Dear Church Family,
In our adult Sunday school class this past Sunday, we talked about how God uses our sound judgment in providing us with guidance (whether or not something makes sense to us). Of course, this element of God’s program of guidance comes in priority after Scripture, a heart for God (redeemed affections), wise counsel, and providence. Still, God gave us a brain and He expects us to use it.
A Misapplication of ‘God is love’
By way of example of someone giving precedence to their own judgment over the teaching of Scripture (that is, inappropriately contradicting the teaching of God’s Word based on one’s own reasoning), we looked at some things that Rachel Held Evans wrote about the biblical account of God’s command for Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac. And, we noted that by reading the Scriptures through her own self-limiting hermeneutic of ‘God is only love,’ she elevated her own moral compass and personal judgments above Scripture. [By the way, Rick Phillips has a helpful response to Evans’ essay which you may read here.]
A Biblical Application of ‘God is love’
In the class, we talked about the inappropriate interpretations and applications of Scripture that comes from a misunderstanding of the biblical teaching that “God is love.” But, what are the appropriate interpretations and applications of the biblical teaching that “God is love”? Well, for that, we need to look at the context in the Bible where that statement is made. In 1 John 4:7-21, the statement, “God is love,” is actually made twice:
7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9 By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. 10 In this is love, not that we 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 seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us. 13 By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. 14 We have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16 We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. 17 By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in 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, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. 19 We love, because He first loved us. 20 If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one 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, that the one who loves God should love his brother also.
It’s interesting to note that the Apostle John is not merely making a theological point about the nature of God: God is love. He is making a doctrinal point, but he is doing that in the context of explaining how and why it is that Christians ought to love one another: “let us love one another” (v 7); “we also ought to love one another” (v 11); “if we love one another” (v 12). John has a lot to say about how God’s love for us, in the person and work of Jesus Christ (vv 9-10, 14) and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (v 13), will affect our confession (v 15), our confidence (vv 17-18), and our charity (vv 19-21) – yes, I love alliterations!
The End Purpose of God’s Love
For now, I’d like to focus your attention in on just the last phrase of verse 12 for it is an astounding statement: “His love is perfected in us.” If someone were to ask, “How do you know what God is like?” most of us would probably answer, “Look to Jesus. Jesus is ‘the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature’ (Hebrews 1:3).” This statement comes directly from Scripture; John also teaches this in his Gospel (John 1:18).
But here in 1 John 4, we are also taught that God’s love is perfected – completed, finds its end purpose – in us! That’s an astounding statement, one which ought to cause us to ask the question, “How can God’s love be perfected in us?” For the answer to this question, we must look to the whole of this verse in its entirety: (1 John 4:12) “No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us.”
For those who are born of God and know Him (v 7), His Spirit abides in them (v 13). And, here is John’s conditional statement: Therefore, if the children of God love one another, then God’s love is perfected in us (v 12)! You see, God’s love for you was not intended to find its terminus in you. God’s love for you was intended to find its terminus – its rightful, perfected and completed end – in your love for your brothers and sisters in Christ.
Here is what John Stott writes in his commentary on 1 John 4:12:
…the unseen God, who once revealed himself in his Son, now reveals himself in his people if and when they love one another. God’s love is seen in their love because their love is his love imparted to them by his Spirit (cf. v. 13). The words do not mean that when we begin to love, God comes to dwell in us, but the reverse. Our love for one another is evidence of God’s indwelling presence. See 3:17 for another reference to God’s love living in us.
John goes further still. Reciprocal Christian love means not only that God lives in us but also that his love is made complete in us. It would be hard to exaggerate the greatness of this conception. It is so daring that many commentators have been reluctant to accept it and have suggested that the genitive in his love is not subjective (‘God’s love’) but objective (‘our love for God’; cf. 2:5) or definitive (‘Godlike love’). But the whole paragraph is concerned with God’s love and we must not stagger at the majesty of this conclusion. God’s love which originates in himself (7-8) and was manifested in his Son (9-10), is made complete in his people (12). It is ‘brought to perfection within us’ (NEB). God’s love for us is perfected only when it is reproduced in us or (as it may mean) ‘among us’ in the Christian fellowship.
This Christmas, as we remember and meditate upon how God loved us by sending His Son to be the propitiation for our sins (1 John 4:10), let His love for you overflow in a love for the brethren, your brothers and sisters in Christ.
God is love. Therefore, love one another so that God’s love may be perfected in you!
The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch