My whole “theology” of “live in Love, find your true reward,” finds its root in 1 John 4:15-17. It reads, “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God—God remains in Him and he in God. And we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and the one who remains in love remains in God, and God remains in him. In this, love is perfected with us so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; for we are as He is in this world.” Finally, I will explain my plan for the next few (many) entries to this blog at the end of this post. But first, it is important first to spell out the last aspect of what liL fytr entails.
Before moving to part 3, which will lay out the most externally visible application of this line of thought, it is important to review the ground we’ve covered in the previous two posts. In the first post, we explored the phrase “God is love” in verse 16 to try to understand something of God, to try to grasp the source of love, to try to grasp the only hope we have to ever live out this high calling. Last time, we looked at the love that should exist from believer to God—seen clearly in the words “the one who remains in love remains in God, and God remains in him” in verse 16. However, it is important to note that the emphasis in the passage is on “God is love” and not “love God.” It is also important to note that verse 17 ends by saying, “we are as He is in this world.” The huge emphasis is on the external effect that the fact that “God is love” should have on our lives.
So let me propose a syllogism for you:
if God is love,
if we are as He is in this world,
therefore we are love also.
This is why in 1 John 4:8 we miss the point if we only focus on the words, “God is love.” That is John’s concluding argument in the verse. In its entirety it reads, “The one who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” Now a very easy accusation against this theology would claim, “All anyone in the world wants is to love, to be loved, and to increase in both; you’re proposing love-based salvation which is works-based salvation. You’re a false teacher.” And I would say, “yes, that is very true. But only if we rip 1 John 4:8 out of its context, if we make it say its inverse, and if we don’t define our terms.” Otherwise, it is very clear.
The context of 1 John 4:8 is in the middle of a letter to those who are confessing sin, finding cleansing in Jesus, and who ultimately have been born of God (1 John 1:9, 2:1-2, 3:9-10; cf. John 3:5-8). This new birth is what enables us to believe and to grow in knowledge and holiness and love. First John 3:9 talks about how believers have been born from God and do not sin; then verse 10 explains, “This is how God’s children—and the Devil’s children—are made evident. Whoever does not do what is right is not [implied: born] of God, especially the one who does not love his brother.” In a sense the only sin John is worried about in this letter is not loving other believers (though more is going on in verse 9 than we have time to talk about in this post). He is saying that someone who truly has been born of God cannot and will not continue to fail to love fellow believers.
The perfect inverse of 1 John 4:8 is, “The one who does love does know God, because God is not love.” However that is blatant heresy, which is why we should avoid inverting verses to make them say their opposite. Someone might claim the opposite of 1 John 4:8 is simply, “The one who does love does know God,” but that clearly isn’t all of the verse. Then they will claim that loving people is all that matters: food, and water, and shelter for the homeless; marriage seminars for bad spouses; “true love waits” campaigns for teenagers and college students; etc. And all of these are good and right, but too often we completely miss the point. If you make peoples’ lives better, help marriages work more smoothly, keep all your clothes on and hands to yourself until your wedding night, but aren’t told of the gospel of grace for people dead in sin, you’re really just having your road to hell padded down, making it a little more comfortable. The definition of love is much deeper than all of these things.
Jesus defines love very clearly in John 15:13. “No one has greater love than this, that someone would lay down his life for his friends.” This is the kind of love that the majority of Christianity in America lacks today. Today it’s all about, “What can I get out of this?” “What can we gain from this?” “How does it make me feel?” I’m sorry, but when Jesus laid down His life, 1) He got pain, torment, and wrath from the Father; 2) He gained very little in those specific 6 hours, but gave up all; 3) He did not feel good at all! This is what love looks like. Love is not at all about what we can get, but about what we can give; love is not about what we can gain/want to gain short-term, but rather about what we will gain long-term; love is not about feelings at all, but rather about actions. John said, “We must not love in word or speech, but in deed and truth” (1 John 3:18).
So, as Christians, what are the deeds we should do so that we can show love to others and so that we can be “as He is in this world”? There are two key ways to do this, but first it is extremely important that we realize what we aren’t doing. We aren’t loving others so that people see us as kind-hearted, social justice champions. We’re loving others because we’ve been immensely loved by God and our love-tank is overflowing and needs to go somewhere. The language of verse 15 is clear, “God remains in him and he in God.” There is a sense of oneness between the believer and God to where if we do something, God does something (it’s why Paul gets so riled up in 1 Corinthians 6:12-20). We are to be as He is in this world. The world will know we are His by our love (cf. John 13:35). Our love is to be shown in two key ways. First, by helping the needy, and second, by evangelizing the lost.
The needy have a huge place in God’s heart. Read Leviticus and see how God goes out of His way to make provision for widows and orphans and the poor—both physical provision and religious provision. Exodus 22:22-24 even says, “You must not mistreat any widow or fatherless child. If you do mistreat them, they will no doubt cry to Me, and I will certainly hear their cry. My anger will burn, and I will kill you with the sword; then your wives will be widows and your children fatherless.” Point taken, right? And lest you think that’s just the Old Testament—angry wrathful God—look at two New Testament verses. First John 3:17 asks, “If anyone has this world’s goods and sees his brother in need but shuts off his compassion from him—how can God’s love reside in him?” James 1:27 says, “Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” The Old Testament emphasizes not mistreating the needy. The New Testament raises the bar from “not harming” to “actively loving.” We are to help those in need. How do we define need? If someone has less of something than you they are in more need than you. Do with that what you will.
There is a high percentage of this world’s population that is lost and on its way to hell. What is more loving than to tell them about their problem and inform them of the only solution to their problem? Paul explains in 2 Corinthians 5:14 and 20 that, “Christ’s love compels us . . . we are ambassadors for Christ; certain that God is appealing through us, we plead on Christ’s behalf, ‘Be reconciled to God’.” Our message is a message of reconciliation. Our biggest need is reconciliation—with each other, but much more with God—and since we’ve been entrusted with the message of reconciliation (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:18), we are the ones responsible to spread it and exhibit it. If we claim to be reconciled to God, we should live reconciled with each other! If we want others to be reconciled to God, we need to be reconciled to God. If we fail to share with those who need to hear, then we are judging them unworthy, and we should take a good long look in the mirror to see what qualified us as worthy (hint: it was only God’s grace that is making us worthy; we haven’t even arrived yet!). A Christian’s love for others is even to extend to his enemies (cf. Matthew 5:43-47), so no one should be exempted from our evangelism. Society would turn around in a heartbeat if we’d live out the basic tenant of our religion (John 13:35).
The whole point of the Bible is love. Each of the 66 books in our canon emphasizes a different aspect, but they all describe and promote love. I have written more extensively on this topic elsewhere (though only focusing on the New Testament) and it can be accessed at: www.academia.edu/25063760/Love_Wins. I need to dive more into the Old Testament aspect of this idea, but that is a project for the future.
John talks a lot about a new command in his letter. This is a reference to Jesus’ command in John 15:9-12. “As the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you. Remain in My love. If you keep My commands you will remain in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commands and remain in His love. I have spoken these things to you so that My joy may be in you and your joy may be complete. This is my command: love one another as I have loved you.” The way to remain in Jesus’ love is to keep His commands. His command is to love others. Therefore, the way to remain in His love is to love others. This sheds light on John 15:7 and its comparable passage in 1 John 2:7-11. “If you remain in Me and My words remain in you, ask whatever you want and it will be done for you” (John 15:7). The way to remain in Him is to love others. The reason our prayers aren’t answered is because we aren’t loving others well enough. First Peter 3:7 then becomes very clear: “Husbands, in the same way, live with your wives with understanding of their weaker nature yet showing them honor as co-heirs of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered.” Prayers are hindered when husbands don’t love their wives rightly; prayers are hindered when Christians aren’t loving people in general rightly. Perhaps our prayers should be more focused on the needs of others than our own. That’s one way to love others better.
In fact, all sin could be summed up as a lack of love. And if this is true—which a quick reflection on commandments 5-10 shows it is—then all sin is an area in which we aren’t living as He is in this world. He has nothing to do with sin, so we have a lot of work to do to imitate Him better. And if it’s a sin to not love others rightly, then when we aren’t loving people we aren’t loving God because we are sinning against Him. So if we’re to rightly love God, we must love people too. It’s all connected!
So the question I leave you with is, “How well do you love others? How much more—specifically in what areas—can you love others? And who can you evangelize today and thus show them that you love them?” Let’s walk this thing together, striving to love God by loving others!
Soli Deo Gloria
Future goal for blog = I’m going to choose a book of the Bible and go through it verse by verse using the hermeneutic I’ve laid out in these last three posts. For those of you that don’t know, a hermeneutic is an interpretation philosophy. I’m taking book recommendations in the comments below, and there’s a poll on the sidebar containing four books I’m personally interested in delving deeper into (if using desktop version). This will be my primary use of this blog, though some other posts and updates will also come up sporadically.