Superlative Love: 1 John 4:11

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).

We are the Beloved!

How many times does John refer to his readership as “Beloved”? Six times explicitly! (1John 2:7, 3:2,21, 4:1,7,11 ) I think this is such an important thing to observe and to remember: we are beloved! If anyone sins, we have an advocate. All of these statements, all of these little tests, all of these admonitions, are to be understood from the perspective that we are beloved. I am encouraged to view myself as beloved, and I am encouraged to view others around me as beloved. This is the real secret to everything.

God Loved us, Once.

God loved us. Does He still? Why is this past tense? It is not that He once loved us and then stopped. Duh. It is that He loved us in a final way that cannot be undone or broken. It is the same idea as a dish getting broken. Because it was once broken at a point in time, it does not mean that it has now stopped being broken and has now become whole. In the same way, Jesus was broken for us as an act of love, in a way that cannot be unmade. It is a finalized act that cannot be undone, He has loved us with a great and authoritative sacrifice.

Superlative Love

“If God so loved us.” This is the crux of the matter. How did God so permanently and unbreakably love us, with this once done and now never to be be undone kind of love? He “so” loved us. What does this mean? It is easy to observe that in this superlative way, not simply that He loved us, but that He so loved us, that we are to be moved to love for each other. So, what is the superlative love?

It is 1 John 4:10 – that God sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. How is this such superlative love? It is extremely wonderful that the propitiation of the Son satisfies justice between us all, as I have been talking about in reflection over the past few blog posts. We might begin to think this is a dry theological point, a means to an end.

I was reflecting on the reason that we call Christ’s death on the cross the “passion”. In truth, I haven’t researched it at all and I have no idea why we really call it that. But I know what passion means. It means extreme desire. It means reckless love. It means fierce devotion to the point of obsession. It means laser-like focus born of strong wanting. How does this word relate to Jesus’ death on the cross?

It was absolutely reckless and dangerous love. It was abandon-everything-else desire. It was passion for us that led to such sacrifice. He wanted us. Badly. Enough to do this.
So when you are irritated at your brother or sister in Christ, and probably rightly so because they are a sinning fool, remember that you are irritated at an eternal creature of such beauty and glory and who is the object of such passionate desire that God Himself was willing to throw away everything else to secure an eternal relationship with him or her.
God is love. Not just any love. Not just idle affection. Not the gentle distracted love of a grandmother. That is a wonderful kind of love, but it is not this love. His was passionate love. His was a reckless love. His was a die-for-you love. His was a throw-away-every-other-option love. We are His obsession. We are not His obligation, we are His joy. This is the God who is love – the God who would go to such shocking lengths on our behalf.

Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. Get it?

The Two Oughts

The latter part of this verse hinges on the meaning of the word “ought”. There is an “old command” way of understanding this word and a “new command” way of understanding this word (1 John 2:7-11). What do I mean?

I am a programmer and system designer by trade. Let’s say that I create a simple program that, when you submit two numbers, spits out their sum. If you submit 2 and 2, it should spit out 4. However, let’s say I have gotten something wrong, and instead it spits out 5. I say, it ought to spit out 4, but it isn’t working correctly. I need to fix this, something has gone haywire. Given the algorithms set up in this program, it should give out an accurate sum of the numbers given to it. I thought I had got this right; it ought to work, but there is a bug that needs to be fixed. There is no guilt or punishment or threat involved, it is an assessment of right functioning. “Ought” in this sense is a statement of cause and effect. Given these premises, that you are so loved, you ought to love. If you do not love, perhaps you have not come to believe the love which God has for us (1 John 4:10, 16, 19). If you do not love, some crucial premise is missing. It is not a statement of moral imperative, but of right conditions leading to certain inevitable consequences.

On the other hand, if I create a program that processes credit card payments, and pays a percentage of the payments to the credit card processor as a fee, I might add bit of secret code that siphons a sliver of that percentage over to my own bank account. It functions as designed, but I really ought not do such a thing. This is a moral kind of ought: you ought to do this, or you ought not to do that. This is the “old commandment” way of love. It carries a moral element with the fear of a threat: if you do not love, you are rejected from fellowship or you do not belong to God. This is not the dynamic which John is pointing towards (1 John 4:18). It does not care that the conditions need to be right to lead to an effect which is love, it merely presses the moral necessity of loving as a judgment.

John is clearly indicating the first flavor of the word “ought” – certain conditions leading inevitably to a certain outcome. Believing the love which God has for us, manifesting the love of God, produces this love for each other.

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One Comment

  1. WOW!!! That is radically scandalous! And all for me? I “ought” to be radically scandalous myself! 😉 Thanks for this beautiful truth!

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