Love is a Noun
1 John 4:7-21
When it comes to sports, we’re in the dog days of summer. Baseball is the only thing on and the Detroit Tigers aren’t worth watching. Football doesn’t start until next month (maranatha), and the NBA season just ended. Even if you’re not a basketball fan, these NBA finals probably looked familiar to you. It was the 4th straight year that we saw the Golden State Warriors play the Cleveland Cavaliers. The results were also familiar as the Warriors swept the Cavs and collected their 3rd ring in the last 4 seasons. Some fans were angry that it was the same matchup for the 4th year, some were disappointed or bored, but the general sentiment was “it’s just the same thing all over again!”
If we’re not careful, we can have the same attitude with 1 John. John doesn’t write like Paul; this letter isn’t linier as much as it is circular. Remember what Pastor Kevin mentioned a few weeks ago, throughout this letter John gives us three tests that we can use when we’re struggling in our faith: (1) the doctrinal test – do we confess Jesus is the Christ; (2) the moral test – do we obey God; and (3) the relational test – do we love one another?
In this section John is reiterating the relational test, Christian love. NT Wright argues that this pericope is the climax of the letter of 1st John – everything before it builds to it, and everything after it cleans up the letter. This is the heart of John’s letter where he uses the word “love” 27 times. We can be tempted to think, “we’ve already heard this, there’s nothing new for me this morning.” But let me encourage you, when the Holy Spirit of God inspired John to write this epistle nearly 2 millennia ago, he had CCC in mind. He knew we’d be at this text on July 8, 2018, and he wants to encourage us with the gospel this morning. So let’s feast!
God’s Incarnational Love
St. John encourage us once again, beloved, let us love one another. Notice that he does so even in his address to the church, beloved. He does not call them “little children” here, but beloved. As he’s calling us to love, he’s reminding us that we are the ones who are loved. He uses the adjective again in verse 11. And in between these 2 words, he tells us how we’re loved.
But first the call to action - let us love one another. This isn’t merely a suggestion, but a call to arms. We’ve got no choice but to love because love is from God. John says that when you love sacrificially it proves 2 realities. First, it proves that you have been born of God. In the 3rd chapter of John’s Gospel Jesus says that we must be born again. When we love others sacrificially we prove that we’ve experienced this new birth. Second, it proves that we are currently knowing God. That’s not that most grammatically polished way to translate verse 7, but it conveys John’s emphasis. “Know” is a present active indicative verb. He’s saying that love of neighbor is proof of a present love for God.
He contrasts it with the one who doesn’t love in verse 8. If you don’t love sacrificially, you don’t know God. John’s emphasis is that you don’t know God at all. A lack of love proves that you don’t know God because it’s antithetical to the nature of God – God is love. What does that mean, God is love? I think when a lot of Christians say “God is love,” they’re really saying “love is god.” They’re conveying the idea that anything done in sincerity is intrinsically good. But that’s not what John is saying. He’s saying that the very essence of love is found in the person of God and that it was revealed about 2,000 years ago.
In this the love of God was revealed to us that God sent his one-and-only Son into the world in order that we might live through him. God’s love is revealed to us in the gospel. The love of God is a person who was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of a virgin. God’s love is a man who followed God’s law perfectly. He always loved the Lord his God with all of his heart, soul, mind, and strength. He always loved his neighbor as himself. He never sinned. God’s love lived the most truly human life ever. God’s love died on the cross for our sins, in our place. He was dead and buried. The love of God resurrected on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. What John’s telling us is that the love of God is not a verb, but it’s a noun. Jesus Christ is the love of God. God revealed his love in the incarnation – love incarnate!
The love of God isn’t merely anything that is done in sincerity; it refers to his redemption of sinners through the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Please hear me, if you’re here this morning and you haven’t experienced God’s love, repent and believe the gospel. Jesus died for sinners like you. You can be saved from the just wrath of God by trusting in the death and resurrection of his Son. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved!
In this is love, not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son for the propitiation of our sins. Propitiation means “atoning sacrifice.” The NLT translates it sacrifice to take away our sins. We could never atone for our own sins. That’s why Jesus came to be the acceptable sacrifice in our place. And John says that we couldn’t even believe on our own. We didn’t love God first; he loved us first. Your own faith is a gift of love from God. If God hadn’t opened your eyes, you wouldn’t see Jesus. This is how the gospel keeps us humble. We weren't smart enough to find Christ; he found us. I didn’t choose God; he chose me. I didn’t love God, but he first loved me. That motivates us to love others. We didn’t love God on our own; he loved us!
Our Incarnational Love
In verse 12 now John shifts from God’s incarnational love to our incarnational love. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. That language should sound familiar to you. There’s another place in John’s Gospel where he writes something similar. In John 1.18 he pens no one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, [Jesus] has made him known. Jesus Christ revealed our invisible God to this world. Now here in verse 12, John says the same thing about us! No one has ever seen God, but when we love one another, he’s revealed.
Not only does our love for others reveal something to the world, but it reveals 2 things to us as well. By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. Incarnational love is proof that you have God’s Spirit. Verse 14 says and we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. If you confess that Jesus is the Son of God, it’s also a sign of the Spirit. The work of the Holy Spirit is to witness to Christ, so the logical conclusion is that those indwelt by the Spirit will do the same.
Love and doctrine are like Haddon and his blankie – they cannot be separated. One is not more important than the other. Confessing that Jesus is God’s Son and loving your neighbor are both proof of true faith. 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. God is love, so it is impossible to have his Spirit and to be an unloving person.
And 2nd, in verse 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. God is love, he revealed his love in sending his Son, and now he his perfecting his love as we love each other. Because that’s true, we have no fear for judgment day. When Christ returns to judge the world, we will boldly confess that our sins have been paid for. That frees us up to love others sacrificially. We don’t have to worry about keeping score. We can love and give liberally because God’s love has been completed in us. There’s no love that we’re waiting for. It was on full display at Calvary.
These 2 assurances are what make Christianity distinct from every other religion in the history of the world: God is with us and we know he loves us. We don’t have to wonder where he is, or whether he cares. We don’t have to wonder if we’re missing out on something or if there’s some sins that aren’t covered. God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.
That’s why if you hate your brother, you don’t love God. How can you say you love God, whom you can’t see when you don’t love your brother who is right in front of you? If you hate God’s image, you hate God. If you hate God’s bride, you hate God. Christians love other people. Love isn’t just theory or feeling, but love is incarnational. Love is sharing the gospel. Love is actually spending your own time, money, or energy on someone else. If we don’t love fellow human beings, we have no right to say that we love God.
You know, we did have 4 straight years of the Golden State Warriors against the LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers, but that era of NBA history is over. I’m sure you all know by now that on July 1, LBJ announced that he’s signed a 4 year deal with the Los Angeles Lakers, and just like that, that which we thought would never end is over. In a similar way, we’ve heard John talk a lot about loving each other in this letter, and this is the climax, the last time he discusses love, chapter 5 moves us to a close.
Christian love is incarnational. God’s love is incarnational in the gospel of Jesus Christ. God is with us and we know that God loves us. Let God’s Word shape your heart toward love this morning. Whoever loves God must also love his brother. May CCC reveal our invisible God to this world by our love. May we never get board of loving each other, even if we’re sick of Warriors/Cavs.