The Proof is in the Loving

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1 John 4:7 – 21; 2 John 1 – 11

John is known as “the apostle of love,” so it makes sense that he should devote so much space to the topic. It’s a topic close to his heart and he wants his readers to understand how important love is to being part of the Body of Christ.

One of the results of having the Holy Spirit dwelling within is that He brings with Him certain gifts, including the gift of brotherly love. In chapter 2, John broached the subject and put it in the context of “walking in the light.” In chapter 3 love for one another is seen the mark of a Christian. Here in chapter 4, brotherly love is presented as a gift of the Spirit; a gift that allows the believer to love as God loves.

Love others as God loves us, 1 John 4:7 – 12

God is love, verses 7 – 9

Dear friends, let us practice loving each other, for love comes from God and those who are loving and kind show that they are the children of God, and that they are getting to know him better. But if a person isn’t loving and kind, it shows that he doesn’t know God—for God is love. God showed how much he loved us by sending his only Son into this wicked world to bring to us eternal life through his death. (TLB)

This group of verses is a favorite among believers. It speaks of a love that originates in God and describes the believer as one who knows God and loves God. In contrast, the unbeliever doesn’t know God and therefore doesn’t love.

The phrase, “let us practice loving each other,” is much more than a piece of advice, loving one another should be something we do simply because “love comes from God.” This kind of love doesn’t depend on its object. If we are walking in the light, then we will be exhibiting brotherly love because we are in fellowship with the Source of love, God Himself.

This love, primarily practiced within the Body of Christ between believers, is the acid test of one’s relationship with God. But love for one’s fellow man is not excluded. A true believer loves others, beginning with other believers.

The fact that “God is love” was demonstrated by what He did for sinners: sending His only Son into the world so that we might find life in Him. This is important to note. God’s love is more than just words or expressions. Agape love, which everybody who ever went to Sunday School knows is “unconditional love,” actually means more than that. It refers to a love that is “action oriented.” Agape is love that does things.

Real love, verses 10, 11

In this act we see what real love is: it is not our love for God but his love for us when he sent his Son to satisfy God’s anger against our sins. Dear friends, since God loved us as much as that, we surely ought to love each other too. (TLB)

Verse 10 is all about priorities: it’s all about God’s love for us, not our love for God. In man’s natural state, he does NOT love God because he cannot. It is a spiritual impossibility for a non-Christian to love God. Paul expressed it like this Romans 8:7–

…the old sinful nature within us is against God. It never did obey God’s laws and it never will. (TLB)

God loved us first. God loves the unlovable. Someone once wrote:

I sought the Lord, and afterward I knew
He moved my soul to seek Him, seeking me;
It was not I that found, O Savior true,
No, I was found, was found of Thee.

I find, I walk, I love; but O the whole
Of love is but my answer, Lord, to Thee!
For Thou wert long beforehand with my soul,
Always, always Thou lovedst me.

God’s love for us is not a response to our love for Him. The response is ours to make.

God’s love is not only the perfect example of what real love ought to look like, but it also serves as a “stimulating cause.” Our love for others should flow naturally from God’s love which we experienced and that now resides in us.

Complete love, verse 12

For though we have never yet seen God, when we love each other God lives in us, and his love within us grows ever stronger. (TLB)

Some scholars see here a veiled reference to the troublesome false teachers who probably claimed to have visions of and special revelations from God. John’s response is a stern one: Nobody has ever seen God!

The proof of one’s relationship with God is not seen in the dreams and visions they claim to have, but it is shown in the love they have for their brothers because that kind of love comes only from God. Cook said it best:

When God’s love to us comes to be in us, it is like the virtue which the loadstone gives to the needle, inclining it to move to the pole.

Dwell in God’s love, 1 John 4:13 – 18

There’s proof in the Spirit, verses 13, 14

And he has put his own Holy Spirit into our hearts as a proof to us that we are living with him and he with us. And furthermore, we have seen with our own eyes and now tell all the world that God sent his Son to be their Savior. (TLB)

John is writing about a kind of mutual habitation: God is in us and we are in Him. This special relationship is made possible only by the Holy Spirit. This is what makes it possible for God to love us and us to love God. The Spirit in us is also the reason we can love one another. The great Adrian Rogers once remarked:

Christianity is a love relationship between a child of God and His Maker through the Son Jesus Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit.

A life of love, verses 15, 16

Anyone who believes and says that Jesus is the Son of God has God living in him, and he is living with God. We know how much God loves us because we have felt his love and because we believe him when he tells us that he loves us dearly. God is love, and anyone who lives in love is living with God and God is living in him. (TLB)

Of course there is more to it than merely making a confession, but John is keeping things simple. If someone confesses the divinity and the humanity of Jesus Christ, then that is an evidence that the confessor is a true believer.
Being a child of God involves both knowing and believing. Consider this verse in John 6:69–

We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” (NIV84)

John Stott, in his commentary on John’s letters, wrote this:

The natural man can neither believe nor love. In his fallen and unredeemed state he is both blind and selfish. It is only by the grace of the Holy Spirit, who is the Spirit of truth and whose first-fruits is love that man ever comes to believe in Christ and to love others.

Perfect love, verses 17, 18

And as we live with Christ, our love grows more perfect and complete; so we will not be ashamed and embarrassed at the day of judgment, but can face him with confidence and joy because he loves us and we love him too. (verse 17 TLB)

The Greek of verse 17 is difficult, but the sense of what John wanted his readers to take away is this: Because we live a life of love, we live in God and He in us. This is how Kenneth Taylor took it, and he was probably right. Living in God, and He in us, causes our love – or our ability to love – to be made complete. John Montgomery Boice explains what this means:

[It]…means “whole” or “mature,” and it refers to that state of mind and activity in which the Christian is to find himself when the love of God within has accomplished that which God fully intends it to accomplish.

As this process unfolds in the believer, he necessarily becomes more Christlike and this gives him more confidence on the day of judgment. In other words, as we mature in the Lord, assurance of our ultimate salvation grows stronger and stronger.

Verse 18 is a favorite of many Christians:

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. (1 John 4:18 NIV84)

Faith and doubt cannot co-exist in the heart of the believer, and love and fear have nothing in common. Mature Christians, living in love and living in God, therefore, have nothing to fear at any time.

When John speaks of “perfect love,” he is not talking about “perfect” or “flawless” love because only God has that. It is the kind of love that drives us on living to obey God’s Word.

The simple fact of life is this: we will all stand before the Lord. For those who don’t know Christ as Lord and Savior while they are alive, it will be time of dread; they will be filled shame and remorse and, most of all, fear because they know what judgment awaits them.

But for we true believers, there will be no fear because our hearts will already be full of joy and love as we receive our heavenly reward.

As Thomas a Kempis wrote:

He who loveth God with all his heart feareth not death, not punishment, nor judgment, nor hell, because perfect love giveth sure access to God. But he who still delighteth in sin, no marvel if he is afraid of death and judgment.

Walk in God’s love, 1 John 4:19 – 21; 2 John 1 – 6

Loving people, 1 John 4:19 – 21

So you see, our love for him comes as a result of his loving us first. (verse 19 TLB)

In sum, John once again points out a vitally important fact. As we love one another and as we love God, we must remember that we are able to do that only because He loved us first. No man can make the claim that he loved God before he knew God. Our love is a responsive love; our love is a copy of His love; He is our example.

If anyone says “I love God,” but keeps on hating his brother, he is a liar; for if he doesn’t love his brother who is right there in front of him, how can he love God whom he has never seen? (verse 20 TLB)

The confidence we have because we know God doesn’t absolve us living and loving responsibly. Our “walk” has to live up to our “talk.”

Living out truth, 2 John 1 – 4

John’s second letter is a very personal one, addressed to a “chosen lady,” whom Ken Taylor gave the name “Cyria.” The thing that impressed John most about Cyria was what he mentioned in verse 4:

How happy I am to find some of your children here and to see that they are living as they should, following the Truth, obeying God’s command. (TLB)

Here was a woman who “walked” the “talk.” Her faith was real. There are those Christians who will defend the truth of God’s Word to the death but not show much love toward others. This kind of Christian talks about the veracity of Scripture and is very orthodox in his views, but in his day-to-day dealings with people who may hold other views, love may be lacking. Fact is, Scripture teaches that “truth” and “love” are really inseparable. Albert Barnes comments:

In our manner of speech, our plans of living, our dealings with others, our conduct and walk in the church and out of it – all should be done as becomes the Gospel.

Loving one another, 2 John 5, 6

And now I want to urgently remind you, dear friends, of the old rule God gave us right from the beginning, that Christians should love one another. If we love God, we will do whatever he tells us to. And he has told us from the very first to love each other. (TLB)

The so-called “old rule” from God is this:

“If you love me, obey me…” (John 14:15 TLB)

Remember, love is more than words. J. Vernon McGee put it this way:

Love is not made in the parlor, it is made in the kitchen. Love is not made in the bedroom, it is made in the laundry room. Does she wash his clothes? Does he bring home a paycheck? Does he support his family? This is the way you express love in the family and it is the way you express love in the church – in your concern and in your help for others. You cannot say that you are loving someone unless you have a concern for him, especially a concern for his spiritual welfare.

God’s love for us is action-oriented, and our love for others must also be.

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