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. I John 4:11-12
What an appropriate way to address the saints of the church. This is especially true in light of what the apostle John has just emphasized. “In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him” (v. 9). And then the next verse, “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”
Yes, indeed. In Christ we are the beloved of God!
But now, consider this.
If God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.
And by loving one another we may know that God, who cannot be seen, dwells in us.
Even more, by loving one another God’s love for us is made perfect or complete.
Important truths for meditation!
“If God so loved us….”
Here John calls our attention to God’s love for us that he has just mentioned.
Let us consider this love.
“Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us.”
This emphasizes, first of all, the unconditional character of God’s love. God’s love for us is not dependent on our love for Him. He loved us, even when we did not love Him. By nature we hate God and are His enemies. This is how Adam’s fall left every one of us. Still, God loved us in Christ with an eternal, electing love. And He loves us even now after He has adopted us with all our many faults. His love for us is unconditional, not dependent on our love for Him!
But the emphasis of God loving us first is also the sovereign character of God’s love. Our love to God is only a response to His love for us. Of ourselves we are incapable of loving God. But we do love God because His love for us creates our love for Him.
But the apostle John has more to say about God’s love.
“In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.” It is God’s eternal good pleasure to live with us in eternal fellowship. However, being dead in sin, we are incapable of such a life. That we might live with Him in eternal bliss, God sent none less than His only begotten Son into the world to be the propitiation for our sin. This means that God appeased His horrible wrath against our sins by punishing His own Son in our place. This secures our freedom from the sentence of death and our right to be made alive in Christ, to love God, to serve Him, and to enjoy Him forever.
“If God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.”
Notice that we ought to love one another. This word “ought” has the basic idea of owing someone something. Often it was used of one who owed another money. Here we are told that we owe one another our love. We must see ourselves to be debtors to one another. And that debt is a debt of love. Neither is that debt ever paid up. No matter how much love we have shown to someone, we can never say that we no longer owe that person our love. This is a lifelong obligation we have to each other. And it is rooted in God’s love to us. Certainly we must love those whom God loves!
Yet, beyond the obligation to love one another, we may add that this love is to reflect the character of God’s love to us.
God loves us unconditionally. His love is not dependent on our love to Him. He loved us even when we were His enemies. He loves us now also in our weaknesses and failures. Certainly, then, we must love those who do not love us and who are perhaps even our enemies. This is true of every neighbor we encounter, but especially those in the church. We must love those whose weaknesses annoy us and limit us. We must even love those who hate us and seek our hurt. If God’s love for us is unconditional, then our love for each other must be unconditional.
And we must love one another sacrificially. God demonstrated His love by sacrificing His only begotten Son so that we might live. The love that we are to have for each other must be a love that promotes the life we have together with God and each other. In some instances this requires a great deal of time, energy, money, and sacrifice. It may even require our life. If God in love for us was willing to make the supreme sacrifice of His Son so that we might live, we must also show a love that is willing to sacrifice for others.
By loving one another we are assured that God dwells in us.
God dwells in us by the Holy Spirit. And through the indwelling Spirit we become the temple or dwelling place of God. “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?” (I Cor. 3:16).
In the Old Testament the dwelling place of God was the temple in Jerusalem. There God symbolically dwelt with His people. And so, the people of God went to the temple to enjoy the blessings of salvation. There they found the forgiveness of sins in the sacrifices they brought by faith. There they were renewed spiritually by the ceremonies of the temple. There they enjoyed sweet fellowship with the God of their salvation. All this was God’s gift of love for His people.
In the New Testament era we have become the dwelling place of God. The Old Testament temple in Jerusalem was only a shadow of what we now are in Christ by the indwelling Spirit of God. God dwells in us in a way that the Old Testament saints never enjoyed. Being the very house of God, we through the Spirit enjoy the blessings of salvation as never before. Through the indwelling Spirit of God we know the glad forgiveness of sins in the perfect sacrifice of Christ. We are also wonderfully renewed to live the Christian life and enjoy sweet fellowship with God.
But how can we be sure of all this?
How can we be sure that our experience of forgiveness, of the new life and fellowship, comes from the indwelling Spirit of God? As John points out, “No man has seen God at any time” (v. 12). God is infinitely exalted above all His creation so that He remains the invisible God. No one, not even the angels in heaven, can see God in His essential being. How do we know, then, that this great God has taken up His dwelling in us to bless us in His great love? How do we know that what we experience is real and not imaginary? Does not John also speak earlier in this chapter of the spirit of antichrist? Are we not warned repeatedly about deceiving ourselves? Is not the heart deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked? (Jer. 17:9).
We know that God truly dwells in us, if we love one another.
The true test of the indwelling Spirit of God is that we love one another. This is to be explained by the fact that the inevitable fruit of God’s abiding in us in His love is that we love one another. When God takes up His abode in us to shower the blessings of His love upon us, He above all blesses us with love for one another.
And so it is that you may attend church regularly, give generously of your time and money to the cause of the kingdom of God, be a great defender of the truth, and much more. And yet, as important as these things are, if you do not love the brother in the church, the Spirit of God does not dwell in you. All your experiences of salvation are false. You have deceived yourself.
It would be good in this connection to read Paul’s explanation in I Corinthians 13 of the importance and character of love.
By our love for one another, God’s love for us is perfected. This means God’s love for us finds its completion in our love to one another. It reaches its goal in our loving one another.
To illustrate this, consider a family that loves one other. The parents in love for their children live and dwell with them, bestowing upon them their love in the form of nurture and protection. Their goal is that their children not only return this love to their parents, but also love one another. When this happens, the love that they showered upon their children is completed. What joy there is for these parents! And how grieved they are when they see the love that they bestowed on their children fall short if their family is disrupted by jealousy, hatred, and infighting.
The same is true with God.
God showers His love upon us by His indwelling Spirit with the purpose not only that we each return love to Him but that we also dwell with one another in love as the family of God. God will not merely live with each of us individually, but with all of us together as His family. God’s love for us reaches its goal and completion only when we in the power of His love to us love one another. What joy this brings to God!
And so let us strive to love one another.
God has shown His love to us in that He sent His only begotten Son into the world to be the propitiation for our sins.
In His love He even makes us His dwelling place.
In His love He also transforms us to love one another.
Let us then respond by loving God and one another, that God’s love may be perfected in us.