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. 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. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. (1 John 4:7–12 ESV)
So how did it go? How did we do? We have been studying what love is during this holiday season. Love is being defined and described for us by God through the pen of the apostle John. Love is an unwavering, enduring commitment from a willing heart to give oneself without consideration of the extent of the cost. God has demonstrated this love for us through Jesus coming to this earth and giving himself for us. The radical display of amazing love from God is supposed to move us to love one another. In fact, loving others is our purpose. “If God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” So how did we do? Over the last two weeks how have we been doing?
Love, as defined and described by God, is not easy. If we are trying to do this as God says, then we are experiencing a war. We are experiencing a war between the love of self and the love of God. Listen to what John says in 1 John 4:19-21.
We love because he first loved us. 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. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. (1 John 4:19–21 ESV)
We are going to end this series of lessons on love with these three verses. I hope we will hear what John just said. If you say that you love God but you hate your brother, you are a liar. This is the war for love that we are in. We want to say that we love God while at the same time loving self. But loving ourselves is how we hate others. We are thinking about ourselves and not others. If I do not do what I have been made to do, which is to love one another, then I am a liar when I say that I love God. Love is more than words. Love does not merely say, “I love you.” Love requires actions. Just as faith requires action or it is dead, God is showing us that love without action is not love either. So John wants us to consider if we are liar. Do we say that we love God but do not love one another?
Notice how this idea is pushed even further by John in the rest of the sentence. If you say that you love God but hate your brother, you are liar because if you do not love the person you see then you cannot love God who you cannot see. I want you to underline these words that John says: cannot love God. You cannot love God if you do not love others. What sharp, staggering words that ought to hit our hearts powerfully! It is easy to say that we love God but it is hard to love others as we have been loved by God. But truly loving God means that we will love others. If we do not love others then we cannot love God. If I am not loving others as I ought, then I do not know God’s love as I should. I simply do not understand the love of God that has been expressed to me. It has not affected my life and has not changed my heart. If I do not love the Father’s children, how can I can that I love the Father? If you cannot love the people you see, then how can you truly love God whom you cannot see?
Please hear what God is telling us: God-ward love and human directed love cannot be separated. You cannot love God and not love others. The absence of love for one another shows an absence of a love for God, regardless of what we claim. This matches what we read back in verse 8. “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” Loving God and loving others cannot be separated. There is a change of thinking that must happen according to John. We think loving God is easy and loving others is hard. But this shows we do not understand what it means to love God. God just said that if we do not love one another then we cannot love God. Therefore, loving God is not just saying, “I love God.” We should understand this. Loving your spouse is not just saying, “I love my spouse.” Easy to say but the reality of what those words mean is much harder to do. We cannot say we love and not do the things that show that we truly love. In the same way, we cannot say we love God but not love one another because loving one another is how we show we love God. This is the powerful conclusion about love that John wants us to see. Listen to how he made these points earlier in this very letter.
Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes. (1 John 2:9–11 ESV)
By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. (1 John 3:10 ESV)
We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. (1 John 3:14 ESV)
By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. (1 John 3:16 ESV)
Let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. (1 John 3:18 ESV)
Everyone has come here today because they believe that they love God. I want us to hear what God is telling you and me right now. If we truly love God, then we will love one another. The way we can know that we belong to God, that have passed from condemnation to life is because we love one another. We know love by sacrifice. So we love God by sacrificing ourselves for others in love (1 John 3:16). As we have seen in our study the last couple weeks, God tells us that loving others means not thinking about ourselves. This is the fight for love that we must engage. If we think we can love God but not love others, then we are lying to ourselves.
Love is a war of motivation. Love is a battle against our selfish desires. It is only when we see the love of God for us: his enduring, unwavering commitment to us from a willing heart to sacrifice himself so that we could be made right and reconciled to him — only then will we love as God has called us to love him and to love one another. The problem is that we forget. The problem is that we do not see it. This is why we are called in the scriptures to meet together at least once a week to remember what Jesus did for us. Once or twice a year is not enough, and it hardly seems that weekly is enough, to remember what God did for us through Jesus. This love of God is what we must remember today. The more we know God then the more we will be in awe of him and we will be transformed to love as we ought to love. To put this strongly another way, when we do not love others then we just do not get it. How can we say we love God when we do not show that we love God nor show that we love others? We fight our selfish demands and desires and show love for our spouses, our parents, our children, our family, our brothers and sisters in Christ, and strangers. We do this because we understand the grace of God in our lives and the love God has poured out on us. “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:8). God’s love has to change us. God’s love has to change us from being angry, insensitive, uncaring, selfish people. Any struggle we have in this is because we are not pressing into God enough. It is not about reading more self help books but pressing more into God, knowing him and seeing what he has done for us.
This was the message of the story Jesus told in Luke 7:36-50. There are two debtors. One owed 500 denarii and the other 50 denarii. Neither could pay the debt but the moneylender cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more? The correct answer that was given was the one who had the larger debt cancelled. Then Jesus draws this conclusion:
Therefore I tell you, her sins, which were many, are forgiven, thus she loved much; but the one who is forgiven little loves little. (Luke 7:47 NET)
The reason we do not love as we ought to love is because we do not see how greatly we have been forgiven by God. We have to fight for love and we engage the fight by focusing our minds and hearts on Jesus. When we fail to do this we will slip back into hurtful, selfish thinking and actions. It is only when we keep Jesus before our eyes through worship, reading the word, prayer, and fellowship will be transformed by God’s love to love others as we have been called to do. Every time we fail to love one another let us remember what God has told us: our failure shows that we do not know God or love God. Let this knowledge be the restraint we need to love others and stop putting ourselves first.