Believe God’s love
Sunday school lesson for the week of April 19, 2015
By Dr. Hal Brady
Lesson scripture: 1 John 4:13-5:5
As Dionne Warwick reminded us in her classic song, “What the world needs now, is love, sweet love, that’s the only thing there is just too little of.”
The writer of 1 John is equally concerned about a “love fatigue” that he sees in the world around him. But he is even more concerned about a “love fatigue” developing in the faith community itself. John wants the people of God to know that they are called to love and to keep on loving.
Throughout 1 John, there is a pattern of alternation between calls for love and refutations of false teaching. While it is important to believe the correct things with conviction, the dispute with others must be conducted in love. No matter how difficult the situation, love for the other must hold. No excuses! John is insistent about proper teaching because he knows what we believe conditions how we act. But John is equally insistent on love because he knows love is of God.
Scholars inform us that the alternating pattern between calls for love and refutations of false teaching appear in chapter 4-5. Chapter 4 begins with a rather harsh rejection of the other teaching, then moves to a section that advocates love for fellow believers. We can see this shift in 4:13, which argues against the other view, and in 4:16 which emphasizes love.
John is convinced that the church must both maintain its teaching and be loving.
God is Love
The key to our understanding of this scripture lesson is verse 16, “…God is love, and those who remain in love remain in God and God remains in them.” The fact that God is love is also clearly stated in verse 8. By saying this, John identifies love as one of the central features of God’s character, actually it is the defining element of who God is. This means that God can always be depended on to behave in loving ways. All of God’s interactions with the world are governed by love. Everything God does is loving because love is who God is.
The late scholar William Barclay states that “God is love” is the explanation of creation, free-will, providence, redemption, and the life beyond. (Barclay’s Commentary, “The Letters of John and Jude,” pages 117, 118).
John continues on to state that even when God acts judgement that His action is molded in love. And such love is not fondness, it is active devotion to the good of the one loved.
Scholars inform that for John, “God is love” is the lens through which much of John should be read. It is the source of the manner in which God interacts with the world to bring salvation and to remain present with believers. It is also this understanding of God that is the premise for considering how we are to treat fellow Christians.
God’s Love Seen in Sending Christ into the World
The most significant way God’s love is manifested is the sending of Jesus Christ. As John put it, “This is how the love of God is revealed to us: God has sent His only son into the world so that we can live through him” (4:9).
This act of reaching out to a world that had turned its back on God originated solely out of God’s love. Those who rejected God (all of us) had been given all good things by God and yet chose not to honor God. But because of God’s amazing love, God refused and refuses to allow that rejection to be the determining factor in humanity’s relationship with God. Thus, in love, God tries to reestablish that relationship with us.
The incredible picture of God’s commitment to us is seen in His sending Christ to become a full participant in this world. God is willing to be involved with the world by being fully identified with it, by becoming one of us. Therefore, the salvation believers enjoy in Christ is a benefit of God’s love. John says in verse 14, “We have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son to be the savior of the world.” As scholars attest, this full engagement and participation in the world shows how valuable the world and material existence are to God.
For a moment, skip to chapter 5, verses 4-5. Here, John reminds us that whatever makes us need salvation, it is not that we have a material or bodily existence from which we need to be freed. All of John’s talk about the genuinely bodily nature of Jesus points out that there is nothing wrong with embodiment. So when John states that believers “have defeated the world” (verse 4), he does not mean that believers have defeated bodily existence.
According to scholars, what John is talking about is the “world” – the world that stands for the standards of those values and commitments that dominate the outlook of economic and social systems. The values of which all cultural systems reside are not consistent with God’s will of the world. Why? Because none operate with love for the other as a central value. Defeating this “world” means that believers escape those worldly understandings of how to value and treat others.
As the church, believers live in a different kind of world arena. Believers relate to one another out of their recognition that God is love and out of seeing that love lived out in Christ. So, “This is the victory that has defeated the world: our faith” (Verse 4).
Loving Our Brothers and Sisters
John continues on stressing the central importance of love as a characteristic of God and of God’s people. For our purposes here, note especially the words, “…and of God’s people.” John emphasizes love as the most important virtue for believers, the one thing that guides or should guide all their behavior. Scholars make clear that the real focus of the expression of this love is the community, that is, the church.
Now, it is not that John is not interested in how the church shows love to those outside the church. He is! But John’s main focus here is on how Christians relate to one another.
You remember, at this point, the church had split over false teaching (Docetism). Docetism is the belief that Jesus did not have a physical body. Those who held this view acknowledged that Jesus was divine, not human. Docetism comes from a Greek word which means “to seem.”
At any rate, the church had some heated debates resulting in a split. Hard feelings and tension between groups and within groups was the order of the day. So it is in the midst of such trying times that John calls for love. And John’s kind of love is not just for those who are easier to get along with, but especially for those who are not, those who are easily offended and are provoking.
How do we love others anyway? John gives us several essential reasons as to how and why we should love our fellow Christian brothers and sisters. First, John reminds us that we are to love others because God has first loved us. (4:19). It was while we had turned away from God that God extended his love to us. Thus, John asks us to love others in the same way God has treated us.
Note that our ability to love is not a product of our own hearts. It is not something that we can create for ourselves. Our ability to love comes as our response to the Divine love of God. Love comes from God. More specifically, love comes from our relationship with God.
Second, we are to love others because they are children of God! John states that those who claim to love God ought to love their brothers and sisters also (4:21). In addition, scholars point out that in 5:1-5, John constantly describes believers as children of God, those who have been born by God. Consequently, these other believers are our siblings, all of us “children of God.” And since we all hold that same high status, we are to show others the same kind of love God has shown us.
Third, we are love to others because by doing so we keep God’s commandment! Sharing love is how we keep God’s commands. As God’s children, we cannot help but love the Father and the Son. The result of this becomes loving obedience. And this loving obedience to God and His commands enables a conquering life.
John indicates that as we mature in love we will recognize that keeping God’s commands results in the best life, a conquering life. Therefore, we will obey God and God’s command to love, because we know that God wants the best for us, and not because we fear any kind of condemnation or judgement. This is what John means in 4:18, “…perfect love drives out fear”. The late Karl Menninger, the noted psychiatrist, said that the most tragic word in the human language is the word unloved. The biblical writer of 1 John would agree.
Dr. Hal Brady is a retired pastor who continues to present the Good News of Jesus Christ and offer encouragement in a fresh and vital way though Hal Brady Ministries.