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Do I Dwell in Love here and now?
All the passages below are taken from D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ book “Life in Christ: Studies in 1 John.” It was preached in the 1940’s and re-published as one volume (formerly in five Volumes) in 2002 by Crossway Books.
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. 1 JOHN 4:16—17
As I HAVE REMINDED YOU, these verses are a kind of summary of the argument which the Apostle has been developing from verse 7 of this chapter. His theme has been the importance of loving the brethren, and he is developing that argument. He has said that to love the brethren is something we should be concerned about because ‘love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.’ Then he takes up this question of knowing God, and he tells us that God’s great love has been manifested in what He has done for us in and through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. So the great question is, do we know that? Indeed, he goes on to argue, in a subsidiary argument, that that is, in a sense, the only knowledge of God we can have. We cannot see God, but we may know Him in that vital, subjective manner, and he works out the various ways in which we arrive at that knowledge. Knowledge is very largely dependent upon objective facts---the things we have heard from the Apostles and the first Christians which we believe and accept. And having worked that out, he sums it up in the first half of verse 16:
‘We have known and believed the love that God hath to us.’
Now in the second half of verse 16 and in verse 17 which we are dealing with now, we have the summing up of the other part of the argument---namely, the importance of loving one another, and the value of this in its application to our Christian experience. It is this, of course, which was John’s primary object. He starts with it, and that brings him to the argument of the love of God and its manifestation. He deals with that, winds it up, and then winds up the original point with which he began; and that is what we have here.
Obviously, therefore, it is important for us to remember that these two things must always go together and be held together. We must never introduce a kind of artificial dichotomy between them; loving God and loving the brethren must always be taken together. Let me remind you again that our Lord, in His answer to the question that was put to Him when He was here on earth---‘Which is the first commandment of all?’---replied saying, ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself’ (Mark 12:28-31). They must always be taken together, and John shows that here, as the New Testament does everywhere in its teaching.
In other words, John here, though he has had a particular subsidiary argument, has really been summing up one great thing right through, and that is the assurance of salvation. And what he says in effect is that there is no ultimate assurance of God’s love to us and of our position and our standing unless we are living the life of love. That is ultimately the ground of assurance, and that is what John wanted to leave with these people. As we have seen, when he wrote he was an old man who knew that his time on earth was coming to an end, and he wanted to administer comfort to those people. He knew about their difficulties, about the world in which they lived; he knew trials were besetting them---those insidious heresies that were raising their heads, these antichrists and false teachers, quite apart from the inherent sinfulness of society and the world. He knew all about that, and he wanted to help them; and his great argument from the beginning has been that they must be assured of certain things. There is nothing as vitally important as our certain knowledge that God has loved us in particular in Christ, and that we therefore should be able to say, ‘We have known and believed the love that God hath to us.’
We can, therefore, add something to the list of ten tests which we considered earlier. You remember that we ended by saying that if we are at all uncertain about all this, if there is any hesitancy with regard to our ability to say, ‘I know the love that God has to me,’ if I am a little bit afraid of saying that the Son of God ‘loved me and gave himself for me,’ if we are unhappy about that, then the thing to do is to ask ourselves these questions. Now here we are reminded that we can add yet another, and this perhaps is still more important. The final question we therefore ask ourselves is this very practical one: Do we dwell in love? Are we living and abiding in love? That is the fourth test, you remember, which John applies: ‘God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.’ Not only that, but ‘herein is our love made perfect’---meaning, herein is love made perfect within us---‘that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world.’
This, therefore, is a very vital matter for our consideration. May I put it to you in the form of two main propositions which I think are obvious and inevitable, and yet they are not only profound---they are testing and I find them very searching. The first is that as Christians we are to dwell in love. Now what does John mean when he talks about dwelling in love? He takes that for granted about Christians. He does not stop to argue about it---he just states it. Christians are people who dwell in love; this is something vital and fundamental to them. I suggest that at the very minimum John means that Christians are those who are dwelling in an atmosphere of love, that their lives are controlled by the principles of love, that the great difference ultimately between the Christian and the non-Christian is that love is the controlling factor in the life of the Christian, whereas it is not in that of the non-Christian.
John has been elaborating this in the previous chapter, where he says that the non-Christian, the worldling, is typified ultimately by Cain. That is the non-Christian position---Cain, who murdered his brother. Of course, this does not mean that every non-Christian is a murderer but it does mean that is his mentality, his outlook; that is his spirit. He may murder with his life, as Kipling puts it, or he may murder in thought; he may murder another by the things he does to him in various ways, by things he says about him. His spirit, his outlook, his attitude is ultimately that.
The New Testament gives us many definitions of this. Paul in writing to Titus says of himself and of others before conversion that they were ‘hateful, and hating one another’ (Titus 3:3); that is it. But the Christian is entirely different; he is a ‘new man,’ and there is no respect in which he is more different than in this very matter of his spirit, of his outlook and mentality, says John. Christian men and women are characterized above everything else by this spirit of love. They abide, they dwell, they exist in a state of love---obviously so with respect to God and with respect to their fellow men and women. I have already reminded you of our Lord’s answer to the question about the great commandment. In other words, as John argues and as I hope to show you, that is, in a sense, the ultimate object of salvation---to bring us into a state in which we love. That is what salvation is for, to enable us to love God and to love our neighbour as ourselves. So that is a rough-and-ready definition of what is meant by dwelling or abiding in love---love to God, love to men.
But let us become a little more particular, and John indeed forces us to do so. He has here a most extraordinary statement, the last statement in verse 17; he says, ‘because as he is, so are we in this world.’ Christians are people who dwell in love, and that means, says John, that they really are like God; they are like the Lord Jesus Christ. There is a great discussion amongst the authorities as to who ‘he’ is in the phrase ‘as he is.’ Some say it is God the Father; some say God the Son. I do not think we can decide which it is, but in a sense it does not matter because the Father and the Son are the same in nature, the same in character. ‘He that hath seen me hath seen the Father,’ said our Lord when He was here on earth (John 14:9). So we can take it as both, and the astounding and amazing statement which the Apostle makes is that we, in this world, here in this world of time, are the same as He is, there out of time and in heaven and in the eternal world. As He is in His very nature in eternity, in heaven, in glory, so are we in this world before we go to heaven; even here on earth we are like Him.
So Isaac Watts was not romancing or simply giving rein to his imagination when he talked about ‘celestial fruits’ growing here on earthly ground; he was stating the very thing that John is putting to us in this verse---celestial fruits, the fruit of the Spirit, which is love. That is the first thing. ‘As he is’---the Father, the Son---‘as he is,’ and He is love; ‘so are we,’ even ‘in this world’ with all its problems and its difficulties and its trials and its contradictions. So this enables us to underline this tremendous statement a little more in detail; for us to dwell in love, therefore, means that we must have benevolence in our hearts. That is the great characteristic of God, because ‘God is love.’
What, then, does this mean? Well, our Lord gave an answer in His statement in the Sermon on the Mount: ‘He maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and the unjust’ (Matthew 5:45). That is God’s attitude towards mankind, and ‘as he is, so are we in this world.’ Therefore, this attitude of benevolence towards mankind and the world at large must be in us.
But let me put it a little more particularly still. Does this not also mean that our attitude towards other people is not determined and controlled by what they are, but by the love that is in us? Now that I think needs no demonstration at all. Is that not the great characteristic of God in His dealings with mankind? God’s love is not determined by us; it is in spite of us. Is that not the very essence of the whole gospel? Is that not the meaning of Christ’s death upon the cross? Why did God send His Son? Was it because of something He saw in us, in any one Christian? Of course not! God’s love to us is not controlled by us---not by what we do or think or say, nor by our attitude towards Him. It is something, if I may use the expression with reverence, that wells up in His eternal heart of love. There is no explanation of salvation except the love of God, caused by nothing save this self-generating love of His---not called forth by us, but emanating from Him. This, then, is the tremendous argument of the Apostle; ‘as he is, so are we in this world.’
But let me go a step further and put it like this: The great characteristic of the love of God, therefore, is that God does not consider Himself---God does not consider His own honour and glory. Rather, God considers us. God as He looks upon us does not go on saying, ‘This is what they have done to Me, this is how they have behaved with respect to Me---they have rebelled against Me; they have become offensive, ugly, and foul as the result of their attitude, and therefore. . .‘ Not at all! God---I say it again with reverence---in His dealings with us in Christ has not been considering Himself. He has considered us and our lost condition, and it is for that reason that He has done what He has done.
‘So if we are Christians,’ says John in effect, ‘it means that God is in us, and God is love; therefore, we must be like that.’ That means our attitude must not be determined and controlled by what other people are like or by what they do. It also does not mean that we are always to save ourselves and to claim the right of justice and honour and credit and all these other things. It means that we are not to look at ourselves and what we are doing; it means that we are to look at others and forget self in this extraordinary way and manner.
In other words, we can go a step further and put it like this: it means that, like God, we must see others as souls. We must see their need and their sorry plight; we must see them as victims of sin and of Satan. These things need no demonstration; there would not have been a single Christian were this not true of God. God looked upon us and the world, and He did not see us; He saw, rather, our captivity to Satan. He saw us in the bondage of iniquity; He saw that we were being ruined by this evil thing. He looked at us in spite of our sin; and as He is, so must we be if He is in us. ‘As he is, so are we in this world’; and that means, of course that, having looked upon others, not just as they are in all their offensiveness and in all their difficulty, we see them rather as lost souls. We see them as the serfs of Satan, as the victims of these evil powers and wickednesses in the heavenly places; and we are sorry for them, and compassion enters into our heart for them.
The result is that as God is in us, so we become ready to forgive and to forget, for that is what God has done with us. God has looked upon us and forgiven us; and even more wonderful, He has forgotten our sins---He has cast our sins into the sea of His forgetfulness. What a loving, wonderful thought that is, that God not only forgives our sin, but He has forgotten all about it! Only Omnipotence can do that. Thank God He can! He does not remember my past sins; He has forgotten them, and they are gone. ‘As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us’ (Psalms 103:12). Blessed be His name! ‘As he is, so are we’; because He is in us in this world, we must not only forgive---we must learn to forget. We must not think about our sins; we must not let them come back and dwell with us. We must banish them; we must be like God---forgiving and forgetting.
We must also become positive. We must be ready to leave our sins behind. God did not just passively decide to put our sins aside and forget them; God became active. He did something; He sent His Son, in spite of it all, into the world. Consider that great passage in Philippians 2:5-8. He did not consider Himself, He did not think of His equality with God a thing to be prized or clutched at, but He put it aside, humbled Himself, and became man. God the Father and God the Son spoke together in the eternal council about men and women in their lost state and condition and in their need of salvation. And when the Father laid the problem before the Son and asked Him, ‘Are You ready to do it?’ He did not say, ‘Am I to forsake heaven? Am I to humble myself? Is it fair? I am equal with You!’ No! He ‘thought it not robbery to be equal with God,’ but that did not make Him prize and clutch at the heavenly glories. He gladly put it all on one side; He divested Himself of the insignia of His eternal glory. He humbled Himself, took upon him the form of a servant, and faced the death of the cross, never thinking of Himself.
‘Let this mind be in you,’ says Paul. ‘Yes,’ says John, ‘as he is, so are we’; we are like that because He is in us. If we are truly His in this world, we are ready to come down and humble ourselves, to be misunderstood, to be laughed at and treated with scorn and derision, in a sense to be crucified---certainly in spirit, perhaps even in body---anything that may help, being always ready to do good, ready to please, not always on the defensive, not always demanding our rights and justice, but coming right down as He came down. ‘As he is. . .’
You remember the argument of our Lord? He said, ‘For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?’ (Matthew 5:46). If you do good to those who do good to you, well, what is there in it? That is the natural man, that is the animal in a sense; there is nothing special about that. This is what is special: ‘Do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which spitefully use you, and persecute you’ (Matthew 5:44). But why should I do good to those who hate me? Here is the answer: ‘Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect’ (Matthew 5:48). John here is only paraphrasing our Lord. That is what you are to be---‘perfect,’ says Christ; we are to be like God who is perfect, in this respect, ‘even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.’ Jesus is saying, ‘Love as the Father has loved you in sending His Son into the world to die for you and to save you. “Be ye therefore perfect.” As he is, so are we in this world.’ That is what it means to dwell in love.
Now let me go on to emphasise the second principle. The first was that we are to dwell in love. Now I want to change the emphasis and say that we are to dwell in love; we are to abide in love. In other words, this is not to be something spasmodic in our lives and experience; it is to be the natural attitude, the place in which we dwell. You will find that word used in Scripture. For example, ‘He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty’ (Psalm 91:1); that is the same idea. John is particularly fond of this word ‘abide.’ How often have we met with it in this first epistle---abiding, continuing, going on. The man who is not a Christian does not dwell in love.
So this love is abiding; it is not spasmodic. It is not being kind to other people only when they are kind to you but always. God does not change. He is ‘the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning’ (James 1:17). Thank God for that fact! What if God varied with our faults? What if He varied with us and our world, with the sun and the rain? There would never be any crops. But no; He does not change; He abides ever the same. And we are to be like that, not only when we are in the mood, not only when other people are a little bit less intractable, but always---dwelling and abiding.
How is this to be done? Does this not require perfection? Am I making the Christian life utterly impossible? Am I again to be charged with holding the standard too high? I am not complaining of such a charge; there is a sense in which I thank God if that charge is a true one. The preacher who makes the Christian life easy is one who does not know his New Testament, who is not true to his calling and commission. Here is the test: ‘As he is, so are we in this world.’ Christian people do not meet together to say nice things to one another. This is what we are meant to be! This is what we must be if we would have assurance of salvation and know ‘the love that God hath to us.’
So I suggest that these are some of the things we have to do. We must start always by realising the doctrine, always start with truth. Love is not something that can be dealt with directly; it is always something, as it were, produced indirectly; and the way to have this love of God in us is to realise the doctrine. What I mean is this: there is only one way I know to realise the love of God, and that is to realise the truth about myself. We have to be made worse before we can be made better; there are times when we have to be cruel to be kind. We may have to clean that wound before we can put in the oil that will soothe it. We must get rid of certain things, and that is a painful process. Therefore, the highway to realising the love of God is to realise the truth about ourselves.
In other words, there is only one way to realise the love of God, and that is to realise that you are a hopeless, damned sinner, that you can do nothing about yourself. You can never put yourself right; you can never make yourself fit to stand in the presence of God. You must realise that you are altogether lost and undone and heading straight for hell, and that is where you would arrive, were it not that God in His infinite, everlasting love sent His only begotten Son not only into the world, but to the cruel death of the cross, so that you might be forgiven, that you might be saved.
Have you realised that the love of God is already in you? It is when we come to the end of self and are utterly undone and then realise what God has done for us that we begin to realise that the love of God is in us. In other words, mere abstract thoughts upon God as love will never do it. The mystics have tried that way. They have produced psychological statements. But that is not what we find in the New Testament. The way the people John wrote to experienced the love of God was in terms of sin, condemnation, and loss and what God has done about it. It is there they found love, and especially in the statements about our Lord’s death upon the cross.
The second thing is meditation upon our Lord. We must recapture the lost art of meditation, and meditation especially upon Him. We must think again about that birth in Bethlehem---what it meant, what it cost, what it really involved. Try to grapple with it; it is baffling---the sacrifice, the humiliation. Look at His life; take it step by step and stage by stage. Look at what He endured and suffered through the thirty hidden years and the three busy years of his earthly ministry. Look at Him; remember what He has done and what He literally and actually suffered. Let us go over these things, let us remind ourselves of them; and then as we begin to realise what He did, we shall realise His love to us, and our love to Him will begin to develop within us and dwell with us, and also our love to others for the same reason.
Thirdly, in practice, having started with great doctrine and especially the doctrine concerning the Son of God, we have to face the situation that confronts us instead of avoiding it and turning our back upon it, excusing ourselves in terms of self-defence. I must relate every single situation that may develop in my life to the doctrines that I have been enumerating, and especially the doctrine of the cross. I am referring to that difficult person, that difficult situation in the business or office, or whatever. I do not care what it is---I repeat, I must take it and put it into the context of the cross. I must think in terms of that person; I must take the whole situation and just face it in the light of that. I must say that if God had treated me as I have treated this situation or this person, what would have happened to me? I must not avoid this; I must bring it into the open. I must flash the light of Calvary upon it, considering the heart of God which is eternal life. Is it not the case that half our troubles, and more, are simply due to the fact that we will not face the situation? We are always avoiding it. We say, ‘I believe in the doctrine of the cross and God’s love to me, but this situation is extremely difficult.’ But we must bring these things together; the whole of my life must be controlled by this principle---the doctrine of love.
In other words, my last general word of advice would be that we must discipline ourselves. We must deal with ourselves actively, and we must deal with everything that is opposed to this life of love. This is a full-time matter. I must realise that every detail in my life counts. I am one; I cannot divide myself up into my spirit part and my other part. I cannot divide myself up into what I do on Sunday and what I do on the other six days in the week. Everything that happens to me is all a part of me. So, my whole life must be disciplined. I must watch myself and observe myself in every detail of my life, and I must mortify everything that is opposed to this love. I must discipline ‘my members which are upon the earth’ (Colossians 3:5)---my affections, lusts, passions, pride, self-glory, and all like things. I must keep them down; I must mortify them. I must deal violently with them, in order that I may become more and more like Him.
And perhaps, if I may end with one particularisation, one which is so often emphasised in the New Testament, I must watch my tongue. This ‘little member,’ as James called it, this unruly member, this little rudder that turns the whole ship of life, is apparently so unimportant, and yet what havoc it makes! You cannot get evil and good to come out of the same fountain; you do not get thorns and grapes from the same tree---these are the words of the New Testament (James 3:1-12). Control it, says the Bible. That may sound almost trivial and childish; but you know, there is a distinction between thinking and saying a thing. Do not say it, and if you do not say it you will find that you stop thinking it. Put a watch upon your lips and upon your tongue---that is one of the first things in this life of love. If you cannot control your thoughts, control your speech; and by controlling your speech you will come to use greater control upon your thoughts, and your life of love will grow and develop. This is very practical, but it is of primary and fundamental importance.
Let me give you one more general truth: The ultimate way to develop this life of love is to remind ourselves of the consequences that follow from such a development. ‘Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment.’ ‘If what I have already said does not influence you,’ says the Apostle in effect, ‘then remember that a day will come when you will have to stand and give an account; if you want to be able to do that with boldness and with confidence, dwell in love here and now.’(517-526)
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