1 John Lesson Eight: 1 John 4:7-12 – An Appeal for Love

Dear friends, let us love one another, because love is from God, and everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, because God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent His One and Only Son into the world so that we might live through Him. 10 Love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Dear friends, if God loved us in this way, we also must love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God. If we love one another, God remains in us and His love is perfected in us. (HCSB)

In this short section of Scripture, John outlines how to discern a couple of things regarding love.

  • True agape love can only come from God.
  • The demonstration of agape love is an indicator of whether or not a person is a genuine believer, someone who struggles with unconditionally loving others, or a false believer.

Before we dig into this passage, let’s consider the main theme John is conveying to the reader.

Love comes from God, so if we are born of God, we will also love. God loved us first, so we must love one another.

Now, let’s break apart this passage.

  • First, let’s consider that in John’s writings, he uses three expressions to help us understand the nature of God.
    • God is spirit – John 4:24.
      • This addresses the essence of God.
      • God is not flesh and blood.
      • God is not limited in time and space the way His creations are.
    • God is light – 1 John 1:5.
      • This refers to God’s holy nature.
      • In Scripture, light is symbolic of holiness, and darkness is symbolic of sin – John 3:18-21.
      • God can’t sin because He is holy.
      • When we are born again, we receive this holy nature – 1 Peter 1:14-16.
    • God is love.
      • This doesn’t mean that “love is God.” 
      • Just because two people “love” each other doesn’t mean their love is holy. 
      • A well-known expression is “love doesn’t define God, but God defines love.”
      • God is both light and love. Therefore, God’s love is holy love.
      • God’s holiness is expressed in love.
      • All that God does expresses all that God is. His judgments are measured out in love and mercy – Lamentations 3:22-23.
      • Much of what the world defines as “love” bears little resemblance to the holy love that God demonstrates.
  • The letter now returns to a subject John previously talked about, love, which comes from God.
    • Extending love, primarily to fellow believers and also to unbelievers, is another test for a follower of Christ.
      • Only those who have been spiritually born again can understand and extend agape love to others.
      • Since God is the only source of genuine love, only a believer can understand love and extend it to others.
      • At the same time, it’s possible to see occasional acts of sacrificial love demonstrated by unbelievers.
        • We need to remember that each person is made in the image of God and is capable of these sporadic acts of love. It is part of our divine creation.
        • However, these individuals are not able to sustain this lifestyle and aren’t doing it with an understanding of agape love. 
        • Additionally, true love that includes loving God and a full expression of love to others, predominately in the area of evangelism and the Gospel, is only a characteristic of genuine Christians.
      • A proper understanding of the word “know” is required to fully understand what John is talking about.
        • “Know” doesn’t refer to intellectual understanding.
        • The word “know” is used in many translations to refer to the intimate union between a husband and a wife – Genesis 4:1.
        • To “know” God means to be in a deep, personal relationship with God.
        • We share life with Him and enjoy His love.
        • Knowing God is a matter of understanding truth – 1 John 2:3-5.
    • John then flips the discussion, talking about those who don’t extend or demonstrate love to others.
      • Those who don’t extend love are demonstrating they don’t know God.
      • What evidence does John reveal to support this statement?
        • John is referencing the very nature of God.
        • God’s essence is love.
        • When we look at John’s argument, we can see that the test for lack of love is easier to understand. Think of the changes that occur when a person is spiritually reborn.
          • They receive eternal life through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.
          • They have the Holy Spirit dwelling in their body.
          • They have been saved by love and are indwelled with love.
          • A believer may not love perfectly, but there is a significant difference between not loving perfectly and not loving at all.
  • John now switches the focus of the letter from an understanding of what love is and isn’t to a discussion of how God revealed His love for us.
    • The clear answer appears in John 3:16 – Jesus sacrificed His life for us.
    • It also appears in parallel in 1 John 4:9 – God sent Jesus to us to sacrifice His life for us.
      • God the Father knew how Jesus would be treated and the horrible death He would experience.
      • God sacrifice Jesus so we might live through Him.
    • It was through Jesus’ sacrificial atonement for our sins that our relationship with God can and is restored.
      • The sacrificial gift was not a response to humanity’s love for God.
      • It was the exact opposite. God initiated this sacrifice in spite of our sinful and hateful attitude toward God.
      • The main urge for people is to sin.
        • The natural condition for people is to pursue sin.
        • Man doesn’t naturally love God or Jesus’s sacrifice.
      • God’s nature was to show His love and provide a way to restore our broken fellowship.
        • Love is always demonstrated by action.
          • To take away our sins.
          • To destroy the works of the devil.
        • Our love is a reflection of His love and a response to it.
  • God has set the gold standard for love.
    • Believers are part of God’s spiritual family; we are His children.
    • Believers are to extend love to others, especially fellow believers but also unbelievers.
    • God’s love for us is made visible and complete as we love others.
    • God’s love is completed as we reach out to the lost.
  • John also points out that we can fail in demonstrating love; he uses the phrase “if we love one another.”
    • John is pointing out we have a choice in this matter.
    • Not everyone who says they are a believer actually is one.

Applications

  • Do you extend unconditional love to fellow believers? Admittedly, this can be very challenging. As people, we are difficult and messy, and some are easier to love than others. In fact, some believers may be very difficult to love. Still, God calls us to extend love to others. If you have a hard time in this area or there are one or more people, in particular, you find it difficult to love, pray for a softened spirit. Maybe there is an issue between you and that person or persons. If so, go to them and resolve it. 
  • Do you extend unconditional love to unbelievers? We never know when our selfless acts of love for the lost may result in their resistance to God being broken. Think back to the events that led to you becoming a Christian or maybe someone you know. Was there a selfless act leading up to their salvation? Pray for opportunities to extend acts of selfless love to others.
  • If we see fellow believers acting in a way that is contrary to what this passage is telling us, gently interact with that individual in the spirit of Galatians 6:1. Also, remember to remove the log in your eye before mentioning the speck in their eye.

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