“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.” – 1 John 4:7-9
In this post, there are three guiding thoughts that will accompany us throughout this passage. 1. Love is from God, 2. God is love, and 3. Love has been made manifest to us.
Love is from God (v. 1)
We begin verse 7 by noting that John again addresses his audience (believers) as “Beloved.” This is what we are, beloved by God. For those who are in Christ Jesus, this is what we are. This is indeed the great wonder of wonders that God would love such sinners and rebels and call them beloved. What a great wonder it is that God would set the eyes of his love on lowly creatures as us.
So as we consider this great subject today, we do so on our knees, in humble gratitude, with hands empty and open, as recipients of this great love of God which we hear of today.
A Command: “let us love one another”
This is a recurring theme and command throughout John, specifically. Some call him the “Apostle of Love” because he talks about it so much. This is not the last time we will see this command. And that’s for good measure because this is something that we need to be told and reminded of again and again, because truly loving one another is not something that comes naturally to us. It is a new-nature fruit of the Spirit that is given to us, and it is difficult to always love one another because, with all our new-nature fruits of the Spirit, we still are waging war with the flesh in this life. It’s still hanging on, still trying to get us to hate, and not obey.
But again, I remind you how John began verse 7, addressing the believers as “Beloved” and then giving this exhortation to love one another. This is just the key, you who are beloved of God, whom God has set his saving and eternal love upon – from that reality of being beloved by God, love one another! It is from who we are as beloved of God that we are able to love God in return, and love one another, our fellow believers who are also beloved by God. When you love God because he has called you his beloved, you begin to love the things that God loves, and when you realize that God loves “them and them and them” too, you cannot help but love them as you love God. So it is that when we love one another, we are loving God, and when we fail to love one another, we are failing to love God. Our love for God can often be seen in how we love the brethren. What a sobering and convicting thought this is. So don’t think about other people, but I want you to put this thought to your own heart. Do you love God? Well, do you love God’s people?
An Explanation: “For…”
John then gives this explanation. He calls us beloved, he gives an exhortation, and then he explains it. He says “Beloved, let us love one another, FOR love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.” There it is. There is what we are saying. If you know God, if you have been born again, you will love. You will. It is apart of who you now are as beloved of God.
Love is from God
But let us think for a moment in this phrase John puts here: “for love is from God.” Matthew Henry tells us, “He [God] is the fountain, author, parent, and commander of love…”
Love does not come from other sources. It does not come from ourselves, not from sin, not from Satan, not from humans, not from philosophy, not from our emotions or feelings, not from our will power or flesh, but from God. God is the source of love.
Whoever loves has been born of God
John Piper says: “Love is from God the way heat is from fire, or the way light is from the sun. Love belongs to God’s nature. It’s woven into what he is. It’s part of what it means to be God. The sun gives light because it is light. And fire gives heat because it is heat. So John’s point is that in the new birth, this aspect of the divine nature becomes part of who you are. The new birth is the imparting to you of divine life, and an indispensable part of that life is love. God’s nature is love, and in the new birth that nature becomes part of who you are… When you are born again, God himself is imparted to you. He dwells in you and sheds abroad in your heart his love.”
So love is from God, and if we love, it is because we are also from God, we have been born of God. As Matthew Henry says, “The new nature in the children of God is the offspring of his love…”
Whoever loves…knows God
“Knowing God” here is more than mere intellectual knowledge of the facts – it is that plus the experience of the new birth, the experience of fellowshipping and communing with God, etc.
Calvin: “…the true knowledge of God is that which regenerates and renews us, so that we become new creatures; and that hence it cannot be but that it must conform us to the image of God… For when anyone separates faith from love, it is the same as though he attempted to take away heat from the sun.”
Calvin: “…as God is the fountain of love, this effect flows from him, and is diffused wherever the knowledge of him comes…”
So this is the point John is making, we are to love God, and if we do, it is because we have been born of God, and we have come to know God. The love in our life that we have for the brethren, that we have from God, comes, not from us, not from our willpower or flesh, but from God. Love for God comes from God. Indeed, it is a fruit of the Spirit, who abides in us, as John has stated over and over again.
God is Love (v. 8)
John puts the positive in v. 7 in the negative in v. 8 to drive home the point; as he has done throughout the letter.
If you say that you know and love God, yet you despise the Church, God’s people, then it is evident that you do not know God, or love him. For the love of God is a love for His Church – for us – and we are his church – and if we love God we are going to love what he loves and hate what he hates.
To say that God is love is not to say that love is God. It does not follow from “God is love.” For example, “grass is green” does not mean that green is grass. That wouldn’t make any sense. So the logic of “God is love” does not necessitate the inverse statement.
John MaCarthur: “Love is inherent in all He is and does. Even his judgment and wrath are perfectly harmonized with His love.”
I think as reformed people, we can often overreact to the degrading of the nature of God that we see in a lot of mainstream Christian talk, where it seems like all that is said about God is that he is love, and his judgments, holiness, righteousness, wrath, etc. are all left off. Truly what a slander that is to God. But we do not want to react so much to that that we fail to ponder and grasp the wonder that it is that God IS love! God is not only love, but, “love is natural and essential to the divine Majesty…” – Matthew Henry…. If we leave off that God is love, then we do not have God! And why would we ever want to do such a thing anyhow?
Love was made Manifest (v. 9)
From verse 9 we see that love is a sacrifice, a giving up of oneself, for the good of the beloved. We also see in the wording of “God sent” that the manifestation of God’s love was an initiative of God. It was his proactive plan. The love of God is not a love that stayed in the clouds but it was made manifest among us. It was revealed to us. We did not discover it, or find it out, or coax it out of God, no it has been shown to us by God’s own desire and initiation. God’s love is not in the abstract, but it was made manifest in the sending of His Son. “Love comes down from heaven.” as Matthew Henry says.
“God sent his ONLY son…” This shows us a great deal how much God must love us. One of the things that makes the death of God’s son so costly is that it was God’s only Son – not one of many. And not just one of the angels or heavenly creatures – but His Son, His only Son. It is a crazy thing to think that God preferred to send his only son to die so that he could have us as his sons, than to keep his only begotten son free from all pain and suffering. One of the things that makes the love of God so great is that no one else would do it. It is not possible for any other being to love anywhere close to the same degree that God loves his children. It is matchless. There is no other love that is a match for the love of God. And not only that God would give up his ONLY beloved, begotten Son, but that he would do it for, worms such as us. As Matthew Henry puts it, “Strange that God should love impure, vain, vile, dust and ashes!”
Calvin: “Christ…is so illustrious and singular proof of divine love toward us, that whenever we look upon him, he fully confirms to us the truth that God is love.”
Not only is the love of God manifested to us, but through love of God, we live through Christ. The love of God gives us life – we live because of his love. Without it, we are dead just as Ephesians 2 tells us we once were. Without God’s love being made manifest in the person and work of his Son Jesus Christ, we are still dead in our trespasses and sins. This is why it is important that God’s love is not a mere abstract, sentimental principle, but it became manifest in the incarnation of God’s Son, in order to do the work necessary to give us life. An abstract love of God leaves us still dead in the grave with no heartbeat. But not so, praise God. And this is what we must remember – without God’s love being made manifest to us, we are dead. “For without him we are all dead…” – Calvin.
God’s love, through the death of his Son, is life-giving. As Calvin puts it, “…he who is his only Son by nature, makes many sons by grace and adoption…”
It is love that makes us live. The law can’t do that. The law pronounces condemnation; the love of God pronounces life. And that life is one that is made to love, and love God’s law.
Such a love ought to grip our souls and rapture our hearts in thoughts of his love toward us for all eternity. Love for others ought to be an obvious mark of who we are as Christians. But praise God, that he has loved us still, even when our love is small. Praise God we are not saved based upon the level of love in our hearts, or our love for God, or our love for others, but instead we are saved based upon God’s love for us in that it was manifested in the coming of his Son Jesus Christ and what he has done in acting on that love.
“The sense of his great love should engage a man forever to love and honor his surety, and to bless that hand that has paid the debt, and cancelled the books.” – Thomas Brooks