Teaching series from 1 John

Being Perfected in God's Love

1 John 4:7-19

Teaching t12645

Introduction

Briefly review the setting (MAP). Now we come to the theological core of this letter. It is simple on one level (e.g., small vocabulary), but very deep on another level (BABY/ELEPHANT). So we will take two weeks to study this passage (and we are only scratching the surface).

Read 4:7-19. The topic is obviously God’s love (22 references to “love”; 24 references to “God,” “Father,” and “He” – not counting Jesus and Holy Spirit). Specifically, it is about being “perfected in love” (4:12,17,18). What does this mean?

We normally use “perfect” to mean “flawless, without any blemish” (“He got a perfect score on his exam”). But teleios primarily means to fulfill one’s purpose. So being “perfected in love” means “having God’s love fulfill its purpose in us.”

Two essential ingredients

How are we perfected in God’s love? John describes a 2-fold process – both receiving God’s love (4:9a,10,11,16,19) and giving God’s love to others (4:7,11,12,19). Being perfected in love essentially consists of increasing our capacity in both receiving and giving God’s love (PIPELINE DIAGRAM). This is the high purpose of our existence (vs. to be material consumers, to be comfortable and entertained, to have human esteem, etc.)! This is also the key to true happiness and fulfillment!

God’s creation provides illustrations of this purpose:

How does a grape branch fulfill its purpose? By receiving life from the vine, and by giving that life away to produce fruit (Jn.15; SLIDE).

The problem with a grape branch is that it is a non-conscious, non-choosing entity. What God’s creation does automatically, it is our glory to do consciously and intentionally. That’s why respiration is a better illustration. It’s not a perfect illustration either, because we inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide. But we live and thrive physically only as we (on some level consciously) choose to inhale and exhale. In the same way, we thrive and fulfill our purpose spiritually only as we “inhale” God’s love for us and “exhale” God’s love to others.

Spiritual respiration (like physical respiration) is an ongoing activity, not “inhale” only for the first few years, and then “exhale” only after that. But for simplicity’s sake, we will look THIS WEEK at how to “inhale” and NEXT WEEK at how to “exhale.”

But before we consider how to “inhale,” we need to understand the unique nature of God’s love. It is so different from other legitimate kinds/counterfeits of love that the biblical authors used a rare Greek word (agape) to describe it. 4:7-19 gives us six key insights into God’s love.

The unique nature of God’s love

It comes only from God (4:7; contra “everyone is already/naturally full of love”). If we’re going to receive and/or give love, we have to be vitally connected to God (see below).

It is God’s foundational attribute (4:8b). This does not mean that God is not righteous, for example, or that these attributes contradict one another. It means that the essence of God is love (THE TRINITY), and that God’s love governs how He manifests His righteousness. More on this in a minute.

It is gracious and prior (4:10a,19b). God does not love us because of how beautiful or worthy we are (contra “eros” love); God loves us because He is inclined by His nature to love us, despite how unworthy we are (NEWELL QUOTE). God’s love is not His response to our love for Him; our love for Him is always a response to His prior love for us.

It is sacrificial and redemptive (4:10,14). God hates our sin and must judge it. But His love found a way to satisfy His justice without destroying us – He gave His Son to bear His judgment for our sins. The voluntary, substitutionary death of Jesus is the ultimate expression of both God’s great hatred of sin and His even greater love for sinners.

It invites but does not coerce (4:9,15). “So that we might live through Jesus” in 4:9 is subjunctive. It means that it is God wants us to be reconciled to Him and that He has made this possible through Jesus’ death. But He will not impose this upon us; we must choose freely to be reconciled to Him. This is essential to all love relationships (KIDNAP vs. PROPOSE TO LOVED ONE). God has proposed to you by sending Jesus to die for you. How do you say “Yes?” By “confessing” that Jesus is the Son of God (4:15) – by agreeing from the heart that you need to be saved from your sins, that Jesus is that Savior, and that you want to be reconciled to God through Him. Have you responded to God’s proposal?

It is experienced through God’s Spirit (4:13). The moment we “confess” Jesus, God’s Spirit comes to live in our hearts. His main purpose is to enable us to experience God’s love (Rom.5:5) and to enable us to give God’s love to others (Gal.5:22a) – in other words, to perfect us in God’s love!

“Inhaling” God’s love

How is God’s love perfected in us? Re-read 4:16,17a. As we “have come to know and have believed” the love that God has for us. If you want God’s love for you to “abide in you” (i.e., become more secure and confident in His love for you), this won’t happen by passively waiting for dramatic experiences of His love. God sometimes grants these, but “inhaling” involves choices to better understand God’s love for you, and choices to put your trust in God’s love for you. Let’s consider some practical ways the Bible tells us we can do this.

Practical ways to understand God’s love:

Read the Bible regularly, and look especially for what it says about God’s love for humanity/you. Yes, we can read the Bible informationally, to learn new facts. Yes, we should work at resolving problem passages. Yes, we should note the Bible’s commands (“Owner’s Manual”). These all have their place. But above all else, the Bible is God’s love-letter to you. So ask Him to open your eyes to this each time you read (Eph.1:18,19; Ps.119:18).

When you find a passage about God’s love that hits you, memorize it and then mediate on it (EXPLAIN HOW). You already know how to memorize (SONG LYRICS; MOVIE DIALOGUE; SPORTS STATS). You already know how to meditate (OFFENCES; ANXIETIES). Your choice is not whether you will memorize and meditate – it is what you will memorize and mediate on! And the consequences of this choice are starkly different (PARAPHRASE PS. 1: TREE VS. CHAFF)!

Don’t just read the Bible alone – study it with other Christians. Not just in a large-meeting context like this, but in smaller contexts (e.g., home church, cell groups, one-on-one), where you can ask questions and further discuss its meaning and application. I spent the first year of my Christian life stuck in ignorance and insecurity because I was too proud to do this – but my understanding of God’s love took off when I started doing this! The same will happen to you!

Practical ways to trust God’s love:

Choose to draw near to Him when you feel unworthy, rather than avoid Him until you feel more worthy. This is what John means in 4:18 (read NLT). We all tend to make our own performance the basis for our right to come into God’s presence. God says we are never worthy to come into His presence on the basis of what we have done for Him, but we are always worthy to come into His presence on the basis of what Jesus has done for us. This builds confidence in God’s love!

Practice thanksgiving for God’s love (e.g., Ps.92:1,2). I know what it is like to be deluged with negative thoughts and feelings and circumstances that feel overwhelming. I can cave into this and become more dominated by negativity and anxiety – or I can choose to give thanks to God that His love for me is a greater reality that will have the last word. This act of trust unleashes the Holy Spirit to re-ignite hope in my soul, and it leads over time to greater confidence and security in God’s love.

Choose to let God love you through His people rather than remaining isolated and self-sufficient. Drawing near to God alone and thanking Him when alone is super-important, but it is not enough. Some of us insist on “just Jesus and me,” but this is prideful and blocks God from giving you all the love He has for you. Sometimes God waits until you open up to His people and let them know about your sin and hurt and doubt – and then He comforts your heart through their love. Are you in a home church so that you have access to this? Are you taking advantage of this?

Conclusion

“Inhaling” usually isn’t dramatic or stimulating – but it is necessary for health and growth. When you build a lifestyle around “inhaling” God’s love, your life will begin flourish in ways that you never thought possible! Conversely, when you neglect regular “inhalation,” you will become spiritually weak and sick.

There is no such thing for Christians as spiritual emphysema. The only person in the universe who can stop you from “inhaling” is you. God doesn’t want to stop you. Satan and other people cannot stop you; they can only try to divert you. You can choose to do this at any time – and begin to experience the vitality that God promises. Take one or two of these steps, start doing them on a regular basis – and your confidence in God’s love for you will grow!

But we all know that while inhaling is necessary, it isn’t sufficient for life and health. In fact, if you only inhale, you won’t keep inhaling for long! Spiritual “inhaling” must be coupled with “exhaling” (PIPELINE DIAGRAM). We inhale God’s love into our souls so that we can exhale it to others. This is why Jesus says to His disciples: “Freely you have received; freely give” (Matt.10:8). His love only flourishes our souls when we also give it freely to others. That’s why we will spend NEXT WEEK on “exhaling” – giving God’s love to others.