7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.
8 The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.
9 By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him.
10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
12 No one has beheld God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us.
13 By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit.
(1 John 4:7-13, NASB).
“No one has beheld God at any time.” You think that this is an obvious point, that in this day and age we don’t have people running around claiming that they have seen God. However, there really are people out there who claim to have had encounters with God, including hearing the audible voice of God and being taken to heaven. This verse is pretty clear. The scripture here say that “no one has beheld God at any time.” Nor are we to take our stand on visitations from angels or visions (Colossians 2:18). However, I confess that I grow weary of these battles. People are going to make their stand on whatever they think is important regardless. People will find every way to minimize so great a salvation. I am not their savior and I am not going to be able to control them any more than God is. I’m working out these great truths for myself, and I hope this is helpful to others. In that, I’m not asked to control their doctrine, I’m asked to love them.
The real question is, in the middle of this seminal passage, why did he throw this in here? What’s the significance? Why start talking about beholding God and how no one has done it? In context, he is talking about the centrality of of the propitiation and of God’s love for us as the substance of our love for one another. He is saying that it is Christ and Him crucified that is the manifestation of the love of God in us. The true revelation that we have of God, is that through Christ’s blood we love each other. If we are seeking God, if we want to know God, if we want to see God manifested, indeed if we want to see the Spirit of God manifested in our midst, it is going to be made manifest in the love we are empowered through Christ to have for each other.
God is manifest in your lazy sinful brother
So, if you want to have a spiritual encounter and see God manifest with power, look to your ignorant arrogant lazy sinning flawed unsuccessful brother or sister in Christ, because the one-way love which God has for him or her is the manifestation in you that is the true manifestation of God’s presence. Not only is it meant to happen in community, it ONLY happens in community. It does say, after all, “if we love one another, God abides in us…” The true manifestation of God simply is not going to happen outside of the context of a community of believers based upon God’s unbreakable one-way love. That’s actually exactly what he is saying in the rest of the verse:
“… if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us.” This love of one another is in the context of God sending His Son as a propitiation for our sins. Love is in God loving us, in this substitutionary way. So, we really are talking about God’s one-way costly (to Him) love for sinners. This is the love: God’s love for flawed people. Love that loves always, even when there is sin and offense present in them. It is an omnipresent, eternal, past present and future love. If it is not one-way gift-without-payment unstoppable sin-can’t-unmake-it kind of love, it isn’t the kind of love that God is manifested in. If it doesn’t soundly condemn all the sin while forever loving the person, it isn’t the manifestation of God’s love. This is the way He “so loved” us. This is the love that is manifested in us for one another that is God’s presence: one-way unbreakable unstoppable unconditional eternal long-haul love.
Are you planning to stay, or to go?
So, it is by unbreakable love that God abides in us. Perfect love persists beyond imperfection. If it is a conditional love, it is a love that is poised and planning and prepared to leave. There are conditions so there are plans to reject. This is two way love, imperfect love, love which is not forever. We imagine that love is perfected by a moral stringency, but this is not the perfection in which love abides. It couldn’t be: if we say we have no sin we lie (1 John 1:8,10). No, it is perfect because it is love which persists, which acts as an advocate despite the shame and guilt and failure of each other. It is not its moral quality but it’s persistence which makes it perfect. It is its reckless all-in quality, its lack of plans for departure and separation. We are loved forever despite our failures and shortcomings; we can always confess again (1 John 1:9). This is how we walk, all the time. We walk in the light in letting our failures be known, not in pretending to be perfect. There is no option to actually be perfect, there is only the option to love always or to plan to reject.
These secret plans to judge and to reject, to separate and to hold aloof, are the very things that crowd out the manifest presence of God. But we have been accepted, we have been loved with an everlasting and eternal love, a faithful and persistent love that will never end or fade. Ironically, only a belief in limitless grace and mercy towards each other can harbor the very love which the moralist demands from this verse. The demand to love cannot produce love, but actual love requires the suspension of judgment through the propitiation of Christ’s blood. So, we can also love without judgment, we can throw away our plans to judge and to reject, because our brothers and sisters have been loved by God with an eternal and persistent love as well. We all as believers have entered the universe of the love that is always given as a gift without condition, the world where all is always forgiven. Together we have been loved and redeemed, we need never fear isolation and rejection again. God has loved us together with a resurrected and therefore undying affection.