The life of a Christian who abides in God’s love is a potent witness for God in the world. Men cannot see God, but they can see His love moving us to deeds of helpfulness and kindness. The world will not believe God loves sinners until they see His love at work in His children’s lives.
A female Salvation Army worker found a derelict woman alone on the street and invited her to come into the chapel for help, but the woman refused to move. The worker assured her: “We love you and want to help you. God loves you. Jesus died for you.” But the woman did not budge. As if on divine impulse the Army worker leaned over and kissed the woman on the cheek, taking her into her arms. The woman began to sob and like a child was led into the chapel, where she ultimately trusted Christ.
“You told me God loved me,” she said later, “but it wasn’t until you showed me God loved me that I wanted to be saved.”
Jesus did not simply preach the love of God; He proved it by giving His life on the cross. He expects His followers to do likewise. If we abide in Christ, we will abide in His love. If we abide in His love, we must share this love with others. Whenever we share this love, it is proof in our own hearts that we are abiding in Christ. There is no separation between a Christian’s inner life and his outer life.
Abiding in God’s love produces two wonderful spiritual benefits in the life of a believer: he grows in knowledge and he grows in faith (1 Jn. 4:16). The more we love God the more we understand the love of God. And the more we understand His love the easier it is for us to trust Him. After all, when you know someone intimately and love him sincerely, you have no problem putting your confidence in him.
A man standing in the greeting card section of a store was having trouble picking out a card. The clerk asked if she could help and he replied: “Well, it’s our fortieth wedding anniversary, but I can’t find a card that says what I want to say. You know, forty years ago it wouldn’t have been any problem picking out a card because back then I thought I knew what love was. But we love each other so much more today. I just can’t find a card that says it!”
This is a growing Christian’s experience with God. As he abides in Christ and spends time in fellowship with Him, he comes to love God more and more. He also grows in his love for other Christians, for the lost, and even for his enemies. As he shares the Father’s love with others, he experiences more of the Father’s love himself. He understands the Father’s love better and better.
“God is love,” then, is not simply a profound biblical statement. It is the basis for a believer’s relationship with God and with his fellowman. Because God is love, we can love. His love is not past history; it is present reality. “Love one another” begins as a commandment (1 Jn. 4:7), then it becomes a privilege (1 Jn. 4:11).
But it is more than a commandment or a privilege. It is also the thrilling consequence and evidence of our abiding in Christ (1 Jn. 4:12). Loving one another is not something we simply ought to do; it is something we want to do. Some practical applications grow out of this basic truth:
First, the better we know God’s love the easier it will be to live as a Christian. Bible knowledge alone does not take the place of personal experience of God’s love. In fact, it can be a dangerous substitute if we are not careful.
Helen came home from a youth retreat greatly enthused over what she had learned. “We had some terrific sessions on how to have personal devotions,” she told her sister Joyce. “I plan to have my devotions every single day.”
A week later, while Joyce was running the vacuum cleaner, she heard Helen screaming, “Do you have to make all that noise? Don’t you know I’m trying to have my devotions?” And the verbal explosion was followed by the slamming of a door.
Helen still had to learn that personal devotions are not an end in themselves. If they do not help us love God and love one another, they are accomplishing little. The Bible is a revelation of God’s love and the better we understand His love the easier it should be for us to obey Him and love others.
A second application is unless we love the lost, our verbal witness to them will be useless. The Gospel message is a message of love. This love was both declared and demonstrated by Jesus Christ. The only way we can effectively win others is to declare the Gospel and demonstrate it in how we live. Too much “witnessing” today is a mere mouthing of words. People need an expression of love.
One reason why God permits the world to hate Christians is so that Christians may return love for the world’s hatred. “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me… But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt. 5:11, 44).
“Pastor, the Bible tells us to love our neighbors, but I doubt that anybody could love my neighbors,” Mrs. Barton said at the close of a Sunday School lesson. “I’ve tried to be nice to them, but it just doesn’t work.”
“Perhaps ‘being nice to them’ isn’t the real answer,” the pastor explained. “You know, it’s possible to be nice to people with the wrong motive.”
“You mean as though you’re trying to buy them off?”
“Something like that. I think you and I had better pray God will give you a true spiritual love for your neighbors. If you love them in a Christian way, you will not be able to do them any damage,” the pastor pointed out.
It took some weeks, but Mrs. Barton grew in her love for her neighbors; and she also found herself growing in her own spiritual life. “My neighbors haven’t changed a whole lot,” she told the prayer group, “but my attitude toward them has really changed. I used to do things for them to try to win their approval. But now I do things for Jesus’ sake because He died for them—and it makes all the difference in the world!”
In this paragraph of John’s letter, he has taken us to the very foundation of Christian love. But he still has more to teach us. In the next section, he deals with our own personal love for God and how God perfects that love in us. These two aspects of Christian love cannot be separated from one another: if we love God, we will love one another; and if we love one another, we will grow in our love for God. Both statements are true because “God is love!”