Love – 1 John 4:7-21

YouTube video sermon

1 John 4:7-21

Well, let me invite you to take your copy of God’s Word and turn with me to 1 John 4:7. We’re concluding this little 3-part series that I’ve simply called Faith, Hope & Love, and today we’re going to consider love. Now, talking about love and preaching about love is both easy and hard at the same time. Think about it.

Love is a junk drawer we dump all sorts of ideas into, just because we don’t have anywhere else to put them. I “love” God, and I “love” fishing. See the problem? The way we talk about “love” is so broad, so generic, that I’m not sure we understand it anymore. How should we define love? To some, love is tolerance. I hear this all the time, and I’m sure you do too. The idea is that rather than judge people, we should “love” them. And what people mean is that we shouldn’t call them out on things that the Bible says are wrong. After all, as long as it’s not hurting anybody, who are we to judge? And while this sounds nice, and forward, and progressive, it just doesn’t work for me.

Then, there are those of us for whom love is nothing more than passion for something. It’s the word we call on to conjure up all our feelings of affection. We love hiking, or we love that new song by that band you’ve never heard of, or we love pizza and college football. Love becomes the ubiquitous descriptor of our affections and interests.

When we aim “love” at people, we usually mean the exact same thing. When we say we love someone, what we typically mean is that we have deep feelings of affection because they make us feel alive, adventurous, brave, happy. Love, then, is pure, unfiltered emotion. So, you see, talking about love can be difficult.

At the same time, however, preaching about love is easy. There’s a story that’s told about the apostle John – the author of the letter we’re getting ready to read. It’s just a story, a legend, if you will. There’s nothing to suggest that it’s true, although it’s possible that it could’ve happened. But the story goes that when John was old, he had to be carried to church on a stretcher, on his bed mat, that he couldn’t walk. But because he was so revered as this great apostle who knew Jesus and was one of the original 12 disciples, people would pick him up and carry him to church where he would give the same sermon: “Little children, love one another.”

Well, that’s a great message but it gets old after a while. Soon someone asked him, “John, it’s a great message but why do you always say the same thing?” John replied, “Because it’s the Lord’s command. If that be done, then it’s enough.” So, we talk about love and we preach about love simply because it’s the Lord’s command. Follow along with me as I read 1 John 4:7-21:

7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 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. 10 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. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and His love is perfected in us.

13 By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent His Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16 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. 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. 18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. 19 We love because He first loved us. 20 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. 21 And this commandment we have from Him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.

“Make the book live to me, O Lord. Show me Yourself within Your Word. Show me myself and show me my Savior, and make the Book live to me. For Jesus’ sake, amen.”

One of the great theologians of the last century was a man by the name of Dr. Karl Barth. His 12-volume work on systematic theology is titled Church Dogmatics, and it consists of over 10,000 pages. Toward the end of his life, Dr. Barth made a tour of the United States, where he had the opportunity to speak at several of our nation’s top universities. During a Q&A session following one of his lectures, a student posed, what seemed an impossible question.

“Dr. Barth, you’ve written extensively on every aspect of theology and church history. I’m wondering if you could sum it all up in a short sentence or two.” The room fell silent. Dr. Barth just stood there for a moment, carefully considering how to respond. Finally, Dr. Barth replied, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”

Talking about love and preaching about love is easy and difficult all at the same time. Here’s a man that spilled ink on 10,000 pages in an attempt to expound upon the immensity and multi-faceted nature of God’s love (hard, complicated), and yet when asked to sum it up in a short sentence or two he quoted a children’s song written by Anna Bartlett Warner in 1860 (easy, simple).

This morning, I want to take just a moment and highlight where the love of God is displayed, how the love of God is defined, and what the love of God demands.

Love Displayed

First, where is the love of God displayed? Well, quite simply, according to verse 9, it’s seen in the revelation or the manifestation or the incarnation of Jesus Christ. “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.” We’re approaching the season that is universally known as the season for gifts. Birthdays and anniversaries and other special occasions aside, there’s no other season in which we go to great lengths to demonstrate our love and appreciation for one another. And the preeminent gift of this season – at least according to the Bible and any church worth its salt – is the gift of the very One and Only Son of God.

I caught myself watching a couple of squirrels this week. I should’ve been working on a sermon but coming off a little vacation I found it difficult to get back in the saddle. They seemed set on entertaining me. They scampered amid the roots of the trees just outside my office window. They watch me peck at the keyboard. I watch them store their nuts and climb the trunk. But you know what? I’ve never considered becoming one of them. See, the squirrel world holds no appeal to me. Who wants to sleep next to a hairy rodent with beady eyes? (Then again, if you marry a Norris that’s what you get.)

Give up the Blue Ridge Mountains in the fall, bass fishing in the spring, grilling steak in the summer and laughter around a campfire for a hole in the ground and a diet of dirty nuts? Count me out.

But count Jesus in. Think about the world He left. Our classiest mansion would be a tree trunk to Him. Earth’s finest cuisine would be walnuts on heaven’s table. And the idea of becoming a squirrel with claws and tiny teeth and a furry tail? It’s nothing compared to God’s becoming an embryo and entering the womb of Mary. Yet, that’s precisely how love was displayed.

“For this is how God loved the world, He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). That verse, too, was written by John.

Love Defined

Next, then, how is love defined? Well, John tells us in verse 8 and then again in verse 16. He says, “God is love.” Then, as if to provide clarification and substance as to how it is that God is love, he offers the answer in verse 10. “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.” I hope you didn’t think you’d get through a sermon without learning the background of a Greek word. In this verse we encounter a big English word: “propitiation.” The Greek word is hilasmos and it’s only used twice in the New Testament and both times are in this first epistle of John. 1 John 2:2 says, “[Jesus Christ] is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” And then we have our verse 1 John 4:10.

But what does propitiation mean? Well, a modern dictionary will say that it means “to appease” or “to placate.” I don’t like either of those words. To me, they suggest a mere soothing or softening of the wrath of an offended party. Worse still, the word “appease” implies an attempt to buy off somebody by negotiating or making concessions. There’s no negotiating with God when it comes to sin.

Jerry Bridges, noted author and pastor writes, “I believe a word that forcefully captures the essence of Jesus’ work of propitiation is the word exhausted. Jesus exhausted the wrath of God. It was not merely deflected and prevented from reaching us; it was exhausted. Jesus bore the full, unmitigated brunt of it. God’s wrath against sin was unleashed in all its fury on His beloved Son. God held nothing back.” (The Gospel for Real Life: Return to the Liberating Power of the Cross).

The gift of God that we recognize at Christmas isn’t just the incarnation, the birth of a baby in a manger, but is also the substitutionary atonement of the Lamb of God in my place, in your place, upon the cross of Calvary at Easter. It’s no wonder, then, when John the Baptist saw Jesus coming to him across the horizon he said, “Behold! the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).

My sin had to be dealt with. Your sin had to be dealt with. Indeed, the sin of all mankind had to be dealt with, and according to Isaiah 53 and in fulfillment of that prophecy, it was the will of God the Father to crush His very own Son in our place. In the words of the hymnwriter, Stuart Townend, “How deep the Father’s love for us? How vast beyond all measure? That He should give His only Son to make a wretch His treasure.”

This is how God showed His love among us. He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him. That’s love displayed. This is love, not that we loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. That’s love defined. And finally, in verse 11 we see the demands of just such a love.

Love Demanded

“Beloved, [since] God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” This, like so many other things that John preached and taught, is not new. In fact, if you look at 1 John 3:16 you read, “By this we know love, that He laid down His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” This is a call to become what we are. John isn’t saying that if we do this, then God will show up. Rather, John is saying that when we do this, when we love as Jesus loved, then we show ourselves to be God’s children.

I was looking for a way to conclude this sermon and, indeed, this entire 3-part series and it dawned on me to use a song. It’s a song taken directly from the pages of Scripture, and perhaps you’ll also notice the title of our series comes from this passage:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong, a clanging cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. But when I became a man, I put my childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; but then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13)

“Father in Heaven! You have loved us first, help us never to forget that You are love so that this sure conviction might triumph in our hearts over the seduction of the world, over the uneasiness of the soul, over the anxiety for the future, over the fright of the past, over the distress of the moment. But grant also that this conviction might discipline our soul so that our heart might remain faithful and sincere in the love which we bear to all those whom You have commanded us to love as we love ourselves. For we offer this prayer in the name of Christ Jesus, amen.”