Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.
By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.
(1 John 4:7-16 ESV)
The first thing that ought to jump out at you when you read this is that word “beloved.” It practically screams relationship from the page! The word appears first in John’s letter back in chapter 2. John calls his readers “beloved” six times in four chapters.
1 John 2:7 Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word that you have heard.
1 John 3:2 Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.
1 John 3:21 Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God;
1 John 4:1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.
1 John 4:7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.
1 John 4:11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
Six times in four chapters. And yet the identity of John’s audience remains a mystery to us. Maybe that’s because John knew he was writing to a wide, general audience. For that matter, there’s nothing in the text to prove that this was written by the Apostle John. Tradition holds that John was an old man when he wrote this letter from Ephesus (about 40 miles from the modern city of Izmir, Turkey). The writing certainly sounds like John, though there isn’t any direct reference to his relationship with Jesus, and that seems a bit strange.
I like to think that whoever this man “John” was, he had known the joy of living in community with a specific group of believers he had come to call “beloved.” That takes time. John isn’t just offering us a cliché. I think he really means it.
The six times he calls them “beloved” each address a different issue.
· The old commandment is what Jesus called the second commandment, “love your neighbor as yourself,” and comes from Leviticus 19:18.
· What will we be like when we are finally perfected in Glory with Him?
· How do we keep our relationships healthy in Christ?
· How do we guard against heretical teachings?
· Where does our love come from?
· What makes us beloved?
John asks his questions about love in the context of community. He never says, “I told you what you need to do.” He always includes himself in the discussion. “Let us love…”
What can we learn from John and his church? I particularly love the second question he discusses: “What we will be has not yet appeared.” That isn’t just an End Times question. Like all the rest, it is a question for right now. What would happen if we (you and the church gathered around you) actually loved one another the way God first loved you – with deep, passionate, self-sacrificing love? What would happen then? What would we start to look like if we actually did that?
What would we look like, as a church, if we conducted our relationships in such a way that we never needed to repent of anything we had said or done with each other? What would we look like if we set out to become so spiritually discerning that we, as a fellowship, would be able to know the difference between teaching we need to pay attention to because it is so godly, and teaching we need to watch out for because it is false?
How different would we appear if we really realized that the love we’re talking about, though supernatural, is not impossible or idealistic. It is real and attainable. Why else would John begin his letter by saying, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life?” I always took it that this was John the Apostle being self-referencing about his relationship with Jesus. But the emphasis he places on “we” and “our” is so clear! “The Word of Life” has been manifest among us. Jesus was not here once. Jesus IS here now!
Beloved (and many of you who read The Morning Watch are beloved to me), if God loved us the way we know he did, I’ll be bold like John and say, “we ought to love one another” the same way. If the impending New Year is a time for new beginnings, no matter what your fellowship has looked like until now, take the time to reassess. Take the time to let Jesus put into practice the kind of love he demonstrated on the Cross and in his life. Begin to say to one another, “God so loved the world… what can I do for you?”