1 John 4:7-21
And Just Why Should We Love One Another?
John has told us several times now that we should love one another. Now he tells us the reason. To do so, he defines what love is. Love is often defined as a feeling, sentiment, or unconditional acceptance and affirmation. But listen to John: “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.” And then he further clarifies: “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.” (To propitiate means to take the punishment for our sin and thus render God “propitious” towards us.) Notice how John defines love. He says nothing about us generating or doing the loving. We are the objects of love, and that is all. John defines love strictly from God’s side. Indeed, he pointedly says, “Not that we have loved God.” It is God doing the loving, and He is loving us. In other words, if you will know what love is, you must look at God, and what He has done. And what has God done? God sent His Son as our atoning sacrifice so that we might live through him. It is because God has loved us and shown us what love is that then John can say, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” Later on he adds, “We love because He first loved us.” And this is why we should love one another – because God has so loved us.
It is God’s love that is the basis for our loving. I cannot hope to love rightly until I learn how to love the way God would have me to. And God’s way of loving is obviously sacrificial and giving. We recall that Jesus laid down his life, and in a most painful way. I must learn to love my wife, my children, my friends, my church, and my enemies, the way God loves them and for His glory. I must love them all for His sake, knowing full well that the way He wants me to love them will run completely counter to the way I want to love them. My way will always be tainted with self-interest, but His way will always be pure and devout … and sometimes painful, as it was for our Lord. Ultimately, I must love others, not for my sake, and perhaps not even for their sake, but for His sake.
This kind of love is impossible for man, but we can possess it because “He has given us of His Spirit.” As His Spirit leads us, placing the saving confession of His Son upon our lips, we abide in Him and He in us. We grow in love as we continue to walk with Him in obedience. As we grow in love, we are thereby perfected in love, and such love relieves us of all fear – fear of Judgment Day, but also the fear of the risk of loving others. Like spokes on a wheel, the closer we get to God, the closer we get to one another.