We Respond in Obedience: Love God and Love Others
“Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11).
“And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother” (1 John 4:21).
In the previous post I talked about how we were designed to love as a reflection of God’s love. However, since sin entered the world, our relationships with God and others have been fractured. We lost the ability to perfectly reflect God’s love. However, God is love and His plan from eternity was to redeem us, bringing us back into a loving relationship with Him and restoring our ability to love others as He loves.
Now we will look at what our response to this amazing love should be. When we understand what God has done for us and turn in repentance and faith to Him, we become part of His family. We must then prove our faith genuine by loving God and obeying His commands.
What is the Command?
When Jesus was asked what the greatest (most important) commandment is from the Law, his answer was that loving God and loving others are the two key commandments that summarize all of the Law and Prophets (Matt 22:36-38). Taking this knowledge back to the Ten Commandments, we can see that the first four have to do with loving God and the next six have to do with loving others (Deut. 5:6-21). The rest of the Law expounds upon these ten. In the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7), Jesus teaches that love is the very heart of the Law. He calls his followers to a radical love that even includes loving one’s enemies.
Paul summarizes the Law even more simply: loving others fulfills the Law (Rom. 13:8, Gal. 5:14). John sheds more light on this by saying that our love for our brothers proves our love for God (1 John 4:20-21). If we don’t love others, we have not loved God. So the reason the Law can be summed up so simply is that loving others assumes our love for God and is the natural outcome of it (1 John 5:1). John then brings it full circle by saying that we prove our love for others to be genuine by our obedience to God’s commands (1 John 5:2-3). So then, we prove our love for God by obeying His command to love others and we prove our love for others by obeying God’s commands. In other words, obedience to God proves our love-for Him and for others.
How We Obey the Command
So, the result of belief in God and His love for us is love for Him and love for others. We are able to obey these commands only because He loved us first. And if we love Him, we will obey these commands (John 14:15). But what does this obedience look like?
Jesus taught his disciples “a new commandment.” He said, “love one another: as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (John 13:34). He said this would be the proof that they were his followers. How is this a new command if loving others is at the very heart of the Law? They were about to be given a new standard for loving others. Later in this same discourse, Jesus repeats this command: “love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12). Then he tells them what this looks like: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (vs. 13). “As I have loved you”=laying down your life. This is what Jesus was about to do: set the greatest example of love through sacrificing himself on our behalf.
Paul reinforces this command when he tells believers to “walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Our lives must be characterized by a love for others that is selfless and sacrificial.
It should come as no surprise that John picks up the same theme, saying “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers” (1 John 3:16). He goes on in the next verses to give an example of what this looks like practically: taking care of our brothers in need. In other words, loving not “in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:18).
The Result of Our Obedience to the Command
John repeats three times in 1 John the idea that God’s love is perfected in the one who 1) keeps God’s commandments (1 John 2:5), 2) loves his brothers (1 John 4:12), and 3) “abides in love” (1 John 4:16-17).
Let’s look back at the Sermon on the Mount for a second. Right at the end of the section where Jesus is drawing out the depth of the Law’s commands–calling his followers to a greater righteousness than the Scribes and Pharisees–he commands them to love even their enemies. Then he gives this seemingly impossible command to wrap it all up: “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48).
Certainly, we will never be actually perfect this side of heaven, but 1 John makes me believe that we can obey this wild command of Jesus to be perfect by truly loving others as Jesus has loved us; by laying ourselves aside and loving others so sacrificially that we would be willing to give our very lives for their sake.
Having God’s love perfected in us results in confidence and casts out fear (1 John 4:17-18). First John repeats over and over again the idea that we can know we are God’s children. We have confidence that we are His by our belief in Christ, our obedience to his commands, and our genuine, sacrificial love for others.
Another benefit of abiding in God’s love is that it brings us joy. In John 15:9-11, Jesus says that abiding in his love and obeying his commandments brings us his joy, full joy. Then, he immediately goes on to say that his commandment is that we love one another as he has loved us. So, loving God and loving others brings us fullness of joy. And how could it not? This is what we were created to do!
Conclusion: Celebrating Love
So, whether or not you have romantic love to celebrate today, I encourage you to remember that our ability to love at all comes from the God who created us and is, in His very nature, love. This God loved us enough to Himself take the punishment for our offense against Him. He woos us and wins us and when we believe in His love, we become His friends, His bride, and His children. We can (and should) celebrate this incredible love and the love we are able to give as a result. And then, when we celebrate Valentine’s Day with our spouses, children, or even friends, we can remember that these earthly relationships were designed to reflect the love between us and God. How incredible is that?