1 John 4:7-19 Love Is What Love Has Done (Rev. Erik Veerman)
1 John 4:7-19
Rev. Erik Veerman
Love Is What Love Has Done
Please turn to 1 John 4:7-19. You can find that on page 1212.
This is the third time that the apostle John has come back to the topic of love. This time he is focusing on (1) God, who is love, (2) God’s display of love through Christ, and (3) our response to his love.
Please stand for the reading of God’s Word.
Reading of 1 John 4:7-19
In Sante Fe, New Mexico you can find one of the most famous spiral staircases in the world. It’s in the Loretta Chapel. It’s considered one of the engineering wonders of the world. There are no visible supports. No visible nails. The wood is believed to be held together by pegs. And it’s beautiful. It turns a full two rotations up to the choir loft. The railing and wood perfectly curved; the ornate balusters beautifully hand crafted; Part of the mystery is that no one is really sure who built it. Some have even suggested a saint from heaven came down and built it. That’s kind of funny. Countless articles and a couple of documentaries have highlighted its mystery and wonder.
Many have said that the book of 1 John is like an elaborate spiral staircase. As you read and study, you are ascending up as it circles back to prior themes. Each time, each theme, from a different perspective. Each curve of the staircase, different nuances and emphases.
•As we’ve ascended, John has revealed Christ in his fullness and what true belief is in him;
•As we’ve curved around the staircase, John’s has revealed the world – first a warning to not love the world, then as we’ve circled around, a warning about the beliefs of the world;
•he’s revealed our call to obedience – not to gain God’s favor but in response to his favor, and as we again, circled up the staircase, John has revealed what true life in God looks like.
And it’s all connected. The curved railings all the way up the 1 John staircase are God’s assurances to his people. That you may know that you are his and that he abides in you.
So, today, we are making our third rotation around the spiral and we’ve come back to the theme of love.
The first time we came across love was chapter 2 – the love test. You know that you know God if your heart display the love of God. And then the second time was in chapter 3. That was the contrast between loving your brother and hating your brother. Remember the comparison? …Cain, who hated and murdered, and Jesus, who loved and gave his life?
So, first was testing your love and then second was applying love in your life.
Now in chapter 4, we’re higher up the spiral staircase. John draws our attention outward. He now shows us where love comes from.
I find how 1 John addresses love very interesting and inspiring.
It’s very different than our usual approach. You know, most of the time, we begin with the theoretical and then we apply it with the practical - we begin with the source and then we see how that is worked out. That’s the typical approach of the apostle Paul. The first half of his letters are usually the foundational truths, and the second half of his letters are usually those truths applied in life.
But John has flipped it around. He started with the application of love and now he’s going back to the source of love. It’s like he’s saying, “I’ve told you what love looks like, now let me tell you where it all comes from.” It has the effect of reinforcing what already been said about love and then motivating us to fulfill it.
On the back of the bulletin, you’ll see four different aspects about love from this text. Each has a couple of verses listed.
This is generally the order we’ll take them, although there will be some overlap.
1. The source of all love – that is clear.
2. The manifestation of that love – how God works out his love.
3. The response to love – that’s our response.
4. The result of love – the benefit we receive from God’s love.
1. The source of all love
First, love begins with God.
The church that I grew up in had a huge banner in the sanctuary. It was on the side, and it was right there in view as you walked in. I think it is still there. It was there a few years ago when I visited. If so, it’s been there for 4 decades.
And on the banner are three words. God is love.
That banner is profoundly true. But let me say, while those words are true (that God is love), the banner is also very unhelpful.
It is very unhelpful because there is no definition of love given. There’s nothing that describes what that love means. There are no other banners that provide a broader description of God’s being and nature. It’s just God is love. And the one who sees it, is left to his or her own thoughts as to its meaning.
Let me say it again, God is love. That statement is absolutely and beautifully true, but it’s also one of the most misunderstood statements of God’s nature today.
That’s because we use our definition of love, we then impose our application of our definition upon God himself. In short, we conform God to our image. If God is love, as we think, he must be pleased with and accepting of all our thoughts and actions. We use the phrase “love wins” as one author put it to mean that God’s nature as love wins out over his nature as just. To some, God is love means God would never punish sin, or that sin is no longer a category because God’s love wins. Or, as some think, certain sins are no longer sin.
But what that does is misunderstand love and misunderstand God’s love. In fact, that misunderstanding takes away the reason for God’s love fulfilled in Christ.
So then, what is love? I’ve defined it in previous sermons, but I think it would be helpful to restate it. The word in the Greek word is agape. It is used 24 times here. Even the opening two words. Beloved, let us love. Or Agapetoi agapomen. In fact, let me read you the best definition of Biblical love. From 1 Corinthians 13 “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;” Now, listen carefully to the next part of the definition, “it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.”
Love in Scripture is not a blind love. Rather it is a self-sacrificial love. It gives. It exalts goodness and mercy and it rests on truth.
God is this love. It is a deep truth that sets Christianity apart. God’s nature is this kind of love.
2. The manifestation of that love
And the thing is, God love cannot be held back. It cannot be contained. The very nature of love is action.
It’s sort-of like the flip side of that well known Forrest Gump quote. Gump says, “Stupid is as stupid does.” In the case of God’s love. “Love is what love does.” Or “Love is what love has does.”
In fact, these verses in 1 John 4 don’t give us a definition of love. Rather, they explain love by describing what love does.
For example, verses 9 “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only son into the world...” To be “made manifest” means to be made apparent or evident or visible.
Verse 10 is even clearer that love is action. Look down at what it says, “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his son.” Love “is” what love has done.
And here’s the implication of that: our understanding of the phrase “God is love” needs to be tested by how that love is made manifest by God. In other words, to understand what it means that “God is love” needs to understand why God the Father sent his Son. If love is God sending his Son, why did God send his Son?
And I want to draw your attention to the phrase at the end of verse 10, “[God] sent his son to be the propitiation for our sins.”
That’s a big word. Propitiation. This is the second time in 1 John that we’ve come across the word “propitiation”. Both times it’s related to the reason Jesus was sent into the world. And let me say, it’s critical to understanding love. Propitiation means the satisfaction of God’s divine wrath against sin. In the Old Testament, a sin offering was given as a means of propitiation. It demonstrated that a sacrifice needed to be made to cover the consequences of sin. On the most important day of the Jewish calendar back then, the Day of Atonement, the blood of the lamb offering was sprinkled over the Ark of the Covenant. Those activities all demonstrated the idea of propitiation. A sacrifice needed to be made - blood needed to be shed.
Let me put it this way, because God’s nature is also just and holy, he cannot stand the presence of sin. Sin is completely opposed to God. Therefore, God is wrathful against sin. Sin has to be dealt with. That’s what propitiation is - the divine satisfaction of God’s wrath against sin. And that’s what Christ accomplished on the cross. He fulfilled God’s eternal demands against sin and therefore displayed God’s infinite love.
I’m not saying that the “God is love” banner should come down. The banner is true! Rather, I’m saying that if a church is going to have such a prominent banner, they should add more banners. God is just. God is holy. God is good. God is true. God is light (remember that from chapter 1 – he sees all, knows, all, reveals all).
All of those banners would deepen and enrich our understanding… not just of God, but also of each of those attributes. Our understanding of God’s love is intensified by understanding his justice and holiness. Our understanding of his nature as good is furthered by understanding his nature as true.
Our tendency is to think that by adding more attributes to God’s list, that it diminishes each attribute. But that’s not true. It’s not like a pizza, where the more slices you make, the smaller the pieces. No. Rather, it’s like adding more toppings. Goodness, truth, holiness, love. The pizza is better.
I should probably stop. Anytime you try to use an analogy with God, you risk some heresy.
My point is this: Our understanding of God’s love is deepened by our understanding of Jesus’ propitiation for sin. You see, God’s love does not win out over his justice and wrath. Rather, God’s love and justice are both perfectly fulfilled on the cross. God’s holy wrath against our sin is satisfied on the cross. Jesus is the only sacrifice that could satisfy God’s wrath. That is love. It is the most profound love. It does not dismiss sin or God’s holy justice against sin. It deals with it.
Do you see how the manifestation of God’s love on the cross defines love to the fullest?
And the beautiful thing about God’s love is that it is for you… it’s for each one of you here. God’s love is for you. You either have God’s love in Christ, or you need God’s love in Christ, which he offers.
To have God’s love is to know it, to believe it, to abide in it, and to confess it. Everything in verses 13-16 captures what it means to have the love of God in Christ.
•We have God’s love if God has given it to us through his Spirit. That’s verse 13.
•That means we testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the savior (verse 14).
•And we confess, verse 15, that Jesus is God!
•Confessing includes believing (verse 16) that Jesus is not just the Savior, but that he is your savior. That he loves you by satisfying God’s wrath for your sin on the cross.
That is amazing love. We read Ephesians 3 earlier in the service. It speaks of being grounded in God’s love, knowing its “breadth and length and height and depth” …knowing “the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.” God’s love is infinite beyond measure. And the way you can know his love is to know the manifestation of that love on the cross. It is the very definition of love.
Let me recap so far:
1. God is love. Not a love defined by the world, but a love defined by God himself. A self-sacrificial love that exalts in truth and goodness.
2. Love is what love has done. The love of God is a love that manifests itself. God’s love is fulfilled in Christ. Jesus’ propitiation for our sins on the cross perfectly fulfilled God’s nature as love, as just, as holy, as true, and as good. And this love of God, which is manifested in Christ, is a love offered to all. In order to have God’s love, you need to confess and believe in God’s love for you – the sacrifice of Jesus.
3. The response to love
So, we’ve circled up the spiral staircase of 1 John. We’ve come again to love. We’re higher up now, and we’ve been shown the source and manifestation of God’s love. God is love and his love is perfectly fulfilled in Christ.
But God’s message here, through the apostle John, is not just about God’s nature as love and the fulfillment of that love. No, there are two more things: (3) a response and (4) a result.
It’s like we are looking down from our new vantage point and we can see the ground level. Through this perspective of God’s love in Christ, John brings us back to rubber meets the road application.
In fact, we didn’t read verses 20 and 21 this morning. That’s because I included it 3 weeks ago when we covered love and hate in chapter 3. Verses 20 and 21 take us back to what John has already said. That loving God necessarily means loving your brother.
The way that these verses speak about our love is by way of response. In other words, because God is love and he loved us, therefore, we ought to love.
•That idea is captured all throughout here… .like right at the beginning of verse 7. “Beloved, let us love one another.” Why? “…for love is from God.” God is the source of love, our love is from him, and therefore we love others because he is love.
•Or take verse 11. “If God so loved us, we ought to love others.” God is the source of love and he loved us in Christ, therefore, our response is to love others.
•Verse 19 takes it one step further. “We love because he first loved us.” It’s not just that we ought to love, we can love, we’re enabled to love, because of the love of God in Christ Jesus for us.
So, what is the response to God’s love for us? Love. And we’re talking about agape love – the brotherly sacrificial love to which Scripture calls us.
The love of God in Christ (1) enables us to love one another; (2) it motivates us to love one another; and (3) it calls us to love one another.
Let me say it in another way, when you are struggling to love someone else. Maybe they hurt you in some way. Or maybe they hurt someone you love. Or you had an argument with them. Or they weren’t there for you, or they said something or didn’t say something. There are 100 reasons we come up with not to love others.
Whatever it is, step number 1 is to return to the source of love, God, and the manifestation of his love, the sacrifice of Christ for you. There is no other place to start. In order to love others, you need to embrace the love of God, recognize the love that he has given you, and draw upon that endlessly deep ocean of his love. When you go there, when you meditate on Christ, and rest in his love, he will enable you to love. Even when love for someone else seems unattainable, when you draw upon the love of God in Christ, praying for a heart of love, God, through his Spirit will give you his love.
4. The result of love
And that really connects to the last aspect of love in these verses. The result of love, or the result of God’s love for us. The reason we can go to God and draw upon his love in Christ, is because we abide in him and he in us. That is what God’s love gives us.
Look down at verse 12. It says, “if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.” It’s not saying that our love for others causes God to abide in us. No, that can’t be! Verse 19 is clear about that. We love because he first loved us. Rather verse 12 means that when we display the love of God in us, by loving one another, then we know that we have God’s love in us. It is a confirmation.
This theme of abiding has come up over and over in 1 John. As I mentioned, it’s like the railing that we hold onto as we ascend the staircase.
God abides in us and us in him. Jesus himself described abiding this way. He said, “I am the vine and you are the branches.” In other words, we get our sustenance from him. In him we have life flowing into us. And part of that is having his love. When we have the love of God, we have the Gospel hope of Christ in us. The Holy Spirit has bound us to Jesus. We can go to him, we can trust in him, we can rest secure in him, we can have confidence in our salvation, we can draw on the endless source of his love. In all these things we are abiding in him because his love abides in us.
There’s a second part to that here. It also says that God’s love is perfected in us. It’s fulfilled in us. Verses 17 and 18 explain what “perfected” means. It means we have confidence and assurance in God’s love. In Christ we have peace and joy because of his love. As we grow in our understanding of God’s love, he removes the fear of judgment. You see that in here as well. That idea goes back to knowing that Christ is our propitiation. He bore the judgment for us. So, instead of fear God gives us his peace, instead of doubt we grow in confidence. Instead of hate, we have love.
All of those blessings – love, confidence, assurance, peace - are the result of or byproduct of having God’s love in us.
And where does it all begin? God. Because God is love. A love way beyond the world’s misdirected understanding of love. A love that is which is a love that had done. A love through God giving himself for us. A love intensified by God’s character of Justice in the judgment that Christ bore for us. A love perfected and fulfilled in Christ. A love that enables and motivates our love, unlike any motivation. A love far deeper and richer than we could ever imagine. A love that abides in you
May we know God’s love, confess believe in God’s love, and thereby confirm God’s love in us, which he has given through the cross of Christ.