1 John 4:12-21: “God’s Love in Spite of Ourselves”
“No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.
“Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on judgment day; because as He is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. We love Him because He first loved us. If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar, for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment we have from Him, that he who loves God must love his brother also” (1 John 4:12-21).
There is quite a lot to digest here, and what John says should cause us to stop and wonder if we are really allowing the Holy Spirit to guide us in our journey towards eternity. I know that, given the condition of the world and the godless behavior of those in power and around us, it is hard not to stay in a constant state of anger and frustration, one day cursing them all to hell for their wickedness, and on the other day coming to the realization that they are lost and in need of salvation through Jesus Christ. The constant pounding of frankly useless information and opinions given by everyone within range of a microphone, camera, or website spew out rank hatred and calls for violence in some instances can drive even the most stalwart saint of God to a point of absolute weariness and desire to throw in the towel and wait for the Rapture.
In our own strength, it’s extremely difficult to approach what we see with an attitude of Christ-like love and concern. That’s our problem. We’re so focused on all of the worldly garbage that we don’t turn to the true source of comfort and assurance that the LORD has given us in the form of guidance from the Holy Spirit and His Word.
Remember that the trouble of ever-present wicked behavior and hostility towards the character and righteousness of the Sovereign God has been a part of world events since the days after Eden. John was a witness to the wickedness of Rome and the false gods and teachers that were attempting to rid themselves of the truth of the gospel and its call for all men to repent and place their faith in Christ alone for redemption. He knew that it would be difficult for his flock and the future believers to keep an attitude of godly love for their unsaved friends and family who were hostile towards them and towards those brethren who could get under their skin at times.
John, like all of the teachers and prophets of Scripture, was fully aware of this situation; and through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, gave his flock instructions and those who would follow the Lord Jesus in the days to come. He told them that it would be the LORD who would empower them to do that which could not be accomplished simply in our flesh, no matter how good our intentions. He instructed them in these verses to concentrate upon God’s love and how we are to abide by it as the events of history grow more intense with each moment.
He states that while we have not seen God, His presence is made known in the world because of His love for us and for one another as brethren in Christ.
I want to present a couple of issues in light of what John presents here. First, there needs to be a strong rebuke towards those individuals who have been making a living by claiming that, at some point in their lives, they were taken to heaven and shown various sights, only to return to this world telling the undiscerning, gullible “believer” that their “trip” should encourage us about what lies beyond this life. I have seen this displayed on so-called “Christian” television and by some “prophetic” experts that these stories are anointed and of God. Tell me something. Why can’t we be satisfied with what the Word of God tells us about heaven and seeing God? The apostle Paul had experienced heaven, and did not tell anyone what he saw, and was given a “thorn in the flesh” by God to keep him humble about the whole episode (2 Corinthians 12:1-10).
Those who were privileged to glimpse heaven were awestruck by the absolute holiness and majesty of God’s dwelling (Isaiah 6:1-8; Ezekiel 1, Revelation 4-5) and afterwards had an attitude of fear, awe, and the evidence of a changed life wholly dedicated to the service of the Holy, Sovereign God. I don’t see this at all in these modern “heaven hucksters.” These people are either delusional, deceptive, or lying – nothing more. What they allegedly “saw” is in no way any evidence to me that Christianity is true. If I want the facts, I’ll trust Scripture, thank you. We also know through reading passages such as Romans 1:18-32 that God has given humanity the obvious work of creation and the conscience, giving us the knowledge of right and wrong. All are without excuse. It is a willfully blind and foolish individual who would try to explain away these facts otherwise.
The teachings and practice of the Lord Jesus and His followers in being loving towards one another and towards the pagan citizenry that was Rome was a major factor in the spread of the Gospel and the winning of souls. John now teaches that this same love is another sign of God’s presence. Love for God and the brethren demonstrate His love for us and by the Holy Spirit who directs us. He goes on to say that we have the testimony of God’s love through the work of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. Remember this in times of despair and weakness, that Jesus will never leave or forsake us, and He will keep us safe in His hands (John 10:27-30; Hebrews 13:5).
Further on in verses 15-16, John affirms the fact that anyone who declares that Jesus Christ is the Son of God – also according to confirmation by Paul (1 Corinthians 12:3) – is a sign that the one who makes this confession is a recipient of the saving grace of Christ and is now sealed in Him. With this new life comes the start and progression of genuine love for the brethren.
It is the love we have for Jesus and the brethren that will be the means of boldly coming before Him at the time of judgment for believers (2 Corinthians 5:10). This is not human arrogance, which God hates, but the assurance that – because of the redemptive work of Christ on the cross – we are now His for all time, and can reverently approach Him as Sovereign and the Friend that sticks to us closer than a brother, and we will be with Him for all eternity (v.17).
Fear of the world and its evils should never be a part of our character if we are truly in Christ. There should never be a time when we let our spiritual guard down and give the enemy an opportunity to give us the feeling that God will not love us if we stumble or fail to obey Him at one point or another. The love that Jesus Christ has for us is eternal and will keep us always. It is the unredeemed of the world who should be afraid, especially when it comes to their eternal destiny (Hebrews 9:27).
Our love for God is real and established because He loved us first. In our dead spiritual condition before salvation, we were enemies of God and lacking all desire to serve Him (Romans 3:10-18; 5:6-11). He revives our dead spirit and draws us to Him (John 6:44). The Holy Spirit convicts us of our sins (John 16:5-15) and leads us to repent and trust in Christ for salvation (John 10:9; Acts 4:12, 15:11; Romans 5:9; 1 Thessalonians 5:9; Hebrews 5:9; Psalm 37:39; 3:8). It is only through God’s intervention that we can have any kind of relationship with Him at all (4:18).
Double-mindedness in terms of love for the brethren is not befitting of anyone who says He is a child of God. Failure to love the brethren in the spirit of Christ is evidence that you have not really submitted yourself to His sovereign Lordship, giving yourself totally to His rule and direction without question or complaint. The believer who truly demonstrates his solid walk with the LORD shows love for Him and for one another (vv.20-21). If there was ever a time to demonstrate that, it is now in these times before the return of Jesus in the air to bring us to His realm.
We need to help one another and pray for one another as the days grow darker in this world. We need to stay close to the LORD through reading and applying His Word daily, and to quit focusing on the garbage that the wicked throw at us. Take a breather and remember that the Lord Jesus is on the way, and for that we can rejoice. Amen.