The Preeminence of Love
The apostle John could not state the importance of love for the Christian life in clearer or more direct terms. He employs simple vocabulary and asserts straightforward proclamations. May we receive John’s instruction as it is, and not complicate his clarity in our analysis of his text nor in our preaching of it. Love is the essential core for the “dear friends” to whom the apostle writes this letter.
Of course we already know the importance of love from the life and teachings of Jesus. Matt 22:34-40 records the examination of Jesus by an expert in the law, a Pharisee, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus answered his inquiry not in legal terms, but in moral terms; LOVE. Love of God and love of neighbor together completely fulfill all the law and the prophets. It really is all about love.
In this passage John helps us understand more about love and what it means for those who claim to know God. Twice John clearly states that “God is love” (vrs. 8 & 16). Love is not simply a characteristic attribute of God, nor is love merely a part of God’s nature. John instead claims that love is the very essence of God. So God is not simply a loving god, God IS love. Love is who God is.` To be in relationship with God whose very nature is love has strong implications for those who follow him.
Everything begins with the God of love, and any love we have comes from God (v. 7). The primary and pinnacle act of love was God giving his Son as an atoning sacrifice so that we can live. John declares this in the familiar verses of his gospel, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:16-17). The preceding and sacrificial love of God precipitates life.
So how does John instruct us to respond to such wondrous love? The text asserts that the only appropriate response to receiving the love of God is to love one another (v.11). It is not an option, but a command (v. 21). Jesus further defines the command to love one another with some hard teachings in his Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 5:44-48). “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven . . . If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.”
It seems that love is to so fill us that it completely dispels any other inner motivation or reaction which is contrary to love. Even in the most difficult and challenging situations and relationships, John (and Jesus) asserts the we must love one another. The measure of our love indicates the depth of our knowledge of God. Lacking in love reveals a lacking in knowledge of God (v. 8). Anyone who tries to love God while hating his brother is simply living a lie (v. 20). Instead, the love between us is the medium in which God lives and completes his love in us (v. 12). Love removes fear (v. 18). Fear remaining in us is an indicator of the incompletion of love in us. Love leaves no room for hate (v. 20).
So indeed, the message of John is clear and direct; love is the essential core for the life of the Christian.
At this point, maybe we should conduct an honest, internal love audit, of sorts. Prayerfully, in the presence of God, let us look deep into the core of our hearts and see what is there. Do you see love there? A few questions to help with this process include;
Where are the places in our loves, in our motivations and reactions, where love is not fully evident? How can we grow in the knowledge of God to love others more fully?
Does fear remain in us? How can God’s love be completed in us so that we more fully rest in Him?
Do our relationships with one another indicate that we are lying about our love for God? How can we reconcile with one another in love so that we can truly love God?
The apostle Paul also had much to say about the nature of love. I Corinthians 13:4-8a,
Love is patient, love is kind.
It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking,
it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails.
Father, as we honestly open the depths of our hearts to your examination, we confess places that fall short of love. Forgive us for preferring attitudes and actions of envy, jealousy, and retribution over simply loving one another. We invite your Holy Spirit of love into the center of our beings to fill us completely with your love and to dispel any reaction or motivation in us that falls short of fully loving others. Help us to love you well by fully loving one another, even in difficult and non-reciprocating relationships. May the love you establish in us overflow abundantly to those with whom you bring us into contact. For your kingdom and glory. Amen.