Let me give you a thought experiment. Here are two scenarios.
Scenario 1: Imagine we’re on a ship. But it springs a leak and starts sinking. While we’re fleeing to the life-rafts, you manage to grab a bag before it all goes down. Unbeknownst to the rest of us your bag contains a bottle of water and some canned meat – tuna and spam and things like that. So there we are huddled together in the life-raft bobbing along the open sea. Eventually spot an island in the distance. We start paddling towards it and as we get closer we see that the island is incredibly bare. There doesn’t appear to be a stick of shrubbery, no sign of fresh water, it’s basically a big rock in the middle of the ocean. But it’s our only hope. So we row towards the island and as we get closer your brother turns to you and says “Boy I’m thirsty.” What do you do?
Scenario 2: Same deal. Our ship sinks. We flee to the life-rafts. Unbeknownst to everyone you have a bag containing water and canned meat. As we bob along in the open sea we spot an island in the distance. As we paddle towards it, we see that it’s lushous, luxurious, full of life. You can see the trees heavy with choice fruits. There’s a gushing waterfall in the distance. It’s a tropical paradise. As we row towards shore your brother turns to you and says “Boy I’m thirsty.”
What do you do? Do you give your brother a drink of water?
Well in scenario 2 you’d be much more likely to give him your water wouldn’t you? In fact in scenario 2 you might even throw the whole bag open and say, water and spam for everyone, let’s celebrate, wouldn’t you? In scenario 2 you would treat your little bag of goods a lot differently wouldn’t you?
Why? Are you a much nicer person in scenario 2? Are you suddenly more moral? Have you suddenly got a heightened sense of ethical duty? Is your conscience stronger now? What’s changed between scenario 1 and scenario 2?
Here’s what’s changed – your vision has changed. You have seen an abundance of life and it’s liberated you to be generous. That’s the only difference between these scenarios. You’re still the same bundle of sins and selfishness you always were, but now you’ve seen, now you’re celebrating, now you’re assured that things are going to be ok.
You could take anyone in the whole human race and put them into those two scenarios and present them with exactly the same temptations. And in scenario 1 we’d all be much more tempted to be grasping and greedy. And in scenario 2 we’d all be much more likely to be selfless and generous.
And that’s got nothing to do with the quality of your moral fibre. It’s got everything to do with what’s out there. If your vision is captured by a new reality out there – then you’re freed to be generous. Sinful, selfish, sulking little ball of contradictions that you are – you see, you celebrate, you’re assured that things are going to be ok, and suddenly you find yourself loving.
And the argument of 1 John, especially in chapters 3 and 4, is this: Look! Look! There is an abundance of life, it’s going to be ok. We are in tropical paradise territory people. So bust open your little bag and share out the spam. That’s the argument.
And it’s summed up beautifully in the first few words of our passage. Let me read to you how the old King James version translates verse 7. It’s a bit more literal as a translation and it picks up the point a bit better. Verse 7 in the King James says:
“Beloved, let us love.” Isn’t that great? “Beloved, let us love.” That’s it, that’s John’s whole argument in this section. You who are loved, go and love others.
Because we’re not just those who are heading towards a tropical island. We are residents of a kingdom of overflowing life, recipients of a torrent of unending blessing. So we really can afford to crack open our little stashes and be generous with our meagre supplies.
Let’s read again verses 7-8 in the bibles in front of us:
7 Dear friends [ beloved], let us love one another, for love comes from God. [you could even say “love IS COMING CONTINUOUSLY from God.” Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.
We’re going to think about chapter 4 under two headings. God is love. So live in love.
Great. Now we can go home. Because that’s really all I’ve got to say.
But then, I can’t just leave it at that. Because if I leave it at that it would be like someone on the life-raft telling you to be generous with your spam because, trust me, there’s a paradise island out there somewhere. You’d say, “Really?? Show me!” You’ve got to see the abundance of life before you’ll love. You’ve got to see it and be assured of it. And so that’s what John does and it’s what I’ll try to do. In the rest of our time I’ll try to unpack what John says about the overflowing life of God. And the heart of it is contained in that little phrase “God is love.”
First what does it mean that God is love? It’s there in v8 and in v16. It’s clearly important and it’s rightly popular. It’s the sort of verse you could see on a rocker’s T-shirt or cross-stiched on granny’s mantle-piece. It trips off the tongues of the enlightened guru and the bible-thumping fundamentalist. “God is love” has huge appeal. But what does it mean.
Well here are two things it doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean that “love is God.”
It’s very easy to look around the world and conclude that “love is the greatest thing.” Isn’t that what all the songs say?
All you need is love. Find me somebody to love. Everybody needs somebody to love. Love, love changes everything. Love’s the greatest thing. – everyone knows it – Love’s the greatest thing.
And at that point the pop singer’s verse is “love is God.” But that’s not what our verse says. Our verse says “God is love.”
Which means the Christian can say to the pop singer: “Listen, I know why you think love is the greatest thing. Because actually the greatest thing – God – is love. That’s why we feel like love is the greatest thing. Because actually we are creatures of the God who is love.”
But that’s how it is. It’s not that LOVE is God. It’s actually a better truth. It’s the truth that GOD is love.
Here’s another thing our verse doesn’t say. Verse 8 doesn’t say “God is loving.” God is loving, but that’s not what our verse says. Our verse says God is love.
If it said God is loving it would mean that God has a number of qualities and one of them is that He happens to be loving.
And that would be a nice thing to say, and I suppose a true thing to say. But it’s nothing like what John is saying here. John says God IS love.
It’s not just a character trait – it’s HIS IDENTITY. To the very core of His BEING, God IS love.
And of course that could not be true if God was just a single person, could it? Imagine if God was just one person, imagine before the creation of the world – a single personed God just doing his thing. What kind of God could that be? It couldn’t be a God who IS Love. Because who is He loving? How could a lonely, solitary God be LOVE. He couldn’t.
But John knows the real God. The real God is three persons, united together IN LOVE. John knows a God who is – verse 14 – Father, Son and (v13) Spirit. That’s how John can say God is love.
God is an eternal relationship of committed love. God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit love one another, uphold one another pour their life into one another from eternity past to eternity future.
God doesn’t just do love. God is love. His very existence is an existence of love. Love is the very stuff of His being. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are who they are because they are constantly giving and receiving love.
To put your finger on the ultimate pulse of reality you will find the committed love of these three Persons. In particular you will find the Father loving His Son in the power of the Spirit.
That’s what it means that God is love. It means that God is trinity. But you know, trinity is not meant to be some tortuous logical problem that only a few dry theologians could possibly understand. Trinity, for John, is our tropical island paradise. Catching a glimpse of trinity is what will release us to be lovers ourselves.
Do you see that God is love? Do you see that ultimate reality is not time and chance, or impersonal forces, or a distant demanding god? Do you see that ultimate reality is an abundance of life flowing from the Father to the Son by the Spirit?
You know very often I hear people tell me that we need less creeds more deeds. They mean we need to spend less time talking about doctrines and more time loving people and helping the poor. What would John say? He’d say you don’t get deeds without creeds.
Or to put it another way – people won’t share their spam if you don’t show them paradise.
People often think of Trinity as some theological maths problem best left to the professionals. John thinks of it as the Fountainhead of the Christian life. How do you think of it? How do you think of our God?
Well you might look at the trinity and think, that’s great for the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, they seem to be enjoying themselves. What about us? Well verses 9 and 10 show how we benefit:
9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.
Verse 9 says We live through Him.
When we come to Jesus we join hands with the Son of God, who is full of the Spirit. And in that moment we become sons and daughter of God, filled with the same Spirit. We live through Him. God is love and we’re invited in. It’s a stunning truth.
But then you might think, How can He bring us into the love of God? Wouldn’t we spoil it? With our unlovely and unloving hearts wouldn’t we ruin this life of love? How can the God who is love accept we the unlovely?
Well that’s why verse 10 is there. Verse 10 says Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for our sins. All our unlovingness, all our unloveliness ought to bar us from the love of God. But Jesus died on the cross as the atoning sacrifice for our sin. Jesus took on our unloveliness – our terrible sin – so that we could have His love.
We get LIFE from Him. He gets DEATH from us. That’s a brilliant swap for us isn’t it.
We’re about to celebrate it at the Lord’s Supper. Jesus is the Bread of Life to feed a hungry world – and how is He going to give us Life? He’ll be broken and devoured. His blood is Life – that’s what Leviticus 17:11 says, the Life is in the blood. And Jesus gives us HIS Life. But He has to spill it from His own veins. He loses His life to give us life.
What a swap. He gives us life. We give Him death. But He is happy with that trade. Why? Because He loves. Love bears consequences doesn’t it? Love pays the price to be with the beloved. The price for Jesus was the cross. So much did He want LIFE for us that He took DEATH to bring us in.
God is love. How do we know? Look at the cross. There you see the eternal love of God manifested. He would rather die for us than live without us. He suffered hell to bring us into His heaven.
But not only did He send His Son to bring us in. He also sent His Spirit. Look at verse 13:
13 We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Saviour of the world. 15 If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. 16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.
The Spirit’s role is to spotlight Christ. He comes into our hearts and opens our spiritual eyes to see Jesus given for us. And so whenever we gladly acknowledge that Jesus is the Son of God we KNOW that it’s the Spirit who has given us understanding. So if we look to Christ and say – I live through Him, He died for me – that’s God the Holy Spirit living in me. And I know that I’ve been brought INTO the God who is love.
How awesome is that! A God who loves me more than His own life. A God who IS love and who brings me into His love though it cost Him hell. Isn’t that extraordinary! And so, v16 we KNOW and rely on the love God has for us.
How reliable is God’s love!? If this is HOW God IS and HOW He has loved me, then I think everything’s going to be ok. If He’s suffered hell to bring me into His everlasting life of love, then life might just turn out alright mightn’t it?
So therefore, verse 11:
11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
Isn’t that the understatement of the millennium? Since HE SO loved us. We also ought to love one another.
Paradise is ours. We can probably afford to give away the spam, yes? Whatever we’re clinging to in life, we can probably let it go and share it around, don’t you reckon?
Because God is love, therefore we can live in love, can’t we?
I’m going to press pause there in the sermon and give us 30 seconds to sit before our Father and just ask Him quietly how we can live in love this week. That will look different for each of us – maybe it’ll mean visiting someone, calling them up, giving them a hand, giving them money, sacrificing time and effort. I don’t know. Ask the Father to open your eyes to the needs of your brothers and sisters right now...
God IS love, therefore we live in love.
And when we do live in love, verse 12 gives two consequences. When we live in love: God is seen and love is completed. Look at verse 12:
12 No-one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
No-one has ever seen God, but God has done two things to make Himself known. First He sent His Son as the image of the invisible God. And when people saw Jesus they could say they’d seen God. But we can’t see Jesus anymore, so how do we see God? Well Jesus put His life into us so that when we love like Jesus loved, the world, in a sense sees God.
When the world sees Christians loving each other, they’re getting the best possible image of God. Because God is persons loving each other. So when we love God is seen and secondly in v12, love is completed.
The kind of love God has for us is an overflowing kind of love. From the Father to the Son, from the Son to us and then from us it’s meant to overflow to others.
And when it does, v12 says it’s made complete. And verse 17 says the same thing – loving others makes God’s love to us complete. God’s love reaches its goal IN US when it flows THROUGH US.
You want to experience the love of God. Well think and pray and read and contemplate the God who IS love. Please by all means, you cannot short-circuit that. But then, as you go along, live in love. It’s as you pass around the tins of tuna that you realise how much fun it is, and you all start to celebrate a generous God and your eyes are opened more to how abundant His love is. Love is made complete as we pass it on.
And then verse 17 gives us another consequence:
17 In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him.
How do you know you’re a Christian? How do you have confidence that the day of judgement will go well for you?
Well a Christian is someone who’s had their eyes opened by the Spirit, to look with faith to the Son and so enjoy the love of the Father. If that’s you, you’re a Christian. And here’s a way you can know that you are one: the love of God comes out of you. In this world you are like Jesus. Not sinless but loving. Not by any means perfectly (or else Jesus wouldn’t have to have died for us). But actually, loving other people as the Spirit leads us. And when we see love coming out, we can have confidence that we ARE in on the God of love.
It’s not the first way to gain Christian assurance – the first way is to look directly to the Son of God and to have the Spirit testify in your heart that Christ is not just given for the world but given for you. That’s the first way. But here’s a second way to have confidence about judgement day. You can know that the love of Christ is IN you as the Spirit leads you into loving others.
And that confidence is a precious thing. Because the one thing that stops us loving is fear isn’t it?
Think again of the life-raft. If I fear that the island is not overflowing with life, my love’s going to dry up. But if I’m assured that there’s abundant blessings for me, then I can love. And that’s what verse 18 says:
18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
But when the perfect love of God drives out our fear, we can step into our world with confidence and offer kindness the way He did. It might look very vulnerable and foolish to the world. It did for Jesus. Arms outstretched to a world that was cursing Him. That’s embarrassing. That’s uncomfortable. That’s costly. That’s painful. But that’s how He has loved us. And so we’ll love that way.
So, verse 19:
19 We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, "I love God," yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.
So. We’ve seen a vision of the God who IS love. Hopefully the Spirit has shown us this abundant life overflowing for us. Ultimate reality is not like that barren rock in the ocean, forbidding and sparse. Ultimate reality is paradise. It’s the God who is love and who has invited us in. And if we’ve seen anything of His love, won’t we reach into our backpack and share what we’ve got.
Let’s be quiet for a second
16 We know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.