20 August 2013

1 John 4:7-12

“Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.” (v. 7)


John Wesley's verdict on the first letter of John was, "How plain, how full, and how deep a compendium of genuine Christianity!" You can understand why. There is surely no more profound account of what Christians mean by the love of God than these few verses. 1 Corinthians 13 may be more poetic ("Love is patient, love is kind", etc), but John teaches us what love is like by telling the story of the God who is at work in Jesus. Love, he is saying, is not so much a beautiful feeling as it is self-giving and self-denying action. And God is nothing more or less than total, utter love.

Notice that God's love is very different from some of the assumptions about love we make in our culture. This often sees love in terms of possession; 'I love' and 'I want' can mean almost the same. But, so John tells us, God's love is directed outwards towards us and it is costly. The Son has been sent into the world to be "an atoning sacrifice" (v. 10). The New Testament uses many ways to describe how Jesus' death restores our relationship with God. Later this week we will see the Book of Revelation using the language of ransom from slavery. Here, John is reminding readers of the traditional Jewish sacrificial system that reached its climax on the Day of Atonement.

Notice, too, that God's loving action in Christ provides us with a way of knowing the God we cannot see. The God known by Christians is a Christ-shaped God and a crucified God.

And all of that cashes out in human action. We learn to love by being loved, first by God and also by our human neighbours. The love that we express between us is a reflection and sign of God's love to us.

To Ponder

  • What have been your most important experiences of being loved?
  • How have these experiences helped you learn how to love?
  • How does the model of God's sacrificial love in Jesus inform your understanding of love?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Richard Clutterbuck

Richard Clutterbuck is a minister of the Methodist Church in Britain but since 2004 has served the Irish Methodist Church as principal of Edgehill Theological College in Belfast. His ministry has been divided between pastoral appointments in North London and theological education in the South Pacific (Tonga), Britain and Ireland.