Charles and Sandra are walking along a beach on their honeymoon. Feeling relaxed and happy Charles turns to Sandra and says, ‘I love you!’ What does he mean?
He probably means, ‘Sandra, I need you, you complete me. You are so beautiful. Your smile knocks me out. Your good humour, your laugh, your beautiful eyes, the scent of your hair—everything about you transfixes me.’
What he certainly does not mean is, ‘Sandra you have the worst case of bad-breath—you would embarrass a herd of garlic-eating elephants. Your nose is so bulbous it deserves to be in a cartoon. Your hair is so greasy you could lubricate an old Massie-Ferguson. Your knees are so disjointed you make a camel look elegant. Your personality makes Genghis Khan look like a wimp. But despite all this I love you!’
What does the God of love mean when he says he loves this world?
He doesn’t mean, ‘I need you, you make me complete. Heaven would be boring without you. Your personality transfixes me.’
No! Rather he means something like, ‘Morally speaking, you have the worst case of bad-breath. Your sins have made you disgusting. It is as if you are people of the bulbous nose, greasy hair, disjointed knees and abominable personality. You are morally repugnant. But I love you despite your sin. I love you not because you are attractive. I love you because it is my nature to love’(adapted from Carson).
Cheer up! You are a lot worse than your realise, but God is more gracious than you know! Because of his love we can experience assurance. We can come to him knowing that he will forgive all the evil that we have done. We can trust him knowing that he is committed to changing us. We must have him as our king and then he will delight in us as his children.
The cross is to be our model for loving each other (7-12)
God is love. ‘It is not simply that God loves, but that he is love’ (Jackman). Love is at the very essence of God’s being. Indeed our God lives in a Trinity of loving union. The Father loves the Son and the Spirit, the Son loves the Father and Spirit, and the Spirit loves the Father and Son. God did not create the universe because he needed someone to love—he lives in a perfect relationship of love. We should be blown away by the fact that God is love and in his love cares for this wicked world.
God is love. He has demonstrated that love in sending his only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is not a deserving world but a rebellious world. In love God looks upon a filthy people and wants to make us pure. He sees our spiritual deadness and wants to give us life.
This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.
Jesus was an atoning sacrifice for our sins. God has pardoned our sin against him at his own cost. On the cross God gave his Son, who bore his righteous anger at our sin, so that we the guilty ones might go free. ‘Amazing love, O what sacrifice. The Son of God given for me. My debt he paid and my death he dies. That I might live.’
The great Welsh preacher Martyn Lloyd-Jones never tired of telling people of the importance of preaching the gospel to ourselves daily. We are to keep on reminding ourselves of the gospel. We are prone to forget it. A forgetful people will be an ungrateful people; an ungrateful people will be an unloving people.
For it is as we remind ourselves of God’s love, demonstrated at the cross, that we should be moved to love one another—since God so loved us, we ought to love one another. The cross is our model for Christian love. Look at the cross and try to justify why you won’t forgive a fellow-believer—it can’t be done! Look at the cross and try to explain why you would not go out of your way to help one of God’s people—it won’t make any sense! The cross is our model of love to the unlovely and goodness to the undeserving!
Indeed as one commentary points out ‘it is only when a person loves his fellow-Christians … that he fully experiences the love of God in his own heart and knows the presence of God with him.’ That is what John says in verse twelve. No-one has ever seen God, but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. It may seem like some Christians are a hindrance to our relationship with God—they test our patience and get on our nerves. But God is experienced through living in the community of his people. Showing love to his imperfect people provides us with an opportunity to experience him more.
Look at those words again, ‘No-one has ever seen God…’ John has used this phrase before. Not in this letter but at the beginning of his gospel. There he wrote that ‘No-one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known’ (1 John 1:18). As Jesus makes God known to the world, so when we, the body of Christ, love one another we, we make God known to the world (albeit in a less perfect way). Our sharing in love is essential to our witness! People ought to see God among us as they witness how we serve one another!
God’s love gives us confidence (13-18)
We have had the behaviour test, the love test and the belief test—we are to look at these areas of our lives and see evidence of God changing us. These tests are complimented by the inner witness of the Holy Spirit. We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us the Spirit.
The Spirit gives an inner witness that we are children of God (see Gal. 4:6). When we start thinking that God is our heavenly policeman waiting to catch us out the Spirit says, ‘No! He is your Father.’ When we are tempted to think that God is our heavenly prosecutor waiting to condemn us the Spirit reminds us saying, ‘No! He is your Father.’
Of course if our assurance is to be real it must be grounded in a true understanding of the historical person of Jesus. ‘If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God.’ You might feel that doctrine doesn’t matter, that there are more exciting things to do that listening to sermons and studying the Scriptures but if we don’t guard our doctrine we will be led astray, and being led astray will demonstrate that we are not born again! It is through this message of Jesus that we know and rely on the love God has for us.
‘God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him’—as we saw when we looked at the love test, a person cannot come into a real relationship with a loving God without being transformed into a loving person. In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgement, because in this world we are like him. The fact that we are like Christ in love is a sign that God, who is love, lives in us giving us confidence that we are saved. John says that if we are afraid that God is going to punish us on the day of judgement then we are not aware of the fullness of his everlasting love.
Many sensitive Christians fail to grasp that they are loved and accepted by God. Perhaps you are one of them! You doubt that a perfect God would ever be interested in a failure like you. You struggle to believe that anyone would love you if they knew what you were like—and God knows perfectly well what you are like. You have grown up with parents who were impossible to please and can’t imagine that God is ever pleased at your efforts to live for him. You have a distorted view of God thinking that he would rather condemn you than forgive you. You are insecure and have projected your insecurity towards your relationship with God. You struggle to love God because it is hard to love a God you are not sure loves you.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones would tell you to preach the gospel to yourself. Daily remind yourself that God has demonstrated his love for an undeserving sinful world of people like you and me. Cheer up! You are a lot worse than your realise, but God is more gracious than we know! God was not attracted to us because we were morally beautiful but because he is love. Christ has made atonement for our sins. He delights in the change he is bringing to our lives even as we continue to struggle with sin in this life.
Finally, our passage ends where it began—with the inextricable link between loving God and loving his people. We love because he first loved us. ‘If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this commandment: Whoever loves God must love his brother.’
Do you say that you are willing to take up your cross and lay down your life for the God of love? Prove it! Love his people, including the insensitive ones who get on your nerves. After all he loves us in spite of our many failings!
Do you claim that you are born again? Show it! Don’t bear grudges. Forgive, as we have been forgiven. After all God has forgiven us far more than we will be ever asked to forgive another!
Do you enjoy singing God’s praise? Demonstrate that those words aren’t hollow! Speak words of encouragement to people in the church. Don’t seek to knock them or compete with them. Weep when they fall and rejoice when they do well!
God is love. Let us demonstrate in our actions that we understand and have experienced that love!