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God is Love
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.
Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loved, is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not, knoweth not God; for God is love. 1 JOHN 4:7—8
BEFORE WE START on our consideration of these verses, I suggest to you that in my opinion John has really finished his active teaching at the end of verse 6 in this chapter and that what we find after that is but a kind of reemphasis of what he has already been saying. There is no fresh doctrine from here on; he has laid down the two vital things---fellowship and sonship, and if we have these nothing can harm us.
But the man was such a wise teacher that, having said all that, he now ends with a practical exhortation; and the passage from the seventh verse in the fourth chapter to the end of verse 12 in the fifth chapter is just a repetition of these three things. And he starts with this particular matter of loving one another. He says, ‘Beloved, let us love one another,’ and he goes on with that theme until the first verse of the fifth chapter. Then from the second verse he goes back again to the all-importance of keeping the commandments; and from verse 5 to the end of verse 12 in the fifth chapter he returns to the correctness of belief, and especially to a correct belief concerning the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Then from verse 13 to the end you have a kind of summary of the whole teaching.
Now I remind you of the scheme because it does help us to understand exactly what the Apostle has to say. So then, having done that, let us go back to this particular section, which begins with verse 7 in chapter 4 and goes to the end of verse 1 in chapter 5. John comes back once more to insist upon the vital importance of this demonstration of brotherly love. He has done it twice over, and he has been careful to go into details in his exposition of it, but still he comes back to it, and therefore I deduce that as the Apostle thus focuses upon this subject and dwells upon it and repeats it, it must be something which is of vital and paramount importance to him. It is interesting to observe that when he has finished his doctrine and direct exhortation, he puts this question of loving one another first.
This is characteristic of John. John is sometimes described as the Apostle of love. People say that Paul is the Apostle of faith, John the Apostle of love, and Peter the Apostle of hope; but I dislike these comparisons, because nothing on the subject of love has ever been written to compare with Paul’s 1 Corinthians 13. Yet I suppose there is a sense in which there is something in such a distinction. However, it is very clear that this question of love is of vital importance, and John constantly emphasises it; and it is in connection with this that he says some of the most glorious and elevating things that can be found in the whole of Scripture. We have, for example, the great statement, ‘God is love’; but it is the whole question of brotherly love that led him to say it. It was as he thought about this that he arrived at that great statement.
This, then, I would suggest, is indeed one of the things that is emphasised more than anything else in the whole of the New Testament. Our blessed Lord Himself at the very end of His ministry kept on repeating this same thing---‘Love one another.’ He constantly told them that the world would be against them and that they would have tribulation. ‘But,’ he kept on saying, ‘you love one another, and that is how the world will know that you are my disciples; this is the way in which you can demonstrate more clearly than anything else that you are my true followers and that you are children of God.’ You will find this standing out in a most exceptional way if you read John 13—17.’ But it is indeed a great theme running right through the entire New Testament---the Gospels and the Epistles.
I do not hesitate, therefore, to say that the ultimate test of our profession of the Christian faith is, I believe, this whole question of our loving one another. Indeed, I do not hesitate to aver that it is a more vital test than our orthodoxy. I am the last man in the world to say anything against orthodoxy, but I am here to say that it is not the final test. Orthodoxy is absolutely essential; this epistle has shown us that repeatedly, and it will show it to us again. We must believe the right things, for apart from that we have nothing at all and we have no standing whatsoever; so the correctness of belief is absolutely essential. And yet I say that when we come to the realm of experience and self-examination, the test of orthodoxy is not the ultimate test.
Alas, let us admit it, it is possible for a person to be absolutely correct and yet not to be a Christian. It is possible for men and women to give perfect intellectual assent to the propositions that are to be found in the Bible; it is possible for them to be interested in theology and to say that one theology is superior to another and to accept and defend and argue about it, and yet to be utterly devoid of the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and of the love of God in their hearts. It is a terrible thought, it is a terrible possibility, but it is a fact. There have been men, also, who have clearly been perfectly orthodox---champions of the faith, and yet they have denied that very faith in the bitterness with which they have sometimes defended it. I repeat, the test of orthodoxy, while it is so vital and essential, is not enough.
There is something, as John shows us in these two verses without going any further, that goes very much more deeply and is a more certain guarantee of where we really are. I suggest that it is even a more thorough test than the exercise of faith as a principle. I need not emphasise that. Paul has done this once and for ever in 1 Corinthians 13 (here paraphrased): ‘Though I have faith that I can remove mountains, and have not love, I am nothing. Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, though I have knowledge and understanding and wisdom, if it is without love, it is no good; it is like sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal---no use at all.’ Faith is a most glorious and valuable thing, and yet there is something deeper than that. Indeed, there is a more thoroughgoing test, and it is this test of brotherly love---love for one another.
Likewise, this is a more thorough test than conduct and behaviour. John has a great deal to say about that; conduct and behaviour and deportment are of the most vital importance. ‘Be not deceived,’ says Paul. ‘God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap’ (Galatians 6:7). And remember what he tells the Corinthians: ‘Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God’ (1 Corinthians 6:9-10). Conduct is essential and all-important, and yet the fact that men and women live good, moral, and highly ethical lives does not prove that they are Christians. The ultimate test of our whole position is this question of love. Do we possess the love of which the Apostle is here speaking?
So let us approach it more directly. What is this love? Well, it is generally agreed that it has reference to Christian people. John is not talking about people who are not Christians; he is here emphasising this one thing to those who claim to be Christians, to those within the faith. And this, evidently, is an exhortation which is necessary. What does he mean when he exhorts and pleads with us to ‘love one another’? I cannot think of a better way of putting it than simply to say that we are to be manifesting in our lives with one another, and in our attitude towards one another, everything that we read about love in 1 Corinthians 13. We are not to be puffed up; we are not to be easily provoked; we are not to think evil; we are not to rejoice in evil about others; we are to hope for all things and to hope for the best in other people.
I am afraid that as we read those words together, we all feel condemned. Loving one another is to love like that, and not only those whom we happen to like, but even those whom we dislike. That is the test of the Christian. You remember how our Lord put it in the Sermon on the Mount. He said, ‘If ye love them which love you, what reward have ye?’ (Matthew 5:46). That is not difficult---anybody can do that---natural love does that. But the whole test of the Christian is to love the difficult person and to manifest 1 Corinthians 13 with the trying person.
‘But I thought you said,’ says someone, ‘that this is only applicable to Christian brethren?’ Yes, it is; but, alas, we all know that though we are Christians we are not perfect; there are things about all of us that irritate others. God, forgive us for it. There are things that should not belong to us, but they are there, and this calls for patience in others, it calls for sympathy, it calls for understanding; and that is what John is pleading for at this point. He is asking these people to do all they can to help one another, to bear with one another, not to be antagonistic, not to become irritated. If you see your brother at fault, be patient with him, pray for him, try to help him, be sorry for him, instead of feeling it is something that is hurting you. See it as something that is hurting him terribly and doing him great harm and robbing him of so much joy in his Christian life.
That is what love means---that you somehow detach yourself from the problem and do not think of it in terms of that which is hurting you, but look upon it as Christ did, and have compassion for that person, take hold of him, love him out of it. I do not want to go into this in detail because I am anxious rather to emphasise the great appeal which John makes and the terms in which he puts that appeal, trusting that as we do so we shall all not only feel condemned for our failure, but also that we shall feel a great sense of longing to live this Christian life in all its glory and in all its fullness.
Now John not only puts this as an appeal, he lifts it to a higher level. He goes further than that, and he puts it in such a way that it becomes something very solemn, and it becomes a warning. That, again, is something that is so typical and characteristic of the New Testament method of teaching holiness. It does not consist of a mere denunciation of sins or the doing of certain little things. It is so easy to stand and condemn people who do certain things; but that is not the teaching of holiness. This is holiness---loving one another---and this is to be seen in terms of our whole relationship to God. It is a great doctrinal matter, and the New Testament always puts the teaching about holiness in terms of ultimate doctrine. Let us see how John does this here.
He does it in a very characteristic way. John, as we have had occasion to see in our study of this epistle, had an interesting type of mind. There was a great deal of the poet and the mystic in him. His method is not logical like that of Paul. As someone has said, John thinks in circles; he generally starts on a practical point, then he philosophises about it in a Christian way, and then he arrives at some glorious statement of doctrine. And this is a perfect illustration of his method.
In my opinion, John ends with what Paul would have said at the start. John says, ‘Beloved, let us love one another . . . every one that loveth is born of God.’ Then comes the negative which he is so fond of: ‘He that loveth not, knoweth not God,’ and then he says, ‘for God is love.’ Now that is the poet’s way of arriving at truth, but I think it will perhaps be more helpful to us, especially those of us who are not poetic and those of us who are more logically minded, if we put it the other way round. The fundamental statement is, ‘God is love’; and because God is love, certain things must be true of us. That is the logical approach.
So, let us start like this, and more than ever do I feel my utter and complete inadequacy as I try to handle words like these. Indeed, who is sufficient for these things? What right has a pigmy man to make such statements as these? And yet it is true---‘God is love.’ No one can answer that; one trembles even to handle it; it cannot be analysed. I simply want to point out that John does not say merely that God loves us or that God is loving. He goes beyond that. He says, “God is love”; God essentially is love; God’s nature is love; you cannot think of God without love.’
Of course he has already told us that God is light in exactly the same way---that was the first pronouncement. ‘This then is the message God is light’ (1:5), and in exactly the same way ‘God is love’ and God is spirit. This baffles the imagination; it is something that is altogether beyond our comprehension, and yet we start with it.
St. Augustine and others deduce from this the doctrine of the Trinity. I think there may be a great deal in that; this very fact that God is love declares the Trinity---God the Father loves the Son, and the link is the person of the Holy Spirit. Ah! this is high doctrine; it is beyond us. All I know is that God, in the very essence of His nature and being, is love, and you cannot think of God and must not think of Him except in terms of love. Everything that God is and does is coloured by this; all God’s actions have this aspect of love in them and the aspect of light in the same way. That is how God always manifests Himself---light and love.
‘Therefore, because that is the fundamental postulate, because that is so true of God,’ John is saying, ‘that works itself out for us like this: Because God is love, we ought to love one another, for three reasons.’ The first is that ‘love is of God’; in other words, love is from God, love flows from God. It is as if John were turning to these people and saying, ‘You know, we ought to love one another. We ought more and more to clutch at the great privilege we have of being like God. God loves, and this love I am talking about,’ says John, ‘is something that only comes from God---it is derived from Him.’
John is not talking about natural love at all---let us get rid of that idea. The Greek scholars know that this is a word that really belongs to the New Testament. The pagans did not understand it; it was a new conception altogether. Indeed, there was a sense in which the Jews themselves did not understand it; it was something new that God gave to the world through Jesus Christ. Our whole idea of love is so debased, it is so carnal; it is the thing you read about in the newspapers or see in the cinema. But that is not the thing that John is speaking about. He is speaking about this love that comes from God, something that God Himself is doing. ‘Beloved,’ says John, ‘love one another. Cannot you see that as you are doing this you are proving that you are of God? You are doing something that God Himself is doing.’ How foolish we are not to rise to the great height of our calling; let us manifest the fact that we have received this from God. That is the first reason for brotherly love.
The second reason for loving one another is that it is the evidence of our new birth. ‘Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God.’ Now that is why I said at the beginning that this is the most thorough test of whether we are true Christians or not. You see, what finally makes us Christians is that we are born again, we are born of God. It is not a certain intellectual proposition; it is not that we are defenders of the faith and so are concerned about being strictly orthodox; it is not that we are highly moral and ethical; it is not that we do a lot of good and are benevolent. The one thing that makes us Christians is that we are born of God, that we are partakers of the divine nature---nothing less than that, nothing short of that.
‘Here is the thing that proves you are born of God,’ says John in effect; and this works out in two ways. Only those who are born of God can love like this; nobody else can. The natural man cannot exercise this love; it is obvious that he cannot. Look at the life of the world and you see the breakdown; the natural man cannot love in this sense. The only people who can love as God loves are those who have received the nature of God. It is no use asking the world to ‘love one another.’ It is impossible; they are incapable of doing it. We need the divine nature within us before we can truly love one another. If within the church you have failure on the part of men and women to love one another, what hope is there for the world to do this? It is utterly impossible.
Let me put it like this: According to this argument, and this is the argument of the New Testament everywhere, those who are born of God must love one another---they cannot help it. If something of the divine nature is in me, and the divine nature is love---‘God is love’---then there must be this principle of love within me. It must be here, it must be manifesting itself; and if I am not conscious of this life within me, and if I am not manifesting this life somehow or other, however feebly, then I am not a Christian.
As we have said, John does not put this merely as an exhortation. He puts it in such a way that it becomes a desperately serious matter, and I almost tremble as I proclaim this doctrine. There are people who are unloving, unkind, always criticising, whispering, backbiting, pleased when they hear something against another Christian. Oh, my heart grieves and bleeds for them as I think of them; they are pronouncing and proclaiming that they are not born of God. They are outside the life of God; and I repeat, there is no hope for such people unless they repent and turn to Him. They belong to the world; the murderous spirit of Cain is in them. God is love, and if I say I am born of God and the nature of God is in me, then there must be some of this love in me. ‘Every one that loveth is born of God,’ and everyone who is born of God loves---the two statements mean the same thing, so that this is proof positive, final evidence, of my new birth and that I am born of God.
Do you feel any love within you towards that person you naturally dislike, that person who is so irritating and can be in certain respects so hurtful to you? Do you know a sense of compassion and pity? Do you pray for that person? Can you truly say you are sorry? That is what love does. Do you feel that with regard to these people? If you are born of God, you must, however feebly.
And, lastly, John says that to love one another is evidence of spiritual knowledge. ‘Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.’ He puts this negatively also: ‘He that loveth not, knoweth not God.’ In other words, it is by manifesting this life to one another that we give proof of the fact that we have a truly spiritual knowledge, that we really know God. Now this is the logical development of spiritual knowledge; it is to know God. God is love, and therefore the more I know God, the more will I know that God is love, and the more will I know about love.
We go through stages in this matter. Let us use Paul’s analogy in 1 Corinthians 13. ‘When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child.’ Yes, but we are growing, says Paul in effect; “now I know in part,” but when I see Him face to face, I will know everything. I do not know everything now. I start with a little knowledge, but it is growing and developing as I walk in fellowship with God.’ We start with knowing certain things about God: God is great, God is limitless in power, God is someone who is love and is prepared to forgive us for our sins. ‘I know a whole series of things about God, and, you know,’ says John in effect, ‘as I go on and grow in Christ, I pay less and less attention to the things I know about God; now my interest is to know God Himself. I was interested in gifts, but I now want to know the Giver. My knowledge has become the knowledge of the person; and as my knowledge of the person increases, I know more and more that God is love. At the beginning there were times when I was tempted to doubt whether God loved me. Things went against me, and I felt I was not receiving a fair deal; but as I go on, I cease to think things like that. I know that God is love, and when I am tempted to question, I still say God is love. I know that more and more; and as I know more and more that God is love, I see that nothing matters but love. And the more I see this in God, the more I want to look at Him, and the more I love my brethren; and the more I love my brethren, the more I prove that God is love.’
This is a wonderful argument. I think that all writers on the spiritual life are agreed that the ultimate stage is this stage of loving. Knowledge and love become one at a certain point; knowing God means, I repeat, not knowing things about God but really knowing Him. The same word is used about God’s knowledge of us. God said of the children of Israel through Amos, ‘You only have I known of all the families of the earth’ (Amos 3:2). He did not mean that He knew nothing about the others; He meant He knew them in this intimacy of love. Do we know that God is love, and are we giving proof of this by loving one another? It is not surprising that John exhorted us all to that. These are the reasons for loving one another.
But there is another point in exhorting men and women to love one another. You cannot command natural love, but you can command Christian love. This means that as I live with others, and as I am in this world of time, suddenly I may come across something that tempts me to act like the old, natural man. But as a Christian I am not to do that. Before I act, I am to say to myself, ‘I am a Christian. I am born of God. I am unlike the natural man. I have no right to live like that. I must live as a new man. I will put off the old and put on the new. I will claim that God is in me, and the Holy Spirit, and that Christ dwells with me, and therefore I will not act like that; I must be like Him.’
In other words, you bring the Apostle’s great argument to bear; you look upon that other person, and you see him with the eyes of God as it were. You have pity; you have compassion; you feel sorry for the other person; you remember that you have been commanded to love one another as Christians. You just remind yourself of the three mighty arguments---love is of God, it belongs to us who receive the divine nature, it is the inevitable corollary of knowing God. It means being like God Himself.
What a privilege and what a glorious honour that God calls upon us to be like Himself! ‘Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect’ (Matthew 5:48); and that was said in the context of loving one another.
‘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.’ ((419-428)
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