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“This, Then is Love”

1 John 4:7-14
Bob DeGray
November 3, 2002

Key Sentence

Our love for others is permanently dependant on God’s love for us.


I. The Centrality of Love (1 John 4:7-8)
II. The Sufficiency of Love (1 John 4:9-10)
III. The Witness to Love (1 John 4:11-14)


        In his fine book, The Body, Chuck Colson tells a remarkable story of love and sacrifice. In 1941 a Nazi edict went out, written by Hitler himself, ordering extermination for the Polish leaders and Poland’s Jews. As for priests and spiritual leaders, Hitler wrote, "They will preach what we want them to preach. Their task is to keep the Poles quiet and dull_witted. If any priest resists we will make short work of him."

        Father Maximilian Kolbe of Cracow was one who resisted. He taught that believers must do God’s will rather than man’s. Father Kolbe was imprisoned in May of 1941, and sentenced to Auschwitz. Assigned to the timber detail, Father Kolbe was forced to carry heavy lumber to construction sites. Guards stood by to ensure the prisoners did everything at a trot. Though not very old, Father Kolbe had been weakened by years of slim rations and months in prison. Under the heavy wood, he collapsed. Immediately, officers converged on him, kicking him and beating him with whips. They gave him 50 lashes, then threw him in a ditch and left him for dead.

        Remarkably though, Father Kolbe survived. He continued to minister to fellow prisoners – praying with them and comforting them. He simply wanted to be faithful to His Lord. One night after a man had escaped, the prisoners were lined up and shown an empty gallows. This meant the prisoner had not been caught. It also meant death for some who remained. Many hours later those who had not fallen and been beaten during the heat of the day were still standing in ranks when the Commandant came to give sentence. "10 of you will die for the escaped man in the starvation bunker." The starvation bunker meant no food and no water – an agonizing death made which often unhinged minds before it killed bodies. The commandant walked down the rows of prisoners reading off numbers from filthy shirts. The chosen groaned and cried. "My poor wife," one man cried. "My poor children, what will they do?"

        Suddenly there was a commotion among the ranks. A prisoner had broken out of line and was calling for the commandant. It was unheard of to leave the ranks, let alone ever address a Nazi officer. With his hand on his revolver, the commandant shouted, "What does this Polish pig want of me?" The other prisoners gasped. It was their beloved Father Kolbe, the priest who had nourished their souls. He spoke softly, "I would like to die in place of one of the men you condemned." "Why?" snapped the commandant. "I am an old man, sir, good for nothing. My life will serve no purpose." "In whose place do you want to die?" "For that one," Kolbe said pointing to the man who had bemoaned his wife and children. The commandant snorted and had Kolbe's number written down and the other man's erased. As Father Kolbe passed his fellow prisoner, the astonished look had not even become gratitude.

        But Father Kolbe was not looking for gratitude. If he was to lay down his life for another, the fulfillment would be in the act of obedience itself. The guards shoved them down the stairs to a dark, windowless cell in the basement. "You will dry up like flowers," sneered one guard as he swung the heavy iron door shut. But as the hours turned to days, the camp was aware of something extraordinary happening in the death cell. Past prisoners had spent their time screaming and attacking one another. But now, those outside the cell heard the faint sounds of singing. This time there was a shepherd to lead the men through the valley of the shadow of death.

        Perhaps that’s why Father Kolbe was last to die. When the bunker was needed for more prisoners, the guards found 4 alive, and injected them to finish the job the starvation bunker could not complete. They finally made their way to Father Kolbe, who sat staring into the distance with a slight smile on his face. It seemed like a waste of the drug, but they had their orders. In a moment, Father Kolbe was dead. In Auschwitz today there is a flame that burns as a reminder not of Nazi atrocities, but of the hope and love that appeared in the midst of such great horrors.

        For seven weeks we’ve studied the ‘one another’ commands of the New Testament. We began with Jesus’ command to ‘love one another.’ We’re ending with another instance of the same command. In between we studied several other ‘one another’ passages in the New Testament, which extended and illustrated the love that is to be the center of our Christian lives. It’s especially appropriate as we celebrate our move to this new building that we be reminded of God’s love and refreshed by the truth that our love for others is permanently dependant on God’s love for us.

I. The Centrality of Love (1 John 4:7-8)

        The first love command we studied was in John’s gospel. This week’s command is found in that same apostle’s first letter, 1 John 4:7-14. The first two verses describe the centrality of God’s love, the source of ours. 1st John 4:7-8: Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.

        The opening phrase in our translation is just two Greek words, literally ‘beloved, love’ or ‘loved ones, let us love.’ The author practices what he preaches. In urging them to love each other, he first assures them of his love for them, and probably of God’s love for them. We too are loved by God and called to love. John bases this call in God’s eternal character and nature. Love one another ‘for love comes from God.’ God is the source of all true love. In loving each other we are displaying and modeling and communicating the love of God for a world that desperately needs to know it. But we can’t love if cut off from the source of supply. No one can truly love others without receiving love from God. Just as a river will soon run dry if its source in the mountains is cut off, so our love will soon run dry if we are not supplied. This truth is tremendously comforting, as we pour ourselves out in the many labors of ministry and caring - that our love comes from an endless source.

        John goes on to explain that everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. To be born of God is to be born again through faith in Jesus Christ. The verb literally means to be fathered by God and thus a child of God. He is the proud father and we are the new-born children. He fathers us, through new birth in Christ, and only those born again by trusting in the death and resurrection of Jesus will truly know God. This knowing is a relationship with God, for the Bible never talks about knowing in terms of things or facts, but in terms of knowing someone, some person through a personal relationship. So in God we find a Father who has given us new birth, a relationship more personal and satisfying than any earthly relationship, and a source for love which refreshes us, empowers us and enables us to love others.

        Scripture gives us this command to love one another with the knowledge that God’s love is entirely central and entirely essential to any attempt to fulfill it. Love is selfless devotion, first to God and then to our neighbors, a devotion peculiar to those who are truly believers. Love is from God, new birth is from God, our relationship is with God, and all three must be in place before we can love one another or God.

        Verse 8 emphasizes the corresponding truth that someone who doesn’t love doesn’t know God. Since John is convinced that true Biblical love can only come from God, he is equally convinced that anyone who does not display true Biblical love does not have a relationship with God. As John Stott says in his commentary: “for the loveless person to profess to know God and to have been born of God is like claiming to be intimate friends with a foreigner whose language we cannot speak, or to have been born of parents whom we do not in any way resemble. It is to fail to manifest the nature of him whom we claim as our Father and our Friend.”

        Those who know God must love because, John says, ‘God is love.’ If you ever wondered where this is said in Scripture, you’ve found it now - 1st John 4:8 ‘God is love’. He is love through and through, love in his inmost being and essence. When John says that God is love, he does not mean that loving is just one of God’s many activities, but rather that all his activity is loving activity. There are, of course, three other statements in the New Testament concerning what God is in substance and nature: he is ‘spirit’, John 4:24, ‘light’, 1 John 1:5 and ‘a consuming fire’, Hebrews 12:29. All of these are true because each of his character qualities infuses and informs all the others. If he judges, he judges in love. His judging is done in love, and his loving is also done in justice. He is love, light and fire. Far from condoning sin, his love has found a way to expose it, because he is light, and to consume it, because he is fire, without destroying the sinner, but rather saving him.

        A little while back I read a good and edifying book by Christian philosopher Peter Kreeft called “The God Who Loves You: Knowing the Height, Depth, and Breadth of God's Love for You” It’s in our beautiful new church library.

        Kreeft affirms, and I agree, that “The love of God is the answer to the human quest for the supreme value, to the quest for the supreme reality, and also to the quest for life's deepest meaning and purpose.” God’s love is central to all we are and all we do. All love finds its source in God, including the love we share with one another.

II. The Sufficiency of Love (1 John 4:9-10)

        However, John doesn’t just show us the centrality of God’s love. He also shows the sufficiency of love, and he does so by pointing to Christ. 1st John 4:9-10 9This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

        Jesus is the greatest demonstration of the sufficiency, the depth of God’s love. We are entirely and eternally dependant on that sufficiency. You see God is not content merely to be love - the Bible teaches that God acts in love. He does something to express his love. At the peak, God demonstrates, brings to light or reveals his love among us by sending his one and only Son into the world. Notice the implications. First, God sends the Son. This is what Jesus always said, that the Father had sent him. This means the Son is in some way subordinate to the Father - he does the will of the Father. It also means the Son was pre-existent. The Son was not created by the Father, he already existed and was sent by the Father. John says in his Gospel that the Word became flesh and made his dwelling place among us.

        Second, he is the ‘one and only’ Son. The translation ‘only begotten’ is misleading, since it implies that at some time this son was born to the Father. The word was used that way, but it was also used of something unique, the only one of its kind, such as the Phoenix of Greek myth. The New Testament uses it to describe Isaac, in Hebrews 11:17. Isaac was not Abraham's only son, but was one_of_a_kind because he was the child of the promise. John often uses this word to describe Jesus. While all Christians are children of God, Jesus is God's Son in a unique, one_of_a_kind sense.

        Why does the Father send his ‘one and only Son’ into the world? So that we might live through him. We were dead, separated from God and condemned to an eternity of separation because of our sins. But God sent Jesus to bring us life through his death on the cross. Jesus himself said ‘I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly.’ He said “My Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”

        John elaborates on this truth in verse 10. “This then, is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” God sent Jesus to die on the cross not because we were worthy but because we were needy, not because we deserved life but because we deserved death. We were ‘dead in our transgressions and sins’ as Paul says in Ephesians, but as he says in Romans, “God demonstrates his love for us in this: while we were still sinners Christ died for us.”

        This is the good news that we desperately need, that our community and state and nation and the world around us desperately needs. It is good news of a savior from sin and a rescue from death. It is good news of love, not frail human love but faithful divine love, the love of God by which he sent his son.

        God sent Jesus as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. The death of Jesus is a sacrifice that makes atonement: it rights the wrong that we have done to God by sinning, and it turns aside God’s wrath. For twenty years I have loved the footnote present in every edition of the New International Version Bible, because it captures so clearly the meaning of the Greek word. Those of you who have the NIV will see that if we substitute the footnote wording we get “This then is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as the one who would turn aside his wrath, taking away sins.” That’s what the incomparable love of God is all about. That’s what we celebrate in communion, Christ’s atoning sacrifice of himself in our place.

        Dr. Claude H. Barlow, was a medical missionary to China, one of the most revered foreigners to work there. A strange disease with no known cure was killing people. There were no research laboratories for this disease, so Dr. Barlow conducted his own research, filling notebooks with his observations. He finally isolated a vial of unknown parasites and sailed for the United States. Before he arrived, he took the parasites into his own body, then went to John Hopkins to be observed. He became very sick and allowed his old professors at John Hopkins to use him for experimentation. A cure was found, which a healthy Claude Barlow took back to China with him. His efforts saved countless lives. When asked about the experience, Dr. Barlow replied, "Anyone would have done the same thing. I happened to be in a position of vantage and had the chance to offer my body."

        Christ was the one sent to a position of vantage. He became a sinless human being and took sin on himself, so that you and I might be saved from the certain death of sin. Only the unique love of a God who is love would make that kind of sacrifice. Without that love we would all still be orphans in a strange and hostile universe. But that love is for real. It is demonstrated in Christ’s atonement.

III. The Witness to Love (1 John 4:11-14)

        So we’ve seen that love is at the heart of the universe. We’ve seen that love is supremely demonstrated in the sacrifice of Christ. These things are the foundation of our love for one another, which is a present day witness to God’s love. Verses 11 to 14. 11Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. 13We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.

        Twice in this letter, in 3:16 and 2:6, John has told his readers that the example of Jesus’ sacrifice was one they should follow – an example of sacrificial love for one another. No one who has been to the cross and seen God’s immeasurable and unmerited love displayed there should be able to go back to a life of selfishness. Indeed, the text implies that our love should resemble his love - having the same attitude and the same self-sacrificing nature. I know that we can’t die for anyone’s sins, but what we are called to do is no small task - it is to die to ourselves and life for others. Only the compelling love of Christ is sufficient motivation to do that.

        Verse 12 makes it clear that our love for one another is God’s present day witness to the world. John says that if we love one another God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. Thus people see something of God as they see us. John prefaces that thought by saying that apart from this no one has ever seen God. This claim is made three times in the Gospel of John and is repeated in 1 John 4:20. Yet in John 14:9 Jesus apparently contradicted this when he told his disciples, "The person who has seen me has seen the Father." Jesus did reveal who the Father is and what he is like through his earthly life and ministry. But it is still true that no human being has ever seen God as God. Jesus himself taught that God is a Spirit. Seeing God revealed in the incarnation of Jesus is not exactly the same as seeing God as spirit. That ultimate vision is promised, in 1st John, as a future reward for those who now believe, but until that day the best image of God available to the world is the lives of believers in whom God lives and in whom his love is perfected.

        John Stott comments that our love for one another “indicates 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,” he says. “It is so daring that many commentators have been reluctant to accept it and have suggested that the phrase refers to our love for God being perfected. But the whole paragraph is concerned with God’s love for us, and we must not stagger at the majesty of this conclusion. God’s love, which originates in himself and was manifested in His Son is made complete in his people. God’s love for us is perfected only when it is reproduced in us and among us in the Christian fellowship. It is these three truths about the love of God which John uses as an inducement to brotherly love. We are to love each other first, because God is love, secondly because God loved us, and thirdly because if we love one another God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.”

        God lives in us because He has sent the Holy Spirit to live in us, just as he sent Jesus to live in the world. Verse 13 tells us that the Father's gift of the Holy Spirit, provides assurance that we know God. The visible presence of the Holy Spirit in the lives of others, especially through his fruit, is a witness to us of God’s love. Moreover, we ourselves have an inner witness to God’s love. Our heart response to the truths about Jesus – his incarnation, his atonement – is evidence that the Holy Spirit is at work in us.

        The love we have for our brothers and sisters in Christ, a love we know to be impossible in our own strength, is evidence of the presence of the Holy Spirit in us. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self control, things so unlike our natural inclinations, these are gifts from the one who indwells us. We know that we live in him and he in us because he has given us of his Spirit.

        Finally, verse 14 reminds us that there is more to sharing God’s love than just our lives or actions. Those things are critically important, but if we do not express the truth in words to interpret our actions they will be mis-interpreted. We are not merely those who have received the gracious gift of God’s love in Jesus, we are also those who tell others about this gift and this love. We have seen and we testify, what? That “the Father sent the Son to be the Savior of the world.” Another great phrase closing out a great text. ‘The Father sent the Son to be the Savior of the world.’ That’s Christmas in a nutshell. That’s Easter in a nutshell. That’s the Good News in a nutshell. That’s the message we have to share. The Father who is love sent his Son in the greatest demonstration of love to rescue the world from sin by his sacrifice and to gather to himself a people in whom his love lives.

        In Planet in Rebellion, George Vandeman wrote: "It was May 21, 1946. The place – Los Alamos. A young and daring scientist was performing an experiment in preparation for the building of the first fusion bomb. He had successfully performed such an experiment many times. In his effort to determine the amount of U_235 necessary for a chain reaction – scientists call it the critical mass __ he would push two hemispheres of uranium together. Then, just as the mass became critical, he would push them apart with his screwdriver, instantly stopping the chain reaction. But that day, just as the material became critical, the screwdriver slipped! The hemispheres of uranium came too close together. Instantly the room was filled with a dazzling bluish haze. Young Louis Slotin, instead of ducking and thereby possibly saving himself, tore the two hemispheres apart with his hands and thus interrupted the chain reaction. By this instant, self_forgetful daring, he saved the lives of the seven other persons in the room. As he waited for the car that was to take them to the hospital, he said quietly to his companion, ‘You'll come through all right. But I haven't the faintest chance myself.’ Nine days later he died in agony.

        “Twenty centuries ago the Son of the living God walked directly into sin's most concentrated radiation, allowed himself to be touched by its curse, and let it take his life. But by that act he broke the chain reaction that doomed us all. He broke the power of sin." Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.