September 24, 2023 | Doug Sauder
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“And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us.”—1 John 4:19 (NIV)
All through 1 John, a striking pattern emerges. Although the apostle has a lot to say about the way we live the Christian life and the way we interact with and treat one another, in every area of Christian living he addresses, John first provides us the example of God Himself and how He demonstrates this for us. This is especially true as it pertains to love!
There is no clearer example of this than 1 John 4:19. Notice the vertical axis of love around which everything rotates: “We love (God) because he first loved us.” That’s worthy of being highlighted, circled, underlined, and anything else someone can do to mark its importance.
Seriously, friends . . . is there any truth in all the Bible more important than this one? God loved us first! If that isn’t so, then we should shudder to think of the implications. If it were left to us to initiate the sacred bond of love with God . . . we wouldn’t. If not for the love of God that “has been poured out into our hearts” (Romans 5:5 NIV), that has been “lavished on us, that we should be called children of God” (1 John 3:1 NIV) and that “compels us” (2 Corinthians 5:14 NIV), we would never choose to love Him nor would we even know what love is (1 John 3:16).
You see, our sinful nature is so corrupted, so twisted and selfish, that we wouldn’t be able to trust in God, receive the love of God, or even love God. Why not? Because “nothing good lives in [us], that is, in [our] flesh” (Romans 7:18 HCSB).
Knowing this, He initiated! God did what we couldn’t: He loved us with a perfect love that transforms us from within and enables us to respond to Him in love. He loves us, draws us in by His love, and births love in us. That’s our vertical orientation with God; the example provided by God Himself.
Now watch as John moves to the horizontal, to how we then apply the work of God in us to others: “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother” (1 John 4:20–21 ESV).
Did you catch the shift? The exchange of love we experience within the context of our relationship with God doesn’t end with us. God’s love is so powerful that it transforms the core of our being and begins to bridge out in the relationships we have with other people. And this isn’t negotiable—it’s both an assumed reality and a natural outpouring!
I can’t write it without being reminded of how short I fall in loving others, but the Christian life is progressive. Even though we often stumble, we’re on a trajectory of growth in the things of God as He continues His work in us. This area is no exception. As we grow in God’s love for us, we can’t help but grow in our love (which is really His love) for those around us.
Pause: What pattern does John use in these passages?
Practice: Make a list of ways you can measure progress in your love for others.
Pray: Father, thank You for loving me first! Thank You for initiating in love and pouring Your love out for me! Thank You for drawing me to Yourself by Your love. Now, Father, please help me to love others in a way that draws them to You! Amen.
Danny Saavedra is a licensed minister who has served on staff at Calvary since 2012, managing the Calvary Devotional and digital discipleship resources. He has a Master of Arts in Pastoral Counseling and Master of Divinity in Pastoral Ministry from Liberty Theological Seminary. His wife Stephanie, son Jude, and daughter Zoe share a love of Star Wars, good food, having friends over for dinner, and studying the Word together as a family.