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God Is Love (Among Other Things) Part 3 - 1 John 4:7-12

Shouldn't God's children be like their Father? Shouldn't God's children love their own family?

1 John 4:7-12; John 15:12-17; 1 Peter 1:22-23; Ephesians 2:4-7; 1 John 2:29, 3:9-10, 5:1; 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a; 1 John 3:17-18

Jan 18, 2015 12:00 AM

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The word in the New Testament for the peculiar love of God which He grants exclusively to His children is the Greek word ”agape”.  The English word “love” is often confusing when we read it in the Bible because we use one English word as the translation for two and sometimes three different Greek words.  

When we read the word “love” in the New Testament, we have to look carefully at the context as well as the original Greek text in order to know to which kind of love the writer is referring.  

Biblical Greek is more precise than English.  The Greek word ”agape” refers mostly to God’s love for His Son, for His chosen people, and to the love which God’s children consequently show toward one another.  

Another Greek word translated “love” is ”adelphoi” and the related “philadelphia”.  This is, according to many scholars, a lesser degree of love compared to “agape”.  It is a familial love which is part of normal human relationships, sometimes translated “brotherly love”.  

A third biblical Greek word often translated as “love” is “phileo”.  It is a more deeply affectionate or emotional love.  For example, in John 11, Mary and Martha send word to Jesus concerning Lazarus saying, “Lord, the one whom you love is ill.”  We might equate that with saying Jesus really liked Lazarus a whole lot, which is why Jesus wept.  That doesn’t quite make the point, but there seems to be a subtle difference between “adelphoi” and “phileo”.

“Agape” is like neither of those kinds of love.  It is not normal.  It is spiritual, it is supernatural, it transcends all other loves because, it is peculiarly Christian.  I believe it is the greater love that sometimes motivates the lesser loves.  

In 1 John, the Apostle uses the word “agape” 14 times, and “agapao” (another form of the same word) 17 times in 4 of his 5 chapters.  31 times in 95 verses.  He does not use “phileo” or “adelphoi” at all.

One passage found in John 21 is very instructive for us in studying this topic of biblical Christian love (John 21:15-17):

[15] When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love (agapaō) me more than these?”  He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love (phileō) you.”  He said to him, “Feed my lambs.”

[16] He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love (agapaō) me?”  He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love (phileō) you.”  He said to him, “Tend my sheep.”

[17] He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love (phileō) me?”  Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love (phileō) me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love (phileō) you.”  Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. (John 21:15-17 ESV)

There are different levels, different degrees of love.  I am sure we would all hesitate even as Peter did, to say to Jesus’ face,, “Lord, I love you to the highest degree possible.  I love you with that agape kind of love.”  

Probably not.  That is a love we should aim for, and it is a love only believers are capable of, but I think even we seldom hit that target.  Peter certainly wanted to love the Lord with ALL of his heart, but the recent events in his own life, namely his denial of Jesus three times WHILE He was being condemned by the Jews, caused him to refrain from making such a claim.

In essence, Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, you KNOW I like you a whole lot.  But I know I don’t love you as I ought.”  

Look with me once again at our text:

[7] Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. [8] Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. [9] In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.

[10] In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. [11] Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. [12] No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. (1 John 4:7-12 ESV)

Here in verse 9 we read what supreme love, heavenly love, supernatural agape-type love looks like: It looks like the love that moved the Father to send His Son for our redemption.  The Father sent His Son to save our lives because of love.  This is how we know He loves us.  This is proof positive of the love of God for His people.  Riches are no proof that God loves you.  

Good health, massive wealth, a happy home, a great marriage, beautiful kids, a nice house in an upscale neighborhood--none of those things are proof of God’s love.  

Nor is the lack of any of those things evidence that God does NOT love you!  And that seems to be the bigger issue: “If God loves me so much, why doesn’t He heal me?  Why doesn’t He restore my marriage?  Why doesn’t He reunite my broken family?  Why doesn’t He bless me financially?  Obviously, God does not love me.”

Beloved, if that kind of thinking is not blasphemous, it is way too close for comfort.  The Father sent His Son into the world for you and me.  What more do we want?  He sent Christ to save us from an eternal death!  How dare we ever question His love for us!  

Christ coming into the world as our Savior is irrefutable proof of the great love of God for all of His children, regardless of any other suffering we might experience in this life.  His love is unquestionable, and we should never, ever doubt it.

But John doesn’t stop there.  He continues to define and explain what this love IS NOT, which is always helpful.  He tells us, actually for the second time, this agape type of love does not originate with us.  In verse 7 he says “agape” love is from God.  Then verse 10 reinforces that by saying God did not send His Son into the world because WE LOVED HIM.  Jesus Christ’s coming to earth was not in response to our great love for God.  Rather, it was because of the great love of God for us even though we did not love Him.  

Do not ever confuse those two things.  We did not earn a visit from on high by the Savior because we human beings were such dedicated followers of God and He decided to reward us all with a Messiah.  On the contrary, God loved us first, His love for us preceded our love for Him because the Son He sent was not a reward for our devotion, but a propitiation for our sin!!

In other words, God loves us to such a degree that He was willing to provide His own Son as a sacrifice which He Himself would kill for our sakes, in order to satisfy His own wrath against us and to satisfy His own justice.  God’s justice demands that sin be punished.  So God placed our sin upon His own Son and punished Him in our stead.  That is the degree to which God has loved us.  So do not EVER doubt the love of God for you, Christian!  You are a Christian because God loved you.  You have eternal life because God loved you.  Your sins are forgiven, you have an eternal inheritance in heaven, you have been made a child of God--ONLY because God loved you and gave His Son for you.

Now if God has loved us in this manner, then it is no great imposition upon us when He requires us--commands us as His children--to love each other.  

[11] Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

Don’t take John’s words as a kind of suggestion, as though loving one another is something we ought to do, but it isn’t mandatory.  On the contrary:

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.  Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.  You are my friends if you do what I command you.  

No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.  You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.  

These things I command you, so that you will love one another. (John 15:12-17 ESV)

How can we do this?  How can we obey this command to supernaturally love one another.  It’s not hard to understand that we ought to, since God has loved us in this way.  But Jesus says we must.  So this obviously has nothing to do with feelings or emotions, but with obedience to a command.  How?  How can we obey this?

Once again, John tells us in verses 7 & 8:

[7] Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. [8] Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.

1.  Love is from God.  More specifically, our love for one another is a love which God has granted to us.  Therefore we ought, and we must love one another.  We are God’s children.  We must love like our Father has loved us.

2.  Love is a product of the new birth.  Every Christian has this love for other believers by virtue of having been born of God.  If you are born again, you can, and you do, and you must love the brethren.

Christians love each other.  That is one of the most visible effects of our regeneration, our new birth.  However, take a look at this verse:

Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love (philadelphia), love (agapaō) one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; (1 Peter 1:22-23 ESV)

The difference is subtle, but real.  Certainly we love one another as family, as brothers and sisters in the Lord.  But Peter says we should move beyond that.  And it is compelling to think it is Peter who is saying this.  

Peter, who couldn’t bring himself to tell the Lord he loved (agapao) Him, but he could say he loved (phileo) Him.  Now, he is encouraging believers to do both.  It seems the one leads to the other.  Brotherly love is first base, but the goal is to run the bases all the way to home plate and love one another earnestly, with an agape kind of love like God’s love for us!

[4] But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, [5] even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—[6] and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, [7] so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:4-7 ESV)

It is the love from God toward us that compels us to love one another.  If my brother is loved by my heavenly Father, and He is, then I have NO excuse for not doing the same.  God has enabled me to love like He loves by virtue of the fact that I have been born again by Him.  I have been made to know Him.  Therefore I love like He loves.  I MUST love like He does.

If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him. (1 John 2:29 ESV)

No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God's seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. (1 John 3:9-10 ESV)

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. (1 John 5:1 ESV)

I get the impression this is important.  Do you?  When Christians don’t love each other, it not only causes the world to call us hypocrites, but it should cause us to wonder if we have been truly born of God.  Do we love each other deeply, sacrificially, as God has loved us?  Even when we were sinners?  Do we love each other, even when we are sinning?  Shouldn’t we?  And love each other enough to help each other NOT sin?

I believe these are fundamental truths of the Christian faith which are routinely ignored.  We think a superficial toleration of each other is biblical love.  Agape love.  God-like love.  It isn’t.  And we must be careful not to foster something that isn’t love by repeatedly calling it love and accepting it as Christian love, when even the unsaved know it isn’t.

Maybe it boils down to something this simple: Do we really care about each other?  Are we really concerned for one another’s physical and spiritual well-being?  Are we willing to suffer for one another’s sake?  Would we die for one another?  Like Christ who loved us and died for us?  Do we care about each other?

[4] Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant [5] or rude.  It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. [7] Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. [8] Love never ends. (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a ESV)

But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? [18] Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. (1 John 3:17-18 ESV)



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