Pastor Randy’s Top 66 – 1 John
“We love because He first loved us.” 1 John 4:19
Anyone from my church who is reading this will say, “Oh, of course Pastor Randy would pick this verse; he quotes it just about every Sunday!” Yes, it’s true, but as you will see, there is a very, very good reason why I quote this verse so often.
The three Letters of John were all written with one general concern in mind: there were false teachers – early proponents of Gnosticism – who were minimizing/denying the deity of Christ by saying that Jesus the Messiah didn’t come in the flesh; and they were the only ones receiving special revelation/knowledge from God (hence the term Gnosticism – special ‘knowledge’). John’s concern, especially in his First Letter, was to encourage the Christians to remember who they were in Christ, by remembering what Christ had done for them and in them; and that work in them will manifest itself through the agape love of Christ that is now residing within them.
In the last two-thirds of the fourth chapter – fifteen verses – the word ‘love’ is used twenty-seven times! That’s a lot of love!! But here’s the hitch….there certainly IS a lot of love in this portion of 1 John, but as Amy Grant sang many years ago, “It’s a love of another kind”. By that I mean that this “love” that is used all twenty-seven times is the Greek word ‘agape’, and that is a supernatural love that is unnatural and foreign to fallen mankind, and it can only be expressed by the Lord God AND by those who have come to faith in Christ, because at our conversion “He put His love (Christ’s life) in our hearts” (to quote another old song, this one by Keith Green). In other words, we are now able to love unconditionally, eternally, and selflessly because Christ’s love within us compels us to now ‘naturally’ do so.
Now, that doesn’t mean that as a Christian I will always ‘agape’ at all times and in all situations, because as we mature in Christ we still have our mind (flesh) that hasn’t been perfected yet, but is hopefully growing in Christ. So there will be times that we are selfish and are not expressing agape love, but rather we may be expressing the ‘other loves’ – the human kinds of love. Let me explain: I have referenced some of this in a previous message, but I didn’t go into the detail that I want to go into now.
We English speaking folks – although experts say that our language is one of the most complicated in the world – are very limited in how we express certain words, in this case ‘love’. In the same sentence I can say that I love Jesus; love my sisters; love my friends; love pizza (especially ‘white pizza’); love baseball; and love my wife, but do I love all of those people, things; and concepts in the same manner? Do I love pizza and baseball with the same kind of love as I love my wife? That kind of talk can get a guy in a lot of trouble!
But the Greeks don’t have this issue. They were smart enough to come up with at least four different words for ‘love’ that help differentiate between them. The first word is “storge”, which refers to the special love found within families. It’s the love that a parent has for a child the moment they give birth to the child. Okay, they love that child with a storge love when the baby is first conceived, but I’ve often heard parents say while they are waiting for their second baby to be born, “How can I possibly love this second child as much as I do the first one?” And then boom, the baby is born, and there’s the love!
The second ‘love’ is “philia” or “philios”, which is the love that we have for our friends. Friendship is the strong bond existing between people who share common values, interests or activities. We are friends with those that we ‘like’, we like many of the same things, so there is a shared bond that draws us together. I guess the closest English word that is comparable is ‘like’. I ‘like’ you as a friend; I ‘like’ going to the Rays’ game with people whom I’m comfortable with, and who like baseball too. The problem with this kind of love, as well as the next one – eros – is that they are pretty selfish. I will ‘like’ or ‘love’ or ‘philios’ you as long as you meet certainly expectations of mine. If you stop loving the Rays, then it might be more difficult for me to enthusiastically invite you to another game.
This takes us to our third human love – eros. From this word we get the word ‘erotic’ and unfortunately, people often feel that this word only pertains to sexual ‘love’ or sexual intimacy or kinds of sexual things that are more….well, erotic. Although it does mean this, eros really speaks about passion. Yes, passion is a part of the sexual relationship between a husband and wife, but you can also have a passion for your music; your work; your church; white pizza; and just about any other thing. And that’s the ‘thing’ about eros, we can have a ‘passion’ for anything, as long as it once again, benefits me and brings me the satisfaction that I desire. This ‘love’ more than any of them is the most selfish. It isn’t bad, but as you’ll see in a moment when I talk about agape, it is a ‘love’ that can get out of proportion, and really mess people up.
Now, here’s the important thing to remember: storge, philia, and eros are all human loves, and by that I mean that all humans are capable of expressing their love, likes, passions, desires, and affections without the help of the Lord (other than His common grace that allows all humans to do anything!). BUT no human is capable of expressing agape love – God’s unconditional, eternal, and selfless love – unless the Lord God enables them to do so. This is a love that is ‘born from above’.
As I said earlier, it is a foreign and supernatural love that can only be expressed ‘normally’ and ‘naturally’ from God Himself because GOD IS LOVE (agape). You see, people mess up that phrase (which is from 1 John 4:8) all the time by saying that God loves everyone the same, so I’m supposed to ‘love’ and accept and approve of everyone’s behavior (even if it goes against God’s clearly spelled out biblical standards), again because, “God is love”. But I CANNOT love as God loves until He enables me to love like or as He loves, and that enabling only comes when He – by His grace and grace alone through Christ alone – transforms me from a sinner to a saint at my conversion. I CANNOT muster up within my ‘natural abilities’ any true agape love to willfully and joyfully worship the Lord; or love the Lord; or love my enemies; or love God’s Word, because I am spiritually dead, selfish, blind, deaf, rebellious, and an enemy of all things God.
So then, this beautifully simple verse – “We love because He first loved us” – is absolutely true. If we are able to love God, love God’s Word, love our neighbor, or love our enemy, it is only because He first loved us.
“Oh, but Pastor Randy, don’t forget that since God is love, then He already ‘first loved all of us’, so then we can love sin as God loves.” Again, when the Word here says that ‘He first loved us’ it is speaking about His electing, saving, redemptive love, which is indeed different than the Lord’s general love that He has for all mankind. As I have said so many other times: I love my neighbors kids – but I love MY children with a much more intimate and lasting love because they are related to me – they are MY children. So, the Lord can ‘love’ all people – it rains on the just and the unjust – and this is called ‘God’s common grace’ – but He loves His children, those who have come to faith in Christ by His grace – in a much different and more intimate manner.
Remember, the Lord God is NOT obligated to save any of us. Although ‘God is love’, He is not obligated to love any of us to the point of actually dying for us. We all say it – ‘Love is a choice’ – and that’s exactly right! God’s agape love – His saving and electing love – is His choice – and He has every right to do so. It was while we were yet sinners that Christ died for us (Romans 5:8); and He died for us because He chose to love us enough to pay for our sins upon the cross (Ephesians 1-2).
So, in conclusion – ask yourself this: how can we possibly love the Lord God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength; or how can we love the Lord so that we will desire to worship Him, if we are spiritually dead and are His natural enemies (Romans 5:10; Colossians 1:21)? This is why we must be born again – we must have the Spirit of Christ within us FIRST, which then enables us to repent, have faith, trust Christ, and then love and worship the Triune God, which is EXACTLY what our verse is teaching us: We love God because He FIRST loved us.