by Pastor Bob Miller
We continue from John's first letter where He speaks to us about God's love. John says, "God is love," and then in chapter 4, he gives us a definition of that love. Notice how he describes the love of God. 1 John 4: 7-10:
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: "He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.
What an incredible love this is. God's love is way more than just a feel-good emotion. It is an unconditional commitment to act on behalf of another in a manner that is unselfish and sacrificial.
John doesn't stop with telling us how God loves us. He wants us to know that in the same manner that we are loved, we then are to live our lives as God loved us. Our lives are to be characterized by that very same kind of love.
One of the purposes that John writes this little letter is to assure us that we belong to God. We are no different than the Christians of John's day. We want to have this confidence that we are going to heaven. Many in our day point to a ritual we went through; to the fact that we joined the Church or that we were baptized. Some are standing on the fact that they prayed the "Sinner's Prayer" at one time in their life. John wants us to know that our confidence in Christ can be found in how our lives are being lived out.
Notice how John continues in verses 11-17,
Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.
If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus.
John is telling us that since God has given us His Spirit and has come to dwell in us, we then will begin to live in love as God lives in us. He says that in this world your confidence as a Christian can be found in the fact that you will be like Jesus!
Turn back just one chapter to 1 John 3:1, 14-18, and listen to what John says about this love and living like Jesus:
1 See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!
14 We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him.
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.
The quality of love that God loves us with is the very same quality of love that we are to love one another with. The standard of living to which we are called to live our lives is gauged or patterned by Jesus Christ. He is our example. He is our pattern. We are called to love others as he loved us!
This is how we are to live as we carry out our lives in the here and now: on our jobs, in our homes, in rush hour traffic! We are called to love as God has loved us! It is a high standard and it can't be carried out in our own power. It can only be lived out by the power and the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ who pours His love into our hearts. And so John reminds us in 4:15, that God has put His Spirit in us. He makes possible this life of love which enables us to love as God loved us! Here is encouragement: What God requires, God's grace also produces.
When Christ comes to dwell in our hearts through the Holy Spirit, He also begins to change our hearts from being self-centered to God-centered. And John wants us to know that a God-centered heart will be OTHER CENTERED. You can't say "I love God," without loving others. Our love for God is shown in our love for others.
1 John 4:12 says, “If we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” And then again in verse 16-17, "God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment because in this world we are like Him."
Now the quality of the love God gives us is PERFECT and does not need to be improved upon. John declares, "God is love," but the degree and the scope to which we allow God's love to be lived out in our lives needs to be brought to completion. Our love must grow both deeper and broader! Our love grows broader as we obediently love more people as Christ loves them. Our love grows deeper as we go deeper in our sacrificial expression of our love.
God's love is for everyone at all times. God is no respecter of persons. He loves everyone the same! He loves us because WHO HE IS not because of who we are or aren't!
And that is one of the differences between man's love and God's love. Our natural tendency is to love people by how they treat us or on the basis of what they can do for us. But if they mistreat us or disappoint us, or have nothing to offer us, we leave them alone. But God's love is based on who He is, not on who or what we've done!
It is hard for us to realize that God loves that one particular person we find it so hard to get along with, just as much as He loves me. We want to say:
"God how can you love them?"
“God, did you see what they did to me?”
Yes, I saw.
“Did you hear what they said against me?”
Yes, I heard.
Then all of a sudden we begin to understand as we hear him say,
Did you hear what they said against me? Did you see what they did to me? Did you hear them as they drove the nails in my hands? Did you see them? I laid my life down for them because I love them!
It is much easier to say: "I love the whole world…I love everyone!" than it is for us to say: "I love that one person who irritates me and upsets me! Life is so much easier when they aren't around! Could we not count that one person? I know God loves everyone and anyone – but He'll understand if I don't love that one specific person – won't He?”
But the truth is, the measure of our love is not on all those who are easy to love but on those who are most challenging to love. Jesus laid down His life for us. WHEN? While we were still sinners.
And it is wonderful to know that God's love given to us and shed abroad in our heart sets us free not only to love everybody but to love anyone. And God's love is capable of helping me to love everybody and anyone.
Walking in darkness is being disobedient with God at any one point. When I disagree with God at any one point, I am living in darkness at that point. So when I say, "Lord, I don't want to have anything to do with that one person!" God says to me "That is one point where you and I don't agree, and at that point, you are in darkness!"
1 John 2:9,
Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded him.
But you say, "Pastor, I don't hate that person. There is no hatred in my heart for that person or anyone, and so these verses don't apply to me.
Paul in 1 Corinthians 13, which we often refer to as the Love Chapter, gives us a description of love. He says, “Love is patient. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud; It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs, love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trust, always hopes, always perseveres." (vs. 4-7)
What a great description of how love acts. Now the opposite of love is HATE. And so by this description of what love is, we could also deduce what HATE looks like. It would be love's opposite. If love is kind, then hatred would produce a spirit of unkindness. If love produces a spirit of patience, then hatred produces a spirit of impatience. Hate will produce the opposite spirit of love because hatred is the opposite of love.
So in the same way that we detect "love" in a person by their actions towards another person, we can identify the spirit of hatred towards another by their actions. And so hatred is detected by impatience, pride, unkindness, selfishness, holding grudges, being rude. So if I see in myself these kinds of actions, then I can say that I have a spirit of hatred that is causing me to walk in darkness.
Now to say that hatred is demonstrated by impatience, arrogance, jealousy, and holding grudges is a HIGH STANDARD, and we would like to label them as something else but you can't do that and be true to the spirit of what John is saying.
Take a second look at 1 John 2:9, "The one who says he is in the light yet hates his brother is in the darkness until now.” You can substitute jealousy, unkindness, holding a grudge, etc.. And just in case you are wondering, you can also substitute husband, wife, father, mother, daughter, where it says "brother."
Many times the spiritual darkness that we face as Christians, that robs us of joy, keeps our prayers unanswered, and makes us ineffective and anemic as Christians is because of a broken relationship with another person. It is because we are walking in the darkness at this one point. And we are walking in darkness, we stumble and become ineffective and confused. The reason isn't so much a "lack of understanding." It is because we have hatred at our heart's door and it needs to be cleansed! And when we pray, and we seek God's face, He pinpoints that relationship that needs to be fixed and where forgiveness needs to be applied.
And to the extent that we are unwilling to love at that one point, that were we are walking in darkness and not in harmony with God. The quality of our love is tested by the people we find it most difficult to get along with. We avoid people that are difficult to love because we don't like the feelings we get and so we try to dodge them.
But people don't make us what we are. They only reveal what is in us. We often say, "That person makes me mad." No, that person is just revealing what you are and what it is that needs fixing.
About the time we think we are doing well, God sends so-and-so into our lives, and they grate against us. It reveals a selfish spirit or a spirit of impatience. And it is at that point we must confess it to the Lord and receive His forgiveness, cleansing, and empowerment to love as He loves that person.
The answer is found at the cross of Christ and not in trying harder or in running away. Let God fill you with Himself and let Him love through you, one person at a time.