This sermon is number 13 in a series of 23
1, 2 and 3 John - Part 13
"Christian Love: Its Source And Sign"
by David Legge | Copyright © 2006 | All Rights Reserved | www.preachtheword.com
Our title this evening is 'Christian Love - Its Source And Sign', and we're going to read in chapter 4 from verse 7 through to verse 21: "Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is 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. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 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. Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world. Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God. And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him. Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love. We love him, because he first loved us. If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also".
Now we have seen already that John has dealt with the subject, this massive subject of love - chapter 2 and verses 7 to 11, that was the first time he visited it; then the second time we find it was in chapter 3 and verses 11 to 18. Now he comes again, as he has been doing through the cycles of themes in this book, to redress again this particular issue of love. Now he does it again in greater detail, for every time he revisits a theme he adds a little bit more truth and detail to it. Someone has put it well: 'This study of 1 John has been rather like a progression through the anterooms in a great palace, each one more breathtaking as we move nearer to the throne room. Now the magnificence becomes overwhelming as the throne room doors are flung open, and we are introduced to the glorious Person who has done all this - the God who is love. Everything else in the splendour of the verses circles around one supreme reality: God is love'.
We have learnt that one of the signs of Christian fellowship, one of the ways we can take assurance as children of God that we belong to the Lord, is that the love of God is in our hearts, and outflows from our hearts to others who are our brothers and sisters in Christ. John has added to this by saying: if we do not have that love it is a sign of the opposite, that we probably are not the children of God, for this is their chief characteristic. But now he's bringing us to the point of, as this author has said, flinging open the throne room doors to let us see that the reason why we are to have love and to show love is because our God is love! Of course, we found out that this love that John describes is not a sentimental love that the world has, it is not an erotic love that our world spells 's-e-x', it is not just an emotional friendship love, it is not even a family love - but it is what is literally in the Greek, this 'agape' love, the love of God - not us mustering it up, or trying to ape it, but actually allowing God to love others through us.
Now I have heard it said on occasion that unbelievers cannot show true love, because unbelievers cannot have 'agape' love in their hearts because they don't know God, and they're not in fellowship with God. I disagree with that statement. I believe unconverted people do love. It is true that they cannot show 'agape' love, but nevertheless even the Lord Jesus Christ Himself said in Luke's gospel chapter 6, again addressing the love that we ought to have for our enemies this time: 'For if ye love them which love you, what thank have ye? for sinners also love those that love them. And if ye do good to them which do good to you, what thank have ye? for sinners also do even the same'. The Lord asserts that unbelievers do have love toward one another. Love is a gift from God even in the life of an unbeliever and in their family. We could call it 'a gift of common grace' that God has blessed us all with from creation when He created the family. We are to love one another, of course, and reach the standard of those around us, but we're to go further than that. The command that we have three times within our portion from verses 7 through to 21 this evening is that we are to love, 'agape' one another. We are to show this divine, actual, literal love of God, divine love to our brothers and sisters in the church. In verse 7 he says: 'Let us love one another'. Verse 11: 'Love one another'. Verse 12: 'Love one another'.
Now what we're looking at tonight are the reasons why we should love one another, if you like, the 'source' and the 'signs' of this Christian love. Here's the first reason he gives us in verses 7 and 8, and it is simply God's nature: 'Let us love one another, brethren, because of God's nature'. 'What is God's nature?', you say. He tells us: 'God is love'. Now notice he doesn't say 'God loves', of course God does love, and he does assert in verse 7 'For love is of God' - God is the origin and the source of this agape love. But that's not his chief thought here, he's actually telling us that God's nature is love - God is love. Then in verse 16 he repeats the same statement: 'God is love'. So now John is not saying that love is simply a gift from God, or love is even an attribute of God, but love in its essence - in fact, rather, God in His essence is love. It is His nature.
Now we must understand this statement of John 'God is love' alongside two other unequivocal statements that he makes. In John chapter 4 verse 24 he says: 'God is Spirit', and then in 1 John 1 and verse 5 we saw at the beginning of our studies in this book that he says 'God is light'. God in His nature is Spirit, and God is light - speaking of His holiness and His awesome unapproachable righteousness. Now I want you to notice this evening how John details the fact that God's nature is love for us. Each statement regarding love in this portion, and our need to love others, is linked to one of the persons in the Divine Trinity; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. So what John is teaching us is that not only are we to love one another because love is God's nature, but that nature-love of God is displayed in the three persons of the Trinity; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. They are all involved in this divine love.
Verses 7 and 8 really have to do with God the Father: 'Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love'. Then in verses 9 to 11 he speaks of God the Son: 'In this was manifested the love of God', that he's just been talking about, 'toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him'. Then in verse 12 he begins to speak about the Holy Spirit, and how this love in divine nature is displayed in the third Person of the Trinity: 'No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us'. God lives in us by the Holy Spirit, and that love is displayed in our lives as a fruit of the Spirit. Again his conclusion is the same: we ought to love one another, because God's nature is love, the Father has displayed love in sending the Son, the Son has displayed love in coming, and the Holy Spirit has displayed the same agape love in shedding God's love abroad in our hearts by His grace through faith.
In other words, God the Father is love; God the Son is love; God the Holy Spirit is love - therefore, John is saying by implication, if you know God the Father, and you know God the Son, and you know God the Holy Spirit, and you're in fellowship with them, you will love your brother in Christ. You see, he is using the very character of God, the nature of God displayed in Father, Son and Holy Spirit, as a grounds for why we ought to love each other in the church. The big question that you need to answer and I need to answer this evening is: is our love for one another consistent with the nature and the character of Almighty God? He's telling us that if we are born of God, that means that we are possessors of the divine nature, and by implication we will show divine love to our brothers and sisters in Christ.
So, first of all he says: Love one another because of God's nature. Then secondly he tells us to love one another because of God's grace. The verses following verse 8 contain a description of how God has manifested His love. John does this in three tenses - he talks about the past tense, that God has demonstrated His love in that He sent the gift of His only begotten Son, we find that in verses 9 through to 11. Then later on in verses 12 to 16 he talks in the present tense: God by His grace has manifested His love in the fact that the Holy Spirit dwells within us, and should be loving others through us. Then thirdly he looks into the future, and he talks about how God yet has to manifest His love toward us in the boldness that we will have in our hearts when we stand on the Judgment Day, holy and without blame before God.
Now let's deal with each of these that show us that we ought to love one another because of God's grace. Let's look at the past, verses 9 to 11. What John is telling us is that as sinners we are dead and we need life, as sinners we are guilty and we need pardon. So God sent, John says, His only begotten Son into the world so that we could be saved, that we could have life - live, verse 9 says, through Him. So that's the answer to death: we can live through the only begotten Son that God has sent - and He is, John says, the propitiation for our sins, verse 11. That's the answer to our guilt as sinners: He takes our guilt and sin away.
Now let's analyse this verse so we understand how God truly has manifested His love toward us in that past sense. We need to analyse what this word 'only begotten' means, it's only two words in our English language, but it's even fewer - it's one - in Greek. What does it mean 'only begotten'? Well, it carries the unique relationship which the Son had with the Father, and it's a relationship that no other son can share with the Father. Let me explain that: within the word of God angels are designated as 'sons of God'. Adam, when he was created, has also been classified as 'a son of God'. All the saints, Old and New Testament, but particularly the New as we see even in this book - chapter 3 and verse 1, speaking of the love which the Father has bestowed upon us 'that we should be called the sons of God' - we're all sons and daughters of God. But this phrase is exclusive, because there is only one 'only begotten' Son of God. Let me say that the NIV says 'one and only Son', some other translations translate it like that - although that captures some of the sense, it is not strictly correct because really Jesus Christ is not God's 'one and only Son', but He is His 'one and only begotten Son'.
Now it's interesting that this same word is used of Isaac in Hebrews chapter 11, if you want to turn with me to it, it will explain a little better what this word means. Hebrews 11 and verse 17, we read: 'By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son'. Now at this particular time in Abraham's life, you can read the account in Genesis 22, he already had a son, Ishmael, by Hagar. Later on, after this event, he had other sons - but Isaac is called by the writer to the Hebrews 'Abraham's only begotten son'. Now how can that be? Simply because Isaac was unique: he was unique in his birth, it was miraculous; he was unique in his relationship to Abraham as his father, none of the other sons had the promises that Isaac had. So what we're saying is that though Abraham had other sons, he had only one 'only begotten' son. Now when we look at the angels, and we look at Adam, we see that these are the sons of God by creation. When we look at ourselves as the saints in the New Testament era, we are sons and daughters of God through redemption and by adoption. But Jesus Christ is the only begotten Son of God, begotten not created - and there is a difference!
You see, Jesus is not just a man like the false teachers were saying in Ephesus, who was born naturally into the world at Bethlehem - and, all of a sudden, because He honoured God, during His baptism in the Jordan the Holy Spirit came down upon Him, the 'Christ Spirit', and all of a sudden He became something akin to a 'Son of God' - no! It doesn't mean that Christ was begotten to humanity in Bethlehem, but as we see from verse 14 of chapter 4 it's categorically stated that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world. This is the pre-existent Christ, the Father sent His Son, that means His Son existed before Bethlehem. Sons are not sent into this world, sons are born into this world - but the Son of God was sent by God out of His pre-existence as His only begotten Son. That literally means 'of the same divine substance as the Father' - it is the doctrine of the eternal Sonship of our Lord Jesus.
This is John's point: once we find out what 'only begotten Son of God' means, it brings us to a point where we realise how remarkable this fact is - that God should send His only begotten Son into the world to save sinners like us! The astounding nature of this love is further evidenced in the fact that we, upon whom this divine love was lavished, did not love God. In verse 10 it says: 'Not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins', verse 19 says, 'We love him, because he first loved us'. God's motivation for sending His Son to die for us was not in response to our love, it was in response to nothing - absolutely nothing! Indeed, to the contrary, it was a response in spite of our hatred and our rebellion and our antagonism in the face of the holy God of heaven - and that is what grace is! Amazing grace!
Our incredulity is heightened when we discover how this love was displayed and demonstrated to us as sinners. Look at what he says in verse 10 at the end that He, the Son of God, became: 'the propitiation for our sins' - He died for our sins. Now we'll look in a moment at what this word 'propitiation' means, but let's grasp this: here is God, who sends not just a son in the person of an angel, or a very special human being, He sends His only begotten Son of the same nature as He, God the eternal Son. He doesn't send Him to those who showed love towards Him, or had any merit in them, but the opposite indeed: those who broke His law, defiled His name. He sends Him to die as a sacrifice for those rebellious sinners' sins. Romans 5 helps us to grasp in measure the magnitude of this great truth. In verse 6 of Romans 5 Paul writes: 'For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth', or demonstrated, 'his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us'. But friends, He didn't just die for us, He became the propitiation for our sins - 'What does that mean?', you say.
Well, we looked at that word already in chapter 2 and verse 2: 'He is the propitiation for our sins: and not for our's only, but also for the sins of the whole world'. Now let me say again that most modern translations, the NIV, the RSV, and others obscure the meaning of this word 'propitiation'. It is the Greek word 'hilasmos', and most modern translations have chosen to translate this word as 'the removal of guilt', or 'the removal of punishment' - the result of our sins. Some use the word 'expiation', which is just a theological word for 'the cancellation of our guilt' - that is not the full extent of the idea of 'hilasmos', 'propitiation'. Its meaning is more than 'removing guilt' or 'punishment', or 'cancelling our sin', it literally means 'turning away the wrath of God from us because of our sin, by an offering that has been made on our behalf'. It's not just the cancelling out of our debt, it's the turning away of God's anger. This word is used in Hebrews 9 and verse 5, but it's translated there as 'mercy seat', and that is exactly what 'propitiation' means. We have to illustrate it by Old Testament Tabernacle truth.
In the Tabernacle there was the holiest place of all, the Holy of Holies. The Ark of the Covenant dwelt therein, and on the top of the Ark there was a highly ornamental lid that was crowned with two cherubim, which are angelic beings, of solid gold. These two cherubim on the lid of the Ark of the Covenant were facing each other, looking down upon the lid of this box. The whole lid of the Ark was called 'The Mercy Seat', and it was there that the nation of Israel met God in Person through the High Priest. So once a year, and only once a year, the High Priest came in bringing the blood of the sacrifice, and he would sprinkle it upon the Mercy Seat - and it was only in that way that Israel could meet their God. Now listen to that: they couldn't come in just any way, like Cain, and offer an offering that they had devised; they must come by the blood sprinkled way, for the blood makes atonement for the soul, and without the shedding of blood there is no remission for sin. So in the great Day of Atonement the High Priest went into the Holy of Holies, He sprinkled the blood on the Mercy Seat, the nation was accepted by God, and for another year they could come in and worship the Lord.
Now here is the antitype of that truth: Christ, Hebrews says, is our Mercy Seat. John says He is our propitiation - why? Because He is the sacrifice, He was delivered for our offences and was raised again for our justification. We, Hebrews says, can come boldly now unto the throne of God, the Mercy Seat, because of Christ. It is now a throne of grace because of His sacrifice.
How did Christ demonstrate His love for us? By taking the wrath of God upon Himself that was against our sin, and by doing such He brings us to God. Now that is what propitiation is, it's not just an atoning sacrifice, it's not just a cancellation of our guilt - God can't just put sin beneath the carpet and ignore it, turn a blind eye - sin must be dealt with judicially. Here in propitiation we have this means whereby God's wrath is exhausted in a just fashion, so that He can turn His wrath away from us because He has put His wrath upon His own Son.
I'm labouring the point because there's a great attack upon this doctrine today. There is an attempt to de-personalise the wrath of God. People say: 'Well, God's punishment is just an inevitable disastrous result of our sin, but it's not as if God really wants to do it'. The thought is almost that God is not just in punishing sinners, people think it's unbecoming of a God of love to be angry against a sinner - it doesn't seem to weigh up with God's love, to also be at the same time angry with sin and those who commit it. Yet the fact of the matter is, friends, whatever your particular view is - the wrath of God is mentioned 585 times in the Old Testament. Five hundred and eighty five, granted it's not mentioned as many times in the New because it's mostly about grace, still in Romans 1 and verse 18 God's word declares that: 'The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men'. Indeed, what Paul is doing there is beginning a legal argument about salvation, and he's showing at the very introduction of his argument that there is wrath from God towards sinners that needs to be propitiated. There's a need for God's wrath to be removed, but the problem comes because many cannot square God's wrath with His love.
I don't know whether you've heard of Steve Chalke, I've mentioned him before. He's a popular Christian TV personality, he's also a Baptist minister and founding director of an organisation called 'The Oasis Trust'. To his denials of the truth of creation, and his denial of the truth of the fallen human nature, he has now added to those two heresies a denial of the doctrine of propitiation. In his recent book entitled 'The Lost Message of Jesus', published by Grand Rapids and Zondervan in 2003, which he co-authored with Alan Mann, he has caused outrage in the evangelical community by saying that this doctrine of propitiation is not only error, but it is abhorrent! He recently was to open the Christian Resources Exhibition that comes to the King's Hall once a year here in Belfast, he was to open it in the Midlands - I believe he did on the 8th of this month, just last week, and he was to be one of the seminar speakers. A number of Christian organisations, one in particular, were appalled at this. Steve Chalke asks the question in his book, page 182, listen: 'How have we come to believe that at the cross the God of love suddenly decides to vent His anger and His wrath on His own Son?'. He considers this to be a mockery of Jesus' teaching, and a contradiction of the statement that 'God is love'. He says that that view of the cross would make the atonement, I quote: 'a form of cosmic child abuse - a vengeful Father, punishing His Son for an offence He has not even committed'. Furthermore he claims that, I quote again: 'both people inside and outside of the Church have found this twisted version of the events [of the cross] morally dubious and a huge barrier to faith'.
'Morally dubious and a huge barrier to faith'? That's very strange, because my mind went straight away to Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 1:18, that: 'the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God'. That may or may not explain why Steve Chalke has ceased to preach 'penal substitution' - that is, that the cross is Christ standing in my place, taking my shame, bearing the wrath of God for me so that I would not have to, and as it says in Isaiah 53: 'the God of heaven laying upon Him the iniquity of us all'. As far as he is concerned the cross is simply identification, God is identifying with the pain of humanity, those who feel forsaken, those who are suffering - and may I say that though we may not subscribe to such an error as Steve Chalke, the fact of the matter is: by our silence many are passively forgetting to speak of the cross, and of the precious blood, and of substitution.
Steve Chalke's heresy is the fact that his book doesn't mention the message of Jesus at all - but for our benefit, he fails to see that the context of John's use of this word 'propitiation' is talking about the love of God that He has for sinners. Do you see it? John's theme has not been God's anger, it has been His love, and he introduces propitiation in that light. He's talked about the love that God has through the persons of Father, Son and Holy Spirit in the Godhead; and what he's saying is that that same love that was willing to send the Son, and the love of the Son that was willing to die for sinners, and the love of the Spirit that was willing to illuminate them, emancipate them, and live the life of God within them - it's the same love that put the wrath of God on His own Son, but literally His own anger on Himself that we might go free! That's real love!
James Denney, in his book 'The Death of Christ' [PDF] - which I believe Martyn Lloyd Jones said was one of the most instrumental books in his understanding of Calvary - he says these words, and this is profound: 'Note the resounding paradox of this verse, that God is at once loving and wrathful, and His love provides the propitiation which averts His wrath from us. So far from finding any kind of contrast between love and propitiation, the apostle can convey no idea of love to anyone except by pointing to the propitiation'. Can I explain that for you? He's saying that Paul couldn't describe the love of God without using the word 'propitiation', because that's what it's all about! On the cross Jesus took my pain, my punishment - that is the great backdrop to the love of God that makes it so great! The greatness of it was described by the hymn writer in his stanza when he said:
'Stronger his love than death or hell;
Its riches are unsearchable;
The first-born sons of light
Desire in vain its depths to see,
They cannot reach the mystery,
The length, and breadth, and height'.
This is the greatness of it - John's building up our minds to realise the extent - this remarkable love is the fact that He sent His only begotten Son; it's the fact that in sending His Son, He sent Him to die for sinners that were not predisposed toward God, whose thoughts were not in any way with God, but who were against God. He sent Him to die, but not just did He die as a martyr, or as an example, but He died as our propitiation, taking our sin. That's wonderful, isn't it? But please don't miss John's point - his punch line is verse 11: 'Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another'. 'Since' could be the word 'if', there's no doubt about it: 'Since God so loved us, we ought also to love one another' - and whilst there may be no doubt about the love of God for us, his question is: is there any doubt about our love for our brothers?
Let us love one another because of God's nature, God's love. Let us love one another because of God's grace in the past, but then he says thirdly: let us love one another because God is invisible, God is invisible. He tells us no man has seen God at any time, verse 12 - and no man sees God today. Indeed, none of us can see God incarnate in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ today, and that is how, after all, in the past God manifested His love. That's what the apostle said at the beginning: 'We have seen and do testify, we touched Him, we heard Him, we handled the Word of life' - but we don't see Him! So the big question John is posing to us is: how is this love of God demonstrated to us today? Oh yes, it was demonstrated in Christ when He came in the flesh, went to the cross, died for our sins, rose again - but we can't see Him. I believe that these verses are among some of the most challenging texts in the whole of the word of God. What John is saying to us is: 'No man has seen God at any time', verse 12, 'If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us'. As God was manifested to men in the past in the incarnation of Christ, God will be manifested to mankind in the present not in Christ, but in the Christian.
So, when the world looks on us, what do they see? Do they see Christ? Do they see God? John is implying that just as Christ dying on the cross 2000 years ago before men, and rising again before men, was the answer to mankind's needs; the answer to mankind's needs is that same love, agape love that is to be displayed through the lives of Christians – Christ's-ones! We are meant to be the answer to mankind's needs, not in and of ourselves, but because the love of God is meant to be displayed in our lives. Do you know what my initial reaction to this truth was - after picking my jaw up off the ground? I felt a tendency to laugh sarcastically - I'm sorry about that, but that's the way I felt, because that's not what the world sees! The world is meant to see His love perfected in us, but they only see us biting and devouring one another, they see bickering and they hear on the radio Christians leathering into one another over secondary doctrines which are important to the people of God, but mean nothing to a soul that is lost and on its way to hell. What do they see?
What did they see in the life of the apostle Paul? If you turn with me for a moment to Colossians chapter 1 - this is a difficult verse of Scripture that perplexes many, because at first it seems to demean the atonement of the Lord Jesus. Verse 24 in chapter 1 of Colossians, Paul describes how he as a minister of Christ now rejoices in his sufferings for the Colossians: '...and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body's sake, which is the church'. He's describing how he was suffering for these Christians in Colossae, and he was describing how the reason of the suffering was for the furtherment of the gospel, and the blessing of Christ among the body of Christ - but this is actually how he refers to the sufferings of the Lord Jesus, he says that he is filling up with his sufferings what is behind, the word literally means 'lacking', in the sufferings of Christ. What would you say to someone who said that the sufferings of Christ were lacking? You'd probably call them a heretic, wouldn't you? Paul is not meaning that there's something deficient in the sufferings of the Lord Jesus, far from it. What he means is that the world that then was, when Christ was literally on the cross, literally bleeding and dying, they were able to witness that agape love - but people today can't see Him! People today can't witness it! That is a measure of what is lacking in Christ's death - it needs to be conveyed today! How is it conveyed? Paul says: 'I'm conveying it by my sufferings, the love of Christ in my life when I'm suffering for the lost, to build up the church of Christ when I'm suffering for God's people, I am demonstrating presently the agape love of Christ'.
How much of that is seen today in the church, and in the lives of individual Christians? I could give you many instances of stories of missionaries who suffered and died for the Lord Jesus, and from their blood that was shed the church of Jesus Christ sprang up in multitude from their sacrifice. Not all of us will ever be missionaries, but I heard a moving story which is so practical about a Salvation Army worker who found a derelict woman squatting alone in the street. She invited her to come in for help to the little Salvation Army Chapel. The woman refused, the worker asked her again, and she said: 'We love you and we want to help you. God loves you and Jesus died for you', and the woman didn't budge an inch - she just stayed where she was. It was as if that Salvation Army woman had a divine impulse, and she ran upon her and she kissed her and threw her arms around her and hugged her. That drunken woman began to sob, and through her weeping she was heard to say like a little child: 'You told me that God loved me, but it wasn't until you showed me that God loved me that I wanted to be saved'.
Now friends, that is what is lacking in the preaching of the cross today - the practical agape love of the dying Jesus. That is not possible of ourselves, it is the agape love of God - and verse 13 shows us, if we look at it, that this happens only by the Spirit of God: 'Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit'. Don't you think you can just go out and throw your arms around drunks and kiss them - it doesn't work like that! It has to be God's love within your heart, only God's love will do - but what we're saying here is that the first way that love is demonstrated presently, as it was in the past at Christ's death, is through Christlike lives of Christians who are Spirit-filled, filled with the agape love of Jesus, that's how it is demonstrated presently! It doesn't matter what you say with your mouth, what are you doing with your life?
Then John tells us the second way that this love is demonstrated presently in verse 14, it's in the apostolic message of the cross. 'We', the apostolic 'we' again, 'have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world'. We must show practical love as Christians, and it's a great thing, and it's a great lack in the church today - but if you really want to love someone, you need to give them the Gospel, you need to preach to them the cross. Dr Francis Schaeffer said that 'Such love', speaking of Calvary, 'is the ultimate apologetic' - it is the greatest argument for people to believe in God and have their souls saved. That argument is doubled when they not only see the love of Christ dying for them on the cross, but they see that same love of Christ in your life as you're loving them.
Presently the love of God is demonstrated through the apostolic message of the cross - what is that? Well, he tells us in verse 15: 'Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God'. You confess the truth about Christ, and it brings new birth, it brings the indwelling Spirit - and what is that? This is an epistle about assurance, how can I know that I'm a child of God? How can I know I'm in fellowship with the Lord? The first test, what was it? Doctrinal: if you believe in the historical, biblical Jesus, the Son of God come in flesh - believe in Him, that's the doctrinal test. Then he tells us secondly at the beginning of verse 16 what this apostolic message is: 'We have known and believed the love that God hath to us'. We have known it and believed it, we will come to appreciate the love of Christ for us, and through appreciation of His love for us we will come to love others. Verse 19: 'We love him', or it could be 'We love, because he first loved us'. In the second half of verse 16: 'God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him' - that is the social test. It's alright believing all the right things about the Son of God, but have you experienced His love so that it's flowing out of your life to other believers and to the lost of humanity?
If you're in fellowship with God you must love those who He loves. The doctrinal test is the apostolic message, who Christ is. The social test, loving our brothers; and then thirdly he speaks of the future manifestation of this love of God, which is the reason why we should love one another. It's found in verses 17 and 18: 'Herein is our love made perfect', it could be, 'Herein is His love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love'.
This love brings peace into our hearts, peace straight from God - so that you're serving God not with a fear of being judged or punished in the future, but that you're serving God out of love! We love Him, because He first loved us - I'm not serving God to keep out of hell, His propitiation has kept me out of hell, I'm serving Him because I love Him! That is the moral test, that my righteousness will be displayed not out of the fear of the law, but out of my love for Jesus because He loved me so. Count Zinzendorf talked about this future judgment, that because of the love of Christ - His precious shedding of blood, the imputation of His righteousness toward him as a sinner by grace through faith - he wrote these words in his great hymn 'Jesus, Thy Blood and Righteousness':
'Bold shall I stand in Thy great day;
For who aught to my charge shall lay?
Fully absolved through these I am
From sin and fear, from guilt and shame'
John put it like this: 'Because as He is, so are we in this world' - what does that mean? Where is Christ now? Hallelujah, He's at the right hand of God, a Prince and a Saviour! He's not suffering any more, all the judgment and the wrath of God has been exhausted upon Him. 'It is finished!', He cried, it's complete - God was satisfied, raising Him the third day - and as He is beyond judgment and condemnation for our sins, so are we in this world! So that Paul could say in Romans 8 and verse 1: 'There is now no more condemnation' - hallelujah! - 'to them which are in Christ Jesus'. Christ's judgment is behind Him, and so is it for us. Mrs J. A. Trench put it like this:
'Death and judgment are behind us,
Grace and glory are before;
All the billows rolled o'er Jesus,
There they spent their utmost power'.
The theme that we've been looking at tonight is the social test of love. You might believe the right doctrine, you might even behave morally - but listen to what John says as we conclude tonight, verse 20: 'If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?'. In the early days of radio in Britain George Bernard Shaw was giving a talk about the peculiarities of the English language. In the course of his discourse, he mentioned that there are only two words in English which begin with the sound 'Sha', they're not spelt 'Sh-', but the sound that comes out is 'Sha' - two words. One listener wrote in to say that this seemed untrue, there was only one such word in the English language and that was 'sugar'. She received a postcard with a reply after a few days on which there was just one sentence: 'Madam, are you sure?'. John is asking us tonight: are you sure? If you hate your brother, you're a liar. 'And this commandment', verse 21, 'have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also'.
The source of divine love is God, who is love. The sign of divine love is the Christ of the cross, and the love of the Christ of the cross in the Christian. May it be manifest in our lives, and in the life of our churches.
Our Father, we thank You for loving us enough to send Your only begotten Son. We thank You, Lord Jesus, that You loved us enough to come and to die, and to be the propitiation for our sins. Lord, let us never lose the wonder of that love, but O we pray, dear God, that through the Holy Spirit the fruit of that agape love would overflow from our hearts to those around us in Christ, and those around us lost and in their sins. Hear our prayer, we pray, Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the thirteenth recording in his '1, 2 and 3 John' series, entitled "Christian Love: Its Source And Sign" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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