1 John 4:7-21; 5:11-12
The key to this passage is found in v. 7. We are commanded to love one another. Let’s stop right there. Have you ever struggled with that command? Is there someone in your church that you find very difficult to love? Is there someone in your family or your workplace that just drives you nuts? If there is and you read this passage, then you may start beating yourself up and thinking, “I must not be a very good Christian because I’m having such a hard time with this person. I just can’t love them.” Here’s the truth of the situation. You can’t love that person.
The reason we struggle so much with loving someone is because we are trying to use human, self-generated love to do it. In the 1960’s the motto of the youth culture was “all we really need is love.” That sounds really good, doesn’t it. The problem is that the kind of love that was advocated then was a “what-can-I-get-out-of-it-love.” We still have that mentality in our culture today. We are willing to love as long as 1) it doesn’t hurt me, and 2) I will get something out of it. That is not God’s kind of love, that is human love.
Now let’s continue in the verse. John goes on to say, “For love comes from God.” Here again is the key to living in the Kingdom of God. You are not the source of goodness. You can’t work really hard to become better at loving. You have to die to it, and acknowledge the fact that you can’t do it and that God is the source of love, not you.
Once you have died, then you can stop and really analyze why you struggle loving that person. You probably struggle with them because they threaten to take something from you. They either take away your time, because they are constantly wanting to talk to you about things you don’t want to talk about. Or, they take away your image, because they are not the sort of people that either meet your standard of living or that you feel comfortable associating with (you know, the wrong side of the tracks kind of thing). Or, they take away your power, because they are better at something than you (that’s called jealousy, by the way). Or, they take away your sense of safety (perhaps they gossip, or have predatory tendencies).
Everyone takes something from you, but if they give something back, then it doesn’t feel like they are taking something; it’s more of an exchange. So, if the person you struggle to love seems to be taking from you, it’s because you don’t perceive that they can give anything back to you. On a human level this logic makes sense. Why would you spend time loving someone who can’t or won’t give anything back to you, right?
In vv. 9-10, God exposes the truth of His economy. God loved us, even when we could give nothing back to Him. We were His enemies. We were the ones who rebelled against Him and have been wallowing around in filth. Yet, He loved us so much that He gave up everything for us. That is the key. God’s love is other-focused. When we die to our self we stop looking through the world’s love-lens, asking, “what can I get out of this love-relationship,” and start looking through God’s love lens and start asking, “how can God use me to be a channel of His love to this person today.”
Every one of us needs to be loved. We were created to be involved in loving community. That is true. Yet, until we can come to the place where we realize that 100% of our love need comes from God and God alone, we will not be able to truly love our neighbor. As long as we look to be filled by the love of another human, including our spouses, we will always be disappointed and hurt and unable to truly love one another.
Here is where the heart of the passage lies. Read v. 18 again. “Perfect love drives out fear.” A person who looks through the world’s love lens is always afraid of being hurt. They are afraid of being used and abused and abandoned. But, the person who is completely reliant on the love of God to fill her soul will realize that there is nothing that anyone can do to her that could truly harm her. Even if she was killed, she would not be separated from the love of God.
As God-lovers, we have nothing to fear. God loves us. He paid for our sins. We have been given the seal of His Spirit. He is working in us to bring about His righteousness. To be in this life is to be a vessel of the mysterious treasure of Christ. To depart from this life is to be fully in the presence of the unveiled glory of Christ. We are in a win-win situation and, therefore, have nothing to fear.
Now, look at that person you struggle with again. Is whatever bugs you about that person really something worth getting in the way of the riches of knowing God and being filled with His love. Ask God to help you die to whatever is blocking your love arteries and let your channels of His love begin to flow freely through you.