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1 John 4:13-5:4a: Do You Love God? Print E-mail
1, 2, 3 John
Sunday, 27 December 2009

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I love it when a good story comes together at the end.  I am a fan of those who can weave together different plot lines that seem as if they are unrelated but by the end of the story all have their place.  From the beginning of his letter, John has been teaching us about how we can know that we have eternal life.  As we have noted, he gives us three categories of tests: moral, doctrinal, and social.  The doctrinal test deals with whether or not we believe that Jesus really came in the flesh and died on the cross in our place.  The moral test deals with whether or not we are walking in the light and obeying Godís commands.  The social test deals with whether or not we are obeying Jesusí specific command to love one another.  Over and over again John has returned to these ideas so that his readers can know that they have eternal life.

So then, the three tests are related in the fact that the purpose of them all is assurance.  Yet, as we have noted along the way, these tests overlap.  They are interrelated.  In our passage this morning we see more of just how they come together as John relates them all to the theme of love for God.  The doctrinal, social, and moral tests are all a part of our love for God.  In order for us to see this in the passage, I want to identify a reason why we should love God along with two ways that we can be sure that we are indeed loving Him.  Letís begin with the reason why we should love God.

Love for God assures us that we are abiding in Him (4:13-18).

I want us to walk through Johnís argument here in verses 13-18.  Letís begin by looking at verses 13-14.  John has already said that the Spirit gives us assurance that we abide in God (see 3:24).  In the passage that we read to begin our service (John 14:15-24) Jesus speaks about sending the Spirit to dwell in His disciples.  The Spirit gives us assurance that we belong to Christ.  Yet, what does it mean to have the Spirit?  John has also told us that those who truly have the Spirit will believe certain things about Jesus (see 4:1-3).  In the same way, he tells us here that have assurance through the Spirit and assurance through our belief that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.  Notice that John speaks of every Person of the Trinity in these two verses.  The Spirit has been given to assure us and teach us that the Father has sent the Son to die for our sins and save us.  John says as much in verse 15.  Look at that with me.  All of this involves the doctrinal tests that John has been giving to us.  We must believe that the Father sent Jesus in the flesh to die for us if we are to have the Spirit.  And if we have the Spirit, then we have assurance that we abide in him and he abides in us.  If we believe these things (doctrinal test), then we can have assurance that we abide in God.

Going on in verse 16, John connects our belief in Christ (doctrinal test) to our love for God and others (social test).  Look at that verse with me.  Because we believe that God has sent His Son to die for us, we know that He loves us, which is what John taught us in 4:9-10.  And if we know that He has loved us in such a way and we reflect this by loving others (see below), then we can have further assurance that we are abiding in Him.

Not only can we have assurance that we are abiding in Him, but this assurance leads to our assurance for the coming Day of judgment.  Look at verses 17-18.  John teaches us the relationship between love and fear, specifically fear of punishment.  If we love God and abide in Him, then we have no reason to fear the coming judgment.  His love for us and in us drives out such fear.  We have confidence for the coming Day because we believe in His love for us and are abiding in love for Him.

Thus, our belief in the Father sending the Son in the flesh gives us assurance that we have the Spirit, which in turn gives us assurance that we are abiding in God.  Likewise, such belief leads us to the knowledge that God loves us and that we should love others, which also gives us assurance that we are abiding in Him.  Finally, the love that God has for us drives out any fear of punishment that we might have and gives us assurance for the coming Day.  In this way, John is bringing together the doctrinal and social tests.  These tests are not isolated from each other.  No, they come together and impact one another.  What we believe impacts how we love.  In these ways, we can have assurance that we are abiding in God.  Yet, this begs the question: how can we be certain that we are truly loving God?  John gives us two tests.

Love for God (and from God) causes us to love one another (4:19-5:1).

This is not a new idea in the letter.  John has already told us that we simply cannot claim to love God while hating our brother (3:11-18).  John makes the same conclusion in 4:19-5:1.  Look at those verses with me.  Again, our belief that God has loved us first in Christ will cause us to love God, which evidences itself in love for one another.  Once again John shows us the difference between making a claim and truly living out the claim.  You cannot claim to love God while hating your brother.  To do so is to be a liar according to John and he goes on to explain why this is so: for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.  John moves from the lesser to the greater here.  If we cannot love those around us who we can see, then how can we claim to love God who John has already told us that we cannot see?  Thus, our love for one another will evidence whether or not we truly love God.  And notice again in 5:1 how he connects the doctrinal test with the social test: Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, (doctrinal test) and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him (social test).  If we are children of the Father through belief in Christ, then we will love all His other children.  If we do not love others, then it stands to reason that we have not truly been born of the Father.  Thus, our love for God will be evidenced by our love for one another.

Love for God (and others) means obedience to Godís commands (5:2-4a).

John has shown us the connection between the doctrinal tests and the social tests.  Yet, what about the moral test?  How is it related to the other two?  John tells us in 5:2-4a.  Look at what he says with me.  John defines love for God in these verses: this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.  This is exactly what Jesus teaches in John 14 when He says: If you love me, you will keep my commandments.  If we love Jesus, then we will keep His commandments.  If we do not keep His commandments, then we do not really love Him.  This is the moral test.  In the same way, if we love the children of God, then we must keep Godís commands.  We cannot claim to love God if we ignore His commands and we cannot claim to love each other if we ignore His commands.  Thus, if we fail the moral test then we will fail the social test as well, because we can only truly love one another if we obey Godís commands.  Stott puts it this way: ďLove for God is not an emotional experience so much as a moral commitment.Ē1

We might object at this point: ĎBut Godís commands are difficult, who can keep them?í  John answers: And his commandments are not burdensome.  For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world.  As John has said before, if we have truly been born of God, then His seed abides in us and we cannot continue in disobedience to His commands (see 3:9).  So then, see all the connections: we believe that Christ came in the flesh (doctrinal test) and God loved us in this way so that we must love others (social test) by obeying Godís commands (moral test).

Before we leave this last point, let me just pause and make some application.  We have made the mistake of thinking that love means turning a blind eye to sin.  People often cringe at the idea of Church discipline because they think it seems so judgmental.  Yet, John and Jesus both teach us that love for God and for others involves obedience to Godís commands.  Thus, if we truly love a brother who is caught in sin, then we will graciously go to them and fight with all that we are to restore them, which is exactly what Jesus is teaching us to do in Matthew 18 (Church discipline).  Likewise, I remember being a youth and being taught that if I really loved a girl then I would wait to have sex with her until we were married.  Obviously the teaching is right, but I am not sure that I made the all-important connection that if I truly loved a girl then I would obey Godís commands, for that is love.  So then, youth and singles, love others (including perhaps your future spouse) by obeying Godís commands.  Those of you who are married, love your spouse by obeying Godís commands.  Parents love your kids by obeying Godís commands and kids do the same.  Never make the mistake of thinking that disobedience is loving. 

John brings together the doctrinal, social, and moral tests in this passage.  He relates them all to the theme of our love for God.  So then, let me close with this question: do you love God?  If that is a brand new question for you, then let me tell you where to begin.  Believe that God created you and that you sinned against Him.  Believe that He first loved you and sent His Son to pay the price for your sins by His death on a cross.  Believe that the Father raised Him from the dead on the third day.  Turn from your sins and believe.  If you do this, then God has promised to give you the gift of the Spirit who will assure you that you are in Him and that He loves you.  Likewise the love of God will cause you to love others and give your life for them by obeying His commands.  So then, begin with belief and repentance.

If you are here and you claim to love God, then consider the two tests that John gives us: love for others and love through obedience.  Are you loving others and laying your life down for them?  How could you love them more?  Are you living on the principle of making yourselves poor for the sake of others?  Likewise, are you loving others by obeying Godís commands?  Have you possibly given in to the lie that it is more loving to ignore a particular command?  I encourage you to examine your hearts and look hard at your relationships.  In all of this we must keep our eyes on the purpose of all of these tests, namely assurance that we have eternal life.  If we are believing in Christ and the Spirit indwells us, and if we are loving others by keeping Godís commands, then we can have confidence for the coming Day.  May we have such assurance and such confidence as we approach the Table this morning.  Amen.

1 John Stott, The Letters of John TNTC (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988), p.176.

~ William Marshall ~

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