By Mark Scott
God’s primary identity must become our primary activity. That identity and activity in a word is love. A loving God was all but unheard of in ancient Greece. The false gods they believed in were often more immoral than humans and had to be appeased—not embraced due to their love. But in a stunning statement the apostle John declared, God is love. In fact, he said it twice (1 John 4:8, 16).
An old and good commentary on 1 John is Robert Law’s Tests of Life. He suggested that 1 John has to be understood in terms of three revolving tests of life. They are the test of belief, the test of righteousness, and the test of love. Our text today focuses on the test of love. In our text the verb love appears 10 times. The noun love appears 11 times, and the direct address, Beloved (translated Dear friends in NIV) appears twice. John told us at least four things about this perfect love.
Perfect Love Demonstrates our Conversion
1 John 4:7, 8
Perhaps the primary imperative of the one another phrases in the New Testament is that of loving one another. John called us to such by reminding us that love comes from God and that God is love. God’s love becomes the impetus for us loving others. Our text even concludes with, We love because he first loved us.
God’s love for us that we did not deserve but that we appropriated by faith caused us to be born of God. This phrase is a primal phrase of identity. Jesus was the unique, one and only Son of God (only begotten). When we love others we demonstrate that our conversion is not phony. Knows God is another phrase that deals with our conversion. Jesus even described eternal life as knowing God and Jesus (John 17:3).
Perfect Love Understands Sacrifice
1 John 4:9, 10
God so loved that he gave. God so loved that he sent. God so loved that he sacrificed. All of these mesh together to underline the gift of Christ on Calvary’s cross. The call to love is not new in 1 John. John commanded us to love because that love displays the light of God (1 John 2:7-11). He commanded us to love because that love displays the good deeds of God through us (1 John 3:16-18). In these two verses John commanded us to love because that love displays how atonement works.
The NIV consistently translates the old KJV term “propitiation” as atoning sacrifice. The term meant to make an offering to turn away wrath. Theories of the atonement abound today. How we articulate the doctrine of atonement is telling about how we understand the identity of God. Regardless of the nuance we put to the concept, the New Testament writers used a kaleidoscope of terms to describe what happened the day that Jesus died where he functioned as the Savior of the world. Love understands sacrifice.
Perfect Love Matures Believers
1 John 4:11-16
The direct address gets our attention again, Dear friends. God loves us so we can love others. When we do there is a maturation process that takes place. We grow into the likeness of the lover of our souls. John said that God’s love is made complete in us. The Greeks did not have a way to talk about things in this world being perfect. They believed that only above us (a Platonic view of reality) was perfection. So perfection has to be understood in terms of “coming of age” or “completing” or “maturation.”
The greatest work/gift of the Holy Spirit is love (1 Corinthians 12:31–13:13). That may be why John spoke of the work of the Spirit in this section of our text. God, who is love, lives in us (something said four times in these few verses). God’s love in us for others is the fruit of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives (see also Galatians 5:22-24).
Perfect Love Shows Confidence
1 John 4:17-19
God’s plan is that we keep growing in love so much that we become very much like God (called theosis by the theologians). This is why Judgment Day does not cause us to fear. In fact, fear cannot coexist with perfect love. For the believer Judgment Day will command reverence but not fear. God’s primary identity must become our primary activity.
Dr. Mark Scott teaches Preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri.
Based on International Sunday School Lesson, © 2012, by the Lesson Committee. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.