The Manifestation of Love - Chapter 4.7-21
These verses bring before us a command to love one another based upon the clear manifestation of the love of God to us, and the simple fact that failure to love our brother is a denial of what we profess. The command is followed by an illustration of true love that will cut across preconceived ideas, and challenge us as to the reality of our profession. There are some who will use the argument that they must show love, even if it means compromising the truth of God. There are others who will suggest that if we obey the truth of God in an outward form, we are automatically showing love.
1. The Command to Love (vv.7,8)
The idea of "Let us" is not of a call or desire for something, but rather of a command which is being given which has no options. The reasons behind this command are set out and leave us in no doubt that love, as illustrated in the later verses of this chapter, is the basic evidence of real fellowship with God. Whatever we may say or do, unless the character of love is seen to permeate all our actions, we are denying the truth of God. Two reasons are given here.
The first reason is that love is an evidence of life. There is no possibility of the love which is in view here being seen in the life of an unbeliever. This, in itself, should awaken us to the nature of the subject before us. If our ideas of love do not rise above the kind of love that is seen in the world then we can be certain that we are not talking about the love being considered here. It is unique to God, and can only be seen in lives which have been touched by the Holy Spirit to bring new life. Here is an example of precise language. Being born of God does not mean that love will be seen.
The second reason is that if we do not show this love, then we are giving clear testimony to the fact that our lives are not being lived in the enjoyment of fellowship. We need to notice that the verse does not say that we are not born of God. Sadly, it is all too common for us to live our lives in a way that clearly shows we are not in touch with God on a consistent basis. Although we are saved, and our salvation is not in question, we are living in a way that will not stand the test of the Judgment Seat of Christ. The Lord knows the heart, and will judge in a righteous way. We often remind ourselves that there are many who will receive a reward for their labours which have not been noticed on earth, while more prominent saints will hear the words, "They have their reward" (Mt 6). This is particularly true as we consider the teaching here alongside 1 Corinthians 13. There are many whom we recognise to be faithful to the truth of God who will feel the full weight of the judgments of 1 Corinthians 13 because they fail to cultivate the true love that springs from fellowship with God. They become so occupied with their faithfulness that they forget "I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal", "I am nothing", and "It profiteth me nothing".
2. The Manifestation of Love (vv.9-11)
There are two statements made here. The first calls us to consider the life of Christ, the second tells of His death.
As to His life, His love is one which was manifest in the face of the most bitter opposition that it could find. We are reminded that He is the only-begotten Son. This term of endearment has the idea of a unique relationship. John can write about this because he is the disciple who chose the place of nearness to his Lord. He is the disciple whose whole life has been coloured by the love of Christ for him. With such a relationship to the Lord, he understands more than most the great cost involved in leaving the Fathers side to enter a world that hated God, and that would hate Him without a cause. He lived in an entirely hostile scene, and He never tried to change the environment. He lived in fellowship with the Father whatever His circumstances, and He never wavered in His obedience to the Father or in His love to men. It is sad to reflect on the fact that most of the opposition to Him came from those who claimed the place of leaders among the people of God. Sadly this is frequently the case today. Men who ought to know better and who profess to know better are the least ready to listen with love to others.
The second picture of love is a reminder of the Cross. If He showed the love in the face of bitter hostility, then He demonstrated it equally in the fact that it had no reason behind it, and in that it never turned away from the most difficult of circumstances. The source of the love was not in any love we had to God, but because He loved us. We can never explain this. We are simply called to believe and to follow His example.
The extent of the love was that the Holy One was prepared to become answerable to God for our sins so that we might be accepted in His presence. Against this background, how can we ever refuse to show this love to our fellow believers?
3. The Message of Love (vv.12-16)
These verses bring us to consider the very real challenge to our hearts that love for one another is the divinely appointed way of showing the character of God to the world. It is when we love one another that we demonstrate that He is abiding in us, and that His love is being perfected in us. This should be our sole desire in life. We will lose all if we set our sights on anything less than this goal. Two reasons are given for this. First, it is the evidence that the Holy Spirit is indwelling our hearts. We can only show true love when we are given the power by the Holy Spirit. Second, it is the only possible response to the fact that we know and believe that the Father has loved us, and sent His Son to be the Saviour of the world.
The first reason reminds us that the love which we are to show is completely different to any natural love. John is not saying that we are expected to show more love than the world, or love to more people. He is teaching that the Holy Spirit will create a completely new type of love in us.
The second reason reminds us that we are resting in the full expression of the love that we must show. By faith, we have come into a relationship with God that is based on His love. The result of this relationship is that we enter into the enjoyment of God dwelling in us. If we truly know that love in our lives as opposed to an empty profession, then it will colour our thinking toward every child of God.
4. The Prospect of Love (vv.17,18)
Verses 17 and 18 remind us of the glorious assurance that we have because of the love of God. We can rest in perfect confidence because we have taken our place with Christ. We look to the Cross, and see One who took our place, and bore our sins, and therefore we rest in the assurance that He is ready to identify us with Him in glory. Because He has met the claims of sin, we can never be called to account. This is why all fear is removed. The root of the fear has been dealt with, and we look with confidence to the One who Himself keeps us secure.
5. The Consistency of Love (vv.19-21)
This summary reminds us that love is the only consistent response to all that Christ has done for us. Our love is a response to what Christ has done for us. If we claim to love Him, we must love those whom He has loved. There may be reasons why we cannot agree with them. There may be practices in which we cannot have fellowship with them, but this must not lead us into a lack of love.
To be continued.