July 20, 2023

The Love of God Manuscript

SERMON TITLE: The Love of God 
1 John 4:7-12 (ESV)
Robert Tansill

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Good morning, Gateway Church! I am Robert Tansill, the Pastor of Care and Counseling. And, as always, it is a pleasure and joy to worship with you both here at Country Road 9 Campus and with those joining us at North Main Campus and online. This morning, we will look at 1 John 4:7-12 and ask the question, “What is the love of God? And more importantly, how should it impact how we relate to one another?” 


As I was thinking about our passage this morning, I spent a little time reflecting on all my years personally being a part of the church. We all have stories of churches that we have attended, both good and bad. Some of those churches might have made us feel like an integral part of a body where we felt loved, accepted, and cared for, while others may have made us feel like an outsider, excluded from the clique, or caused us great pain and sorrow. 

But what does God expect from us as believers, and how we should relate to each other? Is the love God has shown us (and continues to show us!) related to how we should respond to each other? For many people, the answer would be “No.” For some, there is no connection between God's love for us and how we are supposed to respond to each other. But what does John say about this? 

As Josh reminds us every week as we are working through this letter of 1 John, John wrote this letter so that those who believe in God can know that they have eternal life (1 John 5:13). And what we see in this letter is that believing in God is so much more than just saying, “I believe in Jesus.” Why? Because believing in Jesus changes who we are as people and how we live. And one of the major ways it changes us is by how we treat each other. 

One of the things that I love the most about this letter from John is that he doesn’t pull any punches. He tells us like it is and expects us to respond accordingly as followers of Christ. After having just described to us in the previous section about the spirit of this world and its influence, he now turns to show how we should act as people who proclaim Jesus as Christ and Lord, especially with each other. 

Listen to John’s words in 1 John 4:7-12.


Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 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. 10 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. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. (1 John 4:7-12 ESV)

As we have mentioned in previous weeks, one of the reasons John has to write this letter is because a group of false teachers have made their way into the church and are teaching that Jesus is not the Christ, the Son of God. And, as false teaching often does, it creates division in the church. So, John returns to a central theme in the life of the Christian and the church, which is the love of God (1 John 2:5). And the first thing John wants us to see is that…

Point 1: The Love of God…calls us to continue loving one another (4:7-8)

How does the church combat the enemy? By loving each other well. This is why John begins with these words in verse 7, “Beloved, let us love one another…” (1 John 4:7a). Addressing these believers with a term of endearment, “Beloved,” John is essentially calling them “My beloved friends.” (Message) The word itself means “one who is dearly loved.” (A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd Edition; University of Chicago Press; 3rd edition, January 15, 2001) Who is he talking about? Us. Along with the church that John is writing to, we are included in this address if we call ourselves Christians. 

And what is John saying to us? Or what is John commanding us to do because this is a command? John is commanding us to love one another. The word for “love” that John uses here is the Greek word “agape.” It is an important word which is why it is used 30 times in 1 John alone in various ways. And it is “a love that is unconditional, a love that seeks the highest good for the one who is loved, a love of total commitment.” (David R. Allen, 1–3 John: Fellowship in God’s Family, eds. R. Kent Hughes, Preaching the Word Commentary) 

What that looks like is best summed up in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 when the Apostle Paul writes, “Love never gives up. Love cares more for others than for self. Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have. Love doesn’t strut, doesn’t have a swelled head, 5 doesn’t force itself on others, isn’t always “me first,” doesn’t fly off the handle, doesn’t keep score of the sins of others, 6 doesn’t revel when others grovel, takes pleasure in the flowering of truth, 7 puts up with anything, trusts God always, always looks for the best, never looks back, but keeps going to the end.” (The Message)

Not only that, but it is a love that we are to continue showing to each other. It’s ongoing and unending. John will not let us get away with saying, “I showed them love even though they deeply hurt me.” John, and God, will settle for nothing less than saying, “I am going to continue to show them love even though they hurt me.” How hard is that?! And why would we do something so crazy and illogical as that?

In verse 7, John uses the word “for” to explain why. And there are two reasons that he mentions. Listen to what he says, “for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.” (1 John 4:7b, ESV) We should continue showing love to each other because love comes from God, and whoever loves has been born again and knows God intimately. John is making a radical statement because he is saying to us that, depending on whether we choose to continue to show love to each other, we are revealing where we are in our faith at that moment. And the reason is because love comes from God. 

What does that mean for us practically? Even when we don’t feel like showing someone love, we will continue to do so because God has changed our hearts by giving us the desire to please and serve him over pleasing and serving ourselves. And that choice proves that we are born again, which is what “being born of God” means. It also demonstrates that we know God intimately. I know what you probably think: “Robert, there are times when I just can’t continue to show love to someone because of what they have done to me.” I get it! I’ve been there myself. But that is why “being born of God and knowing him” is so important. It’s not you that will show love to that person, but instead, the Spirit of God working through you. 

In those times when I have harbored feelings of resentment, bitterness, or even hate for someone, I have two choices. I can either continue to bathe in those feelings that give me a sense of control, or I can turn to God and ask him to show me how to love even when I don’t want to. Remember that the first fruit of the Holy Spirit in Galatians 5:22 is “love.” What does that imply? Just what it says! It is a “fruit of the Holy Spirit.” When God calls us to do something that we don’t feel like doing, because we are born of God and know God, we have his Spirit to rely on to carry out that work in us that we don’t want to do. So, are you willing to trust the Holy Spirit to give you what you need to love that person you don’t want to love? As humbling as it is at the time, when I allow myself to do that, I feel so much better because I know that is what God wants me to do. And when I humble myself and choose to rely on His Spirit, I am able to do it, and so are you. 

In a world where we can now identify as anything we want to be, even though that is not what we actually are, Scripture does not give us the liberty to identify as Christians if we are unwilling to continue showing love to each other (1 John 3:10; 4:20). Because we have everything we need to do what God is calling us to do, there is an expectation that we are going to rely on the Spirit in times like this. Because of this, John writes in verse 8, “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:8, ESV) What does it mean that “God is love?” 

This is the big question because everything else flows out of it. Here is how one theologian describes God’s love, “The purest and strongest love among men is but a very weak reflection of the love which is in God. For the love in God is independent, unchangeable, eternal, and omnipresent. It does not depend upon us nor is aroused by us, but flows, free and pure, from the depths of His being. It knows no variation, neither falls nor rises, appears nor disappears, and there is not even the shadow of turning about it. God is love, He Himself wholly and perfectly, and with His whole being. This love is not subject to time and space, but stands above it and comes down out of eternity into the hearts of the children of God. Such a love is absolutely reliable. Our souls can rest in it in every need, including death itself, and if such a God of love be for us, who can be against us?” (Herman Bavinck, “The Wonderful Works of God,” Westminster Seminary Press, 2019)

In short, God's love is much greater than we can imagine. Love is so integral to who God is that everything else flows out of it. And because of that, since we “have been born of God and know God,” we must make it the priority in our lives by continuing to show love to each other no matter what. By doing so, we prove the claim that we are children of God. So, where do we see God’s love most clearly displayed? In creation? In the birth of a child? Through selfless acts of service that people do for one another? 

That’s the second thing John wants us to see in verses 9-10. And we can sum up this way…

Point 2: The Love of God…is revealed in his Son Jesus (4:9-10)

Of all the ways that God could reveal his love to us, John tells us that he does so in a way that we might not expect, or may take for granted. He doesn’t show us he loves us by giving us everything we want. He doesn’t show us he loves us by never allowing us to go through suffering. And he doesn’t show us he loves us by always giving us the feeling of a close relationship with God and a constant sense of his presence. How does he show us he loves us? 

Listen to John’s words in verse 9, “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.” Using a Greek word that is translated as “made manifest” in the ESV and used seven times in 1 John to talk about Jesus’s appearing (1 John 1:2; 2:19, 28; 3:2, 5, 8; 4:9), this word literally means “to cause to become visible, to appear, or reveal.” Not only that, but the One who appears is one of a kind. Unique. This is why John says explicitly, “God sent his only son.” Other translations clarify it by saying, “God sent his one and only son (NET, CSB, NIV, NLT).” 

Is that a big deal? Absolutely, because there is no one else like him, which is why one scholar says, “Never before has God done such a thing in history! Christ is the unveiling of God’s heart; he is God, displayed vulnerably before the world.” (Gary M. Burge, The Letters of John, eds. Terry C. Muck, The NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996)

Jesus alone displays best the love of God and what his heart looks like. But that’s not all. Not only did Jesus come to show us God’s love on display, but he did so with a goal in mind. At the end of verse 9, John writes, “so that we might live through him.” Side note, whenever you see the words “so that” or “in order that,” most of the time, this signals the outcome or purpose for what was just said. So, in verse 9, not only did God reveal his love for us primarily by sending into the world his one and only son, Jesus, but he did so for a specific purpose. What is that purpose? So that we might live through him. What does that mean?

Well, one thing that it means is that we have eternal life with God (cf., NLT). When we place our faith in Jesus, our sins are forgiven, and we get to spend eternity with God. But what about the time between placing our trust in Jesus and that moment we stand before God face to face? That is why this verse is so important. Not only will Jesus’s death on the cross impact us when we die by giving us eternal life, but it should also impact us now. A better way of understanding these words could be to translate them as “so that we might live now and forever through him.”

Let me show you what I mean. Just for fun, I went back through the epistles to find out how this exact Greek word that John uses for the word “live” is used elsewhere. What I discovered is that it is used a total of four times, including our passage. And in every example, it has to do with how we live now. For example, 1 Thessalonians 5:9-10 says, “For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him.” (ESV)

Titus 2:11-13 says, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, 12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, 13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.” (ESV) And finally, 1 Peter 2:24 says, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.” (ESV)

What’s the point? God loves you so much that he sacrificed his only Son so that you would have eternal life with him in the future and live for him in the present. That’s the way it's supposed to be. And, as John says at the end of verse 9, we are meant to live “through him.” That means that, of all John's commands in this epistle, not one of them is intended to be carried out in your strength alone (1 John 2:15, 24, 27-28; 3:1, 7, 13; 4:1-2; 5:21). Rather, they are meant to be carried out “through him.” That is, in the strength of the Lord by his Spirit that lives in you. This is why a number of the commands in 1 John have to do with “abiding in him (1 John 2:24, 27-28).” We carry out these commands in his strength and not ours. And that includes “loving one another.”

And the strength to do these things is fueled by God’s love. As John says in verse 10, “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.” (1 John 4:10, ESV) What is propitiation? As one person put it, propitiation is “A sacrifice that bears God’s wrath to the end and in so doing changes God’s wrath toward us into favor.” (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008) Folks, God has done through Jesus everything for us so that we can be made righteous before him. Why? Because he loves us! If he doesn’t do it for us, we get what we deserve, which is hell. And this is why propitiation is so essential. 

Here is how author Jerry Bridges explains it, “Propitiation addresses the wrath of God. It is the work of Christ saving us from God’s wrath by absorbing it in His own person as our substitute. The object of propitiation is the wrath of God. Nothing more remains to be done. God’s wrath has been propitiated. Our sins have been removed. The question is, will we appreciate it, not only for our initial moment of salvation, but for our day-to-day acceptance with God? It is only as we do the latter that we will truly begin to appreciate the glory of the cross and the unsearchable riches of Christ.” (Jerry Bridges, The Gospel for Real Life. NavPress; October 27, 2003)

Do you hear what he is saying? Jesus is the catalyst God uses to clearly express how much he loves us. Throughout his life, he perfectly fulfilled the standard of the law that we could never fulfill but for which we are all accountable. Through his death, he absorbed God's complete, total, just, and excruciating wrath in your place, which you accept by faith. And if you have Jesus, you also have his righteousness, his Spirit, God’s forgiveness, mercy, grace, and so much more. And it is all a result of one thing. The love of God!

But there’s one last thing John wants us to see about God’s love and how that love impacts us, which we’ll sum up like this….

Point 3: The Love of God…is displayed by how well we love one another. (4:11-12)

Not only does God’s love call us to continue loving one another, which is fueled by his love for us revealed in his Son Jesus, but lastly, the love of God is displayed in how well we love each other. Listen to what John says in verses 11-12, ”Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.” (1 John 4:11-12, ESV)

One of the most interesting things to me about 1 John is how he confronts us with the truth of Scripture. He doesn’t just state the truth but pushes us to decide whether we really believe it. Depending on what we decide about that truth determines whether we are Christians. And one of his primary means for doing that is by using the word “if” (1 John 1:6–2:1; 2:3, 15, 19, 24, 29; 3:17, 21; 4:11–12, 20; 5:9, 14–16). And in our last two verses, he does that twice to make his final point. In verse 11, he says, ”Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (1 John 4:11, ESV) 

Do we question the love that God has for us? We shouldn’t because John just told us that God made the greatest sacrifice he could make by giving his one and only son for us to take the wrath and judgment we deserve for our sins. So, if I can be so blunt, we have no reason to question that God loves us. What more could he possibly do? Nothing! God made the ultimate sacrifice, fueled by his love for us which we don’t deserve, but He freely gives.

In fact, whereas John’s use of “if” in verse 11 might lead us to question God’s love, the truth is that the Greek word used here could actually be translated as “since” instead, which some English translations do (NRSV, NIV, NLT, CEV). What John is really saying is, “since it is clear that God loves us so much by sacrificing his Son on the cross…” 

This truth is the foundation for what John says next and why he is so forceful in how he says it. John says, “Since God has shown us how much he loves us, we also ought to love one another.” The biggest mistake we could make is seeing the second half of that verse as optional because it is not. To be clear, John is not saying, “Hey, you know, since God gave his Son to die for you on the cross, you ought to consider loving one another.” It is much stronger and more direct than that! What he is actually saying is, “Since God paid the ultimate price by giving his innocent, holy, perfect, and sinless Son to die on the cross for guilty, unholy, imperfect, and sinful people, you are obligated to love one another.” To be even more blunt, if we call ourselves Christians and are convinced that Jesus died for our sins because God loves us, then we don’t have a choice other than to love each other. It is not optional.

Why do I say that? Because the Greek word John uses as “ought” actually means “to be under obligation to meet certain social or moral expectations” (BDAG, “A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature). It’s not a choice. Being as blunt as I possibly can be, by not loving one another, we are sinning against God and defaming the sacrifice that Christ made for us on the cross. 

This is what Jesus had in mind when he said in John 13:34, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another (cf. John 15:12, 17).” And this is why he says in Matthew 5:21-23, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. 23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” 

So, let me ask you a question. Who are you holding something against, and what do you need to do to make it right? If you are Christian, then you don’t have a choice. That’s not just me saying that. It is what John says as well. Look at verse 12. He writes, “No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.” (1 John 4:12, ESV) Since God is a Spirit, we can’t see him. No one has ever seen him in his truest form. Like I said in a previous sermon, “If God created billions and billions of galaxies, how big does that make God?” Nothing can contain him. But he has made himself known in the person of Jesus, the second person of the Trinity who is fully God. For all of us who call ourselves “Christians,” Jesus is the best proof that God exists. Everything that Jesus did as a person (his perfect life, his sacrificial death on the cross, and especially his resurrection), initiated by the love of God the Father, is the proof we base our faith on and why we call ourselves Christians.

And this is why that second “if” I mentioned earlier is so important. Using a different Greek word for “if” than the one in the previous verse, this word is more conditional. In verse 11, where the other use of “if” is assumed to be true, allowing it to be translated as “since,” this word is only true if certain conditions are being met. In fact, of the fifteen translations I compared, they all translated verse 12 this way. So, how can we state verse 12 to reflect this? Let me give it a shot. 

Proof that the Spirit of God abides in us and that we understand the significance of the sacrifice He made for us through the death of Christ, which is fueled by his love for us, is most clearly seen by how we love each other. If we call ourselves Christians and say God’s Spirit lives in us, we will love each other. As the New Living Translation put verse 12, “No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us.” (1 John 4:12, NLT) That is what John means when he says, “his love is perfected in us.” God’s love, first realized when we accept Jesus as Christ and Lord by faith in him, continues to grow and strengthen as his Spirit abides in us. The more we grow in the love of God, the more we grow in our love for each other. And what is the impact of that?

Let me conclude with this thought. As the world looks at us as people who say we believe in a God whose love for the world caused him to make the ultimate sacrifice, and that proof of that love is most clearly seen by how much we love each other, would they be convinced that God loves them by what they see in us? How we answer this question determines the impact we will have on the world we live in. As Francis Schaeffer reminds us in no uncertain terms, “Our relationship with each other is the criterion the world uses to judge whether our message is truthful - Christian community is the final apologetic.” (Francis Schaeffer. The Mark of the Christian, IVP; 2nd Edition; November 30, 2006) 

Let's pray together.


Father, as we come before you this morning, we ask for your forgiveness for the many ways we don’t show love to each other like we should as believers. Many of us, including myself, sometimes take the sacrifice that Christ made on our behalf for granted. We rely on ourselves more than we should rather than your Spirit, and we act in ways that neither honor Christ's sacrifice nor the love you displayed for us through that sacrifice. 

Some here today are still holding on to resentment, bitterness, and anger against another believer. And yet, John’s words ring true, “Dear ones, since God loved us so much by giving his one and only Son, we are obligated to love one another.” For those who are struggling with the church in general because of past hurts, I pray that you would heal their hearts, give them the strength they need to humbly lay those hurts at your feet, and rely on your Spirit to show them how to love in a way that brings glory and honor to your name. For those in this body struggling to love certain individuals because they have hurt them, I pray that you would give them the strength to trust you enough to seek reconciliation and accept forgiveness and healing. 

And for those like Jesus mentioned in Matthew 5:23-24 who know their brother or sister has something against them, I pray they stop whatever they are doing and pursue reconciliation. In doing so, we show the world what your love looks like and that you are living through us now and until that day that we stand before your presence full of glory. For to you and you alone belongs all the glory. - Amen


“Now all glory to God, who is able to keep you from falling away and will bring you with great joy into his glorious presence without a single fault. 25 All glory to him who alone is God, our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord. All glory, majesty, power, and authority are his before all time, and in the present, and beyond all time! Amen.” (Jude 24-25)

Brothers and sisters, you are sent!