1 John 4:7-12
“Dear friends, let us love one another, because love is from God, and everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, because God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent His One and Only Son into the world so that we might live through Him. Love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Dear friends, if God loved us in this way, we also must love one another. No one has ever seen God. If we love one another, God remains in us and His love is perfected in us.”
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Holman CSB®, and HCSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers.
Love comes from God, so if we are born of God, we will also love. God loved us first, so we must love one another.
The writings of the Apostle John give us three definitive statements about God:
- “God is Spirit” (John 4:24).
- “God is Light” (1 John 1:5).
- And twice we read, “God is love” (1 John 4: 8, 16).
John was overwhelmed by the truth that God loved him and proved his love by sending Jesus into the world. In John 3:16-17 we read “For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world that He might condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him”.
In today’s passage, after addressing his readers as friends, John gives us clear statements about the love of God. “Love is of God, and God is love” (4:7-8). John’s proclamation tells us about the nature of the Father when he states, “God is love.” He does not say that love is God. For John to make that proclamation would be to proclaim that God is an abstract or unreal being.
For John love becomes a test of believers. Only those born of God know how to love. They know how because they know God, the only source of love. It would be wrong to conclude that anybody who shows love is a child of God, regardless of whether he or she actually believes in Jesus.
This conclusion is possible only if we take this statement out of its context. John has already made the point that the true child of God both loves and believes (3:23). Yet, even those who are not true children of God can love others—sometimes even more fully than many Christians—because we have all been created in the image of God. The capacity to love comes to us as part of divine creation. Yet, true love—love that includes loving God and the full expression of love for others, namely telling them about salvation in Jesus—is characteristic only of true Christians.
Then John flipped the coin over, claiming that anyone who does not show love does not know God. The evidence of this? Again, the nature of God. His very essence is love. Thus, this negative test seems easier to understand. How could someone receive divine life through Jesus, have the indwelling Holy Spirit, and not love? A person saved by love and indwelled with love must love. We may have trouble loving perfectly, but there is a big difference between not loving perfectly and not loving at all.
John tells us that “the love of God was manifested in us that God has sent His only begotten Son in the world so that we might live through Him”. (4:9) This invisible God actually lives in us when we are born of God. The love He has for us is made visible and complete as we love one another. This is the way the world sees God’s love, as it is expressed by him through our lives. Only as God’s love completes its purpose of reaching out to those he loves—the world—is His love complete or fulfilled.
John is elevating the importance of a demonstration of love. He presented love as a disposition that originated in the divine nature. He appealed for believers to love for two reasons. First, such love has its source and dynamic in God (v. 7). Second, God is characterized by love (v. 8). Both reasons blend together so that one runs into the other. The greatness of the divine love for us leaves us with an incentive to love one another (v. 11). Our practice of love for one another provides evidence that God’s love for us has attained its goal (v. 12).
The focus of our spiritual formation is to be formed, conformed and transformed into the image of Christ. (Galatians 4:19; Romans 8:28-30, 2 Corinthians 3:18) This means that God is changing us to be like Him; and becoming like Him means understanding who were are in Christ and loving one another as Christ loves us.
Many Christians live out of their “mistaken identity,” not out of who God says that they are. Those living out of this mistaken identity often feel the need to create an identity by trying to live out who they think they should become. When Christians see themselves as “sinners saved by grace” they have no choice but to live life as sinners, strenuously striving to become saints.
Naturally, this effort leads to failure because we’re not in charge of our sainthood. Our sainthood has already been accomplished by our loving Savior, Jesus Christ. Therefore, when Christians are able to see themselves as “saints, who sin,” as Christ-in-me creatures, as clothed in robes of righteousness, they have the only basis to grow up into what is already true of them.
God says we are righteous, that we have been born of God and know God. This becomes the context of the condition that allows Christ to dwell in us. If my vision of what I can become is based on my vision of who Jesus says I am – I am righteous, I have been born of God, I know God, I am loving – I can relax and mature into something I already am. When we trust God, our self-identity builds on His assessment, not ours—on His righteousness and loving-kindness, not our righteousness and loving-kindness.
Three times in our passage we are told to “love one another.” In John 13:34-35 Jesus said, “I give you a new command: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you must also love one another. By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
I can imagine John looking over at Simon Peter and silently thinking: “You mean I have to love that loud-mouth Simon Peter?”
I can imagine Simon Peter sitting at the other end of the table looking over at John and thinking: “I really have to love John?”
Really? We are just like Peter and John. Let’s get real—it’s not easy to love some people. Some folks are simply hard to love. But loving others is how people will be convinced Christianity is real.
If we can come together with our different personalities, with our failures and faults, and if we can see ourselves as God sees us and respond to one another with an attitude of love, the world will be convinced that our faith is for real. If we don’t we will lose all credibility with the world and many will never know the God is love.
 Walls, D., & Anders, M. (1999). I & II Peter, I, II & III John, Jude (Vol. 11, pp. 209–210). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
 Dockery, D. S., Butler, T. C., Church, C. L., Scott, L. L., Ellis Smith, M. A., White, J. E., & Holman Bible Publishers (Nashville, T. (1992). Holman Bible Handbook (pp. 775–776). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.
- A key emphasis today is loving one another. Consider ways you can demonstrate God’s love where you live, work and play. Be intentional. It may be a simple random act of kindness. It may be taking time to pray for someone. It may involve meeting a need in someone’s life. It might entail sharing God’s plan of salvation with someone that does not know Him and his love for them.
- Some of the greatest opportunities to demonstrate love occur in our homes. God loves us sacrificially. He gave His one and only Son so that we might have life. This week consider sacrifice for your family as a means of demonstrating God’s love. Look for ways to put others before yourself and remember in doing so you are helping them understand the nature of God.
- Reflect on your identity in Christ. Do you see yourself as a “sinner saved by grace” or as a “saint who sins”? Consider how this view is impacting how you live as a Christ follower.