Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 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. In this is love, not that we have 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 also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is 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 his Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.
1 John 4:7-21
When I worked at a summer camp in college, one of the most popular events each week for campers was when we took them to the ropes course. Every time, before they could do all of the fun things on the ropes course, a leader would give them a speech about how safe the equipment is. “These harnesses you’re wearing are so reliable, and these ropes that will be holding you can hold thousands of pounds!” The reason for presenting this evidence of security was to encourage campers that when they would climb up high, they could trust the equipment and not give into a fear of heights. Yet inevitably, every week, multiple campers would hear that speech, get to the top, and freak out! Admittedly, I have experienced the same thing.
This is because there is a difference between cognitively knowing that something is true and actually trusting it to be true. In a similar way, as Christians, we say that we know God loves us (and many of us have heard that since the time we were young children), but the way we live often contradicts what we say we believe. For example, our lives can be marked by constant worry or by not showing grace and forgiveness to difficult people. This happens even though we say we believe that the Creator and King over all things loves us and cares about us deeply.
So how do we trust and not just cognitively know that God loves us? Trust runs on the fuel of evidence, so when we steep our minds with the truth of the evidence of God’s love, our trust in Him grows in our hearts and is carried out into our lives.
This concept helps us understand what the Apostle John is doing in 1 John. He uses the word “love” 46 times in this short book, and 27 of those times are in this passage! In a passage filled with memorable language, John articulates a simple message: you are loved. In Christ, the Creator of everything and the only One whose opinion truly counts, loves you and delights in you. To fuel our trust in the love of God, John provides three concrete pieces of evidence of that love.
In a sermon on this passage, Ben Stuart, a pastor in Washington D.C., says that love sends, love sacrifices, and love stays.
1. Love sends (verses 7-9): The Father sent His son into the world. Out of love, Jesus was sent on a costly rescue mission (John 3:16-17; Luke 19:10). This is because love takes initiative. As we all know, if you love something or someone, you go after it.
2. Love sacrifices (verses 10-12): Jesus (the Son) was a sacrifice for our sins. The small stories of Hollywood tap into this theme all the time as our hearts deeply connect with the idea of someone sacrificing his or her life for someone else. Therefore, if you are struggling to know that you are loved by God, I encourage you to look at the cross and see a Savior who sacrificially took away God’s wrath toward you and me and turned it into favor instead (that’s what the word “propitiation” means in this passage). Knowing everything about us, even the things that we try to hide from others and even ourselves, Jesus did this for us while we were at our worst (Romans 5:8). As Robert Capon once said, “Jesus came to call sinners, not the pseudo-righteous. He came to raise the dead, not to buy drinks for the well behaved.”
3. Love stays (verses 13-15): The Holy Spirit lives in us. God promises that He will never leave us and will finish the work He started in us (Romans 8:31-39; Philippians 1:6). Human love leaves and abandons regularly, yet God’s love is as sure and stable as the most powerful anchor.
When we focus our attention on this evidence of God’s love for us, what effect does that have on us? People who know that they are loved by God live without fear (“perfect love casts out fear”) and love other people (“we love because He first loved us”). This is the proof that the love of God is in us as it’s a love that changes everything. Are you living with fear or with a lack of grace, patience, and forgiveness towards others? The remedy is not found in your strength, abilities, and effort, but in being molded by God’s love for you as most fully demonstrated in the Gospel.
Brennan Manning wrote, “My deepest awareness of myself is that I am deeply loved by Jesus Christ and I have done nothing to earn it or deserve it.” Is that your deepest awareness of yourself? Meditate on the evidence of God’s love in 1 John 4:7-21 until it is.