I John 4:7-21
No short passage in the Bible says more about God as being a God of love, what that love means to us, and the importance of our loving one another than I John 4:7-21.
Read I John 4:7. Note that John introduced this section on love by referring to those whom he is addressing as “Dear friends” or literally as “Beloved.” John was practicing what he was preaching.
John then wrote was that as Christians “let us love one another.” In the Greek that is an imperative or command and not a suggestion. That command occurs directly 3 times in this paragraph, (verses 7, 11, and 21) and indirectly in several other verses. Here it is a command to love one another. In verse 11 John used a similar phrase to express a duty or obligation we have as Christians to love. In verse 12 John used that expression to declare that loving others is proof that God lives in us.
John added “for love comes from God.” The love John was writing about here comes from God and therefore, is not an innate or natural quality of man. John used the Greek word “agape.” It was a Greek word for love that had very little use or meaning in everyday Greek until the church took it over and poured into it the idea of God’s love, of unselfish love.
The emphasis is not on our developing an attitude of love but of receiving the love that comes only from God. Once we receive God’s love, we must express it to others in the same ways that God expresses it us.
One who loves with an “agape love” demonstrates he is a genuine Christian and serves as a testimony to the world that he knows and God of love.
The phrase “born of God” was clearly explained in John’s Gospel when he recorded in John 3 the conversation Jesus had with Nicodemus. The new birth is a supernatural experience brought about through the ministry of the Holy Spirit in response to our faith in Jesus.
Read verse 8. The opposite of knowing God and loving is not to love and thereby demonstrate that one does not know God. Since God is love and His love nature indwells all who belong to Him, a failure to love is proof that one does not know Him.
The reason not loving is proof that one is not a genuine Christian is that “because God is love” all He indwells via the Holy Spirit have His love. Love is not just a characteristic of God but part of His essence. He does not just love; He is love.
Read verse 9. The statement that God is love is displayed in God giving His Son to us. Love requires giving, which God did. His love in us requires that we too give. The emphasis is both what and why God’s love provided salvation. God sent His Son as a by-product of or consequence of His love.
John went on to explain the purpose for which God gave us Jesus. It was so “that we might live through him.” God gave His Son that we might be blessed, that we might have what we did not deserve, could not earn, but desperately needed. John developed the idea of life because of and in the Son in chapter 5 of this letter where we he wrote that life is found in Jesus because, according to 5:20, He Himself is life.
Read verse 10. “Agape” love or the love of God, loves even when it is not deserved and gives irrespective of the cost. God loved us and in an historical setting demonstrated that love.
A key theological term is introduced here with the words “atoning sacrifice.” It means that we have the guilt of our sin removed so the anger of God against sin is removed. The emphasis of the word used here to describe what God did is how it places the emphasis on God and not what we do to achieve life. Read how Paul expressed that in Ephesians 2:13.
The picture of God’s love which is to be the pattern for our love shows it is expressed and offered regardless of the merit one might feel another has for it. God loved us while we were yet sinners. For the world, love is often offered to those who seem to deserve it, but agape love is offered to all. God’s love is also steadfast. It not only comes to us without merit, but it goes on forever. There will never be a time in all eternity when we are not loved by God. Read Romans 8:31-29. Agape love is not withheld if the recipient fails in some way but is always steadfast and sure. God’s love does not have a limit of how far it will go. God does not distance Himself from us when the price gets to a certain point, or the connivance level reaches a given point but rather He is always there for us.
John got to a key lesson in verse 11. Read that verse. God’s love for us places upon us an obligation to love in return, and not just to love God but to love those whom God loves. John pointed to the love God has shown as an example of the way we are to love. The argument is simple. Because God is love and therefore loves, so too we must love, not because He compels us to love but because of an inward compulsion that comes from His presence within us. Read Romans 5:5.
In the Bible love is a verb. While we generally define love as a noun that describes something we have, the Bible most often uses it as a verb to show how we act. For us love is something we feel, whereas in the Bible it is how we live.
One of the truths of Scripture is that as Christians we are to reflect God in our actions. In Scripture, when we are given a characteristic of God, we are told to imitate that characteristic in our daily living. For example, we are told in Leviticus 6:36 that because God is holy, we are to act in a holy way. In Luke 6:36 we are told that because God is merciful, we are to act in a merciful manner. Here we are challenged to love because God is love. Once we belong to God by faith, we are to reflect His character in all we are and do.
Before we were born of God, we did not have His loving nature within and therefore could not love in the way He loves. When we are born again the Godlike nature is given back so we have the capacity to be what we could not ever be with our sinful nature. God is not only love, but He is also the source of all true love so that wherever that true love exists it comes from Him.
Notice that John wrote “God so loved us.” The little word “so” is an emphatic word in the Greek and is designed to stress the fullness of it as Jesus did in John 3:16. God’s love for us is an incredible love and we are to love others in the same way.
Read verse 12. While we have never seen God as such, still He lives in us and therefore we really can know Him. Proof that God really lives in us is seen in how we love others.
We see God in those who reflect His character, and in particular His love. The adage that many who will never read the Bible will read the lives of Christians must be seen here. The strongest argument God has for who He is and what He can do is the life of a transformed individual whose life is so attractive that the world wants to have. The only explanation for such a life is Jesus in Him. Nothing shouts “God loves you” louder than His love flowing through us to others.
The message of John is that we are to love because God is love (8, 9). He has loved us (10, 11) and in our loving, God is able to bring His love to completion in and through us (12).