Love in 1 John

The term “love” appears in some form 51 times in the 105 verses of 1 John. What can we learn about Biblical love from this book? Here are a few things…

1.  Love is more than words.

“By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:16-18).

The word, “let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth,” are an ellipsis. The meaning is, “let us not love in word or in tongue (only), but (also) in deed and in truth.” This is not forbidding us from saying “I love you” (cf. 2 John 1; 3 John 1). Such can be encouraging. However, talk can also be cheap and unsupported by the evidence of action. We should not only tell others that we love them, but also show them that we love them by our actions.

Jesus is our example of how to love. He put His love into action, laying down His life for us.

We owe this kind of love to one another. (1) We should be willing to lay down our lives for the brethren. Someone might find it easy to say that if the situation ever presented itself where he could die for his brethren, he would do so. However, such generally stays in the realm of a hypothetical situation. Rarely, even during times of persecution, would one ever find himself in a situation where in his life could be given to save another. Therefore, the next point is more basic, more practical. (2) If a brother is in need (not want, but legitimate need), and we have the ability to help, love should prompt us to do so. Caution: (a) This is not speaking of wants, but legitimate needs. (b) We are not to enable sinful behavior. Those who will not work should not be aided (2 Thessalonians 3:10). The father did not send aid to his son, while his son continued his prodigal life-style (Luke 15:11-32).

2.  Love seeks reconciliation.

“In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:10-11).

There are some people who are “implacable” (Romans 1:31 KJV), or “unforgiving” (Romans 1:31 NKJV). They allow no opportunity for forgiveness.

God wants a relationship with us. He wants it so much that He made reconciliation possible. He provided the opportunity for reconciliation. “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

He wants us to be a forgiving people. Jesus wanted, “If you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:15).

3.  Love allows the world to see God.

“No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us” (1 John 4:12).

The world has not seen God in His essence, and glory (Exodus 33:20; John 1:18; 5:37; 6:46; 1 Timothy 6:16; 1 John 4:12; 4:20). How then can the world come to appreciate His nature?

The answer that when the world sees true Biblical love in us, they get a glimpse of the nature of God for “God is love” (1 John 4:8). Jesus came to reveal God to man (John 1:18; 12:44-45; 14:8-9). Furthermore, Jesus said, “By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). When we practice true Biblical love we identify ourselves with Jesus and show the world a glimpse of who God is.

“Let the beauty of Jesus be seen in me, all His wonderful passion and purity; may His spirit divine all my being refine, let the beauty of Jesus be seen in me” (Song: Let The Beauty of Jesus Be Seen by Ben Cumnock).

4.  Love can spread.

“We love Him because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

Love can have a powerful affect. God’s love can affect the heart of man. It can prompt a man to love, both God and man (cf. 1 John 4:11). Our love can also awake love in others.

“It only takes a spark to get a fire going, and soon all those around can warm up to its glowing. That’s how it is with God’s love, once you’ve experienced it. You spread His love to everyone you want to pass it on. /What a wonderous time in spring, when all the trees are budding. The birds begin to sing, the flowers start their blooming. That’s how it is with God’s love, once you’ve experienced it. You want to sing, ‘It’s fresh like spring’; you want to pass it on. /I wish for you my friend, this happiness that I’ve found. You can depend on Him; it matters not where you’re bound. I’ll shout it from the mountain top, I want the world to know the Lord of love has come to me; I want to pass it on” (Song: Pass It On by Kurt Kaiser).

5. Love is necessary.

“If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar… And this is the commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also” (1 John 4:20-21).

Thomas Warren asked, “Can you name one person living on earth whom God does not love? No, you cannot. Can you name one person living on earth whom Jesus Christ does not love? No you cannot. Can you name one person living on earth whom you do not love? If so, then – to be saved – you must repent of that lack of love. We must repent or perish!” (Warren, The Bible Only Makes Christians Only and the Only Christians, p. 113).

6.  Love is to be expressed by keeping God’s commandments.

“By this we know that we love the children of God, When we love God and keep His commandments. For this is the love of God that we keep His commandments ( 1 John 5:2-3).

Some try to defend sinful behavior by claiming that love prompted this behavior. They have a misguided view of love.

Biblical love is never contrary to the commandments of God. We are to express our love for God by keeping His commandments (John 14:15, 21, 23-24; 1 John 5:3 cf. 2:4). We show our love for our fellow-man by abiding by the commandments of God (Romans 13:8-10; 1 John 5:2; 2 John 5-6).

Thomas Warren wisely said, “No one can be saved without both knowing and obeying the truth. But being correct in doctrine, while necessary to salvation, is not – without love – sufficient. Likewise, while love is necessary to salvation, it is not sufficient (for salvation) without both knowing and obeying the truth (sound doctrine). We must not allow anyone to so misuse what the Bible teaches about love as to mislead us into accepting the sinful position of conceding that the truth (doctrine) of Christ is not critical. On the other hand, we must not allow anyone to mislead us into accepting the false position which holds that as long as one believes the right doctrine, love is not important. All of us ought to speak the truth in love. To hold to truth without love or to love without truth is to espouse a strategy – not of victory – but of defeat. The only strategy of victory is a proper balance between love and truth (sound doctrine)” (Warren, The Bible Only Makes Christians Only and the Only Christians, p. 11).


About Bryan Hodge

I am a minister and missionary to numerous countries around the world.
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