I want to give you some initial thoughts before we jump in because some people may be visiting or perhaps your mind is a long way away but first of all to say that this is a very comforting letter. John has not written to confuse us or to waste our time. He’s written, he tells us, in the beginning, so that we will have fellowship with God and we will be joyful, so his purpose is extremely comforting.
He is not the counsellor who is writing to tell you that you are wonderful and that all your resources are inside you. He is writing to tell you that God is wonderful and he has power and love beyond what you can imagine. It’s also a very stretching letter because if you are going to be serious about fellowship with God, it means you have to take his truth seriously, you have got to take his love seriously, and you have to take his holiness seriously, and you can’t pick one or two out of the three.
Many of our griefs in the Christian life come because we would like to have the truth but not the holiness, or we are playing with the love and not the truth, and we need the truth, the love and the holiness of God if we are to have real good fellowship with him.
If I might put it like this – the package of Christianity is not reducible.
You may think that 1 John is a fairly random letter as though he just goes all over the place but I have discovered in going back and reading the letter for this particular Sunday, that he begins by talking about the need for holiness and then the need for love and then the need for truth and then he goes back to the beginning, and he talks about holiness and love and truth – it’s all very systematic and today, surprisingly, instead of going back to holiness, he pretty well finishes with the great subject of love.
If you think he had said things about love before, you are right, but the first time he spoke about a love he said it’s linked to being in the light. The second time he spoke about love, he said it’s a proof that you’ve got a new life and the third time today that he’s going to speak about love, he’s going to tell us it’s a mark of knowing the God of Love. So he’s spoken about love 3 times but once to do with light, once to do with life and now to do with the love of God.
Martin Lloyd-Jones in his Commentary on 1 John spends 140 pages on this section, and it’s because he preached 13 sermons on this section. Now we’re going to try and rush through it in one! It’s a complex passage as you may have noticed when it was being read for us, and I think I need to say to you that on a quick reading, it sounds a little bit watery.
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God is love – you are in love – love is God and your love, and we love, and He loves, and God loves!! It’s the sort of passage which you could imagine a wedding couple choosing because it’s just like muzak that seems to say something watery, but I want to show you that it’s not watery at all.
The Great Sweep of the Love of God
Why are we going to look at the great sweep of the love of God? Because the great sweep of the love of God has reached out to people and if it’s reached out to you, you’re infinitely blessed and the second thing we are going to look at this morning is the security of the love of God.
If the love of God has begun to change you, you’re secure today in a new way, and you’re secure on the last day in a new way. So let’s look at that together -1 John 4:7
“Dear friends, let us love one another,” says John for about the third time in this letter. He’s going to show in verses 7-12 that the love of God begins in the nature of God. God is love. It goes on supremely to the sacrifice of Christ, the atoning sacrifice. It’s then going to be reflected in changed lives in the fellowship. It’s going to witness to the world, and it’s going to rise back in love for God ultimately ideally.
As the rain comes down and the condensation goes up, so the love of God comes down, and the love to God goes up. That’s the great sweep of God.
What I don’t want you to miss this morning is that John is not writing to dead people. He is not writing to unbelievers. He’s not saying to people ‘I want you to do the impossible and I want you to start to be selfless suddenly’. He’s writing to the family of God whom God has changed.
During the week I had coffee with a guy who occasionally plays with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, and his wife plays with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and the only time we could meet he had to bring his little boy with him who is 6 or 7yrs. We are sitting there and having tea/coffee together and here’s this little boy, and I was trying to make conversation with him and would it surprise you that I was asking him – “do you play a musical instrument?” Would it surprise you that he plays a musical instrument? Not at all – his parents are musical, the family are musical, and he is musical. That’s what John is saying. John is saying ‘loved people’ love. Literally beloved – love.
I might say to your this morning ‘Australian people’ it’s great to have one or two Australians turn up at St Thomas every now and again. I could call out ‘Australian people – speak Australian’. Manchester Family – stand tall! It’s natural, isn’t it? And if you are loved by God – love the family. If you don’t speak Australian, probably you are not Australian. If you don’t love the family of God, you are probably not part of the family of God. So we are to love one another because (verse 8) God is love.
Three little words that everybody knows but is actually very hard doctrine to believe. Watch the news, read the papers, go through the normal world. It can be complicated to believe that God is love. But God’s love is real, and God’s nature is love, and everything God does is affected by love, and all God’s activity is marked by love. Can you believe that? Everything God is doing is affected and directed by love.
You may be doubting that this morning. It may seem to you that stuff is happening which has nothing to do with the love of God but take it from the text of the Scriptures that God is love and therefore all his activity is marked, directed by love.
Now if his nature is love (and it is) and that goes of course with all his other great qualities, when you belong to Christ his new nature starts to change you, and you become loving increasingly. Of course, your new nature grapples with your old nature and our old nature is selfish and our new nature is increasingly selfless. But God does a wonderful job of transforming us. He doesn’t just give us a book of rules. He gives a new life through Christ who died and that new life begins to make us into an increasingly loving person, especially with love and love for his people – it’s the work of re-birth.
Now all of that is wonderful and true but it could be just talk, couldn’t it except for verse 9. God showed his love, gave shape to his love, gave power or showed the power of his love in that he gave his son Jesus to die on the cross. And the more you think about the cross and Jesus’ death on the cross, the clearer it will be to you that God is a God of love. The more you think about who it was who died and why he died and what it means that he died and the implications that he died, the more you’ll begin to realise that God is a God of love. We read in verse 9 “He sent his one and only Son”.
I want to just go on a little theological detour for those of you who like theology and those of you who don’t can tune out at this point and I’ll raise my left hand and call you back in a minute or two.
I want you to notice that verse 9 says “God sent his Son”. If he sent his Son, it means his Son was pre-existent. Because we were not sent into the world, we were born into the world, but his Son existed before Bethlehem and was sent into the world. Not only are we told that he was sent into the world, but we are told in verse 9 that he was God’s or is God’s one and only son and the original language says “only begotten Son”.
What does “only begotten Son” mean? Those of you who have been Christians for a long time will know that it’s there in John 3:16 – the most basic Kindergarten verse in the Christian Church that God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son. What does “only begotten” mean? Well, some of you will say “well I know what that means – it means that God generated his Son into the womb of Mary. He was begotten, he was born into the world, and his earthly sonship was seen”. But is that where Jesus’ sonship began? Well, the Creeds tell us, that Jesus is eternally begotten.
The old Book of Common Prayer Creed says “begotten of his Father before all worlds”. So God had a Son before the Son came into the world. The reason for this, of course, is that Jesus has received from God the Father for eternity his sonship. He has had an eternal sonship relationship with the Father. He hasn’t received his existence from the Father – the existence is his own. He hasn’t received his deity from the Father – the deity is his own. But he has received somehow from eternity from the Father his sonship. He has had eternal sonship with the Father, but he has always been the Son of God, but his earthly sonship appeared at Bethlehem. Eternal sonship became earthly sonship. He sent his one and only Son – his only begotten Son into the world, and he sent him. (Now you can come back in case you are still following the verses with me!).
He sent his Son (verse 10) to die a sacrifice so that we (verse 9) might live. Now, this is the greatest and the most supreme proof of the love of God. If you want to know whether God is love – don’t ask God in your prayer to prove it by doing something immediate and local because that may or may not happen. But ask yourself whether God has done something universal and eternal which is loving and the answer, of course, is he has. When Jesus came and died on the cross, that was a universal event, and that was an eternal event because once Jesus came and died on the cross, the two greatest problems in the universe were solved. The greatest problem in the universe is that God would be justly angry with sin.
There’s no escape, but when Jesus died on the cross, the anger of God was turned away to Jesus meaning that God can now look with approval at believers. The other great problem is our objective and genuine and real guilt which sat, so to speak, on our back and at the cross God took that guilt, and he turned it to his Son, and his Son paid for the guilt so that we can now stand before God and accept it and in a sense innocent, approved and confident and because that magnificent event took place, that God’s anger in a sense was translated into approval and our guilt was translated in a sense to confidence, everything else is going to flow from that.
Every other problem that we are concerned about will eventually be dealt with because that primary issue has been dealt with.
So God’s activity in sending Christ to die which is the most loving action the world has ever seen, and which has permanent effects and eternal effects, gives the believer a brand new life and gives the believer a brand new love so that we begin to have a new loving activity. We’ve heard a little bit about some of that this morning. And that’s why verse 11 makes sense which on its own would look almost ridiculous,wouldn’t it? God has done this incredible act of sending his son.
Verse 11, “dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another”. Well, who can match the love of God? We’re not being asked to match the love of God, we being asked to reflect the love of God.
This is the third time I’ve spoken on loving one another, and because it’s the third time, I want to say a quick 3 new things.
The first is this: if God sent his Son and his Son died on the cross and his Son on the cross called out to his Father basically would you please help me? If the Father stood and refused to help his Son so that through the death of his Son he might help us, it must have been excruciating for God to hear the cry of his Son and leave him and we know therefore that that must have cost God to love like that. Therefore we should not be surprised if we are going to love one another, there is not some cost. There is bound to be some cost, isn’t there? It’s going to mean some little sacrifices or some big sacrifices because we are reflecting the massive sacrifice of God.
The second is this: I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that it is a priority for us, an urgent priority to keep gathering together with the people of God because we are in a day of unbelief and we need the people of God to gather. We don’t need the people of God to be sort of shopping and occasionally dropping in otherwise that’s just going to reinforce to the world that belief is pretty optional. But have you realised that when it comes to fellowship and gathering the people of God, that the leadership in the local church is quite powerless? If you are a Home Group Leader, you can’t get your members to turn up, and if you are a Pastor, you can’t get your congregation to turn up. We don’t have any weapons; we don’t get to sort of fire you if you are absent as you might at work, and we don’t have any sort of great incentives really do we? It’s not as if I can say to you “please turn up next week; I’m going to be telling one of my best jokes!” “Please turn up next week there’s going to be chocolate cake at morning tea!” We don’t have any incentives. But we don’t need any constraints, weapons or incentives either. Why do we not need them? – because the love of God is at work in the people of God. And the love of God at work in the people of God is more powerful than any constraints or any weapons or any threats or any pseudo-rewards. To know that the love of God is at work in your heart and that you have a love for God and a love for the people of God and that you’ll be doing your best to care for the people of God, that is the strength of the ministry, isn’t it? Otherwise, we’d be completely lost. But God is at work to do something that is infinitely more powerful than the weapons of the world or the constraints of force.
The last thing to say quickly on the subject of loving one another is that have you noticed that John tells us still to do it even though he knows the love of God is at work in the people of God, he still tells us in verse 11 – ‘come on,let’s do it’. Why does he tell us? Well because the word of God is important. We listen to the word of God, and the commands of God are important. We seek to do the commands of God.
During the week I bumped into a couple who had not been at St Thomas for about 15 years, and I asked them, in a brief, friendly conversation in the street, have you found another fellowship, have you found another church? Quick as a flash she said – “No we talk direct!”
I thought about how lucky God is to have you talk direct! And I thought as I walked away I wonder whether you listen to God? It’s one thing isn’t it to have a friendship with a person who just talks at you. It’s another thing to have a friendship when a person listens to you and God says in his word “dearly beloved, love one another”. If we listen to him, we’ll seek to do it. We won’t just tell him what we want; we’ll seek to do what he wants. Now the last verse in the sweep (verse 12) is the remarkable “no one has ever seen God; but if we love one another”. Those two little phrases look like someone has stuck two bits together that don’t go together. It just doesn’t seem to be logical. “No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another”. But that little phrase “no one has ever seen God” that’s not the first time John has used this phrase.
John has used this phrase in his Gospel. John’s Gospel 1:18. “No one has ever seen God – Jesus came”. God is invisible, and that’s why everybody in the Old Testament didn’t get to really see God, they just saw visions of God. God is invisible, he is a spirit.
No one has ever seen God, but Jesus came. Now Jesus has gone. God is still invisible. How does he deal with the subject and the difficulty of his invisibility in the world?
1 John 4:12 “No one has ever seen God if we love one another”. There’s the genius of God. It’s the loving church which is the great apologetic. Of all the apologetics, the one that repeatedly and regularly helps people to come to faith in Christ is the love of other Christians.
Truth is wonderful, conviction is wonderful but the love of God’s people is the great apologetic in the world, and John says here in his letter “no one has ever seen God” – that’s a real difficulty – but if we love one another, his love is completed in us because it’s not completed in the angels.
The love of God is completed when the sinners who put their trust in Christ and become new start to love one another and the watching world sits up and says ‘where does this come from? ‘ If you saw the article by Matthew Paris which has I think been on-line and it was originally published in one of the UK papers, he says I am an atheist; Africa needs the love of God. It’s a remarkable article. He says I am an atheist, I don’t believe in God (that’s my position), but he said I’ve travelled to Africa and I’ve watched the missionaries at work and it’s not just the social work, it’s the gospel. Africa needs the love of God. And there he is, he is caught in this double position of saying I don’t believe and Africa needs God – I’ve seen it. And there’s John you see giving us the sweep of the love of God. It starts in his nature, seen at the cross, changes the believer, gathers the fellowship, impacts the world and turns back in praise to God. The great sweep of god – it’s miraculous, it’s life-changing, and it’s brilliant and if you’ve been affected by it, praise God for that.
The Security of the Love of God
These are very complicated verses. Basically what John is going to tell us in this last section is that if the love of God has changed your heart, it gives you some encouragement today and it gives you encouragement for tomorrow.
He shows us, hasn’t he, that the love of God is the very, very high call.
Christ died, and we reflect something of that sacrificial love. He doesn’t want you, however, to be insecure. It’s not as though God is saying to you ‘well I’m going to give you two sticks and some matches and I want you to leave the building, and I want you to solve the heating problems of Sydney’.
Every now and again you feel like that don’t you? You think well gee this is a big ask. Go out and love the believers, love the world and actually I’m feeling pretty empty and I could do with a bit of love myself, and I wouldn’t mind somebody coming up and looking after me and yet I’m being told that I am going to go out and look after everybody else.
But God is not giving us two sticks and telling us to go and solve the heating problems of Sydney – he’s giving us a thousand sticks and a box of matches and telling us – just light a little fire where you are. So he says in verse 14 ‘God sent his Son’ – that means you have become one of his people – and verse 13 God has given his spirit – he will make you new and help you and enable you.
Verse 15 – you have faith in Christ I trust, well that’s a proof of new life and verse 16 we are going to rely on the love of God. So there you are friends, if you are being told and I am being told that we have to go from this place and love one another and love the wider world as best as we can, we have been given through Christ new life, and we have been given by the Spirit the resources we need and the proof of that is that we have come to put our faith in Christ and we are also able to rely on the love of God.
He has given us all we need for the task that he calls us to do. It’s not as though the will of God is cancelled by the provision of God. The provision of God matches the will of God and more. And this is meant to encourage you.
Lloyd-Jones says in his Commentary “if I love the brethren, the very fact that I do love them and that I am capable of loving them gives me assurance because apart from the love of God in me, I could not love them. So if I find myself loving a person who is not lovable, if I find myself praying for someone who has been persecuting me, helping someone who has done his or her best to harm me, then God is within me. Because if he were not in me, I would never do it. I do not want to do this by nature so if I love the brethren I have a certainty that God who is love is at work in me”
And that’s what John says. Take heart for today. God has given you some new love for the believers. And five times in these verses he says that God lives in you and you live in him. He lives in you by his Spirit. You live in him like a branch in the vine. You are joined to him. You belong to him. You are connected to him. You live – you can do it. And then he says that this new love which is in your heart is also to help you to have confidence for tomorrow.
Look at verse 17. ‘In this way, love is made complete among us so that we’ll have confidence on the Day of Judgment because in this world we are like him. There’s no fear of love. But perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love’.
The point that he is making is this: if the love of God has begun to appear in you, it gives you encouragement that you have a new life which is going to stand before Christ fearless.
It’s a fascinating test you see because normally we would tell a person ‘don’t look at yourself and see how you are going – look at Christ and see what he did’. We normally would say to people, wouldn’t we – don’t be a hypochondriac in the Christian life – don’t think about yourself all the time, don’t examine yourself, don’t check yourself all the time’.
But John says, and he says this very carefully, our salvation depends on Jesus but we take encouragement that God has begun a new love in us. Our salvation rests on the love of Christ, but we receive encouragement from the love that has come to us from the Spirit. That means that on the last day you will be able to stand before him with new life and as Jude says ‘without fault and with great joy’. The judgment day is coming; it’s a genuine day, very wonderful day. It’s a day where evil will be dealt with. It’s a day where righteousness will be vindicated. Every believer looks forward in some way to that day coming, and God who of course has a perfect heart will guarantee that that day will come.
I don’t know if you’ve been to see the old film, Robin Hood – I don’t often mention movies, but if you’ve been to see the film Robin Hood, there’s not a lot of archery in Robin Hood, but there is one great piece of archery at the end of the movie. I don’t think I’ll completely spoil the movie by telling you this but at the end of the movie, the guy who represents the greatest evil and nastiness which has caused terrible damage to the people of England is caught up in a battle, and then he escapes. Towards the end of the movie, he is escaping rapidly, galloping on his horse up the beach and there is this dreadful sense that evil is going to escape, but no Russell Crowe (Robin Hood) grabs his bow, and we zoom in to the bow, and we get to follow the arrow, and we see the arrow leave the bow and the arrow moves down the beach, and you’ll be pleased to know that the arrow catches the guy right through the neck. And there is a sense in which evil has been stopped, and justice has been done.
Now, of course, the atheist has no place for judgment, no place for the great day of justice. It’s a tragedy for the atheist. Of course, it’s very convenient for the atheist because there is no day of accountability, but it’s also a dreadful philosophy and a poor piece of fantasy that there’ll be no judgment day because what the atheist is basically saying is that nothing will be called to account.
The evil-doer will do his worst, and then he’ll just slip away but the judgment day is coming, and John says not only is it possible that the love of God would cause you to be encouraged in the present, but the love of God will increasingly cause you to look forward to that day. It will drive out your fear, and it will remind you that Christ has removed your guilt and the work of God in you is going to give you increased confidence to look forward to the day of meeting Jesus.
So let me summarise this whole sermon this morning by saying to you something like this:
If God’s nature which is love has caused you to have a new nature of loving his people. And if God’s activity which is to give his Son has caused you to have a new activity of loving his people and if God’s mission which is to see his love reach the world has caused you to have a new mission to see his love reach the world, it sounds as though the love of God which sweeps down from heaven has caught you up and if it’s caught you up, be encouraged. Because today that’s a sign you belong to him and on the last day, you’ll be standing there with great joy.
Let’s bow our heads, Our loving Heavenly Father, we thank you this morning that beyond anything we deserve, you have revealed yourself to be the God of love acting in supreme generosity through the death of the Lord Jesus, reaching by your Spirit to change hearts and lives, gathering a family, impacting the world and returning in great praise to you.
We give you our thanks for this love which has affected us and transformed us and we pray that you would fill us with a greater love for you and a greater love for your people and a greater love for the lost and we ask that as we live this love in your world, we would be marked by the security of it and the great security of standing before you without fault and with great joy. So hear our prayer and please enable us we ask in Jesus’ Name – Amen