The Source of Love
1 John 4:7–21
1 John 4:7–21
After participating in this lesson, each student will be able to:
1. List the actions that God’s love took on our behalf.
2. Explain the concept of propitiation, including how this doctrine alleviates fear in the life of the believer.
3. Write a prayer that asks God to help him or her replace fear with trust in his love.
How to Say It
Hernando de Soto. Er-NAN-do da SO-tow.
Daily Bible Readings
Monday, Mar. 12—Be Reconciled to God (Romans 5:1–11)
Tuesday, Mar. 13—Be Reconciled to One Another (Matthew 5:21–26)
Wednesday, Mar. 14—Care for One Another (John 21:15–19)
Thursday, Mar. 15—Investing in Eternity (1 Timothy 6:11–19)
Friday, Mar. 16—Knowing God Through Love (1 John 4:7–12)
Saturday, Mar. 17—God Is Love (1 John 4:13–17)
Sunday, Mar. 18—Love Brothers and Sisters (1 John 4:18–21)
We love, because he first loved us.
—1 John 4:19
Why Teach this Lesson?
How do you know if you actually are a child of those people claiming to be your biological parents? A certain television program was dedicated to discovering whether a man was or was not the father of a woman’s child. The producers of the show did not compare facial features or body traits of the adult and the child. They did not look at the color of eyes and hair to discover similarities or differences. The producers of the show used a more reliable form of testing: DNA. This was the final test of paternity of a child.
How does one know if he is a child of God? How do you know if you are actually born of God? Many contradictory answers have been proposed, and your students may be confused. While there may be a number of Christ like traits we would discover in a child of God, one test stands out above all others. We discover that one test in today’s fascinating study and application of God’s Word.
A. Searching for the Source
Hernando de Soto was the first European to explore
the Mississippi River.
Despite all his courageous efforts, however, he only got as far up the river as modern-day Memphis, Tennessee. Little did he know that he was less than a third of the way up that mighty river! He died in 1542 of a fever, and his body was buried in the river that was too big for him to trace. David Livingstone was a Christian missionary and explorer of the Nile River in Africa. His final, most famous, journey was a search for that long river’s source. When he died in 1873, he still had not found the elusive headwaters for which he was searching.
Sometimes searching for the source of a mighty river has been just too difficult. But what of the great river of love that flows in the community of God throughout the world and throughout history? What is its ultimate source? What inspired this love? The apostle John makes it clear in this lesson that the source of love is God. Love is part of his central nature; love flows from his heart. Whenever we act in love, we are reproducing what we learned first from him.
B. Lesson Background
The apostle John is in some ways an unlikely person to be writing about love. He did not show much love when he and his brother wanted to call down fire from Heaven on a village in Samaria (Luke 9:54). He did not show much love when he and his brother tried to secure preferred seats of honor alongside Jesus (Mark 10:35–37). But while John did not show love very well in the beginning, he certainly received it—as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (see John 21:20). John learned firsthand that we love because he first loved us. In the end John came to be known as the apostle of love.
Previously, we saw John demonstrate that love for fellow Christians is a test that reveals whether a person is really walking in the light. Now John goes further: love is also the test that reveals if a person actually is born of God. Since God is the ultimate source and embodiment of love, anyone who is genuinely born of God will reflect his characteristics. A person without love is a person who is not God’s child. We will see John establish that such a person does not even know God.
I. Example of Love (1 John 4:7–12)
A. Our Pattern (vv. 7, 8)
7. Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.
John addresses his readers as people who are dear to him (see also 1 John 3:2, 21; 4:1, 11). John’s urging that they love one another is a repeat of 1 John 3:11, 23. He is quick to supply a threefold reason. First, love comes from God; that is, God is the source of this selfless emotion. Second, those who love show that they are born of God; they as genuine children resemble their Father in a vital way. Third, those who love show that they know God; they follow God’s love as their pattern.
What Do You Think?
Describe someone you know who excels at loving people. How will you follow his or her example?
8. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.
John said previously that the one who lacks love walks in the darkness and abides in death (see 1 John 2:11; 3:14). If someone does not have love, John now asserts, he or she does not even know God. Since the very nature of God is love, the person unacquainted with love is unacquainted with God.
What Do You Think?
Some may view church attendance and Bible study as good measures of a person’s walk with God. What problems can that type of thinking create? Why is love a better test to discern authentic Christianity?
This is the same truth that Paul wrote to the Corinthians. Even if a person speaks in tongues, delivers prophecies, and exercises mountain-moving faith, it all means nothing without love (see 1 Corinthians 13:1–3). Love is the most excellent way because it is God’s way.
B. Our Salvation (vv. 9, 10)
9. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.
God’s love is not just an empty emotion. It is a mighty passion that impelled him to bring salvation to those created in his image. God showed this love in the way he sent his one and only Son to take on human flesh and to die on the cross. This will forever be the world’s greatest example of love (see John 15:13). God sent—and Jesus came—so we might live through him. Exactly how Jesus’ death can save us is the subject of the next verse.
10. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.
God is the source, the fountainhead, of love. It is not that we loved God, as if we had taken the first steps to make salvation possible. Rather, it is that he loved us, even when we were sinful and unworthy (see Romans 5:8). Love begins with God.
When God sent his only begotten Son into the world, he sent him to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Older and more literal versions of the Bible use the word propitiation instead of atoning sacrifice. That idea is vital for understanding how God’s forgiveness works. God provided Jesus to be the sacrifice for sin. When Jesus gave his life, God accepted Jesus’ suffering as payment for sin’s penalty. This payment turned God’s wrath away from us. We could never have turned away God’s wrath on our own (see also Romans 3:25; 1 John 2:2).
God does not just ignore our sins and pretend that they do not exist. His own holiness and justice do not allow this. Holiness and justice require than sin be punished. Yet in his great love for us, God took the necessary steps to deal with our sins. He sent Jesus, who was both infinite God and sinless man, to give his one great life in our place.
C. Our Challenge (vv. 11, 12)
11. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
The theme of love is repeated often in this epistle. God, the source of love, has so loved us that he gave Jesus for our salvation (John 3:16). Since we have been saved by this love, we ought to be ready to love one another. In view of what God has done for us in love, nothing less is acceptable (see also Matthew 18:33).
What Do You Think?
In what ways might you face (or have you faced) ridicule or social rebuff while expressing love as Jesus expects? How do you (or did you) react to such attacks?
A few years ago a church in midtown Manhattan (New York City) was burglarized. It was a fairly predictable theft: an offering box and its contents were stolen. Three weeks later a more unusual theft took place: a four-foot plaster figure of Jesus, weighing 200 pounds, was stolen. Stranger yet was the fact that the statue was part of a crucifix, and the cross itself was left behind!
The church custodian commented, “They just decided, ‘We’re going to leave the cross and take Jesus.’ ” Think about the implications of that for a moment. Lots of people today like the idea of Jesus as an example of love. They even like the idea (theoretically, at least) of being a person who loves like Jesus. But, as John tells us, God showed his love for us by sending Jesus to be a propitiation or atoning sacrifice for our sins.
If we’re going to “take Jesus” as the model for our lives, then we’re going to have to “take the cross” as a model as well. “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). Is this the model of love and service that directs your life? —C. R. B.
12. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
Adam heard the sound of God, Abraham heard the voice of God, and Moses stood on holy ground at the burning bush, but no one has ever seen God. Moses was even told that no man could see God’s face and live. So on the mountain Moses was covered in the cleft of a rock when the presence of God passed by (see Exodus 33:20–23). Some were allowed to see various kinds of manifestations of God (Exodus 24:11). Yet the New Testament reaffirms that no one has ever seen God, both here and in John 1:18.
Even though we cannot see God, we can still have God’s presence dwelling in us. God’s very nature is love, so it is natural for him to live in us if we have love for one another. This does not mean that we somehow “become” God—creator and creature are still distinct. Even so, we are able to reflect his love for each other. In this way his love is made complete. It reaches completion and fulfills its intended purpose.
II. Proof of Love (1 John 4:13–16a)
A. Spirit Was Given (v. 13)
13. We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.
Our knowledge that we live in God is not based on some mystic, mysterious experience. It is based on the fact that God has given us of his Spirit (Romans 8:9; 1 John 3:24). We know that we have the Spirit because God—who cannot lie (Hebrews 6:18)—has given us his firm promise (see Acts 2:38). Thus God’s promise of the Spirit and our practice of love join together as proof that we are in him and he is in us. Love is the first and greatest fruit that his Spirit produces in us (see Galatians 5:22).
B. Son Was Sent (v. 14)
14. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.
When John says we have seen and testify, he reemphasizes the truth of the opening verses of his epistle (see 1 John 1:1–3). He and the other apostles could testify because they knew firsthand that the Father has sent his Son into the world. They had seen with their own eyes, heard with their own ears, and touched with their own hands the one sent to be the Savior of the world. Jesus did not come just to teach, lead, and befriend—he came to rescue (John 3:17).
C. Confession Is Made (vv. 15, 16a)
15. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God.
God sent his Son to save humanity, and God has the right to set certain conditions for salvation. Specifically in this verse, God expects us to acknowledge that Jesus is the Son of God. Jesus promised that if a person confesses him before others, he will confess that person before the Father in Heaven (see Matthew 10:32).
Mere acknowledgement is not the entirety of the plan of salvation, of course. As John makes clear, loving action serves as proof that we belong to the truth (1 John 3:17–19). But confessing Jesus is a necessary condition.
16a. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.
John knows for certain that Jesus really came (v. 14), and because of this he also knows of the great love that God has for us. He and his readers know this love and rely on it; they have put their trust and confidence in it.
III. Results of Love (1 John 4:16b–18)
A. Living in God (v. 16b)
16b. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.
God does not just “have” love, God is love. He embodies everything that is good about love and encompasses the entire range of love’s expressions. God and love are so much identified with each other that to live in love is to live in God. Furthermore, when we live in this love, God himself also lives in us.
B. Bold at Judgment (v. 17)
17. In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him.
When our love is made complete, the final result is that we will have confidence on Judgment Day. We will have nothing to fear when that day comes.
We will have this confidence before God because we are like him (Jesus). Just as Jesus is pure (1 John 3:3) and righteous (1 John 3:7), by his blood we can also stand before the Father pure and righteous. Jesus abides in the Father (see John 17:21–26), and so can we. Although we live in this world, we can have confidence when our love has been made perfect through Christ. Even now, we can approach God’s throne of grace in bold confidence (Hebrews 4:16).
Visual for Lesson 3
Point to this visual as you ask, “In what ways does our love for the heavenly Father drive out fear?”
C. Freedom from Fear (v. 18)
18. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
Christians can have boldness in judgment, as the previous verse says, because there is no fear in love. This fear is not the kind of healthy awe that a person should have for God. Rather, the kind of fear in view is a paralyzing dread and terror. Love and that kind of fear simply have nothing to do with one another; they cannot coexist.
Therefore, love that is perfect or full grown will cast out fear. While fear paralyzes and has to do with punishment, genuine love confirms our salvation. The person who still lives in unhealthy fear of God is not yet mature. He or she is not yet made perfect in love.
IV. Grand Summary of Love (1 John 4:19–21)
A. God Was First (v. 19)
19. We love because he first loved us.
Now John sums up his grand teaching about love. God is the source of love. When we love him, it is only because he first loved us. Without God’s initiative we would not have known genuine love; neither would we have known how to love. When we abide in God and his Spirit abides in us, divine love becomes a natural part of our lives.
We return to God the love he has shown us. At the same time, we pass on this kind of love on to our brothers and sisters in Christ.
B. God Commands Us (vv. 20, 21)
20. If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.
The practical test of love, as seen before, is that God’s child must love the brother or sister in Christ. A person who says I love God but then hates a fellow Christian is a liar. There is a logical reason for this fact: we have been made in the image of God. Therefore, this brother or sister whom we should love bears a certain resemblance to God. We have seen this brother or sister, even though we have not seen God. If we cannot find anything attractive or lovable in our fellow Christian, then we will not find anything lovable in God. If we fail this practical test of love, our claims to love God are simply lies.
What Do You Think?
Verse 20 implies that “seeing” a person makes it easier to love him or her. Why is this true? What are some things that we can “see” in others that can help us love them?
Clean Hands and Loving Hearts
Millions of people suffer from food poisoning every year. A primary cause is the failure of food-service workers to wash their hands properly. Now “big brother” is here, this time for good! Ultraviolet light scanners developed to detect germs on meat in processing plants are being adapted to show whether we have washed our hands thoroughly. Imagine a parent saying to a child, “Johnny, put your hands under the scanner and let me see if you got them clean”!
Do we need to be reminded that what we can’t see can hurt us? Yet there are ways to see the unseen, and ultraviolet scanning for germs is only one of them.
A much more important means of “scanning” for both the good and bad of life is found in today’s text. John acknowledges that we can’t see God. Even so, if we love God then our lives will be a confession of his existence. The Spirit living in us will help us to make this confession. The confession is more than just spoken words. It is also the testimony of our deeds each day of our lives as we exhibit godly character. We reflect God’s love in the way we treat others. —C. R. B.
21. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.
John concludes as he began: we must love one another. To love God and to love one’s neighbor are inseparable. “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:40).
What Do You Think?
What was a time when it was difficult for you to love someone? What helped you to express loving action despite the difficulty?
Moreover, this is our Lord’s command. It is not optional or negotiable. By observing this love in us, all people will be able to tell that we are Christ’s disciples (see John 13:34, 35).
A. Source of Love
Love does not just happen. It is a virtue of the highest order, created and demonstrated by God himself. If the world were merely an evolutionary accident and the law of the jungle demanded the survival only of the fittest, then there would be no room for self-sacrificing love. There would be no pattern for such love to exist. But just as God is the creator of the universe and the source of all life, so is he the source of true love.
Without our knowledge of God, searching for the source of love would be an impossible task. We would be like the early explorers who were hopelessly ill-equipped when they searched for the sources of great rivers. If we had only scientific observation to guide us, we would ultimately give up on love and agree with the law of the jungle: the strong devour the weak. If we had only the history of human empires as our guide, we might conclude that there is no real love to be found. It is only in the spiritual realm that we are able to trace love back to its divine source.
But unlike the source of a river, which becomes smaller and smaller as it is traced, the divine source of love becomes greater and greater as we draw nearer. Also unlike the source of a river, the source of love does not need to be increased by tributaries. God’s love can never be diminished or depleted; it flows from God’s infinite heart.
B. Channels of Love
When we recognize that God is the source of love, we next realize that he intends for us to be the channels of that love. We become the passageways through which the mighty river of God’s love flows. This love will bless countless lives, but only as we allow it to flow through us.
God continues to be the dynamic source of the love that flows through us, but he has given us the responsibility to direct that love in ways that would please him. For instance, we know that we should direct generous love toward the widows and the orphans (James 1:27). We should be channels of divine love toward those who are helpless, homeless, and hungry (Matthew 25:34–36).
To be like Jesus means being ready to extend God’s love to children (Matthew 19:14), to social outcasts such as Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1–10), and to people of other races such as the woman of Samaria (John 4:9). To be like Jesus means surprising people with the range of our love. To be like Jesus means also surprising people with the intensity of our love. Jesus’ love for John marked that apostle for life. He never forgot that he was “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”
Finally, we must remember that love begins at home. If we cannot love those who are nearby, we deceive ourselves to think that we can love those who are far away. It is in our own family and in our own church that love builds its foundation (Galatians 6:10; 1 Timothy 5:8). It bears repeating: How can we love the God whom we have not seen, if we do not love our brothers and sisters whom we have seen?
Thought to Remember
Focus on the source of love.
Dear Father, thank you for showing us your love even when we were sinners and enemies of your kingdom. Help us to learn to love you better and to be channels of your love to all our brothers and sisters. Thank you that there has never been a greater love than the love Jesus showed when he died in our place. Forgive us when we fail to love but let us learn from our failures. In the name of Jesus, the ultimate example of love, we pray, amen.
Underwood, Jonathan ; Nickelson, Ronald L. ; Underwood, Jonathan: New International Version Standard Lesson Commentary : 2006-2007. Cincinnati : Standard Publishing