June 25 – 1 John 4:7-21
Main focus: Here’s a good summary for all of 1 John—walking with Jesus necessitates God’s love living through us.
We’ve finally arrived at the most famous passage out of 1 John, “God is love.” As you might have expected, and sort of like we did two weeks ago, we’ll take this opportunity to poke and prod our own understandings of love. If “God is love,” what we mean by the word love has gargantuan implications for how we read the Bible and put this passage into practice. But more than an exercise in semantics, such an assessment will help us arrive at this conclusion: since God is the author and source of love, if we hope to love then we must let God define what this means and then let his love live through us.
Much like 1 John 3:16-24, this passage gives us a definition of love set by the person and work of Jesus Christ (4:9-10). But this passage takes it a step further and reveals that God himself is love. To be quite clear, what that doesn’t mean is that God is only love, nor that love is God. Instead, this roots love in God’s uncreated, perfect, and holy nature; all things that are right and good have God as their ultimate source. To put it another way, God’s nature is such that you can call him love without wrongly identifying him because love is such a predominate aspect of his character, while simultaneously recognizing that this description doesn’t capture everything there is to know about God. Another example of this is when Jesus is called the Lamb or the Lion of Judah—both capture his identity without seeking to exhaustively identify him.
As the author and source of love, God has the authority to rightly define love. In discussion we’ll touch on this, which might make the anti-authority or authority-suspicious Americans in your group a little squeamish. But turning to God as the ultimate authority on love and submitting to his authority on the matter is really the only way for a conversation like this to move forward. However, this is not a heavy-handed, dictatorial sort of authority. This is more like the speed of light, a universal constant; the only proper definition of love is one that has God as its primary reference point. And of course, God has skin in the game—the primary defining act of love, by which we have come to know love (3:16), involved his own gruesome death. As if he didn’t already have it, Jesus earned the right to define love.
This is what John has in mind in verse 7 when he says, “whoever loves has been born of God.” That verse might sound like universalism, like anyone who has warm and cozy feelings for another person automatically gets saved from their sin. However, when John uses the word love he means love proper, love as God defines it through Jesus. Think of God’s love like the industry standard—whoever truly loves must be born of God because that’s the only place they can get such a love.
Now, that’s not to say that we won’t see anything that remotely looks like love within people who don’t follow Jesus. It makes sense that love, being a part of God’s nature, would show up in humans who are made in his image just like his other attributes do (ex. creativity, intelligence, communal nature). But just like there’s a difference between someone who is dead in their sin and someone who is made alive together with Christ (Eph 2:1-5), there’s a difference between an unregenerate, dead-in-sin love and a regenerate, resurrected-with-Christ love.
I’ll end this intro with a request: please make sure your group gets to the final question about loving others who are different from us. Jesus says in Luke 6:33-34, “And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.” Similarly, if we only only exercise love towards folks who are like us, how can we say the love of God is perfected is us? Since a holy God loved us while we were yet sinners (Rom 5:8); since Jesus the poor Jewish Messiah loves us regardless of our income, ethnicity, and social standing; since the good news of Jesus’s resurrection is meant to be proclaimed to all people, we simply cannot be content to only love those like us because such a love does not sufficiently represent God’s own love. “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (4:11).
• What stood out to you from the passage?
• Broadly speaking, how might the world around us define love?
• How can this passage speak to the authority God has to define love?
• What do you think it means for God’s love to be perfected in you?
• How does this passage highlight your need for God’s help with that?
• When you read verses 20-21, what is convicting about that to you?
• Specifically, how do you think God wants to grow you in loving folks who are different from you?