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Love One Another

Stonebrook Community Church https://www.stonebrook.org

That You May Know—The Epistles of John

1 John 4:7-21 –  Love One Another 

I’ve been to many weddings over the years, and one of the more common Scriptures read is 1 Corinthians 13.  It’s about love.  The pre-eminence of love.  And a description of love.  A beautiful chapter, really. 

 “If I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.”

Paul is saying, “I can have incredible spiritual gifts and abilities, but if I don’t have love to go with it, all those gifts are worthless.”

 “Love is patient.  Love is kind.  It does not envy, does not boast.  It is not proud.”

Paul is saying, “Love is not simply some emotional response.  It is patient when impatience is so natural.  It is kind, when meanness and unkindness are deserved. 

Who doesn’t want to experience this kind of love from others?  Who doesn’t want to be this way themselves?  But love like this is so elusive.

Last Wednesday at dinner, my wife said that there are some ways I’ve not been very kind to her recently.  Translation:  I don’t have 1 Corinthians 13 kindness. 

You may have seen the movie, The Blind Side.  It’s the story of a young man who is homeless.  Michael Oher.  He went on to play in the NFL for about 8 years until he had concussion problems.  I recently finished reading Michael’s autobiography, “I Beat the Odds.”  A wonderful book.  But Michael grew up in a very dysfunctional home.  And he wrote that he never heard anyone in his family tell him, “I love you.”  It simply never happened.  (Some of you can relate to that.)  As I read a couple of chapters out loud to Annette, I wept as I thought of that pain, of a loveless childhood.

We all desperately want to be loved.  And we want to love others.  This makes 1 Corinthians 13 so wonderful.  And many of us have dubbed this passage as, “The Love Chapter.”

Today we are going to read a passage that, in my opinion, at least equals if not surpasses 1 Corinthians 13.

Perhaps we should give consideration to giving it the awarded title of, “The Love Chapter.”  Or perhaps it’s better if we have two Love Chapters! 

We are nearing the end of a 7-week series on 3 letters—called epistles—written by one of Jesus’ disciples, named John. 

Today we will read a portion of Chapter 4 in John’s first letter.

The dominant theme is love.  God’s love for us.  And our love for people.

Turn to 1 John 4

While you are turning there, I will introduce myself to those whom I don’t know.  I am Brad Barrett, one of the pastors here.

I have been a part of Stonebrook for 40 years, ever since I believed in Jesus Christ as a 19-year old college student.

On a warm August evening at the start of my sophomore year at Iowa State, I believed in Christ.  I was “born again.”  The words “born again” are Jesus’ own words in the Gospel of John.  The back story of Jesus’ words is that we are dead before God.  We are not part of God, not part of his family.  He is life, and we are lifeless… lifeless before him because of our sin and God’s judgment.  But through faith in his Son who rose from the dead, Jesus, we are given life in God.  New life.  New birth.  Thus we are “born again.”

If you are unsure what this all means, or if you are unsure if you are born again, I would enjoy talking to you.  Talk to me afterwards.  Or send me an email, and we can talk. 

John’s Epistle

Turn to 1 John 4. 

A major theme John addresses in this letter is looking at who is a real Christian, and who is not.

The goal is not to be harsh and critical.  The goal is to know truth from lies……and to have our faith founded deep into the truth of God.

And the real Christian believes important truths about Jesus.  And the real Christian shows his faith by his actions. 

1 John 4:7-21

So let’s begin reading.

1 John 4:7-21 (ESV)

Vs. 7-12

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.

Throughout this letter, John does not give many direct commands.  But here John is quite direct:  Love one another. 

The reason for and the power source of this command is simple:  Love comes from God. 

And such a love for one another is proof of faith—genuine faith—in God.

Why is this proof?

Love is at God’s core nature.  He is the source of all love.  So when we truly love as he loves, it shows we are born again and we know him.  Loving others does not make us born again.  But it does show we are.

Remember throughout this letter, John is dealing with the word, “knowledge.”  The culture in the first century seems to be focused on “knowledge.”  Knowledge was everything.  At the same time, knowledge was nothing.  The knowledge of that culture was not rooted in the one True God.  And it was not demonstrated in action. 

It reminds me of an event in the Book of Acts.  In about 50 A.D., the Apostle Paul went to a place in Athens, Greece, called the Aereopagus.  The Aereopagus was a place where philosophers and thinkers gathered.  Paul was preaching Jesus and his resurrection.  And the philosophers asked him this:  

Acts 17:19–21 ESV 

“…May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? For you bring some strange things to our ears.  We wish to know therefore what these things mean.”

Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new.

Neither Paul here nor John in his letter is interested in such endless learning but never knowing.

Paul and John—more importantly God—are seeking a deep, heartfelt, faith-filled knowledge in the One True and Living God. 

And in the end, such genuine knowledge and faith is demonstrated by action.  Particularly, loving one another. 

So in vs. 7-8, John says that love is from God and that God is love.  How do we know that he loves us?  John tells us plainly and powerfully in vs. 9-10.

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.

This is the HIGH POINT of this passage today.  Very simply but oh so powerfully:  we know what love is in one key way.  We look to what God has done by sending his Son. 

Propitiation” in vs. 10 means to turn away God’s wrath.

It is impossible for us to turn away his wrath because our crimes against God are so heinous.

But God, in his great love and rich mercy, took the initiative.  He sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to stand in our place—to stand in front of us, like “taking a bullet for us”—to absorb the fierce wrath of God so that, if we would look to him and trust him, we would go completely free.

At the core of his nature is a heart of love.  Of kindness, mercy, patience, compassion.  And God is the initiator of love.   He takes the first step to love.

And what makes his love so remarkable and amazing is that we humans are not easy to love.  We are sinners.  Rebels.  Enemies of God.  Romans 5 says is well:

Romans 5:8 ESVGod shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

God’s love is revealed in our worst moment.  In our most dire need.  This is the foundation for our knowledge of and faith in God. 

We all know…. bad things—even horrible things—may happen to us to tempt us to doubt him and to doubt his love.  But if God did not spare his own Son for us, surely he will continue to show good in all other things  (Romans 8:32). 

My wife and I have wrestled with God’s love and goodness through our health challenges.   Many times we have been tempted to doubt that God is good and that he loves us.  Last summer, we had a major setback in our health.

As the next month and a half went on, I found myself getting more frustrated with our situation.  I was angry, discouraged, annoyed.  And I couldn’t seem to shake it.

Then one morning when she was in physical therapy, I was sitting in the lobby waiting for her, reading a book called Gospel Fluency.  Through a simple exercise in the book, I journaled some thoughts.  And as I wrote, I was shocked to discover that my frustrations were because I was angry at God.  “Where are you?  Why did you let this happen?  This is too hard for us.  Don’t you care?”  Through conviction of the Holy Spirit, I realized my error.  I was looking to my circumstances to decide if God was loving.   I repented that very hour, and I began thanking God for his goodness to me, demonstrated most of all at the Cross of Christ.  I began looking to truths like here in vs. 9-10. 

My heart was transformed that morning as I got my thinking straight and my eyes on Jesus and his deep love for me. 

Here is John’s conclusion:

11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

So we begin foundationally with God’s love for us.  This love that is shown at the cross in face of our sin.

Now our only conclusion from being the recipients of such an astounding love… . is to love other people.   John calls us to love one another.  The people in this room.  What this indicates is that God’s love is so powerful, so transformative, that if we truly believe it, the outcome of our lives will be very different.  We will be changed.   We will love. 

This is why it is so crucial that we place ourselves in a lifetime quest to know God’s love more and more.  To believe it. 

12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.

We cannot see God.  We cannot touch him.  But if we love one another, this is proof that God dwells—abides— in us.   This makes this invisible God visible.

Vs. 13-15

13 By this we know that we abide in him and He in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.

You know you abide in God and he in you because he has given his Holy Spirit to all who believe.  As the previous passage (vs. 1-6 indicates) the Real Christian doesn’t have an evil spirit or the spirit of the antichrist.  No, he has God’s Spirit.

This is one of the more remarkable truths of the Gospel.  God has so cleansed the believer in Christ, so purified, made him so holy, that he can and does send the Spirit of God to dwell in our hearts.  The nearness of God is stunning.

If this doesn’t amaze you, you should ask God in desperation to open your heart to the powerful reality of the presence of the Holy Spirit in you. 

So John is saying, we know we are part of God’s family and kingdom because he has given us the Spirit.

14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.

Regardless of what the false teachers or the worldly philosophies of their age tell them, John has personally witnessed the Son of God who came into the world.   This is powerful proof of the reality of the Christian faith, founded upon the Incarnate Christ, Immanuel, God With Us.

15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.

This confession—a declaration of faith—that Jesus is the Son of God, sent by God—this is our salvation.  This brings us near to God and he to us.  John is assuring the believers who received this letter—and also to us—if you confess Jesus, God is in you and you are in God. 

Vs. 16-21

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.

Six times in vs. 12-16 John speaks of abiding.  It means to dwell, to make your home, to continue on.  To remain. 

John is assuring the Christians:  “Yes, you do know the One True God.  Yes, you have believed in him and in his love.”

And he gives this extraordinary statement:  God is love.  At the core of his being resides love. 

Now, we err if we say this describes all who and what God is.  But love is an essential attribute of God’s. 

And for all of us who know that love and who believe in him, we abide in God, and he abides in us. 

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.

In this intimate relationship believers in Christ have with God, God fills us up with an experiential knowledge of his love.  And that love gives us confidence for the future Great Day of Judgment, when God brings his wrath down upon sinners.

The followers of Jesus knows God’s love so well that they don’t fear that Judgment Day.  The believer knows that Jesus is the propitiation for his sins.  Jesus took the wrath of God for him.  We who are in Christ are so loved, so righteous, so holy– all because of the gospel– that on the day of judgment we will have confidence of our standing with God.

19 We love because he first loved us.

This simple statement is so powerful and important.  We need not worry that we don’t have enough capacity to love God and love people.   In ourselves, we have too little power to love.

But no worries.  God loved us first.  He is love.  He has revealed his love.  He has sent his Son who has turned away God’s wrath.  The Christian is loved.  This is why knowing God’s love more and more is such a crucial pursuit in the Christian life.

Even though every true Christian does indeed love God and others, we all know that we don’t love as deeply and as consistently as we want to.

So we seek to know God better and better.   

In his love and through the presence of God’s Spirit in us, we now have the power and the capacity and the desire to love. 

And even to love even our enemies as God loved us when we were his enemies. 

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.

As John does throughout this letter, he gives a comparison and contrast.

  1. A true believer in Jesus believes this and does this and says this.
  2. A false believer believes and does and says the opposite. 

The real Christian loves God and his brother.

The false Christian—even if he says he loves God—if he hates his brother, then he is a liar.  He doesn’t really know the One True God and his Son, Jesus.

Action Points

So what do we do with this?  Let me give you one main application.  One action point.

Abide in God’s Love

Wait.  What?  What does that mean?  John told us in this passage to abide in love.  This means to dwell there.  Reside there.  Stay there.  Don’t leave.  Concerning God and his deep love for us, we need to learn to abide in him and in his love.

To walk with him.  Stay near to him.  Don’t avoid or ignore, but stay close.  Be dependent, not independent from God.

How?

The most foundational way to abide in God’s love is to do this: 

  1.  Focus on Jesus. 

Focus on the Person and Work of Jesus Christ.  (vs. 9-10)  Did you catch what John said in vs. 9-10?  This is what love is:  That God sent his Son who is the propitiation for our sins.  We need never doubt God’s love again, if we abide in God… stay close to God… by focusing on what Jesus has done for us.   You see, our human tendency is to walk by sight and not by faith.  We try to determine if God loves us by circumstances in our lives.  Now, God does do many kind things for us, and it’s beautiful to acknowledge those.

But painful trials do happen.  When they do, where we look?  If my eyes stay on the trial, I can only conclude that God doesn’t love me.  But if my eyes turn to Jesus and the work of the Gospel, well, then I can only conclude that God does indeed love me.

So HOW do we focus on Jesus?

There is no formula.  But here are some steps we can take. 

  • Meditate on the truths of Scriptures
  • Study the gospel story, including all its ramifications.
  • Memorize Scriptures that speak of God’s love.  (35 years ago, I memorized our passage here, 1 John 4.  It still helps me today.)
  • Sing about Jesus and his love and power.  When we come on Sunday morning or you are listening to Christian music, sing with all your heart about Jesus.
  • Offer thanksgiving.  Don’t take his love for granted.  Thank him. 
  • Talk about it with others. 
  • Pray for great understanding.

Pray for deeper knowledge of and faith in God’s love.  I am quite earnest about this.  Most of us pray for many things.  They tend to revolve around our trials.  “Lord, get me out of this trial.”  Keep praying for that.

But….in my opinion, we neglect praying for some rich truths that the Apostle Paul himself prayed for.  He prayed earnestly for a whole church to know God’s love in a vastly different and richer way.

Ephesians 3:16–19 ESV  [Paul prays]…that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Let me first acknowledge this is a very lofty prayer.  Deep.  Rich.  Even complex, it seems.

But this prayer is so necessary!  This ought to be one of your top prayers for people you love. 

To know God’s love is a very spiritual work.  It is a work that requires strength from heaven through the Holy Spirit.  He must give us strength, for when life knocks us down, we find ourselves weak and vulnerable.  The Holy Spirit can strengthen us… if we are praying for this. 

This should be one of the top prayers in your life.  Simply open your Bible, read this, and pray for others for this outcome.  Just like Paul did.  And if you don’t quite understand what you’re praying, do this:  Read it.  Then pray, “Lord, I don’t get it very well, but I ask for this!”

So pray to understand God’s deep, deep love.

  • Do something!

Then do something.  Show your love.  A verse from the passage two weeks ago.

1 John 3:18 ESVLittle children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.”

It’s easy to say we love God and we love people.  But we must show it.  Show it… in deed and in truth.

This is obvious to us all, I think.  Saying, “I love you,” is a beautiful thing.  DOING “I love you” shows yours words to be true.

For example

  • Defend those who are oppressed.
  • Pray for others
  • Give money to those in need, or simply to give a gift
  • Show empathy.  Romans 12:15 says to “mourn with those who mourn.
  • Commend, praise, and thank people.  Speak well of them, even publicly.
  • Serve.  Look for needs, and go meet them.
  • Forgive those who have wronged you.  Even your enemies. 
  • Ask for forgiveness why you don’t love well!  Such humility… is very loving. 

Verse 16 says, “We have come to know and believe the love God has for us.”  This is simply a statement to the Christian:  “Yes, you do know God’s love.  You do believe it.”

But with statements like this throughout this letter, there is also a sense that John is commanding us to do this.  He says to us, in an indirect way:  “Know God’s love more.  Believe it.  Do not doubt he loves you.”  Yes, we know it and believe it.  But don’t we all know that we don’t know it as well as we ought to?  Don’t we all know that we don’t always believe that he loves us, especially in heavy trials?  So we know it.   But we can know it more deeply. 

This makes me think of marriage.  When I married Annette 33.7 years ago, we were fully married, and I knew her.  Yet as the years have gone on, I know her in deeper and richer ways.  My knowledge of her is not static.

So it is with our knowledge of God and his deep love for us.  Knowing God is like being in an ocean without shores.  It’s endless, and we spend our lives exploring his vastness.

We love, John says, because he first loved us.  The more we know his love, the more we can and will love others.  The shallower our knowledge of his love is, the shallower our love for others will be.

Conclusion

What is at stake here?

  • Our thriving.  Our spiritual well-being.   Who won’t flourish when they deeply know how much God loves them?
  • God’s honor.  His reputation of reliability and power is on display here in us.
  • Souls in this world.

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

The world will know you belong to Jesus.  The world will take notice.

God’s love is a powerful force that affects people.  It impacts anyone who comes in contact with it. 

As I love my wife, the world is watching.

As I love the person who hurt me badly, the world notices.

As I give to the poor, God is honored and people take notice.

As I don’t gossip at work but instead speak kindness, my co-workers see it.

There is so much riding on all this.  This “LOVE CHAPTER” reveals that God’s love is transforming.  Almost irresistible.  Impactful. 

If we KNOW and BELIEVE it, it transforms us.  Affects us.  May the Lord give us power through his Spirit to know and believe the love he has for us.