God’s Gift of Love
Topic: Topical Passage: 1 John 4:7-11
Our text for today is not your typical Christmas passage even though it mentions the incarnation of Christ 2 times. But while this isn’t your typical reflection on the birth of Christ, it cuts right to the heart of the Christmas story regarding how we should respond to the incredible gift God gave in his Son (read).
It’s pretty obvious when you read through this passage that the major theme is love. Love or some form of the word occurs 13 times in only 6 verses. And there are 2 major aspects of love that are at stake. First, God is love, and he set the ultimate example of love through the gift of Jesus. Second, those who are “born of God” (i.e., God’s children) will love each other with God’s kind of love.
So, while this isn’t your typical Christmas passage, it gives us a great opportunity to reflect on the love God demonstrated by sending Jesus to the earth to die in our place and to reflect on how we need to practice the same kind of sacrificial, giving love. This kind of love is very relevant to the Christmas season Let’s begin this morning by considering…
I. God’s Example of Love
I especially want to consider the gift of Jesus that is described in vv. 9–10, but to fully appreciate these verses, as well as the entirety of the Christmas story, we need to first reflect on what vv. 7–8 say about the nature of God and the nature of love.
Specifically, v. 8 concludes with the simple but profoundly significant declaration, “God is love.” I want to be clear that John does not mean that love is all that God is. 1:5 states, “God is light,” or “God is holy.” Other passages use similar language to highlight other essential attributes of God.
God is more than love, but he is certainly not less than love. “God is love.” In other words, love is a defining characteristic of his nature. It is at the core of who he is. If you were to take love away from God, he would cease to be God.
For example, I like big juicy hamburgers with bacon, cheese, and different kinds of sauce. If you go to Red Robin or Chili’s, they have some big burgers. There are a lot of things that you can put on a hamburger—pickles, cheese, bacon, onion rings, mushrooms, lettuce, etc. However, you can take most of those things away and still have a hamburger. Afterall, as wonderful as some of those things may be, they aren’t essential to the nature of a hamburger. But if you take away the beef, you may have lots of things, but you don’t have a hamburger.
That’s far from a perfect illustration, but John is saying that without love, God is not God. Love is foundational and essential to who God is. And how encouraging it is to ponder this fact. God is many things. He is powerful, he is wise, he is all-knowing, and he is righteous. But right there around the top of the list is the fact that God is love.
God’s nature is to give, to sacrifice, and to care for others. For all eternity, he has expressed perfect love within the confines of the Trinity, and now he expresses love in an infinite number of ways through his creation. Praise the Lord that God is love.
And because God is love, v. 7 adds, “love is of God” or you could say, “from God.” God is the source and the standard of all genuine love. The very concept of love is God’s creation, and he is the reason why genuine love exists in the world. It certainly didn’t come from us. Selfishness, not love, is natural to us. However, God is love, and he has communicated the ability to love to his image bearers.
As a side note, this means that God defines love, not us. All true love is “from God.” There are a lot of things going on in our world under the name of love that God defines as sin. However, it doesn’t really matter what people feel or what they want to believe, they can’t invent their own definition of love. Genuine love is always contrary to sin, not a motivator to sin. So, if you want to understand love, look to God, not to Hollywood.
And John helps us look to God for the definition of love in vv. 9–10. In these two verses, John sets before us three incredible demonstrations of God’s love.
God sent his Son (v. 9). This is where the Christmas story comes into view. John says, “Do you want to know what love is?” He answers, “In this the love of God was manifested (i.e., ‘clearly demonstrated’), that God…”
Notice the costly gift whom God sent. He sent his “only begotten Son.” “Only begotten” comes from a compound word monogenes. Mono means “only,” and genes means “beget,” which is why it has been traditionally translated as “only begotten.” However, when you consider how the term is used throughout the NT, it’s pretty clear that it emphasizes uniqueness, not origin.
That’s certainly true of Jesus. Jesus is completely unique. He is eternal God, and he stands in a unique relationship to God as his Son. Hebrews 1:2–3 describe Jesus as the one, “Whom He (the Father) has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power.”
Jesus possesses all the glory of the Father, he made the universe, and he sustains it with his word. It’s incredible to ponder. It makes the gift of Christ infinitely more expensive than any gift or any expression of love that anyone else has ever given.
Yet despite this incredible worth, “God sent His only begotten Son into the world.” Of course, Jesus bore the brunt of the sacrifice. Earlier in the service we read through Luke’s account of Jesus’ birth. I hope we never grow numb to the wonder of that story. Specifically, it’s amazing to consider the Eternal Word of God being born in the most desperate of situations, surrounded by livestock and dirty shepherds.
Yet that’s exactly what happened. Jesus gave up everything, notice, “that we might live through Him.” God gave the greatest sacrifice that we might gain the greatest reward, eternal life.
We live in a society that gives a lot of gifts, not just at Christmas but throughout the year. But you especially feel it right now. Some of you have been running hard the last few weeks buying gifts for this person and that person. And because we have so many gift-giving occasions, we are masters of giving cheap gifts. We buy and give cheap gifts all of the time.
Of course, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The expression of love is what truly matters, but I want to emphasize that God did not give us a cheap gift. He gave us the best thing that he had. He gave us the Son of God who is of infinite value. And something that makes this even more incredible is 2nd demonstration of God’s love, which is stated in v. 10.
God loved us before we loved him (v. 10a). The ultimate bad guy in the Christmas story is Herod. When he learns from the wise men that the Messiah has been born, he goes on a mission to kill Jesus. He’s so determined to eliminate any rivals that he murders all the boys 2 and under in Bethlehem and the surrounding areas. It’s a brutal act to consider.
And it perfectly illustrates the principle of this verse. We are born lovers of self, not lovers of God. It’s true that unbelievers love many gods and sometimes they claim to love the true God, even though they twist his character to fit their liking. But no one naturally loves the true God or reaches out to God. Quite the opposite, we hate God, and we resist him all the time.
We don’t have to look far in our society for evidence of this hatred. So many people boldly declare their hatred of Scripture and of biblical truth. And if you are God, and you are looking for someone to love, humanity doesn’t seem to fit the bill.
Yet v. 10 states that God set an incredible standard of love in that he loved sinners who had no love for him. God sent his Son to die for people like King Herod at the beginning of Jesus life and the Sanhedrin at the end of his life. God loved his enemies, and he made the ultimate sacrifice for them.
And it’s particularly important that we realize that v. 10 is not only talking about people like Herod or the Jewish mob who demanded Jesus’ crucifixion. No, John says, “Not that we loved God.” He includes himself, and his readers, and every believer who has ever lived. He is including you. He’s saying that you were born opposed to God and blinded by sin. But God loved you anyway and sent Jesus to the earth so that you might live through him.
This is marvelous love. All of us should stand amazed this morning at what God has done for us. He loved us and paid the ultimate price, when we hated him and wanted nothing to do with him. Praise the Lord! And this brings us to the 3rd demonstration of God’s love…
God made Christ the payment for sin (v. 10b). Grammatically, v. 10b simply completes the thought of v. 10a, but it’s such a significant concept, that I wanted to set it apart (read).
“Propitiation” means the satisfaction of wrath. It’s an important concept, because all of us deserve God’s wrath because of our sin. This is not because God is mean, vindictive, or petty. Rather, his justice demands that sin be punished. So, since we are all sinners who have rebelled against God’s will, we all deserve punishment. We deserve wrath.
But God loved mankind so much that Jesus was born to die. God sent Jesus to be our blood sacrifice. That’s not typically what we think about when a baby is born. Typically, we are excited about the life that baby will enjoy and all that he will accomplish in his life. But the Scriptures are everywhere clear that Jesus was on a death march from the moment he was born. He came to save his people from their sin through taking their sin on himself.
And if you are a Christian, you ought to give thanks today that Jesus is the propitiation for your sin. He took your punishment, and he endured your judgment. And he replaced wrath with forgiveness and life. Verse 9 says he came “so that we might live through him.”
You have life in Christ today, not bondage to sin, and someday, you will live with Christ in heaven forever and ever. It is an incredible gift. You might be looking forward to some great Christmas gifts this week, but none of them can match the salvation Jesus provided through his birth, his sinless life, his death, and his resurrection.
And if you have not received Christ as your Savior, please come to Christ today and be saved. You don’t have to try to measure up to God’s standard in your own strength. You don’t have to live your life wondering if God loves you and if you will make it to heaven. No, if you receive Christ, Jesus’ work will become yours. You can know that your sins are forgiven and that you will live forever with him. Please get that settled today, because there is no greater Christmas gift you can receive than the salvation, which is the foundational reason for the Christmas story.
So, God set an incredible example of love in sending Christ to die for us. And this example sets the pattern for…
II. God’s Command to Love (vv. 7–8, 11)
God’s demand that we love each other is the dominant point of this passage. It begins with the command “let us love one another,” and it ends by saying, “We also ought to love one another.” Sandwiched in between is the example that God set. I’d like to ask and answer 2 questions regarding God’s command to love. First…
Why must we love? Love is an essential quality of God’s children. John first states this fact positively in v. 7. He says that when we “love another,” it is a good sign that we are “born of God” and “knows God.” Both of those verbs describe a very significant relationship. The verb translated “born” means “to bear or beget.” Of course, when someone is your father, you inherit his nature, his genetics, so to speak. So the point is that when someone is born of God, he receives or inherits God’s nature to love.
It’s an incredible thought, when you stop to consider what John is saying. In fact, John says that the presence of this love provides strong assurance that we truly are God’s children and that we have received the gift of eternal life.
He then states this fact negatively in v. 8. Someone who does not love does not know God. Just like you can’t take love away from God and still have God, you can’t take love away from a Christian and still have a Christian. Someone who does not love, should have no assurance that he truly “knows God.”
This is a strong statement isn’t it? We don’t typically put a lack of love in the category of sins that disqualify someone from being a Christian. We reserve this category for people who cheat, steal, practice immorality, etc. But what if someone is just hateful or so wrapped up in themselves that they don’t care for others? Is this really that big of a deal? God says it is (v. 8).
So, is love a defining characteristic of your life? Is it an outstanding characteristic of your nature? Again, God is not merely calling us to say that we love; he is calling us to develop the loving nature of God. Would your family members sitting next to you say that you consistently practice the kind of love that demonstrates the life of Christ in you?
Kids, what would your siblings say? When was the last time you just did something kind for your brother or sister? Folks, love matters. It is central to the nature of God, and it needs to be central to the nature of those in whom Christ lives.
That’s an especially good reminder at this time of year, when you may be forced to confront a family relationship that the rest of the year you just try to avoid. Remember that love is an essential quality of God’s children, so love that person with the same love that God expressed toward you. He loved you, when you wanted nothing to do with him, and he gave sacrificially on your behalf. The 2nd question regarding God’s command to love is…
How should we love? The way God loved us. Verse 7 begins with the statement, “let us love one another.” It is not real clear in English, this is actually a command. “Let us” would seem to introduce a suggestion, but this is no suggestion. John is commanding us to practice love.
It’s also worth noting that “one another” primarily refers to other Christians in the church, since this letter is addressed to the church. Therefore, the primary place where we express biblical love is among God’s people. Christians must love each other.
Of course, the command extends to every relationship as well. If we share God’s nature of love, it’s going to come out everywhere.
So, the basic challenge of vv. 7–8 is that we need to build a spirit of love down deep in our hearts that naturally bleeds out in every relationship.
And finally notice as well, the challenge of v. 11. Of course, this challenge is rooted in God’s example as described in vv. 9–10. In particular the theme that really stands out about vv. 9–10 is that God loved the unlovable, and he loved them sacrificially in sending his only Son to earth. And Christ suffered an awful death to pay the penalty for our sin. Therefore, the only proper response Christians can have is to love each other with the same sacrificial and sincere love.
The concept is not hard to grasp, but talk about a huge challenge. I am to love others even when they don’t love me, and I must be willing to love them at great personal cost if that is what’s best.
I know that I personally need this rebuke. Some people are easy to love because they are likeable, kind, and thoughtful. Other people feel like leaches who are slowly sucking the life right out of you. It’s very easy to focus our energies on the first group and ignore the second. I would urge you to identify specific names of people who fit that second category and determine to intentionally pour your energy into loving them.
And be willing to do so sacrificially. Again, God didn’t give us a token expression of love in the form of a cheap gift. He gave us Jesus. Therefore, pour yourself into sacrificial giving.
The reality is that our culture has turned Christmas into a chaotic season of life. It’s wonderful, but I’m always ready for January by the time it’s all done. Yet behind all the time in lines at stores, wrapping gifts, and standing in line at the post office is the basic fact that God wants us to love others, express love, and give generously after his own pattern in the gift of his Son. So, I hope that you will take time this week to seriously ponder the gift God gave. “God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him.” That is love.
And then determine by the grace of God to reflect that love to others. Pursue your joy, not in what you want but in manifesting the love of Christ. Love each other the way God loves you.