By This We Know Love
Grace Community Church
March 25, 2018
God is Love
Please turn with me to 1 John 4:7-21. If you’re visiting us this morning we are working out way through 1 John.
This past week, a 17 year old woman was about to take her road test to get her driver’s license, but inadvertently she put the car into drive when she thought she had put it in reverse and the car lurched forward and crashed into the driver’s license exam station. (Picture) I’d say it’s a safe bet she failed the exam. The good news is, she can take the test again. Once they repair the building.
In this letter, John lays out a series of tests to help the believers he is writing to, and us, know whether we truly are children of God or if we’re veering off and in danger of crashing our faith. The first test in found in chapter one: if we walk in darkness we don’t know God, if we walk in light we have fellowship with God and each other. The second test is found in chapter 2: if we keep the Lord’s commandments we know Him, and if we don’t, we don’t. We’ve covered those two tests already so if you missed those messages you can listen to them online. But the primary test John keeps repeating is do we love one another? John doesn’t want us to fail the exam, so in this passage he lays out three points that build on each other logically to help us be confident that we will pass the exam:
1. God is love and the source of all love.
2. If God, who is love, lives in us we will also love one another
3. Putting that love into action causes us to have confidence on Judgment Day (the Final Exam).
God is Love and the Source of all Love (vs. 7-8)
When John says God is love he is making a massive theological statement about who God is. Normally when we want to attribute love to someone we say that they are loving. But John doesn’t say God is loving. He says God is love. God so perfectly embodies love, His character is so completely permeated by love, that it’s not enough to say God is loving. He is love.
There is no part of God that is not loving. There is nothing God does that is not loving. Everything else that God is and everything God does is always and completely motivated by love. Even God’s anger is loving. Even God’s judgment is loving. The Bible says there are things God hates – and even that hatred is an expression of God’s love. God hates sin and wickedness because of His love, not in spite of it.
God is love. And God is also the source of all love. John says in verse 7: for love comes from God. There is no love in all of creation that doesn’t trace its origin back to God. If God weren’t loving, there would be no love anywhere, for love comes from God. The devil didn’t become what he is because he decided to be evil. The devil became what he is because he chose to cut himself off from God. In fact there is biblical evidence to suggest that Lucifer intended to do good – to be like God – but when he cut himself off from God, he cut himself off from the source of all good, and the source of all love. There is no good in Satan’s heart and there is no love or warmth or compassion in Satan’s heart. Only cruel, cold, merciless evil. Because in his prideful rebellion he cut himself off from God, the source of all goodness and all love.
If God were not loving, all of creation would be a cold, loveless existence. No being, angel or human,
would have love or be loved, for love comes from God. God is the sun radiating love, we are the moon, reflecting love. Love comes from God.
But what is love? What does love look like? A lot of people enthusiastically affirm the statement that God is love, and then use that statement to support things that the God of the Bible condemns. If we say that homosexuality is sin, they say, “my God is a God of love and accepts me as I am.” If we say that sex before marriage is sin, they say, “your God is a judgmental, prudish God. My God is a God of love and knows that we love each other so it’s not wrong.” They have defined love to mean God accepts them no matter what. And it kinda sounds good. It kinda sounds right. It does feel more loving to accept people regardless of the lifestyle choices they make.
But we reflectors don’t get to define what love is. Only God, from whom love comes, is the definer of love. And that’s a good thing because while God is perfectly loving, we are actually pretty bad at loving. We are self-centered, prideful, sinful, creatures who at best are shallow and self-serving in our definitions of love. True love is the opposite of self-serving. It is serving the good of others even at great personal sacrifice. That is how God defines love and that is how God has most powerfully showed His love:
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. Vv. 9-10
Today is Palm Sunday, where we remember the day that Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a colt while the crowds laid palm branches before him and shouted “hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Matt. 21:9) Hosanna means save, and the crowds thought that Jesus was the King come to save them from Roman oppression and set up an earthly kingdom. Within a few days many of those same voices would be crying out “crucify!” because they realized that he was not the Savior they wanted. But Jesus came to save by dying on the cross as a propitiation for our sins – God laid on His beloved Son the punishment and the torment that our sins deserved so that we could be saved. This is God’s ultimate definition and ultimate demonstration of love. God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. No greater love has ever been shown ever.
When people say a loving God wouldn’t judge our sin, they are making up a god who doesn’t exist. God couldn’t be loving if He didn’t judge sin. That would be an unloving thing to do. Nicholas Cruz killed 17 people and injured a dozen others at a high school in Parkland, Florida. Can you imagine the outrage if a judge said to him, “it wouldn’t be loving of me to judge you. Punishing you won’t bring any of those 17 back, and after all, who am I to judge your actions as wrong? I am a loving person and I’m going to let you go free.” That wouldn’t be loving, that would be evil!
If God allows sin to go unpunished, it wouldn’t be loving, it would be evil. God’s judgment isn’t unloving, it’s an essential part of love. The amazing news is that God loved us so intensely that, while He can’t ignore our sins, He provided a way for us to be forgiven of our sins through faith in Jesus Christ. God sacrificed Himself for our greatest good. That is what love is! God is love and the source of all love and God alone defines what love is.
If God, who is love, lives in us we will also love one another
It’s a logical progression of thought: God’s nature is love, so if we are His children born of His Spirit and God lives in us, we will bear His nature and we will love. We see this throughout this passage:
…whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Vs 7
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. Vv. 11-12
…whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. Vs, 16
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. Vv. 20-21
It’s real simple: if we don’t have love, then we are not of God because God is love. When someone is born again, they receive God’s nature which is love imparted to them. We don’t create that love, we can’t generate that love for love is from God. We received God’s nature of love when we were born again. Think of it this way: if you’re a human being (and I’m going to assume that everyone in the room is), you didn’t become a human being by something you did. You’re not a human this morning because you drank a cup of coffee or washed your hair or drove a car. You’re a human being because you were born one. It’s the same way with love – if we’re born of God, John says, we share in His nature, and He is love. Whoever loves has been born of God…anyone who does not love does not know God…(vv. 7-8) That’s not about what we do, it’s about what we are.
But there is something we need to do. We need to exercise that love. Look at how John opens this passage in verse 7: Beloved, let us love one another… that’s an appeal for us to do something! He confirms this in verse 11 when we says if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. Ought is a verb that expresses moral obligation and duty. Because God loved us so much, we ought to love one another. The love is in your heart because God imparted it to you when you believed. But you need to let it out! I need to let it out! John is saying you are a child of God, now be what you are!
Loving one another is to be one of the highest priorities of a church family. A church can be doctrinally faithful and still miss the heart of God by a mile if there isn’t love in the church. The truth of God’s word brings the light, but it’s the love of God that brings the warmth.
John’s final point is that as we let God’s love shine through us, as we put God’s love into action, it causes us to have confidence about facing God on the final exam, the day of judgment.
Putting that love into action causes us to have confidence before God on Judgment Day
Let me ask you a personal question: what terrifies you? I mean, really scares the bejeebers out of you? I have terror rankings. Heights is pretty high on that list – I’m afraid of heights. I’m not too crazy about the idea of being on a ship that’s going down in the middle of the ocean in a bad storm. That would be pretty scary. Oh, I saw a show where a guy was dropped into a deep pit full of poisonous snakes. Yep, that’s pretty high on my list too. What’s on the list of things that terrify you?
The most terrifying thing any human being will ever face probably isn’t even on most people’s list of top ten, but it will be. It’s the Day of Judgment. The Bible tells us that when the world sees the wrath of God, they will cry out for the mountains to fall on them and hide them from the piercing gaze of a Holy God. They will want to die to escape judgment but mountains won’t be able to cover them and death won’t be able to hide them from the wrath of the Lamb. On that day the stakes will be infinitely higher than any other terror. Falling into a pit of snakes is hell – for 10 short minutes. Then it’s over. Falling from a skyscraper sounds terrifying, but seconds later it’s over. Drowning in a cold ocean far from land is scary but it’s temporary. Hell is far worse than any of those things and it’s forever. Nothing is anywhere near as terrifying as the Day of Judgment.
But it doesn’t have to be scary for the Christian. We can face that day confidently, without fear. All it takes is perfect love. Read vv. 17-19 with me.
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. Vv. 17-19
Having confidence and not having fear are the same thing looked at from different angles. Perfect love gives us confidence and casts out fear. But to me that hasn’t always felt very helpful because who of us has perfect love? It felt like saying, falling off a skyscraper isn’t scary if you have the ability to fly. But I don’t have the ability to fly. Who of us has the ability to love perfectly? If all it takes to face Judgment Day with confidence and no fear is perfect love, it looks like we’re all gonna crash into the Final Exam Center.
But John is trying to reassure us and help us be confident about that day, and to feel reassured and confident, we need to understand what John means when he says “perfect love”. I want to credit John Piper for helping me better understand how this passage is helpful to my soul. Most of us, when we think of something being perfected, we think of something that has been changed from a state of flawed imperfection to a state of flawless perfection. We look at our lives and lack of love and say, “how will I ever love flawlessly?” But in the NT the Greek word for “perfect” doesn’t usually mean “flawless perfection”. It means something being completed or accomplished. If you set a goal, and achieve it, you have been “perfected” in that goal.
After Jesus talked to the Samaritan woman at the well, he told his disciples, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me, and to accomplish (same word - perfect) His work.” Jesus doesn’t mean that God’s work was flawed and he was going to make it flawless. It meant that he was going to take God’s assignment for his life, turn it into action, and thereby complete or perfect it.
John writes in his gospel that on the cross Jesus said, “I thirst” in order to fulfill the scriptures. The word fulfill is the same Greek word “to perfect”. The scriptures weren’t flawed in need of being perfected, they were uncompleted in need of being completed. Jesus’ action completed God’s will. So how does this encourage us in this passage? Let’s read the passage again, starting in verse 16:
God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. 17 By this is love perfected with us…By what? By our abiding in love and God abiding in us. As we live in the love of God, His love is perfected in us. Verse 12 also confirms this: No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. It’s not talking about us loving 100% perfectly, it’s talking about us turning God’s assignment of loving one another into action.
God’s love is perfected in us when we don’t just talk about loving others but we turn it into action and love one another. God’s love is perfected in us when we see someone in need and don’t just say, “hope things work out for you” but we turn love into action and do what we can to help them.
Love is perfected when we do more than talk about the need of sharing the gospel with those who don’t know the Lord, and actually share the gospel with them. I talked earlier about the terrors of hell and judgment day. Whether people believe it or not, that day is fast approaching every single person we meet. Perfect love is when we step out, turn God’s assignment of sharing the good news of Jesus into action, and do what we can to see them escape that judgment. I need to say, I know my love is not perfect in this regard. I don’t feel the urgency the way I should. If someone’s life was in danger, I would hope that I would do what I could to save them. But eternal life and eternal death is so, so, so, much more important. Lord, give us hearts to see those around us as eternal souls who need to hear about the love of Jesus.
We aren’t saved by acts of love. We are saved by faith in Christ, whose perfect act of love paid for all our sins and restored us back to God. But as we take God’s assignment to all His children to love others and turn it into action, we see God’s love operating and through us and that is strong evidence to our souls that we belong to Him. As we love others, we find we are more like Jesus, as verse 17 says, because as he is so also are we in this world.
You can do this. This perfect love that will give you greater confidence and take away fear of judgment doesn’t have to be front page news acts of heroism. Love in small ways. More lives are impacted by the little things done out of love accumulated over time, then great big acts of love. The more we can live every day with this mindset the more opportunities to love we’ll see and (most importantly) act upon! God gives us assignments to love, and the more we turn those assignments into action, the more our hearts see His love in us and that assures us we belong to Him.
If you believe in Jesus, if he is your Savior, then you are God’s beloved child. You are tethered to Him with a bond that cannot be broken, and when you sin, confess your sin to God and He will be faithful and just to forgive you your sin and cleanse you from all unrighteousness. This is our great hope and confidence on the Day of Judgment. Not what we did, but what Jesus did. There will be no judgment left for us on that day, because Jesus took our judgment upon himself on the cross. Judgment Day will not be a day of terror, but a day of joy, of rewards (graciously given) and a day of worshipping in tearful amazement the grace of our God and Savior who loved us so much. And, knowing God loved us so much, we ought to love one another. Let’s ask the Lord to keep helping us to grow in this love that comes from Him.