A. Searching for the Source
Hernando de Soto was the first European to explore the Mississippi River. Despite all his courageous efforts, however, he only got as far up the river as modern-day Memphis, Tennessee. Little did he know that he was less than a third of the way up that mighty river! He died in 1542 of a fever, and his body was buried in the river that was too big for him to trace. David Livingstone was a Christian missionary and explorer of the Nile River in Africa. His final, most famous, journey was a search for that long river’s source. When he died in 1873, he still had not found the elusive headwaters for which he was searching.
Sometimes searching for the source of a mighty river has been just too difficult. But what of the great river of love that flows in the community of God throughout the world and throughout history? What is its ultimate source? What inspired this love?
The apostle John makes it clear in this lesson that the source of love is God. Love is part of His central nature; love flows from His heart. Whenever we act in love, we are reproducing what we learned first from Him.
B. Lesson Background
The apostle John is in some ways an unlikely person to be writing about love. He did not show much love when he and his brother wanted to call down fire from Heaven on a village in Samaria (Luke 9:54). He did not show much love when he and his brother tried to secure preferred seats of honor alongside Jesus (Mark 10:35-37). But while John did not show love very well in the beginning, he certainly received it—as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (see John 21:20). John learned firsthand that we love because He first loved us. In the end John came to be known as the apostle of love.
Previously, we saw John demonstrate that love for fellow Christians is a test that reveals whether a person is really walking in the light. Now John goes further: love is also the test that reveals if a person actually is born of God. Since God is the ultimate source and embodiment of love, anyone who is genuinely born of God will reflect His characteristics. A person without love is a person who is not God’s child. We will see John establish that such a person does not even know God.
I. Example of Love (1 John 4:7-12)
A. Our Pattern (vv. 7, 8)
7. Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God: and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.
John addresses his readers as people who are beloved in his eyes (see also 1 John 3:2, 21; 4:1, 11). John’s urging that they love one another is a repeat of 1 John 3:11, 23. He is quick to supply a threefold reason.
First, love is of God; that is, God is the source of this selfless emotion. Second, those who love show that they are born of God; they as genuine children resemble their Father in a vital way. Third, those who love show that they know God; they follow God’s love as their pattern. [See question #1, Page 256].
8. He that loveth not, knoweth not God; for God is love.
John said previously that the one who lacks love walks in the darkness and abides in death (see 1 John 2:11; 3:14). If someone does not have love, John now asserts, he or she does not even know God. Since the very nature of God is love, the person unacquainted with love is unacquainted with God.
This is the same truth that Paul wrote to the Corinthians. Even if a person speaks in tongues, delivers prophecies, and exercises mountain-moving faith, it all means nothing without love (see 1 Corinthians 13:1-3). Love is the most excellent way because it is God’s way. (See question #2, page 256).
B. Our Salvation (vv. 9, 10)
9. In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.
God’s love is not just an empty emotion. It is a mighty passion that impelled Him to bring salvation to those created in His image. It was manifested, or shown, in the way God sent his only begotten Son to take on human flesh and to die on the cross. This will forever be the world’s greatest example of love (see John 15:13). God sent—and Jesus came—so we might live through Him. Exactly how Jesus’ death can save us is the subject of the next verse.
10. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
God is the source, the fountainhead, of love. It is not that we loved God, as if we had taken the first steps to make salvation possible. Rather, it is that He loved us, even when we were sinful and unworthy (see Romans 5:8). Love begins with God.
When God sent His only begotten Son into the world, He sent Him to be the propitiation for our sins. That word “propitiation” is vital for understanding how God forgives sin. God provided Jesus to be the sacrifice for sin. When Jesus gave His life, God accepted Jesus’ suffering as payment for sin’s penalty. This payment turned God’s wrath away from us—God was propitiated. We could never have turned away God’s wrath on our own (see also Romans 3:25; 1 John 2:2). God does not just ignore our sins and pretend that they do not exist. His own holiness and justice do not allow this. Holiness and justice require that sin be punished. Yet in His great love for us, God took the necessary steps to deal with our sins. He sent Jesus, who was both infinite God and sinless man, to give His one great life in our place.
C. Our Challenge (vv. 11, 12)
11. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.
The theme of love is repeated often in this epistle. God, the source of love, has so loved us that He gave Jesus for our salvation (John 3:16). Since we have been saved by this love, we ought to be ready to love one another. In view of what God has done for us in love, nothing less is acceptable (see also Matthew 18:33). (See question #3, page 256).
A few years ago a church in midtown Manhattan (New York City) was burglarized. It was a fairly predictable theft: an offering box and its contents were stolen. Three weeks later a more unusual theft took place: a four-foot plaster figure of Jesus, weighing 200 pounds, was stolen. Stranger yet was the fact that the statue was part of a crucifix, and the cross itself was left behind! The church custodian commented, “They just decided, ‘We’re going to leave the cross and take Jesus.’”
Think about the implications of that for a moment. Lots of people today like the idea of Jesus as an example of love. They even like the idea (theoretically, at least) of being a person who loves like Jesus. But, as John tells us, God showed His love for us by sending Jesus to be a propitiation for our sins.
If we’re going to “take Jesus” as the model for our lives, then we’re going to have to “take the cross” as a model as well.
If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9:23).
Is this the model of love and service that directs your life? — C. R. B.
12. No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us.
Adam heard the sound of God, Abraham heard the voice of God, and Moses stood on holy ground at the burning bush, but no man has ever seen God. Moses was even told that no man could see God’s face and live. So on the mountain Moses was covered in the cleft of a rock when the presence of God passed by (see Exodus 33:20-23). Some were allowed to see various kinds of manifestations of God (Exodus 24:11). Yet the New Testament reaffirms that no man hath seen God at any time, both here and in John 1:18.
Even though we cannot see God, we can still have God’s presence dwelling in us. God’s very nature is love, no it is natural for Him to live in us if we have love for one another. This does not mean that we somehow “become” God—creator and creature are still distinct. Even so, we are able to reflect His love for each other. In this way His love is perfected. It reaches completion and fulfills its intended purpose
II. Proof of Love (1 John 4:13-16a)
A. Spirit Was Given (v. 13)
13. Hereby know we that we dwell in him ,and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit.
Our knowledge that we dwell in God is not based on some mystic, mysterious experience. It is based on the fact that God has given us of His Spirit (Romans 8:9; 1 John 3:24). We know that we have the Spirit because God—who cannot lie (Hebrews 6:18)—has given us His firm promise (see Acts 2:38). Thus God’s promise of the Spirit and our practice of love join together as proof that we are in Him and He is in us. Love is the first and greatest fruit that His Spirit produces in us (see Galatians 5:22).
B. Son Was Sent (v. 14)
14. And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world.
When John says we have seen and do testify, he reemphasizes the truth of the opening verses of his epistle (see 1 John 1:1-3). He and the other apostles could testify because they knew first-hand that the Father sent the Son into the world. They had seen with their own eyes, heard with their own ears, and touched with their own hands the one sent to be the Saviour of the world. Jesus did not come just to teach, lead, and be-friend—He came to rescue (John 3:17).
C. Confession Is Made (vv. 15, 16a)
15. Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God.
God sent His Son to save humanity, and God has the right to set certain conditions for salvation. Specifically in this verse, God expects us to confess that Jesus is the Son of God. Jesus promised that if a person confesses Him before others, He will confess that person before the Father in Heaven (see Matthew 10:32).
Mere confession is not the entirety of the plan of salvation, of course. As John makes clear, loving action serves as proof that we belong to the truth (1 John 3:17-19). But confessing Jesus is a necessary condition.
16a. And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us.
John knows for certain that Jesus really came (v. 14), and because of this he also knows of the great love that God has for us. He and his readers have known this love and have believed it; they have put their trust and confidence in it.
III. Results of Love (1 John 4:16h-18)
A. Living in God (v. 16b)
16b. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.
God does not just “have” love, God is love. He embodies everything that is good about love and encompasses the entire range of love’s expressions. God and love are so much identified with each other that to dwell in love is to dwell in God. Furthermore, when we dwell in this love, God himself also dwells in us.
B. Bold at Judgment (v. 17)
17. Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world.
When our love is made perfect or complete, the final result is that we will have boldness on Judgment Day. We will have nothing to fear when that day comes.
We will have this boldness before God because as he (Jesus) is, now are we. Just as Jesus is pure (1 John 3:3) and righteous (1 John 3:7), by His blood we can also stand before the Father pure and righteous. Jesus abides in the Father (see John 17:21-26), and so can we. Although we live in this world, we can have confidence when our love has been made perfect through Christ. Even now, we can approach God’s throne of grace in bold confidence (Hebrews 4:16).
C. Freedom from Fear (v. 18)
18. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear bath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.
Christians can have boldness in judgment, as the previous verse says, because there is no fear in love. This fear is not the kind of healthy awe that a person should have for God. Rather, the kind of fear in view is a paralyzing dread and terror. Love and that kind of fear simply have nothing to do with one another; they cannot co-exist. Therefore, love that is perfect or full-grown will cast out fear. While fear paralyzes and has torment, genuine love confirms our salvation. The person who still lives in unhealthy fear of God is not yet mature. He or she is not yet made perfect in love.
IV. Grand Summary of Love (1 John 4:19-21)
A. God Was First (v. 19)
19. We love him, because he first loved us.
Now John sums up his grand teaching about love. God is the source of love. When we love him, it is only because he first loved us. Without God’s initiative, we would not have known genuine love; neither would we have known how to love. When we abide in God and His Spirit abides in us, divine love becomes a natural part of our lives.
We return to God the love He has shown us. At the same time, we pass on this kind of love onto our brothers and sisters in Christ.
B. God Commands Us (vv. 20, 21)
20. If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he bath seen, how can he love God whom he bath not seen?
The practical test of love, as seen before, is that God’s child must love the brother or sister in Christ. A person who says I love God but then hates a fellow Christian is a liar. There is a logical reason for this fact: we have been made in the image of God. Therefore, this brother or sister whom we should love bears a certain resemblance to God. We have seen this brother or sister. even though we have not seen God. If we cannot find anything attractive or lovable in our fellow Christian, then we will not find anything lovable in God. If we fail this practical test of love, our claims to love God are simply lies. (See question #4, page 256).
CLEAN HANDS AND LOVING HEARTS
Millions of people suffer from food poisoning every year. A primary cause is the failure of food-service workers to wash their hands properly. Now “big brother” is here, this time for good! Ultraviolet light scanners developed to detect germs on meat in processing plants are being adapted to show whether we have washed our hands thoroughly. Imagine a parent saying to a child, “Johnny, put your hands under the scanner and let me see if you got them clean”!
Do we need to be reminded that what we can’t see can hurt us? Yet there are ways to see the unseen, and ultraviolet scanning for germs is only one of them.
A much more important means of “scanning” for both the good and bad of life is found in today’s text. John acknowledges that we can’t see God. Even so, if we love God then our lives will be a confession of His existence. The Spirit living in us will help on to make this confession. The confession is more than just spoken words. It is also the testimony of our deeds each day of our lives as we exhibit godly character. We reflect God’s love in the way we treat others.
21. And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.
John concludes as he began: we must love one another. To love God and to love one’s neighbour are inseparable. “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:40).
Moreover, this is our Lord’s commandment. It is not optional or negotiable. By observing this love in us, all people will be able to tell that we are Christ’s disciples (see John 13:34, 35). (See question #5, page 256).
A. Source of Love
Love does not out happen. It is a virtue of the highest order, created and demonstrated by God himself. If the world were merely an evolutionary accident and the law of the jungle demanded the survival only of the fittest, then there would be no room for self-sacrificing love. But just as God is the creator of the universe and the source of all life, so is He the source of true love.
Without our knowledge of God, searching for the source of love would be an impossible task. We would be like the early explorers who were hopelessly ill-equipped when they searched for the sources of great rivers.
If we had only scientific observation to guide us, we would ultimately give up on love and agree with the law of the jungle: the strong devour the weak. If we had only the history of human empires as our guide, we might conclude that there is no real love to be found. It is only in the spiritual realm that we are able to trace love back to its divine source. But unlike the source of a river, which becomes smaller and smaller as it is traced, the divine source of love becomes greater and greater as we draw nearer.
Also unlike the source of a river, the source of love does not need to be increased by tributaries. God’s love can never be diminished or depleted: it flows from God’s infinite heart.
B. Channels of Love
When we recognize that God is the source of love, we next realize that He intends for us to be the channels of that love. We become the passageways through which the mighty river of God’s love flows. This love will bless countless lives, but only as we allow it to flow through us. God continues to be the dynamic source of the love that flows through us. But He has given us the responsibility to direct that love in ways that would please Him. For instance, we know that we should direct generous love toward the widows and the orphans (James 1:27). We should be channels of divine love toward those who are helpless, homeless, and hungry (Matthew 25:34-36).
To be like Jesus means being ready to extend God’s love to children (Matthew 19:14), to social outcasts such as Zaccheus (Luke 19:1-10), and to people of other races such as the woman of Samaria (John 4:9). To be like Jesus means surprising people with the range of our love. To be like Jesus means also surprising people with the intensity of our love. Jesus’ love for John marked that apostle for life. He never forgot that he was “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”
Finally, we must remember that love begins at home. If we cannot love those who are nearby, we deceive ourselves to think that we can love those who are far away. It is in our own family and in our own church that love builds its foundation (Galatians 6:10; 1 Timothy 5:8). It bears repeating: How can we love the God whom we have not seen, if we do not love our brothers and sisters whom we have seen?
Dear Father, thank You for showing us Your love even when we were sinners and enemies of Your kingdom. Help us to learn to love You better and to be channels of Your love to all our brothers and sisters. Thank You that there has never been a greater love than the love Jesus showed when He died in our place. Forgive us when we fail to love but let us learn from our failures. In the name of Jesus, the ultimate example of love, we pray, amen.
D. Thought to Remember
Focus on the source of love.