Putting Love On Display
Tim Temple


A recent survey conducted by a team of professional pollsters asked the question about what people love most in life. There were several categories, and they were to rank these in order of importance: children, animals, God, the United States, their enemies and themselves. As they took this survey, they were to rank those in the order of importance to them. It was discovered when the surveys were returned that 92% of the people said that they loved children, barely edging out God at 86%. The United States came in third at 75%, and animals were fourth at 66%. Only 33% acknowledged that they loved themselves, and that demonstrates what liars they were. Twenty percent confessed to loving their enemies. All that reveals to us is that Americans love surveys most of all and understand themselves least of all, but it does focus our attention on the subject of love.

The Christian faith has always emphasized two very important things: truth and love and the relationship between those two. It is interesting to remember that Jesus Christ was the embodiment of both of those held in perfect balance—truth and love in perfect balance. He was completely the expression of truth, and He was fully the expression of love and therefore, Christianity. The worship of Christ is simply the expression of His life in the world because He was truth and He was love, and that is what should characterize our lives.

As we studied last week, the tactics of the Devil are very much alive and well in our world today and we neglect or ignore that or deny that to our peril. The Devil uses tactics in seeking to overthrow or disrupt our faith in Christ by trying to distort or cause us to misunderstand the matter of truth and love any way he can. We saw last week that one of Satan's favorite tactics is to simply twist a truth to make it a half truth or, if he can, to completely distort some particular aspect of truth. That is why God gave us in the first part of chapter 4 a test by which we can know who is telling us the truth about God. Satan is willing to use a great deal of truth if he can get across just a little bit of error because it only takes a little bit of error to keep us from knowing God as God wants us to know Him, to keep us from fellowshipping with God as He wants us to fellowship with Him. So the Devil takes this matter of truth and love, and he tries to interfere with those two truths any way that he can.

All he needs to do to distort God's basic message to us is to produce one without the other. If he can get us to focus only on truth and ignore love, then he has got it made. If he can, on the other hand, get us to focus on love and ignore truth, he has a very powerful weapon in his hands and in our lives. Any survey of our world today will show how successfully he has done this even among people who call themselves Christians. You see, to emphasize love without dealing with truth, to emphasize love at the expense of truth, is to produce what theologically we call liberalism , with its denial of the hard realities of sin and evil in human life and its glowing pronouncements of peace and light and love. That is love at the expense of truth. To ignore something that the Scripture says clearly in many places at the expense of something else it also says produces a false presentation of God and our relationship to God. On the other hand, there are many who emphasize truth at the expense of love. I think in a Bible teaching church, as ours, there is a real danger of that. We need to be much on the alert about it because that produces a cold, hard, legalistic fundamentalism which even though it certainly holds to the right creed, can be empty of genuine Christian life, just as empty of the genuine Christian life as liberalism is.

I have met individuals whose Christian faith has been shaken by exposure to sometimes vicious attacks by Christians who are self-appointed defenders of the faith and accusers of the brethren, which is of course Satan's job. But those who emphasize truth without love can do a lot of Satan's work for him, and they can take pride in it because they are doing it on the basis of what they think is the power of the Word of God; but they, as much as the liberals, are ignoring some of the things the Scripture has to say.

The Reality Of Love

In the light of what John has to say to us now, beginning with verse 7, this kind of conduct on the part of people who call themselves Christians raises serious questions about the genuineness of their faith because to ignore anything that the Bible says is to be in a very serious situation. John begins talking about the reality of love in verses 7-8:

I John 4:

7Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.
8He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.

Let's notice first the subject of this love in verse 7. The nature of this kind of love that John is talking about is shown in one statement that he makes three times in verses 7-12. We just read verses 7-8, but the paragraph consists of verses 7-12. In that paragraph, he mentions this phrase three times: “Love one another.” He uses it here in verse 7 at the very beginning of the verses that we are looking at right now. Then he goes on to say it two other times in this paragraph.

Notice what he is saying here. In saying, “Love one another,” he is not saying, “Love those who are especially pleasant to you. Love those who have been kind to you. Love those who have done something nice for you recently.” He is not saying to love a special group of people who are special to you. What he is saying is, “Love one another,” not just those who are clever and congenial and nice. You see, we are not to love people because of our special relationship to them; we are to love them simply because they are another. Now, that may not be grammatically correct, but that is what John is saying. “Love one another with no modifications on that, no qualifications on that, just love one another.” We are to love other people simply because they are other people. Everybody is a person capable of a unique relationship to God.

God has been working in my heart and life in recent weeks and days, and one of the things I was convicted of as I studied this passage is that tendency I have—because I have it, I am sure that you have it, too, unless God has already worked on you about it—to look at people and to judge people on the basis of how successful they may be or how prominent they may be or, much more to the point, what importance they may have to me, what I need from them, what they can do for me. You see, people are not things to be dealt with impersonally or to be opposed or accepted or ignored just because of the way they relate to us or the way they interact with us. It is so easy to overlook people who don't have some kind of special importance to us. Think about the people you have passed in the mall or on the street or wherever you have been during the past week and how little thought you have given to some of those people. See, as Christians, we are to love one another just because that other person is a living, breathing and God-searching, probably hurting individual just like you. He is no less important to God than you. His or her needs are no less real than yours and mine. Love one another regardless of how important or unimportant that person may be.

We are to love without regard to what that person is like. That doesn't mean that we have to stop people in the hall or in the mall and say, “I love you.” The focus is that our attention and our interest and our willingness to be involved in the lives of people should have no bearing whatsoever on how important they are to us or what we might get from them in return or whether they are in the same category with ourselves. True love is an interest and concern for another person just because he is a person and for no other reason than that. He has a need that we discover we may have the capability of meeting, or we know someone who might meet that person's need. He is to be an object of our love and our concern and our interest. It is so easy to just move through life without paying very much attention to what is going on around us and the people going on around us. It doesn't matter whether he is rich or poor, black or white or brown, young or old, male or female, Republican or Democrat. None of those things matter as we relate to other people. They are people who need Christ. If they don't know Him as Savior already, they need to come to know Him as Savior. If they do know Him as Savior, they need to be brought closer to Him. If God brings them across our path, we are to be involved. We are to love one another.

Love that John is talking about here simply says, “Here is another person struggling like I am to be free of some problem. What can I do to help?” That is the subject of true Christian love. Coming back to I John, chapter 4, verse 7, John says here that that kind of love can only originate with God. Maybe you are already suspecting that if you are thinking with me. That kind of love can only originate with God. He says in verse 7, “This kind of love is of God. He is the source of love.” In fact, John says in verse 8, “God is love.” God embodies this kind of love we are talking about. That is the way God loved us, without regard to our place in life, without regard to our attractiveness to Him and our usefulness to Him. You put it in that regard, and you realize that we have no usefulness to God. There is nothing we can do for God. There is nothing we can do to help Him, and there is no reason we should be important to God, but God is love and He loved us so much that He sent His Son to die for us. If we are even going to claim to be Christians, this is something that has to be a part of our life and our relationship with other people. Wherever the life of God is present, this kind of love is found because God is love. If that kind of love is not found, then we can be assured from verses 7-8 that God is not there. The argument is very simple. It is no good claiming that you know God if the love of God is not found in your life.

The statement, “God is love,” is easy to misunderstand, and I want us to think about that statement for a minute. In verse 8, he says:

I John 4:

8He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.

It means that at the root of everything that God is, is love. Even His judgments, His condemnations, His discipline, derive from His love. This is something that is easily misunderstood and easy to overlook. What I am about to say may be new information. This passage brings us to the truth that we need to focus on—that God's judgment of sin, God's judgment of nations, God's discipline of His children is a part of God's love as well. God's discipline is a little different, technically, from judgment on unbelievers, but that is a side of God which the liberals completely deny. There are many in the world today who say, “A loving God would never send anybody to Hell; a loving God would never do this or do that.” Satan picks up on that, and it is one of his most important tools to get people to say, “Why would a loving God let something like this happen?”

How many times have you heard somebody say that? A loving God is also a God of wrath, of judgment, of discipline of His children. “Whom the Lord loves, He chastens.” Whom the Lord loves, He disciplines. In fact, we are told if we sin and don't receive some discipline about it, if God doesn't try to get our attention in some way about that, we continue in it and He doesn't bring a belt lash across us or some kind of important judgment, if none of that happens in our lives, then we have serious cause to wonder if we are really His children or not. You see, even that side of God comes from His love.

Let's think about why that is. Mothers provide a great illustration of this. You see, it is a very underlying part of love to be antagonistic to anything that opposes that love. Attack a child with the mother present, and you meet the wildcat within. A mother will not stand to see someone do something unfair or wrong or hurtful or harmful to their child, and God's love is the same way. Hebrews, chapter 12, verse 29, says, “Our God is a consuming fire,” and that sounds like that Old Testament God of hate and God of judgment. But think about it this way because the writer of Hebrews points it out. God's love is that fire that tests precious metals. As silver or gold are placed in the fire, and the impurities begin to melt, the dross, as the Scripture says, comes to the surface. As the precious metal becomes liquid, the dross can be easily lifted off the surface because of the fire. Fire is a valuable thing to make a valuable metal even more valuable, and that is what God does in love many times to nations and to individuals. He puts them through the fire for their good, and He tells us to do the same thing. He tells us lovingly, “If our brother sins against us, go and tell him his fault.” Confront him with it. When you have to go and face someone with a sin like that, you can probably honestly say, “This hurts me more than it does you.”

I used to hate it when my dad said that to me because you know the kind of situations he was saying it to me in. When I had children, I discovered it was true. I began to believe it. For the first time, I began to realize he was telling me the truth. Sometimes to go to a brother in a different kind of sense to tell him his fault, even if it is between you and him alone, that is a painful thing to do. That is the reason, I am afraid, that too often we avoid doing that. God's discipline and God's instructions to us about discipline come out of His love and come out of our Christian love as we obey Him in that way. That is the reality of the love of God.

The Object Of His Love

In verses 9-10, John moves on to talk about the illustration or the manifestation of this love, the way this love is manifested. First, notice the object of His love, in verse 9:

I John 4:

9In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.

Look at the first part of that verse again: “God sent his only begotten Son into the world…” What kind of love is that? It is love of the unlovely. He sent Him into the world. What world? The world in which all have sinned and come short of the glory of God; the world in which all we like sheep have gone astray and turned everyone to his own way. Someone has said that the opposite of love is not hate; the opposite of love is ignoring the other person, and that is what Isaiah, chapter 53, tells us. We have gone our own way. We have turned to our own way and have turned our backs on God, and God sent His Son into that kind of world.

What do we do with people who have gone their own way, who have turned their backs on us, sometimes even our children? Certainly if not our children, it has happened with people we thought were our friends or people we at least thought we knew and people that we had some kind of responsibility to—they went their own way. I have to admit to you, but I don't think it will sound real strange, that I have said in those situations, “If that is what they want, let them go. Don't worry about them, and don't bother with them.” God's love sent His Son, His only begotten Son, His unique Son, His very special Son, into that kind of world—the world that consists of people who fill the pages of our newspapers with terrible, atrocious crimes, the reports we hear on television and read in newspapers. That evil we hear about and read about is actually hidden within the heart of every one us, lurking just below the surface, ready to be exposed under just the right conditions.

It may be hidden from others, and sometimes we even hide it from ourselves; but God, Who sees everything, Who sees the whole, ugly void of humanity in all of our ugliness and evil, sent His Son into that kind of situation. What was His response? Was it anger? Was it rejection? Was it judgment? No! He sent the most costly kind of love. He gave Himself. He gave His Son, John reminds us. In the person of His Son, God Himself came and died on the shameful Cross, the most shameful and cruel kind of death in that day or any other.

Why did He do that? In the last line of verse 9, John says that it was so that we might live through Him. He did it so that all of that fear and that hate and that evil and that unrest in all of our hearts and all of the hearts of all human beings could be brought under control, so that all the quarreling and bickering and fighting and abuse among human beings could be stopped. That is why He came—primarily to save us from that kind of thing. He didn't come to just save us from Hell, although He certainly came for that. It goes much beyond that. John says, “He came that we might live.” In that particular phrase, there is nothing about living in Heaven, just that we might live. Jesus said it Himself in John, chapter 10, verse 10:

John 10:

10 I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.

Jesus Christ came, sent by God, into this wicked world so that we might have abundant life before we ever get to Heaven. Eternal life begins the moment we accept Jesus Christ as Savior. We are not in a holding pattern when we get saved, and then when we get to Heaven we suddenly realize that we have eternal life. No, He came that we might live. At a different point in time for every one of us, that living just transfers into Heaven, but our eternal relationship with Him begins the moment we trust Christ as Savior. He wants to infuse our day-to-day living before we ever get to Heaven with real life. John says in verse 10 that that is the measure of love. If you want to measure love, use that as your standard. Look at verse 10:

I John 4:

10Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

Listen, don't measure love (talking of loving one another) by the warm feelings you have in your heart for God. John says, “Anybody can love God if we have the slightest understanding of what He did for us.” Don't even measure love by the love of famous martyrs. I was reading again this week about the lives of John and Betty Stam who were missionaries to China in the early nineteen hundreds. They were literally beheaded because they refused to stop talking about Jesus Christ in that area of China that the Communists were taking over. We think, “What love for God,” but John says that the most wonderful story you can think of, of a person loving God is not a good illustration of what love is. As great as that is and as honorable as that is and as much as we appreciate people like that, it is not a really good illustration of love. Why? Because “This is love in that He loved us and sent His Son to be the payment for our sins.” Notice how John refers to that: “…He sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”

Many people, whether they realize it or not, think of God as an indulgent grandfather who looks the other way when the grandchildren do something wrong. So many times, as a grandfather, you tend to look the other way and just let things go by and not really do anything about something the kids do wrong. You just forgive them and don't demand an accounting or any kind of punishment. A lot of people think that is how God is. He loves everybody. But that is not what God did, according to verse 10. The word for propitiation is a word that means “satisfaction.” “He sent His Son to be the satisfaction for our sins.”

What an unusual thing to say if you think about it. When we realize that propitiation means “satisfaction,” that seems strange, doesn't it? “He sent His Son to be the satisfaction for our sins.” But we are hearing that concept more and more in court cases today. I heard recently about another of many cases where when the criminal has been found guilty, at some time in the trial, they let the victim come and make an impact statement about the crime that this person has committed. Why do those victims want to do that? It is because somehow they want to find satisfaction for that terrible wrong that has been done to them. They know it won't bring the murdered person back, and they know it won't bring back the money that has been stolen from them, but somehow they want to find satisfaction because of what has been done wrong. That is the idea here. Jesus Christ came to satisfy justice, to meet the demand of broken law, to pay the full debt, to satisfy the penalty. Those things all had to be done.

David, in reflecting on his great sin of adultery with Bathsheba, made the interesting statement, “Against Thee and Thee only have I sinned and done this evil in Thy sight.” He sinned against a lot of other people, but David realized that ultimately his real sin was against God, and whatever sin you and I have done, though it is against other people, it is ultimately against God. It is sin because God said, “Don't do this,” or “Do do that,” and we either did not do what He said to do or we did what He said not to do; and we ultimately sinned against Him, and other people got hurt in the process. God demands satisfaction for that. We have turned our backs on Him. We have gone astray and turned to our own way, and God demands satisfaction for that. John said, “He sent His Son to be the satisfaction for our sins.” Now that is love. We have sinned against Him. We committed a crime that robbed Him, that harmed Him, and He wanted satisfaction, just like anybody who has a crime done against them. How did He get that satisfaction? By paying for the sin Himself. He sent His Son to be the satisfaction for our sins.

The Proper Response

The last two verses of this paragraph talk about the proper response to that kind of love and that is what we want to talk about in these last few minutes that we have together. The first response is the payment of a debt in verse 11:

I John 4:

11Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.

We come back to that subject of loving one another. John didn't forget about that as he comes back to it here. If God loved us that way, it only makes sense that we should love each other that way. See what he is saying. This verse is the answer to every lame excuse on our part when we say that we just can't love that person. How silly in light of what God has done. John says, “No, no, Beloved, if God so loved us, how can we say that we don't love one another?” If you have experienced this kind of love from God, if you have been to the Cross and have felt that overwhelming cleansing of God's love for you and despite the antagonism and the hatefulness and the ignoring of Him that you have done, if you have felt the cleansing grace of God wiping all of that out without any recrimination or any calling up of the past, forgetting and forgiving it, then as John says, “You not only can love someone else, but you ought to. You owe it.” That is where the word ought comes from. It is an abbreviation of owe it . You owe it. You ought to love one another in that way. That is why Paul says in Romans, chapter 1, verse 14:

Romans 1:

14I am debtor both to the Greeks, and to the Barbarians; both to the wise, and to the unwise.

He says, “I owe something to everybody,” and he says later on in that same bode, “Owe no man anything except to love one another.” We hear that verse used all the time about the misuse of credit. “Owe no man anything.” It is certainly true that we ought to manage our credit carefully and we ought to use as little credit as we possibly can, but that is really not what that verse is about. He said, “Listen, the only thing you actually owe to anybody is to love one another.” I think if some of us would use the diligence in trying to be alert and sensitive to the needs of the people around us that we use to pay our bills off and getting out of debt and avoiding debt, we would find ourselves in a whole different world.

Certainly we ought not to owe money, but what we do owe is to love one another. We ought to. Listen, unless you have the life of God, you are not going to be able to do that because God is love, and God's love is love of the unlovely. So if you have the life of God within you, if you have the love of God within you, you can love like this and you ought to do it. In I Peter, chapter 1, verse 22, it says that one of the natural results of our salvation is that God's love is poured out into our hearts and it will naturally flow out from our hearts to others unless we dam it up. Peter says:

I Peter 1:

22Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently:

God puts that love of His into our hearts when we get saved. That is where the purification of our souls comes. When we accept Christ as Savior, He puts that love within us, but Peter says that it is not automatic. It you let something get in the way of that, if you decide that you are not going to let that love flow out, it won't flow out. He said, “See to it that you love one another fervently.”

The Personification Of God

It is interesting that these apostles, these men who lived and walked with Jesus, stress the same thing, not basing it on the quality of the other person, but just loving them because they are another. They are a person who has a need. Verse 12 declares a great concept. It talks about the second response to God's love and that is what I call the Personification of God . Look at verse 12:

I John 4:

12No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us.

John begins this verse by reminding us that no one has seen God. In the Old Testament days, people saw Him. Sometimes we debate about this phrase that no one has ever seen God. John makes this same statement in the gospel that he wrote, and he repeats it here in this letter. We say, “Well, what about those manifestations of God in the Old Testament?” What those people were seeing were only human disguises that God took—the Angel of the Lord or the burning bush. Those various times when God appeared to those people and it was obvious it was God speaking to them, He took on an angelic form or a human form or some other visible demonstration, but that was not really God they were seeing. Let me see if I can illustrate it this way. There is a real sense in which it is possible for me to say, “I have never seen you, and you have never seen me.” In the service this morning, someone referred to II Corinthians and to the tent that we dwell in. That is the way the Apostle Paul was describing our bodies in II Corinthians—a tent that we live in. His purpose was just to remind us of how indefinite our life is. You have seen my tent, and I have seen your tent, and neither one of them look real good; but you haven't really seen inside me, and I haven't really seen you inside the tent. When we die, the real person inside the tent goes to Heaven. We bury the tent, but we don't bury or burn the person. We bury or burn the tent.

That is the same sense here. We may have seen the tent in which God has communicated with men from time to time, but we haven't seen God. Even when we saw Jesus, we saw more clearly than ever before, but still He was veiled in human flesh. There was no mistaking He was God, but all we really saw was His tabernacle. His tent is the term Paul used. So no one has ever seen God at any time. Therefore—and here is the point—the love of God can't be seen either. How is it made visible? How can the love of God be seen? God says, “If we love one another, the love of God is perfected in us.” It reaches its ultimate end. It becomes visible in us.

Did you know that you, in your relationship to me, and I, in my relationship to you, and we, in our relationship to others, as we love one another, as we allow this love of God to flow out of our hearts and we don't put a stop to it and we let it go out to others, we have become the personification of God, Who is love. People want to see the love of God, and there are many people who are searching desperately to see something of God and to see the love of God. They don't know it, but they will see it in you and your treatment of them and your treatment of me and my treatment of you. That is how the love of God is personified. If people can't clearly see the love of God, it is because there is not much manifestation of the love of God in your life as a Christian and in my life as a Christian. God's life is there within us so the appeal of the Apostle John is, “Let us do this. Let us love one another.” It is not an automatic thing. It is a deliberate choice that we have to make. In effect, John is saying, “Let us deliberately love one another. Let us make channels for this life to be manifested. let us allow it to be expressed in deliberate acts of kindness, thoughtfulness, consideration to one another, understanding, patience, tolerance of each other's views.

Then notice what he says here: “That is how God's love is perfected, because it becomes visible in us.” Isn't that amazing that God's love reaches it ultimate and final conclusion when it becomes visible in us? It is incomplete and it is incomprehensible to any other human beings around us until it finds its manifestation in the way you relate to me and the way I relate to you and we relate to others.

There is a world out there desperately searching for love, and God Himself paid the ultimate price to give that love to all who are seeking it, but we are only the channels and we are the only channels by which that love is manifested to the world. That love that God paid for and that they are searching for only comes through you and me as we relate to those around us. “Therefore,” John says, “above all else, put on love.” Let us love one another and be known by people as people who love one another because your concern for me and my concern for you makes God visible.

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