57. Recap Love

Meditations in 1 John : 57 : Recap – Love One Another

1 John  4:19-21    We love because he first loved us. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother

I have often said that when we come to God’s word we need to pray and ask for insight and fresh revelation or understanding of what we are reading. When I come to these verses, I confess I have had a slight sense of “Oh, not again,” and therefore I need the Lord’s help even more. We’ve said it before: John is repetitious. He has been encouraging us to love one another more than once: Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. Whoever loves his brother lives in the light,” (2:9,10), and “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.” (3:16) and “And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.” (3:23) and “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God.” (4:7) and “Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (4:11) and now, “Whoever loves God must also love his brother. (4:21)

Perhaps we should ask why John keeps on coming at this same thing but from different angles. Well the first obvious thing must be that he considers this a vital thing for the church to be aware of and ensuring happens. He gives linked reasons in each case for it: living in the light (2:9), taking Jesus as our example (v.3:16), simply obeying God (v.3:23), letting God’s love flow through us (4:11), it’s an expression of God (4:21). Much of John’s writing is clearly to counter the heresies of the mystery religions and Gnostic groups’ teaching and perhaps they were not known for being communities of love and so he wants to contrast the Christian community with them in this way.

John, as with the other apostles, teaches with a logical flow. Here he starts with, “We love because he first loved us.”  This is the starting place, if you like, of all this talk of love. We have been loved by God in what He has done for us through Jesus’ work on the Cross, and then by giving us His Spirit, and one thing I have observed in my life is that I am changed and am able to love when I have been loved. Various people in my life experience have loved me unconditionally and I have been changed and I love in return, but once you start loving it overflows to others. Oh yes, any love that I have, comes first because He has loved me.

But then he thinks about this love and realises that when we say we love God, we are loving One we have not seen. But then he looks around and (obviously) sees Christians who are not getting on and thinks, this is strange, they love one they cannot see (or so they say) and yet cannot love one they can see, and because the One they cannot see is God, he feels this is illogical: “For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.”   You may say you love God but if His love doesn’t flow through you to your brother and if you are not doing that which you know God does want to happen, surely you can’t be loving God whatever you may say about it! Be real, be honest.  If you really were experiencing God’s love and loving Him, that would be expressed in allowing Him to flow through you and love others – ALL others, and so if you have an individual or a group that you feel hostile towards, it puts a question mark over your love for God. You cannot compartmentalise love. You cannot say I love God, on one hand, but not love your brother (family or church) on the other. Love is love and it spreads. If there is genuine love for God and from God, then it will overflow to others. If, on the other hand, that love for God is not there or a form of it is there but it is not genuine, then that will be revealed by your negative unloving attitudes towards various people.

Eventually John returns to the commands that have come from God. If we can’t live by grace, then we find the Law being applied to us: “And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.”   If you cannot see the logic (or prefer to shy away from it because of what you know you feel for others) of what John has been saying, then see the command. If you say you love God, then you MUST love others.

Now when I look around the modern Christian world, I know of many church splits or divisions that have taken place, and I have heard much critical talk within the church, both of which provide fertile ground for hostile unloving attitudes. There may be grounds to separate off from a church group that is settled and dying, and there may be grounds to speak negatively about certain people and their behaviour that is seen across the world, but whatever we think (and know) we are called to maintain an attitude of love toward them. This teaching by John allows us no room to manoeuvre; it is quite uncompromising. We MUST love. End of story.

56. Confident

Meditations in 1 John : 56 : Confident

1 John  4:17,18    In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

Our verses start of with “In this way” which refers back to the previous verse: And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.” It’s all about love! We rely on God’s love and live in God’s love and because of this John is able to say, “love is made complete among us.” We are, if you like, a community of love. The word ‘love’ comes up 33 times in this one letter. We might say that John is the apostle of love and, as we’ve commented before, that might be because of the awareness that he had had of being loved by Jesus (Jn 19:26, 20:2, 21:7,20) In an earlier chapter he had written, “But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him.” (1 Jn 2:5) i.e. this love is completed by our obedience to His word, but now his emphasis is on this love being completed because of its source – God Himself.

But this brings another confidence with it, the confidence that we will have on the Last Day, the day when we face the Lord. On that day we will face the Lord, not as strangers or aliens, but as those who have been recipients and carriers of His own Holy Spirit, and who have been changing throughout their lives to become like Him with His character. There will thus be great similarities between us and Him on that day, and because of that there is no danger of Him rejecting us. There is often in Christians, a shying away from the day of destruction that the Bible speaks of, a final day when God winds up everything and destroys every person who has rejected Him. Such vivid pictures as are found in say Isa 34:1-4 leave no room for doubt. There will come a terrible day when God will say, “Enough!”

The other aspect of this confidence that we have because of who we are and what we have become, is that we will be without fear when we have to face Him on that day.  But is it more than simply who we are and what we’ve become, it is to do with the very fact of love. He is love and He’s filled us with love and where there is this love there cannot be fear. I love my wife deeply and to even think of fear between us would be ludicrous. When a young man or woman falls in love, fear is the last thing that they would think about in their relationship. Love and fear just can’t exist in the same room; they are not compatible. So because we are certain of God’s love and are filled with His love, there is absolutely no room for fear.

But there is yet another thing about fear: it is associated with guilt and punishment. A criminal on the run is fearful of being caught because he knows he is guilty and knows when he is caught he will be punished, and he fears that, and it is a right fear. But when there is perfect love, and when the punishment has already been disposed of (by Jesus’ work on the Cross) then there is no fearing punishment because that has been properly dealt with and justice has been satisfied. So, because the question of punishment has been removed, so has fear been removed.

But John adds one more significant comment to this. “The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”  If you fear it means you are still afraid of punishment and have not entered into and experienced the love of God through Jesus. This is the whole thing about God’s love, it has done everything for us that can be done to remove our guilt, our shame and our punishment, so that none of these thing impinge on our relationship with the Father and we are free to just fully enjoy and experience to the uttermost, His love. If you haven’t entered into that relationship then you will haven’t experienced that love and you will not know the wonder of your guilt and shame and punishment being removed and you will still live in fear of one day having to face the Father and account for all those things.

There are so many aspect to this, aren’t there! He has done all this for us through the work of Jesus on the Cross and when we accepted and received that finished work as applying to our own life, then He put His own Holy Spirit into us, the Spirit who is love. We experienced love by what God had done for us through Jesus and now we experienced it in a new way by the presence of love in His own Being, now living in us. And this has brought total transformation: we now live love-filled lives and because of that there is no room for any fear to exist any longer in us in respect of God. How wonderful! Hallelujah!

55. Reliant on God’s Love

Meditations in 1 John : 55 : Reliant on God’s love

1 John  4:16    And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.

There are possibly two of THE most significant statements in these verse that you can find anywhere in the whole Bible. Yes, that is a strong statement, but I believe it to be true. The first significant statement is “we… rely on the love God has for us.” This is so basic and fundamental to Christian belief and so unique in the whole world that it is on one hand staggering but on the other hand something I suspect most of us take for granted.

But think about this. I often receive comments or questions about God’s word and so often they come from Christians and non-Christians who are uncertain about God. Who God is and what he is like is at the heart of most people’s concern, although of course many people just push it to the back of their minds and ignore it – but it is there! So often people’s concern is about whether they think God approves them and their life. That must always be the biggest human doubt. If God is as so many say He is – big and holy – where does that leave me, but I am small and far from holy. That is what we feel deep down so often, because we are aware of our failures, and our inadequacy. The thing we said wrong or the thing, deep down, we know was wrong, those are the things that weigh heavily upon us. What does God think of me when He sees what I am like? So we blow it and get it completely wrong and the enemy whispers in our ear that that is the end, we are a write-off, there is no hope for us.

It is in these ways and in these times that this truth MUST come to the fore; it is at such times that I MUST rely upon God’s love. The alternative is to push my guilt into the back of my mind somewhere and pretend it is all right – but knowing that it isn’t. It is when we are being very human and getting it not perfect that this truth that John speaks here becomes all-important.

But perhaps we think more about how that works out, we need to consider the second of what I have described as THE most important statements in the Bible: “God is love.”  I think this particular one is absolutely mind transforming, and yet for the vast majority of the earlier part of my Christian life it just remained as words, but please, think about this one as well. God IS love. This doesn’t mean that all love is God but it does mean that everything about God is an expression of love.  This is so vital to understand that we need to put content to the word ‘love’ and reiterate the definition we’ve used previously of it: selfless, sacrificial, unrestricted good-will towards all others.”  Now this present verse means that everything God thinks and everything God says, and everything God does, is an expression of this selfless, sacrificial, unrestricted good-will towards all others – towards us.   Everything! There is nothing about God that is excluded from this definition. Our task is to read the Bible in the light of this revelation and perhaps see it with new eyes and look behind the surface and ask, how is what I read here, how are these words of God, and how is this act of God, an expression of selfless, sacrificial, unrestricted good-will towards all others?

THAT is what we rely upon, is what John says in the first part of this verse above. Whatever I think, say or do, God looks upon me with unrestricted good-will.  I’ve used that word or mini-phrase, ‘good-will’ because the word ‘love’ has been so abused over the years that we’ve lost it’s meaning but behind it is the sense of the intent of good-will towards another person. When we love someone we want the best for them, we want good for them – and that’s what God wants for us.  That is what comes through the Bible again and again, whether it be the familiar word of the Lord from Jeremiah, For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future,” (Jer 29:11) or the even more familiar words from the apostle Paul, “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose,” (Rom 8:28) and the almost too familiar, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (Jn 3:16,17)

There it is, God’s intention toward us is good and that has been ultimately expressed in the giving of His Son for us. When I’ve got it wrong, or the world seems to be going badly, THIS is what we rely upon, for this is the truth that God IS love and God is FOR us. Hallelujah!

54. Son of God

Meditations in 1 John : 54 : The Son of God

1 John  4:14,15    And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God.

For those of us who have been Christians for any length of time, the fact that Jesus is described as the Son of God comes as no surprise and, more probably, we take that for granted and give it very little thought, but it is actually an amazing thing and John testifies here that this Son is the Saviour of the world, and acknowledging that is another of these things that speak of the relationship we have with the Father.

Let’s unscramble our minds for a moment about this ‘Son’: These are the words of the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze.” (Rev 2:18) Wow! That doesn’t sound like the Jewish carpenter, but it is; he’s just in another form.  Earlier in that book John had seen Jesus: “among the lamp stands was someone “like a son of man,” dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.” (Rev 1:13-16)  Again a far picture from the Jewish carpenter who walked the shores of the Sea of Galilee.  Later in the same book we have yet a further picture of him: “Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. He had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. He came and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne. And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb.” (Rev 5:6-8)

In the first and second quotes above we know this is Jesus the Lord of the Church, for he is described as ‘the Son of God” because he goes on to describe himself: “I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever!” (Rev 1:18). In the third quote we know it is Jesus the Saviour of the world, because those around the throne worship him and sing, “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” (Rev 5:9) Remember John the Baptist had described Jesus as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (Jn 1:29)

The fourth picture of the Son of God in Revelation is even more incredible: “I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.” (Rev 19:11-16)  The clue here is the name “Word of God” which is how John described him (Jn 1:1,14) Here he comes as the judge of the whole world.  The apostle Paul had spoken of Jesus is a similar way: “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil 2:9-11)

Jesus himself gave us clues to his true nature when we find, “At this the Jews began to grumble about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” (Jn 6:41) Again and again in that passage he says it and reveals that he is the One who previously lived in heaven and has now come to earth. We also see it as Jesus prayed: “Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.” (Jn 17:5)  Yes, when Jesus is described as the Son of God, don’t just think of him as a human who was born of a human woman; he was and is the One who had existed in eternity with the Father, part of what we call the godhead. The incredible thing is what John then wrote in his Gospel: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” (Jn 3:16-18)  Have you ever thought of the separations that this entailed? First it meant the Son of God leaving heaven, for the first time in history. Then when Jesus hung on the Cross and the sin of the world came upon him, there was an even greater sense of separation from the Father as the human in him cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” for that is what it felt like. Those are the lengths that the Father and Son went to in their love for us. Amazing!

53. Spirit Indwelt

Meditations in 1 John : 53 : Spirit Indwelt

1 John  4:13    We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.

I wonder how many people sitting in the pews (or on the chairs) on a Sunday morning are sure in their mind that they are people indwelt by the very Spirit of God?  What scares me about Scripture sometimes, is that I can read a verse or a paragraph and completely miss things I take for granted. In the previous verse John said, if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us,” but there he used the phrase “God lives in us” as an outworking of love and it is as if now he thinks, but actually God DOES live in us anyway and I need to note that: “He has given us His Spirit” and he lives in us.

John first picked up this train of thought at the end of the previous chapter: “Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.” (1 Jn 3:24)  He hinted at it again a few verses later: the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” (1 Jn 4:4) In his reasoning for us to love one another he focused first on the fact that Jesus, the expression of God’s love for us, had died for us (v.7-11). That had brought him to saying about how we loved because of this, but it also showed that God was in us (v.12). Now in our present verse he stated that more directly. He is going on to refer back to Jesus’ love for us being an expression of the Father’s love for us (v.14-16) and he concludes it with, “Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.” (v.16b)

These are John’s only references in his letter to us being indwelt by the Spirit, for it is not the main issue as far as he is concerned; that is all about Jesus and so again and again he returns to refer to Jesus.

I asked earlier how many sitting in church on a Sunday morning can say that they know that they are indwelt by God’s Holy Spirit. It is almost a basic teaching in the New Testament yet I am sure that there are many of us who are not convinced about it. Let’s examine what the New Testament tells us about it.

In his Gospel, John records at one point, “On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” (Jn 7:37,38)  John then adds his own interpretation of what Jesus said: “By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.” (v.39) Note the reference to, “from within him” and the application that the Spirit would eventually be within the believer. The numerous references to the Spirit coming in Jn 14-16 don’t actually say he will live in us.

On the Day of Pentecost we read, “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit,” (Acts 2:4) implying He was now in them.  At the end of his first preaching on that day, Peter declared, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38) Clearly the implication was that all new believers would similarly receive and be filled with the Spirit as they had that day.

The apostle Paul was undoubtedly the greatest teacher about this, e.g. “God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” (Rom 5:5) and “You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ” (Rom 8:9) and “if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you…..” (Rom 8:9 Implied He is!) and “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?” (1 Cor 3:16) and “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” (1 Cor 6:19) and of course there are many, many more references to the Holy Spirit’s working in us.

So, as we have commented a number of times already in this series, the Spirit of God indwells us and, to put it slightly differently, He empowers us, enlightens us, educates us and enables us. We are what we are by the combined work of Jesus on the cross and his Spirit indwelling us. Hallelujah!

52. Love Expressed

Meditations in 1 John : 52 : Love Expressed

1 John  4:11,12  Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

Back in the twentieth century, decades ago now, the Beatles sang, “All you need is love”. The only thing about that was that their love was not the love that we defined in an earlier meditation as “a determined sense of goodness and good-will towards a person, wanting the best for them and wanting to do what you can to achieve that,” or as that might be sharpened by the bible to mean “selfless, sacrificial, unrestricted good-will towards all others.”  Human love always falls down as less than that for it is always tainted by Sin and self-centredness. I never like using the word, “ought” when preaching because like that other word, “should” it imposes an obligation on people which sets them up for failure and then guilt, but the fact is, as we just noted, that love is not natural; self-centredness is. In fact the more we think about this letter and John’s constant references to love, we realise that we need his provoking to make love the centre piece of our lives.

Take this example: as is very common in our society, here is an elderly person living on their own. It is their choice and their children live elsewhere. Naturally the children are very busy with their lives and so naturally, this elderly person is on their own – and often lonely and, being elderly, struggles with modern living. The natural response of the children is to say, “Well, they chose to live alone and we are very busy,” and so naturally life carries on with that elderly person being very much on their own. But then love steps in. One of the children is a Christian and they read John’s letter and are provoked and convicted. We “ought” to love one another? We know this means we ought to express love in some clear way. Love, as we’ve noted before, means doing something. This child of our example, now starts considering how they can do something to alleviate the loneliness of the elderly parent. That is love in action.

Yes, the truth is that it is not natural to love and so the ‘Law’ needs to point us in the right direction. But John doesn’t give us a bland command to follow; he works logically on what has happened to us: “since God loved us….” This perhaps takes it away from a legalistic application to a more natural expression or outworking.  If electricity passes through an iron, the iron ought to get hot. If you take painkillers, the headache ought to disappear. If the heating comes on in the morning in Winter, it ought to get warmer in the house. These are natural expressions or outworkings.

So, John appears to be saying, being those who are recipients of God’s love – in the form of Jesus dying on the Cross for us, and his Holy Spirit being given us, we would expect the natural outworking of that to be love expressed in and through us. This will be partly an act of choice, a decision we make to love as in the example above, and partly the natural working of the Holy Spirit who is love, within us.

But John goes on directly from what we have just said. Because God is love and lives within us now by His Spirit, when we express love we are expressing true love because it is Him through us. Yes, says John, no one has ever seen God but the fact is that by His presence in us, the presence of the One who is love, as we love we are letting Him express Himself through us. Do you see this? This is why that twofold thing we said just now is so important. God will not force Himself on us or through us, but when we choose to love it opens the door for Him to express Himself through us, and when this happens what a third party witnesses as they watch you, is God expressing Himself in your loving words or loving acts and this love, being Him expressing Himself, is perfect love. It is not love tainted by self-interest; it is love from the Father which is pure and good. Isn’t that amazing!

So, to summarise, we choose to love in our awareness of what has happened to us and our gratefulness to God and our desire to please Him and bless others. When we do that we open the door for Him to express His love through us and people witness God moving, they witness pure untainted love being expressed. Hallelujah!

51. God’s Love

Meditations in 1 John : 51 : The Proof of God’s Love

1 John  4:9,10   This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

There are people who suffer from tunnel-vision. They focus on one little thing that has come to their attention and say, “God can’t possibly be a God of love if He lets that happen,” and totally ignore the vast wealth of evidence that points to His love. John distils God’s love down to one thing when he says, “This is how God showed his love among us.” He focuses us on THE one primary thing which above all else says, “This is an act of One who must love us with all His being.”  It is, of course, the fact that “He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.”

Now some of us may be so familiar with the Gospel that we’ve allowed the wonder of it to be lost to us. Others may be unclear about it and so have never seen the wonder. So, let’s see some of the basics of what John has just put before us.

We must start with a fallen human race, a world that was designed and made perfect but which turned away from God to self-centred and godless living and which, therefore, soon meant unrighteous living, living contrary to the design of the Maker.  Each and every human being is blighted, contaminated or infected by this self-centred, godless disposition and live out lives that are godless and unrighteous – and wrong! Justice (which we accept in any other context) demands that wrong doers be punished but the scale or enormity of the wrong of the human race is so great that we tend to either accept it as normal and forget issues of justice, or we just turn away from thinking about it because it is too big and too terrible to think about. Almost by definition, this self-centred and godless way of living means that God seems a million miles away (when you turn your back on someone you can make yourself believe they are not there – that’s what little children do!) Put another way, there seems a massive division between us and God. If we do think about God, it is with a sense of fear because deep down we know we are in the wrong and He seems so great, so awesome, so powerful, and so wonderful that our natural response is to scurry away or flee from Him.

So there we were alienated from God, guilty and stuck with it, helpless to make ourselves any different. Even when we tried to ‘be good’ it was still self-centred and it was still godless because He still seemed a million miles away. We were doomed to this for the rest of our existence. We needed help, we needed rescuing, and the only one who could rescue us was God Himself. But there is the problem, He is Spirit and He is in heaven.

It is at this point that we come to the beginning of the Gospels and Jesus being born inBethlehem. This was the Son of God who had existed from before the beginning of time in heaven with the Father: see John 6 about coming down from heaven and John 17:5 for Jesus’ reference to the glory he had before the foundation of the world. This is where we struggle in our minds, coping with the thought that Jesus the Son existed in heaven before he lived on the earth for thirty three years, two thousand years ago, but it is so. This is the plan originated in the godhead before even creating the world, knowing that if they gave us free will, we would turn away and Sin would become endemic in the world. Thus John reminds us that the Father sent the Son for us so that, through his death on the Cross, our sins could be dealt with, our guilt removed and our punishment taken so that, if we will be receive it, we can now receive forgiveness and a new Spirit-empowered life, a life that continues on this earth with the Father’s blessing and then on into eternity in His presence.

If you want to start debating love, and particularly the possibility of our loving God, give up! The truth that “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”   Whatever we may feel towards God will come either out of ignorance or from the knowledge that He has sent Jesus for us. Ignorance allows silly people to say silly things about God, but once the truth has come to us we realise that it’s all from His side – He loves us and has sent Jesus so that he could take all our punishment and sin and guilt and shame so that, now, we can be turned into children of God. How incredible! Hallelujah!

50. Back to Love

Meditations in 1 John : 50 : Back to Love

1 John  4:7,8   Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.

The word ‘love’ occurs, I think it is 35 times in this little letter. John seems to be the apostle of love. Perhaps it goes back to the awareness that he had of being loved by Jesus that he referred to in his Gospel (Jn 19:26, 20:2, 21:7,20) Somehow there had been something between him and Jesus that had enabled him to describe himself in this way. Perhaps Jesus’ love for John was no greater than his love for the rest of them; perhaps it was just that John was particularly aware of that love. Perhaps, because he wrote the Gospel many years after the others, it was an awareness that had only sunk in with age. Whatever it was, now he is aware that love is at the heart of the Gospel, it is all about love because God is love and having received His love it is natural now for us to love.

But is it natural?  This is another of those times when John comes with that gentle, caring “Dear friends” approach. We noted before that nine times he calls us “dear children” and six times he calls us “dear friends”. With the “dear children” we said he feels particularly protective over us in some particular way and feels we are precious to him. When he calls us “dear friends” it tends to be that is speaking to us as mature equals and so often he appeals to us to understand something and behave accordingly. So now he comes and appealing to us as mature equals he calls us to “love one another.”

Now again this is a phrase that occurs more than once: This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another,” (3:11) and “And this is his command: ….. to love one another as he commanded us.” (3:23) And we’re going to yet see it again, “Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (4:11) Thus, including the present verses, FOUR times he reminds us or challenges or commands us to love one another. You might find this very repetitious, not only this but many aspects of John’s letter but it simply goes to show how important these things are to John and, if we accept the wisdom of this senior, elderly and possibly last remaining apostle, so they should be to us.

Something like this is important not only because in itself it is so significant, but also because the apostle, as a good pastor, knows that we need reminding of these things again and again because we have a tendency to forget and to drift from it. We asked earlier, is it natural to love, and the answer that John will give later is that, no, only when you are first loved. Yes, there are times when we “fall in love” and sometimes it can even be at first sight, but putting aside romantic love, mostly, because of the lingering sin tendency in us that expresses itself in self-centredness and self-concern, it is not natural to express the love that the Bible speaks about, that unrestrained, self-sacrificial desire for the well-being of others. That is not what we feel mostly for the people around us. If we do it is only because of the presence of the Spirit of love within us, The Holy Spirit, that we can have this feeling for others that overrides our own self-concern.

This is why John has to come to us again and again and say, “Let us love one another.”   That “Let us…” is a call to make a conscious decision. We heard the words earlier on in the letter and we thought, “Yes, I know that,” and moved on. By the time we got here we tend to think, “Yes, yes, I know, stop going on about it!” but the truth is he needs to be going on about it because it is not natural for us to be like this with people and we need to make that conscious decision to be like this, to consciously love that person who we don’t find easy.

Then he makes the crucial point, “for love comes from God.” The point he’s going to make is that if we are related intimately with God then His love is surely going to flow through us. He presses this thought by a positive and a negative, as he so often does. First comes the positive: Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.  If we really and truly express love, this unrestrained, self-sacrificial desire for the well-being of others, and not for our own self-well-being, then this is another of those signs that we are truly God’s children, that we truly have been born again and are living in relationship with God, because such love as we have defined is not natural to sinful human beings. The negative is, Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.  If a person doesn’t love they clearly don’t know God because as we’ve noted before, “God is love”. I find those three words the most liberating three words in the whole of the Bible. Most of the time I would focus on what they say about God, that everything He thinks, says or does is an expression of this love that we have defined. However, actually here in context, it is simply a reminder of the life source that is ours today, His life that energises and enables us today. We’ve said that it is not natural to love in the way we’ve defined it, but when we are in close relationship with the Father this love, His love, will flow in and through us.

Struggling to love someone? The answer is not to strive harder but to go back to the Father and pick up the relationship with Him, get close to Him, talk with Him, and in so doing, His presence, His character, His love will naturally flow in you. That’s the way it works. Any relationship we have with other people, is only as good as the relationship we have with the Father. Think on that.

49. Don’t Listen

Meditations in 1 John : 49 : Don’t Listen to them

1 John  4:5,6   They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.

Get the context. Who are the “They” at the beginning of these two verses? Well right back in chapter 2 John referred to ‘the world’: Do not love the world or anything in the world.” (2:15) meaning all those who were godless, and self-centred and motivated by purely fleshly desires, and after that he kept on making comparisons between us Christians and the rest, for example speaking of those against Christ, “even now many antichrists have come,” (2:18) and “the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist–he denies the Father and the Son,” (2:22) and he warned “those who are trying to lead you astray,” (2:26) and went on to declare, “Everyone who sins breaks the law,” (3:4) and even more, “do not let anyone lead you astray…. He who does what is sinful is of the devil,” (3:7,8) and for further clarity, “Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother,” (3:10) with yet a further warning, “Do not be surprised, my brothers, if the world hates you,” (3:13) and then into the present chapter, “do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” (4:1) Then, we saw, “You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them.” (4:4)

So, whether he is saying it as a warning or simply to differentiate us from the rest of the world, John does distinguish us from all unbelievers and they are the ‘They’ he now refers to here, and when we look back it should now come as no surprise (because it’s just a continuation and reiteration of what he’s said previously) when we find, “They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them.”  Anyone who speaks with a spirit that is in opposition to the Holy Spirit is part of ‘the world’. Now we may wonder why John appears to make such a meal of this, repeating these things again and again and the answer, I would suggest, is because so often we tend to see no difference between us and the world around us. We forget that they are hostile to God, and they are hostile to the truth. Their whole world outlook is anti-God and this is true whether they are crusading atheists, materialistic and humanistic scientists or simply the person in the street who declares strongly, “Don’t you talk to me about your God!”  They listen to one another because it is to their advantage to do so, because they thus bolster up their unbelief and confirm to themselves that they don’t need God.

But then John does a comparison again, as he has done so many times in this letter: “We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us.”   In the same way as the world listens to the world, so Christians listen to Christians, and especially to apostolic leadership who bring wise teaching, counsel and revelation.

So, he continues, you want yet another indicator of who belongs to which kingdom or dominion? Well it’s about who listens to who: “This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.   If you want to discern what spirit is behind what you hear on a daily paper, whether it is on the news or simply the talk of the community, see where it comes from and who is listening to who. Watch out for the atheistic or materialistic or humanistic speaker or originator of what you hear. Watch how they are accepted by the world around you who will so easily agree and fall in line. Then watch how, when a member of the church speaks out, they are derided by the voices of the world, and watch how people respond to the two sides.

We are called to be discerning and we are called to understand the difference between the kingdom of God and the dominion of the enemy. We should not be surprised by these things but we should understand them and recognize the origins of the things we hear around us, and recognize them for what they are. There IS a clear distinction between the two camps and we should not be afraid of declaring those distinctions.

48. A Greater Source

Meditations in 1 John : 48 : A Greater Source

1 John  4:4   You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.

I repeat how I started the previous meditation because it still applies to this verse that we are going to look at in more detail now. There is often a danger in Christian circles, especially among younger Christians for fear to creep in, and especially when the talk is of the enemy or of enemy warfare or of opposition and persecution. It is very easy to get an unbalanced picture which Satan then plays on to create fear within us which them immobilises us.  John started off what we have as chapter 4 with warnings about wrong spirits and antichrists. He’s going to say some more about them in a moment but for this verse he establishes our base or our foundation, the thing which should hold us steady in the face of any wrong thoughts.

There may be all this work of the enemy in people around us in ‘the world’ but we, he continues, “are from God”.  How simple those three words are, but so meaningful. We are what we are because of God. Somehow (perhaps because He looks down from outside time) God looked down from the beginning of time and knew that we would be responders at some point in our lives to the good news of Jesus. Thus at some point, unrecognised by us at the time, the Holy Spirit started His work of convicting us of our need and of the truth of the Gospel. All we did was surrender to His convicting power and cried out for forgiveness and submitted to God. It was at that point God did what we had been unable to do, and we were ‘born again’ by the Spirit of God (See Jn 3). At that point we were also adopted as God’s children and justified – made right in His sight by the work of Jesus on the Cross. We were new beings, we were “from God”, the work of God, His workmanship (Eph 2:10)

Because we “are from God”, by its very nature it means that we have turned our back on the world, the ways of the world and on untruth and in this sense, when it comes to all those ‘antichrists’ those people against Christ, we have already “overcome them”, we have beaten back their lies and deception from our minds and we have stood in the light of Christ’s truth and been transformed – while they remain in the darkness.

Then comes the most marvellous truth of all and this part of the verse at least we should memorise and always remember. We are what we are and we have overcome the world, sin and the enemy, because “the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.”  Whenever you hear talk about Satan or about his works or about the awful things happening in the world, remember this truth – that God, who is infinitely bigger and more powerful, lives in you! If you want a comparison, as poor as it may be, imagine all the oceans of the word – that is God. Now imagine a single drip from a tap – that is Satan. He is simply a created being, a being created by almighty and all-powerful God. He may be a powerful fallen angel as far as we are concerned but as far as God is concerned he is simply another created being and God could wipe him out with a single world. God could look at him and say, “Die!” and that would be the end of him and Satan would be able to do nothing to stop it happening. That is the truth. The Lord allows Satan to exist and do what he does, simply to use him to bring about His will. If you look in our ‘Spiritual Warfare’ section of our ReadBibleAlive Site (see side bar), and Part 1 – The Enemy – His Profile, and then part 5 of that page, “Why God permits Satan”, you will find NINE Biblical reasons why God allows Satan and how God uses Satan for His own purposes.

So, when you read about ‘the world’ being under the dominion of Satan, keep it in perspective. Again think of another analogy. Think of the tiny country ofLuxembourg. Imagine that is Satan’s domain, and so if you lived there it would seem he is all powerful. But then you take a rocket and blast out into the stratosphere and are able to see all the countries of the world – and all the rest are under God’s rule, this is how it is. Satan has been given authority over sinful human beings on this planet, but that is all. He has no sway elsewhere and certainly not in the kingdom of heaven. He is a tiny despot. Yes, he holds sway over those who are given over to sin and godless living, but he has no sway over the children of God. He may appear to shout loudly sometimes but the truth is what we are inhabited by almighty God Himself, we are part of thekingdomofGod, living under His reign, under His protection and receiving His provision. We shine like lights in the darkness and the angels of heaven see this and rejoice – and they know the truth! Hallelujah!