“Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us” (KJV, 1 John 4:11-12).
Understanding the Christian’s response to God’s love is essential for growth in grace. John was a man who made much of the teaching of love. He declared himself to be the disciple whom Jesus loved. Outside of Scripture, an ancient writer tells of John in his old age. When John grew old, he needed to be carried into the church due to his frailty. He frequently spoke of the need for his congregants to love one another. One day John was asked why he spoke so much of love toward one another. John replied that it is what the Lord commanded and that if they love as the Lord commanded, it is enough.
At the outset of 1 John 4:11-12 John begins his instruction with the words beloved. The Greek word translated as beloved is agapetos which also means dear. Thus, John’s sheep were loved by John and dear to him. He held them in his heart and loved them with the love of Christ.
The word agapetos appears five times in the book of 1 John. It is also derived from agapao, which denotes sacrificial love. John was committed to loving his sheep with a sacrificial love that was not based on his feelings and emotions. This does not mean that he did not feel love toward his sheep, but rather that, first and foremost, John chose to love those under his care.
“if God so loved us”
John started his argument with a warm reminder of his love for his people. Then he goes into the premise. John tells them that God loved them. At this point, John does not yet draw his conclusion from his premise. Instead, he states the foundation for what is to come.
God’s love is on display in His Word from beginning to end. Scripture says, “The Lord hath appeared of old unto me, saying, Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee” (Jer. 31:3). The love of God toward His covenant people is remarkable.
He loves the Christian with an everlasting love. It could be said of God’s love that it is out of this world. Through His love, He draws people to Himself so that they can respond to His love. John tells us in 1 John that the believer was not the one to love God first. Instead, the believer loves God because God initiated the relationship and loved the believer first.
However, the most remarkable display of God’s love can be seen in Christ. Scripture says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). God loved the world so much that He gave His Son to die for the world.
“we ought also to love one another”
The conclusion that John draws is quick and to the point. Since God loved the believer, the believer ought to love others. The passage’s context is God the Father sending His Son so the believer would have life through Christ. God did not send His Son to a world that loved Him. Instead, God sent His Son to a world that hated Him, wanting to win over the unbeliever with His love. Specifically, Christ was sent to atone for the believer’s sin by satisfying the wrath of the Almighty God.
The text will make sense when the Christian stops to think about what is at stake. So often, people tend towards anger, hatred, self-seeking behaviors, etc. For the Christian to love another, there are obstacles to overcome. When the Christian looks to Jesus, he will see the Son of God coming to save him when he was opposed to God. He will see Christ advancing in his direction, although he continued to sin against Jesus. Nothing in the life of the Christian merited Christ’s attention. The Christian did not deserve God’s love but wrath and anger.
Herein we see the context beginning to unfold for the Christian. God advanced toward the Christian despite many sins in the Christian’s life. Thus, the Christian must turn to his neighbor and love as Christ loved. He must learn to overlook sin and shortcomings by recognizing how Christ has done the same in his life.
“No man hath seen God at any time”
No man has seen God at any time. God dwells in unapproachable light and is invisible. He cannot be seen, nor will man see God in eternity. When Isaiah beheld God in Isaiah 6, it was but a vision. When Moses saw the back of God, it was not as though Moses saw the invisible God, for that which is invisible cannot be seen. Something of God’s nature was displayed to Moses, but even Moses Himself never again spoke of the incident in Scripture.
What the Christian has are the words of John divinely inspired by the Spirit of God. John says elsewhere, “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him” (John 1:18). Therefore, while seeing Christ is like seeing God, it is not quite an exact match. This is not to say that Christ was imperfect but that He took on flesh, and flesh could never contain and show forth the glory of the invisible God.
In His humanity, Christ was perfect, but the flesh was created; God was not. The flesh is temporal God is eternal. The list could go on. But John has a point to make, so the reader must advance.
“If we love one another”
John has stated that no man has seen God at any time, but here we read of how the believer is to love one another. He does not yet tell the reader why. Once again, the love that John speaks of is sacrificial. The love which God has in mind is not to be defined by the believer and made to be relative. Instead, the love John is speaking of is the same sacrificial love displayed in the Father sending the Son and the Son dying for the sins of His people.
“God dwelleth in us”
If the Christian truly loves with sacrificial love, God dwells in him. The implications are rather remarkable. It was already stated that in the book of John, we were told that nobody had seen God but that Christ made God known to the world. However, here we see that when the Christian loves others, he will also make God known to a world that cannot see God. The reason is that God will dwell in the believer when the believer loves others and will therefore be displayed in his life.
John has already told us that when someone is born again, God’s seed abides in him. Thus God dwells in the believer, and due to this simple fact, a believer will love others. However, this is not to say that a believer cannot grow in his love and experience more significant manifestations of the presence of God.
“and his love is perfected in us”
Elsewhere the Bible tells the Christian that Jesus is the light of the world. We are also told that the Christian is the light of the world. This is because the Christian has the light of Christ within him, and Jesus shines through him. The same can be said of the love of God. When the Christian is united with Christ, God dwells in the Christian. The love of God is a reality within the heart of the Christian. Therefore, the Christian will learn to love with the love of God. However, as he grows in his love, the love of God will be perfected in his life.
Father, I thank you for loving me and sending Your Son to die for me. Help me to love as Christ loved. In Jesus’ name, Amen.