Love One Another

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. – 1 John 4:13-21 ESV

Christians are to be known for their love. And that love is not up for debate or a negotiable part of the Christian experience. It’s a mandatory divine imperative. It was Jesus who said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (John 13:34 ESV). It’s a command, not a suggestion. And Jesus uses His love of us as the gold standard. He sets the bar high and expects us to reach it because our love for one another will provide the world with evidence that we belong to Him.

“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” – John 13:35 ESV

But, according to the apostle John, our ability to love one another will also provide tangible proof of our salvation – to us.

If we love our brothers and sisters who are believers, it proves that we have passed from death to life. But a person who has no love is still dead. – 1 John 3:14 NLT

And the kind of love of which Jesus is speaking is not to be confused with the counterfeit kind of love the world offers. Worldly love is fickle because it’s usually based on the loveliness or lovableness of the one being loved. It also tends to be reciprocal in nature. In other words, it’s a love that lasts only as long as the other party loves us back. And worldly love is essentially a love of self. It involves a cost-benefit analysis or risk-reward assessment that helps us determine if the love expended will be worth it.

But Jesus wasn’t using worldly love as the model. He offered His own love as the sole criteria for emulation and evaluation.

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.” – John 15:10-14 ESV

It’s important to note that these words were spoken to His disciples before His crucifixion. While He had tried to tell them that His death was inevitable and unavoidable, they had refused to believe Him. And, as a result, this command was lacking its full significance for them. They only had the last 3-1/2 years of life with Jesus as evidence of His love. While they recognized Jesus as being special, they probably thought His brand of love was well within their capacity to replicate. And, as far as laying down their lives, it was Peter who had told Jesus, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” (Matthew 26:35 ESV). But when the time came, Peter didn’t follow through on his commitment. Rather than die on behalf of Jesus, he chose to deny Him.

Jesus’ reference to someone laying down their life for a friend probably escaped the disciples. But it would not be long before they recognized the full import of those words. Jesus eventually made His way to Jerusalem, where He was arrested, tried, convicted, and murdered. And the apostle John later explained the full significance of Jesus’ actions and their implications for us as His followers.

We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters. – 1 John 3:16 NLT

That is what Jesus meant when He had said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” And that is the kind of love He expects us to show one another. It’s sacrificial and selfless in nature. It is other-oriented and expects nothing in return. And it has nothing to do with the loveliness and lovableness of the recipient. As the apostle Paul reminds us, it was “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 ESV). We didn’t deserve His love. In fact, we were His enemies, standing opposed to the will of He and His Father. And just so we don’t misunderstand and assume that this kind of love is only required for our brothers and sisters in Christ, Jesus provided us with clarification.

“You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. – Matthew 5:43-45 NLT

It’s relatively easy to love a friend. But Jesus calls us to love our enemies. And Paul ups the ante by reminding us, “When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good” (Romans 5:6-7 NLT). The kind of love Jesus commands is a lay-it-all-on-the-line kind of love. It is intended for all. No hidden clauses or list of unworthy candidates. Paul doesn’t want us to miss that “our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies” (Romans 5:10 NLT). And that’s the kind of love Jesus expects us to practice.

But how? It all seems so impossible to pull off? And that’s the point. That’s why Jesus said it would prove to the world that we were His disciples. And it would prove to us that we have truly been saved. That kind of love is impossible. It is divine. It is not something we manufacture on our own. Which is why John said, “We love because he first loved us.” It was His love for us that makes it possible for us to love others. When Jesus commanded His disciples to love others the same way He had loved them, He was speaking prophetically. He was referring to His coming death, when the Good Shepherd would lay down His life for the sheep (John 10:10). It would be His death, burial, and resurrection that made the love He commanded possible.

We can love as He did because He loved us as He did. His selfless, sacrificial death is what makes possible the kind of love He demands of us. And the power behind that kind of love does not come from us, but it does come from within us – in the form of the Holy Spirit. We have been given the capacity to love as Jesus loved. We have the power to live and love as He did.

Look closely at John’s words: “God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him” (1 John 4:19 ESV). We have the love of God, in the form of the Spirit of God, living within us. When we love Him, we are simply returning His love to Him. When we love others, we are sharing His love of us with those around us. We become conduits of His love. Loving others is not an option for us, because we have the love of God living within us. Yes, our old natures get in the way and cause us to live out our former patterns of selfish, self-centered, what’s-in-it-for-me kind of love. But John would have us remember that the love of God abides in us. And what is resident in us must flow out from us. Jesus was loved by God and that love did not rest or remain on Him. He shared it with those who didn’t deserve it. Jesus gave His life because He loved His Father. And His love of the Father showed up in His love for the lost.

Again, look closely at John’s words:

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. – 1 John 4:20 ESV

The proof of Jesus’ love for the Father is found in His love of others. Jesus lived out His love for God by expressing it in sacrificial, selfless love for others. And He calls us to do the same.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

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Perfect Love.

No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. – 1 John 4:12 ESV

1 John 4:7-21

Twenty seven times in 16 verses, John references “love.” He tells us to “love one another,” that “whoever loves has been born of God,” that “God loves us first,” and that “God is love.” He also speaks of love being “perfected” and “perfect.” Those two words, when associates with love, come across as unachievable and impossible in this lifetime. How in the world are we, as believers with active sin natures, to love perfectly? Can our love really be perfected in our lifetime? Or is it something we have to wait for until Christ returns and we are glorified and made to be like Him?

John gives us the answer to these questions and more. He commands us to love one another. And where did he get that command? From Jesus Himself. “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (John 13:34 ESV). We are to love one another in the same way that Jesus loved us: Selflessly and sacrificially. Jesus reminds us, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13 ESV). And this love that Jesus expressed came directly from God the Father. It was God’s love lived out through Jesus’ life. “But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8 NLT). Jesus gave His life as an expression of the love of God. God loved the world through Jesus. He was the conduit of God’s love. And God wants us to do the same thing through us. Starting with our brothers and sisters in Christ. He wants His love to be perfected through us. That word in the Greek is teleioō and is means “to carry through completely” or “to bring to an end.” God wants His love to flow through us to one another and not simply end on us. In fact, it was for this very thing that Jesus prayed in the garden on the night of his betrayal. “I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me” (John 17:22-23 NLT). Jesus’ death has made it possible for God’s love to flow through us to one another. The same love God has for His Son has been poured out on us so that we might pour it out on each other, and so prove that we are His disciples. John reminds us, “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” (1 John 4:10 ESV). As a result, “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19 ESV). And when we love one another, we make visible the love of God. In fact, we make the transcendent, invisible God tangible and knowable. “ No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us” (1 John 4:12 ESV). Men can’t see God, but they can see God’s love through us. Paul tells us that Jesus was “the visible image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15 NLT). John, in his gospel, wrote this regarding Jesus: “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known” (John 1:18 NIV). But the most radical expression of God’s love was through Jesus’ death. John puts it this way: “In this is love…that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10 ESV). Jesus’ selfless sacrifice of His own life was a declaration and proof of God’s love for man.

But let’s take it back to us. Can we love like Jesus loved? Can we love perfectly or completely? I think the answer lies in our understanding of what John meant by “perfect love.” He isn’t talking about something we manufacture or create. He is talking about God’s love being carried through us to its intended destination: others. God’s love was not meant to dead end with us. He loved us so that we might love others. Again, John puts it in very clear terms. “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” (1 John 4:16 ESV). How do we know how much God loves us? Because of His Son’s death in our place. We live in that love, counting on it daily, trusting in it regularly. “By this is love perfected with us” (1 John 4:17 ESV). As we live in His love, it begins to flow out of us. As we remember and rely on His unconditional love for us, we realize that there is no legitimate reason we should not share that same love with others for whom His Son died. We are not having to conjure up love for others. We are simply sharing or passing on the love that God has shown to us through His Son. I love the imagery Paul uses to explain the power that we have available within us. “For God, who said, ‘Let there be light in the darkness,’ has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ. We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves” (2 Corinthians 4:16-17 NLT). It isn’t our love that is perfect, but His love being made carried through to completion through us. Most often, in spite of us.

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