1 John 4:19-21 19 We love, because He first loved us. 20 If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also.
I’m always amazed at the wide variety of Christian ministries out there in American. Without sounding too simplistic, evangelical churches can tend toward two different “shades” in their ministry. Either they can heir on the side of “love for God” and His truth, irrespective of people; or, they can love people at the expense of God’s truth. The one is often laden with an undercurrent of religious pride and self-righteousness. The other often caters to man’s self-exaltation in order to keep them in the pew. Under which banner does our church fall?
Well, I hope neither. 1 John 4:19-21 conveys the right balance and connects it with a couple wonderful truths. First, is the basis for our love both for God and neighbor. “We love, because He first loved us.” We understand why from the context of 1 John and the rest of the New Testament. Our spiritual rebirth and the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit overhauls our selfish bent, and makes us able to worshipfully love God, and sacrificially love others (1 John 2:20, 27, 29; 3:9, 10, 14; 4:7).
Second, it is inconsistent and incompatible to say, “I love God,” and hate another Christian (or neighbor generally). John gives the reason, “For, the one who does not love his brother…cannot love God…” The phrases “…whom he has seen…whom he has not seen…” are helpful. I think John is highlighting the aspect of familiarity. It takes a conscious spiritual pursuit to know the unseen God for who He is, and then to declare, “love Him.” On the other hand, it is rather easy to know and not love a brother (we can be fairly unlovely). But when someone says, “I love God” they are claiming that they’ve come to understand, appreciate, admire, and love all that He is (Exodus 34:6-7). And if that is true, then it should be impossible to perpetually hate a brother whom God loves.
The proper balance for our lives, and in our church as a ministry, is both. Jesus incarnated this perfectly – he was full of grace and truth (John 1:14). This is the third gem of this passage. He loved God to the full. He loved people in the most sacrificial way. John says in verse 4:21, “This commandment we have from Him…” All of His life incarnated this balance in unmistakable terms. He commands us to do the same, “…that the one who loves God should love his brother also.”
You may need to have a hard conversation – speak the truth in love (Luke 7:40-47; Eph. 4:15). You may have been sinned against – offer forgiving grace (Matt. 5:39; Luke 23:34; Acts 7:60) and confront gently as needed (Gal. 6:1-2). You may need to pick up someone’s slack – give sacrificially without expecting in return (Luke 6:35; 12:12-14). This is the mainstay of Christian living: to love God first to our utmost, and in turn to love our neighbor selflessly. In so doing, we will be like our Savior (1 John 2:6).
Thanks! See you Sunday.