This week we will observe Valentine’s Day (a little reminder to the men). For some reason (our tax dollars at work), the US Census Bureau has the official statistics about this day of love.
According to stats
- 65% of households exchange greeting cards (180 Million cards will be exchanged)
- 44% have a date night
- 38% give candy
- 32% give flowers
- 29% give gift cards
- 17% give other gifts
- 12% give perfume
- 11% give jewelry
As a result of all this hype, we have come to think of love in terms of gifts, cards, and romance. In our text, John has been talking a great deal about love but he defines it differently than we generally do. There are several Greek words for love. One word denotes family love, another denotes friends, a third talks about romance or physical attraction. John is not using any of these words. He uses the word “agape” which means a self-sacrificing love. It is the word used most of the time in the Bible to describe the kind of love that God wants to see in us.
John has just given us three tests for how we can know we are truly a child of God: 1) Do we live by God’s standards? 2) Do we love others? 3) Do we recognize that Jesus was God become man, our only Savior? If you see the evidence of these three things in you life, then you can have assurance that you are a true child of God. All three things are important and necessary.
Now in the remainder of 1 John 4 (where we will be for the next couple of weeks) John zeros in on the issue of love. In verses 7-12 he gives us three motivations for loving other people with the agape love of God.
WE SHOULD LOVE BECAUSE OF GOD’S NATURE
7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.
Notice two things. First, John tells us that love comes from God. The only people who can love in this truly giving way are those who know have been reborn by an act of God grace.
Don’t miss this. We tend to think that love is natural. In truth, desire is natural. Attraction is natural. But the kind of love that the Bible talks about is supernatural. Naturally we tend to have a love that is largely selfish. We are attracted and kind to those whom we are drawn to. We love because of what we receive (or hope to receive). The kind of love that comes from God sees beyond the surface. It is not conditional on a person’s response. It is anchored to the value that is inherent in the individual as seen through God’s eyes. Paul described this kind of agape love,
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.[1 Corinthians 13:4-6]
Think about it this way. Anybody can learn to play the piano. You can even learn how to play the piano well. However, there is a difference between those who can play the piano and a person who is a musician. The musician feels the music. They make music they don’t simply play it. There is something inside of them that cannot be duplicated by simply playing the notes. Notes and music are two different things.
In the same way, human love and God’s love are different. We all love in the human sense. We “play the notes” so to speak. However, John wants us to know that we will never be able to “play the music of love” unless God has done something inside of us.
In other words, we don’t learn to love by attending seminars, reading books, or trying harder. We learn to love as we draw closer to God through Christ.
Second, notice that John says, “God is love.” We need to be careful here. John is not saying, “Love is God”. This is what we tend to do in our world. We seem to believe that whatever evokes feelings of earthly love is worthy of our devotion (it becomes our god). It’s like the song lyrics, “It can’t be wrong, if it feels so right”. Love is not God!
John is saying is that we do not define God by our definition of love. Instead, we define love by the character of God. Real love is holy, just, and perfect just like God is. If you want to know what true love is, look at God. Love permeates everything that He does.
Third, those who are born of God, will love others. If God the Father is love, God the Son is love, and God the Holy Spirit is love, so if we are of God, we will love also.
Perhaps you have noticed that you tend to adopt the attitude of the people around you. If you are around negative people all day you will begin to sound negative yourself (even if you are the most positive of the negative people). Likewise, if you are around positive and encouraging people all the time that will rub off on you as well.
John’s argument is simple: if God’s Spirit truly resides in us, His character and attitude should influence us. We should begin to reflect the loving outlook that God Himself has. In fact, John argues that if we do not begin to reflect God’s love, then we give evidence that we don’t really belong to Him. Dr. Lloyd-Jones drives it home,
There are people who are unloving, unkind, always criticizing, whispering, backbiting, pleased when they hear something against another Christian. Oh, my heart grieves and bleeds for them as I think of them; they are pronouncing and proclaiming that they are not born of God. They are outside the life of God; and I repeat, there is no hope for such people unless they repent and turn to Him. [Lloyd-Jones, The Lord of God 1 John 4:7]
WE SHOULD LOVE BECAUSE OF THE GIFT WE HAVE RECEIVED IN CHRIST
Our first motivation for love is the very character of God and the character of what it means to be born of God. The second motivation for love is the love we have received from Jesus Christ.
9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
What powerful words. “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” This is a truly wonderful statement. It is the epitome of the Gospel message. If you understand this sentence . . . you understand the message of the gospel.
Please see that God is the initiator. He does not respond to our love for Him. He loved us before we ever cared a whit about Him. He showed His love in a distinct way.
God Gave His Son (v.10). God loved us enough to send His own Son to rescue us. He didn’t write a check. He didn’t form a relief organization. He didn’t send us love notes. He became intimately and personally involved in our predicament. He gave what was most precious to Him in order to save us from our lostness.
God Gave His Son to Die John says He sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice. This was a vivid picture to the people of John’s day. In the Old Testament on the Day of Atonement (the highest of holidays, see Leviticus 16) two goats were brought forward by the High Priest in the temple. The first goat was killed and his blood was sprinkled on the altar of God. The blood of the first goat was given as a payment to satisfy the justice of God. Sin and rebellion cannot simply be “overlooked” it must be dealt with.
The second goat was then brought forward. The sin of the people was confessed as the High Priest placed both hands on the head of goat (as if to transfer all these sins to the goat). This goat would be taken out to the wilderness and set free. It was symbol of sin being removed from the people of Israel. This was an atoning sacrifice. It was payment that appeased the just wrath of a Holy God.
The problem was, the sacrifices of the Day of Atonement were a temporary solution. Before the day was over, the sin of the people would require further sacrifices. God sent His Son to be the final atoning sacrifice. Jesus was sent to give his life on our behalf. He gave His life to satisfy the demands of justice and to make mercy possible for us. His life was of such value that it paid for past and future sin of all who would entrust themselves to Him.
God did not simply send Christ to teach us or to show us the way (as some people would have us believe). He sent Christ to take our penalty for sin by dying a horrible death in our place. He sent Christ to remove the barrier that existed between us and our Holy God.
God Gave His Son to Die for Sinners He gave his son as an atoning sacrifice for our sin. God did not send His son into the world because we were good people who needed help. He did not send His Son into the world because we were trying hard but just couldn’t reach the standard. God sent His son into the world in spite of who we were. Sin is not a mistake that we make. It is an act of rebellion against a Holy God.
Suppose you were under attack by a terrorist. Suppose because of the hatred of the terrorist your family members and friends were all killed. Finally, the terrorist is brought to justice. Finally, he is going to get what he deserves. However, before justice is administered, you step forward and take the place of the terrorist. You are executed in his stead. Unthinkable? It would be for me.
We watch television shows all the time where the good guys track down those who terrorize others. By the time the good guys capture the bad guy we are prepared and even eager for the wicked person or persons to get the justice they deserve. We may even cheer when that justice is administered. If we are honest, we would have to admit that we were relieved when Saddam Hussein was executed much like people must have rejoiced when it was announced that Adolf Hitler was dead.
Understand how this applies to us. We are those terrorists and villains in terms of our relationship with God. When it comes to the Kingdom of God, we were Saddam Hussein, Adolf Hitler, and Usama Ben Laden. Yet, God sent His own son, Jesus, to give His life to save us.
Paul explains it this way in Romans 5,
6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
We will never understand the love of God until we know ourselves. We cannot understand grace until we understand the nature of sin. We will not understand the wonder of the atoning sacrifice until we grasp the horror of what needed to be atoned for.
Once we grasp the horror of our sin, we will be overwhelmed with the depth of God’s love. Not only will we be stunned by His grace, we will want to love, serve, and honor Him for the rest of our lives.
As we reflect on God’s love; as we let it sink in; when we really “get it”; we will be transformed. We see that “love so amazing, so divine, demands my life, my soul, my all.” We will see our hatred melt. We will find forgiveness easier to extend. We will understand that when we hold grudges against one another we show that we have not grasped what we have been forgiven.
WE SHOULD LOVE BECAUSE IT REVEALS GOD TO THE WORLD (v.12)
So, John says to us we should be motivated to love one another because: first, those who have been transformed by God should reveal the character of God. Second, we should love because we have been loved. We have experienced the transformation that love can bring to a life. There is one more motivation is verse 12,
12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
This verse could mean several different things. It could mean: since we can’t see God, the best way to show our love to Him, is to love those He loves.
We understand this. When someone shows love to our kids, we feel loved. When someone hurts or attacks our child we feel attacked. In the same way, John may be saying, when you love the people around you. You are loving God. When you treat others with respect and regard, you are showing the same to God. In Matthew 25 Jesus pretty much says this. When we give food to one who is hungry, water to one who is thirsty, and when we visit someone in jail, it is as if we are doing it to the Lord.
But the verse could also mean, “No one has ever seen God . . . but when we love each other, people will see God reflected through us.” Jesus told Philip in John 14:9 “He who has seen me, has seen the Father.” This should be true of every follower of Christ. When people look at us, they should see a reflection of Him. When they look at how we treat each other, they should see an example of agape love. Our lives should be like sunlight shining through the trees.
I guess a good question to ask one of your friends (especially a non-Christian one) is this: Do you see God through and in me? If the answer is “No” it could indicate that there is a problem. If God’s Spirit is living inside of us his influence will be so great that we can’t help but shine.
Imagine being in a perfectly dark room. There are no windows so there is no light even from the outside. Now suppose someone on the other side of the door turns on a bright light. The door remains shut but you can easily find the door now because the light seeps in around the cracks around the door.
Even in a pitch dark world; even in a world where people are holding the door shut; we should shine like that light. People may not see Him clearly or fully, but they should see His influence through our dealings with others.
So if we want to learn how to love each other we have to first look at ourselves. We need to see how unworthy of love we truly are. Second, we need to look at Jesus. We need to see the way He loved others and the way He loved us. We need to see how He loved us in spite of who we are. Third, then and only then, will we be able to look at others in the proper light.
John wants us to understand that love for each other must begin in the household of faith. If we cannot or will not love those of our own family, we will never be able to reveal God’s love to the world. So let’s get practical. If we are going to live in the love of God, what must we do?
- We must give up petty squabbles and feelings of competition.
- We should speak of one another in honoring ways rather than relishing in and gossiping about the struggles and inconsistencies we discover.
- We should rally to the side of those who hurt even if all we have to share is a tear
- We should be there to help the one who fails (even those who fail publicly)
- We should extend forgiveness for the offenses we sometimes experience at the hand of others
- We should be patient with each other as we mature in our faith at different rates and in different ways.
- We should be quick to welcome the stranger or visitor to our fellowship.
- We should disagree with each other in ways that are not disagreeable.
- We should be willing to give of ourselves in order to help someone else.
- We should be willing to pray for and with each other.
If we will work on these things we will give evidence that God is in us. And perhaps if we do this others will be willing to turn from their sin, trust the love of God in Christ, and be willing to live in the power of His Spirit. And that . . . would be the best Valentine’s gift of all.