Not long ago, we had our cat declawed and fixed. He had to be declawed because he would have destroyed our couches otherwise. Our cat’s name is Boo. We named him that because he is jet black and arches his back when he is scared like the Halloween cats you see depicted. Living in town as we do, we have to let him roam around with a harness. It may seem odd to have a cat on a harness. But with him being declawed and living in an urban area, he would quickly be killed either by the neighborhood animals or the ongoing traffic. While I was preparing this message, he was begging to go outside. A few minutes after being out, a truck stopped at a local store unloading supplies. Boo went crazy. He wanted inside badly. He was scared! He tried everything possible to get inside. But he would never by his own power make it. So, I had to go out to him and let him inside. The manifestation of God’s love is very similar. God did for us what we could not do for ourselves. God’s love is a moral attribute. We sometimes use the word omnibenevolent recognizing that God is fully love and fully good. The apostle John puts quite aptly, “God is love” (1 John 4:8). But how do we see God’s love manifested? We see God’s love manifested in three ways. But first, let’s look at S. S. Smalley’s “three observations about John’s description of God as love:
Its background is the Jewish (OT) understanding of God as living, personal, and active, rather than the Greek concept of deity which was abstract in character.
To assert comprehensively that “God is love” does not ignore or exclude the other attributes of his being to which the Bible as a whole bears witness: notably his justice and his truth.
There is a tendency in some modern theologies (especially “process” thought) to transpose the equation “God is love” into the reverse, “Love is God.” But this is not a Johannine (or a biblical) idea. As John makes absolutely clear in this passage, the controlling principle of the universe is not an abstract quality of “love,” but a sovereign, living God who is the source of all love, and who (as love) himself loves (see vv. 7, 10, 19).”[i]
1. God’s love is manifested in God’s REALITY (4:8b).
John demonstrates the great reality of love. John is not saying that love is God. There are several varieties of love. Love is not God. Rather, God is love. We must note that “The same construction is found in 1:5 (“God is light”) and in 4:2 (“God is spirit”). The noun love, referring to a process, is the predicate of the sentence; it says something about God’s quality, character, and activity. The translator must take care not to give a rendering that equates God and love. This would imply that the clause order is reversible and that God is love and “love is God” are both true propositions—which is certainly not what John meant to say.”[ii] In other words, John is showing that God is the source of love as love emanates from the person of God.
Wayne Grudem defines love as “self-giving for the benefit of others.”[iii] Norman Geisler defines love as “willing the good of its object.”[iv] Geisler goes on to say that “love and goodness can be treated synonymously. Literally, the word omnibenevolence means ‘all-good.’”[v] Thus, God’s goodness indicates God’s moral excellence and virtue. God’s love denotes God’s desire for the good of others. Goodness and love are moral standards. One must first know love before one can know hate. One must first know good before one can know evil. The only way we can know love and goodness is if we know God. God is the source of goodness and love.
2. God’s love is manifested in God’s RESPONSE (4:9-10).
John’s argument continues in showing the manifestation of God’s love in his response to human sin. John argues that God’s love was made manifest in this way: “God sent his Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:9-10).[vi] God ultimately showed his love for us by making a way for us to enter into heaven. John demonstrates that God loved us first before we could ever even know what love was. God’s act through Jesus freed us from the penalty of sins (1 John 3:5) and to defeat the power of Satan (1 John 3:8).[vii]
We must understand that God was the first mover as it pertains to creation. But, God was also the first lover. All of humanity is the beloved. God loved the world and made a way to save it. Often in modern times, people want to take the credit for God’s love. However, such is not the case. God loved us first so that we could love him. Augustine said, “You cannot therefore attribute to God the cause of any human fault. For of all human offences, the cause is pride. For the conviction and removal of this a great remedy comes from heaven. God in mercy humbles Himself, descends from above, and displays to man, lifted up by pride, pure and manifest grace in very manhood, which He took upon Himself out of vast love for those who partake of it.”[viii] In other words, Augustine is saying that if God had not intervened, humanity would succumb to the depravity of its own pride and sin. God demonstrated his love for you by giving of himself in the ultimate display of love. As Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
3. God’s love is manifested in God’s RELATIONSHIP (4:7-8a, 11-12).
John provides two powerful points as it relates to God’s manifestation of love in relationships. First, John says, “love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love” (4:8a). But look what he also says in verses 11-12. “Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us” (4:12). What does John mean by that no one has seen God? Akin explains that “No man has seen God in his unveiled essence, glory, and majesty. Indeed, we are incapable as finite sinful creatures of looking on God. It would certainly be our death. He can be seen, however, in the lives of those who demonstrate his love to others.”[ix] So while we do not see the full essence of God, we do see the moving of God in our lives and in the lives of others. In addition, this love will spill out into a person’s relationship with others.
John argues that since God is love and manifested his love through his Son, then a relationship with the God of love will produce love in the life of the recipient. A person cannot physically see God. For one, God is spirit and immaterial. Two, God’s great power would not allow one to see God and live. God told Moses, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live” (Exodus 33:20). However, we can see God in our relationship with him. We can feel his embrace. We can experience the joy from the Holy Spirit. Do you want to annoy a hypocrite? Be genuine. That will annoy the hypocrite worse than anything.
Some of you may have heard this story. It is supposedly a true story although I cannot verify that it is. It is a story of a young man who, while quite athletic and considered a “jock,” notices another young man who was the victim of bullying. The victimized boy, who was somewhat nerdy, wiped tears from his eyes and was in the process of picking up his belongings off the sidewalk when the jock came by to help. The jock began talking to the nerdy fellow while assisting him. The jock walked the nerdy boy home. As they reached the nerdy boy’s home, the jock invited the so-called nerd to play football with him and some of the fellas over the weekend. The nerdy fellow agreed. Over time, the nerdy fellow developed and built up his bodily strength. In high school the former nerd actually began to have more dates than the jock, much to the chagrin of the jock. As expected, the so-called nerd graduated as valedictorian of his class. During graduation, the former nerdy fellow gave the valedictorian speech. Much to the surprise of the jock, the former nerdy fellow thanked the jock for his friendship. He later revealed that on the afternoon when the jock befriended him, the nerd was planning to take his own life. He took all of his possessions home from school that day because he did not want force his mom to come back to school after his suicide. The now valedictorian said that his friend’s act of love and kindness saved his life. The jock, stunned, began to wipe tears from his eyes when he noticed he valedictorian’s mother look at him and say, “Thank you so much!” You will never know the damage that is done from a heart full of hate. However, you will also never know the great blessings and benefits that come from random acts of kindness that truly demonstrate the love and compassion of God.
[i] S. S. Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, Word Biblical Commentary (Waco: Word, 1984), 239-240, in Daniel L. Akin, 1, 2, 3 John, vol. 38, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2001), 178.
[ii] C. Haas, Marinus de Jonge, and J. L. Swellengrebel, A Handbook on the Letters of John, UBS Handbook Series (New York: United Bible Societies, 1994), 121.
[iii] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 199.
[iv] Norman Geisler, Systematic Theology: In One Volume (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2011), 585.
[vi] Unless otherwise noted, all quoted Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).
[vii] Daniel L. Akin, 1, 2, 3 John, vol. 38, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2001), 179.
[viii] Augustine of Hippo, “A Treatise on the Merits and Forgiveness of Sins, and on the Baptism of Infants,” in Saint Augustin: Anti-Pelagian Writings, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. Peter Holmes, vol. 5, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1887), 55.
[ix] Akin, 1, 2, 3 John, 181–182.