Teaching series from 1 John

Being Perfected in God's Love (Part 2)

1 John 4:7-19

Teaching t12646


Last week, we began a 2-part series on 4:7-19, in which John teaches that God’s purpose for our lives is that we be “perfected in love.” This means “having love fulfill its purpose in our lives,” and this involves both receiving God’s love and giving His love to the people He puts in our lives. Just as GRAPE BRANCH fulfills its purpose by receiving life from the vine and processing this life to produce grapes, just as a LAMP WICK fulfills its purpose by drawing oil and combusting it to produce light, so we fulfill God’s purpose for our lives (DIAGRAM). No matter how successful we may be in other areas (e.g., CAREER; WEALTH), we are failures if we fail here (1Cor.13:1-3)!

Since we are fallen and disordered, both aspects of being perfected in love are counter-intuitive to us – they seem backwards, contrary to common sense, even foolish.

We intuitively want to receive love from tangible people rather than from an invisible God OR we want to earn God’s love through moral self-improvement or other religious activity. But God says we need to “consent to be loved while realizing all the more our unworthiness” (NEWELL). First, we need to humbly accept His forgiveness by receiving Christ (GOSPEL). Then, we need to humbly continue to draw upon His love. Last week we discussed some practical ways to do this (LIST). Christians never outgrow the need for this!

We also intuitively want to hoard love for ourselves rather than give it away. A novice SCUBA diver instinctively holds his breath. But he needs to exhale, trusting that more oxygen will be made available to him. So we need to trust that God will supply us with more love as we give His love away to others.

This week we will focus on learning from God how to become effective love-givers. God doesn’t just throw the instruction manual at us and say, “Here – you’re on your own!” Rather, He is our personal Trainer (“perfected” is passive voice, which implies this; read 1Thess.4:9, which explicitly states this). On the other hand, progress requires our cooperation and practice (why 1Thess.4:9 says “excel still more”). This morning we will look at some of the ways the Bible says God trains us. This will help us to recognize His hand and cooperate with Him in fulfilling the great purpose of our lives.

God trains us through biblical instruction about love

As I said last week, the Bible is God’s love-letter to you. So as you read it, it is important to ask God, “What does this passage teach about how You love me?” But since we are to love others in the same way that God loves us, we should also ask, “What does this passage teach about how You want me to love others?”

As you read in this way, He will teach you the multi-faceted nature of real love. This content is throughout the Bible (the most famous is 1Cor.13). But since Jesus is God-incarnate, the gospels’ account of Jesus’ life is the supreme instruction on what love looks like.

Jesus loved sacrificially. His love was not primarily a feeling, but a choice to give of Himself for the well-being of others (e.g., His choice in Gethsemane to go to the cross even though He dreaded it).

Yet Jesus also loved emotionally. He expressed love to Mary by weeping with her over Lazarus’ death, and He expressed joy when His disciples learned an important lesson.

Jesus loved by forgiving. He never paid people back for mistreating Him, as when He freely forgave Peter for denying Him. He went to the cross to bear our guilt so that He could freely forgive us of all of our sins.

Yet Jesus also disciplined people in love. He loved the rich young ruler enough to confront him about his materialism, and He loved Peter enough to rebuke him for his self-centeredness.

For different reasons, we all tend to have misconceptions and blind-spots when it comes to love. Sometimes we’re victims of our culture’s distortions (e.g., anti-DISCIPLINE). Sometimes we have blind-spots from our family of origin (e.g., anti-EMOTIONAL). Reading the Bible with this focus will correct these misconceptions and teach you a full-orbed view of love. It will also provide you with the “vocabulary” to recognize another aspect of God’s training...

God trains us through His Spirit’s personal promptings

In Gal.5:22, Paul tells us that God’s Spirit forms love in our characters. A few verses later, Paul urges us to “keep in step with the Spirit.” This means that God’s Spirit personally guides or prompts us in unique ways of loving people. For example:

The Spirit prompts us to specific acts of love. Acts 8:26-31 describes one of these promptings (EXPLAIN). I sometimes get these promptings to encourage a brother or sister in Christ (EXAMPLE), to be financially generous (EXAMPLE), or share my faith to someone who doesn’t yet know Christ (EXAMPLE). Such promptings sometimes seem strange or scary at the time, but they are always consistent with God’s Word and they obviously don’t come from Satan or my sin-nature! And if you obey them, you often get to see why He led you to do this!

God also prompts us to commit to ongoing roles of love-giving. He called Timothy to be a church-planter and pastor by a prophetic word from Paul and others (see 1Tim.1:18,19). He called me to be a Bible teacher. He called Mike Sullivan into urban youth ministry. If you talk to veteran Christian workers around here, you will hear many of them tell similar stories. Such promptings usually involve both an internal sense and a confirmation by other Christians who know you.

How often do you ask God to lead you in this way? Sometimes we do not have because we do not ask. How do you normally respond when God prompts you in this way? The more we obey God when He prompts us, the more promptings we get (or recognize).

God trains us through positive and negative models

God also trains us by providing both positive and negative models in this area. Paul tells us to take full advantage of positive models (read Phil.3:17) by closely observing and imitating them.

They may exemplify an area of love in which you are deficient and even devalue. Through them, God shows you the importance of this aspect of love, and to inspires you to grow in that area (EXAMPLE).

They may inspire and equip you to serve in roles God has gifted and/or called you to serve (EXAMPLE).

They may motivate you through their whole lifestyle to imitate their faith and love (EXAMPLE). This is one of the very best things about being involved in a home church. You get to rub shoulders with people who have been walking down this path for quite a while. Being around them, benefiting from their love, asking them for advice about how to love people, etc. is a great opportunity if you want to be perfected in love. Take advantage of them – they love to be used in this way!

God also provides us with negative models. As you observe the emptiness and corruption of lives committed to self-centeredness, you grieve – but God can motivate you through them to reject living for self and sell out to the self-giving way of life (EXAMPLE). Are you learning the lesson of negative models?

God trains us through “difficult people”

“Difficult people” refers to people who you don’t want to be around but can’t avoid (e.g., WORK ASSOCIATES; NEIGHBORS; IN-LAW’S), or to loved ones whose sins drive you up the wall (i.e., SPOUSE’S IDIOSYNCRASIES; CHILDREN’S ISSUES; CHRISTIAN FRIEND’S BESETTING SINS). Of course, we sometimes need to set boundaries and/or take disciplinary action for their good. But when this isn’t appropriate and/or when they don’t respond well (which is much of the time), we need to realize that God is at work through such people to perfect us in love. This is one of the most difficult aspects of God’s training to embrace.

We feel like we would be better off if we could get away from them or at least control their problems. But through them, God gives us special training in areas of love deficiency (EXAMPLE). This is a key perspective if you want to succeed in marriage and close friendships!

We feel like they are obstructing God’s plan for our lives, but He works sovereignly through even their painful wounds to advance His redemptive plan (Gen. 50:20; EXAMPLE).

What is your goal—to be free from difficult people, or to be perfected in love? Who are your present “difficult people?” What love lessons is God trying to teach you through them?

God trains us by rewarding love-giving with true happiness

Good athletic trainers know that undergoing training is difficult – so they know how to reward progress with encouragement, etc. God does this with us (read Jn.13:17). Jesus promised His followers that as they followed His example of self-giving love, they would be “blessed” (makarios) – or truly happy. What does this true happiness look like? It has many faces:

Sometimes it is a surge of joy after you feel you have nothing – but give anyway (EXAMPLE). This helps us to associate joy with love-giving rather than with various forms of taking (Acts20:35).

Sometimes it is realizing that you have a deeper security in God’s love since you have embraced this way of life years ago (Jn.15:9-12)

Sometimes you feel awe when you follow His prompting to love someone – and then see how He works through you (Acts 2:43).

Sometimes He comforts us and strengthens you in the midst of pain and weariness to enable you to go on loving people (2 Thess. 2:16,17).

Sometimes He grants you deep (and humble) satisfaction as you see reflect on how He has worked through your love to transform people in deep ways (3 Jn. 1:4).

God knows exactly when we need to be rewarded, what kind of reward we need, and how to give it to us. This is a big part of the adventure of being perfected in love that makes it so addicting (in the healthy sense). And all of this is just the foretaste of the ultimate and eternal joy we will experience when we are in His presence and can fully receive and give His love!


SUMMARIZE the ways God personally trains us to give His love to others.

DISCUSS: What questions do you have about God’s training? Let’s hear from others who have experience in this area – anything to add on how God trains us to be effective lovers?