(76) God is love – 1 John 4:16

John wrote five New Testament books, his gospel, three letters and Revelation. He is traditionally thought to have been the youngest of the apostles and wrote late on in his life so making his books the last written in the Bible. John lived in Ephesus in his latter years and his first letter, 1 John, may be a circular to the churches in that region. 2 & 3 John are short letters to individuals.

John’s main theme in his letters is God’s love for us and our love for one another.

Love has its origin in God. John sums it up by saying that “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:10). The use of the word ‘atoning’ would have brought to Jewish minds the annual Day of Atonement when the high priest took blood from sacrifices and sprinkled it on the cover of the Ark of the Covenant. This was how the people’s sin was dealt with under the old covenant. The sacrifices restored the relationship between God and man, making them ‘at one’.

Under the new covenant Jesus came to die for us and, through his sacrifice, dealt with our sins that block our relationship with God once and for all. God, in the ultimate expression of his love, took the initiative to make us ‘at one’. And he went much further than that as he adopted us as his children, something that John still finds amazing: “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!” (1 John 3:1).

The best love that we can show to one another will flow from God’s love for us. John gently urges his readers: “Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11). This love for one another is not a nice warm feeling. John sets the standard very high when he tells us that “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters” (1 John 3:16). If our love is to match God’s standard then it will be costly and sacrificial.

We can only love if we are in right relationship to God and to one another. John tells us that “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5) and this means that we have to deal with our own sin by bringing it into God’s light and confessing it. If we hide it then we remain in darkness but “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Thanks to Jesus’ sacrifice we can, and will, be forgiven. In the same way we are to walk in the light with others, loving our brothers and sisters.

John would be happy just to talk about love, but he is well aware of the dangers that his ‘dear children’ are facing from those who would seek to undermine belief in Jesus and who he is. John writes that “Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist” (1 John 4:2-3). The modern comic strip view of the antichrist as a frightening monster is far from the picture John paints of subtle philosophies that seek to set up alternatives to Jesus as the way to God.

The last letter before Revelation is from Jude who introduces himself as “a servant of Jesus Christ and a brother of James” (Jude 1). Like James, he did not want to claim anything special from his relationship as a brother of Jesus. He sets out to write positively about salvation but finds himself having to address false teachers and their teachings.

Jude ends with an a wonderful expression of the confidence we can have in God’s ability to sustain us through all life’s troubles: “To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy – to the only God our Saviour be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen” (Jude 24-25).

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