I have never forgotten the day I was in church, and a medical student stood up and shared from 1 John 4:19, ‘We love because he first loved us.’ I had always understood the text as it is rendered in the King James version: ‘We love him because he first loved us.’ In a very simple way, this student made me see that not only is the Bible silent as to object of our love but that the context was about love for others rather than love for God. That was an eye-opener!
This is a pregnant statement that is both assuring and convicting. It is the type of statement that you want to frame and put up in your home. It is simple and yet profound. It speaks about us as human beings yet points us to our glorious Maker and Redeemer.
It speaks about us as human beings who need love and are surrounded by a broken world that desperately needs love. Sadly, true love is in serious short supply. What many people call love is actually lust. True love acts sacrificially for the welfare of others.
We are in a world of violence in the home and in society. We are surrounded by men and women who are unfaithful to marriage covenants and other agreements, causing those who are the most vulnerable in those relationships to suffer immense injustice.
Think also of the many people who have suffered the loss of their money and property due to the inconsiderate actions of others. Many have been forced to leave home and country to become refugees for dear life’s sake. They are totally at the mercy of others day by day.
Christians love other people
What I love about this biblical assertion is that it is a statement of fact: ‘We love.’ This is a litmus test of whether we are Christians or not. Christians love. They live for the wellbeing of those around them. This is not only what they should do. It is what they do!
The apostle John stated the same truth earlier in his epistle. He wrote, ‘We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death’ (1 John 3:14). We all must examine ourselves in the light of this truth.
John also wrote, ‘Whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love’ (1 John 4:7b–8). The logic in these words of the apostle is unescapable. Whoever does not love cannot be a true Christian.
I love how John Piper has phrased this recently. He says, ‘Christians are concerned about all human suffering—especially eternal suffering.’ In other words, we do not choose between preventing social ills and eternal damnation. We want to prevent both.
Bearing in mind that we are all born chronically self-centred and selfish, it must take the almighty regenerating work of God in the human soul to turn that self-serving energy around so that we begin to think of and work towards the wellbeing of others first.
What motivates us as Christians to do this? It is God’s love for the world that is now deeply planted in our hearts. We want to emulate him. It is also God’s love for us that causes us to love him back by loving his image-bearers. We owe him an immeasurably great debt.
God’s image is restored in us
What the fall in Genesis 3 did was to mar the image of God in us. Thus, we humans now live like wild beasts. We survive by the law of the jungle – survival of the fittest. That explains why the first brothers, Cain and Abel, ended up with one murdering the other.
Salvation restores the image of God in us. We are renewed in the likeness of God, and thus his nature begins to ooze out of us. We are enabled to love because we become like God whose nature is love. God is love! To say that this is life-changing is an understatement.
We love because God first loved us. He is the prime example. The apostle Paul used this a lot to challenge believers to love. He wrote, ‘Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her’ (Ephesians 5:25). He is the example to follow.
This is not for husbands only. All of us must look up to the example the Lord Jesus Christ if we are to love others truly. The apostle Paul also wrote, ‘And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God’ (Ephesians 5:2).
In case you are tempted to limit this love to believers loving fellow believers, Jesus taught, ‘You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?’ (Matthew 5:43–46).
There is no excuse. We are to love all those around us. We are to love the good, the bad and the ugly. We are to do so out of gratitude. Look at how much God has loved us in the death of his Son, Jesus Christ. He is the offended party, yet look at what he did for us.
As we saw earlier, this pregnant statement draws a very clear line in the sand. You cannot be in the middle. You must be on one side or the other of salvation. Are you saved, or are you not? Do you love others intentionally, or are you still chronically selfish?
If you find yourself on the wrong side of this line, you should not despair. Go to Christ in prayer and plead with him to save you. Refuse to rest until you see this loving transformation in your life. The broken world needs true Christians exuding with God’s love!