(This sermon on 1 John 4v7-12 was preached in Oughtibridge Parish Church on the Sunday commemorating John, Apostle and Evangelist (December 27th)
It was the Apostle John who wrote the wonderful words – “God is love”; the Apostle whom Jesus loved, the Apostle to whom Jesus entrusted the care of his mother, the Apostle who witnessed Jesus’s death on the Cross and who saw him gloriously alive following his resurrection from the dead; the Apostle whom the Lord Jesus personally commissioned along with Peter and the other Apostles to proclaim his message of God’s eternal salvation in and through his one and only Son Jesus Christ.
“God is love,” wrote the Apostle of love in his first letter, 1 John. This wonderful statement comes in the context of John’s letter to Christian believers probably in AD 1st century Ephesus who were being troubled by a group of false teachers.
These false teachers left the apostolic churches John founded and formed their own exclusive clique and they looked down on John’s Christian friends. They looked down on them as a bunch of simpletons who were spiritually inferior. The false teachers claimed to know God in a special way – they claimed to have a sort of hotline to God which was not available to John’s people.
There was considerable spiritual and probably social snobbery too in the attitude of these false teachers towards John’s Christian readers.
That is the context in which John wrote “God is love,” and as we look at this wonderful statement in its context, we will, God willing, gain a richer understanding of it and gain all the more encouragement from it in our Christian lives. These words are designed to bolster our Christian confidence in God’s love, which is not romantic love – that has its place between a man and a woman in marriage. God’s love is commitment love, self-sacrificial, self-giving commitment love.
Please look at vv7-10 of 1 John chapter 4: “Dear friends,” John writes to his Christian friends in the family of the church, “let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 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. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son into the world as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”
The real Christian knows that God loves them. How do they know God loves them? Because they know that God sent his one and only Son the Lord Jesus to die in our place on the Cross, as John put in v10: “This is love: not that we loved God, but that God loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”
The real Christian knows that he or she was a rebel against God. He or she had turned away from God and deserved God’s condemnation. But because of his love God sent his Son Jesus Christ into the world to die on the cross in our place taking the condemnation we deserve for our sins. That is what it means that Jesus was “an atoning sacrifice for our sins”. He died in our place taking the right and due punishment we deserve because of our sins.
The true Christian knows that God is love because God proved it by sending his Son Jesus Christ to die for us who did not deserve such love.
So how does the real Christian treat other people for whom Christ died? How does the real Christian treat the church family? The real Christian has the same attitude towards the church family as God has – love, love for the church family. “Whoever loves,” John says, “is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God because God is love.”
It’s not complicated – real Christians love the church family because God loves the church family and proved it by sending his Son to die for us.
Our God is a God who reaches out with his love towards undeserving sinners like you and me, so we need to reach out with God’s love towards one another in the Christian family, pursuing one another’s best and highest interests, speaking God’s truth to one another in love, praying for one another, serving one another in all sorts of spiritual, moral and practical ways – showing that self-sacrificial, self-giving, commitment love God has showed to us:
“This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we” – Christian people in the loving fellowship of the church – “that we might live through him.”