Lesson Number 8
GOD IS LOVE
"9In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. 10In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us. 13By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. 14And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world. 15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him. 17Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. 18There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. 19We love Him because He first loved us. 20If someone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? 21And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also."
(1 John 4:9-21, NKJV)
The book of First John possesses neither speculation nor vain philosophy. You will find no evidence of groping for truth, or flaying the air in an attempt to get at something. There is Divine solidity to all of its affirmations, with not the slightest twinge of doubt found in them. Critical matters are said to be "manifested" (1:2; 2:19; 3:5,8,10; 4:9), "revealed" (3:2), and "known" (2:13,14; 3:6; 4:16). Evidences are provided with the marvelous introduction, "By this we know" (2:3,5; 3:16,19,24; 4;6,13; 5:2), and "hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him" (3:19), and "Hereby we know" (3:24). "Assurance" (3:19), "confidence" (2;28; 3:21; 5:14), and "boldness" (4:17) are also declared to be realities in the saints. Their presence, however, can be undetected by the novice, and therefore they are announced with gladness. The reality of these New Covenant provisions can also be washed away in with the tide of false religion, misplaced emphases, and distraction to lesser things.
There is a profound absence of all of these qualities in contemporary religion. Nearly all present-day representations of Christianity are driven by human philosophy and lifeless systems. In fact, that is what has created the many sharp divisions between believers. Human wisdom has been so elevated in the minds of religious people that it has become the touchstone for proof in Scriptural matters. Language, history, theological position, or some other form of human wisdom, are too often the very basis for supposedly Christian persuasion. This approach to life in Christ has all but eliminated the requirements of faith in Christ and love for the brethren. But both of these are powerfully declared in this book to be indispensable. There is no salvation apart from them. God will not recognize the person lacking these things.
This message is so clear in this short Epistle, that it can only be missed by failing to exposure our hearts and minds to its truth. If our hearts are to be made confident, we must hear words of this sort. We cannot come into the presence of the Almighty upon the basis of our own achievements. Our hearts know this to be the case. A condemned heart will drive us from the presence of the Lord just as surely as it did in Adam and Eve.
Faith, however, takes hold of Divine provision and boldly comes into the presence of God to obtain mercy, and find grace to help in the time of need (Heb 4:16). Thus the Spirit speaks to our faith, anchoring us in Divine utterance and heavenly realities. If we are to survive, we must know the truth, for it alone will free us.
GOD'S LOVE HAS BEEN MANIFESTED
This should put to rest the notion that reaching the lost is the premier work of the church-a myth that has been perpetrated in the name of Christ. Were this the case, most of the Apostolic writings would be addressed to the lost. But they are not, and the Apostles were given to the church, being placed as the foremost office in it (Eph 4:11; 1 Cor 12:28). The work of the Apostles is really a view of the fundamental work of Jesus and the primary work of the church. Jesus is presently interceding for the church, and has been made Head over the church to nourish it and prepare it to dwell forever with Him. The Apostles, together with all other gifts to the church, have been granted for the building up of the saints (Eph 4:12-16).
The Love of God
The love of God is obviously profound. It is "shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit" (Rom 5:5). The perception of it is the catalyst for our own love for God (1 John 4:19). It is a subject intended to engage both heart and mind.
One of Christ's indictments against the Pharisees was that they passed over, or disregarded, "the love of God" (Lk 11:42). Among other things, this confirms "the love of God" is a vast repository of Divine goodness. It is a rich resource from which our need is supplied. If a person can get within the influence of Divine love, thorough satisfaction will be realized, and all requirements will be met. This is depicted in Zephaniah's wonderful expression. "The LORD thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; He will save, He will rejoice over thee with joy;
He will rest in his love, He will joy over thee with singing" (Zeph 3:17). It is no wonder the Lord Jesus spoke of abiding in God's love (John 15:10). Speaking of this fundamental aspect of spiritual life, Jude admonished us, "Keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life" (Jude 21).
Found Only in Christ
The love of God is an expression of His Person-an outreach of His character. With great care, the Spirit teaches us this love is realized in Christ Jesus alone. When we are found "in Christ," we have come into the domain where Divine love is realized: i.e., "the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom 8:39).
We cannot make too much of this. Satan has perpetrated a false religion that can function without immediate association with Jesus Christ. This pretension admits to Christ, but does not rely upon Him. It acknowledges the historicity of Christ, but does not flee to Him for refuge (Heb 6:18). It is described as "Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof" (2 Tim 3:5). All of its talk about the love of God is pointless and vain, because it does not rely upon the Son of God.
Without belaboring the point, this accounts for the lifelessness of much of the religion of our time. Where spiritual life is not made known, the love of God is NOT being experienced. And, where the love of God is not being experienced, there is not a reliance upon the Lord Jesus Christ. It is really that simple, and there is no need to further complicate the matter. We do want to be gracious toward people, but where God is not working, it is only because He is not welcome, loved, or trusted.
Manifested Toward Us
The love of God is not to be viewed academically, or studied as though it were a science, or body of knowledge to be classified. This is a love that is "manifested," or displayed to us. While it does require our attentiveness and thought to perceive it, the point of our text is that God has made the initial move. Humanity, because of its fallen condition, is not able to conceive of a God that loves. That is evident in the multiplicity of gods conceived by idolaters. None of them are noted for love-i.e., a love that seeks to benefit those upon whom it is conferred. There have been gods created by men that are associated with love, but it is always sensual love. Such gods, or idols, have also been used to promote sensuality.
God has therefore made His love known. He has revealed both its reality and its manner, or nature. But this does not mean He merely has told us about His love, showing us certain aspects of it, and how He is capable of bringing good things to individuals, collectively and individually. He has not given us a manual of definition, but a book of affirmation. We will see that His love is chiefly declared in what He has done, not how He feels.
A Marvelous Expression
A most marvelous expression of this truth is provided in Titus 3:3-7. "For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another. But when the kindness and THE LOVE OF GOD our Savior toward man APPEARED, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but ACCORDING TO HIS MERCY He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been JUSTIFIED BY HIS GRACE we should become heirs according to the hope of ETERNAL LIFE."
A Focused Love
The love that is being made known is "toward us" - i.e., FOR those who are in Christ Jesus. This is even more focused than the love declared by Jesus: "For God So loved THE WORLD that He . . . " (John 3:16). There are at least three areas on which Divine love is focused.
God's love is focused toward the world, the church, and the individual. The world of humanity is distinguished from all other personalities in the love declared in John 3:16 (i.e., distinguished from angelic hosts). John 3:17 reaffirms this more general view of God's love. "For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved" (John 3:17). This is a marvelous provision. It was a love that focused on those who "were dead in sins" (Eph 2:4). It constrained God to send His Son into the world to be "the propitiation for our sins" (1 John 4:10). This is a love that appeals to all men everywhere.
In our text, those who are in Christ Jesus are distinguished from all other people. Israel is the initial example of Divine love being focused on a group of people (Mal 1:2). The church, or body of Christ, is the ultimate and greatest example. It is written, "Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it" (Eph 5:25).
Thus the triumph of the people of God is traced back to "Him that loved us" (Rom 8:37). The wonderful circumstance in which we now find ourselves is directly owing to the love of God. As it is written, "Now our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God, even our Father, which hath loved us, and hath given us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts, and stablish you in every good word and work" (2 Thess 2:16).
The love of God can even be focused on a single individual. As it is written, "Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord" (Gen 6:8), and "to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word" (Isa 66:2). "If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him" (John 14:23). John, you will remember, was "the disciple whom Jesus loved" (John 21:20).
Realizing this aspect of Divine love, Paul cried out, "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me" (Gal 2:20).
An individual's commitment to the Lord is directly proportionate to the discernment of these aspects of Divine love. In general, it is understood that God loved the world, thus emphasizing His commitment to delivering us from that dreadful environ (Gal 1:4). The understanding that God's love is more specifically focused upon the church, compels the individual to be identified with those people, seek their welfare, and profit from their gifts and abilities. The awareness of the intensely personal love of God propels an individual into greater spiritual depths, more prolific understanding, and more prodigious labors. I know of no exceptions to these observations.
His Only Begotten Son Sent
Five times in Scripture, the Lord Jesus is called "the ONLY begotten" (John 1:14,18; 3:16,18; 1 John 4:9). Four of those times He is called "the ONLY begotten Son," and once, "the ONLY begotten of the Father" (John 1:14). To the Son, the Father said, "this day (when He came into the world) have I begotten thee" (Psa 2:7; Acts 13:33; Heb 1:5). This refers to the humanity of Christ, and is not an affirmation that our Savior's Person was created. His origin was "from everlasting," as Micah declared (Mic 5:2).
How is it that Jesus is so identified when we read in this very book that those in Christ are also "begotten of God" (5:18). James declares God "begat" us "with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures" (James 1:18). Peter also affirms God has "begotten us again unto a lively hope" (1 Pet 1:3). When, then, does the Spirit mean by "ONLY begotten Son?"
The language is precise, and is to be taken as it is stated. The ONLY life really begotten by God is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. We are begotten by virtue of our reception of the "ONLY begotten Son." God could beget no sons among sinners until He had begotten His "ONLY" Son. Technically speaking, Jesus is the only "Man" God recognizes and honors. Our recognition by God is strictly based upon our identity with Christ Jesus.
Illustrated in Abraham
This truth was marvelously illustrated in our father Abraham. When Isaac was around thirty years old, God required a most extraordinary thing of Abraham. "Take now thy son THINE ONLY SON Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of" (Gen 22:2). Of the occasion, the Spirit later said, "By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up HIS ONLY BEGOTTEN SON" (Heb 11:17).
From one point of view, Abraham had also begotten Ishmael of Hagar when he was eighty-six years old (Gen 16:16). Ishmael is called "Abraham's son" (Gen 25:12). Isaac, however, is called "His ONLY begotten son" (Heb 11:17). Why is this the case? Because no other son was born as Isaac was. His birth was a miracle wrought by God. Ishmael's was a normal birth wrought in the energy of the flesh. Isaac, because of his BIRTH, was recognized by God, and thus became the heir of the promise (Gen 21:12; Rom 9:7; Heb 11:18). Ishmael, because of his BIRTH, was not recognized by God, and thus did not become an heir of the promise (Gen 21:10-12; Gal 4:30).
So it is with Jesus Christ, the "ONLY begotten of the Father." No one was begotten as He was! No one came, or comes, into the world as He did! From one point of view, He was "brought" into the world (Heb 1:6). In this sense, He was, as it were, escorted into this world, protected from the diabolical purposes of the devil and the wicked intentions of men. From yet another view He "came" into the world (1 Tim 1:15). Here we see the choice of the Lord Jesus Himself, who graciously volunteered for the appointed mission, coming to do the will of the Father (Heb 10:7-9).
But our text declares our Lord's entrance into the world from yet another point of view. Jesus was "SENT" by the Father into the world (4:9-10). He was sent to accomplish a purpose determined "before the foundation of the world" Eph 1:4; 1 Pet 1:20). This mission, we are apprized, was an expression of "the love of God." By this, the Spirit means God was not motivated by our need, or by a sense of deep sympathy for our deplorable condition. While those are surely involved in the reason behind Christ being sent into the world, they are not at the center of it. It was God's profound desire to do us good, to bless us, and to bring us to Himself, that compelled Him to send the Son into the world.
A Costly Entrance
We must not take our Lord's entrance into the world for granted, allowing only a consideration of our need. It is good, nay, imperative, to recall the unspeakable disadvantages Jesus experienced in coming into the world. He had to divest Himself of the prerogatives of Deity, laying them all aside (Phil 2:7). He entered into the world without omniscience, omnipotence, or omnipresence. He entered into a state where growth was required, dependency upon the Father necessitated, and temptation endured. He was required to be "made sin for us" (2 Cor 5:21), be "made a curse" (Gal 3:13), and be "forsaken" by God (Mark 15:34). He
He was "tempted in all points like as we are" (Heb 4:15), "suffered being tempted" (Heb 2:18), and "learned obedience by the things that He suffered" (Heb 5:8). If you begin to imagine that you have been asked to endure difficult things, think of the cup Jesus was commanded to drink. It will alleviate your own sorrows, and open the door for rejoicing to enter into your heart.
And what does the entrance of the Son into the world confirm to us? What compelled such a thing to take place? It is the love of God that is revealed by His only begotten Son being sent into the world-and coming voluntarily and joyfully.
That We Might Live
Now the purpose for Christ's entrance is more specifically defined. From a more general point of view, the Son came into the world in order that people might have eternal life and not be condemned. But John takes the matter even deeper, confirming this is no shallow love that we are being given to see. The purpose is brief but pungent: "that we might LIVE through Him." When He was dwelling among us, Jesus said He came that we might "have life," and "have it more abundantly" (John 10:10).
Requires Death to the World
Life in Christ presumes death to the world and its ways. As it is written, "For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God" (Col 3:3). When we were baptized into Christ, we were raised by the Father to "walk in newness of life" (Rom 6:4). Jesus was sent into the world in order that this life could be realized by us. It is a life that cannot join in alliance with this world, and involves a loss of affection for the things of this world.
Requires Death to the Law
Those participating in this life have become dead to the Law, having passed beyond its condemnation. As it is written, "For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God" (Gal 2:19). It is not possible to be alive and sensitive to God while remaining under the bludgeon of the Law. God did not send Jesus into the world so that we could be better governed, but so we could "live unto," or for, Him.
A Dominating Life
This is a dominating life, as confirmed in the words, "For if by one man's offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ" (Rom 5:17). Spiritual life cannot be lived by fits and starts, or in cycles and seasons. If it does not reign, it will wane. If it does not dominate, it will dissipate. When the love of God is placed into the background of life, the love of the world comes to the forefront. Jesus came into the world in order that we might experience this type of life.
This is nothing less than "eternal life." While it is presently only in the firstfruits sense, yet it is very real and very effectual. The person imbibing Christ has eternal life (John 6:54). This is God's gift to us "through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Rom 6:23). It is what we are exhorted to lay hold of, being aware of its presence and power (1 Tim 6:12).
Any approach to religion that does not contribute to the development of spiritual life, is a delusion from the devil. It has nothing whatsoever to do with Divine intent or the Lord Jesus Christ, but is spurious and to be rejected as a poison to the soul. If God sent His Son into the world that we might "live through Him," woe be to the person or procedure that stifles that life! If the soul becomes dull toward God, death is imminent. If a person's religion causes such a condition, a most serious situation is present, and must be addressed immediately.
An absence of life indicates that, to some degree, Jesus has been refused. If God sent His only begotten on into the world that we might live through Him, the absence of such life can only mean the Son has not been embraced. If this were not the case, God would be proved a liar, and His purpose frustrated. Who is the person who would dare to affirm such a thing to be possible.
Let every soul embrace the Son, without reservation and with all zeal. When this takes place, the love of God will be confirmed to us. Then we will see more clearly that God's abundant love has not only brought us forgiveness of sin, but abundant access to himself.
In a very real sense, we are presently being saved, or kept alive, by Jesus Christ. Is it not written, "For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life" (Rom 5:10). Not only, therefore, were we raised from death in trespasses and sins by Him, we are presently living by Him. Thus the Spirit testifies, "Wherefore He is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by Him, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for them" (Heb 7:25). The continual work of Christ in the behalf of the saints sets the tone for all Kingdom work.
Settle it in your heart, if Jesus continually makes intercession for us, it is because it is required. Only eternity will fully tell how low sin brought us, and how high grace is bringing us! Praise the Lord!
REAL LOVE IS DEFINED BY GOD'S LOVE
A Spiritual Principle
When it comes to Scriptural definitions, we always begin with Deity, proceeding from there to things more obvious to men. God and Christ are defining Points, as our text will powerfully affirm. In this arrangement, you do not define God or the things of God by reasoning from temporal realities or relationships. The reasoning process must always be the other way-From God to temporal matters. Because this is not as clearly known as it should be a few words concerning this principle are in order. Heaven is never secondary-never!
Earthly relationships reflect heavenly ones, but do not define them. For example, the relationship of Christ and the church is reflected in the interrelation of husband and wife. However, marital involvements do not clarify heavenly ones, and are not intended to do so. Rather, heavenly relationships shed light on the earthly ones.
The types and shadows introduced under the Old Covenant do not define the great realities of salvation, but were designed to introduce them to men, preparing the way for the coming Savior. A shadow is never precise, and always more general than the substance. The marked similarities between the shadows of the Old Covenant and the substance of the New Covenant are best understood this side of Christ. The real profitability of those ancient ceremonies was never seen by those engaging in them. Now that the Light has come, we gain great insight, however, from them.
This very principle is declared in our text. Love-real love-is not defined by human response, but by Divine initiative.
Not That We Loved God
If we want to take hold of the greatness of love, and see it in its fulness, we must not look for its definition or primary exhibition among men. While there have been great men and women of God who loved Him, their love was a reflected love, and not the substance of love itself. "In this is love," the Spirit affirms, "NOT that we loved God."
Several things are revealed in this expression. First, God does not love us because we love Him. His tender love toward us is free, or gratuitous. Second, we are the ones that need to be constrained to love, not God. Our love must be awakened, as it were, and strong incentives given to take hold on God and His Son. But it is not so with God.
Notice also that he draws no comparison between man's love for man and God's love for man. Rather, the Spirit compares man's love for God with God's love for man. He straightly tells us that our love for God is not the greatest exhibit of love. We ought not to spend our time studying love from the human point of view, for the real profit will not be gained by such an approach. We may study how Peter, James, John, and Paul loved Christ, but that will not provide sufficient incentive for us to love Him. Our focus must be upon God's love for us.
He Loved Us
From an earthly point of view, one might develop some reasons why men should love God. Such reasons might make a lot of sense to some. On a lower level, one could cite the many temporal benefits that come to men from God. On the higher level, the many aspects of His great salvation could be adduced as notable reasons to love Him. And all of those conclusions would be true. Yet, they would not give us an accurate picture of love, nor provide us with the impetus required to heartily love God.
But when we consider God's love for us, we are seeing real love. He loved us, "even when we were dead in sins" (Eph 2:4). If, therefore, we imagine that we are above loving our enemies, as we are enjoined to do (Matt 5:44), let us ponder the love of God. When "we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son" (Rom 5:10). That is love! Everything contrary to that is really pretension, and is no love at all. This, as I understand it, is precisely the point the Spirit is making through John.
His Son sent to be a Propitiation
The Spirit will now affirm that the greatest revelation of the love of God is found in the reconciliation of men to Himself. He will not immerse us in the quagmire of human reasoning, or parade before us sundry examples of members of our race who have loved God. He will take us to the revelation of God's love through the atoning death of His Son. This, of course, is the Gospel once again. It is ever "the power of God unto salvation" (Rom 1:16), and is never replaced with another emphasis.
This is the second time we have read of "propitiation" in this book (2:2; 4:10). It is also used in Romans 3:25, where God is said to have set Jesus forth publically as a Propitiation (NASB). Jesus was the votive gift of God for the salvation of men. The word "votive" emphasizes the avowal, or commitment, of God to the salvation of men. In the sending of Christ to be the propitiation for sin, God was confirming His committal to our salvation. He was, as it were, making a statement that would stand the tests of time. Reaching down through the generations, the death of Christ remains the most powerful incentive to both faith and godliness. Once seen, it breaks down all resistance against God.
As is seen in this Divine expression of love, love is costly, requiring an investment by the one giving it. How clearly this is seen in God's love toward us!
By saying, "Herein is love," the Spirit is saying we look in vain to find real love anywhere else. All valid love springs from God's love, finding its origin in the perception and reception of Divine love.
The reason for Christ's entrance into the world is herein specified: "to be the propitiation for our sins." In so doing, He turned the wrath of God from us, absorbing the shock of that wrath. He "tasted death for every man" (Heb 2:9). The love of God was so strong that He vented His wrath upon the Son, that He might lavish His love upon us. That, and more, is involved in God sending His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
With remarkable consistency, the death of Christ is related to the sin of the world. He did not die because we were sick, but because we had sinned. The association of Christ with illness is consistently related to His suffering and His earthly ministry, not His death (Isa 53:4; Matt 8:16-17). His death, however, went deeper, touching the real issue that had separated men from God-sin. Sickness does not alienate men from God. It is sin that does that, and God sent His Son into the world to address that situation.
It is our business to ponder God sending His Son into the world, and to seek to grasp its significance more fully. It is not enough to develop some trite sayings about the mission of Jesus, and then forget it. When we behold the love of God in sending Jesus to be the propitiation for our sins, loving the brethren will make sense. Putting to death the deeds of the body will be seen as a necessity. Loving God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength, will no longer be viewed as an impossible task. In the energy of Divine love, we will find our love for Him maturing and producing fruit within us. Serving God will be a delight, and His commandments will not be grievous.
THE LOGIC OF LOVING ONE ANOTHER
Our obligation to love one another is twofold. First, as the "offspring of God," we are in His "image." We are therefore morally obligated to love one another. Second, we are a new creation in Christ Jesus, and are make "partakers of the Divine nature." For this reason, we will find the greatest benefit and fullest expression of that nature in loving others also possessing that the Divine nature.
When we consider the "manner" (3:1) in which God "loved us," what possible reason can be adduced for failing to love the brethren? God loved us when we were "dead in sins," "enemies," "without hope," and "carried away" by our iniquities. His love was not a response to our kindness to Him.
Nothing has shed as much light on God's view of man as the mission and work of His only begotten Son. The investment is so staggering we simply cannot take it all in. No matter how long and extensively we ponder God's love for us, it seems we have only touched the hem of the garment. Our love for one another, while not in the same measure as that of our God, is to be of the same kind or manner. Thus we are admonished, "Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma"NKJV (Eph 5:1,2).
It is the manner of the Spirit to reason with us in this way. God and Christ are to be our considerations when thinking about loving one another. This is contrasted with the approach of Law, which simply imposes the matter of love upon men: i.e., "Thou SHALT love . . . " In Christ more powerful incentives are brought to bear upon the soul. When those incentives are taken seriously, it becomes totally UNreasonable to NOT love the brethren. Thus it is written, "Therefore receive one another, just as Christ also received us, to the glory of God" (Rom 15:7).
The word "ought" must be considered from Mount Zion, not Mount Sinai. By that, I mean it must not be viewed as a mere obligation that goes against our nature, but is necessary anyway. That is the manner of Law, but grace reasons differently. While the word "ought" (coming from ovfei,lomen) does carry the idea of obligation or necessity, its emphasis is unique. The obligation is owing to the nature of life in Christ. In the New Covenant, it is utterly unreasonable to act contrary to what we "ought" to do. To put it another way, it is not possible to conduct ourselves in contradiction of the commands of God if we are living by faith. Spiritual life cannot be expressed unspiritually, or in violation of the Divine nature. Such expressions are always of the flesh, and never of the Spirit.
By saying "we ought to love one another," the Spirit is saying there really is no room for any other response. God Himself has shown us the manner of Divine love. What is more, He has given us His own nature (Col 3:10), which cannot act in contradiction of God. This is nothing less than a summons to "walk in the Spirit" and live "by faith" (Gal 6:16,25; Rom 1:17). Spiritual life cannot be sustained in any other way.
It will be profitable to briefly consider the significance of loving "one another." This is a family term, applying to members of the "household of faith" (Gal 6:10). The admonition to "love one another" is never addressed to those outside of Christ. Also, it is never used to admonish unbelievers concerning their relationship with unbelievers. During Christ's discourse with His disciples on the evening of His betrayal, He thrice mentioned their love for one another. He declared this was a "new commandment," in that they were to "love another" as He had loved them (John 13:34). Twice, He commanded them to "love one another" (John 15:12,17).
The Epistles also strongly admonish believers to love one another, and to do so "fervently" (Rom 12:10; 13:8; 1 Pet 1:22). This is evidenced through "all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love" (Eph 4:2). It is also made exhibited in "serving one another" (Gal 5:13), "preferring" one another (Rom 15:10), and "considering" one another" (Heb 10:24).
There is an underlying truth behind this exhortation-a major premise upon which it is built. Our primary associations are those with our brethren in Christ. Men should be able to perceive this by the very nature of their new life in Christ. Yet, this reality has apparently eluded many professed believers.
Jesus Sets the Tone
This is no strange doctrine. Jesus revealed this was His manner, which is the only acceptable manner. On one occasion, He was told that His mother and brothers were standing outside of the house in which He was ministering. His response is arresting, and worthy of the most serious deliberation. "But He answered and said unto him that told him, Who is My mother? and who are My brethren? And He stretched forth His hand toward His disciples, and said, Behold My mother and My brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of My Father which is in heaven, the same is My brother, and sister, and mother" (Matt 12:47-50). Jesus was certainly not unmindful of His mother, as seen in His care for her while upon the cross (John 19:26-27). His primary associations, however, were those who heard His word.
Another example of this is seen in our Lord's activities on the evening of His betrayal. As He drew near to the time when He would make His "soul an offering for sin" (Isa 53:10), He preferred to be with His disciples. He had ministered to the multitudes, healed their sick, and even fed them. But now He withdrew from the multitudes, choosing to be with His primary associates. Do you remember His words to them? "With desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer" (Lk 22:15).
The Manner of God Himself
And what of God Himself-our heavenly Father? Whose company does He prefer, and with whom does He dwell? He will speak to us for Himself. "For thus says the High and Lofty One Who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: "I dwell in the high and holy place, With him who has a contrite and humble spirit, To revive the spirit of the humble, And to revive the heart of the contrite ones"NKJV (Isa 57;15). And again, "But on this one will I look: On him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, And who trembles at My word" (Isa 66:2). And again, "The secret of the LORD is with those who fear Him, And He will show them His covenant" (Psa 25:14).
Is there any question about who God prefers? Whom he blesses? Those with whom He fellowships? Those to whom He gives exceeding great and precious promises? And if this is the manner in which God and Jesus conduct themselves, how is it that some professing identity with them think less of His people, and prefer those of the world?
The Current Church Scene
With some exceptions, loving and preferring one another is a strange phenomenon in the average congregation. Camaraderie, if present at all, is generally in the flesh rather than the Spirit. The infrequency of meeting together in the name of the Lord confirms the people do not share a preference for the things of God.
I do not say these things to be critical, but to point out their total unacceptability before the Lord. A failure to love one another is nothing more than a confession that the Spirit has been quenched, the things of God are not desired, and the soul is aloof from God. There is no place for NOT loving and preferring one another. Salvation does not allow for such failure. The New Covenant makes no provision for such an omission. This is a key element of spiritual life.
LOVE IS NOT BASED UPON SIGHT
"No one has seen God at any time." The statement certainly is not ambiguous. Even so, it is too difficult for some to receive. Some, unacquainted with the nature of Divine utterance, point to the experience of "Moses, and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel." It is twice declared that they "saw God." "And they saw the God of Israel . . . also they saw God" (Ex 24:9-11). Pointing to these texts, sophists declare there is a contradiction-that God has really been seen, as these texts affirm.
The sight reported in Exodus, however, did not involve the fulness of God. He was seen in a very veiled fashion. To put it another way, they saw the GLORY of God rather than God Himself-and even that glory was an accommodation to the frailties of their flesh.
When Moses requested that God show him His glory, the Lord replied, "You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live" (Ex 33:20). In view of this circumstance, God accommodated Himself to Moses, allowing him to behold the lingering glow, as it were, of His presence. Here is how it is stated. "Here is a place by Me, and you shall stand on the rock. So it shall be, while My glory passes by, that I will put you in the cleft of the rock, and will cover you with My hand while I pass by. Then I will take away My hand, and you shall see My back; but My face shall not be seen"NKJV (Ex 33:21-23).
Another verse which seems to contradict the affirmation of our text is found in Genesis. There, after wrestling with a heavenly messenger through the night, Jacob responded, "For I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved" (Gen 32:30). Actually, the text says Jacob wrestled with "a man" (Gen 32:24). What Jacob had seen was a representation of God, and not God Himself. In his expression, Jacob was saying He had confronted God and survived. But he had not seen the fulness of God.
It is in this sense that our text reads, "No one has seen God at any time." It was not that the privilege had simply been withheld. It is not possible for flesh to survive an immediate and full confrontation with God. So far as flesh is concerned, God is "invisible" (Col 1:15; 1 Tim 1:17; Heb 11:27). In his first letter to Timothy, the Spirit moved Paul to say this of the Lord: "Who alone has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see"NKJV (1 Tim 6:16).
John also wrote these precise words in his Gospel. "No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him" (John 1:18). Now the Spirit will affirm that God is only comprehended through faith and love. Further, where faith and love are found, God Himself is also found.
If We Love One Another
Remember, the point being made by the Spirit is not intended to create doubt, but to confirm we have eternal life. He knows we will not be able to face our adversary doubting whether or not we are accepted by God, or not knowing if we are reconciled to Him. He will therefore draw our attention to solid evidence of our sonship. It will be something of supreme worth, ranking high on the scale of spiritual values.
Note that the Spirit does not say, "If we are flawless in our perceptions," or "If we have never sinned," or "If we have no need to be chastised." The test must be something at the foundation level-something that will enable us to make recovery where needed, and advance toward the "the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus" (Phil 3:14).
"If we love one another . . . " This is no casual statement, and must not be viewed as though it is. Our acceptance of and attraction to the people of God are pivotal points. We know this is true because of the conclusions revealed in that love. Lest we underrate loving the brethren, we are told that God Himself teaches us to love them. "Now as to the love of the brethren, you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another" (1 Thess 4:9). How great the evidence, therefore, that loving the brethren yields.
Let it be clear that "the brethren" refers primarily to those related to Christ and God. They are Christ's brothers because they have been begotten by God (Heb 2:11). Because they are "sons of God" (1 John 3:1-2), they are brethren to each others. As Jesus said to His disciples, "one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren" (Matt 23:8). We are not speaking here of denominational affiliation, the adoption of a creedal statement, or conformity to a perceived code or rule of conduct. This is NOT limited to people who attend the same fellowship as you do. It refers to the household of faith, wherever they are found, and under whatever circumstances they are revealed. Such relationships begin where we are, but they expand to all other places also.
God Abides in Him
"If we love one another, God dwelleth in us . . . " Is this not a remarkable statement? And are there not precious few bold enough to affirm it? Yet, it is the truth, and the people of God need to hear it. This is a glad sound to those who have a profound love for the people of God. Other versions read, "God abides in us"NKJV, and "God lives in us"NIV.
There is a tone of permanence in this language-God is identified with the one described in a unique way. Jesus spoke of the one in whom God would take up residence. "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him, and make Our abode with him"NASB (John 14:23). One of the precious promises of God relates to Him dwelling in His people. "As God has said: "I will dwell in them and walk among them. I will be their God, And they shall be My people" (2 Cor 6:16). The indwelling is both individual ("dwell in them") and collective ("walk among them").
And what will be the evidence of this marvelous indwelling? It is the love of the brethren! God is at home in such an person, and the love of the brethren confirms that is the case. However, God does not abide in the person BECAUSE he loves the brethren. Rather, the love is the result of the abiding. It reveals that God resides in that person.
Among other things, we learn here that the presence of God is essential if His people are to be loved. Further, there is no option on this matter. No one can refuse to love the brethren, yet remain identified with God. Such only reveal they are of the wicked one, even as Cain (1 John 3:12).
His Love Perfected In Us
"If we love one another . . . His love is perfected in us." The Spirit continues this powerful affirmation. Not only does God abide in the person loving the other "sons of God," His love is perfected, or brought to maturity in that individual. This is a most arresting consideration! There is, to my understanding, no religious sect willing to unqualifiedly make this statement.
The word "perfected" can also be translated "completed," or made mature. The idea is not that it is finished, but that it reaches it highest level. The reasoning is as follows. God's love toward us is confirmed by His unspeakable beneficence to us through Christ. In bringing salvation through Jesus, god brought the ultimate good to us. If, then, we lavish that love upon those very people, we, by that very work, confirm that He is abiding in us. God has already told us He is attracted to the humble and contrite, who tremble at His word. He has confirmed that He has received us in Christ, and will honor us because we serve His Son. Because it is not possible to conduct ourselves contrary to that manner and still be harmony with God, loving the brethren becomes the undeniable proof that God abides in us.
If a person is not able to receive that form of reasoning, then take hold on the Word itself, for that is what it says. "If we love one another . . . His love is perfected in us." It is in the love of the people of God that the Divine nature is most precisely revealed. That love is most in harmony with the great salvation that is in Christ Jesus, and will be the point when sonship is made known.
KNOWING WE ARE IN GOD AND GOD IS IN US
Keep in mind the reason for this powerful Epistle.
We are to understand that the words of this passage, like the rest of the book, are intended to produce these results. It should also be noted that the results cannot be achieved without this type of knowledge. This is not novel knowledge that can be ignored or removed from our consideration. Knowing these things is indispensable to consistent fellowship with God and Christ, and those who also fellowship with Them. It is essential for a dominating and strengthening joy. This knowledge dulls the knife of temptation, and empowers the individual to say "NO!" to ungodliness and worldly lusts. It also empowers us to have a confident grip on eternal life.
Knowing we Abide
"By this we know that we abide in Him." The spirit chooses His words carefully. He does not say that are "in Him," although we surely are (1 John 2:5; 5:20). But this is an even stronger statement: "we abide in Him." Jesus spoke of the one abiding in Him as bringing "forth much fruit" (John 15:5). This very Epistle associates abiding in Him with walking, or living, like Him (2:6). It is also affirmed that "Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not" (3:6).
Here is the grandest of all locations: "in Him." When we are delivered from this present evil world, we are put into Christ Jesus (1 Cor 1:30). The one who "abides in Him" has not been lured into other things. Satan's devices have been unsuccessful against such an one.
But our text does not merely say "we abide in Him," but that there is evidence available to us that confirms this to be the case. We will find that the evidence is not coincidental, or a mere discovery by those astute of mind. Rather, it has been given to us by God Himself.
He Is In Us
Here is a wonderful reality the Spirit does not want us to miss. God is not ashamed of us, and therefore is "in us." Our strangership in this world, together with our longings for a "better country" have endeared us to God, and thus He is pleased to dwell within us.
The knowledge of this confirms to our hearts that God is "for us" (Rom 8:31). Such knowledge moves the one possessing it to boldly say, "The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me" (Heb 13:6). Knowing He is "in us" produces boldness, confidence, and assurance. It ushers us into the courts of the Lord with peace and joy, and enables us to face the Goliaths, prophets of Baal, and Herod's of our time.
He Has Given Us of His Spirit
And what is the evidence that we abide in Him, and He abides in us? It is not a knowledge of the Scriptures, as indispensable as that is. It is not the bearing of much fruit, prodigious labors, or the ability to catch men. None of those things are to be diminished or despised, for they are evidence of the blessing of the Lord. But they are in a different category than the confirmation given to us. They are all human expressions. Although they are the result of Divine empowerment, they are not to be the source of confidence, rejoicing, or the conclusion that we are in Him, and He is in us.
In confirmation of this, you may recall our Lord's words to seventy of His disciples, sent on a special mission by Himself. He gave them power to do unprecedented things. Upon returning with joy from their mission, they shouted, "Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name." Immediately, the Lord identified the reason for their success, saying, "I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven," and "Behold, I give you the authority to trample on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you." Notwithstanding, He would not allow them to base their joy or confidence on what they had done. With great power He said, "Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven" (Lk 10:17-20).
The knowledge of our identity with the Lord, and His with us, must be based upon what He has done, not what we have done. How marvelously this is confirmed in this text. "By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit."
The Nature of This Knowledge
Those who are unschooled in the heavenly Kingdom cannot be satisfied with this statement. It seems too simplistic, and as though critical information is missing. The statement does not satisfy the scholar or the pragmatist. The surface commentator sees a need to apply extensive explanations to the text. The institutional man simply ignores the text. It is beyond him.
The Spirit is not seeking to help us formulate a concise catechism of Biblical doctrine. He is bringing us to the indispensable knowledge that we possess eternal life. Thus He speaks in family language of things that can only be known by the "household of faith."
It is very true that the presence of the Holy Spirit can be, to some degree, determined by His fruit - but that is not the point of this particular text. The point is not the evidence of the Holy Spirit, but the confirmation that we are in God and God is in us. That reciprocal indwelling is profound, yet very real. Only those in the described condition are able to comprehend what the text is saying. It is not intended to be something debated, or a subject on which human opinions are tossed back and forth.
It is possible to live close enough to God to know things otherwise unknowable. It is also possible to be so sensitive to the Divine working, and so acquainted with the manner of the Kingdom, that we can trace, or recognize, the presence of Deity. Jacob knew He had confronted the Lord, but only after the fact. Our text is speaking of a more immediate knowledge.
Hear it again "By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit." While men debate whether or not God gives of His Spirit to His children, our text affirms some KNOW this to be the case.
"Of His Spirit"
All major translations read the same way: "OF His Spirit." We have received the Spirit by measure, as distinguished from Jesus, Who possessed Him without measure (John 3:34). It is not possible for us to receive more than a portion of the Spirit. That is a condition reserved for Jesus alone. Were we able to receive the Spirit in all of His fulness, we would have no need of an Intercessor. This limitation is owing to our present condition: "we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us" (2 Cor 4:7).
The Spirit bears witness with our spirit, testifying "that we are the children of God" (Rom 8:16). Precisely how that witness is accomplished is not spelled out in Scripture-but those who have the witness can know it. The heart can be so tuned as to become aware of the presence of the Holy Spirit within. He is a gift from God, and makes us equal to the challenges of living by faith. How blessed, indeed, to possess such wonderful knowledge! Rejoice in it, and give thanks to God for it.
Let those who believe the Word of God seek for the knowledge of this situation: "We know that we live in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit."NIV There is no question about God giving His Holy Spirit to His children. This is repeatedly stated in His Word. "Who hath also sealed us, and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts . . . Now he that hath wrought us for the selfsame thing is God, who also hath given unto us the earnest of the Spirit . . . God, who hath also given unto us his holy Spirit . . . And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father" (2 Cor 1:22; 5:5; 1 Thess 4:8; Gal 4:6). What a marvelous provision we have in the Holy Spirit! May we speak more often of it to each other.
Do not merely seek for a sign of His presence, but for the spiritual knowledge of it. The most powerful evidence of the presence of the Spirit is not to be found in the flesh, but in your spirit. That is the part of you to which the Spirit bears witness. That witness can be both received and known. There is no point to a witness that cannot be perceived, or yields not benefits.
SEEING AND TESTIFYING
We Have Seen AND Testify
This is not a message emblazoned in the clouds of the sky, or written in stones of the holy land. While the message itself has come from God, it is testified by eye witnesses and participators in that love. This is not a message of empty and vain philosophy, or the propagation of human opinion. Well did Peter write, "For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty" (2 Pet 1:16). In the first of this Epistle, John confessed the same thing. "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and show unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;) That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you" (1:1-3a).
This reveals another aspect of God's character. His message is conveyed to men through men who have themselves walked with God-"holy men." God does not send us philosophers, but those who have walked with Him. Even in prophesying of the coming Savior, "holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit" (2 Pet 1:21). He made His gracious intentions known "unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit" (Eph 3:5). God has always followed this procedure. Thus did He say through Isaiah, "Depart ye, depart ye, go ye out from thence, touch no unclean thing; go ye out of the midst of her; be ye clean, that bear the vessels of the LORD" (Isa 52:11).
They Saw It
When Jesus chose His disciples, He did so that they might "be with Him," as well as work for Him. As it is written, "And He ordained twelve, that they should be with Him, and that He might send them forth to preach" (Mk 3:14). When the early saints were used to replace Judas, they knew of the requirement to be with Jesus and see the things that were to be testified. Therefore, Peter announced the criteria, "Therefore, of these men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John to that day when He was taken up from us, one of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection" (Acts 1:21-22).
The single exception to this was Paul the Apostle. Yet, Jesus made a special appearance to him because he was "born out of due time" (1 Cor 15:8). Jesus personally taught Paul apart from involvement with the other Apostles. Paul alludes to this in his letter to the Galatians, acknowledging that his instruction was so thorough, the remaining Apostles could not add to it. "Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me; but I went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and abode with him fifteen days." Fourteen years later, it was revealed to Paul that he should again go up to Jerusalem and confer with the most reputable of God's servants. Jesus had taught him so thoroughly, that he said of those early leaders, "those who were of reputation contributed nothing to me" (Gal 2:6).
Early in their ministry, when Peter and John were strictly commanded by a Jewish council "not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus," they answered without hesitation. "Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard" (Acts 4:19-20).
Now John confesses he also was still a part of this Divine purpose. He was speaking of what he had "seen" - namely that the Father sent the Son. When but a young man, he followed Jesus when called to do so (Mk 1:19-20). He was among three elite men who were afforded extraordinary glimpses of Jesus and His work (Matt 17:1; Mk 5:37; 9:2; 13:3; 14:33). But now He recalls the significance of those times in the power of the Spirit.
This is not a mere technicality- testifying to what they have seen. The power of the message is confirmed in this circumstance. Do you not recall how those first hearing the apostles marveled at them. "Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marveled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus" (Acts 4:13). And how did they know these men "had been with Jesus?" Was it simply because they said so? It appears there was such power in the message these men declared, and such apparent confidence in their manner, that it could only be traced back to one thing. They had been with Jesus!
The Powerful Effect of Jesus
This situation confirms the powerful effect Jesus had upon those who walked with Him. They were never the same after they had willingly been with Jesus. Even as the glory of God altered the skin of Moses' face, so the influence of Christ altered the manner of the blessed twelve whom He ordained to be "with" Him. That change, mingled with and sanctified by the glorious message, obtains a power than cannot be contradicted.
Those charged with initially declaring the Gospel were not volunteers. Of these men Jesus said, "You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you" (John 15:19). Thus Peter affirmed, "Him God raised up the third day, and showed him openly; not to all the people, but unto witnesses chosen before of God, even to us, who did eat and drink with him after he rose from the dead" (Acts 10:41).
All of this is involved in the words, "We have seen and do testify."
Sent the Son to be the Savior
This is now the third time in this chapter that John speaks of the Father sending the Son. "God SENT His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him . . . God . . .SENT His Son to be the propitiation for our sins . . . the Father SENT the Son to be the Savior of the world" (vs 9,10,14). Life! Propitiation! Salvation! Nothing is more important than these! All of them are sorely needed. The entire race was "dead." Sin, like a thick cloud, covered humanity. Bondage to Satan and sin dominated all men. God "sent the Son" to correct that situation. That truth must remain dominant in our thinking.
Divine Purposes Are Realized
Behind this declaration is the revealed fact that Divine purposes ARE realized. God has left no doubt about this matter. "For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, And do not return there, But water the earth, And make it bring forth and bud, That it may give seed to the sower And bread to the eater, So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void, But it shall accomplish what I please, And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it"NKJV (Isa 55:10-11). Again it is written, "Who confirms the word of His servant, And performs the counsel of His messengers" (Isa 44:26). "Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure: Calling a ravenous bird from the east, the man that executeth my counsel from a far country: yea, I have spoken it, I will also bring it to pass; I have purposed it, I will also do it" (Isa 46:10-11).
If this is true of God's Word, what may be said of His Son? Once the purpose for God sending the Son is declared, faith can take hold of it, realizing its fulfillment. There is no way that this revelation can be embraced by faith, yet not fulfilled in the believer!
Recollection More Powerful
There is another aspect of the Kingdom that is here evident. Although the Apostles were chosen to be with Jesus, behold His workings, and directly hear His words, the recollection of those things had more power than seeing and hearing them. A word on this circumstance will be profitable.
When Jesus was bodily with His disciples, they were obtuse concerning His Person and purpose. This is made known in several of their responses. "What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him? . . . But they understood not that saying, and were afraid to ask him . . . But they understood not this saying, and it was hid from them, that they perceived it not: and they feared to ask him of that saying . . . They understood not that he spake to them of the Father" (Mk 4:41; 9:32; Lk 9:45; John 8:27). Even though he was with Jesus, saw what He did, and heard what He said, Peter once rebuked Jesus for saying He would be "killed" (Matt 16:22). Upon hearing that Jesus was going away and would return to receive them again, Thomas responded, "Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way?" (John 14:5).
But this type of response was abruptly terminated following Christ's ascension into heaven, exaltation to the right hand of God, and the sending of the Holy Spirit. Never again did they speak in such a manner. Jesus had told them, "However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth . . . But the Helper (ComforterKJV), the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you" (John 16:13; 14:26).
The recollection of the things "Jesus began both to do and teach" (Acts 1:1), under the powerful tutelage of the Holy Spirit, had greater power and yielded grander results, that seeing and hearing.
A Source of Comfort
This should be a source of great comfort to us. Such recollection is related to faith, which is "common" among every member of the body of Christ (Tit 1:4). This is precisely why Peter referred to the faith of later generations as "a faith of equal standing with ours"RSV (2 Pet 1:1). There is a fellowship in faith that is on a grand and glorious scale.
Believing the record of the Apostles will yield the same effect in us as believing what they saw and heard produced in the Apostles. It does not make us equal with them, but it does bring us into their fellowship (1:3). The extent of this is challenging to ponder.
CONFESSION IS EVIDENCE
It should be obvious to us that confessing "Jesus is the Son of God" is more profound that at first appears. Too, that Jesus "IS the Son of God" is equally a concise and far-reaching statement. It is not to be viewed casually, or in a mere academic manner. We know this is the case because of what the confession evidences.
Confessing Jesus is the Son
Confession is more than making a statement. It is the acknowledgment of something believed and embraced. Commitment is inherent in confession, so that what is confessed reveals the focus of the individual.
The significance of confessing Jesus is further revealed in what He Himself said about it. "Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven"NKJV (Matt 10:32). The Spirit further says, "If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation" (Rom 10:9-10).
Do not miss the gravity of these promises. They are absolutely unequivocal. "I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven!" "You will be saved!" "Confession is made unto salvation!" This cannot refer to a heartless statement, or mere intellectual assent to something considered of little consequence. Promises of this magnitude can only be related to an activity of great significance before God. If we are in doubt concerning the significance of a God-ordained duty, consider the promises attached to it.
When Peter confessed that Jesus was "the Christ, the Son of the living God," Jesus informed him he was "blessed." God had revealed to him what he had confessed (Matt 16:16-17). It is out of place for anyone truly making that confession to imagine it was not preceded a similar revelation.
The reciprocal indwelling is again brought to our attention. This emphasizes the remarkable unity that is accomplished in salvation. "God abides in him, and he in God."
Jesus Prayed for This
This is the very unity for which Jesus prayed on the eve of His betrayal. "I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me" (John 17:20-23).
This is the focus of God's great salvation-the bringing of individuals into fellowship and unity with Himself. contrary to some thoughts on this passage, Jesus is not praying for the organic unity of His people: i.e., of being united with one another. That is the natural outcome of the unity of reference, but is not the unity itself. The Father and the Son are united. Salvation brings the redeemed into THAT unity: i.e., "one IN Us." Hear it again, "I in them, and You in Me."
The person who confesses that Jesus IS the Son of God does so because God IS abiding in him, and he IS abiding in God. This is not, therefore, the initial confession that is made, because of which we are baptized into Christ (Acts 8:37). Nor, indeed, is that the confession of reference in the tenth chapter of Romans. This is an avowal that flows from fellowship with the Father and the Son, and it is precious!
It is the kind of confession Jesus Himself is said to make among the Gentiles. "Now I say that Jesus Christ has become a servant to the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made to the fathers, and that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy, as it is written: 'For this reason I will confess to You among the Gentiles, And sing to Your name'" (Rom 15:8-9). Just as Jesus confessed to an existing relationship with the Father, so the one confessing that Jesus is the son of God is acknowledging an existing relationship with the Lord.
This reciprocal indwelling reveals that God is not ashamed of believers, and delights in them. It also confirms the Lord Jesus is not ashamed or them. Additionally, it also makes known that believers are not shamed of the Lord, and are satisfied with Him. God is thus at home in the believer, and the believer is at home in Him. That is a most delightful circumstance!
THE EVIDENCE OF CONSISTENCY
"16And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him." The love God "has for us" has been revealed through the Son-in particular, through our faith in the Son. The point being made is that we can have no living association with Christ unless God dwells in us, and that God does not dwell in us except we believe in the Son.
Known and Believed
The phrase "we have known and believed" is the same as saying we have known by believing. Technically, the phrase reads, "we know and continue to believe." Believing, therefore, is not terminated when we come to "know," or begin to see the real nature of our redemption. It continues to be a wellspring of life while we are in the world. The word "known" emphasizes our experience, while "believe" underscores our persuasion. It is the manner of the Kingdom that experience always proceeds from persuasion. Thus Abraham fathered Isaac after he had believed the promise. Noah built the ark to the saving of his house after he had believed God's word. Mary conceived Jesus after she had believed the angelic messenger.
And so it is with us. We will experience the result of God's love for us when we believe that it is precisely what God has represented it to be.
The Love God Has for Us
Up to this point, God's love has been mentioned in the past tense, hearkening us back to Christ's entrance into the world, and His vicarious sacrifice (4:10,11). But now the love of God is in the present tense: "HAS for us." When the love God HAD for us is received, it will be lavished upon us experientially! We ourselves will be loved, our need will bemet, and our hearts will be abundantly satisfied. God will then take up residence within us, and show us His covenant (Psa 25:14).
The Threefold Abiding
"God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him." Here is a most powerful line of reasoning. Because "God is love," those who are characterized by love have, by that very fact, revealed their association with the Lord.
Here is a threefold abiding. (1) The one in Christ abides in love. (2) The one abiding in love abides in God. (3) God abides in the one abiding in love. It is not to be assumed that a person automatically abides in love. That is something that requires faith. Nor, indeed, is it to be assumed that one automatically abides in God. That is determined by whether or not the individual abides in love. Finally, it is not to be assumed that God automatically abides in the individual. That also is determined by whether or not the person abides in love. Salvation forges a unity between God and man. It also will, if not resisted, maintain that unity through the power of the Holy Spirit. At no point does salvation cease to require the activity of the Father, the Son, or the Holy Spirit.
God will not remain in the person whose nature is fundamentally unlike His own. For him to do so would be a contradiction of His own character. A person who has no regard for those in fellowship with God and Christ has, by that disregard, forfeited the presence of God Himself. It makes little difference what the profession of such a person may be. If the one abiding in love is abiding in God, the one NOT abiding in love is NOT abiding in God.
Abiding, or remaining, is a critical point in spiritual life. If it was, as some allege, impossible to fall away, the very idea of remaining would have no significance. The word "remain" postulates the danger of NOT remaining. That is why such great promises are attached to it. If remaining in Christ is not an issue, these marvelous promises are instantly diffused, ceasing to bring solace and encouragement to those who are fighting the good fight of faith. Every believer is to give attention to the matter of abiding, or remaining, in Him. It is evident that this is not generally known in the Christian world, where departures from Christ have become commonplace. But no person who ceases to remain in Christ is recognized by God.
The purpose of this text is not to produce suspicions in us concerning others. Rather, it is to confirm to those in Christ that they have eternal life. It is axiomatic that those remaining in Christ are themselves aware of that fact, and draw great consolation from it. Our religion must, therefore, make us more sensitive of our status in Christ Jesus, drawing attention to our faith in, and commitment to, the Lord Jesus Christ.
PERFECTED LOVE AND BOLDNESS
Love Perfected In Us
The perfection of love refers to the fruitage it is intended to yield. Like a fruit tree has served its purpose when it bears fruit, so love serves its purpose when it yields the results declared in this text.
No believer can content himself with a mere sampling of love, or occasional manifestations of it. Love must be brought to maturity, else its purpose will not be realized. Remember, the perfection of love is directly related to our consideration of the people of God. They are the revealed focus of God's attention. There is no room in His Kingdom for the individual who, in his manner of life, is at variance with that fact.
Boldness In the Day of Judgment
These words fly over the head of the flesh. Those who are not living by faith cannot conceive of having "boldness in the day of judgment." "Boldness," in this case, refers to unwavering "confidence," and is so translated in later versions (RSV, NASB, NIV). Confidence, or assurance, is an aspect of faith, and will yield glorious results when we stand before the judgment seat of Christ to give an account of ourselves (Rom 14:10).
The word translated "boldness" is a large one indeed, invested with much meaning by the Holy Spirit. It involves an attitude of unhesitating openness that stems from a lack of fear. It takes place publically, and is not a private matter. Thus the picture is of one standing before God Almighty in a state of absolute confidence, joy, and openness-nothing hidden. Such a condition is mentioned by Jude, who traces it back to Divine enablement. "Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, And to present you faultless Before the presence of His glory WITH EXCEEDING JOY" (Jude 24).
This sort of boldness is depicted in the parable of the talents. When the faithful stewards faced their master, they responded with boldness and confidence. "So he who had received five talents came and brought five other talents, saying, 'Lord, you delivered to me five talents; look, I have gained five more talents besides them . . . He also who had received two talents came and said, 'Lord, you delivered to me two talents; look, I have gained two more talents besides them'" (Matt 25:20,22). Notice how Jesus stated this. The master did not ask them what they did with his possessions. Rather, they "came and brought" their talents, and "came and said." On the day of accountability, they were bold and forward to give an account! That is the sort of thing our text is declaring.
As He Is, So Are We
And what is the basis of this boldness or confidence? Again, the Spirit speaks quite differently than many who bear the name of Jesus. "Because as He is, so are we in this world." Notice, it does not say "As He WAS," but "As He IS." The point is not that we are living in the world like Jesus lived when He was in the world-although there is certainly an element of truth in that. The point is that we are so intimately involved with the Lord Jesus that His present life is being expressed through us while we are in the world. Is that not a marvelous consideration?
And what can be said of Jesus now? What is He doing, and what are His interests. The Word of God is abundantly clear on this. He is "ever living" to make intercession for the saints (Heb 7:25). He is the "Great Shepherd of the sheep" (Heb 13:20), and is touched with the "feeling of their infirmities" (Heb 4:15-16). He is giving them rest (Matt 11:28), and is nourishing and cherishing them (Eph 5:29). He is committed to their interests, marshals angelic hosts for their assistance, and governs the world with them in mind. There is not a single moment when Jesus is not attentive to those destined to be His bride.
How is it that such a life can be found in us? How can we be "as He is" in the world? The resounding message of this book is that this is revealed in our attitude toward His people. In this text, loving the brethren is the focus of "as He is." I understand that being holy as He is holy is essential. The hatred of sin and the love of righteousness is also a requisite. No part of spiritual life is to be avoided. But all of this is concentrated in the love of the brethren. Right there the real nature of Christ is made known, and it will yield benefits on the day of judgment itself.
THE POWER OF PERFECT LOVE
No Fear in Love
Here the Spirit is contrasting true spiritual life with the administration of Law. Under the law, the people were themselves at variance with God. They did not think like God, and thus could not act in harmony with Him. Law assisted them in addressing the manner of their conduct by threatening them with death, should they choose to disobey God. Thus fear rose in the hearts of the people. Of this situation the Spirit says Jesus came to "release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage" (Heb 2:15). In summation, the Law shouted, "The soul who sins shall die" (Ezek 18:4,20). In fact, the very first commandment given to man was of this order: "But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die" (Gen 2:17). It has always been true, "The wages of sin is death" (Rom 6:23).
Now the spirit affirms "there is no fear in love." The individual who loves is not motivated by fear. He is neither serving nor obeying God to avoid condemnation, but because he has a preference to do so. He worships and serves the Lord because he wants to, or "in spirit and in truth" (John 4:23-24). The more completely a person loves the Lord, the less fear will dominate him. Fear and love, in this sense, cannot mix.
Fear Involves Torment
What a statement is this! "Fear hath torment!" Other versions cast additional light on this remarkable statement. "Fear involves torment"NKJV. "Fear involves punishment"NASB. "Fear has to do with punishment"NRSV,NIV.
Fear, in this case, has to do with the prospect of being punished. Attempts to obey or do good are done in an effort to avoid the punishment of God. To the natural man, this makes a lot of sense. It is not uncommon for men to induce respect and obedience by threats. And, indeed, when men are "in the flesh," this is certainly in order. But, as the Spirit says, you are "not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you" (Rom 8:9).
If you have ever been dominated by a fear of facing God, being judged by God, or being consigned to hell, you know the effect that has upon the soul. Were it not for God sending Jesus into the world, we would be confined to such a state. Those before Christ who served God out of love did so because they believed the promise of a coming Savior. Throughout all history, those who were ignorant of God's provision of redemption have been dominated by fear.
The One Who Fears
The person who fears, at this point, is not condemned. The Spirit now makes a strong appeal to our hearts. "But he who fears has not been made perfect in love."NKJV The words "has not been made perfect," or "IS not made perfect" awaken hope within our hearts. They mean the fearing soul is not yet shut up to fear. Love can yet yield a bountiful harvest in the one presently dominated by fear.
But such an one must acknowledge the truth. It must be admitted that a deficiency in love exists, and effort expended to correct that situation. No person lacking love is spiritually mature. However, that does not mean they cannot be mature. There is grace in Christ to effectively meet and conquer this situation.
WHY WE LOVE GOD
It is the perception, or belief, of God's love for us that produces our love for Him. What, then, ought to be the focus of true religion? Should the emphasis be placed upon us loving God, or upon God loving us? Right here we come into sharp conflict with a lot of professed Christianity.
Under the Law, the primary thing was the duty of man. Thus the first and great commandment was to "love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength" (Deut 6:5). The whole Law was, in a sense, an exposition of that commandment. Nine times in the book of Deuteronomy, the people were reminded of their obligation to love God (6:5; 11:1,13,22; 13:3; 19:9; 30:6.16.20). The thrust of the Law, therefore, was an obligation placed upon men to love God.
Too often, those representing Christ speak as though this was a proper message for the church. They speak to believers as though they did NOT love God, seeking to constrain them to love Him out of a sense of obligation. This is altogether out of order.
Our text affirms that "we love Him because He FIRST loved us." Because of this reality, the Gospel accentuates God's love for us. It is a declaration of an existing love, not the imposition of a required one. Over and over we are apprized of Divine love toward us. "God so loved the world . . . the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me . . . But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us . . . Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us . . . God, even our Father, which hath loved us . . . Unto him that loved us" (John 3:16; Gal 2:20; Eph 2:4; 5:2; 2 Thess 2:16; Rev 1:5).
As that Gospel is preached in power, and when it is believed, it causes us to love God. When the Gospel is believed, we WILL love Him because He first loved us. That is why the Gospel must never be shelved by the church in the interest of other things. No other message must be allowed to gain the prominence afforded to the Gospel alone. Should that ever take place, our love for God will wane. In fact, that is exactly what happened to the church at Ephesus.
The Ephesian Church
The Ephesians had a noble beginning, receiving the Gospel of their salvation joyfully, and being sealed with the Holy spirit of promise (Eph 1:13-14). But before too many years passed, Jesus Himself said to them, "Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love" (Rev 2:4).
They had carefully tested the false apostles and found them to be liars. They had also labored indefatigably for Christ. Yet, they abandoned their "first love." And why so? It could only be that their attention had been turned from the Gospel to other matters. Perhaps they had become more focused on identifying false prophets than on perceiving the Savior.
If it is true that "we love Him BECAUSE He first loved us," then a waning of our love can ONLY come when His love for us is diminished in our thinking. A failure to love God cannot exist unless its CAUSE is neglected. When love is waxing cold, the Lord Jesus is being forgotten. Our message, like that of the Apostles, must emphasize the love God has shown toward us in Christ Jesus. That is the melody of all true preaching.
SAYING IT DOES NOT MAKE IT SO!
Jesus' Word to Peter
Before the betrayal of our Lord, He confided in Peter that Satan had asked to sift him. "Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat." The awfulness of that sifting required Christ's intervention. He continued, "But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail." Knowing that His prayer would be effective, and that Peter would recover himself from the dreadful evening when he would thrice deny the Lord, Jesus directed Peter concerning his future activities. "And when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren" (Lk 22:31-32). He did not tell him to testify to the world, but to strengthen the brethren! You can effectively proceed from loving the brethren to preaching the Gospel to every creature. But there are precious few, if any, that are able to successfully move from reaching sinners to edifying saints.
Following His resurrection, Jesus confronted Simeon Peter. Under the sifting of Satan, Peter had denied Christ three times-and had wept bitterly that he did. Early in the morning, Jesus came to His disciples, preparing them some food, and providing a miraculous catch of fish for them. After they had eaten, Jesus addressed Himself to Peter. He did not ask, "Will you obey Me?" Nor, indeed, did He ask, "Will you die for Me?" Instead, he asked three times, "Do you love me?" And after three affirmative responses, Jesus replied, "Feed My lambs," "Feed My sheep," and "Feed My sheep." That emphasis remains the same to this very day.
If Someone or Any Man
Here is a statement that knows of no exceptions. Wherever a person can be found fitting this description, one who does not love God has been identified. "If anyone says, 'I love God,' yet hates his brother, he is a liar."
The word "hate," as you must know, means to love less, disregard, or have no real interest in. It speaks more of neglect than of harming or violence. It has more to do with not providing for, than taking from. It does covers everything from the person simply being indifferent to the brethren, to doing evil against them. The people of God are simply not viewed as His people.
Is it possible for a person to affirm a love for God, and yet be indifferent to, and even harm, the people related to God? Indeed it is! That is why the Spirit compelled John to write this down.
Throughout history, from Abel until this very day, the greatest source of sorrow to the people of God has been those who profess to know God. Whether you consider Moses, the holy Prophets, the Lord Jesus, the holy Apostles, or Stephen the martyr, they have confronted the hatred of professed brethren. For myself, my greatest hurt and sorrow has come from professed Christians. In fact, such experiences are so common, we tend to overlook them. But the Spirit does not overlook them!
Our text goes straight to the point. Those who hate the brethren, yet profess to love God, have lied. They do not love God, and have no affiliation with Him. The argument is strong and incontrovertible. It is stated with this truth in mind, that "the brethren" are partakers of Christ (Heb 3:14), and of the "Divine nature" (2 Pet 1:4). God is in them, and they are in God (4:16). Therefore the Spirit reasons, "for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?"
The Spirit is not asking for an answer, for there is no acceptable answer to this question. The only tangible evidence we have of God is His people - those in whom He resides. If a man does not love them, it is because he does not love God. His lack of attraction to, and appetite for, God has produced an aversion to the people of God. The people of God and God Himself are joined together in Christ, and are always so viewed. It is not possible to make the matter more plain than that.
THE COMMANDMENT REITERATED
Failing to love the brethren, then, is not a matter of weakness, but of disobedience. It is a waxing fat and kicking like Jeshurun of old (Deut 32:15).
It is not possible to walk in the favor of God, experience His blessing, or taste of His goodness without loving the brethren. No believer CAN live in isolation from the people of God, or with a disregard for them. If God is interested in His people, and His eye is always upon them, and His ear is always open to their cry, what can be said of the person who ignores, or even despises them. If the Lord Jesus "ever lives to make intercession for them," what can be said of the one who has no interest in them. If the Holy Spirit makes intercession for them, strengthens them, and fills them, what of the one who ignores them? If the holy angels have been charged with the responsibility of ministering to those who are the heirs of salvation, what will be the destiny of those who do not love them, or even bring pain and sorrow to them? These are matters for serious contemplation.
Now, set your mind to not only love God, but those who have been born of God. Seek their welfare. Minister to their needs. Lift them up when they are fallen. Tell them of the homeland, and of the soon coming of their Lord.
Count the people of God as your closest friends, for they are that, indeed. Their names are, with yours, written in the Lamb's book of life, and your destiny is to dwell with them in the house of the Lord forever. May you be an advantage to the people of God