WALKING IN LOVE
‘We love Him because He first loved us. If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also. Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves Him who begot also loves him who is begotten of Him’.
1 John 4:19-5:1
Last week, we studied about the results of dwelling in love.
Today, we are going to learn about four arguments that tell us how we ought to love one another.
1. HE FIRST LOVED US
1 John 4:19 is translated by the Revised Version as ‘we love because He first loved us’. While we were still sinners, Jesus came to us. He saved us from our sins and poured out His love into our hearts. As a result, we now have the capacity to love. This new found ability to love is different from the natural love that we were born with. We acquire this divine love when we are born again into the family of God. It is this love that enables us to love our enemies and persecutors.
Therefore, we are able to love today, because Jesus loved us first and poured out His love into us. It is not only God that we are empowered to love but also our brethren.
Sometimes we assume that Jesus’ life and death was to pave the way for us to go to Heaven. But the Bible clearly says that it was also for us to be made just like God. God wanted us, who are His followers, to be a new race and a new people group designed to be like Him. Therefore, He ushered in this new race through Jesus Christ. Ephesians 2:8 and 10 say, ‘For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them’.
The word beforehand in this verse means that God had planned the works for us to do long before the world began. The Amplified version translates it as, ‘he has prepared means he has actually prescribed the path that we should travel in and literally written out the works that we must do. Like 1 John 4:17 says, ‘as he is so are we in this world’. We are meant to reflect God exactly as He is on this earth.
When Jesus came down, He saw the dark and pitiful condition of both the Jews and the Gentiles. He became a shining light for them. He taught, fed, healed and lavished compassion on the poor, misguided and lost people of the world. Everything about Him was different and life giving. Today, as His Church, we are called to reflect Him in the way we live and love.
Therefore, it is not our works or merit or even zeal and passion that testify our identity as a follower of Jesus. Today there are many people who are zealous about many things in life. But like Paul says, if that zeal is not backed by knowledge then it is pretty pointless.
So the ultimate mark of a Christian is in his ability to love like Jesus. And we can love like Jesus only because He first loved us.
2. LOVING AN UNSEEN GOD
1 John 4:20 says, ‘if someone says I love God and hates his brother, he is a liar. For he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?’ John uses very strong words to describe a person who claims to love God but hates his brother. He says that such a person is a liar. His reasoning is logical and biblical. How can we say that we love God (whom we cannot see) yet hate our brother (whom we can see)?
Now, generally people have two objections to this teaching. Let’s quickly examine them.
a. Too harsh
People think that it’s harsh to call someone a liar because they say that they love God but not their brother. According to them, it is easier to love God because He is perfect and good. Also, conveniently He is not visible and somehow we think it is easier to love someone that we don’t see. Meanwhile, the brethren on the other hand are people that irritate and annoy us. It really is difficult to love them. So, people wonder what the issue is in being able to love a perfect God and hate an annoying brother. They feel that it is absolutely possible to separate the two. However, unlike popular belief, being out of sight does not enable us to love someone. Sight is a great aid in loving someone. Therefore, John counters that lie by saying that if we hate our brother, it also means that we do not love God.
b.First love the brother and then God
Some other people think that we are supposed to love our brothers first and then progress to loving God. They rely on Matthew 22:35, 36 to support their claim where it says, ‘Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, ‘Teacher which is the greatest commandment of all? Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.’
Now, Jesus summed up the 10 commandments into two categories. He classified the first four commandments under loving God and the remaining commandments under loving one another. Now, by doing so, He was not prioritizing between the two. In fact, these two commandments cannot be separated.
Let me explain it better. If we say that we love God with all of our being then it means that we are willing to do whatever He says. We are ready to please Him in everything that matters to Him and that He desires to do. And what God desires is for us to love our neighbor. John 14:21 says, ‘if any man love me, he will keep my commandments. He will do what I say’. So, if we do not love our neighbor and are hateful towards them, then we are not doing what pleases Him. Then, our claim of loving Him is a lie. So, in this way the two commandments are inseparable.
BUT WHY CALL PEOPLE LIARS?
We might wonder why John would call such people who ‘love’ God but ‘hate’ their brothers as liars. The reason is that the devil often tries to promote falsehood in the guise of concocted teachings. One such teaching that he was spreading in the Church was that of mysticism. Mystics reduce love to just a sentiment or a feeling. They think that love is just a wonderful experience and do not consider it to be a practical, life changing decision. So John calls such people who talk about loving God but are hateful to their brothers, as liars. Love, after all is not an ecstasy that we experience when we are alone but our action in front of others.
Another set of people who misrepresent love are the poets. Now I am not judging them. In fact, I have a very talented friend who has written wonderful Christian songs. But there are many poets who write soul-stirring love songs that sadly reduce love to being just a sentimental feeling.
However, the Bible describes love in 1 John 4:8 and 9 as ‘He who does not love does not know God for God is love. In this the love of God was manifested towards us’. In what, we might ask. Well, the love of God was manifested when God sent His only begotten Son into the world that we might live through Him. Romans 5:5-10 describes us as ungodly, sinners and enemies of God. The most striking aspect of this love is in the fact that God sent His Son into the world for unworthy and undeserving people like us. He became the propitiation for our sins. God demonstrated love in the most practical way possible, not by just some feelings and sentiments.
3. LOVE IS A COMMANDMENT
1 John 4:21 says, ‘And this commandment we have from him – he who loves God must love his brother also’. John is now stating that loving our brethren is a God-given commandment. In Matthew 22, we learned already that Jesus simplified the 10 commandments to essentially being only two. Loving God and loving one another. John is referring to this and stating that we must love our brethren because that’s what God has commanded us to.
Now, the whole issue of brotherly love began in the book of Genesis with the first family. Abel and Cain were two boys born to Adam and Eve. They both claimed to love God and brought sacrifices to Him. However, God was displeased with Cain’s. This got Cain furious and prompted him to murder his brother Abel. It must have crushed Eve’s heart to see the son that she considered as her redeemer killing her younger son! What a terrible havoc sin caused! Man was now not only unable to love and have a relationship with God but also unable live in peace with his brethren. Therefore, Scripture tries to weave it into our lives by commanding us to love God and one another.
So, we may object to it saying that emotions and feelings cannot be commanded. But the truth is that love is not a sentiment. It is a decision that we make. Hence it can be commanded and obeyed. When we become followers of Jesus, the love of God is poured into us. Everything about Him becomes part of us now. His compassion, His outlook, His love and His heart flows out of us now. We can decide to obey this divine love of God in every area of our lives including that of loving our brethren.
4. LOVE HIS OTHER BEGOTTEN CHILDREN
1 John 5: 1 says, ‘Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves Him who begot also loves him who is begotten of Him’.
If we love the One that brought about the spiritual birth in us, we are now a new creation. It also implies that we will love the others that are begotten of Him, that is, our brothers and sisters in God’s family.
Now, imagine a regular family with a bunch of siblings. If one of them had a problem, would the others go around spreading rumors or talking about the problem? No. If anything, they’d all rally close and stick together. Similarly, in our spiritual families too, we may not particularly like the attitudes of some of our brethren. But we must overlook our dislike and love them with the love that Christ has poured into our hearts.