1 John 4:7–21
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.
As we enter Holy Week, the aspect of the new birth that I want us to focus on is the fact that new birth creates the connection between God’s love for us and our love for each other. If anyone ever asks, How does the fact that God loves you result in your loving others? the answer is: The new birth creates that connection. The new birth is the act of the Holy Spirit connecting our dead, selfish hearts with God’s living, loving heart so that his life becomes our life and his love becomes our love.
This is clearly seen in 1 John 4:7-12. And John shows the link in two ways: First, he shows that God’s nature is love so that when we are born again by him we share that nature; and second, he shows that the manifestation of that nature in history was the sending of his Son so that we might have eternal life through him. Let’s take these one at a time and notice how they are connected to the new birth.
God’s Nature As Love
First, verses 7-8: God’s nature is love. “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” Notice it says two things. Verse 7 says that “love is from God.” And verse 8 at the end says, “God is love.” These are not at odds. Because when John says that “love is from God,” he doesn’t mean it’s from him the way letters are from a mailman, or even letters are from a friend. He means that love is from God the way heat is from fire, or the way light is from the sun. Love belongs to God’s nature. It’s woven into what he is. It’s part of what it means to be God. The sun gives light because it is light. And fire gives heat because it is heat.
So John’s point is that that in the new birth, this aspect of the divine nature becomes part of who you are. The new birth is the imparting to you of divine life, and an indispensable part of that life is love. God’s nature is love, and in the new birth that nature becomes part of who you are. Look at verse 12: “No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.” When you are born again, God himself is imparted to you. He dwells in you and sheds abroad in your heart his love. And his aim is that this love be perfected in you. Notice the phrase “his love” in verse 12. The love that you have as a born again person is no mere imitation of the divine love. It is an experience of the divine love and an extension of that love to others.
God’s Love Revealed in Sending His Son
So the first way John links God’s love for us and our love for people is by focusing on God’s nature as love and how the new birth connects us to that. Then, second, consider verses 9-11 where John focuses on the main manifestation of that divine love in history.
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. 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. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
So in John’s mind the great manifestation of God’s love is that God sent his Son—John says that twice in verses 9 and 10. The aim of that sending, he says, was to be the propitiation for our sins. That’s what makes the sending to be love. And what is propitiation? It means that he came to bear our punishment for sin and thus be the one who removes the wrath of God from us. Think of it! This means that it was God’s love that sent his Son to bear God’s just penalty and to take away God’s just wrath. The greatest manifestation of the love of God is God’s unilateral action to satisfy his own wrath.
And the way the Son does this is mentioned in 1 John 3:16: “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us.” So the Son became our propitiation by laying down his life for us. Dying for us. And John says this is the manifestation of God’s nature. This is the way God is.
Not That We Loved God
And notice another note that John strikes in verse 10: “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son.” What is he guarding against in that denial: “In this is love, not that we have loved God . . .” He is emphasizing that the nature and the origin of love does not lie in our response to God. That is not where love starts. That is not mainly what love is. Love is, and love starts with God. And if anything we feel or do can be called love, it will be because we are connected with God by the new birth.
So now we have seen two things about God’s love. First, John shows that God’s nature is love so that when we are born again by him, we share that nature; and second, he shows that the manifestation of that love in history was the sending of his Son so that we might have eternal life through him.
We Ought to Love One Another
But don’t miss the crucial place of the new birth in relation to the manifestation of God’s love as well as the nature of God’s love. When John says in verse 11, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” When John writes that, how are we to understand this word ought? If you forgot everything in the preceding five verses, you might be able to say: “Well, the point of the incarnation is imitation. God loved us. We look at how he did it and we do it too. We’re obliged to.”
But John has not forgotten what he wrote verse 7-8. “Whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” So when he says, “We ought to love each other,” he means ought the way fish ought to swim in water and birds ought to fly in the air and living creatures ought to breathe and peaches ought to be sweet and lemons ought to be sour and hyenas ought to laugh. And born again people ought to love. It’s who we are. This is not mere imitation. For the children of God, imitation becomes realization. We are realizing who we are when we love. God’s seed is in us. God’s Spirit is in us. God’s nature is in us. God’s love is being perfected in us.
God’s Christ-Sending Love As Our Internal Impulse
Yes, there is the external impulse of seeing in history the Son of God laying down his life for us and constraining us in this way. But what’s unique about the Christian life is that there is also the internal impulse that comes from being born again and having the very love that sent the Son into the world pulsing through our souls by the life of God within. The new birth enables us to experience the manifestation of God’s love in history as an internal reality of God’s Spirit within us.
So I return to what I said at the beginning. As we enter Holy Week, the aspect of the new birth that I want us to focus on is the fact that new birth creates the connection between God’s love for us and our love for each other. If anyone ever asks, How does the fact that God loves you result in your loving others? the answer is: The new birth creates that connection. The new birth is the act of the Holy Spirit connecting our dead, selfish hearts with God’s living, loving heart so that his life becomes our life and his love becomes our love.
And now we have seen that this love is both by nature who God is and by manifestation what God has done in history sending own Son to lay down his life that he might be the propitiation for our sins and that we might have eternal life. The new birth connects us to that in such a way that it defines who we are as the children of God. If we are born again we love each other.
How the Born Again Love
What I want to do for the rest of our time is apply this to us here at Bethlehem. I want to say to you what the apostle John says to us all in verse 11: “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” If we are regenerate people, we are loving people. If we are born again, the love of God is within us. “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers” (1 John 3:14).
What will this look like?
John mentions several specific ways that the love of God will become real in our lives through the new birth. I’ll mention two, and the way they are transforming our lives together at Bethlehem—and should do so more and more.
1) Humbly Rejoicing in the Goodness of Others
First John 3:11-14: “This is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you. We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers.”
Now this specific form of love in verse 12 may seem to you totally unneeded. “Don’t be like Cain who murdered his brother.” Am I really concerned that there will be a spate of murders here at Bethlehem? No. And I don’t think John feared that either. He doesn’t focus on the murder. He asks in verse 12, “And why did he murder him?” That’s John’s concern. There is something about Cain’s motive that he thinks will be relevant to the way this church loves each other—and the way we love each other.
He answers at the end of verse 12: “Because his own deeds were evil and his brother's righteous.” What John is saying here is not merely that love doesn’t kill a brother, but that love doesn’t feel resentful when a brother is superior in some spiritual or moral way. Cain didn’t kill Abel simply because Cain was evil. He killed him because the contrast between Abel’s goodness and his evil made him angry, resentful. It made him feel guilty. Abel didn’t have to say anything; his goodness was a constant reminder to Cain that he was evil. And instead of dealing with his own evil by repentance and change, he got rid of Abel. If you don’t like what you see in the mirror, shoot the mirror.
So what would it be like for any of us to be like Cain? It would mean that anytime some weakness or bad habit in our lives is exposed by contrast to someone else’s goodness, instead of dealing with the weakness or the bad habit, we keep away from those whose lives that make us feel defective. We don’t kill them. We avoid them. Or worse, we find ways to criticize them so as to neutralize the part of their lives that was making us feel convicted. The best way to nullify someone’s good point is to draw attention to their bad point. And so we protect ourselves from whatever good they might be or us.
But John’s point is: Love doesn’t act like that. Love is glad when our brothers and sisters are making progress in good habit or good attitude or good behavior. Love rejoices in this growth. And if it happens to be faster than our own growth, then love is humble and rejoices with those who rejoice.
So the lesson for us is: Everywhere you see some growth, some virtue, some, spiritual discipline, some good habit, or good attitude, rejoice in it. Give thanks for it. Compliment it. Don’t resent it. Don’t be like Cain. Respond the opposite from Cain. Be inspired by other people’s goodness. Love is humble. Love delights in other people’s good. Love doesn’t protect its flaws. Love takes steps to change them. What a beautiful fellowship where everyone is rejoicing in each other’s strengths not resenting them! This is what the love of God looks like when the new birth gives it life in the people of God.
2) Meeting the Needs of Others—Even at Great Cost
The second specific way John says the love of God becomes real in our lives through the new birth is found in 1 John 3:16-18: “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.”
He says three things about love here, and they are increasingly specific. First, he says that love does practical things for people. Verse 18: “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” He doesn’t mean that talk is not an important way of loving people. The tongue is full of potential for love and hate. What he means is that where deeds of practical help are called for, don’t settle for talk. Do practical things for each other.
Then he tells us something about how seriously we should take this. Verse 16: “We ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” Christ loved us by laying down his life for us. When we were born again, this love became our love. There is in the born again person a deep impulse to die to self that others might live. The presence of Christ in the born again person is the presence of a servant’s heart. A sacrificial spirit. A readiness to go down that others might go up. Love does not want to prosper at the expense of others. Love wants others to prosper, and if it costs us our life, that’s okay. Jesus will take care of us.
So the first thing John says is that love is practical and does good for others. And the second thing he says is that we will do this even if it is very costly. “He laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.”
Third, he says that this will mean very practical sacrifices of things that people need. Verse 17: “If anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him?” The way John has in mind for us to lay down our lives for each other is that we share what we have. Love doesn’t think possessively. Love knows that everything belongs to God. We are only managers of his possessions. Everything we have is at his disposal. And God is love. And when we were born again, his love became our love. And now his love governs his possessions in our hands.
So let’s be first a very practical people who love in deeds and not just words. Then let’s be a sacrificial people who deny ourselves for the sake of others and lay down our lives the way Christ laid down his life. And then let’s be a lavishly generous people with everything we have, knowing that it all belongs to God, and we belong to God. We are his children. We have his nature. And he is love.
Jesus’ Death Shows God’s Love
So as we enter Holy Week, focus in a fresh way on the love God manifest in sending his Son and in his Son laying down his life to show us what the Father’s love is like. And as we focus on the glories of the love of God in Christ, let’s pray earnestly that the new birth would be confirmed among us as it creates the connection between God’s love for us and our love for each other.
Beloved, let us love one another,
for love is from God,
and whoever loves has been born of God
and knows God.
–1 John 4:7