May 16, 2021 | Don Horban
References: 1 John 3:23, 4:7-12, 19Ephesians 2:1-5
Topics: LoveChristian Life

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1 John 4:7-12 - "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.”

John made a very important statement back in 1 John 3:23 “And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.”

This is what the Christian life looks like when it's boiled down to its very essence. We are to “believe in the name of God’s Son, Jesus Christ” and we are to “love one another.” Those are the two keys. John has been expanding on these two ideas ever since.

Chapter 4:1-6 unpacks what believing in Jesus Christ is all about. John has been refining the meaning of the truth that Jesus Christ has “come in the flesh.” Jesus is absolutely essential and unique and His saving work is God’s final word.

Chapter 4:7-12 unfolds the other half of the command spelled out in 3:23. John still has more to say on the subject of loving one another. Verses 7 and 11 both contain the exhortation to love – “Beloved, let us love one another....”(7), and “....we also ought to love one another”(11).

Arranged in our text today are three reasons backing up these commands to love one another:


1 John 4:7-8 – “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.

The God who saved me - the God to whom I've come - the God who has come to dwell by His Spirit in my heart - what is this God like? That's a very crucial question. It's a crucial question because I'm supposed to be like Him. I'm to be shaped more and more into His likeness. What is that likeness? What does the likeness of God look like?

That's what John is dealing with in these two verses. That's why he emphasizes that basic truth about being “born of God” (7). John’s reminding me of my own basic theology - that in becoming a Christian I'm claiming that something of God's genetics - His life - His nature - is actually planted in my own soul.

And that life of God is love. I can't be changed by God without first being reached by His love. And I can't become more like God without becoming more loving. That's the kind of change God makes. Forgiving my sins is the change God’s love makes in my record. Loving my enemies is the change God’s love makes in me.

It can be no other way, because God is love. If God is love, and God is in my life, then God’s love is in my life. In the same way a breathalyzer test checks for the presence of alcohol in the blood John says “love one for another” is the test of the presence of God in my heart. You can tell if a person has been drinking and how much he's been drinking by what's in his system. They can take samples from athletes and tell if they've been taking drugs. If the drug is in there, then it’s in there. It will show up.

But how do you tell if someone has God in his or her heart? Most people, especially church going people, say God is in their hearts. But how do we know for sure? John says, test for love samples. If God is present, so is His love. If it’s in there, it’s in there. It’s that simple and that obvious.


1 John 4:9-11“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.”

Notice that phrase, “the love of God was made manifest among us”(4:9). This isn’t when God’s love came into existence. After all, God is, and has always been love. But this is when we learned the exact nature of God’s love. His love was “made manifest” when God sent His Son into the world to die for you and me.

I'm notorious for linking love with sentiment. We talk about people "falling in love." We see little slogans. Or we pick certain people we feel pretty good about and pride ourselves in our love for them.

Into all of this fuzziness John talks about what true love looks like - what God's love looks like when it’s in my heart. And he starts by talking about the blood of Jesus being spilled out at the end of sharp nails and spears. That’s what that big word “propitiation” is all about in verse 10.

But notice John’s point her. Not only is the cross the place where we experience God's forgiving love, it's where we find the pattern for and the meaning of loving others.

Now, this isn’t easy for any of us. Offering free, sacrificial, forgiving love to people who have wronged us poses certain theological questions:

If we forgive too freely, or too quickly, people won't take holiness seriously. If grace and mercy come easily where's the incentive not to sin again? People won't care about sin if forgiveness is cheap. How will they ever learn their lesson so they don’t hurt other people the way they have hurt us?

That’s an issue that needs to be thought through in the teaching of every church. I wrestle with that in my own ministry all the time. Every thoughtful pastor should. You can preach in such a way that one group of people will say you are too harsh, too legalistic, with too much emphasis on disciplined holiness. People will feel devastated in their failures. They'll think they can never measure up. They'll feel they never can do anything right in God's eyes.

Or you can preach wonderful, free, unconditional grace in such a marvelous way that others will say, "Hey, you're taking away any consequence of sin. People will grow indifferent about holiness and doing what's right. They'll think that God loves them the way they are and they can stay the way they are all the way to heaven!"

Those aren’t light, breezy issues. We need to talk about them. It seems to me that in this whole issue what really needs to be re-emphasized is the effect grace has on the heart receiving it. What did receiving God's grace do to you? Did it make you love God more or did it make you love sin more? Did it make you happy when you sinned or make you sad when you sinned? Did it draw you closer to God or closer to the world?

This is a very important issue. Some issues are root issues. The answer you give to them shapes the way to think about many other issues as well. What was it that changed your heart toward God? Why do you love Him when so many others don't? Did you make yourself love God all on your own or did God do something in your heart - either instantly or gradually - that led and caused you to love Him?

Actually, John will give the Scriptural answer to that question twice in this fourth chapter - 1 John 4:10, 19 – “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....[19] We love because he first loved us.

So there it is. God’s love is the cause, the fountain, the transforming source of my changed heart and my changed affections. He turned me from being an enemy into being a friend.

But how did He change me? He changed me by loving me in spite of my pathetic, wretched guilt. He changed me by dying for me. He changed me by sacrificial grace. And John isn’t the only one to tell me this. Paul agrees:

Ephesians 2:1-5“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins [2] in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience-[3] among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. [4] But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, [5] even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ-by grace you have been saved....”

Apparently we need to keep the sequence of this wonderful salvation alive in our thoughts. It’s not enough to know Jesus loved us and died for us. That in itself isn’t the furnace where God-like love is forged.

The real issue is the timing of the manifestation of this love. When did Jesus come and die for us? Paul says He came when we were "by nature children of wrath"(2:3). When did Jesus give up all of His rights for us? Was it when we were seeking the Spirit of God? No, says Paul. It was when we were “following the prince of the power of the air”(2:2).

Why is it so important to remember this? Because if I forget this I'm liable to offer forgiveness to others when I think they have somehow paid for their sins against me. And that’s exactly the opposite of the way God showed His love to me.

So I mustn’t fall into the pattern of requiring amends or some form of restitution before I offer my enemy forgiving, gracious, sacrificial love. If I make people pay for their wrongs before I offer them my love and grace, I've forgotten the pattern of the cross. I've forgotten my roots. I've betrayed my salvation. I’ve denied Christ.

That's why John talks so much about the pattern of love being fleshed out in what Jesus Christ did for me. What gradually turned my heart to love God and His holiness was and still is God’s amazing grace. God gave His life for me when I was His enemy. And what will change the heart of my enemy is my offer of free grace while he is still my enemy. That’s what Christian love is in its roots in God and that is what it must be in its fruit in me.

I believe this to be so important. You change people as you love them. Revenge hardens and sours both those who give it and those who receive it. You weren't changed by God making you sweat it out for a few hundred years in hell. You were transformed by God's loving reach and embrace in Jesus Christ. That's God's system.


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

Here’s John’s progression of thought. God's love has its source in His nature. Then, God's love is manifested savingly in His Son. Finally, God's love is perfected and completed through His loving, forgiving children. And I’m meant to see that none of the links in this chain can be ignored without the whole structure crashing to the ground. It’s not just about what God is like. And it’s not just about what Jesus did. It’s also about how I love my enemy while he is still my enemy.

Verse 12 is interesting. It seems like a funny place for John to launch into the subject of the invisibility of God. Why should John bother to remind us we worship a God we can’t see. One would think we all know this. It’s so obvious. Some people might even find it discouraging. What’s John getting at?

Here’s his point. If God is invisible how can you tell when He's present. The church declares God’s reality and presence. In fact, it calls people to place faith in a God they have never seen. How can those whom we address in the world take us seriously when we describe God’s love and presence? How can they know when God is truly at work? What gives them the kind of evidence they can lean on to activate their faith and trust?

John says there is only one way. Jesus isn’t physically here anymore. No one can see Him. Now that Jesus has come and gone there is only one way for God to be real to onlookers - one way that God becomes visible and an object of their faith. And John is pleading with the church not to let their own egos or their own smallness of heart block God out from people’s sight.

In his masterful book, “Like Father, Like Son - The Trinity Imaged In Our Humanity,” Thomas Smail says this: “The new humanity in Christ that the Church offers in its missions is plausible outside the Church only if it can be seen to be effective inside the Church....A church riven by bad relationships and yet preaching reconciliation is like a Total Abstinence society all of whose members are permanently drunk!”

God becomes visible when I love my enemies the way God loved me - sacrificially and preemptively. What was God's ultimate intention in extending His love to you? Why did He do it? Was it just to save you or to reach others through you?

Of course, we'd all say His plan was to reach others through us. We’re not stupid. But if I say that, I must live it. And that means I must offer love just as sacrificially and just as passionately to my enemies while they are still my enemies as God offered His love and grace to His enemies while they were still His enemies.

"Well, sin can't just be ignored, Pastor Don." And you're right. It can’t. But we need to keep thinking this issue through. Where was my sin paid for? Did I pay for it myself, or did Jesus pay for it? "Jesus paid for it." But Jesus didn't just pay for my sin. He paid for my enemy’s sin too. Jesus totally paid the debt of my enemy’s sin, to the extent that there is nothing else I need to extract from my enemy before I can love and be gracious to him or her.

I understand there are consequences to people's actions in this world. I understand that, even in the church, certain sins require action on the part of the church. This church has done that in the past - too much for some people's liking and not enough for others. But that's not our subject in this teaching. I'm talking about my own heart and how I react toward those whom I dislike because they have genuinely wronged me - perhaps very deeply.

I can easily imagine Peter making his theological case as he responds to Jesus’ command to forgive the brother who sinned against him, not seven times, but four hundred and ninety times. "How can I forgive my brother who sins against me 7x70? If he comes back and does the same thing to me 490 times, what kind of repentance is that?”

It seems like a really astute theological question - the kind I would like to have asked. It’s humbling to think of what Jesus probably would have said: “Why don’t you let me worry about your enemy’s repentance. You worry about your forgiveness.”

That’s it exactly. "Stay free, Peter. Stay free. Vengeance is God's. Only God is righteous enough to be entrusted with dispensing justice and vengeance. Forgiveness - that’s your job.”

And everyone said....