The Christian life is marked by knowing and responding to God’s love. From 1 John 2:28-1 John 3:24 this article explains the nature of this love and how it fuels Christian conduct.

Source: The Evangelical Presbyterian, 2013. 3 pages.

The Love of God 1 John 2:28-3:24

Whenever we read the letters of the New Testament we are doing more than reading a remarkably well preserved first century letter from Paul, or one of the Apostles; we are reading a letter that God Himself has written to His children. In 1 John 3:1-10 we get a flavour of what God wants to say to His children, and if you're a Christian reader, this is written to you!

My Dear Children,

I love you. I'm not ashamed to call you my children. I love you with a love that is out of this world. I know that others have forsaken you, but I have set my love upon you – and it remains upon you forever. Others may not believe it, but I want you to believe it with all your heart; I have started a work in you and I want you to know that when my Son returns, I will make you perfect. I know that already, you want this – you want to be done with sin, you want purity and righteousness and holiness. It's because of such pursuits that my old enemy, the devil, will work hard against you. So please remember that when my Son came the first time, He fully paid the price for your sin. Indeed My Firstborn has already destroyed the work of the devil – I want you to be confident of this. Yes, you were once children of the devil, once you only lived to please your sinful self – but now you are mine. Since I put my seed of love into your heart, everything has changed. Now you have new desires springing from that seed, and it marks you out as different. You're my children now – and if you're going to bear the family likeness, you must remember this – I love you.

Yours faithfully forever,
Your Father in Heaven.

Christian, you are loved by the true and living God! God's love for you is immense! His love is intensely personal and completely overwhelming. It is utterly undeserved, it is pure grace. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us! Its magnitude is so great that it stops us in our tracks – we must stand and stare, we must worship Him and adore Him.

How do you respond to such immeasurable love? Even now as you read, are you not responding? Even in our everyday relationships, when someone says "I love you", and you're awestruck by them ... do you not want to reciprocate that love and say, "I love you" back, or maybe you want to express your love in some other way – but there's a deep desire to express your love in return.

I trust that's how you feel after reading of God's great love to you in Christ. You want to follow the Saviour, you want to know God's will and you want to obey it no matter what the cost! Overwhelmed by the love of God, you cry out in total surrender "Here am I, send me!"

In the remainder of 1 John 3 God tells His children just how they ought to respond to His amazing grace, and perhaps surprisingly it's not simply to love the Lord God in return ... Rather we are commanded to love one another.

1. The Command of Love🔗

V 11 "This is the message, that you heard from the beginning, that we should love one another." Love is commanded! This line of thinking is not too prevalent in our time. If you tune in to Citybeat or CooIFM, you'll hear a lot of love songs, but such love is always regarded as an emotion or a feeling, even a compulsion, but never a command.

Love of course does involve our feelings, it involves our very heart, but God is not commanding you and me to feel a certain way, He is not commanding that we get all emotionally charged up. Rather He is commanding that we do something!

He is commanding that we use our minds, our brains, and make decisions. We are to engage our will and proactively do our brothers and sisters good. But what does such love look like? First of all John shows us what it is most definitely not like. Not like Cain. John paints a great contrast, between the world and the Christian, but he makes it more specific for greater impact. A contrast between Cain and Christ.

2. The Contrast of Love🔗

Cain hated Abel because of jealousy – his own works were evil, but his brother's works were righteous. 'It's not fair,' thought Cain, 'my sacrifice has not been accepted, but his has.' But Cain had not done what God commanded.

Cain and Abel had the same knowledge: their father, Adam, had no doubt instructed them as to what would make an acceptable sacrifice – blood had to be shed. But Cain acted according to his own knowledge. He thought he knew better: he brought the fruit of the ground instead, and was rejected.

This was the same mistake that many had made in the church in Ephesus, those who had left the church – they had a higher knowledge now; they didn't have to obey the commandments any more. How foolish – they were just like Cain, and they would not be accepted, and because of that had no love for the church. John says we're not to marvel at the way they treat us.

Cain, however, is contrasted with Christ, the One who gives the commandment to love. In a nutshell – Cain took the life of his brother, but Christ gave his life for His brothers and sisters. Paul commands the Ephesian husbands in Ephesians 5:25 "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her." Here (v 16) the apostle John is saying that that same agape, self-giving love is to be shown for our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ: "we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren."

Such is the complete contrast in our attitude of heart – far from jealousy, we are to be willing to die from one another. For many Christians in the persecuted church, this is a living reality, and a very real test. But we too are to have the same attitude towards our Christian family. Having said that what would such an attitude look like in everyday life here and now? This brings us to our third point.

3. The Conduct of Love🔗

CS Lewis said "loving everybody generally can be an excuse for loving nobody in particular". Verse 16 talks about love for the brethren, but v 17 applies that same truth practically – love a brother. Open your eyes says John – do you see a brother in need? He may be in Indonesia or Nigeria or South Africa. He may be in Ballyclare or Beragh or Belfast. Then what? Open your heart to that brother – don't shut your heart, don't walk by on the other side of the road. Be like the Good Samaritan see, stop, open your heart, love him, care for him. Open your wallet for him – isn't that what the Good Samaritan did?

Don't just speak about love or write about it; John uses the phrase in v 18 "in word or tongue" – he includes himself as he writes. We are to love in deed and in truth. Love is a verb – a doing word. Love always takes action. It is also "in truth" – it is sincere. It comes from an open heart and it ends in a sincere action.

Sometimes we speak about the love of Christ in such big and glorious terms that we treat it as something we could never attain to, something we could never actually do. But John shows us that the love of Christ in our hearts, often shows itself in relatively little things, little deeds.

Are you willing to lay down your life for your brother or sister? That's the big question. But here are some little ones... Are you encouraging them? Are you giving them supper? Are you praying for them by name? Are you helping with their rates bill? These are just little questions and you can think of a thousand more. They highlight the everyday conduct of true Christian love.

4. The Consequences of Love🔗

John focuses our attention on the consequences of love for the brother or sister who is obeying the command. Clearly there are other consequences for those to whom love is shown – they are helped, encouraged, delivered, provided for.

But for the one who is loving, the one who doing these deeds in truth, whether they be big or small – there are also at least two consequences.

  1. Better Assurance. You know your heart by what is coming out of it. Not that our hearts are infallible by any stretch, indeed.

    John says in v 20 that they might still condemn us. Your heart may say, "you haven't loved enough!" So John goes on to remind the believer that God knows your heart better than you do. But in v 21 it is also true that the more we love our brothers and sisters in the Lord, then the less our heart can condemn us, and so we will grow in confidence towards God. This gives rise to the second consequence.
  2. Better Communion with God. The more we are assured before God, then the more time we will actually be before God! We will have a greater inclination to prayer. And not only that, but we have a greater boldness in prayer. In v 22 John says that "whatever we ask, we receive from him"! We might well ask how could John have such confidence! But the answer is quite simple – John is keeping God's commands; he is living to please his heavenly Father.

    If your whole life is taken up with obeying our heavenly Father, and you are always seeking to please him, then you will inevitably become closer and closer to the Lord. Your relationship will grow. What does God really want for His children whom He loves so much? John summarises in v 23 "And this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us commandment." He commands faith and love, because when they are evident in the Christian life – the sure consequence is hope.

It is then that we see the fruits of abiding in Christ (v 24) – He abides in us by His Spirit.

The fruits of the love of God are truly transforming! Imagine a community of God's children who are captivated by the love of God in Christ Jesus. They really love each other. They stick up for each other and would even die for each other. In everyday life they love each other in a myriad of practical ways, and they pray for each other constantly. They are a community who live confidently and closely with their Lord.

Does this describe your own congregation? Don't just wish it does – obey the command! Love your church family! And remember, you'll only be able to do that, when you behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on you.

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