Love's Profound Example
On February 14th, millions of people around the world celebrated Valentine’s Day. That usually means several things; stores filled with heart-shaped items, flower bouquets at every corner, and (in a year with no pandemics) restaurants packed with couples celebrating: all this commotion to celebrate one thing…Love.
Love is perhaps the most profound concept in all of existence. It is infinitely more complex than hearts, flowers, and dates. In fact, it is one of the few things in all of existence that will stand the test of time (1 Cor. 13:8-10). Absent love, every single thing we do is vanity. Like vapor which is here, and then vanishes almost before it can be detected, so are our most devoted tasks if they lack love (1 Cor. 13:1-3). This truth only magnifies the necessity of understanding biblical love. I can think of few verses more appropriate to an understanding of love than our February memory verses from 1 John 4:10-11. As such, I would like to share some of my observations with you as I have meditated on these rich verses of God’s Word.
Context and Structure
Love is a major theme of John’s first epistle. In fact, John tells us in this epistle that love is one of the criteria by which a person’s spiritual condition is evaluated (1 John 3:14-18; 4:7-8). Thus, love is of no minor importance in this letter. In five short chapters, John uses the word 46 times. The sheer frequency with which he uses the word emphasizes two crucial points related to our February memory verse. That John expects his readers to both understand what love looks like and to actively participate in loving (God and others). The structure in this passage is easy to identify because the transition occurs at the change of verse. Verse 10 shows us the very epitome of love, while verse 11 communicates the intended effect of that love.
V. 10 - The Epitome of Love
God’s Love is Emphasized by Contrast
When a sentence begins with “In this is love,” the chances are pretty high that the next clause will tell you exactly what love is or how it can be understood. 1 John 4:10 is no disappointment. However, the verse adds complexity to its description of love in some intriguing ways. Primarily, John accomplishes that by employing contrast for emphasis. I would like to illustrate that by chopping a few words out of this verse. With my redaction, the verse would read, “In this is love, that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” Even with words removed, this edit would clearly and simply explain what love is. So then, why would John bother to include the other seven words? The answer is simple; he wrote them to emphasize the true source of love by use of contrast.
Let us consider this contrast by considering what love is not. Love is not demonstrated in our love for God. That would be a pathetic example of love! Instead, the very epitome of love is God’s gracious commissioning of His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. In fact, the original language intensifies this distinction by unnecessarily doubling up on the pronouns: an intentional stroke of literary technique that further widens the gap between our feeble attempts to love God and the ultimate demonstration of love—the sending of his son. An English translation that would better reflect this emphasis is “In this is love, not that we ourselves have loved God, but that he himself loved us.” Love is first and foremost understood by the demonstration of God’s love.
God’s Love is Demonstrated by Action
As we read on, it becomes clear that love is accompanied by action. The love of God which John speaks of is specific. It is exemplified by God sending his son to be the propitiation for our sins. Our heavenly father sent the Lord Jesus Christ to willingly lay down his life as the propitiatory sacrifice for the sins of his enemies. THAT is love!
The concept of propitiation is not well understood today, but John’s readers (Jew and Gentile alike) would have been familiar with the concept. Simply stated, to propitiate is to satisfy the just wrath of God toward a sinner by way of a sacrifice for guilt. The practical process of propitiation looks something like this:
1. We are guilty and, consequently, God’s wrath is rightly stored up against us.
2. The only way to justly satisfy that wrath is by an atoning sacrifice.
3. God sent Jesus, and Jesus was willing to be that sacrifice.
4. His sacrifice was effective in permanently atoning for our sin and satisfying God’s just wrath.
5. Consequently, we are no longer under God’s wrath, but are in a right standing before him.
This is the love that John is so quick to celebrate! This is the epitome of love—that God would care for his enemies enough to give up his own Son to accomplish their redemption.
V. 11 – The Effect of Love
In verse 11, John teaches us the intended effect of this love by use of an if, then clause. If God loved us to such an incredible degree, then we must certainly love one another! The reality and depth of God’s love should reach into the depths of our soul and motivate us to treat others differently. Every action we take should be rooted in God’s love for us… Every person we encounter should gain a minute sample of that love because we so obviously love them!