another motivation to keep the command to love one another. John wrote, "And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him" (4:16).
* * * * * * * * * *
And so, the nature of God Himself is another motivation for keeping the command to love one another. "He who does not love does not know God, for God is love." This leads us, finally, to the third reason John gives us to obey this command - perhaps the most personally transforming reason of all ...
III. BECAUSE GOD LOVED US (vv. 9-11).
Because love comes from God, and because God is Himself love, then such a love is something that we cannot know about naturally. We would never even know what love really is unless God, first, chose to manifest it to us. And God did much more than merely tell us what love is. He showed it to us by His own example. John writes, "In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins."
Notice what John says about this manifestation of love. First, he shows us that it is a love that was profoundly sacrificial. It involved the greatest possible sacrifice on the part of God toward us. The greatness of this sacrifice was shown in that it involved the Father's sacrifice of that which was most precious to His heart - "His only begotten Son". The greatness of this sacrifice was also shown in the fact that His Son left the glory of heaven in order to condescend "into the world." And the greatness of this sacrifice was shown in the fact that Jesus died, "that we might live through Him." Truly, a greater manifestation of sacrificial love in all the universe could not be imagined than the sacrificial love God the Father has shown us in the sacrifice of His Son Jesus Christ.
Second, John shows us that God's love for us was completely undeserved. "In this is love," John writes; "not that we loved God, but that He loved us ..." God wasn't motivated to love us because He first saw how much we loved Him. Far from it! The Bible teaches us that we were "dead in trespasses and sins" (Eph. 2:1). We had no capacity to love God at all. The Bible tells us that it was "not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us ..." (Titus 3:5). The "undeservedness" of this love is shown in the fact that "... God demonstrates His own love toward us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:8).
And finally, notice that John shows us that God's love for us was wonderfully effective. He sent His son "to be the propitiation for our sins". A "propitiation" is that which satisfies the righteous anger of God, and turns His wrath away. We could never have turned God's wrath away for our sins with any amount of good deeds we could do; because we - the very ones who sinned against Him - would be the ones trying to do the good deeds. The only way God's wrath for our sins could be turned away from us is by "death". The Bible tells us that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23); and so, something had to die in order to propitiate God's wrath. Jesus willingly laid down His own life on the cross, in order to be "the propitiation for our sins". "And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins," John writes elsewhere, "and not for ours only, but also for the whole world" (2:2).
This, then, was God's demonstration of love for us. It was a love that went to the ultimate limit of sacrifice, that reached down to the lowest depths of "undeservedness", and that did not cease until it had completely brought about our greatest possible good. And notice how this demonstration of love is to transform us: "Beloved," John writes, "if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another."
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As we come to the Lord's table this morning, I hope you will appreciate it as a feast of "love". I hope that you will come to this table with your heart transformed by the love of Jesus that it celebrates. I hope that you will set aside all resentment, hatred, and bitterness of heart as you come to it. And I hope that you will become greatly motivated to love one another as a result of partaking of it. Because laid out on the table before us - through the symbols of Jesus' body and blood - are the reasons given to us to obey His command to love one another.
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