Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. – 1 John 4:7 ESV
1 John 4:7-21
Throughout these 15 verses, John repeatedly reminds us to love one another. But he has not left it up to us to define what that love should look like. He has gone out of his way to make sure we know that the standard for the kind of love we are to show one another is a high one. It is the love of God. And that love was not simply an emotion or a response to something lovable in us. It was the outflow of His very nature, and an expression of His character. As John says, God didn’t love us because we loved Him first. It was the other way around. He loved us when we were at our worst. He loved us when we were in rebellion against Him, existing as His enemies, and stubbornly content with our lot in life. Paul puts it this way: “you who were once far away from God. You were his enemies, separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions” (Colossians 1:21 NLT). Yet, in spite of our unlovely condition, God loved us. “Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault” (Colossians 1:22 NLT). God loved the unlovely and unlovable. And that love was costly. It required the death of His one and only Son, Jesus Christ. But that priceless payment was necessary in order that we might be restored to a right relationship with God. He paid the price we could not afford to settle a debt we owed. Now that’s love. And it is that kind of love John has in mind when he says, “Love one another.” It was the kind of love Jesus had in mind when He told His disciples, “just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” ( John 13:34 ESV).
God loved us in order to restore us. Jesus loved us enough to die for us, so that we might live as sons and daughters of God. Their love was focused on our holiness, not our happiness. Their love was focused on our eternal well-being, not our temporary satisfaction. Jesus died to deliver us from this world of sin and death. His prayer in the garden on the night of His betrayal says it all. “I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:14-17 ESV). His love was focused on our sanctification, our ongoing transformation in His own likeness. Ultimately, God’s love and that of His Son is all about our future glorification. And our love for one another should have that same focus. Do I love my brother or sister in Christ enough to speak truth into their life? Do I love them enough to give up my own rights in order to see that they grow in Christ-likeness? Do I love them enough to want God’s best for them? Do I love them enough to sacrifice my time, my resources, my comfort and my self-centered conveniences in order to see that they live lives that are pleasing to God?
The reason Jesus said the world would know we were His disciples because of our love for one another was due to the nature of that love. It would not be the kind of love with which the world was familiar. And let’s face it, the world does love. Those who live in this world without Christ love their kids, express love towards one another, give their money to worthy causes, feed the hungry, help the needy, do service projects, sacrifice their time, and show love in a thousand different ways. But the love we are commanded to show is different. It is what sets us apart. It is what gives proof that we are His disciples. When John says, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11 ESV). In the same way. With the same focus. The reason we love is so that those we love might be restored to God. Any temporal aspect of our love should have an eternal focus. Meeting physical needs should always have a spiritual focus. Feeding the hungry, while failing to give them the bread of life, will provide temporary relief, but leave them with a much more serious problem. That’s why Paul wrote, “If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:3 ESV). The greatest love we have to give away is the love we have received. A love that was focused on our greatest need. The love of this world is temporal in nature. It seeks to solve immediate needs with temporary fixes. We attempt to fix broken relationships with flowers. We try to remedy sadness with some form of temporary gladness. We give the hungry a meal or a job. We give the poor a handout. But the kind of love the world needs is far more lasting and long-term in nature. Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry again. Whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6:35 NLT). He said this in response to those who had demanded, “give us that bread every day” (John 6:34 NLT). They had been part of the crowd that He had fed the day before. They wanted more bread. They wanted their physical needs met. But Jesus was offering them more. His love was focused on something far greater. Their salvation from sin. Their restoration to a right relationship with God. And that should be the focus of our love. I love others most when I desire for them God’s best.