What is love? We noticed in the last lesson that many have tried to define love and explain love which in many has led to a great amount of confusion. The word “love” is used to describe all kinds of feelings and relationships now. But the apostle John taught in 1 John 4:7-10 that God is love. God is the source of love and God defines love. Since he is the source of love and he defines love, then we must look to God to understand what love is. Therefore, sinful relationships and sinful feelings are not love. Further, selfish motives and selfish actions are not love. Loving myself is the opposite of loving you. The display of anger is how we see this problem most frequently. The vast majority of the time the reason we are angry is because someone else is not doing what we think that person should be doing. This is because we are loving ourselves, thinking about ourselves, and caring for ourselves, and not thinking about, caring for, or loving others. But God commanded us to love others. In fact, John records Jesus saying in his gospel that loving others will be the defining mark of Jesus’ disciples. So we are looking at love, what love looks like, and how we can show love for others.
This Is Love (4:10)
Verse 10 opens by getting right to the point. “In this is love” is how the verse begins. The HCSB reads, “Love consists in this” and the NIV reads, “This is love.” This is it. This is the answer we are looking for. This is the answer that people for millenniums have tried to understand. John is going to give the answer. This is love.
But John then tells us what love is not. “Not that we have loved God.” Love is not defined or seen by looking at ourselves as the starting point. We saw some of this point last week in that God is love, he is the source of love, and he defines love. So love is not from us but from God. But John’s point is stronger than this. We do not initiate a love for God. God initiated love toward us. God always loved first. He existed first because he has always existed and he has shown love first in a number of different ways. Love that initiates is stronger than love that responds. Reciprocated love is not as great as love that was enacted without cause. Love is not that we loved God because that is a reciprocated love. Our love for God is a response and that love is not as great as what God displays as love.
This is love: “That God loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.” This is love. First, that God loved us. This is shocking to consider because there is nothing lovable about us when we look at the world from a moral perspective. How good and obedient is the world when Adam and Eve are created? How good and obedient is the world in the days of Noah? How good and obedient to God is the world in the days of the judges? How good and obedient to God is the world in the days of the prophets? How good and obedient to God is the world in the days of Jesus? How good and obedient to God is the world today? What has the world ever displayed toward God to generate any kind of love toward it? Think about a scale for a moment and consider if we took all the actions of humanity since the creation of the world. Let’s put all of those actions on a scale. How many of those actions would be obedient, submissive, loving actions toward God? How many of those actions would be disobedient, rebellious, hateful actions against God? What would the scale look like? I think we would agree that the obedient, loving actions toward God would be very light when compared with the disobedient, rebellious actions against God. This is love: God loved us. We did nothing to warrant this love. God’s love was not a responsive love because we were loving him. We were hating him. We were rebelling against him. We were disobedient to him. But God loved us.
And God’s love was not merely a feeling of love toward us. In fact, feelings without action is not love because God is love, he is the source of love, and he defines love. This is love. God sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. God did something for our problem. God did what we needed. We recently studied the Sermon on the Mount and we considered the golden rule: do to others what you would have them to do you. Do for them what they need. Do for them what is good for them. Do not do what you want to do but do what they want. This is what God did. God did what we needed. God did not do what he needed. God did what we needed.
Friends, this is the model of love. The cross of Jesus is the model of love. Love is not what television and movies show. The things that the world puts forward as love is a shallow counterfeit to what God says is true love. What you see in movies and television shows about how children speak to parents, parents speak to children, wives speak to husbands, and husbands speak to wives is NOT love. These things are showing the love of self and not loving others. Real love is what we see God doing for us.
Love Modeled (4:11)
Now look at what John says next in verse 11. “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” We are called to display the love that was shown on the cross to others. We are called to display real love. Jesus is the model that we are to follow. Consider that when God reduces his requirements to something for us to remember, it is always to love God and love your neighbor. It always comes back to love.
Notice the word “ought” in this declaration in verse 11. We ought to love another since this is the way God loved us. Ought is an interesting word because it speaks, not only to obligation, but to purpose. Birds ought to fly. Fish ought to swim. The sun ought to be bright and hot. Now listen: beloved, we also ought to love one another. These things are given a purpose that they ought to do. Love is our purpose. Love is what we were created to do. We are missing our purpose when we do not love. We are like a fish trying to walk when we do not love. Without love we are denying what we are created for. We are not functioning in accord with our purpose. Yet how often this is the case. How often we live selfishly and for our own desires and do not seek to love. Do you see what God is telling us? You were not created to love you. You were created to love one another. You ought to love one another. This is your calling. This is your purpose. This is your mission. Purposeful living is not living for yourself and loving yourself but loving others with the love that Jesus modeled on the cross.
Now let us consider this model for John says that this is love. The cross is the model for love. This cross is our picture of love and our definition to work with. So what do we see in the cross that models love? There are a number of facets that are shown at the cross but I think there a few critical ones that we must consider. First, we see an enduring commitment in the love God has for us as seen through the cross. We have learned by studying the scriptures about Israel’s history and the nature of humanity that God had an enduring commitment to love. His love for us was unwavering. God did not waver in his love based upon our actions nor based upon his own feelings. God did not wake up one day, if you will, declare that he did not feel love for us, and then retract his love. Nor did God wake up one day, again if you will, see our disobedience and rebellion, and then retract his love. His love endures forever (Psalm 100:5). Love is an enduring commitment that rises above personal feelings and supersedes the actions of others. Sadly, how often humans down play this important aspect of love. This is why God can tell us to love others. Love rises above personal feelings for another person and supersedes the actions of others.
Second, love is not duty or obligation. Now too often people will listen to the idea of commitment that is found in the concept of love and then suppose that love is an obligation. But true love always comes from a willing heart. God is never making the point that he loves and is committed to love us, but he really does not want to love us. God is never saying that he made a promise to love so he has to keep his word against his will. Love always comes from joyful desire. Love comes from a willing heart. Love is not me telling my wife on our 20th anniversary that is coming up this summer that I have an enduring commitment to her because I made a vow and I always keep my vows. That is not love either. Love is the enduring commitment that comes from a willing heart. I want to be committed to her. God wants to be committed to us. God wants us to want to be committed in love for others.
This leads to third part of love that we see in God through the cross. Love is the sacrifice of self. Jesus came to earth, washed this disciples’ feet, kept them safe in the garden when he was arrested, and gave himself over to death. There are so many places where Jesus sacrifices himself for others. Love is that there is nothing you are unwilling to do. This is God’s message to us.
God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8 ESV)
Love shows itself in that there is nothing you are unwilling to do. God showed that. Amazing love was on display for God has nothing else he could do to show love but to even give his life. This leads to a similar point to consider in this. Love is not detoured by the extent of the cost. Love does not look at the cost and say that it is too much for me to give or to sacrifice. Love does not look at the cost but looks at the person and acts on their behalf. If I truly love my wife, then there is nothing I would not do for her. I must not look at the cost of the sacrifice. I just act for her. This is what God did for us and this is what God tells us to do for one another.
Love Shows God To Others (4:12)
Let us end in verse 12. “No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.” What does this have to do with what we have just learned? No one has ever seen God. But if we love one another, God abide in us and his love is perfected in us. I just want to make one final point though there are many points we could consider from this verse. But it is simply this: no one has seen God. But when you love others like we have looked at in this lesson, then people are seeing God in you, because God abides in you and his love is perfected in you. People cannot see God but they are seeing God because the love you display is the love of God. Friends, we ought to love one another. This is our purpose. This is what we must do because God has loved us. Show God’s love to the world and show God to the world by loving others as God has loved you.