1 John 4
7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, 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. 9 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. 11 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. 13 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16 So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. 17 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. 20 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.
I suppose one of the saddest and most unsettling things I ever heard came from the mouth of an older gentleman who had pastored for many years. I asked him if he had any advice for me from his many years as a pastor. Without blinking an eye he said, “Yes. Never think that they will love you to the end.”
I later learned that he retired from his church with a feeling of bitterness and disappointment at what he perceived to be a lack of love for him on the part of the church. Thus, “Never think that they will love you to the end.”
I have a number of thoughts about that, and not all of them are complimentary to the man who said that to me. Regardless, I suspect that if you explored the origins of the disappointments that people feel, a perception of the absence of love or the failure of love would be at the root of many of them.
“Never think that they will love you to the end,” or some derivation of it, is probably something that many people have felt, rightly or wrongly. Even so, that cannot be said of God. No human being can ever say, “Never think that God will love you to the end.”
He always does.
In our text, John clearly and firmly roots and grounds love in the person and character and being of God. It is an amazing passage. Edward McDowell refers to this text as “the greatest dissertation…on Christian love to be found in the New Testament with one exception, 1 Corinthians 13.” That is true. As such, this passage is worthy of close and careful consideration.
God is the originator of love.
The question of the origin of love is an important question. We instinctively want to understand the nature of this powerful thing we call “love.” Interestingly, this is a question that has been taken up by neuroscience recently, as the following CBS News story (entitled, tellingly, “Love Comes From Head, Not Heart”) recounts.
“It has a biological basis. We know some of the key players,” said Larry Young of the Yerkes National Primate Research Center at Emory University in Atlanta. There, he studies the brains of an unusual monogamous rodent to get a better clue about what goes on in the minds of people in love.
In humans, there are four tiny areas of the brain that some researchers say form a circuit of love. Acevedo, who works at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, is part of a team that has isolated those regions with the unromantic names of ventral tegmental area (VTA), the nucleus accumbens, the ventral pallidum and raphe nucleus.
The hot spot is the teardrop-shaped VTA. When people newly in love were put in a functional magnetic resonance imaging machine and shown pictures of their beloved, the VTA lit up. Same for people still madly in love after 20 years.
The VTA is part of a key reward system in the brain.
“These are cells that make dopamine and send it to different brain regions,” said Helen Fisher, a researcher and professor at Rutgers University. “This part of the system becomes activated because you’re trying to win life’s greatest prize – a mating partner.”
One of the research findings isn’t so complimentary: Love works chemically in the brain like a drug addiction.
“Romantic love is an addiction; a wonderful addiction when it is going well, a horrible one when it is going poorly,” Fisher said. “People kill for love. They die for love.”
The connection to addiction “sounds terrible,” Acevedo acknowledged. “Love is supposed to be something wonderful and grand, but it has its reasons. The reason I think is to keep us together.”
I am a bit skeptical of statements that begin, “Love is supposed to be something wonderful and grand, but…” According to what John writes under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, it is more grand than we can imagine because its origin is not the brain, but God.
7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.
“Love is from the brain,” says the neuroscientist. Fine and good, but who made the brain, and why?
“Love is from God,” says John.
In truth, we all know intuitively that love transcends mere biology and that a closed naturalistic view of the world simply cannot explain in any ultimate or satisfactory way the origin of something like love.
Love is from God. It comes from Him. It finds its origin in Him. It is therefore metaphysical before it is physical and theological before it is biological.
God is love.
John’s next statement explains the previous one. Love is from God because God is love. John says this twice in our text.
8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.
16b God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.
McDowell calls the statement, “God is love,” John’s “unique and daring declaration.” It is powerful in its abrupt precision and in its declarative force. “God is love.” John Calvin commented beautifully and well on this amazing statement.
God is love – that is, it is his nature to love us. I know that many people offer more complicated interpretations…But the apostle simply means that as God is the fountain of love, this effect flows from him and is diffused wherever the knowledge of him comes.
Among theologians there is an interesting but controversial view of God called “divine simplicity.” The explanation of divine simplicity in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is helpful.
According to the classical theism of Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas and their adherents, God is radically unlike creatures in that he is devoid of any complexity or composition, whether physical or metaphysical. Besides lacking spatial and temporal parts, God is free of matter-form composition, potency-act composition, and existence-essence composition. There is also no real distinction between God as subject of his attributes and his attributes. God is thus in a sense requiring clarification identical to each of his attributes, which implies that each attribute is identical to every other one. God is omniscient, then, not in virtue of instantiating or exemplifying omniscience — which would imply a real distinction between God and the property of omniscience — but by being omniscience. And the same holds for each of the divine omni-attributes: God is what he has as Augustine puts it in The City of God, XI, 10. As identical to each of his attributes, God is identical to his nature. And since his nature or essence is identical to his existence, God is identical to his existence. This is the doctrine of divine simplicity (DDS). It is represented not only in classical Christian theology, but also in Jewish, Greek, and Islamic thought. It is to be understood as an affirmation of God’s absolute transcendence of creatures. God is not only radically non-anthropomorphic, but radically non-creaturomorphic, not only in respect of the properties he possesses, but in his manner of possessing them. The simple God, we could say, differs in his very ontology from any and all created beings.
Now, this theory of God’s nature, like all theories of God’s nature, is heavily controverted and disputed, but it is the classical understanding and I think it does make a valid point. When John says, “God is love,” he does appear to be saying something more profound and substantive than, “God acts lovingly.” He seems to be saying that the love of God is the nature of God, that it is, we might say, the character of God.
God is love.
However you understand that theologically and philosophically, it is a staggeringly important and life-changing statement. The God you worship, the God upon Whose name you call, the God you serve, the God who has come to us in Jesus, this God is love! He acts therefore naturally out of who He is.
God manifests love.
His primary action of love, His definitive statement of His loving nature, was and is Jesus. In Jesus, God manifests who He is. The incarnation is the enfleshment of the loving character of God. Here is how John puts it:
9 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.
“Would you see the love of God?” John asks. Look at Jesus. “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son…”
John has written this idea before, in the sixteenth verse of the third chapter of his gospel.
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
John communicates the idea yet again in verses 13-16a, and this time, once again, in a decidedly Trinitarian manner.
13 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16a So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us.
Consider John’s Trinitarian understanding of God.
- The Father sends the Spirit. (v.13)
- The Father sends the Son. (v.14)
John’s conclusion is powerful: “So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us.”
The sending God reveals His love in the act of sending. We know love because God sends love by and in sending Himself. He manifests His love in the sending of the Son and then in the sending of the Spirit. His love is not contained in His person. His love is given and it is given in the giving of Himself.
God enables love.
In God’s manifestation of His loving character, we are enabled to enter into relationship with Him. As a result, we are now enabled to love.
11 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.
19 We love because he first loved us.
First we see the imperative to love: “we…ought to love one another.” Then we see the means to fulfilling the imperative: “God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.” Furthermore, “We love because he first loved us.”
We are enabled to love because we are loved. Because we are loved, we are invited through Jesus into the loving heart of God. He abides in us and His love therefore begins naturally to work itself out of us as we yield increasingly to His Lordship. We are therefore and thereby enabled not only to reflect but to manifest and incarnate in our own lives that love that is active and operative within us through the Holy Spirit, in the name of Jesus, for the glory of God.
For this reason, to claim to be a follower of Jesus and yet to lack love is to enter into an absurdity.
20 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.
In short, to claim to love God while not demonstrating love is to lie to ourselves, to the world, and to God. If you do not love your fellow man you do not love God. But if you truly love God you will love your fellow man, for if you truly love God then the enabling power of the love of God has taken up residence in your life and just as God’s love is not contained in His own person, so it cannot be contained in us. It must manifest itself! It must ever and always be incarnate in and through the lives of His people.
The love of God is always spilling the banks, always moving and acting in the world. It is so because it enables His children to love and then, through them, touches the world.
God perfects saving love.
What is more, the love of God is perfected as it saves.
17 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.
Through Jesus, the love of God is perfected within us. The result, John says, is confidence in the salvation that God has given us through Jesus. That is, the follower of Jesus has confidence that He will be saved in the day of judgment. As a result, the follower of Jesus has no fear, and specifically there is no fear of punishment.
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.
If you fear that God will punish you then you have yet to understand Christ rightly, to understand the cross fully, to understand God sufficiently. The love of God that has been given to us in Jesus is a saving love, a love that casts out fear. The love of God is ever perfected in us as we are drawn closer and closer to the heart of God through Jesus. As we do so, we become not more arrogant but rather more confident, not because we have a higher and higher view of ourselves but because we have a higher and higher view of Jesus Christ.
What an unbelievable declaration of the love of God John has given us in this passage! What an amazing comfort! What an incomparable joy! The love of God is with us and for us. The love of God saves and enables! The love of God has come to us in Jesus, and it has come with arms open wide.
It would be impossible to compete with John’s statement in our own terms today, but some have attempted to express what he expresses in their own words over the years. One of the most beautiful attempts occurred in 1917. These words were written by Frederick Lehman.
The love of God is greater far
Than tongue or pen can ever tell;
It goes beyond the highest star,
And reaches to the lowest hell;
The guilty pair, bowed down with care,
God gave His Son to win;
His erring child He reconciled,
And pardoned from his sin.
Oh, love of God, how rich and pure!
How measureless and strong!
It shall forevermore endure—
The saints’ and angels’ song.
When hoary time shall pass away,
And earthly thrones and kingdoms fall,
When men who here refuse to pray,
On rocks and hills and mountains call,
God’s love so sure, shall still endure,
All measureless and strong;
Redeeming grace to Adam’s race—
The saints’ and angels’ song.
Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade;
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.
Amen! And Amen!
 Edward A. McDowell, “1-2-3 John.” The Broadman Bible Commentary. Gen. Ed., Clifton J. Allen. Vol. 12 (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1972), p.214.
 Edward A. McDowell, p.214.
 John Calvin and Matthew Henry, 1,2,3 John. The Crossway Classic Commentaries. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1998), p.78-79.