“God is love”—A most familiar phrase in
1 John 4
Leon Morris, the noted New Testament scholar, asks, “How do we harmonize the assurance that ‘God is love’ with the assertion that ‘our God is a consuming fire’? Most of us never think about such problems, and in the end our idea of love is indistinguishable from that of the world around us.”1 (Testaments of Love, emphasis added)
As we have noted in the two previous posts, in First John [as in all Scripture], context is an essential key to right understanding.
7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God thus loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.
First, we see that “God is love” is not only an incomplete verse, and an incomplete sentence, but even an incomplete phrase.
First John presents a few key tests so that those to whom he is writing can be assured that theirs is the true faith in contrast to those who broke fellowship with them and claimed a new knowledge and spiritual superiority.
In the first post, we noted the test of affirming the Incarnation, which was denied by those with their new knowledge. That is also affirmed here in verse 9, which parallels John 3:16—“For God thus loved the world…he sent his only begotten Son…” And now, the test of obedience to Jesus’ command to them to “love one another” receives strong attention. If we do not love our fellow Christians, we do not know God who first loved us.
John drives this point home, using “love” over 40 times in this little letter. John’s first use of “love” [But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him….(2:5)] gives us the test of obedience: keeping God’s word, keeping his commandments. In his commentary, F. F. Bruce writes, “Love and obedience are inextricably interwoven because all the commandments of God are summed up in the law of love.”
[And where there is disobedience, love requires discipline.]
It is the same test and warning which Jesus gives to us in John chapter fourteen.
In our day, many false teachers use “God is love” as a mantra to encourage disobedience to God’s word, to his commands. For decades “love” has been used to promote abortion and acceptance of unbiblical divorces and marriages in churches. And, today, the branches from this seed include whole denominations that embrace and promote sodomy.
Unless those who still believe God’s word become salt and light in our day, there is no hope that God, the consuming fire, will lift his judgment on our dying culture. We must reclaim the basics from the world’s distortions which we, many times, have blindly accepted. We must get back to the Word.
“For the time has come for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God?”—1Peter 4:17
Will we have the courage to draw a line, and to do it publicly, between those who take a full view of Scripture and those who have been infiltrated theologically and culturally? If we do not have the courage, we will cut the ground out from under the feet of our children, and we will destroy any hope of being the redeeming salt and light of our dying culture.
–Francis A. Schaeffer
The Great Evangelical Disaster