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If God so loved us, we ought also to love one another
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, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. 1 John 4:11
The living of the Christian life, according to the New Testament, is not primarily dependent upon some experience or some blessing which we have received. It is, rather, the outworking of the truth which we claim to believe. Now I suggest that that can never be repeated too frequently. Go through these New Testament epistles, and I think you will always find that that is their invariable method. The first half of most of these epistles is pure doctrine, a reminder to the people of what God has done to them and the exalted position in which they have been placed. And then the writer says, ‘Therefore . .’
I can never understand people’s objection to logic. The New Testament is full of it. It is here---‘If God so loved us. . . then you ought.’ We talk about divine imperatives. Well, here, if you like, is one. If you believe, then it must follow on; you have no right to be in any other position. Everything in the New Testament is in terms of truth. You are not exhorted by the New Testament not to sin and to live a good life in order that you may live life with a capital L. Not at all! The New Testament tells you, ‘Ye are not your own. For ye are bought with a price’ (1 Corinthians 6:19-20); so you have no right to use the body for fornication.
I wonder why we object to the truth being put like that. Why do we prefer it to be put in some sentimental form? Why avoid this tremendous logic? This is the New Testament method. If I say I believe this, then I must live like that. There is no use in my saying I believe this unless I behave like that, and there are terrible warnings against not doing this. The New Testament teaching of holiness is always in terms of truth. It is something that is to be applied; so let us proceed to do so, let us work this out together. I grant you that this is not a pleasant procedure; I grant you that it is much nicer to look at verses 9 and 10. It is even easier for the preacher!
John writes this epistle in order that these people may conquer the world in which they are living. He says, ‘I write unto you, that your joy may be full’; and he goes on to say, in effect, ‘If you want your joy to be full, you must put the Christian belief into practice.’ We are engaged in Christian warfare; we believe in the fight of faith; and here is the way to learn how to fight it. Let us now get down to practicalities.
I am a Christian in this world, and there are other Christians. We are members of churches together, and I find some of these people to be rather difficult. I find that there are Christians whom I do not like by nature and instinctively. That was the position in the early church, and it is still the same; that is why John is making this great appeal. ‘Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God.’ The whole of this section, from verse 7 right on to the first verse of the next chapter, is all about the question of brotherly love, and here he tells us how to do this. Now the question is, what do you do about it when you come up against these other people who seem to irritate you and are a problem to you and who really are making things rather difficult?
Here is John’s answer: ‘If God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.’ This means something like this: Instead of giving way to that instinctive feeling that I have, instead of speaking or acting or reacting at once, I stop and I talk to myself. I remind myself of the Christian truth which I believe, and I apply it to the whole situation. Now that is something which you and I have to do. This life of which the New Testament speaks, as I am never tired of pointing out, is full of the intellectual aspect. It is not a feeling. You do not wait until you feel like loving other people---you make yourself love other people (‘we ought’). According to the New Testament, Christians can make themselves love other Christians, and they are failing sadly if they do not do so.
How do they do it? They remind themselves of this truth: ‘If God so loved us.’ In other words, this is the procedure. The first thing I do when feel irritated and disturbed and bewildered and perhaps antagonistic is to look at myself. Now that is half the battle. We all know perfectly well from experience that in this kind of problem the whole difficulty is that we are always looking at the other person and never at ourselves. But if I start with myself---if God so loved me---what do I find?
But usually I instinctively feel that I am being wronged, that I am not being dealt with fairly. I feel it is the other person who is difficult, and if only this other person could somehow change, there would be no difficulty, and all would be well and we should live happily together. ‘One minute!’ says the gospel; ‘stop for a moment and look at yourself and remind yourself of exactly what you are.’ The gospel brings us immediately face to face with this self that is in us which is the cause of all these troubles, ‘In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. . . he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.’
In other words, let me remind you again of the truth we have been considering, that by nature we are dead in trespasses and sin, and that as Christians the old man and the old nature are still there. And the old man and the old nature can be described in a word: self. Self causes all these troubles. Self-will, self-love, self-trust, self-exaltation---these are the troubles. When we are honest with ourselves and examine ourselves, I think we will find that most of our troubles and difficulties arise from these causes. Let me give you a list which I have read in a book of the manifestation of this self-love. This is how it manifests itself: self-centredness, self-assertion, self-conceit, self-indulgence, self-pleasing, self- seeking, self-pity, self-sensitiveness, self-defence, self-sufficiency, self-consciousness, self-righteousness, self-glorying.
Is there anyone who would like to say that this is not a true description of himself or herself? That is the sort of persons we---all of us---are. It is no use denying it; that is the effect of the fall and of sin; that is what it has made of us.
· Self-centredness---looking at myself, watching myself, examining myself, always regarding myself.
· Self-assertion---asserting myself; I desire things, and I must have them.
· Self-conceit---how ready I am to defend myself and to condemn the same things in others!
· Self-indulgence---I am very indulgent with myself; I prohibit things in the other person, but it does not matter if I do the same thing myself.
· Self-pleasing---always doing things that please me.
· Self-seeking---always out for self.
· Self-pity---why should people treat me like this?---I have done no harm; I am not in the wrong at all---why should people be so difficult?---I am having a hard time and it really isn’t fair.
· Self-sensitiveness---how touchy I am, how easily wounded, imagining difficulties and attacks, seeing them when they are not there, an abominable sensitivity.
· Self-defence---always on the defensive, waiting for people to be unpleasant, and because we are like that, we almost make them unpleasant---we are on the defensive.
Self-sufficiency, self-consciousness---oh, to get away from self! ‘0 wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?’ (Romans 7:24). How can I get away from this wretched, ugly self I am always thinking about? Isn’t that the cry of every man and woman convicted of sin by the Holy Ghost? Now the effect of verses 9 and 10 is to expose all that, and I really am not prepared to listen to people who tell me that they glory in the revelation of God’s love unless they have dealt with themselves. There is no value in any such striving to keep the tenets of the Christian faith unless they have made you see yourself in the world, unless it has flashed upon you in such a way as to make you see this manifestation of self; that is what the love of God always does. ‘Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us’; incredible, that God could love such a person as I have been describing. That is the amazing thing! That is love, says John.
Therefore, if you believe and know all that, it makes you see yourself as you are, and do you see what happens at once? The moment you see yourself like that, you cry with John Bunyan when he says:
He that is down need fear no fall,
He that is low no pride.
John Bunyan meant that when I see myself as I really am, nobody can insult me. It is impossible, because they can never say anything that is bad enough about me. Whatever the world may say about me, when I know myself, I know that they do not know the truth about me---it is much worse than they think. When we really see ourselves in the light of this glorious gospel, no one can hurt us, no one can offend us. We see ourselves in the dust, and we are so low that no one can send us lower. ‘Beloved,’ says John, ‘if God so loved us. . .‘ You must start with yourself. Before you begin to defend yourself against that other person who you think is offensive or who has acted in an offensive manner, look at yourself and see yourself, and when you have seen yourself, you will be 75 percent of the way towards solving the problem.
But we do not stop there. Having seen ourselves, of course, we then go on to look at others. ‘If God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.’ Now you are looking at the other person, but of course you are doing so having first of all seen yourself. What a difference that makes! When you are lifted above another person, you look down upon them; but when you are groveling in the dust, you of necessity have to look up at that other person, and the condition is different at once, the perspective is different.
Let me summarise this. When the love of God is operating in our hearts, when we believe this gospel and reason out the meaning of this love, what happens is that we see the person rather than the thing that the person is doing. And is that not half the trouble in these human relationships? We see what people are doing---we do not see them. Now the gospel makes us see them as souls, objectively, and not only in terms of actions or in terms of what they are doing to us.
Still more specifically, let us put it as follows: When I look at these matters in the light of the glorious revelation of God’s love, I see myself. Then I look at this other person who is making things difficult for me---as I thought at first---and this is what I see: I do not really see the offensive action of the person; I see a victim of sin, a victim of Satan. The gospel enables me to differentiate between the actions of that person and the person behind them.
That is exactly what God did with us when He loved us in Christ. God looked down from heaven and saw us on earth and saw our miserable actions. How could God ever love a sinner? Well, the answer, of course, is that God differentiates between the sinner and the sin. God loves the person and the soul in spite of the action. God draws that vital distinction, and He has pity upon us. He is sorry for us; He does not stop merely to look at what we do. He says, ‘There is a soul I want to save.’ He draws that distinction, and when you and I are animated by the love of God, we do exactly the same thing. This love of God enables us to look at the people who may be offensive to us and to feel sorry for them. We will say about them, ‘Poor things; they are just victims of sin and Satan, and they do not know it. It is the god of this world who has them in his grip; it is this foul canker that is in them---that is the trouble.’
Think of a man with terrible sores. You love that person. Now, because he has these terrible sores, do you hate him? No; you love the person in spite of the offensive sores on his skin. And we must do the same thing about the sinner. We must see the soul at the back of it all; we must see men and women conforming to sin and Satan like ourselves, and when we do that we begin to feel sorry for them. As God has had pity upon us, we find ourselves praying for them. We say, ‘God, have mercy upon them. We know it is Satan and sin in them; manifest Thyself to them, and make them glorious children of God.’ That is how it works. ‘If God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.’
And the third step is that we now see ourselves and the other person as joint-sharers in salvation, as joint-heirs of the same glory awaiting us, and what a wonderful thing that is! Instead of looking at them as possible enemies, I see them as men and women who were one with me in sin, but who are now one with me in the great salvation that God has sent in the person of His Son. We see one another as pilgrims traveling together towards the same country, and by the eye of faith we look into it and we say, ‘I am going to heaven, and so is that person; we are going to be there together.’ How can we then look at the face of God and remember we hated one another on earth? We cannot do it; we are fellow-pilgrims, joint- heirs with Christ, children of the same Father, going to the same Home. How ridiculous it is to be at variance; we must become one---we must love that person. We see ourselves, thus, in the light of the glorious gospel.
And then, lastly, the contemplation of this truth makes us realise what we owe to the love of God ourselves, and that therefore we must be the same towards others.
In the parable in Matthew 18 (vv 23-35), our blessed Lord Himself put this truth perfectly. He said that there was once a king who took a reckoning with his servants, and he found one who owed him the great sum of ten thousand talents. The poor man had nothing wherewith to pay this debt, so the lord commanded that he should be put into prison with his wife and children. But the servant went on his knees and begged the lord to have mercy upon him. He said in effect, ‘Give me time, and I will pay you everything.’ So the lord forgave him everything, and the man went out. But then he found a man who owed him one hundred pence, and he said to him, ‘Pay me what you owe me.’ The poor man replied, ‘I cannot, but have patience with me and I will pay you all.’ The man said to him, ‘You must pay it all now,’ and he had him cast into prison. But when the lord was informed of this, he condemned this unrighteous servant and cast him into prison. Do you remember our Lord’s words at the end? He said, ‘Likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.’ These are our Lord’s own words; our Lord Himself makes the truth perfectly plain.
In a sense we say the same thing every time we say the Lord’s Prayer together: ‘Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.’ But I wonder whether we catch the full meaning of the parable. The first servant owed his lord ten thousand talents, which comes to two million pounds. The first servant owed his lord all that money, and he was forgiven it all; but he refused to forgive his fellow servant for a much lesser amount. His debt was about four hundred thousand times more than the debt of the man whom he refused to forgive. That is our Lord’s own picture, which being interpreted is this: My debt to God is infinite, if He forgives me the two million, how can I possibly refuse to forgive someone else for so much less?
Indeed, our Lord goes further and says that men and women who know they have been forgiven for so much must forgive others. They cannot help themselves. Those who know they are debtors to mercy alone, those who realise what God’s love has done for them, cannot help forgiving. The love of God has so broken them that they feel they must; God has done so much for them, they must do the same for others. ‘Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.’
You see, the love of God is active. God did not merely look in love upon us---He did something about it. He sent His only begotten Son. ‘God so loved’ that He sent Christ to the cross; He sent Him to the grave. This is not love in contemplation, but love in mighty action. God did something about it and thereby saved us. We ought so to love one another. I must do something about that difficult person. I must pray for him and help him; I must do my utmost to enable him to overcome his sin. I do not just condemn such people and say they are impossible---I must do my utmost to help them. God did that for me. He spared not His only Son, His only begotten Son. That is love; it means going out myself to do something as God did it. And if the love of God is in us, this ‘ought’ will come into operation. This is a divine imperative; we will love one another even as, and because, God has so loved us.
Beloved friend, I ask you again, have you seen yourself? Well, if you have, you see yourself as utterly undeserving of the least of God’s mercies. All your self-righteousness has vanished and gone. And as you see yourself like that, you see that others are also victims of the same horrible thing which we call sin. So you are sorry for them and have pity upon them, and you do everything you can to help emancipate them, so that they may become sharers with you of the love of God. You do that so that you may march together through Emmanuel’s land to the glory that remains, where there will be no sin, no sorrow, no sighing, no weeping, no tears---nothing at all to mar the perfection and the glory of this life of love. Let us then be up and doing. ‘If God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.’ (444-450)
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