1 John 4:7-21, we have what could very well be the most profound description of the Gospel message, the purpose of life, as well as the character of God in the entire Bible. John describes in this passage the source and reason for love. According to John, love is the beginning of every aspect of faith. The person who demonstrates that he or she is born of God and knows God is the one who loves (1 John 4:7). Failure to love proves that one does not know God (1 John 4:8). In context, with all the false teaching going around the early church, many were probably wondering who and what to believe. John answers these concerns by echoing Jesus saying, you’ll know them by their love for one another (John 13:35). In other words, if love of one another and God is not present, it isn’t the Gospel you’re hearing, and it is not Jesus whom you are following.
Christianity does not merely have interesting things to say about love. There is no Christian “version” of love or Christian “brand” of love. No, all love finds its source in God, and this is a fundamental claim of the Christian faith. So, as we participate in that love, we know God, and we know life.
That’s all well and good. However, the reality is that’s not the Christianity many of us have experienced. With all the division, disagreement, and disunity in our own time, many of us have been exposed to a Christianity that is anything but loving. The Church has mixed history with love and, in fact, has often been the source of more hate than love. It’s no wonder people are hesitant to come back or check it out, and it’s no wonder people are “cool with the Jesus guy” but want nothing to do with Church. Not to mention, this paints a picture of a God who is anything but love; a God who is only out to get us and punish us for what we’ve done wrong. Pictures like this are exactly what John is trying to combat. He says in 1 John 4:20, “Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.” With this in mind, I want us to consider two things here:
1. We are incomplete without love
At the heart of what John is telling his readers in the early church and at the heart of what Christianity is supposed to be and whom God is supposed to be, is love. This is the message from the beginning that we need to recover in our own time. The Church, the world, and life itself, are incomplete without love.
All too often, we associate being “Christian” with simply praying, reading our Bibles, and listening to a particular type of music. Moreover, though the Bible describes what love is to some capacity, describing love is not enough; we must live it out and become more loving people. The only way that happens is a transformation from the inside out by encountering Jesus through community.
2. Love is incomplete without God
Without God, love often becomes self-serving. Jesus and the life he portrayed, however, show us that this is way too narrow a view and that love cannot stop with ourselves. Jesus shows us that all people are invited to become children of God no matter whom they are or what they’ve done. The Church, if it is reflecting the God it worships, teaches and inspires people to love more and better. When we fail to love one another, we lose God and our very purpose for living in this world. John wasn’t the only one saying this. Paul mentioned it, too:
“If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:1-2).
Every day we have a choice: to love, or not. Our response tells us a lot about who we are and the God we serve.